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

    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…


The Best (and Worst) of 2007 So Far

As I remain confident that 2007 will be my longest retrospective, it seems wise to recap what we’ve dealt with so far– I’ve already covered 72 films in the first half of the year, compared to 57 for all of 1977, and an anticipated total of 65 for the next year I plan to cover.

In my review of Spider-Man 3, I wrote that Sony rebooted the Spider-Man franchise due to their own disappointment with the film. In fact, Raimi quit when his requests for greater creative control over Spider-Man 4 were ignored. Nevertheless, starting the entire franchise from scratch was a strangely extreme course of action.

The Best:

10. Disturbia
While dated in places, what could have been a shallow retread of Rear Window is a fun, suspenseful thriller anchored by the performances of Shia LaBoeuf and David Morse.

9. Sicko
Carefully balancing real-life horror stories with his trademark sarcastic humor, Sicko sees left-wing documentarian Michael Moore make one of his best films with a passionate moral argument for universal healthcare

8. Death at a Funeral
Frank Oz’s unapologetic (and divisive) British farce is a must-watch for lovers of UK humor, whether you end up liking it or not. The best kind of dumb comedy.

7. Paranoid Park
While not always a pleasant film, Gus Van Sant’s austere teen-thriller succeeds in its purpose and perfectly captures the look and feel of 2000s America.

6. Sunshine
Danny Boyle’s eye-popping blend of slow-burn horror and old-fashioned hard science fiction is a feast for the eyes, ears, and heart, anchored by great performances, stunning visuals, and an uncommon commitment to its concept.

5. No Country for Old Men
Suspensefully paced, gloriously shot, and not without a sense of humor, Joel and Ethan Coen’s stark Texas thriller/comeback to greatness ranks among their all-time best films.

4. Grindhouse
Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s campy double-feature is a deliriously fun homage to b-movies and a must-see for aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles in general.

3. Ratatouille
Brad Bird and Pixar’s charming, funny, and endlessly gorgeous contribution to 2007 is one of their finest, and a family film for the ages.

2. Hot Fuzz
Edgar Wright’s loving send-up of Hollywood cop movies is a joy for fans of the genre and newcomers alike, and a breath of fresh air in the age of grimdark.

1. Zodiac
With the help of James Vanderbilt’s brilliant script, David Fincher delivers a darkly fascinating true-crime thriller with an unconventional cast and painstaking attention to detail. My all-time favorite movie.

Honorable mentions: The Lookout, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, King of California

The Worst:

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
A joyless, convoluted mess, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End should be seen a cautionary tale about the dangers of a franchise buying its own hype.

9. Transformers
Michael Bay’s nihilistic headache is an insult to moviegoers.

8. Epic Movie
Yet another installment in Seltzer and Friedberg’s shallow parodies misses the point of its own genre and goes for cheap, short-lived laughs that may not actually exist.

7. Good Luck Chuck
The epitome of bad comedy in 2007, “romantic comedy” Good Luck Chuck is an astonishingly unappealing vehicle for a leaden Dane Cook at the height of his fame.

6. The Number 23
While Joel Schumacher’s homage to numerological conspiracies was widely derided in its time, The Number 23 is underappreciated as a must-see for lovers of so-bad- it’s-good camp.

5. Georgia Rule
Trying to be a feel-good movie about sexual abuse, Georgia Rule brings a new definition to tone-deafness with the help of an awkward, aimless script and oblivious direction.

4. Wild Hogs
Priding itself on favoring one lazy male stereotype over another, this contractual obligation of a film is an embarrassment to everyone involved.

3. Norbit
Originally, I was numb to Norbit’s insulting stupidity because I knew it was coming. But as time has gone on, my revulsion to it has only grown. How Eddie Murphy expected this ugly, incompetent farce to be a hit is a testament to his lack of self-awareness, with all the unexamined gay subtext that implies.

2. Perfect Stranger
An uncommonly inept pileup of bad decisions, the aggressively retrograde Perfect Stranger is an uncommon embarrassment to all involved.

1. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
The only film in the history of MovieYears that I was unable to finish, In the Name of the King is content to exist for no reason if that means lining the pockets of its beloathed creator.

Next Time: License to Wed

1977 in Review

In 1977, Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President of the United States, Apple went into business, and punk rock became commercially widespread. It was a time of unpredictable change. Peter Finch, Joan Crawford, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, and Charlie Chaplin died. Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Tom Hardy were born.

