Well, it's award season, and time to take stock of that magnificent movie year that was 2007. Unfortunately, because of the writers' strike, they had to present the awards last night completely devoid of pomp and circumstance. So I'm going to leap into the breach and anoint my own damn winners. Just try and stop me, America.
Here are the categories and nominations, and my pick (actual winners are asterisked):
1. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
VIGGO MORTENSEN - EASTERN PROMISES -- His best performance since Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, which is to say, the second-best performance of his career. His Russian accent isn't perfect, but his Russian-accented English is by turns hilarious and frightening. Either a villainous hero or a heroic villain, he's one of the most memorable characters of the year, and a big reason this movie was my favorite of the year. And his nude bathhouse fight, sort of the action-movie analog to the nude wrestling scene in Borat, is one of the best action setpieces in recent memory.
GEORGE CLOONEY - MICHAEL CLAYTON -- Clooney gave the sort of performance he's become known for, winning and easy to enjoy. He's a bit like Tom Hanks, but better-looking. In short, he delivers everything that Hollywood star power has always symbolized: glamor and a happy ending.
*DANIEL DAY-LEWIS - THERE WILL BE BLOOD -- Too mannered for my taste, but undeniable conviction. He's always worth watching, which is more than you can say for Paul Dano in this movie. But there's a thin line between commanding presence and scenery-chewing, and Day-Lewis doesn't always stay on the right side of the line.
JAMES MCAVOY - ATONEMENT
DENZEL WASHINGTON - AMERICAN GANGSTER -- Good, but certainly not one of his best. Washington could deliver one of these performances in his sleep, especially since this requires him to assume much the same character as he did in Training Day, only slightly less menacing.
2. BEST MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
*SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET -- Sweeney Todd is Burton's best movie in years, Depp's best performance in years (and one of Bonham Carter's best ever), and one of the bloodier films since Dead Alive. In short, rollicking good fun. It's a musical masquerading as a British horror film, and while it has the same sour message about humanity as No Country for Old Men, it's 10 times more enjoyable.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR -- Tom Hanks doing what he does best, aided by a bit more booze, broads, and missiles than usual. The Aaron Sorkin script crackles as if Studio 60 had never happened, and it's all breezy fun until the final ellipsis reminds the audience that our actions in Afghanistan in the 1980s weren't quite the end of our involvement there.
JUNO -- Not bad, though of course too stylized by half. It's the Miller's Crossing of teenage pregnancy movies. However, Jason Reitman's direction is sure-handed (and probably more restrained than his father's) and the ensemble cast does a good job with the motormouthed script. Ellen Page and Michael Cera are very good.
3. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
AMY ADAMS - ENCHANTED -- Really, just a truly remarkable performance. As a fundamental defense of Disney movies, the movie deserved more accolades than it got; as the quintessential Disney princess who proves that fairy tale stuff like love and hope and courage are worth believing in, Amy Adams can't be praised highly enough. Yeah, it's a chick flick -- it's about a chick and a dude who fall in love and sing songs to each other. It's done really well. It's a great movie. And Adams is the reason why.
NIKKI BLONSKY - HAIRSPRAY
HELENA BONHAM CARTER - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET -- Helena Bonham Carter is an actress who is easy to underrate because of her looks. She's classically beautiful, with a dark English beauty that almost demands a corset and a period drama. As a result, she's a classically trained actress who is frequently given far too little to do, except by her boyfriend and baby daddy Tim Burton. Here, she's marvelous: bloodthirsty and besotted, she courts Depp and cannibalizes much of London, singing Sondheim patter and looking lovely in a tubercular sort of Victorian way.
*MARION COTILLARD - LA VIE EN ROSE
ELLEN PAGE - JUNO -- She did a great job with a hyperactive script. There was nothing wrong with her performance, but her character was so close to that of Thora Birch in Ghost World that it's easy to praise but hard to say she did something new. Still, she's a major upcoming talent, and if Agnes Bruckner, Alison Lohman, or Evan Rachel Wood misses a step, she'll be the next indie heavyweight to stay.
4. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
I didn't see any of these, and frankly, Elizabeth and The Brave One were supposed to be awful. It's no surprise that the best films of the year -- every one of the films above was directed by a man -- would have no good female roles, because that's the way it always goes. All of the below actresses can coast for the rest of their careers on reputation alone. It's neat that Julie Christie won.
