2007 in Review

2007, as I’ve mentioned before, was an important year for me personally. It’s the year I started keeping a journal (I’m now on volume 23),  attained the rank of Eagle Scout, became a legal adult, and started getting to know all of you. It’s the year I started buying lots of books– as in, reading a new book every week, and not for school– and it’s the year I saw many of what would end up being my favorite films as an adult, and not just those that came out that year. It is, in essence, the year I became who I am, in a much bigger way than can be credited to any other year. So going back to revisit that time period was very gratifying.

But 2007 isn’t just my favorite movie year for my own experiences. Critics at the end of the year were often astounded by the wealth of great cinema that had come out– and of all different types. Some of these films, it must be said, haven’t aged well (Knocked Up, Juno, In the Valley of Elah, Spider-Man 3). And some may have aged well, but I simply disagreed strongly with critics (Once, Waitress, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). But there’s still plenty out there for everyone, so it’s worth discussing what may have caused this year to be so good.

On February 28, 2008, the 80th Academy Awards ceremony was held and broadcast all over the United States. It was, without question, the lowest-rated Oscars telecast in television history, drawing in an amazing-in-any-other-context 32 million viewers. In the aftermath, most of the blame was placed with the idea that the nominees that year were too obscure and did not reflect popular tastes.

This is questionable; while it’s true that the overlap between audience popularity and awards recognition was almost nonexistent, that wasn’t a new phenomenon, and I challenge you to compare 2007’s nominees to those of 2006 or 2008 and say that their nominees were more mainstream. I was a senior in high school at this time, and I assure you that There Will Be Blood, Juno, and No Country for Old Men were major topics of conversation to a degree that not one of the previous year’s nominees (The Departed, Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Queen, United 93) ever came close to.

In response to this criticism, the Academy in 2010 expanded the pool of Best Picture nominees from five films to as many as (but not necessarily) ten, so as to include more conventional blockbusters, but which also had the unfortunate side effect of conferring legitimacy on awful try-hard movies akin to 2007’s In the Valley of Elah and Rendition that received little-to-no awards attention from other bodies and would almost certainly have been forgotten. Ultimately, the two cancelled each other out, and the movies that would have won in a contest of five still ended up winning in the contest of ten.

This is not the only manner in which 2007 ended up shaping the cinematic landscape of the 2010s. By my estimation, almost all of the credit for the Oscars’ ratings failure belongs to the WGA strike. The strike struck a blow for organized labor at a time when its power was constantly being rolled back through deregulation, and raised the specter of economically-driven politics just in time for the Great Recession. The strike revitalized television talk shows, particularly those not hosted by strikebreaker Jay Leno, put a lot of creatives in touch with their fans, gave online video a level of currency and importance that it had never had before, and, by forcing networks to pad out their schedules with live news coverage, probably got Barack Obama the Democratic nomination in 2008. Yeah.

The strike is also the reason the legacy of 2007 would have to wait a few years. With its factory-type mindset, television was able to get right back to work in the spring of 2008 and start putting out new content in a couple of months. Feature films are single projects with a set beginning and end, and take a lot longer to make; faced with the strike, independent movies either took way longer to be finished or got cancelled outright, while the shrinking proportion of films produced in-house by major studios attempted to split the difference by maintaining their production schedules without finished scripts. If you’ve ever wondered why Quantum of Solace is so weird, or why Transformers 2 is somehow even worse than the first one, or why 2007 was such an embarrassment of riches while 2008-9– especially in America– were generally weak and shitty, this is why.

But something else happened: when all the fanfare and excitement died down, and the industry feebly attempted to move on, 2007 didn’t stop being the greatest movie year. A lot of what people had loved aged horribly and quickly, but there was more than enough under the surface to take its place. This stuck with critics, fans, and the industry in a way I’m not sure it could have if the following couple of years hadn’t been so rocky. So when Hollywood was finally back to where it had been before the strike, 2007 provided the model for where to go next. It was not a transformative year in terms of how movies were made in the same way that 1927 or 1953 or 2001 had been, but it was a step, building on the trends established six years earlier when 9/11 and The Lord of the Rings teamed up to completely rock audience tastes and expectations (and you better believe I’m writing about that someday). Waltz with Bashir (2008) is a 2007 movie. The Informant! (2009) is a 2007 movie. Nightcrawler (2014) is a 2007 movie. Hell or High Water (2016) is the 2007 movie. A generation of people are going to grow up with that legacy, and 2007 will never stop impacting audiences until movies cease to be made.

