jr140's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Interview

It's a total winner! The big Christmas comedy. Hilarious, sexy, raunchy, bloody, with lots of male bonding, this movie would be a hit even without all the recent headlines. It's an instant cult classic, this generation's "Dr. Strangelove."

Dallas Buyers Club

I'm calling it now! Matthew McConaughey will win the Oscar for Best Actor. His performance in " Dallas Buyers Club" is extraordinary, and so is the film! Edgy filmmaking that sheds light on recent US history that many want us to forget. With pain, humor and an intelligent script, this is quite a ride. Jared Leto is sure to collect some honors too for his tour-de-force performance. SAG voters take note!

Captain Phillips

It's a knockout! Director Paul Greenglass is the master of tension, showing us a real-life adventure that is both harrowing and infuriating. Tom Hanks plays against type, this time a victim, showing a side we've never seen; all of the actors play at a feverish pitch in a life-and-death struggle. A powerful, but upsetting, picture that is sure to attract awards.

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)
½

Ripped from today's headlines, this very disturbing tale is expertly conceived, though hard to call "entertaining." As someone who has also suffered the violent loss of loved ones, this movie touched my rawest nerves, enabling me to work out some of my darkest anger management issues through Hugh Jackman's extraordinary performance. I slept peacefully, thanks to this powerful film. Don't miss this!

Gravity
Gravity(2013)

What an incredible feat! Breathtaking visuals, plus a story like none you've ever seen on a screen. A movie that is impossible to watch on anything but a BIG screen. Performances and production values are top-notch; sure to be hit at Awards time.

Rush
Rush(2013)

There's no plot! And, to make the final race exciting, all the earlier races are not. So you sit there, waiting for not much to happen as text on the screen tells you who won this race or that one. Then, SPOILER ALERT, the pretty blond wins, then you go home. Of all the scripts that must be forced in Ron Howard's direction, he had to pick THIS? To be fair, Chris Hemsworth is charming; he proves that he can do more than just play Thor.

The Family
The Family(2013)
½

What a joy! What a dark comedy in the style of "Prizzi's Honor" and "Get Shorty:" hilarious, dramatic, and bloody. A clever script that makes us care about every character, played by an ensemble at the top of their game. Michelle Pfeiffer is a knock-out as a gangster's wife, and the astounding young actors Diana Agron and John D'Leo do as much heavy lifting as DeNiro (now so craggy that he looks 80). Violence and hilarity: a rare combination. Director Luc Besson delivers a memorable work of art.

Lee Daniels' The Butler
½

What a wonderful, powerful film! The screenplay does the near-impossible: managing to tell an intimate, personal tale while the huge drama of America's civil rights confrontations spins them in many directions. I'm old enough to remember all the events depicted here, and it's GREAT to see it all spelled out in one movie. Some wonderful performances; this screenplay is sure to be nominated for awards.

Jobs
Jobs(2013)

Less than brilliant, but well-done. For all the inspiring talk from the character Steve Jobs about fresh thinking and innovation, these movie-makers apparently abhor innovation, going for a predictable Movie Of The Week approach with old school swelling music and cheering throngs. It's convenient that Steve Jobs' career divides so cleanly into three acts that they actually pull it off, sticking quite accurately with the facts. Some delightful cameo performances by Matthew Modine, Lukas Haas and Dermot Mulroney, plus Josh Gad as Wozniak, authentically filmed on the actual Apple campus in Cupertino. Probably the best feature Ashton Kutcher ever made.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

I'm calling it NOW! Cate Blanchette's performance in "Blue Jasmine" will win her the Oscar for Best Actress.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

I miss the humor of the first Iron Man. It seems like with each successive sequel, the wit is diminished and the noise increases, apparently to appeal to foreign audiences. Nice to see Gwyneth Paltrow get more screen time in this installment, but these "summer blockbusters" all look the same: Will it get blown up? Yes, it gets blown up. Then you go home. We don't need 2 1/2 hours for that!

The Great Gatsby

A whole lot better than I expected. Yes, I agree with the critics, much of it is over-the-top; no estates in Long Island look like that, and the musical contributions by Jay Z are a pathetic distraction. But the casting is pitch-perfect; it's still Nick's story about this cypher Gatsby, and Tobey Magure and Leo DiCaprio play at an intensity that Robert Redford's version sorely lacked. When director Luhrmann finally settles down, he trusts the material, taking the time to explain the complexities of the relationships that unravel in the denouement. Costumes, hair and some technical achievements with 3D are sure to earn nominations when awards season rolls around.

42
42(2013)

The story is so potent, it's amazing that it wasn't turned into a film long ago by a director like Elia Kazan or Frank Capra. Seen today, "42" is hokey but so stirring for its depiction of race relations that it had me in tears! Oh, the costumes are too crisp, and this New Yorker knows that Brooklyn never looked that clean, but the achievement of getting the stories of Branch Rickey and Jack Robinson documented for a new generation is an accomplishment to cheer. Bravo!

The Place Beyond The Pines
½

Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance pushes "high concept" beyond the breaking point to "preposterous" with this movie. Kudos to Ryan Gosling, who remains one of our strongest actors these days, making an unlikeable character likable, but it's all downhill from there. Is it a well-crafted film? Yes. Will you care? NO! It's depressing, not entertaining, and ultimately pointless. By the time this lengthy movie gets to its third act, the coincidences are so outrageous that it's impossible to suspend disbelief. Now that Gosling has made two movies with Cianfrance, I hope he gets back on track with palatable fare.

The Company You Keep

The best movie I've seen all year! An intelligent script that doesn't require 3D goggles or CGI gimmicks to tell its engaging tale. I remember the Weather Underground and even had a friend who was active in the organization; I can vouch for the authenticity of its depiction, and the premise of this film as it reveals those former members decades later. Although it's based on a novel, this film could easily be based on fact. The cast is splendid (although Shia LeBeouf has terrible diction that can't always be understood). Robert Redford, as Director, relies (to everyone's advantage) on the experience of making "All The President's Men" to pace the tension. What a joy to see Julie Christie and Susan Sarandon again!

