At this point, I could write a short novel on the abundance of brilliant acting in 2007. But perhaps Daniel Day-Lewis, in his eloquent acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards, said it best:
I feel more or less like a spokesman here just saying that we did the best that we could do this year, and it seemed to me like there was a lot of wonderful work this year.
Day-Lewis’ interpretation of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood will win enough awards to legitimize it as one of the greatest portrayals in modern film, and the man himself may very well be the best actor of his generation. So it’s nice to hear this genuine compliment, as it’s literally coming from atop the acting ladder.
And at the same time, he’s spot on. 2007 was a remarkable year for film, and the current onslaught of awards shows is doing a great job of exposing actors and directors. Some of them, even well into old age, are at the top of their games—Julie Christie and Hal Holbrook come to mind—while others started young careers on the right foot (Emile Hirsch, Ellen Page). 2007 gave us career-best work from two artistic powerhouses, Day-Lewis and the Coen brothers; one has to wonder what they’ll do for an encore. For critics across the country, naming the year’s best picture has proven a monumental task—even the Critic’s Choice list, at ten nominees, seemed far too limited in scope. At very least, the upcoming Academy list will be blessed with diversity: expect a Western where no one saves the world in No Country; a love story that outdoes Titanic in Atonement; and even a quirky comedy that outshines Little Miss Sunshine in Juno.
But even after all these awards, a few standout performances remain. The following is my brief Top 5 of actors and directors who gave their all in 2007 and will have nothing to show for it come Spring.
(5) Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men. For some reason, the Paul Haggis-directed Elah totally missed its mark back in September. It was just one of the year’s many overlooked war films, despite nabbing a perfect score from Roger Ebert and being called “essential” by Rolling Stone. Among the less enthused critics, some blamed Haggis’ writing and others his direction. No one blamed Tommy Lee. Even the worst reviews praised his honest portrayal of a father afflicted by war. And as for No Country, I’ll just say this: next time you watch it, make sure to note how Jones is just as emotionless and crazed as Javier Bardem. The only difference is that Bardem leaves about ten bodies in his wake. Great performances, if not great murder scenes, came from both.
(4) Gordon Pinsent for Away from Her. By now, we all know the story behind this film: Julie Christie’s role as a forgetful woman is an unforgettable performance. But why did everyone look past Pinsent, who does a phenomenal job as Grant—Christie’s deadpan husband who loses his lover as she loses her mind? Pinsent had far more screen time than Christie, his acting required much more range, and it’s really his portrayal that tugs your heartstrings at the movie’s end.
(3) Robert Downey Jr. for Zodiac. Nothing really went right with this film, the sixth feature from Fight Club wunderkind David Fincher. For one, it was released in March ‘07, a very odd time for legitimate Oscar contenders. It also starred Jake Gyllenhaal, who has a way of finding himself in the middle of notable projects and turning in mediocre performances. And the movie itself really never ended; fittingly, praise for Zodiac never really began. But Downey Jr., as an alcoholic newspaper reporter, steals every scene he’s in. He single-handedly lends the film all its humor, honesty, and grit.
(2) Keri Russell for Waitress. Russell works wonders in Waitress as a Southern belle who gets a whole bunch of opportunities at an inopportune time. You may not agree with all her decisions, but the indecision on the way there is more than worth it. This film likely lost awards-season momentum because of the overwhelming majority of superior work—and truth be told, Russell’s supporting cast (save a grumpy old Andy Griffith) isn’t much to brag about. But her pie-making performance is the cherry atop a feel-good film.
(1) Sydney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. This film is notable for a few things, among them the Midas touch of Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Andy) and the racy rebirth of Marisa Tomei (as Andy’s associate in adultery). But Lumet’s direction is at the top of the list. At 83, the man can still spin a wild family affair for all it’s worth, knowing all the right moves when everything goes wrong in the film. It’s almost as if Scorsese’s win last year atoned for all of the Academy’s legendary gaffes. But Lumet has yet to receive a directorial statuette of his own, and Before is at very least worth the consideration.