2007: The Year in Film by Vittorio Carli

It was an exemplary year for film, and there were literally dozens of top notch candidates for the top 10 from almost every conceivable genre. I’ve been doing top 10 lists for over a decade, and this year had best film contenders than any recent year I can remember. As usual, most of the most significant and innovative films escaped the mainstream radar.

It's difficult to identify any dominant cinematic trends this year, but the musical came back in a big way.  No recent year offered so many fine films in this genre. The low budget minimalist "Once" towers above all the rest of the year's musical offerings because it told the most heart felt and emotionally affecting love story.  However, Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" and the Beatles inspired "Across the Universe" were almost as good. The musical version of "Hairspray" won't make me forget the original John Waters film, but it was also quite enjoyable on its own terms (it also featured the best Travolta role in years). The only total musical flop this year was the insipid and badly scored "Romance and Cigarettes" which bombed aesthetically despite a good cast (even though it has some admirers).

It was also an unusually good year for biographical pictures about musical figures, and several of the best performances of the year were in the biopics. The Bob Dylan inspired "I'm Not There" is at the head of the class, and the uncannily convincing Cate Blanchett gave this year's best supporting actress in the film.  The exquisitely shot "Control" about the brilliant Ian Curtis contained my pick for best male performance by newcomer Sam Riley.  The Edith Piaf film "La Vie En Rose" was also well done, although I found it a bit overlong.

For some reason, there was a whole slew of films in 2007 that dealt with the theme of pregnancy. "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" had some great moments and they were both romantic films with fine female lead performances (I also loved Andy Griffith’s role in "Waitress," "Juno" was the best written comedy,  "4 Months 3 weeks and 2 Days" was the best acted of them, and it was also one of the best foreign films.

Speaking of foreign films, most of the year's best features were either made in other countries or tended to be American independent features. It was a particularly good film for Canadian directors, Guy Maddin and Dave Cronenberg have been making back to back masterpieces recently, and they made the best and third best films of this year (Maddin’s last three films all made my top 10s for their years), Also, Denys Acand's not yet released "The Age of Ignorance' was the best and most provocative film I saw at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival. 

Some of the most acclaimed French films ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Private Property," and "Comedy of Power" and "Exterminating Angels" all might have made my top 10 list in a lesser year. But "Private Fears in "Public Places" by the eighty something Alain Resnais is the one that resonated the most for me, and he juggled various plot lines better than Robert Altman in his prime

But the biggest news international cinema was the tragic deaths of the two cinematic giants Igmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. who made some of the most profound films ever in the  50's and the '60s ("Persona" may the most potent experimental film ever made). They also made some major works later despite the fact that their late films received poor distribution  (in Antonioni's case his later films fail to achieve good American distribution after an unfairly harsh review of one of his films which appearing in the "New York Times" ).

It was also an uncommonly good year for female film directors. The before mentioned "Waitress" and "Across the Universe" were directed by women.  There was also Sarah Polley's depressing but beautifully developed "Away from Her" which contained the most memorable female performance of the year (by Julie Christie). Also notable were Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages," Kasi Lemmons' "Talk to Me," Pacale Ferran’s gorgeous “Lady Chatterley,” and Julia Loktev's tragically neglected "Day Night Day Night" which was the most unnerving and powerful film I ever saw about terrorism (it made my top 5.)   

It was also a great year for the painterly cinematographer Roger Deakins who shot two of the year's most gorgeous films ("The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford " and “No Country for Old Men"), and Philip Seymour Hoffman who seemed to be in every other good film I saw this year ( I think my favorite of his three main performances was for "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.")

 Moreover, it was such a good year that it was impossible for me to narrow the list down to a top 10  Every year I try to include a film from a disreputable genre, but there were so many trashy cinematic gems that I couldn't settle on one film to fill the slot.  A Goth musical, a neoexploitation film, and a fantasy feature all ended tying for the tenth slot, but I don't feel too bad about it because critics have routinely have ties in their top 10s in my favorite film magazine "Film Comment." Now without further ado, here's the best films of 2007. Of course I might change my mind next week.

