2007 was a year of political soul-searching in the cinema, with the likes of Babel, The Lives of Others and Rendition. And a return to 70s-style, gritty dramas for thoughtful audiences – like Zodiac, Michael Clayton and American Gangster. Surprisingly, there was a welcome outing for the western, with 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James. Cinema – you might say – grew up again. And yet heading my list of top ten films of 2007 (and feel free to disagree) is an out-and-out crowd-pleaser, a fantasy comedy that came from nowhere and shone like stardust.
A personal top ten…
10. Into Great Silence
Into Great Silence is a startling achievement consisting solely of sounds and images from the venerable Grande Chartreuse monastery in France – for three hours. In a gabble-heavy age, sitting through Into Great Silence was a powerful experience. Uncomfortable, at times maddeningly dull, it made monks of us all – a cinematic exercise in meditation. Into Great Silence joins the company of films like Schindler’s List – profound but not something you’d want to see too often.
A fairy tale of New York that had nothing to do with The Pogues, Enchanted saw Disney having fun at its own expense as a fairytale princess falls into modern day New York. Winning over cynical critics, it cast a surprisingly charming spell. The full-on whimsy of the animated opening catches you off guard – is this is just another Disney sugar fest? Nope. It’s a class act, with catchy music, clever comedy and characters to care for. Enchanted may be aimed at very little girls but its good natured appeal worked wonders on audiences of all ages.
8. The Illusionist
Was it a cunning mirage? Two period films about magicians? No. Last year’s The Prestige was followed by the much quieter Illusionist. Deceptively simple, it pulled a clever rabbit from its hat with a mysterious tale of a turn-of-the-century magician facing down the Crown Prince of Austria. Romance, murder and revenge; a wonderfully evocative Philip Glass score; and an on-form cast (including Edward Norton, Rufus Sewell, Paul Giamatti) made this a surprising hit.
7. Hot Fuzz
Something to sing about, Hot Fuzz was a fizzy feelgood comedy with its heart in the right place and its tongue firmly in cheek. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reprised their Shaun of the Dead double-act in the tale of a supercop sent to the sticks for being too competent. More murderous than Midsomer, Hot Fuzz came out with all guns blazing – literally, in a Somerfield supermarket showdown. It lived up to the buzz.
6. The Kite Runner
Tugging the strings of your heart, The Kite Runner lifted you to the heights, and swooped down to the depths. Based on Khaled Hosseini’s best-seller, it’s the story of Amir, an Afghan émigré who returns to his homeland to rescue the son of a friend he once betrayed. A haunting portrait of the power of friendship and the possibility of redemption, it’s both brutal and beautiful. Thanks to little Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, as Amir’s young friend, there’s a sweetness that’s almost exhilarating.
5. And When Did You Last See Your Father?
Poetic, touching and funny, Blake Morrison’s memoir of his dad was beautifully filmed and poignantly acted. Family secrets, father-son dysfunction and terminal illness hardly sound like uplifting fare. But Anand Tucker – one of Britain’s best directors (Shopgirl, Hilary & Jackie) – demonstrates his astonishing ability to capture on screen the nuances of feeling. Bullish Jim Broadbent is on cracking form but the revelation of the year was teenager Matthew Beard as the young Blake.
4. The Hoax
Funny, thrillingly-plotted and wonderfully performed, The Hoax was seat-grippingly good. A return to form for Richard Gere, it told the story of writer Clifford Irving’s real-life 70s scam – a faked biography of the mogul-recluse Howard Hughes. Starting out as prank against his publisher the ruse runs away with itself. The Hoax wasn’t on many cinema screens. But do yourself a favour and seek it out on DVD. An engrossing account of bare-faced cheek.
3. Amazing Grace
The story of William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery, Amazing Grace sidesteps the pitfalls of sentiment and quietly triumphs. Faithful to the man and to the misery he fought against, the script was fluent, sparky and – surprisingly - funny. History has rarely been so deftly handled at the movies. No dumbing-down, no clichés, no preaching. Just a thoughtful costume pic about politics - inspirational certainly but only by dint of a corking script and a top-notch cast.
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
An almost-masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James was a lyrical study of a myth and a man. The myth is Jesse James (Brad Pitt). The man is Robert Ford (a mesmeric Casey Affleck) as the puppy-dog follower who shot him. Poetic and powerful, it portrayed characters through landscapes as well as lines. Based on Ron Hansen’s haunting novel, Assassination’s glacial pace and tone made for a long film. But the power of Affleck’s performance and the physicality of the photography were something special, and something to savour.
Stardust shot across the screen in joyous burst of joie de vivre. One of the most witty and entertaining films in years, Stardust stayed in cinemas for ages thanks to wildfire word of mouth. A young man hopes to win the girl of his dreams by bringing her a fallen star. But the star’s a girl in a bad mood, hunted by feuding princes and wicked witches. Sounds corny, but Neil Gaiman’s cracking script upends all expectations – broadly and blackly funny and bursting with imaginative brio. Perfectly formed, Stardust doesn’t deal in politics. But it does make the world seem a much better place.