Ah, 2007: as of this writing, the five top-grossing movies of the year were three-quels (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), a chunk of Harry Potter's golden calf (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), and the world's flashiest ad for eBay (Transformers). That the biggest box office hit (Spidey raked in more than $336 million) was also the biggest disappointment is only fitting in a year that was characterized by new heights of hype. Did anyone really like 300 beyond its campy and mockable aspects, or did they just think they liked it because the Internet told them to?
I'll admit I'm crabby, but I'm a victim of hype as much as anyone else. (The trailer for Iron Man and hell, even just the poster art for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are making me greet 2008 with giddy anticipation.) I probably saw more than 300 movies (including 300) this year, many from the Tinseltown factory a place that saps originality, force-feeds us things like fat suits and the Rock, and still leaves us frantically panting for more. And when I say us, I mean me. But although the overriding trend for 2007's mainstream movies was mediocrity and there's a feeling as December ends that the past 12 months were full of a whole lotta nothing, there were also some thematic similarities worth noting. (Note: there might be some spoilers here, so if you've been eagerly awaiting Death Sentence's cable debut, you've been warned.)
BUNS IN THE OVEN As I noted in my Juno review ("Birth of a Sensation: Ellen Page and Juno," 12/12/07), that film, combined with Waitress and Knocked Up, made 2007 the year the ever-popular celebrity-baby trend jumped from the pages of US Weekly to the big screen. In Waitress an unhappily married small-town gal is impregnated by her surly hubby; she soon falls for the hunky new guy in town, who happens to be her doctor. In Knocked Up a hot, mysteriously single TV reporter decides she'll pop out the kid of a one-night stand she can barely stand to look in the eye. And in Juno a tart-tongued high schooler in a family way after an experimental dalliance with her best friend plucks her kid's adoptive parents from the PennySaver. Each of these films have unique moments: Keri Russell's Waitress postbirth epiphany; Knocked Up's awkward baby-on-board sex scene; and Juno's simple acknowledgement of the fact that abortion is a safe, legal option for women who find themselves unprepared for motherhood. By contrast, check out Romanian import 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, opening in early February 2008. A harrowing look at the illegal abortion trade in that country's Communist 1980s, it well earned the top prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and contains nary a hamburger phone.
WESTERNS First the pirate movie made a comeback, and now we've got all kinds of westerns filling up our eyeholes including the year's best film, No Country for Old Men, a contemporary spin on the genre that imagines the Wild West as not just a place but a state of mind. More cut-and-dried was 3:10 to Yuma, which featured good guys, bad guys, shoot-outs, stagecoach robberies, and some seriously old-school hat fetishizing. Harder to classify: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a hypnotic, arty, lengthy study of the western myth from within the myth. The title characters portrayed in great turns by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are neither heroes nor villains, but rather men with guns and very few morals, those they have applying to loyalty, decency, and respect for human life.