1)Brand Upon the Brain- A teen sleuth disguises herself as a boy to solve a weird mystery which involves child abuse and a sinister orphanage owner. Guy Maddin’s terrific expressionistic feature captures the spirit, quality and look of late period silent features perfectly, and he also updates the style wonderfully for modern audiences. The Music Box Theater had a special showing that included live music, a sound effects team, and narration by Crispin Glover,  but the movie is also great without the frills.

2)Private Fears in Public Places-Powerful drama has different overlapping story lines involving lonely people trying to find love. French New Wave survivor Alain Resnais has made his most elegant and emotionally involving film in years. In French with English subtitles

3) Eastern Promises-Dave Cronenberg’s powerful film about a search for the identity of a baby’s father features a peak performance by Viggo Mortensen and great support by Naomi Watts. This Russian Mafia film is more gripping and satisfying than either "The Departed" or "American Gangster."

4) Day Night Day Night –Tense film about the supposed last day in the life of a suicide bomber serves to humanize its subject, and is even more daring and accomplished than the similarly themed "United 93."

5) No Country for Old Men-The Coen Brothers’ darkly funny and shocking film is about a homicidal maniac (well played by Javier Baredem) who pursues a man who witnessed the aftermath of his murder spree. The dog sequence might be the most memorable image in film I’ve seen all year.

 6) Once- Charming Irish film about a street musician who meets a caring woman who encourages him to make a record. In a year of fine music films (such as "Across the Universe" and "Hairpspray") this one was the best, and it was also the year’s most irresistible romance.

7) Climates-Atmospheric art film about a professor’s crumbling marriage has some of the year’s best cinematography. Agonizingly painful and beautiful at the same time. In Turkish with English subtitles.

8) The Black Book-Paul Verthoeven’s suspenseful World War II epic about a woman who seduces a Nazi while she’s working as a double agent for the Jews. She starts to care for him and is torn between her loyalties. In Dutch and German with English subtitles

9) Sicko- Michael Moore’s humorous and tragic expose of America’s health care system makes a strong case for universal health care, and Moore lets the health care victims tell their stories while he keeps his ego in check

10) Grindhouse- Gory, exhilarating and loving tribute to exploitation films packages together an over-the-top zombie film with an exhilarating car chase/revenge drama. Featuring witty post modern dialog by Quentin Tarantino in one segment, and stylish direction by Roberto Rodriquez in the other. The fake trailers for films that don’t exist provide some of the film’s biggest laughs.

The Golden Compass-Imaginative fantasy about a little girl who struggles against the ignorance and reactionary belief in a dimension where most people have animal familiars. Despite complaints from the religious right, the film is not anti-God but it is against blind adherence to dogmatic thinking. This year's best epic/fantasy film rivals "Lord of the Rings" for thrills, and it's twice as smart as the Harry Potter films.

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street-Demented Goth musical/horror is about a barber who seeks to revenge himself against the corrupt judge who ruined his life. This film was tailor made for the talents of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Besides the perfect performances the film has lavish sets worthy of a James Whale movie and wonderful makeup which evokes the Universal horror classics of the 30s' Unlike many musicals it actually has good acting and compelling characters

 

11.) The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford-Brad Pitt is quite good as a sympathetic anti-hero, Jessie James, and Casey Affleck is even better as the traitorous Judas figure, Robert Ford. But the greatest assets may be the exquisite cinematography by (Roger Deakins) and the haunting, evocative score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.  The film masterfully draws parallels between James and Jesus.

12) Private Property-Isabelle Huppert is wonderful as always playing a woman who struggles against familial ties to gain some small measure of freedom.  In French with English sub-titles.

13) Before the Devil Knows You're Dead-Terrific thriller about twop brothers who botch a supposedly easy jewel is told in a non-linear fashion. It includes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s best performance of the year. Since he was also in “The Savages” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” that’s saying something.

14) Control-Mesmerizing biopic with gorgeous black and white photography chronicles the rise and descent of Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis (Sam Wiley is marvelolus in the role.)

15.) Juno- Cute comedy about a precocious yet immature high school student who finds out that her one-time tryst with a male buddy resulted in a pregnancy. The film's devilishly clever dialogue was penned by a former stripper and super blogger, who goes under the pen name Diablo Cody (Diablo is Spanish for devil). It’s clear from this script and her autobiographical novel, “Candy,” that Cody has a rare talent for capturing saucy slang. The most life affirming film of the year, although it’s occasionally too clever for its own good.

