The first great film of the year is a small, and likely already out of the theaters, treasure written and directed by the genius behind 2004’s brilliant “The Station Agent.” Like its predecessor, “The Visitor” is a story about a journey from loneliness back into the real world of the living. In this case a recently widowed, middle aged professor, stuck somewhere between deep professional apathy and outright depression, is given a totally unexpected shot in the arm. Summoned to NYC to present a paper to his colleagues, Walter Vale played brilliantly by Richard Jenkins from “Six Feet Under,” returns to his largely abandoned NY apartment after years away only to find two illegal aliens living inside. But after an awkward initial meeting, Jenkins begins to really gel with the young free spirited drummer from Syria, who, in the gentlest of ways reintroduces him to the simple pleasures of life. Ultimately the flim becomes more complicated exposing us to the inherent hypocracy of our immigration policy in a post 9/11 world. From the incredibly nuanced portrayal of lasting and fleeting love, to the broader issue of finding joy in life, this movie is a gem that pushes buttons but never tugs too hard. The truth is told in a quiet convincing tone but with a beautifully understated cast. This is a deep diamond in the rough.
Despite the greedy, bickering, and seemingly unsolvable problems that have managed to suck much of the air out of the this year’s awards season, 2007 is beginning to feel like one of the strongest movie years of the decade: A happy split between genuinely mass audience popcorn epics, and smallish indie movies that focus on perfectly drawn characters moving through everyday life. As usual, ten films seem like an arbitrary number, so this list will include quite a few more … why not? In any event, most of these movies are already rentable, and the ones still in the theatres should be seen on a big screen without interruption or a pause button, if at all possible.
1. Once – Dir. John Carney (Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová)
“Once” is an instant classic, transforming the simple story of a scruffy Irish street singer and beautiful Czech immigrant into a kind of kindred musical and spiritual collaboration whose narrative is told largely through lyrics and whose tone is set by the natural chemistry between Hansard’s guitar and Irglova’s piano. It is that rare jewel of a film that not only dares to reinvent the genre but does so using novice actors (although Hansard did play one of the Commitments in the 80’s film and has been leading his own band, The Frames, for over a decade) and music that has disappointingly eluded the mainstream for years. Watching this film made me somewhat envious of the kind of language and relationship that only music can bring out between a man and woman who learn to love through an unspoken musical language- a kind of romantic groove. If there is any justice in this world, Hansard and Irglova, will win the Academy award for best song, vaulting The Frames into a much deserved wider audience, much like Elliott Smith did with “Good Will Hunting,” and “Once” will become 2007’s little indie that could, accumulating awards and a more visible place in the history of independent film. This film will choke you up repeatedly.