Before we look at my favorite films from 2007, I have a message for both the mainstream film industry and its film critics: You have both lost all connection with film audiences.
Hollywood has seemingly decided that "quality" now equates with dark, violent and depressing; consequently, 2007 was one of the bleakest years ever for film distribution. To make matters worse, and to illustrate anew the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, film critics have fallen into lockstep with film distributors. As I write this column on January 1, 2008, the film that has garnered almost every film critic group’s nod as the best film of 2007 is No Country For Old Men, which centers around one of the nastiest, most vicious and soulless serial killers ever depicted on screen. In the first ten minutes of the film, a man is graphically strangled while the killer looks positively orgasmic and then another innocent man is cold-bloodedly shot between the eyes. And then it gets worse…much worse. Nevertheless, the film critic for the Portland Oregonian said this about the film: "exact, spare, bloody, dark, and unrelenting, it’s superb."
While I respect every one’s right to say whatever they believe, I also reserve the right to ask, "What are you folks smoking?" "Best film" means the one film every year that is represented to the rest of the world as the premier achievement in the American film industry. Focusing on the craft itself is fine for categories like sound editing, costume design, or cinematography, but, when you’re talking about the "best film," content itself should be of paramount importance.
For studios and critics, "superb" and "bloody, dark, and unrelenting" may belong in the same sentence but, fortunately, we in the audience don’t agree. The fall season of 2007 produced the weakest box office results for that period of time in the last ten years. The film industry is quite literally awash in red ink. According to a November 26, 2007, article in Video Business Weekly, the film industry lost a staggering $6 billion in 2006.
In short, the business model of the film industry is broken. Creatively, it’s even worse. The chasm between the insular, dark, violent and cynical tastes of most studios and film critics and the desire of audiences to have other choices is now deeper than the Grand Canyon.
I also think it would be wonderful, and more honest, if the Academy (of which I am a member) changed the characterization of awards from "best" to "favorite." The popularity of both films and actors always factor into Academy voting anyway, whether members want to admit it or not. Using "best" in regards to the art form of film is not only unfair to all concerned but also simply impossible to gauge. I have no idea what "best" means in films.
My own list of favorite films of 2007 consists of films that personally moved me, inspired me and made me feel better about being human. When I post these choices on the message boards for subscribers to the Spiritual Cinema Circle, I’m sure our community will share some passionate opinions and disagreements of their own. That’s the fun of it. Let the discussions begin.
1. REIGN OVER ME. With bravura performances from both Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, the film is a beautiful paean to the powers of love, friendship, and, most importantly, healing. Sandler, in particular, is brilliant beyond words. Unfortunately, like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004 and Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction in 2006, Sandler is seen as, and I’m afraid somewhat resented for, being a successful broad comedian, and his incredible performance has been unjustly ignored.
2. ENCHANTED. What a delightful, whimsical and hilarious film! Putting some of Disney’s classic fairy tale characters into a modern-day context works so well that my whole family just sat there smiling, laughing and applauding throughout the film. Amy Adams’ fairy tale princess, separated from her prince and sent to New York City by an evil queen, is so pitch perfect that we were repeating her lines for days.
3. THE GREAT DEBATERS. A powerful and moving tribute to the courage of the African-American Wiley College debating team and its coach in 1930s Texas. Denzel Washington directs and stars in a film that reminds us of what we can accomplish when we decide that it is we, not the world around us, who define ourselves.
4. JUNO. A funny, poignant, searingly honest and loving story of a teenager’s unwelcome pregnancy and her search for both herself and the most appropriate adoptive parents. Ellen Page is simply brilliant as the title character and the film has much to say about love, life and responsibility. It also has one of the sweetest and most touching final scenes in recent memory.
5. WAITRESS. An offbeat, often hilarious and sometimes harrowing story about a small town waitress and her unique talent for baking every kind of pie imaginable. Keri Russell achieves superstar actress status with her complex and nuanced portrait of a woman in an emotionally abusive marriage that she yearns to escape. The film is also a loving tribute to Adrienne Shelly, its writer/director/costar who was tragically killed after the completion of the film.