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Ten that dig deep

December 16, 2007|KEVIN CRUST

It's unclear to me whether it's a commentary on the movies of 2007 or the state of my life that throughout the year I found the best of them burrowing their way into my core in ways I never imagined. Through both literal and lyrical conveyance, the stories and characters onscreen aligned with my own experiences in manners profound and unsettling. And everywhere I turned, Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed to be staring me in the face. He was actually in only three films, but they were the performances that most got under my skin this year. Whether it was the assertive, controlling Phil in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," the pragmatic, compartmentalizing Phil of "The Savages," or the brashly coarse, comically resourceful Phil as Gust Avrakotos in "Charlie Wilson's War," there appeared to be a Phil for all occasions.

My top 10, in descending order:

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." With the blink of an eye, Jean-Dominique Bauby's beautiful, bittersweet memoir springs to cinematic life via the discerning hand of director Julian Schnabel. And dig those vintage X-rays under the opening credits.

"Once." Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are the year's most charming couple in this Irish/Czech romance that puts music at the fore. Filmmaker John Carney's deceptively spare and simple storytelling allows the performers and their songs the freedom to express the often inexpressible.

"Into the Wild." Sean Penn's adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book dares to ask if the tragically short life lived on one's own terms -- be they naively idealistic or even foolish -- is preferable to a long life of compromise. Emile Hirsch's performance, Eric Gautier's images and Eddie Vedder's songs make it an indelible question to ponder.

"No Country for Old Men." A formal wonder, this brisk and brutal trek through the no man's land of Cormac McCarthy reestablishes the Coen brothers as masters of sight and sound. As powerful and offbeat as the weapon of choice deployed by Javier Bardem's droll, malevolent Anton Chigurh and as philosophically folksy as Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff Ed Tom Bell.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days." A riveting odyssey that stars a haunting Anamaria Marinca as a Romanian student trying to help her friend procure an illegal abortion in 1987 Romania. Director Cristian Mungiu navigates the bleak passages of the late Communist era with skillful camera work and stark characterizations.

"I'm Not There." Todd Haynes wields a kaleidoscope and six brave actors to exfoliate the legend of Bob Dylan.

"Away From Her." The wistful ironies of aging are not lost on young Canadian actress Sarah Polley in her feature directing debut, an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story.

"Michael Clayton." Star George Clooney and writer-director Tony Gilroy are perfectly matched in this film that won't make you think any better of corporate America or lawyers.

"This Is England." Margaret Thatcher's 1980s get a personal and political head-butt from "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" stalwart Shane Meadows.

Anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The films did not always match up to his prodigious presence, but that ultimately didn't seem to matter.

The worst

It's deeply lamentable that the sheer volume of films makes it so difficult for audiences to find the great ones. Whether they're drowned out by the sound and fury of the summer spectacles or jockeying with one another for attention during the overcrowded fall and holiday seasons, quality films and the marketing and publicity people behind them increasingly face an uphill battle.


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