The Year In Film 2007

By Omar P.L. Moore/

January 2, 2008

"American Gangster", "Darfur Now", "Into The Wild" and "The 11th Hour".


Sometimes it was a year that was, other times it was a year that had no right to be, but most of all the film year 2007 was a solid one, with American feature film dramas thriving more than any other genre in cinema in North America over the past 12 months.

No American films had more energy, effervescence or entertainment in 2007 than "Hairspray", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Enchanted" -- in that order.  Amy Adams sparkled as the adorable Giselle.  John Travolta reveled and excelled in drag as Edna Turnblad, and may just get an Oscar nomination for his efforts, while Matt Damon became a fully-fledged action man in Paul Greengrass's film, which harkened back to classic American action films of the 1970's like "The French Connection", via Tony Gilroy's script.  And Mr. Gilroy himself wrote and directed another throwback in "Michael Clayton", which contained arguably the most-talked about scene of the year: that trio of horses.  Yet after seeing "Walk Hard", "Superbad" and "Knocked Up", it can be declared that the most-talked about scenes and lines came from each of these three Judd Apatow-produced or directed comedies, which between them racked up close to $300 million (a deceptive figure when you consider that "Walk Hard" made barely a ripple last month at the North American box office.) 

Denzel Washington had an astounding year with great performances in Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" and his own "The Great Debaters", both very good films based on true stories which would seem unbelievable given the times and the context in which they arose.  And context was everything in 2007, where a lot of wars were fought on the big screen on numerous fronts, whether by Charlie Wilson, or the Lambs that were sent to the slaughter in Robert Redford's hands, or the "Redacted" version that was Brian DePalma's, or the "Rendition" by Gavin Hood that proved that as a film it was definitely "No End In Sight", Charles Ferguson's documentary of brilliant and cold-eyed analysis by former Bush Administration insiders on Iraq.  There were so many war films and most of them fell flat, with the exception of Ferguson's, and Paul Haggis's "In The Valley Of Elah". 

Will Ferrell got busy on a skating rink and scored a perfect 10 for effort and laughs with "Blades of Glory", while Eddie Murphy showed off all zeroes in 2007: losing out at the Oscars and losing big time in "Norbit", even if the film was a $100 million success.  Laura Linney was ever present in 2007 with roles in "Breach", "The Nanny Diaries", "The Hottest State" and "The Savages" (for which she deserves an Oscar nod), Josh Brolin was omnipotent with five films in one calendar year, including the near-flawless "No Country for Old Men", undoubtedly the Coen Brothers' best film.  Even if many film critics cried about the blood in "No Country", Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson promised that "There Will Be Blood", and they delivered.  So did "Hostel Part 2".  In 2007 deliveries came in all sorts of packages -- bullets and bold strokes -- as Oscar-winning actors/directors Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster both played serial killers who couldn't stop themselves from the thrill of the kill if they wanted to.  (See "Mr. Brooks" and "The Brave One" respectively.)  In "Sweeney Todd" Johnny Depp gave new meaning to Spike Lee's Academy Award-winning student film "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads".  And if you wanted more violence than that shown in the films mentioned in the last six sentences then you would have had to see "Eastern Promises", David Cronenberg's very good film, despite its extreme graphic violence, including a scene that will likely be as responsible as any other for getting Viggo Mortensen -- who should have been nominated for Cronenberg's " A History of Violence" two years ago -- his first Oscar nomination.  For sheer exhilaration, complication and meticulous detail, "Zodiac" won hands down, with David Fincher directing the year's very best film, a true crime drama that managed to document, entertain and chill to the bone with its ritualistic exactness -- fingerprints, hairs, screams, blood samples and all.

Francis Ford Coppola's new film; Ivan Dixon in Killer of Sheep; and Jude Law and Michael Caine in "Sleuth".

Besides the blood there were actors who proved they could direct clever, well-scripted and well-made films.  Sean Penn went "Into The Wild", Steve Buscemi had an "Interview" to take care of, Denzel Washington returned to directing ways with no "Debaters" questioning his skills behind the camera, Sarah Polley scored an impressive debut with one of the best films of the year in "Away From Her", which may just grab Julie Christie an Oscar, while John Turturro tried "Romance and Cigarettes", and to sublime effect.  The same could be said of first-time director Ben Affleck, who was more than capable of making Boston grimy and gritty in "Gone Baby Gone", with Amy Ryan the epicenter of that film.  Director and some-time actor Kasi Lemmons walked the talk with her film "Talk To Me", and Ethan Hawke successfully chaired "The Hottest State", while Alison Eastwood proved that she was a chip off her father's block with her debut directing in "Rails & Ties".  There were veteran actors however, like Mr. Redford and Rob Reiner, who may have stumbled slightly, but "The Bucket List" was at least more enjoyable and engaging than "Lions For Lambs".  Big stars aplenty were in both films, four Oscar winners and a three-time nominee in Tom Cruise between them.  There were also Oscar winners and nominees littering a mildly disappointing "Evening", with Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Vanessa Redgrave among them, although Redgrave Atoned in Joe Wright's 1930's drama late in the year.  Frank Langella proved that he was just "Starting Out In The Evening", warming up legitimate Oscar talk with the year's best leading male performance as an acclaimed New York City writer who is being romanced by grad student Lauren Ambrose.

