It’s time to look back on the year just past and recall the films most worth remembering and recommending. Several of the best movies of 2007 divide neatly into contrasting pairs – very convenient for a year-end wrap-up essay.
Serial killers inspired two very different, very fine movies, David Fincher’s Zodiac and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. Zodiac is a haunting, disquieting film of great technical skill and fine performances, and it was for me the movie of the year.
Tim Burton’s original and explosive talent has often been undone by inferior material. But the powerful Stephen Sondheim musical provides a perfect match. Some of us may have feared the opposite, that Burton and Sondheim would ruin each other, that the whole thing could turn into an arch, campy misfire. But the visual grace and narrative energy of this film is a wonder, as is Johnny Depp’s performance in the title role. The Grand Guignol overstatement in the bloody murder scenes seems to me a bit of a miscalculation, but the movie has an understandably powerful effect on audiences. The photography by Dariusz Wolski and the production design by Dante Ferretti are among the year’s best, and Timothy Spall and young Ed Sanders stand out in a superlative supporting cast.
Animation brilliance arrived in Pixar’s Ratatouille and in the French film Persepolis. If Zodiac is the feel-bad movie of the year, Ratatouille qualifies as the feel-good alternative. The best Pixar movie so far, it will leave you with a big silly grin on your face as you watch the story of a rat who aspires to be a Michelin three-star chef. It is a rhapsodic ode to food as art, to the romance of Paris, and to the alchemy by which Pixar’s wizards transform computer code into smashing entertainment.
Persepolis is far more bittersweet but almost as rewarding. Told mostly in black-and-white images like the autobiographical graphic novel it’s based on, it is the story of Marjane, an Iranian girl who grows up at the time of the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the fundamentalist mullahs. Her parents eventually send her to Europe, and her adventures there and upon her return to Iran make up the second half of the movie. It’s deeply moving without being sentimental, sharply humorous, and told with bracing clarity and insight.