But as impressive as that may sound, I have no idea what compelled me to introduce this blog by covering this particular year. Though it produced its share of classics like any other, it’s not regarded as a particularly good year for movies, nor a particularly bad one. However, it was definitely worth covering. I began doing yearly retrospectives as much as an education for me as an outlet for my boredom, and I saw a bunch of great movies for the first time, as well as seeing some I already knew in a new light.

But let’s get down to the listicles:

Seven Movies I Should Have Reviewed

1. The Turning Point
Like most of the movies on this list, The Turning Point, directed by Goodbye Girl auteur Herbert Ross, was simply unavailable to watch in any format; not from any streaming services, not from Netflix DVD, not even from the library, and not through YouTube piracy. This is astonishing, as The Turning Point was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and two separate nominations for Best Actress (Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine), and notably introduced America to the legendary, recently-defected dancer, ballet choreographer, and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov. There are a lot of movies that have surprised me with their inaccessibility but this is the most shocking (except maybe Soldier of Orange).

2-3. Homage to Chagall/Who Are the DeBolts?
Five films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary feature of 1977. Two of them, Union Maids and High Grass Circus, had theatrical releases in 1976, and two more are simply unavailable for public viewing. Harry Rasky’s Homage to Chagall: The Colors of Love was the only feature documentary produced about Chagall before his death in 1985, and I found frustratingly little information about it. The winner of the award, John Korty’s Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? explored the lives of a couple of notable adoption activists. Both films received DVD releases at some point, but the hell if I could find them.

4. You Light Up My Life
You Light Up My Life was especially frustrating. Even without seeing it, there was a lot to talk about. From the 1970s-1990s, having a big, radio-friendly original song in your movie was a major way to make extra money and promote the film. Taking this to its logical extreme, writer/director/producer/songwriter/serial rapist Joseph Brooks created You Light Up My Life purely as a delivery vehicle for the song of the same name, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song (one of a couple of dubious categories) and become the biggest single of the entire 1970s, which nobody born afterward has heard, and which anyone who was there at the time absolutely hates.

5. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
1977 offers a surprising amount of Jewish-centric movies, as the Jewish-dominated Hollywood studio system has historically been uncomfortable about alienating their mostly gentile American audience. It’s telling then that most of the Jewish-themed movies of 1977 were foreign offerings, while I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, schlockmaster Roger Corman’s foray into prestige cinema, managed to adapt a book about antisemitism by removing all references to antisemitism. Accordingly, it lost a great deal of credibility with critics– you know, in addition to being Roger Corman’s foray into prestige cinema.

6. The Last Wave
Did you know Peter Weir made a movie in between Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli? Maybe you did. I didn’t.

7. Billy Jack Goes to Washington
Doing these reviews, I try to be comprehensive; that means checking out the best of the best and the worst of the worst. Into the latter category should go Billy Jack Goes to Washington. Largely forgotten today, Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack films were blockbusters in their own times, coinciding nicely with the bizarre intersection of sensitive lefty activism and adolescent white-boy rage that defined the Nixon years. Like many angry white boys, Laughlin was convinced that every ill of society was part of an overarching problem, and so offered up a bizarre manifesto of world peace through Native American land rights, Montessori education, and Hapkido. With Watergate and Vietnam in the rear-view mirror, Billy Jack’s brand of self-indulgence was deeply unfashionable, and the final film, Billy Jack Goes to Washington, couldn’t find a distributor. Laughlin naturally claimed that the government, and particularly Senator Vance Hartke, quashed the movie, apparently unaware that Hartke was retired by this point. The movie has a rare 0% rating on RottenTomatoes.

Ten Worst Movies of 1977 (That I Saw)

Dishonorable mentions: Equus, Bobby Deerfield, Suspiria

10. Pumping Iron
The most popular documentary of 1977, Pumping Iron is a jarringly uncritical, almost hagiographic exploration of the world of bodybuilding that comes off even worse than a hatchet job.

9. The Sentinel
A bizarre, derivative follow-up to several New Hollywood horror classics, The Sentinel misses the humanity in what its ripping off, and presents a convoluted, unthreatening menace.

8. Airport ’77
Following the lead of the movies the original Airport inspired, Airport ’77 is sluggish beyond words and struggles to find a core story.

