Surveying 2007 at the movies is a little like exploring a mysterious continent. Even with the advantage of hindsight and the best maps available, it's dauntingly diverse and confusing, and once we get away from the population centers, the wilderness is overwhelming.
The "population centers" are the top-grossing films of 2007, the so-called tent poles that gather in the big bucks, the Spider-Man 3s and Shrek the Thirds. With a couple of notable exceptions — The Bourne Ultimatum and Ratatouille among them — few of these mega-moneymakers are of any interest to anyone older than twelve. But the "wilderness," the land of genres, indies, foreign films, one-offs, and curiosities, is full of promise, although ruled by disagreement and complaint.
Some movie-biz commentators thought there was a glut of serious films this autumn, too many, too quickly to get a handle on. By the time you heard of a potentially interesting film, it had closed last Thursday. Others bemoaned the soft box office figures in general in the face of increased competition from video games. Some were upset about the torture-porn fad of sadomasochistic thrillers pitched at young males. Some critics hooted derisively at anything reeking of the dreaded Boomer. As always in the Bay Area, there were far too many film festivals — you might as well say there are too many subcultures.
Ticket prices in general are too high and heading higher, while savvy chains charge "amenities fees" for patrons willing to pay extra to sip a saketini while watching I'm Not There. Almost everybody thinks teenagers should have their own theaters where they can talk loudly to their friends and play electronic games and make calls on their cell phones during the show, and leave the rest of us, who want to watch the movie, alone — everybody except the teenagers, that is. And what's that stuff they call "butter flavoring" on the popcorn? Don't ask. In the midst of this, the Writers' Guild went out on strike, and the Directors' Guild and the Screen Actors' Guild are threatening to walk out in June. And (sob!) Rosanna Arquette and Kelly Lynch are pushing fifty. Is there no justice? Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. In the wilderness, there is no consensus. It's Balkanization, American style. Welcome to the Culture of Complaint, motion picture division.
We'll return to the Complaint Dept. occasionally as we discuss individual titles and persistent trends, but first let's take a look at the Ten Best Movies of 2007. There were a lot of films released in America this year — some 679, according to The-Numbers.com. But that's no more than in 2006, when 721 movies opened theatrically in the US. A few 2006 films played for the first time in the Bay Area in 2007, and, aside from such lost-in-the-cracks mavericks as David Lynch's Inland Empire, our field consists of "new" movies getting either their first run or first rep/museum showing here this year. Here, then, are the Top Ten, in more or less the order seen:
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
dir. Ken Loach
dir. William Friedkin
dir. Werner Herzog
The Bourne Ultimatum
dir. Paul Greengrass
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