The insider's view: The best films of 2007
Our experts reveal their pick of this year's releases...
OLIVER PARKER (Director)
The Lives of Others
I was hugely impressed by Shane Meadows' bittersweet This Is England and enchanted by the mesmeric and minimalist Not Here to be Loved, directed by Stephane Brize, but the film that blew me away was The Lives of Others, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. This is an electrifying glimpse of life behind the Iron Curtain, a tale that grips your head and your heart and then tightens. While suspenseful throughout, it offers up a feast of juicy themes: courage and betrayal, the transforming power of art and the individual. The central performance by Ulrich Mühe is breathtaking for its intensity. And it's the director's debut.
MICHAEL CATON-JONES (Director)
After the Wedding
The Danish film After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Bier, is about an aid worker in India who works in an orphanage. He has to go back to Denmark to meet a wealthy businessman to raise some money to save the orphanage from closure. The potential benefactor invites him to his daughter's wedding where a series of events unfold. It is an emotionally mature piece of storytelling for grown-ups. It has quite extraordinary performances from the lead cast: incredibly believable, real and honest. You think you are following the story but then it changes into something else. It is unusual to get a film where you don't know how it is going to end. These days films are fairly straightforward and simplistic, but this film followed the way real life is. It is an amazing example of how you can take a bunch of human beings – with no explosions, no car chases – and make a riveting, life-changing piece of work.
AMANDA NEVILL (Director, BFI)
Son of Rambow: A Home Movie
This film is the second outing for Garth Jennings, who directed The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 2005. It screened at the London Film Festival and is the most delightful, wonderful and funny film. It embodies those old-fashioned values of film, which every now and then percolate to the surface but if you're not very careful, can come across as being clichéd. This brings the whole notion of right and wrong, from a child's perspective, to the surface. There's a fantastic interplay between the different cultures in British society and it's pure – no sex and not much swearing and it's one of the funniest and most delightful films I've seen in a really long time. And you don't need to take my word for it, they were fighting over it at Sundance this year.
STEPHEN FREARS (Director)
4 Months, 2 Weeks and 2 Days
My favourite was the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, directed by Cristian Mungiu, about an abortion. I am not very good at describing films, but it is dazzling. It was brilliant because it was so original, interesting and frightening. I also liked Ang Lee's film Lust, Caution and Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
MATTHEW VAUGHN (Director)
I was going to say Transformers or Hot Fuzz as they both succeeded in being thoroughly entertaining, a quality that too few films seem to aspire to. I was also impressed with the look of 300, but the film that gets my vote is Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf in 3D. The film is flawed but for me it heralds the birth of a new age of cinema, the freedom motion-capture gives to film makers and the ride it can take the audience on is second-to-none. It will keep people coming to the cinema for the theatrical experience, which is the most important thing and at last we have found a way to screw piracy.
ROBERT DUVALL (Actor)
Into the Wild
Everyone always says – can actors direct? And they certainly can. My three favourite films over the past few years are Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima and Sean Penn's Into the Wild. I thought that was brilliant. They're the three best films I've seen lately and all three are directed by actors.
NICK JAMES (Editor, 'sight and sound')
This French take on the less-pompous draft of D H Lawrence's most notorious novel put every British Lawrence film in the prurient shade with its unabashed love of nature and sincere belief in its meeting of minds and bodies. At once old-fashioned and audacious, this meditative, languorous study of blossoming sexuality is passionate, evocative period cinema of a different order to, say, Atonement. There's nothing self-congratulatory about Marina Hands' V C transformation as the Lady from wallflower to empowerment. It happens visibly, not reported, in front of your eyes.
RICHARD EYRE (Director)
The Lives of Others
My film of the year is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others. A great subject, wonderfully well treated by a first-time director. It made you aware of the slightness of most English language films.
PAUL ANDREW WILLIAMS (Director)
I wanted to come up with something really intelligent, but my favourite film of 2007 is Knocked Up. People think that because I made the film London to Brighton, I must like gritty and naturalistic films, but I also like going to the cinema to watch nonsense. At the time of seeing Knocked Up my girlfriend was seven months pregnant and that may explain why the film hit a chord. It takes a lot to make me laugh and I laughed all the way through it. I used to be a waster like the lead guy in the film who gets a girl pregnant after a one-night stand. Runners-up to my favourite film of 2007 include The Bourne Ultimatum and The Lives of Others.
