It was kind of a seduction year for me and movies in 2007. Few things jumped out and knocked me on my ass. It was more of a subtle relationship. Granted, there's certain movies I haven't been able to see yet -- There Will Be Blood & Jesse James are two that come to mind -- but for the most part the movies I loved this year were the sort that washed over you and got under your skin and stuck with you. A couple days later I would think, Wow, that was a damn fine movie.
I've seen no performance this past year that topped Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Everyone is hyping Javier Bardem, and as great as he was in No Country, he never really came close to the layers that Viggo's Nikolai has. And nothing about Chigurh, or No Country, comes close to representing the brutality of Eastern Promises' steam room scene. Nikolai's just as imposing, if not more so, than Chigurh and he's far more interesting. Viggo gives him a menacing sexuality and constantly keeps you guessing as to what he's thinking about behind those tattoos, that suit and hair and which side -- if any -- he's really on. He's chilling and yet completely engrossing and ultimately sympathetic. He hits so many notes, and that's why he's got my vote for best performance.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Hoffman's getting so good these days that it's almost to his detriment. Is he still going to surprise us if he just keeps hitting home run after home run? I haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War or The Savages but they both supposedly contain great Hoffman in them. There's a scene in BDKYD where Hoffman's character arrives at a high rise apartment -- he's let in by this mysterious flamboyant young man who practically says nothing to him. He's early, he waits, makes a drink, looks around the place and takes in the view. It's goddamn brilliant. We have no idea what's going to happen in this apartment, why he's there, and his wordless lingering is hypnotic. It's those performances and those kind of moments that are just transcendent -- there aren't many people like Hoffman who can so perfectly inhabit a character and make a small moment like that one so great.
Into the Wild is filled with great performances but oddly enough, the star of the film, Emile Hirsch is the one that stands out the least. That's not to say he didn't do a good job. (He did though I think he only really let it out at the end.) But his character serves as a sort of mirror for everyone around him. Just as much as it is a movie about his journey into the wild, the best moments are through the encounters he has along the way. Each one of these people see in him that thing they lost and have been looking for whether it be youth and its freedoms and promise or the child they never had or always wanted, but these are the people who really shine. When they look in his eyes Sean Penn captured some outstanding performances from Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker and Kristen Stewart. The movie is a little bit uneven at times but I don't think there was a better ensemble this year.
2007 was the year the Affleck boys made good. Both have been wild cards since their first movies. But Gone Baby Gone is a terrific movie and it wouldn't be without Ben and Casey. I think this really goes to Ben's credit. Everything that's great about Gone Baby Gone, I really think it's due to Ben Affleck. And there's no small amount of good things: Casey and Amy Ryan have never been better (again, I have my Jesse James screening reserved for Jan14); bringing John Ashton back to the big screen -- thank you; making a film shot around Boston actually feel like it was shot around Boston -- good job; putting together that scene in the townie bar -- amazing; working out one of the toughest endings since Sophie's Choice -- bravo.
Since the revitalized Bond and Batman were off the 2008 ticket, Bourne Ultimatum was just about the only place to go to get your action/adventure kicks. Which is ok with me since this franchise has been the place to go since it began. I only hope that if this franchise does not continue that the powers that be remember what the Bourne series taught us -- the people who enjoy action movies are smarter than you think. Which leads me to The Host -- the one movie this year that really did jump out and knock me on my ass. I didn't have a wilder, funner time in the theater this year. Cloverfield is going to have a tough time trumping the monster movie magic of this one.
Hot Fuzz was pretty bad ass though and combined with the continuing reign of Apatow, 2007 resulted in one of the better years for comedies. Superbad and Knocked Up were both hysterical. I give the slight edge to Superbad overall only because it came really close to perfecting the high school comedy movie -- something very few movies succeed at when they attempt the subject. It's honest and it has a undeniably big heart -- all the bullshit abut the misogyny in Knocked Up has me bitter even though I know it really is a bunch of bullshit. El Topo -- there's some misogyny -- no male character in Knocked Up is presented as even being stable nevermind the second coming of Jesus.
