Movie Review
"Ten Favorite Movies of 2007"
by Bill Gallagher

Let me make an important point here: These nine movies and one HBO series are not the Ten Best of 2007. They are my Ten Favorites of 2007. It would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I could tell you which 10 movies of the 610 or so released in theatres last year are the “Best.” And, by the way, I’ve got no measurable criteria for judging my favorites, much less the best. If I liked it enough to put it on this list, I’ll try to tell you why. You can take it from there since all of them are now showing or will soon be available on DVD.

1. “Once”

This is easy. It’s a funny, engaging film about an Irish street musician and the charming Czech emigrant who would seem to be his soul mate — musically and romantically. “Once” came out of nowhere in May to steal our hearts. I’ve never seen a movie before that takes us so far inside the way music is made. It shuns all the usual Irish stereotypes. The musician (Glen Hansard) is neither a drunk nor a druggie. When he’s not singing and playing his guitar on the streets of Dublin, he’s working in his dad’s vacuum cleaner repair shop. The woman (Markéta Irglová) may sell flowers on Grafton Street and seem a bit daft, but there’s a dignity to her. Both are accomplished musicians. They would seem to be meant for each other. But “Once” doesn’t pander to romantic musical comedy clichés.

That Hansard and Irglová performed a live concert at the Crystal Ballroom in November only adds to the allure of this movie and its music. I gave copies of the DVD to four people on my Christmas list.

2. “The Namesake”

Based on the novel of the same name, this is the story of how a family from India adjusts to life in America. Anyone raised here by parents born in another country will relate to the tension between the old ways and the new ways. Just under the surface is the sense that while life is good, you may be losing more than you’re gaining by coming to America. It made me want to read the book, which I did. It is also excellent.

3. “I’m Not There”

Not only was the musical biopic satirized this year in the disappointing comedy, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” it was also turned upside down and inside out by this magical, musical meditation on Bob Dylan’s career. Todd Haynes, a Portland-based filmmaker, takes an audacious approach to who Dylan is and what his life and music mean. And it works. Trying to summarize how Haynes used six distinct characters to tell Dylan’s story is like trying to nail down the meaning of some of Dylan’s lyrics. It’s always been more about how they feel than what they mean, man.

4. “Into the Wild”

It took Sean Penn 10 years to get the family of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) to agree to the making of a movie about their son’s death. That their son rejected their values and took off on an unfocused, quixotic quest which resulted in his starving to death in Alaska is not a story a lot of parents would want told. And this movie version of the Jon Krakauer book doesn’t duck the issues of how dysfunction in the family home sent him packing. But it’s not about blaming anyone for his death. It’s more about seeing what we can learn from the way he lived his life with respect for and openness to others.

5. “Juno”

The fact that Juno McGuff (Ellen Page) is pregnant at 16 almost becomes a non-issue because this girl is obviously wise and witty way beyond her years. Which is why this comedy shouldn’t offend anyone who would ask, "Where’s the shame in such a situation?” She and the teenage father, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), were a little cavalier about conceiving the child — she contends she was bored and had sex; he says that she couldn’t have been bored because there were lots of good shows on cable television that afternoon. That she decides to have the baby for a couple of yuppie adoptive parents sets up a comedy full of human drama.

6. “No Country for Old Men”

Not even Hannibal Lecter can match the pure evil of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). He’s a criminal killing machine whose weapon of choice looks like an oxygen tank but is a cylinder that sends the deadly prong used to kill cattle quickly into the foreheads of his victims or blows locks through doors with enough force to critically wound a man sitting on the other side of the door. So what’s the attraction here? Why, it’s the battle between evil and not so good in the character of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin). He finds and decides to keep a couple of million bucks in Mexican drug money. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to stop Chigurh but always ends up a few steps behind him saying things that make him sound like a West Texas Greek chorus. The Coen Brothers bring action, imagination and insight to what Cormac McCarthy was saying in the novel without ever once seeming to show off their craft. This movie is deceptively simple. But it’s also eloquent.

7. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

Then there’s the kind of evil that wears a very expensive suit and whose weapon of choice is his ability to manipulate people. Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has dug himself a deep financial hole by embezzling funds from his employer to finance a high-end drug habit and a lifestyle way above his pay grade. To get out of the hole he convinces his loser younger brother, Hank, to carry out the perfect crime: robbing his parent’s jewelry store. This caper is doomed. Director Sidney Lumet (“Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” “The Pawnbroker”) is 83 years old and deserves some kind of award for longevity as well as creativity.

8. “The Lives of Others”

This was last year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film but didn’t open in Portland until the Portland International Film Festival in February. This first film from Director and Writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck deals with the way the Communist government of East Germany used its citizens to expose those who were suspected of free thinking. They were also used to help apparatchiks get chicks. Chilling.

9. “28 Weeks Later”

This was a pleasant surprise. A zombie movie with a heart and a brain. It’s better that “28 Weeks Later” is not really a sequel. It features a father who abandons his loving wife to attacking zombies figuring she’s dead meat, only to learn later that she’s a survivor. Boy, is she pissed at him. Their kids aren’t too happy with Dad either. Great action, great gore, and there were actually some characters I kind of cared about even though I knew most were expendable.

10. “The Wire”

This HBO series isn’t a movie, but it’s not televison either. It’s a serial crime drama based in Baltimore and created by a former newspaper reporter, David Simon. He wrote “Homicide,” the best true crime book I’ve ever read. That book begat the network TV series, “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” and is really the foundation of “The Wire.” It’s not an easy series to get into but is well worth the effort. Season Five, the final season, will deal with how a major big-city newspaper (The Baltimore Sun) is dropping the ball big time when it comes to covering what’s happening on its mean streets. It begins this month. I can’t wait.

Bill Gallagher is the News Director of AM 860 KPAM - the Talk Station, and he writes the monthly movie column for BNW.

BrainstormNW - February 2008

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