16) I'm Not There-Absorbing but uneven rock biopic features six different actors (including a woman and African American child) playing the contradictory personas of Bob Dylan (Cate Blanchett and Ben Whishaw are the most convincing). The same basic concept was used somewhat better I effect, n “Palindromes” but this has many great moments

17) Southland Tales-This dystopian fantasy begins and ends with a quote from Eliot's “The Wasteland.” It's about a porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a boxer (The Rock) who collaborate on a screenplay about the end of the world that prophesizes the real end of the world. Like some of Terry Gilliam’s work. It alternates between being awful and brilliant, but the creative imagination that went into it make irresistible. I haven’t seen the uncut version, but unlike most critics I wanted to see more (hopefully some scenes will be restored for the DVD.)

18) Sharkwater-Gorgeously shot documentary about an environmentalist’s life threatening struggle to protect sharks has gorgeous underwater photography

19) Lake of Fire-Powerful abortion documentary (by director Tony Kaye) is ambitious, comprehensive, and potent. It’s fair to both sides of the issue.

20) An Unreasonable Man-Eye opening documentary about the underappreciated Ralph Nader does a good job of examining his great contributions to consumer culture as well as his presidential run.

 

 

The Best ...

Film (English language) Brand Upon the Brain
Film (foreign language) Private Fears in Public Places
Undistributed film-The Age of Ignorance (shown at the Chicago International Film Festival)
Overall documentary-Sicko
Political documentary-No End in Sight
Nature documentary-Sharkwater
Musical:Once
Director-Guy Maddin for Brand Upon the Brain and Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men (tie)
Director (foreign language)-Alain Resnais for Private Fears in Public Places
Original screenplay-Diablo Cody for Juno
Adapted screenplay-Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
Foreign language screenplay-Alan Ayckburn and Jean-Michel Ribes for Private Fears in Public Places
Cinematographer in an English language film-Roger Deakins for Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men (tie)
Cinematographer in a foreign language film- Gokhan Tiryaki for Climates
Original Score-Nick Cave for the Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford
Original Song-Kate Bush for The Golden Compass
Actor (in an English language film)-Sam Riley seemed to channel the spirit of the doomed post-punk rock star, Ian Curtis in Control.
Actor (in a foreign language film)-Ebru Ceylan in Climates
Actress (in an English language film)-Julie Christie gave a haunting and unforgettable performance as a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in Away from Her
Actress (in a foreign language film)-Carive van Houten for Black Book
Supporting actor-Javier Baredem in No Country for Old Men
Supporting actress--Cate Blanchett for I'm Not There
Most promising performer-Luisa Williams for Day Night Day Night and Ellen Page for Juno (tie)
Most promising director-Sarah Polley for Away from Her
Avant-grade/experimental film- Lech Majewski's Blood of a Poet  (shown at the Gene Siskel Center)
Restored film-Blade Runner
DVD-Killer of Sheep/ My Brother's Wedding and Charlie Burnett shorts
Comedy feature-Juno
Comedy short-trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS in Grindhouse
Horror film-Grindhouse
Animated film-Imagination
Fantasy film-The Golden Compass
Asian action film-Exiled
Comeback (director)-Brian De Palma for Redacted
Comeback (actor)-Andy Griffith in Waitress
Film series-Lech Majewski series at Gene Siskel Center
Soundtracks (tie) Once, Juno and Southland Tales
Film related event-Buffy Sing A Long  at the Music Box
Revival-Mafioso (at music box) and Cobra Verde (at Hotti Biscott)
Musical sequence-Tom Waits sings a song in a The Tiger and the Snow
Fresh new talent- Hayden Panettiere in Shanghia Kiss
Most creative cameo involving a clone of George Bush's finger-Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai
Special effects-The Golden Compass
Makeup-Sweeny Todd Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Chicago feature-Aren't You Going to Kiss Me Goodbye?
Chicago short-Soulskin (directed by Jennifer Kienzler with Peggy Robinson and Kristin Swain)
Pre film performances-Ken Vandermark (before Musican at the Gene Siskel Center) and Crispin Glover (before It is Fine! Everything is Fine! at the Music Box critics' screening)