Oz the Great and Powerful
½

Though there are some impressive visuals, and James Franco is always fun to watch, "Oz" is a letdown. The Director and screenwriters try so hard to please so many "markets" that they can't assemble a coherent film. It's a half-hour too long, and way too scary for little kids. Those 3D monsters fly at us too often. Then Franco has his lothario moments with each of three witches that are sure to have most kids squirming and kicking the seats. When the Munchkins eventually arrive, it turns into a musical! So what is it: an adventure, a horror film, a musical or a love story? Fast answer: it's a mess.

Side Effects
Side Effects(2013)
½

I always have high hopes when Soderbergh directs, but this film is good, not great. The entire ensemble performs wonderfully, and it's a well-crafted film. But its unusual script morphs a few times, starting out as one genre then delivering another. It doesn't feel like a surprise because it's disingenuous. Soderbergh's skills are apparent, but even he can't make us care about insider trading and psychiatric medicine. Glad I saw this, glad I didn't pay.

The Impossible

Even better than I hoped! This movie about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand is really only peripherally about the tsunami. Instead, it's about humanity, about the acts of kindness required to restore a community as everyone comes together, in DIRE circumstances, to regain stability in their lives. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are as wonderful as always, but it's their three little boys (one, a Billy Elliot alumnus) who must do some heavy emotional lifting. It's great to see intelligent film-making like this; it could have been just a hokey disaster pic, but by digging deeper, everyone involved produces a memorable Winner!

Quartet
Quartet(2013)

I laughed until I cried. I didn't want it to end! In this crowded season of "Must See" films, DO NOT MISS THIS! Remarkable performances, great music, touching story with many surprises and plenty of humor. It's one of my favorite movies of the year. And be sure to stick around for the delightful credits at the end!

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

An epic film about an epic journey, the camerawork is absolutely dazzling. (One of the rare times I was actually glad to watch a movie in 3D.) An intelligent movie that delivers much to think about, including its allegorical application. I could have skipped the commentary from the adult Pi, hammering us with religiosity. Still, it's quite film-making feat!

Silver Linings Playbook

What a dazzling surprise! A high-concept script that goes to places you never see coming. Hilarious and heartbreaking performances by the magnificent Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence who are both sure to win accolades this season. Cooper proves that he can deliver much more depth than "The Hangover," and Ms. Lawrence does much heavy lifting for such a youthful thespian. Bravo to both of them, AND to writer/director David O. Russell. He's sure to win well-deserved accolades too. There was publicity earlier about Mark Wahlberg's disappointment at not being cast in this film, but I'm really glad that Mr. Russell reached for Cooper instead. One of the year's Ten Best!

Hitchcock
Hitchcock(2012)
½

This movie is interesting to those of us who went to film school and know movie trivia, but Mr. & Mrs. Hitchcock are just not compelling characters to entertain the masses. Don't expect anyone to bite their nails over whether "Psycho" is going to get the green light at Paramount. The audience knows the ending before anyone sits down. The topic does enable the film's director to have some fun constructing several sequences (including the credits) in the 1950s style of a Hitchcock film. Anthony Hopkins has the voice but not the look of Hitchcock. I was constantly aware of his prosthetics. The film felt like a re-enactment for a cable TV show.

Lincoln
Lincoln(2012)

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner defies the conceits of Hollywood and delivers a film that's heavy on dialog. Further, he defies the Hollywood three-act structure, giving Spielberg a script that flows differently from anything we've seen in the recent past. It's powerful stuff, not mindless comic-book fare, that requires concentration from its audience. And the audience that I attended concentrated nonstop. Even though the story is driven more by Tell and less by Show, this film is sure to be honored for many technical achievements, like make-up, costumes, art direction, musical score, and more. Most impressively, Daniel Day-Lewis makes Lincoln human. It's a high-wire act that could easily fall into caricature, yet Day-Lewis (does anyone remember that he's British?) makes the character convincingly real. Best of all, there won't be a sequel. It isn't a "tentpole," but the kind of intelligent movie that almost never gets the green light in the US. See this movie to show studio dealmakers that there's a solid audience for quality films!

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)

Fifty years later, there's no trace of Ian Fleming left in these James Bond movies, but "Skyfall" is a triumph nonetheless! Intriguing plots; intelligent women who advance the story, exotic locales, and another commanding performance by Daniel Craig. What's lost from the original Fleming novels: the humor. There's no more far-fetched gadgetry because all that stuff is possible now! There's no more far-fetched sight-gags either, like 007 stepping out of a wetsuit, wearing an uncreased tuxedo underneath. That stuff just cuts the tension that this new script delivers nonstop. And the homoerotic twist from villain Javier Bardem would have sent the Censors into apoplexy, but it's a welcome hook now. Can't wait for the next Bond installment, and I never said that when Pierce Brosnan was in charge!

The Sessions
The Sessions(2012)

Wow. "The Sessions" is courageous filmmaking by everyone involved! We laughed and we cried. The film defies conventional "structure," yet remains totally engrossing as it explores emotional terrain with refreshing candor. Helen Hunt is sure to be nominated for awards. Bravo!

The Tree of Life

Christ! What a pretentious bore!

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas(2012)
½

Just because it's long doesn't make it profound. There's a wonderful message here, but it could be told in one hour less time, for many millions less. And the prosthetics that enable these actors to play multiple roles is simply a distraction. I hoped for better.

50/50
50/50(2011)
½

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a remarkable performance in 50/50, a clever script that finds humor in the life of a cancer patient. Seth Rogen is frequently over-the-top, but provides much of the humor, as we observe how relationships change when a friend is diagnosed. Gordon-Levitt exposes the patient, from denial to screams, pondering what's next. As the film's producer, Rogen should be hailed for courageous film making, a thought-provoking topic delivered with humor. I just wish they hadn't made it in Canada.

Super 8
Super 8(2011)
½

Nicely recreating the 1970s, with some very talented young actors doing the heavy lifting.

Thor
Thor(2011)

Entertaining and expensive-looking fluff that invents a backstory to the famous legend. At the end, the film promises not one, but two more sequels. Apparently the main reason for this film is to set up a franchise and make a whole lotta money over the next decade. I'm getting tired of wearing these goggles in the movies . . .

The Hangover Part II

The film-makers repeat the same formula from the first film and just move the locale. I went in not expecting much, but I laughed until I gasped for air! My favorite line: "Is this a magic show?"

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

A heavy-handed bore. The plot's as stupid as POTC3. A whole lotta stunts and computer tricks at the expense of its humor. And the overwrought musical score stifles the potential for levity. Now in 3D, with swords poked in your face.

