One thing that really separated 2007 from other years was the ability to find a very good movie, maybe even a few great ones, in the early months of the year (February, March, etc.). Sure, nearly all of them were in a limited release, but now that they are all on DVD, there’s no excuse for not seeking them out. So here, in alphabetical order, are ten gems for you to discover:

After the Wedding
An Oscar nominated film, this a good way to be introduced to a female director that is on the way to the top. Susanne Bier’s film is very character driven, so a patient viewer is required. Few directors that I’ve seen so far understand their characters better than Bier and that will take her a long way. The film features Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen as the manager of an Indian orphanage who gets involved in the very interesting life of Jorgen, who is offering to donate a large amount of money to the orphanage.

Away From Her
I just watched this film on DVD the other night and it hit me as hard the second time as it did the first. What a beautiful and necessary film about a terrible disease that can drive even the closest soulmates apart. Such is the case with Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie). Christie gives an astonishing performance and I’m making a fearless prediction that she will win an Oscar for it. Director Sarah Polley is right up there with Susanne Bier as the most intelligent women filmmakers working today.

Days of Glory
This foreign language Oscar nominee bounced around from film festival to film festival in 2006 and finally got a release in February. The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott put it best. Days of Glory is “a damn good war movie.” It was really difficult to leave this one off of my Top 10 list. The film follows four North African soldiers who join the French army to help liberate France from Nazi occupation during WWII.

The Host
Arguably the best monster flick to come out this decade, The Host is a near-masterpiece in the sci-fi genre. What’s so unique about it is how involving and compelling the story and the characters are. Most monster flicks don’t give a damn about their characters and make the film all about the monster. The Host is all about a family coming together to save a loved one and the film throws in suspense and a really cool monster along the way.

The Lives of Others
What else can I say? If you haven’t seen it yet then what are you waiting for? Although I considered it to be an act of criminality when the Academy robbed Pan’s Labyrinth of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, The Lives of Others is an award worthy film. Set in East Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film follows a Stasi officer assigned to spy on a couple who may be involved in rebellious organizations. The acting is superb and the story is filled with irony, suspense and devastation.

The Namesake
What a beautiful little film about a young man learning his place in the world by discovering a heritage he hadn’t known before. And who knew Kal Penn could actually act? Penn’s character, Gogol, becomes torn between following his Indian traditions and living in the modern American society he’s been accustomed to.

Once
It’s hands down the year’s best musical. This is the little indie gem you’ve heard so much about that’s blown everyone who’s seen it away. The film never resorts to conventional plot points. It is as unique of an expericence as you will find. With just an 88 minute running time, the film is too short. I wanted it to carry on for and extra 15 to twenty minutes. It’s that good.

Paris, Je T’aime
Also a very unique movie-going experience, Pairs, Je T’aime is a collection of 20 short films made by well known directors such as Joel and Ethan Coen, Alfonso Cuaron, Richard LaGravenese, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant and Tom Tykwer. Some are great, some are not very good, but as a whole, Paris, Je T’aime is well worth the effort.

Waitress
Waitress is the rarest find of them all simply because it’s a romantic comedy. This makes director Adrienne Shelly’s death all the more tragic because she was someone who knew how to make a good one. She really could have been a savior for guys whose girlfriends force them to watch chick flicks because I wouldn’t mind seeing Waitress three or four more times. This film is beautifully written, consistently funny, and Keri Russell gives a performace that you will instantly fall in love with.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
This has to be at the very top of the ladder of films about an underground resistance. It’s right up their with the recently re-released classic Army of Shadows. The film follows Damien (Cillian Murphy) and his brother Teddy as they join an underground resistance to help liberate Ireland from Great Britain. The cinematography and set design is exquisite and Cillian Murphy is very fine form as he speaks with what I assume is his native accent.


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