So, I started this project intending to review 23 movies. I ended up reviewing 143. Such is the power of 2007. It really is the best year in the history of film; I struggled to get everything I wanted even into the top twenty, and even with so many titles under my belt, whatever lists I have written below cannot be considered comprehensive. But strap in, because there’s a lot to unpack.

Top Seven Signs a Movie Was Made in 2007

  1. Please Mention the War!
    As seen in: No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming, Knocked Up, Reign Over Me, Taxi to the Dark Side, Sicko, A Mighty Heart, Postal, Rush Hour 3, The Invasion, The Kingdom, Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, Man from Plains, Rendition, Eastern Promises, Reservation Road, The Kite Runner, Lions for Lambs
     

    No fewer than 19 out of the 143 films reviewed at least touched on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in addition to those films that use the conflicts or related conflicts as subtext, such as No Country for Old Men; or even critiques that inferred combat parallels where there probably were none, like I Am Legend. Afghanistan was the forgotten war at the time; Iraq was and had been the main focus up to that point; and there’s an unfortunate correlation between the amount of focus on the conflicts themselves and the quality of the films.Iraq was the first war in US history in which Hollywood contemporaneously produced major motion pictures critical of the conflict. But people were already sick of the war, they didn’t want or need these movies, and anybody who wasn’t completely high on the idea that this was “our Vietnam” and thus needed our Platoon understood why these movies didn’t make money.

    Studio executives somehow had the idea that because all those Vietnam movies came out years after the fact, we needed Iraq movies right this second. But how many of the great Vietnam movies are about politics? How many times in The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now do characters stop cold to make impassioned soliloquys about Containment Theory or Vietnamization? Not even Forrest Gump gives a shit. The only film I’ve ever seen that does is The Trial of Billy Jack, and that movie’s invocation of the war is basically terrible in all the same ways that Redacted and its ilk are. Relevance is overrated.

    Among dramas that were most focused on the wars themselves was a strange propensity to point out, apropos of nothing, that the media of the time were more interested in covering celebrity gossip than real issues. Although this was less true in 2007 than in the early years of the war, when most of these screenplays were written, it’s not a bad point to bring up, except that none of these movies are about the media, so it serves no real purpose except as an outlet for the filmmakers’ own frustration. Which these films mostly are as a whole.

  2. The Pussycat Dolls
    As seen in: Epic Movie, Norbit, Wild Hogs, Alvin and the Chipmunks

    Ever since Easy Rider, Hollywood has chased popular music trends to keep their movies relevant. But 2007 was not 1969, and much longer post-production schedules meant that studios increasingly had to roll the dice on the splashiest new artists of 2005 and 2006.
    Probably the least pathetic invocation of this year was Knocked Up’s inclusion of Lily Allen’s “Smile,” another one of those British singles that took the wider world by storm but made far less of an impact in America, boosted mostly by its ubiquity in movies and television of the time– I call it the Robbie Williams Effect.But far more egregious was cinema’s pathetic devotion to The Pussycat Dolls, a nightmarishly overexposed “neo-burlesque” girl group who had a fluke hit in 2005’s “Don’t Cha” and were laughingstocks by the time some of 2007’s worst movies continued to make jokes about their ubiquity.
  3. References to Contemporary Movies
    As seen in: Year of the Dog, Knocked Up, Postal, I Am Legend

    At the time of Knocked Up’s release, film critic Roger Ebert noted a strange growing tendency for new movies to reference each other in a stab at relevance, much in the same way they had long done with pop music. This wasn’t actually that common, leaving aside so-called “parody” Epic Movie, but it does seem particular to this year.
    The best use of this trope is probably a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it billboard for a nonexistent Batman vs. Superman movie in I Am Legend’s post-apocalyptic Manhattan. At 18, it probably would have annoyed me, but my older, more camp-friendly sensibilities adore when science fiction makes guesses about future popular culture.
    It would be easy to say Postal’s eye-rolling invocation of Brokeback Mountain is the worst offender of 2007– that’s Uwe Boll for you– so instead I’ll give that award to Knocked Up’s casual invocation of Spider-Man 3, a movie that is not as fondly remembered as director Judd Apatow might have hoped; it wouldn’t be so bad except that Apatow brings buddy James Franco on to advertise said movie as himself. Swing and a miss.