7. Damnation Alley
Badly written, badly directed, badly acted, and gifted with extraordinarily bad special effects, Damnation Alley was meant to be the big summer sci-fi hit of 1977, but misses the mark so completely that one has to wonder what the studio saw in it to begin with.

6. Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Totally convinced of its own self-importance, the sexploitation-morality tale Looking for Mr. Goodbar is endlessly meandering, confusing, and just plain gross.

5. Orca
A movie about a whale hunting people out of vengeance. Do I need to say any more?

4. Exorcist II: The Heretic
John Boorman’s spite-sequel to the excellent The Exorcist throws out the original’s style and emotional substance for an incomprehensible exploration of mirrors, locusts, and stupid demon names.

3. The Other Side of Midnight
Like Damnation Alley, The Other Side of Midnight was highly anticipated as a massive summer blockbuster. Like Damnation Alley, it is borderline unwatchable in every way. But at least Damnation Alley doesn’t bring poor, beleaguered history into the mix.

2. Tentacles
A complete waste of a movie. A waste of a fine cast, a waste of 35mm film, a waste of the Italian government’s money; Tentacles is unequivocally the worst of all the Jaws ripoffs.

1. Empire of the Ants
Same as above, but with ants instead of an octopus.

Ten Best Movies of 1977

Honorable mentions: The Duellists, Capricorn One, High Anxiety

10. Saturday Night Fever
Unfairly maligned for decades, Saturday Night Fever is an incredibly stylish but also uncompromisingly dark movie that makes for an unforgettable whole.

9. Smokey and the Bandit
What you might expect to be a low-down good ‘ole boy movie is actually a taut, heartfelt, and funny action-comedy in all the right ways.

8. The Gauntlet
Clint Eastwood’s talents behind the camera have never been clearer than in The Gauntlet, a thrilling chase movie that took action-comedy tropes to a dizzying new level.

7. A Special Day
Ettore Scola’s haunting recollection of life under Mussolini hones in on a single day for two of fascism’s biggest and least visible outcasts.

6. Soldier of Orange
Paul Verhoeven’s gripping, lived-in account of the travails of the Dutch Resistance in World War II unapologetically demonstrates the importance of justice and loyalty over youthful friendship, and offers a startling recommendation for those who may have to choose between one and the other.

5. Sorcerer
Maligned as an overindulgent mega-flop, William Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a gorgeous, endlessly intense picture that deserves nothing less than a popular revival.

4. A Bridge Too Far
The most expensive movie of 1977, Richard Attenborough’s star-studded, no-holds-barred portrait of the Allied failure to invade the Netherlands in World War II is a spectacle for every sense.

3. Annie Hall
Often regarded as his best movie, Woody Allen’s scatterbrained relationship comedy is an uproarious achievement in the melding of humor and the unique qualities of film as a medium.

2. Star Wars
An energizing throwback to a time when heroes were allowed to defeat villains, Star Wars was a massive leap that would come to redefine science fiction, the family film, and the movie business.

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The most passionate of Steven Spielberg’s passion projects, the only film which he alone conceived, wrote, and directed, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a pure cinematic experience, a heretofore unknown fusion of sci-fi extravaganza, creative allegory, and biblical epic that must be seen by anyone with a budding interest in filmmaking.

I have no idea what compelled me to do a review series on 1977. Despite the achievements especially of Star Wars, 1977 did not mark a turning point in movies as either an art form or (especially) as a business.

hat would come in 1978. Less than a month into the new year, actor-director Robert Redford inaugurated the first annual Utah/US Film Festival in Park City Utah. Renamed the Sundance Film Festival in 1991, it was intended to showcase filmmakers that would otherwise have been overlooked by the Hollywood studio system. Though no one would be able to tell for decades, this plan would work all too well, as the major studios would begin producing fewer of their own movies from the mid-90s onward and rely on independent films to make up for the loss. At the end of that same year, the producers of Michael Cimino’s Vietnam War epic The Deer Hunter attempted to circumvent public squeamishness about the movie’s subject matter by releasing the film in such a way as to meet the minimum requirements for an Academy Award nomination, get a nomination, and use the awards buzz as a marketing tool, and Oscar Bait was born.

But that’s a story for another day. Next time, I’m going to get more recent, and review the single greatest year in film history…