Midnight in Paris

One of the ten best films of this or any year! Gorgeous, romantic, hilarious, witty and thought-provoking fantasy for adults; I didn't want it to end. Marion Cotillard brings depth to yet another indelible character; Owen Wilson is the perfect (younger, Gentile) surrogate for Woody Allen's humor. Don't let anyone tell you the secrets of the plot. Just go!

The Conspirator

"The Conspirator" is one of the Ten Best of this or any year! Robert Redford's riveting drama about Lincoln's assassination is not an epic. It's more like a Civil War version of "A Few Good Men," as the acquaintances of John Wilkes Booth face their trials. Every element works: lighting, music, costumes, set decoration, it's all top notch. Robin Wright gives the performance of her life; James McAvoy and Tom Wilkinson deserve accolades, as does the director, Mr. Redford. Opens April 15th.

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre(2011)

Lots of cries and panting and heaving bosoms on the soundtrack to this latest version of Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska leads a terrific cast but Judi Dench is the scene-stealer. Be forewarned: one hundred seconds before this film ends, all females in the auditorium burst into tears!

Life as We Know It

Some laugh-out-loud moments, but the morbid premise that sets up this story prevents it from being a real romantic comedy. The two leads work very hard at being cute (and they are), but this disjointed film doesn't click.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

A really entertaining, though formulaic, sci-fi film about "time realignment." Though it lacks a knock-out ending, the journey is mostly terrific, with exciting scenes on trains near Chicago. And the visuals are great. Swirling helicopter shots of downtown Chicago, and dazzling effects on the train. Jake is terrific in a complex role as a tormented soldier repeating the same mission over and over. The film features an old school movie score performed by a lush, full orchestra instead of the usual pop tunes. Recommended.

The Adjustment Bureau
½

A clever script that blurs the lines between genres. It's a romance, it's a thriller, it's sci fi, and it all works wonderfully well in Matt Damon's reliable hands.

Gnomeo and Juliet

The highest-concept movie ever made! Romeo and Juliet updated to modern English gardens, told by animated garden gnomes, to songs by Elton John. (And produced by Sir Elton's BF David Furnish.) It helps to know Shakespeare to catch some of the wit (instead of sword fights, there are lawn mower races, set to "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"), and the gnomes go to the statue of Will Shakespeare in the park to ask for a new ending. I laughed and laughed. Watching gnomes do the "Crocodile Rock" is worth the admission price alone, deconstructing Shrek!

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
½

Potent. At first, Spitzer is the Sheriff of Wall Street, taking down wise guys like the head of World Com, and tackling the jerk that founded AIG. When he's elected by a landslide as NY Governor, those Wall Street hotshots can manipulate his political adversaries and plot to take him down. It's all the more authentic because Spitzer participates in the film, narrating and explaining the situations and personalities along the way. Spitzer is too smart and too committed to disappear forever. I'm convinced that we'll see Spitzer resurrected again, to the betterment of us all, in the future.

Waiting for Superman

A very powerful film that follows really young impressionable students through the maze of getting a decent education in America today. The lotteries at the end of the film are harrowing and heartbreaking, harshly illustrating why America's schools are failing to keep pace with the rest of the world. Some of the best footage comes from the surprisingly impassioned Bill Gates, who explains that America cannot maintain its competitive edge in technology tomorrow if we don't improve American public schools radically today. Highly recommended.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

The biggest laughline in the movie comes early, when Jeff Bridges' character, in a Disney film, says that "information needs to be free." From DISNEY? The company that successfully lobbied the US Congress to lengthen the copyright laws to protect Mickey Mouse and Goofy?! If Disney won't support the ideology in this film, why should its audience?

Garrett Hedlund seems to be an engaging young actor that I'm sure we'll see again, but the weight of this gimmicky movie reduces him to a series of reaction shots. I hope he gets more lines in whatever he does next.

The 3-D effects are few and pointless. The whole film feels like another way for Disney to hustle more bucks from a flop franchise they gave up for dead 30 years ago. I'm sure there'll be a sequel, and I'm sure I won't be in attendance.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
½

Too much contemplation and not enough action.

After reading the book, I was surprised to learn that it would be stretched into two movies. And stretched it is. The three leads don't go to school, they plot what they might do next, then you go home. Skip this.

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

The Coen Brothers deconstruct the Horse Opera. Matt Damon is hilarious as a Texas Ranger, Jeff Bridges chews the scenery as drunken Rooster Cogburn, and young Hailee Steinfeld carries much of the movie in an auspicious debut. One plaintive piano for much of the musical score, lots of shooting with no blood, but this is not "Blazing Saddles;" it's not a spoof or satire, but an homage to a film style that still has the ability to sting. With plenty of laughs along the way.

All Good Things

This is Ryan Gosling's year! Director Andrew Jarecki captures remarkable performances from Ryan, Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella in this terrific movie, based on real events. The art direction is spot-on, from the 1970s garb to the marble walls of corporate NYC. Engrossing, upsetting, and surprisingly touching.

For Colored Girls

The play that I thought was "unfilmable" gets filmed. If anything, by adding visuals to Ntozake Shange's poetry, the vividness of her language packs an even greater wallop. By weaving the poems and rearranging their order, then adding new characters and dialog, Tyler Perry creates a hopeless melodrama, but it's also a sincere exploration of issues. Bravo for trying something different! "I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely." - Ntozake Shange

Love and Other Drugs

A delight, especially for the performances by Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. Sometimes it feels like just a slick TV show; the premise for Jake's slobbering brother to move in is especially weak. But the film is powerful for its topicality and frankness about diseases and pharmaceuticals in America.

Casino Jack
Casino Jack(2010)

A terrific idea that doesn't quite work because the director and screenwriter have so much material, they don't know how to shape it. It's the true story of Jack Abramoff, and his cronies Tom DeLay and other memorable names from recent headlines. Kevin Spacey gives another spec-ta-cular performance, but the tone of the movie is all over the place: it's often played for comedy (Jon Lovitz is hilarious in a supporting role). Then there's the expository clips of real events from C-Span, and the serious scenes that involve big issues, along with swipes at the Republicans in power. It's an important topic, but this isn't the definitive explanation of what went wrong. (It's also amazing to note in the credits that the film was produced by the Government of Canada!)