  4. The Velour Sweatsuit
    As seen in: Year of the Dog, Epic Movie, Disturbia, Georgia Rule

    As the current decade draws to a close, nostalgic reverence for the 2000s is just around the corner, and if we should expect any outfit to signify the horrible haute-garbage aesthetic of that time period in a single image, it will be the velour sweatsuit. The ultimate symbol of Bush-era decadence, it took an outfit that declared “I have given up on life” and made it the token outfit of arrogant rich girls and bullies. Shit like this is why we deserved the Great Recession.
     
  5. MySpace
    As seen in: Epic Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Superbad

    Although Facebook has won the day, MySpace in 2007 was the social network, and it showed no signs of letting up. Only Superbad gets away with referencing it, coming off now as charmingly dated rather than horribly so.

     

  6. Penguin Mania
    As seen in: Surf’s Up!, Good Luck Chuck, Encounters at the End of the World

    Following the coincidental success of George Miller’s Happy Feet and nature documentary March of the Penguins, Hollywood went wild for anything penguin-related, but it never paid off. Surf’s Up! is about penguins, Good Luck Chuck has a bizarre fixation over penguins, and Werner Herzog’s Encounter at the End of the World promises not to be about penguins but still manages to get them in there. 

  7. The Evils of Pubic Hair
    As seen in: Norbit, Good Luck Chuck, Walk Hard

    While aggressive pubic grooming was not unheard of within women’s circles in the 1980s and 90s, it exploded in the summer of 2001 after Brazilian waxing was featured on an episode of Sex and the City. Inasmuch as contemporary depictions of female nudity were available to a sheepish adolescent boy with a secret collection of 1950s erotica, the impact was immediate and jarring. Not only did bush disappear from movies, magazines, and HBO originals; by 2007, the very presence of pubic hair had become a signifier of untenable disgust. Except in Walk Hard, where it was just the result of inattentiveness to period detail, forgivable for a movie of it’s type. After the Great Recession made men and women alike cut down on razors, the furor over pubes mercifully receded.

Four Movies I Should Have Reviewed

There are way more than four movies I could have reviewed or even intended to but couldn’t, however these four are arguably the most essential:

  1. Fracture
    Dir. Gregory Hoblit
    Premiered April 11, 2007

    Fracture
    probably isn’t good or bad enough to have potentially made either of my year-end lists, nor was it a box-office smash or award winner. But of all the pictures I failed to review, it is almost certainly the most notable film of 2007 in hindsight. Anthony Hopkins reportedly gives yet another powerhouse tete-a-tete, this time with Ryan Gosling. The only reason it wasn’t reviewed is that I simply had no idea it existed, or perhaps forgot. The same cannot be said for our next candidate:
  2. Chop Shop
    Dir. Ramin Bahrani
    Premiered at Cannes May 21, 2007

    2007 had so many critically-acclaimed movies that there wasn’t enough room for each of them to have the impact they deserved, but nowhere that year is the relationship between critical acclaim and overall legacy than Chop Shop. Celebrated at Cannes, Ramin Bahrani’s portrait of growing up outside the system in a Queens junkyard earned a stunning 96% rating on RottenTomatoes, a place on Roger Ebert’s top ten films of the entire 2000s, and pegged Bahrani as the next big thing at the Independent Spirit Awards– only to earn less than a quarter of a million dollars globally and become so obscure that I couldn’t find it anywhere.
  3. The Wager
    Dir. Judson Pearce Morgan
    Premiered June 15, 2007

    Over the past several years, American multiplexes have been inundated with Evangelical Christian “faith movies” made defiantly outside the Hollywood studio system. Scorsese they are not– born of a religious movement that rejects internal conflict, these films are pure ego strokes for the converted who appreciate being agreed with, and leave mainstream critics either bored or reviled. The bulk of these productions come from the Arizona enterprise Pure Flix, whose first feature The Wager naturally debuted in 2007. Of course, Pure Flix has a strict monopoly as a distributor, so this film (especially as an early work) is nowhere to be found amongst normal streaming services.
  4. Redline
    Dir Andy Cheng
    Premiered April 13, 2007

    As much as creatives like to rag on studio executives, most of them go into their jobs out of a love of movies. The same cannot be said of Daniel Sadek, an Inland Empire real estate broker who helped cause the Great Recession. Before he could assist in the downfall of the American economy, though, he managed to destroy his own finances with Redline, a vanity project commissioned to showcase his collection of exotic cars, and which resulted in the destruction of several of them to the tune of millions in damages. The movie earned a 0% rating on RottenTomatoes and, were it more readily accessible for streaming or download, would probably have been featured on How Did This Get Made?

