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'Once'

So this is how you make a low-budget musical these days! Forget tap-dancing cellmates and ersatz girl groups. Just start with a bearded appliance repairman (Glen Hansard of the alt-rock band The Frames) who spends his Dublin-streetcorner nights strumming his guitar and singing songs about the woman who done him wrong. Bring on a sweet young thing (Czech singer/songwriter Marketa Irglova) who needs her vacuum repaired, and who happens to play piano. Mix in a little backstory about her life as an immigrant, round up a few street musicians and a studio technician, and before you can say, "Hey, let's record a CD," you've not only got one, but a lovely little musical romance to boot. John Carney's direction is so unobtrusive, and his story so endearing, that you barely notice how smart the film is about character and structure. It seems almost a found object — sweet and unassumingly authentic. (Recommended)

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.