2007 was a terrific movie year, one of the best in recent memory. It was so good, in fact, that the Golden Globes and Oscars failed even to nominate a number of the best movies of the year. I've already written which movies should have won the Globes. Here are some of the great movies the Globes left out completely and the Oscars virtually shut out of the prestige categories.
BEST ACTION MOVIE: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM -- Improbably, one of the great action franchises ever managed to germinate in the '00s, rather than the classic '80s or '90s. Echoing a paranoid 1970's Alan J. Pakula movie, the enemy isn't the Russians: it's the government, man. Matt Damon has long since made the leap from Will Hunting to Krav Maga, and so here all he does is win, with the force of the entire corrupt wing of the CIA after him. He's mostly indestructible, but slight of frame enough to make it okay to root for him. Technically, the film is very impressively made, and Paul Greengrass is quickly becoming one of the best directors around (and one of my friend Nick Antosca's favorite living filmmakers). One of the best popcorn movies of the millennium. (3 Oscar nominations: Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing.)
BEST FOREIGN FILM: BLACK BOOK -- The triumphant return to the silver screen of director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) following 2000's roundly panned Hollow Man, the Dutch-language Black Book just might be the best movie he ever made. It's a World War II film about a Jewish woman who saves her skin by going blonde and romancing an SS officer, while aiding the Dutch resistance. Then, of course, things get a bit more morally murky. Carice van Houten is phenomenal in the lead role, beautiful, tough, and upright. It's easily the sexiest Holocaust movie ever made, but it's also one of the best war movies in a long, long time, injecting needed liveliness -- and, well, T&A -- into a sadly staid genre.
BEST PARANOID THRILLER: ZODIAC -- Like Verhoeven, David Fincher had been on extended hiatus since 2002's mediocre Panic Room, and he emerged with a winner. It's not perfect -- it's too long, and, like Ryan Phillippe in Breach, Jake Gyllenhaal isn't a good enough actor to play the lead -- but it's awfully good, with a fantastic ensemble cast (including the great Anthony Edwards and Robert Downey Jr., who in a bit of inspired casting plays a brilliant writer who struggles with drugs). It's a puzzle movie, like most of Fincher's, about a serial killer in 1970's San Francisco who inspired the plot of Dirty Harry. Fincher finds just the right tone, underscoring the deaths with Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," setting a noir amid the death of psychedelic hope in the one city that held out its belief the longest.
BEST INTELLIGENCE MOVIE: BREACH -- Another movie about a rotten intelligence agent, but this one's true. Like his last movie, Shattered Glass, director Billy Ray chooses not to pursue why his character decided to betray his profession, simply to portray it. Chris Cooper, who plays KGB mole Robert Philip Hanssen, gives one of his best performances; Laura Linney is wonderful in far too little screen time. Obviously, because the bad guy's real, he's alive, and he won't tell us, there's no possibility for a neat resolution or a complete psychological answer to the whydhedoit. So it's just a very well-made, well-crafted movie about how they finally caught him.
BEST SELF-CONSCIOUS SCHLOCK: GRINDHOUSE -- One of the more hyped movies of the year became one of its bigger flops, when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's bloated labor of love simply failed to bring in audiences. Yes, it was more than three hours long, and Tarantino's section was way too talky, but it was also about as much fun as you can have at the movies for 10 bucks. Rodriguez's half, "Planet Terror," was hailed by Little Steven van Zandt as "the best B-movie of all time," and he might be right -- it's a simply pitch-perfect Corman-style horror movie, disgusting, sexy, funny, and over all too soon. Tarantino's "Death Proof" wasn't as good, but when it got to its extended action setpiece, it was jawdropping, and Kurt Russell's performance was easily his best in a decade. As the movie came complete with fake movie trailers guest-directed by luminaries like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, it's possible the filmmakers had more fun than their audiences, but for the few who actually saw it, the enjoyment was infectious. (So were the zombies.)
BEST OUTDOORS MOVIE: INTO THE WILD -- This may have been one of the bigger slaps in the face at the Globes: the beloved Sean Penn made a well-received movie about a young man's pursuit of the limits of human endurance, and got snubbed. It's a great movie anyway. An interesting supporting cast from Vince Vaughn to Hal Holbrook supports an effectively effeminate Emile Hirsch, as he plays an Emory University graduate who pursues truth and meaning by cutting off contact with his family and living on the road, working on a hippie commune and a grain elevator, and eventually ending up in the wilderness of Alaska. Penn's style is remarkably restrained, jarred slightly by Eddie Vedder's soundtrack, but mostly he just watches Hirsch descend further and further from human contact and beyond human help. The movie is just as profound as the watcher decides to make it, which is exactly right for the material. (Two nominations: Hal Holbrook for Best Supporting Actor, which he doesn't deserve though it's a nice performance, and Film Editing.)
BEST OUTER SPACE MOVIE: SUNSHINE -- I became a Danny Boyle convert after 28 Days Later and full-on freak after Millions, so I was eager to see this one. It's got one of the best built-in thriller premises you could imagine: a spaceship is traveling toward the sun to try to save humanity. The closer they get, the more tense the movie gets. It isn't perfect, as a few of the plot points seem more like distractions, but the cast chemistry is very good, Cillian Murphy delivers another great performance, and the visuals are simply stunning. It is the most beautiful movie of the year, bar none. By the end, as in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the visuals overtake the movie, the plot makes less sense, and the movie becomes a feast for the eyes. Boyle has a warmer, more compassionate eye than Kubrick, and in the end while his movie is less ambitious -- it doesn't seek to explain the origin of the human race -- it's possibly more rewarding.
BEST PECTORAL PANORAMA: 300 -- It was a strong year for the utterly ridiculous, as Transformers reinvigorated the Jerry Bruckheimer formula and Shoot 'Em Up turned out to be the greatest dumb action-comedy ever made. However, for the sublime, the epic, the off-the-charts homoerotic, there was no better movie than 300. It's honestly hard to take a single line of dialogue seriously. And that's the key to watching the movie. As long as nothing is taken seriously, it's a great deal of fun. Everything from the cartoonish action sequences to the political intrigue to the sex scenes is done with the same level of gravitas that Prince brought to Purple Rain and Bob Guccione brought to Caligula. The women wear see-through togas, and the men wear nearly nothing at all. And Dan Savage describes the Persian emperor as follows: "An eight-foot-tall black drag queen -- mascara, painted-on eyebrows, pink lip gloss. Emperor RuPaul." And believe me, the larger the group of heterosexual males you watch it with, the funnier it gets.
BEST DUMB ACTION-COMEDY: SHOOT 'EM UP -- It's hard to say enough about this movie. The one-liners are unconscionably bad. The plot is so ludicrous that I refuse to describe it. The main character is essentially unlikeable. And almost everyone other than him and his female counterpart dies horribly. But the way they die is worth the price of admission. The shooting deaths are as intricately (and absurdly) constructed as a Rube Goldberg machine, and are simply incredible to watch. Each kill is packed with sight gags as dense as political shorthand in an Aaron Sorkin script. And the movie practically makes John Woo's The Killer appear nonviolent. As I wrote at the time, "It's a movie for which you can be almost certain that if you think you'd like it, you will, and if you think you wouldn't, you won't."