People can call Old Country a neo-western all they want -- the real deal was playing in theaters right alongside it in 3:10 to Yuma. Another great collection of actors at the top of their games and what should be a star making, breakout performance from Ben Foster playing another character showing us the unwavering path violence can take. It was certainly great seeing an Elmore Leonard adaptation that didn't completely shit the bed.
Documentaries were coming in faster and furiouser over the past few years but went back to their small niche areas this year. The one that has my vote for best doc since Murderball was King of Kong. Like Murderball it takes a subject found in the margins of society and brings it front and center, scars and all. It's a triumphant, classic story of the underdog besting the giant -- the true toppling the corrupt -- all set against the backdrop of the frayed carpets of arcade halls and the barrels and ladders of Donkey Kong. If Rocky won the hearts of the Academy voters in '76 -- King of Kong should get at least a nomination for best documentary this year.
Werner Herzog got away from his steady stream of oddball documentaries to put another movie in the drama section with Rescue Dawn (based on one of his own documentaries, of course). For me it was a breath of fresh air to have him stay behind the camera, I'd gotten to thinking that if you were to watch a Herzog movie these days you'd have to put up with his voice in your ear for 90 minutes. Everything in Rescue Dawn reminded me of why I've liked this guy since I first saw Fitzcoraldo 15 or so years ago. The image I have in my head of Herzog isn't the quizzical guy in his bomber jacket asking questions about some footage he found. It isn't the guy sitting in the voice-over booth asking existential questions. It's the guy I saw in the making-of feature on the Rescue Dawn DVD -- the bare chested man running through the jungle, showing his crew and actors that you shouldn't be afraid of jumping into river, throwing your body through thick thorn riddled brush and walking barefoot through ant hills, because he just showed you how it's done. It's a gorgeously shot movie filled with great performances by actors seemingly possessed by some other-worldliness they can only achieve in his movies. I hope he can find the money to make more of these.
There were a couple of good musicals that came out this year, and no, I'm not talking about Hairspray and Sweeney Todd, I'm talking about Once and Romance & Cigarettes. Saying these two movies are musicals is kind of like saying Schindler's List and Before Sunset are both dramas -- they have very little in common. For very different reasons they were both wonderful, unique gems that anyone looking for a break from the routine should see immediately. If you can that is. It was doubtful that Romance & Cigarettes would ever see the inside of a theater but after two years of no distribution deal Turturro and friends were able to get the money together to have the film travel to a few towns. John Turturro's musical ode to infidelity in Queens is something that has to be seen to be believed. It's certainly not everyones cup of tea but those familiar with Dennis Potter will certainly dig this blue collar story set to pop music. Those who have been waiting to see Christopher Walken's big song and dance moment will be satiated for a while anyway and those who love to hear Kate Winslet talk dirty will be in heaven. On first thought I felt the movie was damn near perfect (for what it's trying to do). But the real amazement comes from the fact that the movie works at all. I think it has to be near perfect for it not to flop miserably from the get-go. From top to bottom of all the major people involved in this movie -- I can't think of anyone else who could fill their shoes. Sarandon and Gandolfini give the movie the needed emotional weight and Turturro's eye for the neighborhoods... well, I'm so damn happy I got to see this movie and can't recommend it enough.
Once is certainly the date movie of the year for people who don't really like typical date movies. It's almost anti-romance, yet it's quite moving, delicate and yes, romantic. It's like Before Sunset/Sunrise crossed with The Commitments. A young Chekoslavakian woman with child and a nice guy Dubliner make beautiful music together, cut an album and well I won't ruin for those who haven't seen it. It's one of the simplest, smallest stories and it's all the better for it. Whether or not it is a musical by categorical terms is uncertain but I like to think that it succeeds thoroughly in these conditions.
All right. I've gone on long enough -- I've had enough drinks -- let's break it down. Best 10 Movies of 2007
9. Romance & Cigarettes
8. Hot Fuzz
7. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
6. Into the Wild
4. The King of Kong
3. The Bourne Ultimatum
2. No Country for Old Men
1. Eastern Promises