Rabbit Hole
Rabbit Hole(2010)

This probably worked better on stage. Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman are a couple whose child died. They spend two hours screaming and whining, then you go home. There's no real plot. The exchange of ideas gets lost in the attempt to make it all look real, but without adapting the theatrical dialog, it just comes off as heavy-handed and shrill. Skip this.

127 Hours
127 Hours(2010)

Every minute works. The freakish-but-true story of Aron Ralston, pinned under a boulder in a Utah crevass is an actor's dream but also a serious challenge. James Franco does a spectacular job! We're exhausted with him, frustrated with him, and finally depleted with him. The only flaw in this movie: why on earth did director Danny Boyle hire A. R. Rahman to do the musical score? It's completely incongruous to hear the music of India while facing disaster in the American west. Once again, Native Americans get short shrift. This could have been a profound moment for the sounds of our indigenous people.

Another Year
Another Year(2010)

So boring I fell asleep at the movies. There's a market for intelligent films about mature adults, but this isn't it! Mike Leigh's last movie was the even more unbearable "Happy Go Lucky." Now I know whose films to avoid.

Black Swan
Black Swan(2010)

An instant cult classic! Kinda like "Carrie" goes to the ballet, or an attempt to create another surreal Phantom of the Opera-type franchise. Frightening, sexy, beautiful and filled with surprises. Let them remain surprises; don't let anyone tell you more. Just go (and don't bring the kids). The cinematographer is sure to win awards for this achievement. Tchaikovsky will never be the same!

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)

I love boxing movies; "The Fighter" is better than "Rocky"! A powerful film with a strong anti-drug message. Mark Wahlberg is thoroughly convincing as he underplays the emotional scenes while his dysfunctional family reaches for histrionics. Christian Bale surprises as always, this time as the crack-addicted brother. Based on a true story (so I guess there's no sequel); stay for the credits to see the real characters portrayed in the film.

The Kids Are All Right
½

Masterful writing; courageous film-making, this film sorts out the complications of a 21st century family with honesty. Often funny and sometimes heartbreaking, this is a triumphant journey as adults and children ponder the meaning of commitment. Bravo to Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, who tackle unglamorous roles at full throttle, and special kudos to the two exquisite children who must do some heavy lifting to make this work. Unforgettable!

Inception
Inception(2010)
½

An impressive cast in a noisy, pretentious waste of time. It's all exposition: there's no plot and no characters, just more explanations followed by more violent explosions in many foreign lands.

The King's Speech

One of the best films of year, and an award-winner in many categories for sure! Colin Firth plays King George VI (father of today's Queen Elizabeth). His challenge to overcome a speech impediment is humorous, touching, historic and important, as the King faces new challenges in world politics where his voice is desperately needed. The film's craft is splendid: costumes, art direction, music, lighting, and a witty script where every minute works. As the king's elocutionist, Geoffrey Rush will be nominated for another Oscar.

Blue Valentine

Excruciating. It's the Anatomy of a Divorce, with intercuts of the couple's romantic courtship. Ryan Gosling is a charming rogue and Michelle Williams is a remarkable chameleon in her ability to switch from young innocent to jaded spouse. But the director is so heavy-handed that this movie is unwatchable. Long improvisational scenes are rudderless, courtship means a long (long) scene of cunnilingus (with clothes on), and divorce means fighting until there's blood. This movie opens during the Holidays, but it is no holiday movie.

Hereafter
Hereafter(2010)

Not a weepie! Clint Eastwood scores again with this rational exploration about death, produced by Steven Spielberg. An exquisite child actor named Frankie McLaren, French actress Cecile deFrance and Matt Damon do the heavy lifting, pondering messages from lost loved ones. A haunting experience, this movie has it all: love, death, action, humor, tragedy and redemption, all in a courageous script by Peter Morgan. You'll talk about this.

Fair Game
Fair Game(2010)
½

Red meat for the Tea Party! Here's Hollywood at its Commie-Pinko-Liberal best; Doug Liman's new movie is brilliant! Watch assholes like Karl Rove and Scooter Libby take down Ambassador Joe WIlson and CIA agent Valerie Plame so that George Bush can bomb Iraq. It's recent history that Americans want to forget (or never understood), but with video clips inserted to make its case, this movie reminds us of many uncomforting truths. Sean Penn in the role he was born to play: a former ambassador with strong opinions about politics, he gets to make impassioned speeches about "taking back" the government. But Naomi Watts is best of all; she'll win awards for her measured approach to this complex character. Bravo to all!

Secretariat
Secretariat(2010)

Like the horse, this movie has a slow start and a triumphant finish. It's the kind of material Disney used to put on television when I was a kid, but with a bigger budget: a feel-good movie with a predictable ending. (I swear, those cheapskates at Disney put Diane Lane in a wig left behind by Jane Wyman or Dorothy Maguire!)

My good friend Eric Lange, in the pivotal role of Andy, is onscreen during the most fulfilling sequences of the movie: when the horses are actually racing. And Eric is terrific! Those sequences are exciting to watch since we're not listening to kinfolk whine about "saving the farm," the trite material that is such a frequent cash-cow for Disney Studios.

My recommendation: See it at a multiplex where you can just drop in for the last half hour. Bring your popcorn, cheer for Eric and the horse. The ending is great, and the epilogue is even better.

The Social Network

A witty script and knock-out performances guarantee that The Social Network will be nominated for multiple well-deserved awards. Whether it's fact or fiction doesn't matter: it's engrossing and intelligent film making.

Ondine
Ondine(2010)

What crap! Filmed in underexposed shadows and murky colors, and with an insufferable child actor, this movie could have been interesting, but it's so poorly executed it's impossible to watch. I hoped for better.

Conviction
Conviction(2010)
½

Director Tony Goldwyn spins a true (and therefore kinda predictable) story into an engrossing film. Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank are terrific as siblings caught on opposite sides of the prison system.

Stone
Stone(2010)

Edward Norton's performance is the only reason to see this downbeat and pointless prison flick. The ridiculous premise isn't helped by the director's lethargic pace. How could a prison flick be so boring?

