For Part 1 of this 2007 movie retrospective, please click here.
Cutest Couple: Seth Rogen & Judd Apatow
In 2006, a movie called 40 Year-Old Virgin came out, directed by Judd Apatow and introducing Seth Rogen in a supporting role. The movie performed moderately well, but gained more traction on DVD than it did in the theater. It did, however, load the bases for 2007, when Knocked Up and Superbad made a quarter-billion dollars (domestically) at the box office. Rogen starred in Knocked Up and was a writer/actor in Superbad. Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up, in addition to producing Superbad, became a household name and finalist for TIME’s “Person of the Year.”
And as fast as you can forget Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Seth Rogen was worthy of leading roles and Judd Apatow was the most influential orchestrator of studio comedies since probably Lorne Michaels in the mid-90s (when every Saturday Night Live performer received movie deal, e.g. Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Norm MacDonald).
In the last five years, if you paid $10 to see a major comedy in the theater, chances were good that Apatow was somehow involved as well as his list of usual talent (all involved in Knocked Up or Superbad):
- Seth Rogen
- Paul Rudd
- Jonah Hill
- Jason Segel
- Michael Cera
While some of these actors had previous claims-to-fame, their careers were expelled into another orbit of fame and credibility — all were now apparently entitled to headlining a movie. And as you can see, in 2012, that is still the case. Which is not to say that they are still making great movies, but they are still redeemable. Some hit and some miss. What happened here, in 2007, was a younger, hungrier class of comic actors (all affiliated with Apatow) overtook an Old Guard that had already started to fall. Adam Sandler and Kevin James had a disappointing Chuck & Larry, Eddie Murphy had Norbit, Ben Stiller had The Heartbreak Kid.
[Tangent: As for this proverbial Old Guard, we have the perspective now to see that these 2007 flops were just the tip of the iceberg; in the past 10 months, we (hopefully not you) have seen Sandler in the appalling Jack & Jill, Eddie Murphy inexplicably still working in the 0% Rotten-Tomato-rating (!) A Thousand Words, and a new Stiller/Vaughn vehicle The Watch that barely exists in the public’s consciousness (of ominous note here: The Watch co-stars Jonah Hill and was co-written by Seth Rogen). The lesson: Hollywood is a sentimental hoarder of commodities and the Rogen/Rudd/Hill/Segel quartet have YEARS of mediocre movies waiting for them before the studios give up.]
In 2007’s immediate aftermath, the Apatow empire had some promising ‘bro’mentum (i.e. I hate myself) producing Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I Love You, Man. But now that these actors are working together less and less (except for the Knocked Up sequel coming in December), we get a bunch of movies you only want to see once — Our Idiot Brother, The Five Year Engagement, or Get Him To The Greek. I do not mean to Grim Reap this group of actors, but thinking back, I cannot help but pine for those salad days when Knocked Up and Superbad declared the triumphant arrival of a refreshing comic troupe.
[Homework question: Is it their fault? Don’t most comedians have only a slim window to capitalize on being fresh? Unless you’re Bill Murray or Will Ferrell, the answer seems to be affirmative. Or is it just a natural complacency that follows success? The automatic result of the hungry being fed. It just feels like we should have gotten just 1 or 2 more classics out of this group, that’s all I am asking. It’ll be like looking back at Peyton Manning’s career in seven years and shaking your head that it produced just one Super Bowl ring. Oh well! We should probably just find some new blood.]
Most Likely To Succeed – The Coens, P.T. Anderson, and Jason Reitman
Just as there seemed to be a generational shift in 2007 for popular comedy, a wave of younger directors crashed the award show circuit and graduated from niche-indie-movies to a far more legitimate, Oscar-contending class of films. This is a more important leap than we may realize. Once a filmmaker is talked about as elite, every subsequent film they helm is anticipated as ‘Excellent,’ and regardless of quality, often self-fulfills enough to automatically deserve ‘Best Picture’ discussion (see also athletes making All-Star teams and Grammy nominees). Consider the three we have highlighted:
The Coen Brothers
2007 entry: No Country For Old Men (Best Picture winner)
Before 2007: While Joel and Ethan Coen had spent 15 years making critically-acclaimed films with a signature ‘Coen’ style and tone — Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Blood Simple — their material too often straddled the comedy/drama divide or was just too weird for the older, stodgy Academy voters to appreciate. With No Country, they finally had a film too unique, aggressive, and provocative to ignore; they won Best Picture and Hollywood seemed to contently conclude, as a collective, ‘yeah, it was probably about time for them.’