CATE BLANCHETT - ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
*JULIE CHRISTIE - AWAY FROM HER
JODIE FOSTER - THE BRAVE ONE
ANGELINA JOLIE - A MIGHTY HEART
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY - ATONEMENT
5. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
*JOHNNY DEPP - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET -- Depp doesn't do much singing these days, which is a shame, because, as seen in Cry Baby, he's quite good. (He was also in a rock band back in the '80s.) Much as Sweeney Todd is a Burton pastiche, the performance is sort of a culmination of every weird misunderstood horrifying lovable hot character Depp's ever played, and he's captivating in every frame.
RYAN GOSLING - LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
TOM HANKS - CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR -- He's been so good for so long that the bar's raised unfairly high. It's a fun movie, and he gives a great performance, but it's so light and enjoyable that somehow it doesn't feel that it should be considered the best of the year. Hanks is one of the greatest actors of all time, and greatest stars of all time, and he's always worth watching; it takes nothing away from him to say that he wasn't the best in a given year. He'll probably be this good again next year.
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - THE SAVAGES -- Giving an award to someone other than Philip Seymour Hoffman is like giving the MVP to someone other than Michael Jordan. It's possible to make an argument that he wasn't the best in a given year, but most of the time it's just to spread the love around. So I'm giving him Best Supporting Actor. (Also, in fairness, I didn't see The Savages.)
JOHN C. REILLY - WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
6. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
*RATATOUILLE -- One of the best Pixar movies, and that's saying something. Better yet, it's a movie about French people that I liked, and that's really saying something. In his brief, brilliant directorial career (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), Brad Bird has made kids' movies with beautiful animation, emotional depth, and a serious underlying message about the triumph of individuality. This one, about a rat that cooks, is wonderful for all ages, and what cartoons are all about.
BEE MOVIE -- Jerry Seinfeld made his triumphant return to popular culture (following the documentary Comedian, which virtually no one saw, following a horrible comedian and a post-fame Seinfeld trying to work the festival circuit) by starring in a sledgehammer ad campaign and a remarkably slight movie. According people who saw it, it wasn't good. Still, it wasn't remotely the most disappointing animated movie of the year.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE -- The most disappointing animated movie of the year would be The Simpsons movie, which had the burden of impossible expectations. Honestly, Hayao Miyazaki and Chuck Jones could have co-directed and it wouldn't have lived up to expectations. But the problem wasn't the expectations. It was that, well, the movie was no better than an episode of the show circa Season 13 or so. It was funny, but instantly forgettable, relying on far too many topical jokes and random asides. Think of how many catchphrases the show has drilled into popular culture. This was a movie with nothing worth remembering.
7. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
TILDA SWINTON - MICHAEL CLAYTON -- In a rather thankless role (the villain), Swinton actually gave a fairly remarkable performance. To quote my friend Justin Noble, "The few scenes in which strength is ripped away from this woman who constantly feigns bravery are absolutely brilliant." We still root against her, but she doesn't sink in her teeth as an antihero.
*CATE BLANCHETT - I'M NOT THERE -- I didn't see this, but heard she was very good. The voters may have actually got this one right.
JULIA ROBERTS - CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR -- This is a performance Julia Roberts actually can give in her sleep, basically requiring her to be sexy and powerful. Like everything else in the movie, it is accomplished with ease.
SAOIRSE RONAN -ATONEMENT
AMY RYAN - GONE BABY GONE
8. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR -- See above. A hilarious performance in a hilarious movie. Hoffman doesn't get nearly enough chances to be funny, but he hits a home run every time he does. Remarkably, despite one of the ugliest on-screen mustaches in memory, he avoids Javier Bardem's problem of being upstaged by his hair and plays a perfect foil to Hanks.
CASEY AFFLECK - THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
*JAVIER BARDEM -NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN -- See above. He was very, very overrated. Basically, he was a dime-store villain with a vaguely off-putting haircut, no morals to speak of, and a foreign accent. He was very good at killing, but despite a fair number of monologues never gave a compelling reason why he bothered.