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

To explain our economic crisis, "WS: Money Never Sleeps" is kinda like what "Syriana" was to the wars in the Middle East: a valiant attempt to explain something so huge that there's no single explanation. Much praise to Oliver Stone for tackling this sprawling topic, making financial arcana understandable. Chances are good that more films will attempt to build upon this legacy. The movie comes alive whenever Michael Douglas is onscreen; his contradictory character provides most of the intrigue. Unfortunately, this is Shia LeBeouf's movie, and he delivers another flat, clueless performance.

The Town
The Town(2010)
½

What a terrific movie, and what a clever feat for Ben Affleck as director, writer and star. Inverting the usual good guys vs. bad guys, the film's protagonists are the bad guys, reversing the structure of whom we root for. Lots of well-written little reversals keep the tension high. Rebecca Hall sorts through complex emotions as a conflicted victim. Affleck and Jeremy Renner are crooks with balls, and Jon Hamm is the dick trying to put them down. Wonderful surprises galore; don't let anybody tell you the ending! Highly recommended. I hope WB spends the money to promote this film for an Oscar campaign!

Valkyrie
Valkyrie(2008)

How could a World War be so boring?! Lots of famous, accomplished actors (Kenneth Branaugh, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, et al) pass around a briefcase, talk, talk, talk, talk, then face a firing squad. Supposed speaking German, the tale is told in Upper-Class British, except for Tom Cruise, whose flat American twang stands out for all the wrong reasons. This is one of Tom Terrific's weakest moments ever.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody returns to some familiar themes. Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts are terrific together as a married couple out-of-sync. But everybody is out-of-sync, which is what makes this movie spin.

Tamara Drewe
Tamara Drewe(2010)

Entertaining fluff about writers in the English countryside, panting schoolgirls, whining married couples, one rock star going rogue, and the muscle boy who observes it all from a servant's vantage. Well-crafted, but less-than-profound.

Eat Pray Love

Chick flick on steroids! Lots of talk, no action, set in gorgeous, exotic scenery. Julia Roberts chews through five guys while sharing platitudes like "love is scary." This pensive material probably works better as a book than movie.

Animal Kingdom

A gritty story about a young guy's encounter with his thug-like relatives. Well-crafted but not easy to watch. Kinda pointless.

Salt
Salt(2010)

So bad, I laughed. Angelina jumps on trucks (three times!), an elevator shaft, a moving helicopter, all very seriously. When James Bond does this stuff it's enormously entertaining, but this high-minded approach takes out the fun.

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)
½

Totally preposterous plot, but enormously entertaining nonetheless. I laughed a lot! And the credits were great!

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)
½

Better than expected. Kinda like Tom Cruise does James Bond, but with only one woman. Great visuals, and lots of humor.

Get Low
Get Low(2010)

"Free-will is not all it's cracked up to be." A wonderful, quirky movie produced-and-starring Robert Duvall, but Bill Murray steals every scene. Sometimes maudlin and sometimes hilarious, this gallows-humor makes for courageous film-making, as Murray's deadpan character sells a funeral to Duvall, who has secrets to forgive. Bravo to Lucas Black and Sissy Spacek, who keep this unusual story spinning. Opens July 30th.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

A winner in every way, the best film of the year, so far! Bountiful wit, especially in the visuals (raindrops streaking down a window, plus sight-gags galore), with more characters added (listen for Whoopi Goldberg, Ned Beatty and Timothy Dalton, among others). The pace is rapid-fire but not manic, with lots of hilarious action. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Then in the last five minutes, the director slams on the brakes, sets up the moral, and every adult in that theater sobbed! I'm sure kids understand the ending, but having less luggage, they have less to cry about . . . until they're grown-ups who return to this wonderful movie in the future. This is the best third-installment sequel I've ever seen.

Sex and the City 2

Often hilarious, occasionally profound, and sometimes stupid, SATC2 is better than I expected, and way better than the first movie. It's worth Admission just to see Liza sing "Put A Ring On It!"

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(2010)

Better than you think, though it messes with the mythology you already know. This version plays like a sequel to The Lion In Winter, taking it all quite seriously. Imaginative action sequences, but an interesting history lesson too.

City Island
City Island(2010)

HILARIOUS! Highly recommended comedy produced and starring Andy Garcia as a prison guard who takes an Acting class. The whole cast is terrific in this comedy of mistaken assumptions, but Alan Arkin is a stand-out as the acting coach. Every minute works; take your whole posse and go!

Chloe
Chloe(2010)

Based on a successful French film, this American remake loses much in translation. During the big dramatic climax, the audience just laughed. And eww, there's a gratuitous sex scene between Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried. Skip this!

The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band)

An ingenious allegory, re-enacting events of World War II by scaling it down to one village just before World War I. Every time a major event occurs, nobody witnesses it, so they all remain pure as a white ribbon. Eerie B&W images, like: a boy tied to his bed screaming as he sees a fire in the distance while his mother convinces him that it is "nothing;" the Baron casually mentions that 80 Poles are sleeping in the barn, meaning that Germany just conquered Poland; Mussolini is an Italian nanny caring for German children. As art-house fare, it doesn't get any better than this, but it's pointless to think of this chilly exercise as "entertainment."

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
½

An incoherent mess. It's a variation on Alice Through the Looking Glass, but there's not a single likeable character. Not the way to remember Heath Ledger in his final performance.

Invictus
Invictus(2009)

A triumph that shows us why Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, yet the film still manages to spend half the time banging heads on a rugby field. Morgan Freeman is terrific, and Matt looks like he's found steroids. The film's best moments are those where Mandela articulates his vision for uniting South Africa, a task that Damon's character attempts to fulfill. Intelligent and riveting.

It's Complicated

Hilarious! Like a screwball comedy for the millenium. With a wry view of aging baby-boomers and their re-evaluations of where romance went wrong, this script provides a rare chance for mature actors to play romantic leads. Meryl Streep is a joy as usual, Steve Martin is surprisingly vulnerable, and Alec Baldwin it totally believable as the fatso who can't make up his mind. Meanwhile, John Krasinski steals every scene he's in.

Sherlock Holmes
½

It's a cheap shot to turn a man of wits into a man of action, but that's what director Guy Ritchie gives us in this overblown (and far from cheap) production. Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are both charmers, but I actually dozed off during a noisy action sequence. Basil Rathbone and Arthur Conan Doyle must be spinning in their graves, but not for long, 'cuz nobody's gonna hire Ritchie for a sequel to this.

Everybody's Fine
½

A touching movie about a lonely father visiting his adult children. Some perceptive comments on today's distracted and overworked American middle class. Melancholy DeNiro.

