A year that saw the deaths of the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and er, Anna Nicole Smith, was bound to set the revisionist critics proclaiming, once again, the death of modern cinema. In particular, there was a quite frankly ridiculous article in Sight and Sound written by Peter Matthews which proclamed “There are to be no more masterpieces”. What utter bollocks, and typical of a pompous backward-looking critical nincompoop. Certainly it is a time to reflect on the passing of a different age of filmmaking, but is it really necessary to take this as a cue to now render the entire medium artistically worthless?
Having said that, I have to admit a little disappointment with cinema-going in the year 2007. It was a bumper year for the box-office, with the ‘summer of threequels’ and the absence of a British summer attracting record numbers in through the cinema doors. Of these, there was little of lasting satisfaction; of these, there were predictably depressing franchises grinding slowly onwards – Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean’s Thirteen, Rush Hour 3. Among these there were disappointments: Spiderman 3 was far too disjointed, confused and long, and Shrek the Third felt a lot like a film too far for that franchise. The increasing trend for CGI-onanism continued, yielding Michael Bay’s Transformers, Zack Snyder’s stylish-but-empty-headed 300, as well as dumbed-down late arrivals The Golden Compass and Beowolf.
There were several other notable disappointments: Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz was fun, but not nearly as good as Shaun of the Dead; Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited was just tiresome, marking his further dearth of ideas, and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine showed great promise, but a messy third act spoiled it somewhat. Joe Wright’s adaptation of Atonement had Oscar nominations stamped all over it, and while solid, it failed to deliver a real knockout punch. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu went several steps too far with his Babel, an all too worthy film which stretched his interlinking storylines thang much too far. Which is a shame, because Amores Perros was bloody marvellous.
But amidst these disappointments there were some geniunely pleasing surprises: Julie Delpy’s sly, subtle 2 Days in Paris is the best film to nail down male jealousy that this writer has seen. Happily, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later was a worthy sequel to the Brit-horror classic original, encompassing a post-Iraq sensibility to the zombie genre (though of course, they aren’t zombies really, are they?). I was utterly charmed by Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, though i feel that you could stick Gael Garcia Bernal in pretty much anything and make it compulsive viewing. Still, Gondry has a real flair for visual ideas, and with the right script could be absolute dynamite. David Fincher’s terrifically tense, yet slow-moving Zodiac showed that he has finally come of age and embraced proper filmmaking, a real mature masterwork.
And there were other films which seemingly appeared out of nowhere; The Lives of Others, by first-time director Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck, while perhaps over-praised, still is a very well executed piece, and points to a bright new rising star of European cinema. John Carney’s Once was also a beautifully judged film, and displayed an awareness of the importance of music in people’s lives seldom found on celluloid recently.
But for me, 2007 showed that you can’t keep a good auteur down; quality offerings from the likes of Cronenberg, Meadows, Lynch, Fincher, Herzog, Greengrass, Winterbottom and Scott show that, contrary to the opinions of some in the critical community, there are still important artists in the industry today, making and distributing films within the confines of the system, but still able to assert their creative visions through their chosen medium. And with early 2008 promising new films from the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tim Burton and Todd Haynes, maybe this will be a continuing theme.
This is my by-no-means-definitive list of my favourite films of the year:
Essentially a David Lynch “Hits on 45” style greatest hits package. It’s all there: menace, unease, the battering down of the doors of perception, a sitcom featuring giant talking rabbits, strippers singing The Locomotion. The film Lynch fans have been waiting for, though everyone else is unlikely to have the faintest clue what the hell is going on. I loved it!
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
Cronenberg continues his terrific run of form with a wonderfully fleshy, visceral tale set in the Russian underground in London. Great script by Steven Knight, great performances by messrs Mortensen and Watts, a richly allegoric tale of how life and death go hand in hand, mixed with the usual Cronenbergian identity confusions. And THAT bathhouse scene is simply jaw-dropping, one only our DC could possibly have shot.
This is England (Shane Meadows)
Superb portrait of a time and a place, specifically the Midlands in the early 1980s. Touches on many important issues, most notably how racism is fostered in the young and impressionable, and features an extraordinary performance from Thomas Turgoose as the young Shaun. Meadow’s finest film to date, and a great film about Britain’s early Thatcher years…
… as is this. Finally, a film that shows the true poetic majesty of, er, Macclesfield. Corbijn’s masterful eye captures a late 1970s Britain, and the rise and fall of the young Ian Curtis, with a real sympathy and tenderness, both reinforcing and exploding the myth of ‘that miserable bloke out of Joy Division’. Haunting, poetic, and suprisingly funny. A quick word for Toby Kebell, who nearly steals the show from Sam Riley as JD’s permanently foul-mouthed manager Rob Gretton.
Superbly played, in particular a stand-out performance by Casey Affleck as the eponymous ‘coward’ Ford. Wonderfully shot, with a careful eye for time, place and season, and a well paced screenplay all adds up to one hell of a good film. Unfolds almost like Shakepearian tragedy with an eerie inevitability; yet this is also about finding a man trying to find reconcilement with his own mortality, as well as examining the fickle nature of celebrity and infamy. Fabulous stuff.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)
Control (Anton Corbijn)
This is England (Shane Meadows)
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Once (John Carney)
The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Two Days in Paris (Julie Delpy)