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Notes from the back row

Another masterpiece from the Coens

First off, how about a big round of applause for last weekend’s Whistler Film Festival. Organizers, Shauna, Bill, Buffy and the whole festival team should just reach around and give themselves a big pat on the back right now — that was a killer fest chock full of fantastic films. Good work.

Speaking of Fantastic films, the Village 8 is truly bringing it this week with the latest Coen Brothers’ masterpiece No Country For Old Men, a near perfect film based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name.

No Country stars Josh Brolin as Llewmyn Moss, a trailer park Texan who, while hunting, stumbles upon a desert drug deal turned bloodbath and a suitcase full of money, which he takes and then is suddenly pursued by a group of trigger-happy Mexicans and Javier Bardem’s Anton, perhaps the most badass hitman to ever grace the silver screen. Bardem kills for money, fun, or the flip of a coin. He’s careful, smart, fearless, and damn good at what he does. All of which makes things that much more of a nightmare for local Sheriff Ed Bell, a horse-riding, third-generation lawman played with quiet desperation by Tommy Lee Jones. Bell looks and speaks in casual country witticisms but inside you can see the pain, disbelief and even fear he has towards criminals and a country he’s not sure he really understands anymore.

Part thriller cat-and-mouse, No Country lends itself to easy comparison to Fargo, the Coens’ most popular film to date. But where snow-covered Fargo is about the victory of the law, this sun-bleached film is more about the inefficiency of it. Sheriff Bell seem like he’s just along for the ride.

And what a king-hell doozy of a ride it is. Set in times before cell phones, Internet or heightened border security, No Country is anything but a standard crime flick. Fantastic actors spit out smart, funny, realistic dialogue and the way the Coens handle every part of the crime movie is done with genius originality and attention. Even the death of a main character is done in a totally unique but awesome way. This is the best movie so far this year. Go see it.

Also good, though very different, is Lars and the Real Girl . It’s a date movie, but a good date movie (as good as they get). By no means a standard cheesy romantic comedy, Lars stars Ryan Gosling as a small town guy with serious social problems — he’s afraid of human contact, lives alone in a garage, and is tormented because his own mother died while giving birth to him.

Thanks to the Internet, Lars finds a girl — Bianca — a high-end sex toy that looks very real. Rather than give her a good noshing, Lars imagines/pretends she’s a parapalegic from Brazil and begins dragging her around town, introducing her to his friends and talking to her as if she’s a real person. The smalltownsfolk, skeptical at first, eventually welcome Bianca and play along out of love for Lars (it’s never fully explained why everyone loves Lars so much, but whatever).

There is plenty of potential for problems in this flick, the line of realism is danced upon very precariously, but somehow Lars and the Real Girl keeps you entertained and drawn in. Sure, it’s so sweet you almost want to puke and women will get weepy at the end, but any film where a guy capitalizes on the fact that his blow-up doll’s been elected to the local school board by going bowling with a cute dorky chick is okay in my books — originality goes a long ways with me.

AT VILLAGE 8 Dec. 7-13: Golden Compass; No Country for Old Men; Lars and the Real Girl; Mr. Magoriums; Enchanted; Beowulf; Bee Movie; American Gangster; Fred Claus; Hitman.