Happy New Year, and welcome to The Movie Snob’s Best of 2007 column. As usual, the films eligible for consideration and inclusion in this prestigious work of film criticism are those that I saw in a movie theater during calendar year 2007. As usual, this means that a lot of 2006 releases will be included. For the record, I saw 58 movies in theaters in 2007, up from 45 in 2006.
Movie of the Year: It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film —The Lives of Others totally blew me away. Set in Communist East Germany, it is the story of a member of the secret police who is assigned to spy on a playwright. He bugs the playwright’s apartment and spends hours listening to his activities. The playwright starts out a true believer in Communism, but as his faith erodes, so does that of his unseen listener. If you can tolerate subtitles (or know German), rent this movie a.s.a.p.
Best Drama: This was a rich category. Some critics found Amazing Grace, the story of the British parliamentarian who fought and eventually buried the slave trade, too schmaltzy, but I totally enjoyed it. Renee Zellweger impressed again as revered children’s author Beatrix Potter in the charming and moving little film Miss Potter. Into the Wild features lots of great performances, and amazingly got me to sympathize with a protagonist I felt sure I was going to dislike. I have a hard time picking just one, but if forced to choose I would have to give the nod to Into the Wild.
Best Comedy: Like last year’s Little Miss Sunshine, this year’s winner is more of a dramedy, a movie about a serious subject that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Featuring great performances by Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner, among others, the award goes to Juno. First runner-up is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, the send-up of Walk the Line and similar biopics. It made me laugh from beginning to end. I would also cite the French movie The Valet, in which a hapless car parker is suddenly hired to pose as the boyfriend of a supermodel, in order to conceal an affair she is having with a married tycoon. It’s a very enjoyable romp. Honorable mentions to the Will Ferrell movie Blades of Glory and the overly maligned Evan Almighty.
Best Action/Adventure: There wasn’t much competition for category winner The Bourne Ultimatum, which was just as slick and exciting as when it used to be called The Bourne Supremacy. Seriously, I can’t recall a single difference between the two, except in this last one we find out that Jason Bourne was Catholic before he became a government-programmed assassin. Go figure. Children of Men was not as impressive in the thrills department but was far more thought-provoking. Beowulf was a lot of fun, at least in its IMAX 3-D incarnation. That last Pirates of the Caribbean movie wasn’t bad, although it was awfully long.
Best Documentary: I didn’t see very many this year, but in the short list of contenders is an excellent movie. In the Shadow of the Moon is a very interesting look at the Apollo missions, and it features interviews with lots of the mere handful of men who have actually been to the moon. Alas, Neil Armstrong was not among them, and there is only the slightest allusion to the fact that he has apparently become an odd recluse somewhere.
Best Foreign Film: Setting aside my Movie of the Year (and The Valet, which I put in the Comedy section), there were some other foreign flicks that are well worth your time if you can stand subtitles. Actually, the first one has substantial portions in English. After the Wedding is a Danish film, I think, about the unexpected events that befall a Dane who has returned home from his work at an orphanage in India. Very interesting. I also really liked the Penelope Cruz movie Volver, even though I don’t much care for Ms. Cruz herself. Pan’s Labyrinth is compelling, but it is a very dark film. Brace yourself for lots of cruelty if you see it.
Honorable Mentions. I don’t mind a good chick flick from time to time, and two of this year’s honorable mentions fit that category: Becoming Jane, which is about Jane Austen, and The Jane Austen Book Club, which is about, well, you figure it out. Stardust was an interesting attempt to become this decade’s version of The Princess Bride. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it’s a good effort. Babel was a good movie. Did it win the Oscar? I forget, but it was a good movie nonetheless. And last but not least, check out this year’s little movie that could: Once. It’s a sweet indie film about an Irish street musician and a Czech girl that he chances to meet and make some music with. But don’t get the soundtrack. I did and regretted it. Just see the movie.