The Year In Film

Judd Apatow's pretty good year and much more

Far from building a career, he now sees himself starting all over each time he determines he can be sufficiently useful to a director and accepts a role. "It's absolutely new each and every time," he says. "For all that you carry with you as you get older — and if you've had the good fortune to work in films that people have seen and in some cases liked, you carry with you the burden of expectation — all that went before is meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. Because you're a baby. From the moment you decide to go to work again, you're a baby. You have to empty yourself if you're going to be any kind of vessel at all.

"I suppose that's the salvation of all of us. With all the kind of grandiosity that surrounds the way of life that actors lead, there's an insistent humility to the work itself, because you cannot do it unless you begin with nothing each time."

The beginner's mind: Some people meditate for a lifetime to find it.

It's a pity more people didn't see I Know Who KIlled Me (with Lindsay Lohan).
Courtesy of Columbia Tristar
It's a pity more people didn't see I Know Who KIlled Me (with Lindsay Lohan).
Darfur Now is one of two 2007 films about genocide in Sudan.
© 2007 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Darfur Now is one of two 2007 films about genocide in Sudan.

Day-Lewis laughs. "I don't think I've achieved separation from the material world just yet," he says. "The loss of myself happens in a place that's very concrete." Right: in the movies.

SUPPORT GROUP
The year's best characters
by Ella Taylor

Some years bring few stellar lead performances. But every year is a good year for supporting roles, and not just because the field has grown so wide since independent film became a force to be reckoned with. Many a savvy character or chameleon actor has built a powerful and lasting career on a solid bedrock of ancillary work without a hint of look-at-me grandstanding. That's particularly true for women — Catherine Keener, Laura Linney, Lili Taylor, Tilda Swinton, to name but a few, and just watch Amy Ryan go this year — whom casting directors might otherwise cross off their lists at the first sign of a crow's foot. The best supporting actors have said there's little more satisfying than working in concert with a well-oiled ensemble. And little more fun to watch, which is why a package deal and a duet top my list of the ten best supporting actors of 2007.

1. Seldom has an ensemble conspired more artfully and with less ego to help Julie Christie's radiant star shine ever brighter than the Canadian cast of Sarah Polley's Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent flags dismay, anger, grief and finally quiet devotion while barely moving a muscle as an errant husband trying to cope with his wife's decline into Alzheimer's disease. Kristen Thomson is alternately sympathetic, perceptive and unsparing as a nurse at the plush facility to which Christie consigns herself, and Wendy Crewson turns in a subtly intelligent performance in the thankless role of the home's briskly heedless director. Crewson's husband Michael Murphy plays against his customary chattiness as the all but catatonic inmate Christie falls for, and Olympia Dukakis exudes lonely dignity as Murphy's prosaic wife.

2. In Eran Kolirin's gently incisive comedy The Band's Visit, Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai double up as improbably coupled strangers thrown together in a one-horse Israeli development town. Their brief encounter reveals two kindly, sensitive souls who temporarily come out of their protective shells — she's a Sephardic slattern, he's a tight-assed Egyptian police officer — and complete each other in ways that leave you wondering whether their night on the town is a missed opportunity, or what's meant to be.

3. The often-chilly Tilda Swinton unravels wonderfully in sweat and love handles as the oedipally crippled corporate attorney in Michael Clayton who will do anything for the boss, up to and including serial murder.

4. Don't let Paul Dano's pimply ruin of a face fool you into thinking he doesn't work at playing devious types. His charismatic holy roller in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood struggles to appear pious even as he hungers for riches and power. It's no mean feat for any actor to stay out of Daniel Day-Lewis's shadow, but Dano holds his own, and more.

5. Amy Ryan finally breaks through the helpmeet-wife and bitter-ex roles to play the hopelessly ill-equipped working-class single parent of a child who's disappeared in Gone Baby Gone. Hard but not cold, Ryan's serially defaulting but loving mother complicates all smug definitions of "in the best interests of the child."

6. It's never easy to play back-alley abortionist without sprouting horns, but Vlad Ivanov's cunningly ambiguous, ruthlessly interrogative portrayal in Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days slowly peels back to reveal both a ruthless exploiter of vulnerable young women and just another black marketeer trying to scratch out a living in Soviet-era Romania.

7. Leslie Mann, wife of Knocked Up director Judd Apatow, brings to the controlling-bitch-wife role that makes women squirm a kind of cathartic, rhythmic lyricism so full of hilarious menace, I wished it was me spitting the invective.

8. I can't think of an actor alive who does so much by doing so little with his face and body as Philip Seymour Hoffman does. What a year he's had, pathetic and dangerous in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead as a larcenous broker and heroin-head who talks his younger brother into robbing their parents' store, all for love of Marisa Tomei; inaccessible as the tuned-out brother of Laura Linney struggling to care for a senile father in The Savages; and comically explosive as the CIA agent helping Tom Hanks arm the Taliban in Charlie Wilson's War.

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