Even though it's summer blockbuster season, there are still some worthwhile films around that are worth catching. You can see all of these in Portland (and hopefully some of them elsewhere as well):
ONCE - This charming film about a street musician and a young woman with whom he strikes a connection is a must-see, especially if you love music. The star is the lead singer of the Frames, a popular group in Ireland, and much of the film features the music he makes alone and with his friend. I'm not a fan of most movie romances, but this one feels more authentic than what you typically see in films and doesn't make the relationship bear more than it could actually bear in real life. Winner of audience awards at Sundance and the Dublin International Film Festival, it's an hour and a half of pure, simple joy.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS - I wrote about this Oscar winner a couple of months back, and it'st still around.
AFTER THE WEDDING - This compelling family drama from Denmark was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, and scored a number of acting and audience awards at film festivals in Europe. It's the story of a man in his 40s who has spent his adult life working in an orphanage in India (you might recognize the actor, Mads Mikkelsen, from the recent Bond film, "Casino Royale"). He reluctantly returns to Denmark to raise funds and discovers ties that pull him home. Besides a first-rate script and great performances, the story contains some good insights about how power works and the connections between rich and poor countries.
LA VIE EN ROSE - This biography of the great French singer, Edith Piaf, is a must-see for her fans--but even if you don't know her music well, you will want to after seeing the film. It is anchored by an absolutely astounding performance by Marion Cotillard (who you might recognize from "A Very Long Engagement," my number 1 film a couple of years ago). A stunning beauty, she transforms herself so completely into the tiny, strange woman known as "the little spairrow" that you almost believe she is Piaf. Over the course of this flawed but compelling film, I often felt deeply frustrated by Piaf's self-destructive behavior--and yet my admiration for her grew so profound that the final scene left me compeltely undone.
DAY WATCH - The second in a terrific Russian trilogy (I wrote about "Night Watch" on my 2006 list and "Dusk Watch" or "Twilight Watch"--I've seen both titles--is in production), this contains all the edgy elements that made the first "Matrix" movie great, adding in some grit that feels uniquely Russian. Critics here in the U.S. don't seem to care much for it, but it has earned a loyal underground audience and is a must-see for those who like action, fantasy, creative effects, and nifty spiritual themes. Definitely watch (or re-watch) "Night Watch" first.
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY - This is a wonderful retelling of a particular piece of the Irish fight for independence from Great Britain -- and though I know quite a bit about that history, I felt like my understanding deepened considerably after seeing this film. It's the story of two brothers who fight for the republicans and eventually part ways in their views of how best to go about the fight. It features Cillian Murphy of the gorgeous blue eyes, who you might recognize from "28 Days Later" and "Breakfast on Pluto," and won the Golden Palm at Cannes as well as numerous other Irish film awards. I'll warn you--it's pretty violent and it's pretty hard to understand the Irish accents at first, but if you can stick in there it's worth it.
PAN'S LABYRINTH -- My #2 film of 2006 is still playing in Portland!