Though I probably could have put together a fairly comprehensive shortlist of my favourite (and least favourite) movies of 2007, I decided to make a return to last year’s format and try another Heroes & Villains list. It may not have the authoritative stamp of a 10 Best countdown, but it’s a lot more fun to write…
For giving the performance of the year in The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Perhaps only because it was so unexpected from someone I’ve always thought of as Ben’s cabbage-faced younger sibling, Affleck’s Bob Ford was the most affecting, complex and discomfortingly familiar character onscreen this year. Every conflicting emotion he endures is writ large, drawing us inexorably into the warped mindset of this despicable but achingly sympathetic starstruck loser. Brad Pitt seemed positively wooden in comparison. But then, he generally does.
For single-handedly rescuing not only American comedy, but an otherwise lacklustre Hollywood summer. Okay, so Knocked Up is politically dubious and Superbad is basically a 2 hour parade of dick jokes. But where else can you find this level of genius gag writing combined with a legitimate sense of flawed character? Props, too, for being the only producer-director currently working who has his own Preston Sturges-style stable of recurring performers, from leading men like Seth Rogen and Steve Carell down to Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared alumni like Loudon Wainwright, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Carla Gallo and the irrepressible Martin Starr. Without Judd, just think how many talented young comic performers would be out of a job right now.
For writing the soundtrack to that movie about all those different musicians. Todd Haynes deserves the lion’s share of the credit for writing and directing I’m Not There, but where would the film have been without Bob’s willingness to offer up his own music for the first time? Even Haynes would agree that it’s the music which makes the film, not just a soundtrack but a world of it’s own, commenting on the story, enhancing the images. Add to this Murray Lerner’s wonderful Newport documentary The Other Side Of The Mirror, and the constant joy that is ‘Theme Time Radio Hour.’
For sheer excellence in filmcraft. No one is as surprised as me to find Fincher’s name on this list, a director I had all but written off in the wake of Fight Club, still an all time least favourite. But Zodiac was essentially flawless, telling a gripping story in classic style, employing every attention grabbing trick in the book but never feeling the need to show off unnecessarily. A wondrous entertainment.
Mostly for Rescue Dawn, which managed to cater both to the multiplex and to Herzog’s legions of chin-scratching fans, telling a boy’s own true story in a lean, unembellished and surprisingly emotive fashion. Respect, too, for his hilarious performance in Mister Lonely: somehow a cassock has never seemed so unnervingly appropriate.
For a largely thankless, unsung career bookended by two glowing performances- as the lead in Michael Powell’s I Know Where I’m Going! she was buoyancy personified, marching up hill and down glen with sprightly pluck and fortitude. Forty years later she inhabited a very different role, as the prickly matron Mrs. Moorhead in The Elephant Man, gracefully holding her own amid a veritable jungle of towering portrayals from grand and respected Actors, among whom Hiller seems quite at home, giving perhaps the most heartbreaking performance of the lot.
For Mister Lonely, the nicest surprise of the cinematic year. Joyous, celebratory, utterly ridiculous and disarmingly poignant, this is the film of Korine’s life, and perhaps the best American movie of 2007. It all stems from the director’s uncanny ability to combine the affecting and the bizarre, hints of which bled through in his earlier works, albeit tending generally towards the latter. This technique resounds throughout Mister Lonely: there are images here which have the power to shock, amaze, disturb and delight, and they’re all heaped wildly on top of one another, creating a giddy emotional pileup unlike anything else in modern cinema.
For being so goddamn dependable. This year I revisited a childhood favourite, Percy Adlon’s Out Of Rosenheim (aka Bagdad Café), a small but perfectly formed indie gem from 1987 in which Pounder makes perhaps her most memorable appearance as Brenda, the irascible café owner with a heart of gold. Her performance is wonderfully sharp, drowning in debt and frustration but always hinting at the softness beneath the surface. I also came late to ‘The Shield’, which is eye-gum of the first order, but always elevated by Pounder’s surly but forthright Claudette. All it’ll take is another good, solid central role in a well written independent movie to get a few gold statuettes on the Pounder mantelpiece.