SARAH GAVRON (Director)
I liked a good few films – Atonement and This is England stand out. My best film experience, though, came at the London Film Festival, where director Carlos Reygadas gave humble, thoughtful answers to challenging audience questions on his Silent Light. If I'm honest, I am usually drawn to films with greater technical ambition. I admire any film that pulls off the complex business of a score. Yet in this film the lack of score, slow pace and often static, held shots forced me to reflect. I won't forget those faces and the pain they expressed. Reygadas was asked about the miraculous ending of this searing tale of adultery in the Mennonite community: had he plagiarised Carl Dreyer's Ordet? He answered that he preferred to think he was in dialogue with Dreyer. Fair comment, I thought. It was a haunting conversation!
KEN LOACH (Director)
There are obvious films I enjoyed such as The Lives of Others and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, but the film Mataharis really stood out. It is directed by the female Spanish film director, Iciar Bollain, who also acted in my film Land and Freedom. She has directed four films now. Her last film, Take My Eyes, was about domestic violence, but it was very sensitively done. Her film Mataharis is about three female detectives. It is very thoughtfully done and deals with personal relationships, betrayal, lost loves, and industrial espionage. The women are independent and strong and as funny and feisty as Iciar herself. She is a very talented director. She has a way of presenting characters that is really original and sharp. I hope the film gets a distributor here. It is hugely enjoyable. The time has gone before you realise it has started.
LINDA PARISER (Cinemas Director, Cornerhouse, Manchester)
I'm Not There
My film of the year is I'm Not There. It just restored my faith in film. I feel a bit funny choosing something in English when the majority of the films that we show here are foreign language films and there have been so many brilliant ones this year – including El Violin, a lovely Mexican film that is really brave. But I just loved I'm Not There for its audacity, its willingness to take a chance and its playfulness. It's also very thought-provoking. I'm not a Bob Dylan fan so I didn't come to it from that angle. I do confess to being a bit of a Todd Haynes fan, though. I just found it exhilarating when I watched it. I saw it really late at night when I was quite tired and I still came out of the screening room buzzing.
MIKE NEWELL (Director)
Days of Glory
Does it have to be one? I can't make up my mind between Babel, which some people thought was a load of pretentious tosh but I really liked, and Days of Glory, which was the Second World War story about the Algerian soldiers fighting for France and getting shabbily treated. If it has to be only one, then Days of Glory. While Babel has a much more sophisticated structure it didn't have the emotional force of Days of Glory. Days of Glory could so easily have been either full of war film clichés or have been suffocated by political greediness, but in fact it was honest and open. You cared for the men even as you saw the pitfalls yawning in front of them. I thought it was a story mostly about innocence.
JOHANNA VON FISCHER AND TESSA COLLINSON (Directors, British Independent Film Awards)
Garbage Warrior; Hallam Foe
JvF: It's very hard to pinpoint a favourite film of the year, as I always have more than one, but Garbage Warrior was a real standout. I went to a screening with no idea of what it was about. I found I was completely taken over by the crusade of this amazing man and thoroughly moved by his story. In fact, I would say that 2007 seemed to be a very strong year for British documentary and many of my favourite films of the year were docs.
TC: My favourite feature film of the year has to be Hallam Foe for its energy and surprise and the superb acting. I just loved the whole experience of watching it. I thought Jamie Bell was superb. He really has matured as an actor.
GURINDER CHADHA (Director)
Lage Raho Munna Bhai
Since I was pregnant, had twins and shot a movie in 2007 called Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging I'm afraid I hardly saw anything. However, the best film I saw this year was the Indian film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. It was a breath of fresh air, a savvy, political, charming film that literally had me laughing so much I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Populist Indian cinema came of age with this film and its prequel Munna Bhai MBBS. It is a poignant take on the corruption in Indian society and a call for a return to Ghandian values.
GERALD MCMORROW (Director)
The Lives of Others, Control, The Bourne Ultimatum
It is very difficult to name your favourite film, even within a one-year period. Added to that I didn't get out much in the latter half of 2007 due to making the feature film, Franklyn, and so my choice is a little restricted. Anyway I might cheat a bit and mention three. The Lives of Others is a flawless piece of work that explores so many different facets of its sophisticated, terrifying subject matter that it is a testament of Von Donnersmark's skill that you feel that you have been drawn effortlessly through a sensitive love story in with the bargain. Beautifully acted, paced, genuinely touching and poignant. The poetry of the movie is all the more affecting due to the tragic death of Ulrich Mühe earlier this summer. I only hope he knew how special his performance was and knew the extent of the acclaim he has since received. Also this year Control blew me away. Sam Riley's performance was an inspiration – a great "out of nowhere" piece that took everybody by surprise. Oh, and The Bourne Ultimatum rocked.
EDGAR WRIGHT (Director)
No Country for Old Men
After a few films in their canon that even their stauncher defender (me) would deem somewhat lesser, the Coens got their groove back with a masterpiece that touches on all their great qualities.
