“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”
– Mel Brooks
With the above quote, Mel Brooks drew the distinction between tragedy and comedy. This year, a similarity was found: Nearly all of the year’s best films were either tragic or comedic, or – in the case of my favorite film – both.
With that said, 2007 was a far cry from being a tragic year at the movies. In fact, it was one of the finest years in recent memory, which made it difficult to limit my list to ten this year. In a weaker year, films like The Host, Away From Her and 3:10 to Yuma would have cracked the top ten. This year, they’re my honorable mentions.
It sounds like something from a bad movie: a penniless stripper from the midwest packs up her bags and moves to Hollywood, only to become the most celebrated new screenwriter of our time – but that’s exactly what happened to Juno’s screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Three years ago, Cody was taking off her clothes at a sleazy Minneapolis strip club – now the only thing that is taking off is her career, and rightfully so. Juno is a pure delight from start to finish, stuffed with smart dialogue hardy laughs, and one amazing performance. I’m of course speaking about Ellen Page (Hard Candy), who is nothing less than a revelation as the pregnant 16-year-old title character. Page delivers every line with deadpan sass and even manages to squeeze out a few tears as the pregnant 16-year-old title character. Juno may be a small film, but it provides us with laughs the size of Alaska.
2. Gone Baby Gone
A few cynical critics complained that Ben Affleck’s debut direction, Gone Baby Gone, was too much like Clint Eastwood’s 2003 masterpiece, Mystic River. I, on the other hand, consider that the top-notch praise that this Baby deserves. Casey Affleck, who will likely get an Oscar nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James, is great as a dedicated private eye who is determined to solve a complex kidnapping mystery. Amy Ryan is also great as the bad parent who was at the bar while her child was being kidnapped. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote Mystic River), Gone Baby Gone unravels with twists and turns that will keep you at the edge of your seat until its heartbreaking finale.
3. No Country for Old Men
Cat-and-mouse chases have been around long since the days of Tom & Jerry, but seldom have they been as good as No Country for Old Men, the newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen. Tommy Lee Jones gives a great performance as a sheriff who hopes to track down a mass murderer who is more dangerous than the plutonic plague. Javier Bardem plays the oxygen tank-carrying villain with a psychological creepiness that hasn’t been seen since Anthony Hopkins became Hannibal Lecter in the original Silence of the Lambs.
4. There Will Be Blood
I can’t think of a better writer/director working today than Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant 37-year-old filmmaker whose credits prior to this year included Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. This year Anderson added another masterful work to his list with There Will Be Blood, a powerful story of greed, beliefs and oil. Daniel Day-Lewis gives the performance of the year as Daniel Plainview, an early 20th century oil tycoon with a young son and a dangerous passion for making money. Thankfully, Anderson doesn’t care about making money by directing pointless blockbusters; rather he has placed his passion in making small movies that will be remembered for ages.
5. Knocked Up
Two years ago, Judd Apatow brought us the hilarious story of a 40-year-old man who had never had sex. With his second film, Knocked Up, Apatow deals with sex amongst a much younger population and, ironically, the result is a much more mature comedy. Knocked Up was the first of three pregnancy tragedies released this year (the others being Juno and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), and it certainly set the bar high. Seth Rogen stars in a career-making role as a fun-loving party animal who hooks up with a successful young news anchor in a night of drunken fun. What happens next could probably be guessed from the film’s title, but no one could guess how funny and smart the film is along its way.
6. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Call it a mini-Fargo: two brothers – short on money – set up a plan to rob their parents’ jewelry store, only to have their plan fail miserably. Syndey Lumet’s film, however, does not fail in any way; it’s his best film in decades. Ethan Hawke and Phillip Seymour Hoffman both give notable performances as the needy brothers, but it’s Marisa Tomei as Hoffman’s wife who gives the film’s standout performance. She’s raw and heartbreaking, like the film itself.
7. Into the Wild
We’ve seen this story hundreds of times: an individual travels to various places and solves everyone’s problems along the way. By now, the story that is the base for Sean Penn’s Into the Wild should feel repetitive and dull, but it doesn’t. Not even for a second. Perhaps that’s because Emile Hirsch gives such a fresh, dedicated performance as Christopher McCandless, the recent college grad who gave up his life savings and identity to travel into the wild with the bare essentials. Despite having a common story, Into the Wild holds up on repetitive viewings; it’s the most inspiring film of the year.
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The year’s most poetic film belonged to Julian Schnabel, a French director who tells the story of a paralyzed man that writes a memoir by blinking his eye, one of only three parts of him that are not paralyzed – the others being his imagination and his memory. Although the film has a rather tragic driving force, The Diving Bell manages to be strangely inspiring and even funny; it’s the year’s most breathtaking import.
9. The Savages
2007 brought us two great films about the pains of growing old: Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, which told the story of a lovely elderly woman who forgets her husband to Alzheimer’s, and this wonderfully depressing story of two siblings (Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who reunite during their father’s final days. The Savages isn’t always easy to watch, but it captures the pains and struggles of realizing that life is temporary better than any film in recent memory.
There was a time when good a good musical came around about as often as the winter Olympics. Fortunately, those days are over. 2007 brought us a slew of acclaimed musicals: the sassy Broadway hit Hairspray, the almost-too-dark vengeance tale Sweeney Todd and the Beatles-tribute Across the Universe to name a few. But despite having much larger budgets, none could compare to this small Irish treat. Glen Hansard stars as an inspiring artist who plays a beat-up guitar on the streets for money. One day while playing, a girl with a vacuum (Maketa Irglova) stops to listen to one of his songs – and why shouldn’t she? After all, they’re some of the best songs I heard all year – on or off of the big screen.