MaryAnn Johanson: There were quite a few pretty-good films but few truly great ones. And there were a lot of awful films, too. It seemed like, every other week, there was a film the studios didn’t show to critics in advance, and the fact that many of them did well at the box office makes me sure we’ll only see more of those kinds of movies.
Combine that with some serious-minded films—Rendition, Lions for Lambs, A Mighty Heart—doing poorly, even with major star power behind them. Anyone looking at the year from a business perspective would have to conclude that, on the whole, American audiences don’t want to be asked to think too much. I find that extremely disheartening.
SR: That seems to be an annual critics’ lament: “No, seriously, this is the year it all went to hell in a handbasket.” Look at the success of The Bourne Ultimatum—an unconventional but engrossing summer action film—and you see that people do still care about quality and originality. Maybe also I’m just blissfully ignorant of the crap at the bottom, which I often get to pass off to considerate souls like you.
You mentioned the spate of topical fiction films, and yes, most of them flopped. But in difficult times, people usually gravitate toward escapism. No one went to the movies in 1939 to see the Depression; they went to Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
MAJ: You’re right about 1939, but we didn’t get anything like The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. Wild Hogs earned $168 million. Some very good movies made money this year, but so did some very bad ones.
SR: Despite your contention that there were few “truly great” films this year, you still give a lot of four-star ratings. I’m extremely stingy with that rating. If four stars doesn’t always represent “truly great” to you, what does it represent?
MAJ: I hate star ratings and prefer not to use them. I’m generally thinking relatively: Is this one of the best films of this year, not of all time.
So, what’s your favorite movie on your top 10 list, the one you’ll watch again and again?
SR: I actually think that’s two different questions. No Country for Old Men was the best film I saw in 2007, but I don’t think it’s the one I’ll stop to watch every time it’s on cable two years from now. I’ve already seen Once three times, I’ll certainly watch it again, and it’ll probably break my heart every time.
Do you think the “best” film on your list is the same as the one you’d watch repeatedly?
MAJ: I make the same “best” vs. “favorite” distinction. I probably will watch Atonement over and over, but not No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood. They thrill me with their mastery of craft, but the one I’ll watch 100 times will be Sweeney Todd. It’s masterful, but it’s also just freakin’ entertaining, too.
I like Once, but I wasn’t emotionally caught up in it. It felt like a really excellent music-video album. And tell me what you love about Joshua, which I liked just fine but felt like I’d already seen it.
SR: I’d also watch Sweeney Todd a hundred times … provided I could put it on mute every time Helena Bonham Carter was singing. Her lack of vocal ability in particular nearly ruined the entire experience for me.
Joshua plays on that notion that you’ve seen the “bad seed” story before. Aside from the fact that Sam Rockwell’s performance is brilliant, I just love the way it becomes a cautionary tale: about the limits of parental love, about children raised in a moral vacuum. Like many of the movies on my list—including both of the documentaries—I love that it’s ultimately not about what it seems on the surface to be about.
MAJ: I find it fascinating that this year, there are only a few films that almost all critics agree on—There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men—and then the field gets wide open. I don’t agree with most films on your list—they’re good, just not best-of—but I love that the field was so diverse that we can get lists that are so different. That’s a good thing.
Scott Renshaw’s Top 10 of 2007
1. No Country for Old Men
3. My Kid Could Paint That
5. The Host
6. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
7. Into the Wild
8. Day Night Day Night
9. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
10. There Will Be Blood
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
4. No Country for Old Men
5. There Will Be Blood
6. The Kite Runner
7. American Gangster
9. Michael Clayton