Since 2007: Their follow-up, Burn After Reading in 2008, was too much of a comedy to be considered a Best Picture candidate but was decked out with A-list actors suddenly begging to be included. The Coens’ next two films, A Serious Man and True Grit, were both nominated for Best Picture, but hardly caused a buzz amongst moviegoers — possible proof that whatever they do from now on will be assumed a masterpiece on reputation alone.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Before 2007: P.T. Anderson was considered one of the most talented up-and-coming auteurs for the decade before There Will Be Blood was released, most of that due to the success of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. His signature has always been movies with a running time near 3 hours and repeated use of several actors whose careers took off in parallel (though definitely aided by Anderson’s films), specifically John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and William H. Macy. It wasn’t until There Will Be Blood and Daniel Day-Lewis’ amazing lead performance (just standard for DDL at this point) that Anderson’s genius was no longer ostensibly in question.
Since 2007: Anderson’s M.O. is quality, not quantity. Because he oversees just about every aspect of his films, he can only release one every few years. His upcoming The Master (October) closely resembles the hot-button topic of Scientology and stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, and on trailer alone, seems poised to be a guaranteed Oscar contender. It has been five years since There Will Be Blood and the anticipation could not be any higher, frankly, to see what Anderson does next. You cannot undervalue leaving em’ wanting more. It’s going to be a very big, important, fawned-over film — I can sense it.
2007 entry: Juno
Before 2007: His feature-film debut Thank You For Smoking in 2005 was by-and-large a successful (86% RT rating) satire about public relations in the world of tobacco. While auspicious as a debut, it is hard to imagine that Reitman will ever have a film garner as much attention and popularity as Juno eventually did. Thanks to its verbose wit (screenwriter Diablo Cody won an Oscar), its twee soundtrack (Kimya Dawson), and ensemble of acerbic comic actors (Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, and Allison Janney), this film about an unwanted teen pregnancy was impossible-to-dislike as it snowballed from indie darling to Oscar contender in a short period of time. For some historical perspective, over the past twenty years, there have been only two other comedies that were nominated for Best Picture.
Since 2007: There was no junior slump for Reitman as 2009’s Up In The Air (with George Clooney no less… the big time!) was nominated for multiple awards and based on Vegas odds the night of the Academy Awards, was considered the runner-up to eventual Big Picture winner The Hurt Locker. Last year’s Young Adult did not quite have enough steam to be amongst the Best Picture nominees, but still had an 80% RT rating and provided Charlize Theron an iconic role. He has a film due in 2013 entitled Labor Day that is based on a book and has Kate Winslet in it, so I promise to mail the 23 people that are reading this $50 each if that movie doesn’t get a bunch of nominations.
While it’s a difficult task for me to prove that there was a Passing Of The Torch for filmmakers in 2007, it is hard to ignore the level of clout the three above have had since that year. And while the Coen brothers were no spring chickens in 2007 at age 50 — P.T. Anderson was 37 and Jason Reitman was 29 — in terms of directors, this is young to be considered part of the aristocracy. Furthermore, we have seen next-to-zero Best Picture nominations since ’07 for the generation before (e.g. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Frank Darabont). Maybe the demographics of the award-show electorate have shifted enough that we are at a bellwether the past few years for younger filmmakers being called up to varsity. Danny Boyle. David Fincher. Darren Aronofsky. Alexander Payne. Christopher Nolan. That only names a few, but the ballots seem set for the next decade or so.
And yet, through all this 90’s/00’s/10’s transition, one mystery still remains, no matter what nostalgic lens you utilize: when the eff is Quentin Tarantino going to get his due?