The Ten Worst Movies of 2007

10. Georgia Rule

every scene is played like a Pepperidge Farm commercial, with no regard to what is actually going on. Not only was this seemingly written by pod people, the movie comes off like director Garry Marshall didn’t speak English and had no idea what the actors were saying. By discovering a new definition of tone-deafness, Georgia Rule is definitely in the running for worst movie of 2007 so far.

9. Wild Hogs

This movie offends me as a man. It trades in all the same insulting male clichés that bad sitcoms use to balance their insulting female clichés (because that totally makes it better); this time with barely any women in the movie. Congratulations, Walt Becker, you made a movie that Reddit and Tumblr can agree on.

8. Norbit

…Norbit does have an important place in the history of Hollywood: it marks the point at which bad comedies became a genre unto itself, with their own tropes, visual style, and cadre of anonymous directors.

7. Redacted
Source of my first Roger Ebert North meltdown:

Fuck this movie. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. Fuck the impetus behind it, fuck the sense of moral superiority that hovers over every haranguing moment, fuck the way it takes the easy way out at every turn, fuck the moronic attempts to insert a fucking sitcom gimmick to be relevant and kewl, fuck the implication that mass murder and gang rape are bad because bad people do it, fuck the implication that that’s the only thing our dumb asses will understand, and fuck the very idea that this vapid, bullying piece of shit would be meaningful to anyone.

6. Postal

[Uwe Boll] also cameos as himself in a scene where he’s congratulated for “turning video games into hit movies,” and then expresses his passions for Nazi gold and child molestation.

Goodness me. I am beside myself with fury. Grr.

5. Perfect Stranger

Perfect Stranger may not be exceptionally atrocious, incompetent, or offensive, but it is astonishing in its wrongheadedness: every creative decision was the the one least likely to result in an enjoyable or profitable film.

4. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

…this isn’t fun anymore. It’s an Uwe Boll movie. None of it matters, and the joke is on me for writing about it.

3. Bratz

This is the live-action Foodfight. This is the girly, juvenile Battlefield Earth. It’s not even so bad it’s good; it’s so bad that its very existence will amuse you to the point of giggling psychosis.

2. D-War

Honestly, there is so much wrong with the film that trying to point them all out is fruitless. If CinemaSins did a video on it, it would have to be at least twice as long as the actual movie. The special effects are about on par with Sharknado. The actors all speak in muttered monotone, and can barely be understood thanks to poor sound mixing. The fight scenes are more incomprehensible than the climax of Alex Cross.

1. Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour

That this movie was made is not totally surprising. That it was ever shown in one theater, let alone received a genuine 1,121-theater wide release, is astonishing. The director appears to have made it with her family and a handful of friends, none of whom were professional actors. The film appears to have been shot on an early digital camera with bad focus, and is poorly lit when lit at all. I got some (unintended) laughs out of this, but mostly was bored out of my mind.

The best thing that can be said about Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour is that, if you squint really hard, it seems like something Harmony Korine could possibly have made on purpose.

And now, the jumbo-sized list you’ve all been waiting for…

The Twenty Best Movies of 2007

20. The Lookout

Often when we think of great movies, we think of stuff that grabs you from the first scene and carries you off in a thrilling passion of image and sound. The Lookout instead tricks you into thinking it’s a smaller movie, then gradually turns up the heat until, at the very end, you realize your heart’s racing.

19. Disturbia

No joke, this is one of the best movies of the year. It might not make the top ten when I’m done– hell, maybe not even the top 20– but that’s 2007 for you.

18. My Winnipeg

Too often, art is seen as the achievement of something that is beyond most of us. The greatness of My Winnipeg is that it is something we are all capable of; to reach back and speak in our own voices about the places that created us. And we should.

