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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

best of 2007: breakthrough filmmaker, breakthrough performer

The Oscars are barrelling down on us — the ceremony is this coming Sunday, February 24 — so it’s time to close out Movie Year 2007. Between now and Friday, I’ll share with you my own picks for the bests of the year, plus my predictions for Oscar night.

After the jump, the top 5 breakthrough filmmakers and breakthrough performers of 2007.
BREAKTHROUGH FILMMAKER

1. Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone: Who’da thunk this actor would turn out to have such a fine eye for the seedy side of a city, and of humanity, and could bring it to the screen in a way that some far more experienced directors missed? Color me flabbergasted, and thrilled. [buy at Amazon]

2. Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton: As a screenwriter, Gilroy has given us some of the most exciting movies of recent years in the Bourne trilogy, but as a director, he brings subtle shadings of mystery and meaning to this thriller of the conscience. It would be fine, fine work from someone with years behind the camera, but as a debut, it’s sly magic. [buy at Amazon]

3. Andrea Arnold, Red Road: Her hard-to-watch — and harder-to-fathom — film gives us a chilling exploration of how modern technology, and modern attitudes about what’s right and acceptable and what isn’t can foster a very modern disconnect from our fellow humans. [buy at Amazon]

4. Chris Gorak, Right at Your Door: Gorak’s claustrophobic film, a Twilight Zone-ish take on urban terrorism, will make you reconsider everything you think you know about what you’re supposed to do to protect yourself. [buy at Amazon]

5. David Von Ancken, Seraphim Falls: It starts out as almost a silent movie and strips itself down to bare emotion — this is the chase movie as something approaching the existential, and it’s not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before. [buy at Amazon]

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER

1. Carice van Houten, Black Book: It’s always nice to see a face you’ve never seen onscreen before walk effortlessly away with a movie. That’s what van Houten does here as a plucky spy in a role not unlike Wei Tang’s (see below), but with an expansive, old-fashioned, popcorn-movieness to it. She’s an actress you can adore as much as you appreciate her. [buy at Amazon]

2. Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe: Watching Sturgess navigate this wildly inventive musical — he does his own singing, too — leaves you with that rare tingle that comes with the knowledge that you’re seeing a future star. Expect great things from this one. [buy at Amazon]

3. Wei Tang, Lust, Caution: Like the timid girl of tender years she plays in Ang Lee’s wartime drama, she stepped quietly from the wings to astonish us with a performance so complex and so fully realized that it’s hard to believe she hadn’t appeared on film before. [buy at Amazon]

4. Zoe Bell, Grindhouse (Death Proof): The stuntwoman turns actress to portray a woman who refuses to let herself be victimized. Sure, she’s basically playing herself, but some of the biggest stars in the world do that, too, and she’s got that ineffable screen charisma that allows a performer to get away with that. [buy at Amazon]

5. Michael Cera, Superbad and Juno: I hated Superbad, but I loved Cera’s sweet and genuine portrait of a nerd perfectly comfortable to be who he is, and I was delighted to see that same quality taken a step further in Juno. It remains to be seen whether he can break out of the dork ghetto, but if he does, he’ll be one to watch. [buy Superbad at Amazon]

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  • Pen Dragon

    Michael Cera was news to you? Granted, he was great in Juno, but he was great for three seasons of Arrested Development before that. (You have seen Arrested Development, right? I think you’d like it. It’s like Firefly in every possible way, except it’s set in SoCal, not space. It was even prematurely cancelled by Fox!)

  • JT

    I agree with a lot of these, and you’ve given me a few films to check out – but no, no, no to Zoe Bell. She was awful and I hope she never works in a movie again except as a stuntwoman.

  • MaryAnn

    I have not seen *Arrested Development,* but even so, Cera broke through to movies this year.

    What’s wrong with Zoe Bell?

  • Rick

    You *must* find some time to watch “Arrested Development” – simply the funniest series of the last decade, and Michael Cera was a revelation for the whole run.

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