In a year where the film world tearfully bid adieu to great filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, who died near the end of June, revivals of his work were in full bloom, like "Fanny And Alexander", "Wild Strawberries", "Cries And Whispers" and "Persona".  Other big revivals included "Killer Of Sheep", directed by Charles Burnett, and Ridley Scott's visually potent classic "Blade Runner", with its "final cut" moniker.  Owen Wilson returned from the brink of death after a much-publicized suicide attempt, appearing on the big screen as a brother of two siblings who has tried to commit suicide in Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited", filmed before Mr. Wilson's real-life attempt.

By contrast, few films though were worse than "Premonition", where Sandra Bullock was misplaced but worked hard for her paycheck.  Hilary Swank started the year well with a good performance in "Freedom Writers" but the remaining eleven months of 2007 eluded her as she showed up in underwhelming films like "The Reaping" and "P.S. I Love You".  Ditto for Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig in the disappointing films "The Invasion" and "The Golden Compass", as well as Robin Williams, whose films "License To Wed" and "August Rush" were as weak as the Miami Dolphins' 2007 regular season NFL record.  "Good Luck Chuck" and "The Heartbreak Kid" were absolute stinkers, proving that one really could make bad films even if they didn't try hard to.  Jamie Foxx entered Peter Berg's "Kingdom" uneasily, while the film's co-star Chris Cooper fared either better or worse in "Breach".  Robert De Niro made drag comedic in "Stardust", a film only occasionally worth watching, even if Michelle Pfeiffer made a stunning return to the big screen.  Speaking of which, one couldn't keep eyes off of the incredible Marion Cotillard, spectacular as Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose", or Angelina Jolie, very good in "A Mighty Heart" as Mariane Pearl and very naked as Grendel's Mother in the lousy 3D film "Beowulf" -- and "300" was only marginally better.  While everyone loved "Ratatouille", many missed the lovable "Mon Meilleur Ami" with Daniel Auteil.  And "In The Land of Women", Chris Rock was uncertain about whether he could thought he loved his "Wife".  Ms. Kidman did briefly revive marriage, albeit to make it crumple like touch paper lit for fireworks with "Margot At The Wedding".  Bernie Mac and Terrence Howard displayed "Pride", while Mr. Howard encountered a "Brave One", a "Hunting Party", a Rush of "August" and a "Perfect Christmas".  And all Richard Gere attended was a "Party" and a "Hoax", even if he would claim "I'm Not There".

Cate Blanchett completely disappeared into an incarnation of Bob Dylan, proving that she, like the folk legend himself, was not "There" or in a "Golden Age" as Queen Elizabeth, while Casey Affleck was so very good in the tortuous "Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" that he deserved a better film to act in, like "Gone Baby Gone", and The Rock was shedding that label very fast as alter ego Dwayne Johnson came into his own as an actor doing well in the affectionate "The Game Plan" and spoofing himself in the super-smart and long-awaited Richard Kelly film satire "Southland Tales".  Steve Carell made funny in "Evan Almighty" and "Dan In Real Life", while Ryan Gosling (also in "Fracture") showed why he is a very good actor, in "Lars And The Real Girl", while Christian Bale did the same in "3:10 To Yuma" , "Rescue Dawn" and "I'm Not There".  John Cusack ended the year impressively with "Grace Is Gone" after a dip with "Martian Child", and in the summer Cusack had every reason to heed Samuel L. Jackson's warnings in "1408".  Nicolas Cage had an up-and-down year, burning up in the hit film "Ghost Rider" in February, having audiences passing him by and saying "Next" in May, and finally winning audiences back with a "Book of Secrets" in December for big box-office treasure.  

"The Lives Of Others", Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart" and Sienna Miller in "Interview".