17. Eastern Promises

Let’s face it; if you were eating in a restaurant and Tony Soprano walked in, it wouldn’t be scary. These guys are another story. And the film keeps up this sense of terror by imbuing it with a constant sense of uncertainty; it’s never clear who is going to do what, but you know to expect the worst.

16. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

With each new development, the film reverses course, as if saying “wait, I need to go back and tell you this first,” creating an an increasingly twisted but expertly constructed tableau that’s equal parts Rashomon and Fargo.

15. Sicko

In spite of its influence, its impact, and its relative lack of ego, Sicko never quite matches the excellent pacing, sarcastic wit, or unfolding horror of Moore’s debut, Roger and Me (though it does still have all those things). But it is a close second, and while it may remain in the shadow of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, it is far better than either and far more worthy of your time.

14. Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson’s War– the last film to be directed by the legendary Mike Nichols– would, in the hands of a lesser creative team, have been exactly the type of obnoxious awards-craving garbage that I have often struggled through in these final months of 2007. By all accounts, it’s still an Oscar Bait film– it’s just done by the right people.

13. Death at a Funeral

By its nature, Death at a Funeral was a divisive film for the critical elite. On the one hand, it was British. On the other hand, it presented a side of British comedy that was, in the naïve Anglophilic mind, distressingly unsophisticated…

12. Paranoid Park

…no film captured [the 2000s] more perfectly than Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park…

11. American Gangster

From a patient and unassuming first act, American Gangster evolves into an unlikely thrill ride that continues to top itself in its monumental audacity, not through high-octane action or gore, but in how far the story ends up going…

10. The Darjeeling Limited

Production on the film completed shortly before star Owen Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt; for many, this may have brought an emotional intimacy to the film that would otherwise have been lacking, and which Anderson has continued to make use of in his more recent, even more beloved films Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Somewhere is an alternate universe where Wes Anderson is much the same as M. Night Shyamalan once was, but it isn’t this one. And The Darjeeling Limited certainly has something to do with that.

9. Sunshine

In an era that saw science fiction lose relevance in favor of classical fantasy, Sunshine is an utterly engrossing throwback to the darker, spiritually and environmentally themed sci-fi of the 1970s, and in turn feels much like a precursor to cult films like Moon and Beyond the Black Rainbow. What could have been a bloated ensemble piece devotes its 111-minute running time to being one of the darkest– and best– thrillers of 2007 so far, with an overall effect that can only be described as cosmically invigorating.

8. No Country for Old Men

in an era that saw all that our nation knew and loved called into question, it took the twisted minds of Joel and Ethan to assuage that fear with the understanding that life has always been nasty, brutish, and short. This country’s hard on people. You can’t stop what’s coming.

7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James thus highlights a crucial and overlooked element of life: that death is part of what defines us as individuals, and that it is something over which we have the least control.

6. Grindhouse

to watch either part of this double-feature alone, outside its gloriously schlocky conceit, is to miss the point.

5. Ratatouille

Ratatouille touched me in a way I did not expect. When it was released in theaters, I didn’t remotely get the hype. I believed it could be good for what it was, but truly great cinema? This? The cartoon with the rat who controls a guy like a puppet? To call it cute would be accurate but misleading, and neither the trailer nor my plot summary can do it justice.

4. Hot Fuzz

In 2007, when parody and genre tributes were either shallow, hateful, or cynically above-it-all. Hot Fuzz (and a couple of other films we’ll soon discuss) taught us how to mock with love…

3. Superbad

the teenagers act like teenagers. They don’t look 25 or have perfect skin or hair, or wear the latest fashions from Paris. They do not exist in the preordained, personality-based Apartheid state that high school is typically depicted as. They talk like teenagers. They swear incessantly like teenagers, but they’re also very clever like teenagers can sometimes be. And the whole film is permeated by a very teenage anxiety: the idea that everybody seems to know what’s going on except you.

2. There Will Be Blood

…[P.T. Anderson] made a brutal psychodrama epic with a three-hour run-time but minimal dialogue, mostly performed by a notoriously hammy method actor doing an over-the-top American accent, with a title lifted from a line from the trailer for Saw II.

Somehow that ended up being the best film of 2007.

1. Zodiac

Growing up, choosing a favorite movie was always impossible. The idea of a single film holding such a close place in my heart seemed unimaginable. Then I saw Zodiac.

So passes my review of the greatest year in the history of cinema.

Next Time: The greatest year in movie history that nobody remembers…

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