JOHN TRAVOLTA - HAIRSPRAY
TOM WILKINSON - MICHAEL CLAYTON -- A characteristically good performance, and necessary to the movie, but Wilkinson wasn't as commanding as Sydney Pollack (in much less screen time) or George Clooney. He was good, not great.
9. BEST SCREENPLAY - MOTION PICTURE
AARON SORKIN - CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR -- The sort of thing he can do in his sleep, but great nonetheless. The script is hilarious, crackling, and with a coda that surprisingly stays with you as you leave the theater. Aaron, it's good to have you back. We'll pretend Studio 60 never happened. Don't leave politics.
DIABLO CODY - JUNO -- It was a good screenplay, more or less Ghost World without the misanthropy. It's way too mannered -- her script for a pregnancy movie doesn't contain the word "sex" or any words referring to the penis, instead substituting "intercourse" and "junk" -- but a good start for a debut, and a sweet movie.
*ETHAN COEN & JOEL COEN - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN -- A spare script for a spare movie, economical and efficient. Their directorial style is fairly consistently stylized, but their screenplays vary wildly based on the material. (This movie doesn't sound anything like The Big Lebowski, and I'm not sure whether I'm disappointed or relieved.) Like the movie, though, it builds to a climax but withholds the payoff.
CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON - ATONEMENT
RONALD HARWOOD - THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
10. BEST DIRECTOR - MOTION PICTURE
TIM BURTON - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET -- Tim Burton has been making musicals for several years now, including a cinematic classic (The Nightmare Before Christmas), but never a Broadway adaptation. In his first time out, he has made one of the very best. Perfectly cast and perfectly orchestrated, Burton gets to infuse all his personal idiosyncrasies into a movie he was born to make. He's done so much of it already, but rarely so well. A bloody pleasure.
ETHAN COEN & JOEL COEN - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN -- Always worth watching, and nearly always frustrating, the Coens are hard to pin down using any other word than "idiosyncratic." A profoundly disturbing movie, more or less about the bitterness of the human condition, laconic, overlong, and whose ending is as ambiguous as There Will Be Blood's was obvious. Flawed, though of course their flawed films are better than most other cinematic fare. But not the best of the year.
*JULIAN SCHNABEL - THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
RIDLEY SCOTT - AMERICAN GANGSTER -- Scott did a fine job with this one, but it's not remotely as ambitious as some of his previous work. It has the feeling of a relaxed gangster movie; it wears its influences on its sleeve. Fun to watch, but not a masterpiece.
JOE WRIGHT - ATONEMENT
11. BEST MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
EASTERN PROMISES -- My favorite movie of the year. Viggo was terrific, and ought to win his own award. Despite horrible Russian accents by all the principles, Vincent Cassell, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Mortensen, the movie was an absolutely brilliant thriller, terrifically paced and exquisitely horrifying. The Russian prison tattoos are pretty cool too.
AMERICAN GANGSTER -- This was good, but overrated. It was heavily influenced by New Jack City, which had more cartoonish acting and lower production values, but far more emotional resonance. Denzel Washington's character is one he could play in his sleep, and Russell Crowe has a similar dishevelled affect as in The Insider, but it's a pleasure to see the suddenly ubiquitous Josh Brolin (also in No Country for Old Men, Grindhouse, and In the Valley of Elah this year).
THE GREAT DEBATERS
MICHAEL CLAYTON -- A fine movie, though it broke no new ground. Essentially, it was Erin Brockovich but better: a legal procedural anchored by a fine main actor (Julia Roberts/George Clooney) and fine British old hand (Albert Finney/Tom Wilkinson) about the evils of a certain environmental offender (PG&E/"UNorth") which its main character will winningly but predictably bring down in the final act. There's a reason Hollywood has formulas. When they're done correctly they work.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN -- Good, disturbing, but not the Coens' best work. Josh Brolin is great, and Tommy Lee Jones is reliably craggy, but Javier Bardem is upstaged by his Children of the Damned haircut and 7th grade goth demeanor.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD -- Horribly overrated, and simply not a very good film. Beautifully shot, incredibly jarringly scored -- distracting to the point that you wondered if the composer was watching the same movie -- and badly overacted by Paul Dano, and to a lesser extent Daniel Day-Lewis. The lesson was clear: greed drives men to evil. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson, didn't need two and a half hours to drive the point home.