Ten years on, and 2007 must surely be remembered as one of the finest years in English-language film-making, quite possibly the best of this century so far. Like 1939, 1976, or 1994, it was one of those years in which a succession of veritable classics came into being. So many, in fact, that some of the best examples were cruelly overlooked by the hype machine of the day. A decade later, it’s high time to look back at 2007 for both its celebrated landmarks and forgotten masterpieces.
The 2007 Oscar race saw two equally worthy films competing for poll position; the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. The former would win the day, going home with the prizes for Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to argue with the result. No Country For Old Men remains an astonishing film; every scene is coated in tension but the audience is rarely afforded any sort of payoff or relief. The Coens’ tossed out the rulebook on how narrative cinema operates, and in doing so produced a picture that becomes more rewarding with every viewing. Javier Bardem created one of the screen’s great villains in the form of Anton Chigurh, a softly spoken hit-man who literally and figuratively slaughters his victims like cattle. It represents a peak which the Coens have since failed to reach.
Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a similarly mesmerising piece of film-making from one of Hollywood’s genuine auteurs. Upon first viewing, it feels almost inexplicable; a contemplative character study of a loathsome sociopath. But this is a story which gets under your skin and demands to be understood, as if definitive answers to its mysteries are waiting just out of sight.
Despite its setting at the turn of the twentieth century, There Will Be Blood meditates on themes which feel all too relevant, perhaps more so now than upon its release. The all-consuming nature of greed, individualism, and faith are considered against Johnny Greenwood’s hypnotic score and Robert Elswit’s Oscar winning cinematography. There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about Daniel Day-Lewis’ central performance, but watching him work continues to be an intoxicating experience. You’ll never drink a milkshake the same way again.
Of course, both of these films received more than their fair share of acclaim at the time, often at the expense of other worthy contenders. After a troubled and extended time in post-production, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford was finally released in 2007. It arrived in cinemas with all the momentum of a Michael Gove leadership campaign and made barely a murmur at the Oscars the following year. Mark Kermode assessed the film as ‘one of the most wrongly neglected masterpieces of its era’, and looking back it’s clear that he wasn’t wrong. This is a distinctly introspective western, light on action but heavy on pathos, which calls to mind both George Steven’s Shane and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. It launched the career of the now-Oscar minted Casey Affleck, and features some of Roger Deakins’ finest moments as Director of Photography (and that’s saying something). It’s a stunning piece of work, and the final sequence will leave you both dejected and elated in the way that only film can.
Similarly overlooked was David Fincher’s Zodiac, a real-life murder mystery which acts as a sort of companion piece to the 1997’s Seven, although there’s much more focus on red tape and police bureaucracy than there is on foot chases and grisly murder scenes.
The film enjoys an immensely satisfying level of period detail, and the ensemble cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr. It doesn’t quite deal in the thrills of your average crime film, beyond a few moments of brilliantly executed tension, but serves as a reminder that, in the real world, the cops can’t always get their man. By no means Fincher’s best work, but with the Zodiac killings having inspired everything from Dirty Harry to The Exorcist III, it’s a relief to see the actual case adapted into film proper.
Looking to more family-friendly fare, 2007’s Ratatouille is often unfairly disregarded within the Pixar canon, but it surely deserves appreciation next to the rest of their late-2000s golden age. Only Pixar could make a film about a wisecracking rat working as a chef in Paris, and end up with such a heartfelt and emotionally powerful piece of art. Peter O’Toole’s voice work as the disdainful food critic Anton Ego is probably the actor’s best performance of his later years, while his character’s conclusion packs an unexpected gut punch which pleads to the child in all of us. Ratatouille secured Brad Bird’s second Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, after The Incredibles, and it speaks for itself as one of the few Pixar masterpieces untainted by superfluous sequels.
Outside of the United States, 2007 also gave us Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, for my money the best of the Cornetto trilogy. The film perfectly parodies classic Asian and American crime films whilst blazing its own, distinctly British trail. Timothy Dalton, the thinking man’s James Bond, is at his charismatic best as the villainous slasher of prices, Simon Skinner, while the rest of the cast is a who’s who of British comic actors. Wright returns to screens this year with the star-studded crime caper Baby Driver, which makes now a better time than ever to revisit his irreverent ode to the action genre.
Of course, not every picture released in 2007 will be remembered as a timeless classic, but many more are still worth your attention on their tenth birthday. Jason Reitman’s Juno is probably the best film about pregnancy since Rosemary’s Baby, and it’s not every day that you’ll see those two titles in a sentence together. Ellen Page gives a charming performance as the titular teenager, delivering snappy dialogue from a script which deals in a perfect blend of sincerity and comedy. Elsewhere, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster didn’t add much of anything new to the crime genre, but is anchored to a killer soundtrack and two compelling performances from Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington.
The year also saw the original Bourne trilogy reach an explosive climax with The Bourne Ultimatum, delivering a satisfying conclusion that has since been sullied by extraneous instalments. Further excitement can be found in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone – an effective thriller in its own right and an able premonition of the excellence that was to come in the shape of The Town and Argo.
As with any year, however, 2007 saw a number of high-profile stinkers drift into multiplexes. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy sputtered to an ungainly halt with the third instalment; Tobey Maguire’s dad dancing says about all that needs to be said on this subject. Equally distressing sequels included Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End and Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem. Dreadful spin-offs and reboots might be a more common sight in today’s cinemas, but they’re by no means a new development. In fact, it was 2007 that saw the dawn of Michael Bay’s dreaded Transformers franchise, the explosive behemoth which continues to haunt the worst nightmares of any self-respecting cinema-goer. Thankfully, while the masterworks of 2007 continue to bring us joy, the memories of its depredations will be lost in time, much like Rutger Hauer’s tears in rain.
For every individual, the tenth anniversary of 2007 may bring jubilant or melancholy recollections to mind. Whatever the case, at least it’s an excuse to revisit a fantastic collection of films. For fans of crime, westerns, comedies, or animations, there’s something for every taste, no matter how discerning. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten or deliberately ignored one of your favourites, so feel free to take to the comments with the appropriate level of outrage. If 2007 proves anything, it’s that classic films aren’t just a relic of ages past; they’re being made all around us. I can’t wait to see what we’re watching in another ten years’ time.