Nine
Nine(2009)
½

"Nine" is dazzling! Anthony Minghella's script is a huge improvement over the Broadway version, but the film inherits the show's big flaw: the leading character isn't likable. But the women in his life strut their stuff through his head, and what knockout performers they are! Fergie as a prostitute, Judi Dench as a costume designer, Marian Cotillard as the wife, Sophia Loren for a mother, Nicole Kidman as a diva, and most especially Penelope Cruz as a mistress turn every song into a star-turn, and we are all the better for it. Inventive direction and choreography by Rob Marshall, and all performers do their own singing, admirably. This show works better on film than it does onstage, a rare achievement.

The Lovely Bones
½

The wonderful book becomes an almost-wonderful film. Director Peter Jackson milks this story for maximum tears, and indulges in excessive CGI effects that don't move the plot. But it's still a mesmerizing story with a radiant performance by Saoirse Ronan. I just wish Jackson invested more time in the novel's secondary characters, for they are the "bones" described in the title.

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart(2009)
½

What a pleasant surprise! Jeff Bridges as a down-and-out country singer getting his life back together, meeting Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall and Maggie Gyllenhaal along the way. Funny and touching, with onstage performances that feel absolutely authentic. This might be Jeff's Oscar. And the music by T-Bone Burnett is sure to gain attention too.

A Single Man
A Single Man(2009)

"Brokeback Mountain" for the academic crowd. What a spectacular debut for director/writer/producer (and former fashion designer) Tom Ford! A story about the pains of living in closeted America just a few years before the Stonewall Rebellion, this classy film takes its risks, and they all pay off. Sexy, provocative, upsetting, historic and unforgettable. Bravo to Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, and most especially Tom Ford for his stylish storytelling.

That Evening Sun
½

Hal Holbrook as a cranky old man. He calls another guy "white trash" then shoots at him. Then you go home. Why was this movie made?

Brothers
Brothers(2009)

This might be the first American film about the Middle East conflict that actually packs in audiences because at its core, it's a story about the impact of the war at home. Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal are the Brothers and Natalie Portman plays Tobey's wife. They are all absolutely fabulous in a heartbreaking story that also makes you think (as you cry, for we all have too much luggage on this topic). Two remarkable little girls do some heavy emotional lifting. Director Jim Sheridan disclosed that most of the kids' scenes were improvised to get the wrenching performances that he does. A powerful film about a topical issue that is presented with unflinching candor. Bravo to everyone involved!

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
½

A curiosity. Director Elia Kazan was responsible for all of Tennessee Williams' successes on stage and on film. He was supposed to direct this film too, written for Julie Harris, but it never got off the shelf. 50 years later, the forgotten script is an independent film. Chris Evans absolutely shines in a Montgomery Clift-type role; he's the only one who really understands the style and gets it right, possibly his best work ever. But Dallas Bryce Howard is no Julie Harris and Ms. Jodie Markell is no Elia Kazan. To be fair, Kazan would have demanded a tighter script out of Williams, but today the Williams estate won't permit any changes. Tennessee Williams tossed in all his Southern gothic neuroses into this one: a dying opium addict, mama in the nuthouse, daddy's a drunk, gossiping debutantes, neighbors lose their land, and a rich girl who pays a poor boy to dress up as her dashing escort. Then they abuse each other publicly. And none of it matters.

Amelia
Amelia(2009)
½

Writers learn a basic rule: you need a really creepy villian to make the hero look heroic. This movie has no villain, so the remarkable heroics of Amelia Earhart are totally lost in this boring account of her adult life. A documentary cobbled from newsreels would have been more fulfilling!

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

The most important film of the year. A life-affirming story of jaw-dropping pain, told with harrowing intensity. There's no blood, and this is no tear-jerker, but a well-crafted view of ghetto-life abuses and the risks of escaping them, filmed to look like a documentary. The casting is a revelation. Paula Patton, Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz and Maria Carey are devastating, as are the short and frequent fantasy sequences that remind us of what could be, only to get yanked back to New York's gritty reality. This is one of the most powerful films I've seen in my whole life, and I've seen a lot of films. Brava to producer Oprah for getting it so right!

A Serious Man
½

The Coen Brothers deliver one twisted movie! A black-hearted comedy, reminiscent of "Barton Fink," as the tragedies pile up, we laugh all the louder. Terrific performances by everyone, but it's the Coens as authors that really make it work, with an outrageous situation that continues to spiral out of control. The first time the Coens have really explored their Judaic community; you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy this film, but it helps to have The Chosen in the audience. We howled.

The Road
The Road(2009)
½

"In these times, it is foolish to wish for luxurious things," warns Robert Duvall in this maudlin and pretentious film set in the post-Apocalypse. Viggo Mortensen and his whining son are some of the last people on earth, scavenging for food. The rest of us are scavenging for the plot.

The Messenger

Yikes. A really wonderful film that's difficult to watch. A US Army Officer assigned to tell soldiers' families that they're sons have just died in Iraq. People scream, people spit, curse, cry, go into denial. It's real, it's potent, but it's icky. I'm really glad I saw this, but wonder who would pay to watch this. Ben Foster is spectacular in a tricky role. Actually, everyone's terrific, including a cameo by Steve Buscemi, as well as the courageous writer and director who tackle material that's hard to sell. Watching this film is just one more reminder of what a jerk George W. Bush was. And that you can get for free.

The Boys Are Back
½

Every cliche from television Movies-of-the-Week is shoe-horned into this mawkish, pointless script. Pretty Mommy dies but her ghost appears way too often, Clive Owen cries three times and pulls out the book of Peter Pan three times just to hammer home that he and his sons are three Lost Boys confronting the Domineering Grandma, the frigid ex-wife, too much laundry and drunken Australians. I don't know who would pay money to see this.

Bright Star
Bright Star(2009)

With many wonderful but unproduced screenplays to choose from, director Jane Campion has written this one instead, a strange choice. A costume drama / biopic about the muse that inspired poet John Keats, who then dies young. Fascinating for the costumes and British protocols of 1820, but this is thin material. Ms. Campion gets the most out of silent passages, where the intensity of the young lovers' passion plumbs great depths, where Ben Whishaw is convincing as the sickly poet. This looks like the kind of movie that foreign directors gave us in the 1970s, a pretty, melancholy chick flick. Couldn't Jane put her efforts into something more relevant?