For contributions to the art of cinematography. Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s film Frozen may have been riddled with flaws in narrative, characterisation and dramatic impact, but what couldn’t be argued with was Raman’s extraordinary photography, which captured the bleak landscape of the Himalayan foothills in stark, classical monotones. Every frame feels like a work of art, depicting landscapes and faces with the same detached precision: perhaps the most astonishing example of monochrome cine-photography since Gregg Toland’s work on Citizen Kane.
For granting me an interview, and being the most enthused, passionate and unpredictable conversationalist on all aspects of his own, and other people’s cinema. Stanley’s work remains frustratingly overlooked, the director confined to a generic backwater, unable to find the sort of funding his overactive imagination demands. Which is a shame because, despite their obvious flaws, his films remain astonishingly relevant and entertaining, both the two completed feature films and a brace of scrappy, fervent documentaries. Here is an artist with a genuine love for, and knowledge of his artform, cruelly sidelined while crass chancers like Eli Roth have no trouble drumming up a budget for their next exploitative slashfest.
For showing those of us who thought he’d never make a film worse than Kill Bill Vol. 2 just how horribly wrong it’s possible to be. And not only for Death Proof itself, which was unremittingly sub-par in every aspect, from story to script to casting to design, a work of such irredeemable laziness it should have ended with the words ‘WILL THIS DO?’ printed across the screen in block capitals. What rankled most was QT’s apparent belief that he’d produced some kind of underground masterpiece, appearing on talk shows praising his own writing and direction, openly lauding himself for creating, and I quote, “Kurt Russell’s best character since MacReady and Snake Plissken”. How anyone could be so sickeningly deluded about their own paltry talents is simply beyond me.
For writing Sunshine, a script which, like 28 Days Later before it, felt like it took roughly as long to write as the movie took to watch. Direction and design-wise, there was nothing especially wrong with this movie. But the script was just so empty, so characterless, so utterly derivative that it sucked all enjoyment from the experience. And then, to add insult to injury, the film was widely reviewed as a return to intelligent sci-fi, compared to Alien and 2001, films in whose shadow it is not fit to stand.
For allowing the final obliteration of what should have been a terrific movie franchise. In any sane universe, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End would have been considered unreleasable, held back for extensive cuts and reshoots until it made some semblance of narrative sense. But somehow it slipped out, despite the dreadful jokes, the ham acting, the ludicrous plotting and the giant woman made of crabs. And then, of course, it went on to make billions of dollars: proof, if such were needed, that the universe is far from sane.
Unlike Death Proof, which feels like the mutated brainchild of one twisted individual, 300 was undoubtedly a team effort, a battle hard fought by a committed army of total morons. From the drastically literal screenplay to the effects department‘s insistence on making the entire film look like it had been shot through a thin gauze of pureed vomit; from David Wenham’s weird, simpering voiceover to Tyler Bates’ hideous pounding score (surely a strong contender for Worst Music Ever Written By Anyone, Ever); from the gay porn costume design to the reasonably talented actors who agreed to wear it, thereby sacrificing all dignity… The worst thing is, if 300 had been just a little bit more aware of it’s own awfulness, it might have become something of a camp classic. As it is, it’s just boring.
For me, 2007 will forever be remembered as the Year of the Bizarrely Overrated. From The Departed’s inexplicable Best Picture win onwards, it felt like this was the year the critical community finally lost all credibility, giving major awards and critical kudos to films ranging from the decent-but-not-great (Atonement, Control, The Lives Of Others) to the genuinely abysmal (Death Proof, Babel, Sunshine). Which is not to say that there weren’t great films out there this year, it just felt like they were being largely ignored by the mainstream: there’s no way I’m Not There will even be nominated for the awards it deserves, while in this country a film like Atonement will sweep the BAFTA board while This Is England, a superior work on every conceivable level, will doubtless find itself out in the cold. I know, I know, it all comes down to taste in the end. But it seemed like in 2007 sheer laziness in filmcraft was not only accepted but applauded: if we let these filmmakers get away with it, God knows what we’ll have to suffer through in the future.