By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
2. In Eran Kolirin's gently incisive comedy The Band's Visit, Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai double as improbably coupled strangers thrown together in a one-horse Israeli development town. Their brief encounter reveals two kindly, sensitive souls who temporarily come out of their protective shells — she's a Sephardic slattern; he's a tight-assed Egyptian police officer — and complete each other in ways that leave you wondering whether their night on the town is a missed opportunity or what's meant to be.
3. The often-chilly Tilda Swinton unravels wonderfully in sweat and love handles as the oedipally crippled corporate attorney in Michael Clayton who will do anything for the boss, up to and including serial murder.
4. Don't let Paul Dano's pimply ruin of a face fool you into thinking he doesn't work at playing devious types. His charismatic holy roller in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood struggles to appear pious even as he hungers for riches and power. It's no mean feat for any actor to stay out of Daniel Day-Lewis' shadow, but Dano holds his own, and more.
5. Amy Ryan finally breaks through the helpmeet-wife and bitter-ex roles to play the hopelessly ill-equipped working-class single parent of a child who's disappeared in Gone Baby Gone. Hard but not cold, Ryan's serially defaulting but loving mother complicates all smug definitions of "in the best interests of the child."
6. It's never easy to play back-alley abortionist without sprouting horns, but Vlad Ivanov's cunningly ambiguous, ruthlessly interrogative portrayal in Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days slowly peels back to reveal both a ruthless exploiter of vulnerable young women and just another black marketeer trying to scratch out a living in Soviet-era Romania.
7. Leslie Mann, wife of Knocked Up director Judd Apatow, brings to the controlling-bitch-wife role that makes women squirm a kind of cathartic, rhythmic lyricism so full of hilarious menace, I wished it were me spitting the invective.
8. I can't think of an actor alive who does so much by doing so little with his face and body as Philip Seymour Hoffman does. What a year he's had, pathetic and dangerous in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead as a larcenous broker and heroin-head who talks his younger brother into robbing their parents' store, all for love of Marisa Tomei; inaccessible as the tuned-out brother of Laura Linney struggling to care for a senile father in The Savages; and comically explosive as the CIA agent helping Tom Hanks arm the Taliban in Charlie Wilson's War.
9. Meryl Streep. Yes, I know, but here's one superstar who knows how to play second fiddle without commandeering the show. In 2007, Streep redeemed two bad movies: first as the ruthless CIA foreign-operations honcho (Anna Wintour in bad twinsets) who blows off Reese Witherspoon in Rendition, then as her inverse, a liberal veteran journalist in Lions for Lambs firing hard questions at Tom Cruise's presidential wannabe. Cruise wasn't half bad either.
10. And last but never least, Peter O'Toole, AKA Anton Ego, the desiccated food critic in Ratatouille who's seen it all and likes none of it until a bunch of culinary rats converts him, prompting the mea culpa speech that surely all filmmakers who have been burned one too many times by movie critics can recite by heart. Take that, us!
Horror Films Failed to Scare Up Big Bucks in 2007
It was only a couple of years ago that the horror genre seemed newly resurgent, like an undead killer digging himself out of the grave. "Fresh faced" directors like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman, and James Wan — dubbed "The Splat Pack" — seemed poised to bring their new takes on terror to the masses in a big way. They succeeded, briefly. But even as some of the movies continued to innovate this year — the campy retro double feature of Grindhouse, the smart satire of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the oddball survival horror of The Mist — box-office receipts plunged so sufficiently that by the end of 2007, obvious horror titles were trying to promote themselves as something else. Rachel Belofsky, president of Screamfest L.A., tried to get P2, about a young woman stalked through a parking garage, for the closing-night show of the fest, but the distributors "kept saying they weren't marketing it as a horror film...They ram a guy duct-taped to a chair into a wall repeatedly. The last time I looked, that's a horror film!"
But as studios scrambled to salvage their horror lineup and adjust expectations, a different sort of scary movie emerged. "I must say that the scariest stuff in terms of new films was encapsulated in Javier Bardem's performance in No Country for Old Men," says Lucky McKee, writer/director of the cult hit May and one of Showtime's Masters of Horror episodes. Indeed, you won't see the Coen brothers' movie advertised as horror, but what else should you call a film about a black-clad, borderline supernatural assassin who wanders Texas blowing holes in people's heads with a compressed-air gun? The Los Angeles Film Critics Association recently bestowed its Best Picture Award upon There Will Be Blood, but as horror fans know, that title comes straight from the lips of Tobin Bell in Saw II — "They must have liked the line!" says Bell, before incredulously asking: "It's contending for an Oscar?"