2007: The Year in Movies and Music

A year-end wrap-up of what we adored, what was ignored and what the new year will bring.

The movie of the moment, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, is a model of careful adaptation: It honors the twangy palaver as well as the taut silences of Cormac McCarthy's novel, finding the tough, cold heart of a book that sometimes reads like a classroom assignment in Hard-Boiled Lit. Screenwriting isn't just filling space with words: One of the movie's strengths is its ability to convey the inner workings of taciturn people in mere scraps of dialogue.

By contrast, the garrulous characters in Juno practically gesture offscreen to first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody every time they open their mouths: The movie's early scenes contain an emptied notebook's worth of hoarded quirks, slang and catchphrases, as if a touring company of Heathers had moved into the 7-Eleven. More impressive is the way Cody flips the script on the adoptive yuppie couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, reversing our sympathies for the chilly Garner and catching the juvenile self-absorption behind Bateman's Joe Cool affability.

Given the collaborative pile-on of filmmaking, though, getting a script to the screen with your authorial voice intact is a coup. In that regard, add Cody to a list that includes Aaron Sorkin — whose unmistakable rat-a-tat conversational rhythms convert the weapons stats and anti-Communist chicanery of Charlie Wilson's War into a globe-tilting His Girl Friday — and Noah Baumbach, who hones his gift for verbal vivisection to a cutting edge in Margot at the Wedding. This was the year that Knocked Up's DVD-extra looseness and clubby guy's-guy riffing made Judd Apatow the hottest brand name going in screen humor, elbowing aside effects-driven comedy for the spitballing tone of a writing session.

Only one screenwriter, however, gave a mostly female cast the kind of talky latitude that Apatow, the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson in There Will Be Blood allowed their male protagonists — and that feminist's name was Quentin Tarantino. His Death Proof segment of Grindhouse may be the most surprising script of the year, from its bifurcated structure to its deliberate subversion of psycho killer Stuntman Mike's machismo. If the strike has an upside, it's that the battle may give Tarantino, Cody, the Coens and others lots of time to polish new scripts. The bad news is that we may find ourselves, like the viewers of Ass in Idiocracy, longing for the days of "great films, with plots! Where you cared about whose ass it was, and why it was farting!"
 — Jim Ridley

On Deck

The first thing you notice when you walk on to the set are the 300 extras in late-1920s period costume, seated at cafeteria tables in a holding area, gazing up at you in their wool suits (for the men) and cloche hats (for the women) as if all of this were perfectly normal, as if you were the one who had just beamed in from another dimension. The second thing you notice is how completely, utterly quiet the place is. No production assistants madly rushing about. No one yelling "quiet on the set" — or, for that matter, yelling at all. If you didn't know better, you'd swear they weren't shooting a big Hollywood movie.

And yet, they are. It's called The Changeling, and it's the 28th movie directed by Clint Eastwood, and the first he's made for a studio other than Warner Brothers since Absolute Power in 1997. (The film will be released next year by Universal, where its producers, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, have a deal.) The first time I interviewed Eastwood, in 2004, he discussed his preference for calm and order during production. He had once attended a White House dinner, he said, and taken notice of the barely audible two-way radios (consisting of an earpiece and compact throat microphone) used by the Secret Service agents. Why, he wondered, couldn't that technology be imported to a movie set, to cut down on the incessant screeching and squawking of open walkie-talkies? And so he did just that. But to hear Eastwood describe his process is one thing and to see it being applied something else entirely.

It's mid-November, halfway through The Changeling's 35-day shoot, and an upstairs ballroom of the former Park Plaza hotel on Wilshire Boulevard has been transformed by production designer James Murakami into an elaborate replica of the Los Angeles City Council chambers. It's there that a woman named Christine Collins sued the city for damages after her nine-year-old son Walter was kidnapped and a shrewd runaway named Arthur Hutchins, Jr. was returned to her in his place. When Collins protested that the boy was not her real son, an LAPD captain, J.J. Jones, had her committed to the psychopathic ward of LA General hospital.

The story is true. None of the names have been changed by screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski. They include a wellspring of fascinating but largely forgotten figures from the city's past, including the firebrand Presbyterian evangelist Gustav Briegleb, who helped rally the public behind Collins, and the flamboyant defense attorney Sammy "S.S." Hahn, whose client roster included celebrated hoaxer Aimee Semple McPherson and convicted murderess Louise Peete, and who in 1957 tied two concrete bricks around his neck and drowned himself in the deep end of a Tick Canyon swimming pool.

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