Worse films of the year-Bratz, Romance and Cigarettes, Twisted Ashes
Most self indulgent indies-The Darjeeling Limited,  Hannah Takes the Stairs, Margot at the Wedding

 

Here’s all the 2007 films I saw, roughly in the order of quality,

1) Brand Upon the Brain (Canada)
2) Private Fears in Public Places (France)
3) Eastern Promises
3) Day Night Day Night
5) No Country for Old Men

6) Once (Irish)
7) Climates (Turkey)
8) The Black Book (Holland)
9)  Sicko
10) Grindhouse/The Golden Compass (UK)/ Sweeney Todd Demon Barber of Fleet Street (3 way tie)

11) The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford
12) Private Property (France)
13) Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
14) Control
15) Juno

16) I’m Not There
17) Southland Tales
18) Sharkwater
19) Lake of Fire
20) An Unreasonable Man

 

21) Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France)
22) Strike (Poland)
23) Redacted
24) Look

25) Exterminating Angels (France)
26) Across the Universe
27) Comedy of Power (France)
28) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days  (Romania)
29) Lady Chatterley  (France)
30) The Tiger and the Snow  (Italy)

31) Gone Baby Gone
32) No End in Sight
33)) Away from Her
34) There Will Be Blood
35) The Savages
36) Superbad
37) 3:10 to Yuma
38) The Namesake
39) 28 Weeks Later (UK)

40) How Much Do You Love Me? (France)
41) This is England (UK)
42) Charlie Wilson’s War
43)The Golden Door (Italy)
44) The Wind that Shakes the Barley (UK)
45) Hairspray

46) In the Valley Of Elah
47) In the Wild
48)The Kite Runner
49) Dedication
50) Atonement

51) Waitress
52) Exiled
53) Talk to Me
54) Imagination
55) Zodiac

56) You Kill Me
57) Breach
58) Michael Clayton
59) The Lookout
60) The Bucket List

61) Aren't You Going to Kiss Me Goodbye (river phoenix)
62) The Lives Of Others (Germany)
63) Man in the Chair
65) Candy (Austrailia
66) American Gangster
67) The Orphanage (Spain)

68) Maunfacturing Dissent
69) Starting Out in The Evening
70) Bug

71 ) Reservation Road
72) Knocked Up
73)The Hunting Party
74) A Mighty Heart
75) Stardust
76) La Vie En Rose (France)
77)The Brave One
78) Ratatouille (59)
79) Trade

80) Jimmy Carter Man from the Plains 
81) Shanghai Kiss
82) Steel City
83) Joe Strummer: The Future is Now
84) The Music Within
85 )King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters
86) Darfur Now
87) Freedom Writers
88) Fay Grim
89) The Untouchable (France)

90) The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (Japan)
91)Rescue Dawn
92) God Save the King (UK)
93) Lust Caution
94) Hot Fuzz (UK)
95) The Host (Korea)
96) Fido
97) It is Fine! Everything is Fine!
98) The 11th Hour
99) Black Sheep
100) The Simpsons Movie

101) Bee Movie
102) Maxed Out
103) Black Snake Moan
104) The Nanny Diaries
105) Things We Lost in the Fire
106) PARIS, JE T'AIME (France)
107) Belle Tu Jours (France)
102) Regular Lovers (poetry
109)) Musician: Ken Vandermark
110) Eastern Expressions

111) Great World of Sound
112) Into Great Silence
113) Spiderman 3
114) Broken English
115) Lucky You
116) 1408
117) The Big Bad Swim
118) Crazy Love
119) Youth without Youth

120) Dans Paris (France)
121) 300
122) Ghost Rider
123) Broken
124) Romance and Cigarettes
125) Arctic Tale
126) Don't Tell
127) Gypsy Caravan (Serbia?)
128) Romantico
129) Hannah Takes the Stairs

130) Margot at the Wedding
131) Twisted Ashes
132) Bratz

 

Vittorio Carli teaches English, literature at Moraine Valley Community College, Richard J. Daley College, and Morton College.  His website is at wwww.artinterviews.com  E-mail him at carlivit@yahoo.com

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