Bleak, beautiful visuals. Check. Smart, spare dialogue. Tick. Ink-black comedy. Uh-huh. Brutal violence. Yup. Ambiguous ending, designed for immediate post-mortem over coffee. Bingo.
Given that this masterful medley was in fact a Cormac McCarthy adaptation somehow only solidifies their position as genius auteurs. It's a great summation of their work so far, but one that doesn't feel repetitious or lazy in the slightest. True, the ending baffled some, but if you want a chase thriller with a cathartic wrap up, rent The Fugitive. If you want to take a trip into the dark heart of America, then this is for you. Never has a pageboy haircut been so terrifying. Never has a sweet wrapper unfurling been so doom laden. Never has a film so tense had quite so many laughs. I doff my cap once again to the smartest cookies in cinema.
KEVIN MACDONALD (Director)
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
The film that moved me the most was also the one whose formal brilliance I was most in awe of: Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It is playful and serious, experimental and mainstream. It makes you think of your own mortality and want to grab the most out of life as it whizzes by. The scene where the protagonist shaves his ageing father (the incomparably forceful and touching Max von Sydow) is one of the most touching I can recall. It is better than the book – deeper, warmer. And to top it all: the French critics didn't like it, which is a recommendation in my eyes.
STEWART TILL (Chairman, UK Film Council)
The Bourne Ultimatum
My favourite film of the year was The Bourne Ultimatum. It's that fantastic combination of great commercial storytelling but with a little bit of intelligence and some thought-provoking elements. And with the added bonus of a great British director, Paul Greengrass.
GILLIES MACKINNON (Director)
This is England
My choice is This Is England by Shane Meadows. This is authentic film-making, a real voice at work. It looks at young white men being drawn into fascist groups in the Eighties and Meadows tells his story with compassion and without sentimentality. The central performances are exceptional, especially the susceptible young boy, Sean, played by Thomas Turgoose. It is painful to watch a tentative bond of friendship being formed between the leading fascist, Combo, and Sean's black mate. This ability to conceal the truly dark side of a character until it finally explodes in violence is something Meadows also captured wonderfully in A Room For Romeo Brass.
RICHARD E GRANT (Actor)
The Lives of Others
Perfectly performed and paced. Deals with the profound issues of trust and betrayal, fascism and freedom, privacy versus the pornography of Big Brother surveillance and is acutely personal. Political without being preachy. Moving without being morbid. Integrity in every frame. No special effects or CGI in view. Not an overpaid "acto-thlete" running towards or away from a series of explosions in sight. A film from the heart for the mind.
ACTOR OF THE YEAR: ULRICH MUHE
The death of the East German actor Ulrich Mühe, aged 54, from stomach cancer, in July of this year was tragically premature, but it brought a remarkable story to light. Mühe, hardly known in this country – Michael Haneke fans may recall him as the tortured father in 1998's endurance-test horror Funny Games – suddenly became rather better known on the release of the magnificent The Lives of Others in April. He played Gerd Weisler, a captain of the Stasi at the fag-end of the Cold War who's deputed to shadow a playwright vaguely suspected of subversion. The glory of Mühe's performance is that we discern, between the lines of Weisler's humourless poker-face, an inquiring, compassionate soul yearning to break through. We use the word "psychodrama" so readily that we no longer bother to investigate it – yet now here it was in action. What later emerged was Mühe's own story of being kept under surveillance for years by his wife (and the mother of his daughter) who, as an unofficial Stasi informant herself, compiled secret reports on him, and their friends too. This news didn't alter the achievement of the actor, but it did deepen the appreciation of the man, and his struggle to get where he was.
ACTRESS OF THE YEAR: RINKO KIKUCHI
There was something grand but rather self-important about Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel, a drama about communication that spans three continents, several families and a barrelful of misadventures. While much of it has faded in the mind since January, I certainly won't forget the performance of Rinko Kikuchi as the deaf-mute Japanese schoolgirl grieving after the death of her mother and coping (badly) with her inchoate sexuality. It taught us that there is no language more moving, or more poignant, than sign language, which measures out its own tick-tack of isolation. In one salutary moment, Kikuchi enters the strobe-lit Bacchanalia of a Tokyo nightclub, and we hear a thrilling repeated riff from Earth, Wind and Fire; but she only feels the monstrous beat of the music, and we suddenly realise what it might be to live in such a world, a world without melody. Kikuchi's minute expressiveness registers every nuance of that deprivation, and her bizarre behaviour – out of the blue she snogs her middle-aged dentist – becomes almost too sad to watch. As the British journalist Katharine Whitehorn wrote in her recent memoir, "When it comes to communication the deaf are strangers in their own country, for ever".