The Informant!

Although Matt Damon is charming as always, this is a mess. Is it supposed to be humor? Is it supposed to be suspense? Can't tell. Damon tries, but his is an impossible role: the character is a liar who is chronically messing up; he's not a villain, but he's no hero. Director Steven Soderbergh tests an idea on us that doesn't work: Can you make a satisfying film where nobody cares for the protagonist? The resulting answer is: No.

New York, I Love You

An incredible cast of stars and newcomers perform a succession of brief vignettes in New York City. No leading men, no leading ladies; everybody's a character, and it is absolutely mesmerizing. Alternately comical and melancholy, the film avoids the iconic locales known to tourists and goes for depth, exploring hidden stories in local neighborhoods. Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach chew the scenery, Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie are heartbreakers, Anton Yelchin is hilarious, and Hayden Christiansen finally proves that he can act. The only flaw: in a city famous for its diversity, there are no black characters and no gay characters. But what's there is haunting. The sequel is already in the works: "Shanghai: I Love You!"

Julie & Julia
½

A delight. Meryl Streep proves that she can do anything. The story is less-than-profound, but enormously entertaining. Just don't go to this movie when you're hungry!

Inglourious Basterds

A cinematic landmark and unquestionably the best picture of the year! After decades of true stories about Nazis and WWII, director Quentin Tarantino works from a fictitious script, enabling him to break free of conventions, literally deconstructing WWII genre films. It's a film about Europe that could never be made by Europeans. He stretches truth in wild ways, with four-letter words, over-the-top contemporary music, outrageous stereotypes ("You wanna eat a sauerkraut sandwich ever again?!"), gore, violence, humor; this movie drips with Style. The final line: "This just might be my masterpiece" sums up Tarantino's edgy project. The acting is really an ensemble, all first-rate. Camera-work and set design are all top-notch, with some unforgettable images. From now on, all WWII films will be measured as pre or post "Basterds." It's that good.

Funny People
Funny People(2009)
½

A mess. Some very funny business by Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler is soon overwhelmed by pointless, witless bathos. Lots of cameos included for no reason, making this movie waay too long. Director Judd Apatow's kids are charming, but the endless stream of penis jokes provide diminishing returns.

The Cove
The Cove(2009)
½

An upsetting documentary about evil Japanese fishermen who slaughter dolphins. Richard O'Barry, the trainer for TV's Flipper decades ago, now devotes his life to saving dolphins. Working with friends at Industrial Light & Magic to create hidden cameras in plastic rocks, he's filmed a gory and heartbreaking exposé of a practice that should be a crime, but in Japan it's called an industry, as arrogant fishermen torment dolphins before they are slaughtered. A little overwrought at times, but an important issue that's sure to gain momentum.

The Hurt Locker
½

Courageous film-making, as important to this generation as "All Quiet On The Western Front' is to cinema students. Without wallowing in politics, director Kathryn Bigelow delivers an intense tale about the war in Iraq by following the soldiers assigned to disconnect roadside bombs before they explode. It's a harrowing tale of personalities bending military protocol to save their lives and get the job done. Unforgettable for its story as well as its illumination into America's Mid-East presence.

Whatever Works

Better than I hoped! Woody's usual zingers go flying ("God is gay. Look: He's a decorator!") as do the combustible personalities that populate his previous writing. The downside: look more closely and you'll see a play, not a movie. Everybody talks and talks (not a bad thing; there are other kinds of explosions besides the literal ones), and even though New York looks great as usual, the visual imagery is less-than-stunning. Woody doesn't paint with images, he paints with words, perhaps that's his unique contribution to film. And Henry Cavill provided plenty of scenery for me!

Public Enemies
½

Dazzling film noir from director Michael Mann, who gets it exactly right, from the creepy camera angles and shadows, to the endless gunfire with little blood. This might be Johnny Depp's Oscar, though Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Lang and Billy Crudup are all equally stupendous. Everyone works at the top of their game. Most courageous are its writers, treading a tricky path by making the bad guy our protagonist, then making us care about him and his evil deeds, even though we know that the good guys have to triumph sometime. Highly recommended.

Up
Up(2009)
½

Another big-hearted Pixar treat! Every minute works. Gorgeous visuals and a story that looks so simple, then delivers some complex emotions about age and expectations, and cherishing the little moments in life along with the grand ones. I laughed and cried and laughed. Highly recommended!

Terminator Salvation

Preposterous and noisy, but what a wild ride! I've seen none of its predecessors and expected little, but this post-Armageddon fantasy is better than half the Star Wars movies. Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin are magnificent performers I hope to see often.

Angels & Demons
½

The production values are top-notch, but the suspense is laughable pulp. "Angels and Demons" has an overbearing musical score, and a script that takes cheap shots at stem-cell research, trying to invent a "dialog between science and faith." Kids abused by Catholic clergy know where the real angels and demons lie. I hope this is the last installment in this "franchise."

Duplicity
Duplicity(2009)

Entertaining whodunit as we follow Clive and Julia through many twists, never really certain if they're friends or enemies. Cleverly written and cleverly played with a surprise pay-off, and the supporting cast keeps the entertainment factor high.

Adventureland
½

Not the knee-slapper I expected, but a thoughtful riff on growing up, that Boy-Becomes-A-Man stuff. Well written and well played, this is a humorous and touching film that's grounded in reality.

Lymelife
Lymelife(2008)
½

Like "American Beauty," only better! Courageous writers explore the dark side of the American Dream, taking us to places we don't observe often. Brothers Keiran and Rory Culkin are required to do much of the heavy-lifting, and they are magnificent! A heartfelt, honest drama with humor and pathos; an intelligent movie that provokes its audience to think. Timothy Hutton, Alex Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon are all pitch-perfect in this memorable film, set in the 1970s. Don't miss this!

Race to Witch Mountain
½

Over-rated. No plot. Lots of noise; lots of stuff blows up. The Rock slugs people a lot. I guess the message is: if you can't defeat the enemy with your superpowers, start taking your steroids now, kids.

The Great Buck Howard

Produced by Tom Hanks and starring his son, this vanity production is a nice launch for Colin Hanks' career, but it's Malkovich who steals every scene! Lots of cameos and lots of laughs attached to sentimental coming-of-age messages for both the young character and the older one. Slick and entertaining.

