The Best Overlooked Films of 2007

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The Golden Globe nominations were announced on Thursday, and film critics' associations across the country have also chimed in with their award nods. NPR movie critic Bob Mondello weighs in with some of the year's best pictures that aren't being recognized.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Movie buffs, get ready, aboard season is upon us. Earlier this week, the film critics associations of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco all handed out their awards. And on Thursday, the Golden Globes released their list of nominations. As usual, the vast majority of these movies hit theaters within the last three months.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED film critic Bob Mondello is here to talk to us about some of the film's released early in 2007 that didn't quite make the cut. Hi, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO: Hi. Good to be here.

SEABROOK: So why do the later-releases in the year tend to be the ones that get all the awards?

MONDELLO: Because nothing is released in the first part of the year that's any good. I know that sounds like it's insane because at least three months…


(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: But, basically, the movies that come out at the end of the year and get nominated for Oscars then play into January and February. And if you have a really good picture, you don't want to open opposite them because in their ads, it's going to say nominated for 10 Academy Awards. And yours can't say that because you're the next year. So if you have a good picture, you wait for a couple of months. And then once you waited a couple of months, you have to wait out the summer movies and all the blockbusters. So by the time you're finished, you're in the last three months of the year.

SEABROOK: And yet, Bob, you have brought us a list of a bunch of films that were really good starting with one in March, "Zodiac."

MONDELLO: Right. It's about the Zodiac killer and an investigation into him. The killer left clues in ciphers and Robert Graysmith, who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, later wrote a book about the case. He was really good at deciphering.

SEABROOK: This is back in the '60s, right? Late '60s…

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, I think a little bit later than that but, yes, it's a period piece, and it's really, really smartly directed. And it - wonderfully acted by Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal, and a very tense, very nicely made picture. But, of course, nobody remembers it now.

SEABROOK: Here's one with a couple of great performances in it, "The Hoax." This one is about a - the guy who wrote the fake autobiography of Howard Hughes.

MONDELLO: Right. Clifford Irving. He's played by Richard Gere, and he's a shameless fraud. Clifford Irving is a guy who said he was going to make this autobiography of Howard Hughes, but he'd never talked to Hughes when he decided to do it, and that got his researcher a little nervous.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hoax")

Mr. ALFRED MOLINA (Actor): (As Dick Suskind) He has his own private CIA, ruthless advisors.

Mr. RICHARD GERE (Actor): (As Clifford Irving) His advisors don't know anything about the book because he's too paranoid to tell them. And he'll never come out of hiding long enough to denounce me because he's a lunatic hermit. And I am the spokesperson for the lunatic hermit. So the more outrageous I sound, the more convincing I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Sounds a little persuasive, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: God, that's crazy.

MONDELLO: It's a wonderful bit, and it actually works out really nicely in the picture. Alfred Molina is the researcher, and the two of them are just this Mutt and Jeff team that are really great together.

SEABROOK: Hmm. I hear Richard Gere was amazing.

MONDELLO: Yeah, although - he was. He - it - I - it's a really - it's a fine film. The funny thing about this is you'll always wonder if you'd actually put them in your top 10 when you get to the end of the year whether they'd make it to the top five for these categories, which is what has to happen for awards. So, you know, you can sort of understand them not always appearing, but it's a little frustrating with a picture like this because it's really fun.

SEABROOK: Hmm. Another one people aren't likely to remember because they probably didn't see it is "The Namesake." This one didn't even play in a lot of theaters.

MONDELLO: Right. Mira Nair directed this, and it's a gorgeous movie. It's a culture class dramedy about a couple from India and a son who grows up here. His first name is Gogol, but he goes by the nickname Nicki because he was named after the Russian author Nickolai Gogol. And now he just wants to change his name.

SEABROOK: It sounds like it could have been this year's "Bend It Like Beckham."

MONDELLO: Oh, yes, it's not funny in quite the same way, but, yeah, it's that kind of a picture. I mean, Mira Nair always makes pictures that are sort of sensitive about cultural differences. I mean…


MONDELLO: …if you go all the way back to "Mississippi Masala" or something like that, she's got a couple of Bollywood performers in it. A woman named Tabu(ph), who is not well-known in this country, but who is an astonishing actress and who plays the mother of this boy. And you sit through most of the picture thinking, geez, where did these people come from? Why are we not more aware of them?

SEABROOK: A musical. You put a musical in your list.

MONDELLO: Well, this is a big year for musicals, you know that. I mean, we've had "Hairspray" and we've had "Sweeney Todd." This one - it's a small movie. It's called "Once," and it was by a director John Carney, who thought the ideal should be to make a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers type musical but to justify the music for today's audiences, which aren't ready to see somebody just walking down the street and singing.

And so he did a story about a street musician in Ireland and a girl who plays the piano who he meets. Now, the street musician can play his guitar anywhere, but the girl has to play the piano some place so they go to a music store. And the street musician teaches her a song.

(Soundbite of song, "Falling Slowly")

Mr. GLEN HANSARD (Member, The Frames) and Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA (Singer; Actor): (Singing) Words fall through me and always fool me. And I can't react.

MONDELLO: Now, you should see his face when it just lights up when she comes in and she starts singing along. And, you know, she's got the music in front of her. There's no reason she can't. She plays the piano. But it's a beautiful moment. And the whole movie works like that. It's a really clever updating of these old musical comedy styles from the 1930s.

SEABROOK: So instead of sort of the "Singing In The Rain" style where there's this guy singing in the rain, it's actually justified by today's modern standards.

MONDELLO: They totally justify it. There is even a scene where she's walking down the street with headphones on and she's singing a song that she's hearing in her headphones. So that it makes sense for her to walk down a street singing. I mean, it's - they've really done it very cleverly.


MONDELLO: Very nice.

SEABROOK: "Once" will be released on DVD this Tuesday. All the other films on Bob's list are available right now if you want to check them out.

Bob Mondello reviews movies for NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Thanks very much, Bob.

MONDELLO: It was great fun.

(Soundbite of song, "Falling Slowly")

Mr. HANSARD and Ms. IRGLOVA: (Singing) Falling slowly, eyes that know me, and I can't go back.

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