Morgan Freeman was far from a free man in 2007 -- for his time was occupied with Bucket Lists and "Almighty" Feasts of Love and disappearing Babies, never mind one "Baby" had previously granted him a million dollar Oscar.  And the aforementioned Mr. Jackson also featured in the lamely-titled "Black Snake Moan", among other films, with Christina Ricci putting her body through a punishing workout in that film, endlessly undulating.  Better-titled films filled marquees by year's end, including "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", Sidney Lumet's priceless drama featuring an excellent Albert Finney and impressive work by Ethan  Hawke and a rakish Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was also great in "The Savages" but even better in "Charlie Wilson's War", for which he will surely gain an Oscar nomination.  And Amy Ryan showed up again in "Devil" as well as in "In Real Life" (with Dan.)  Paul Verhoeven directed the controversial "Black Book", and Marc Forster, director of the controversial "Monster's Ball", also directed the controversial "The Kite Runner".  Jennifer Fox revealed the deepest parts of herself in her amazing six-hour documentary "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman".  Shane Meadows got semi-autobiographical in the powerful and effective "This Is England".  Speaking of England, Emily Blunt joined "The Jane Austen Book Club", got a "Real Life" without Dan, and was unrecognizable in "Charlie Wilson's War".

For the most part, the summer was a bummer, as one "Juno" might say, with the blockbusters making big bucks but fading fast in memory, even though "Transformers" was the junky vehicle that Michael Bay promised it was still good popcorn junk.  Bruce Willis, an ever-present constant in cameo land in 2007 ("Alpha Dog", "The Astronaut Farmer", "Perfect Stranger", "Grindhouse", "The Hip Hop Project") triumphantly returned to Living Free and Dying Hard, even if he publicly feuded with Mr. Bay in the process.  Pottermania ran wild, "Pirates" did the dirty, though in this third installment Mr. Depp exhausted his Keith Richards-modeled Jack Sparrow character before Mr. Richards himself showed up in a cameo.  "Spider-Man 3" proved to be a big, expensive rush job that crashed and burned popularity-wise with audiences, yet it was still the year's highest-grossing film worldwide.  "Shrek The Third" was greener at the box-office than its green title character, while Ashley Judd caught a "Bug".  "Ocean's Thirteen" proved to be a well-dressed testosterone meeting wrapped in Armani with George Clooney leading the way, and Messrs Pitt, Damon, Cheadle, Garcia, Mac and Pacino following closely behind.  Clooney and Cheadle made their mark most importantly off camera however, winning a special Nobel distinction for their tireless humanitarian efforts in bringing attention and activism to stem the genocide that continues in the Darfur region of the Sudan, and both were seen working hard offscreen and on it in "Darfur Now", and Cheadle gave one of the year's great performances in "Talk To Me", a riveting and highly entertaining film which deserved to do much better than it did.  (Clooney impressed too as "Michael Clayton" in the Fall, and will probably get nominated, and Cheadle deserves the same honor.) 

Other significant film documentaries in 2007 included "SiCKO", Michael Moore's blistering and moving look at the healthcare system in the U.S., "The 11th Hour", the environmental documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, which made a strong claim that the planet itself is sinking (and not the "Titanic" movie which was released ten years ago.)  "The Devil Came On Horseback" highlighted former U.S. military man Brian Steidle's crisis of conscience in the Sudan, while Jonathan Demme's "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains" was both moving and absorbing.  "Manufactured Landscapes" was a fascinating pleasure and the docudrama "Bamako" was amazing, with Danny Glover making a cameo appearance.  (Mr. Glover squeezed in a role in John Sayles's "Honeydripper" at the end of the year.)   The best fact-or-fiction documentary came from Amir Bar-Lev, with "My Kid Could Paint That", who asked whether four-year-old Marla Olmstead could possibly have painted artwork worth six-figure dollar amounts, unassisted.  Mr. Bar-Lev was also asked a lot of questions about his own motivations as a filmmaker in the process of his investigation of whether the art work painted was the real McCoy.

For sheer joy of filmmaking and vision, Julian Schnabel's phenomenal "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" was the ticket, and in tow followed Mira Nair's "The Namesake", Pascale Ferran's "Lady Chatterley", Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's superb "The Lives of Others", featuring the late Ulrich Muhe's excellence, Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes The Barley", John Carney's "Once", Sean Ellis's wondrously beautiful "Cashback", Francis Ford Coppola's beautiful "Youth Without Youth", David Lynch's "Inland Empire" and Joe Wright's "Atonement", all of which were among the best pleasures that any year in film can bring, let alone 2007, with interactions between Michael Caine and Jude Law made riveting in "Sleuth" via Kenneth Branagh's remake and Harold Pinter's word-sharp, paper-cut laden biting script, as well as the less excitable exchanges between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in "American Gangster". 

All in all, there was much to digest in 2007 on the big screen, and somehow, most of it went down very well.

Related:  The Year's Ten Best Films 

Related:  The Popcorn Reel Kernel Awards 2007

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.

(Photos: Universal Pictures, Warner Independent Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Warner Independent Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, IFC, Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Vantage, Sony Pictures Classics respectively)