Sunshine Cleaning

Courageous film-making! A dazzling and nuanced performance by Amy Adams who brings great depth to a demanding role. More pathos than humor, but an honest and timely inspection of nearly-penniless Americans struggling to accept new values. Real, sometimes painful, but still optimistic, this film is so unusual that I fear most viewers will skip it. Don't!

The International
½

Bankers are crooks. Today's headlines give resonance to this entertaining thriller that could easily become a franchise for Clive Owen and Naomi Watt. Moments of Hitchcock-like suspense followed by confusing sequences that nonetheless look great. Gorgeous locations; energetic direction by Tom Tykwer.

Notorious
Notorious(2009)

Better than you think. A thoughtful biopic about Puffy Combs, L'il Kim, Biggie Smalls and Tupak Shakur, the story is ripped from the headlines, charting the rise of rap and the tensions between Eastcoast and Westcoast performers. Well-played.

Alien Trespass
½

An attempt to spoof 1950s science fiction films, "Alien Trespass" isn't satiric, it's just self-conscious. Borrowing heavily from "The Crawling Eye," the film makers intentionally create a cheesy low-budget sci-fi flick. Very few laughs and certainly no drama, proving that there's no reason to mess with the originals.

Trouble the Water

Hard to watch. Some poor people in New Orleans own a video camera that they can barely use. They film Katrina before and during the storm, until the batteries run out, which is remarkably rare footage to capture. But their camera bounces and jiggles so much that you get seasick, and the Louisiana-accented dialog is frequently unintelligible (and constantly profane). Spike Lee's movie "When The Levees Broke" tells this same story much more effectively. You can find them BOTH on HBO.

Fuel
Fuel(2008)

Potent stuff! It's not just another grim exposé about the diminishing oil supply and the maniacs who control it, although that's where the story starts. What makes this film special is that it becomes an impassioned plea for the viability of alternatives, and then maps out a real plan. The film maker provides solutions to our grim reality, which makes FUEL a total winner. Don't miss this when it opens in March. It should have been nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar!

Waltz with Bashir

Courageous film-making! An animation style like you've never seen before, especially when it's applied to a war story. That story is the problem. Eight Israeli men who participated in a slaughter of Palestinians in Lebanon compare their experiences to what the Holocaust must have been like for an earlier generation of Jews. As the ugly narrative gets more absurd, the film tries too hard to make connections that the animation cannot deliver. Over rated.

Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick (Everlasting Moments) (Maria Larsson's Everlasting Moment)

A wonderful idea, but stretched in so many directions that it loses its focus. In 1907, Mama wins a camera. What unfolds afterward is her new way of looking at the world, finding strength and emancipation as the male-dominated culture evolves. Wonderful performances and some evocative visuals, this movie feels like it was made in the 1970s.

Good
Good(2008)
½

More Nazis. It's all talk when we want action. Originally a prize-winning play, the film offers nothing to watch because all the action occurs off-screen; it's theatrical but anti-cinematic. Viggo Mortensen stretches hard to play a German fop with a British accent: it's admirable but unsuccessful; he's miscast. The real problem is the stage-bound script that prevents this project from igniting.

Synecdoche, New York

Pretentious and morose, this thin story is also pointless.

Che: Part Two (Guerrilla)
½

What a mess! Part I jumps back and forth through different years, adding confusion to the story without enlightening us about Che's ideology. It's all just rat-a-tat gunfire without knowing who is who, or why we should care. How can a revolution be so boring?! Part II follows a more coherent narrative, finally sharing some of Che's ideology, but this bloated movie unfolds at a snail's pace; and it's a supreme downer. Benicio Del Toro works hard, but the script keeps his character at a distance, and the self-indulgent direction doesn't help. There are some very effective uses of the cameras, and the sound and music are clever. But if you want to know about Che Guevara, rent The Motorcycle Diaries instead.

Sex and the City

This show worked well in half-hour doses on HBO, but it's too shallow to fill two hours as a feature film. A few funny lines, but the plot is just lame. Now I hope there isn't a sequel!

Defiance
Defiance(2009)
½

There are still more stirring stories to be told about valor in World War II, and this one is great! Jews escape the ghetto and live for years in the forest of Belarussia, fighting Nazis, taking weapons and defending their spontaneous community. An inspiring story about cruelty, community, tolerance and faith, Daniel Craig proves to be a magnificent actor when not tethered to James Bond gimmickry. This is the real deal. Recommended.

Seven Pounds
Seven Pounds(2008)

Good but not great. The title refers to Shakespeare's "a pound of flesh," a scene they cut from the movie! So Will's character seeks to assist seven strangers, those "seven pounds." The whole movie is like that, a little obtuse. Blame the writer, not the stylish director or his very able cast. There are touching performances and some memorable visuals, but the premise to this story feels contrived, so the whole thing is forced. Fans of Will Smith and Rosario Dawson will love them in this, but I doubt that many people will pay to see this downbeat movie.

Gran Torino
Gran Torino(2009)

Outstanding! One of the year's best films. Without a huge budget or fancy production values, Clint Eastwood nails a piece of Americana, documenting the conflicts within urban communities where non-white gangs terrorize the honest immigrants seeking to find peace in America. A story with many surprises and provocative issues, Dirty Harry rides one last time.

Australia
Australia(2008)

A old-fashioned epic. Although Baz Luhrmann borrows heavily from other films (Giant, Red River, among others) it all comes together in new way, since we've never seen Australia depicted so graphically. Gorgeous cinematography, and the leads are enormously appealing too. Best of all, the script keeps the native Aboriginals observing like Greek chorus throughout, constantly reminding us that the white man's conflicts are totally self-inflicted. I sure hope Harold Arlen's estate got paid a lot; this movie score features "Over The Rainbow" incessantly.

Revolutionary Road
½

There's the hint of an interesting idea here, but it's overwhelmed by the overwrought screenplay and heavy-handed direction. Stilted dialog makes the actors sound too often like they're just reciting lines. Even the usually-wonderful Kathy Bates comes off poorly here. What a waste.

The Reader
The Reader(2008)
½

An old fashioned melodrama, conceived by a team of high-profile Brits. Wonderfully played by Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and ensemble, it's a touching tale of Germans exploring the complicity of individuals during World War II, and what to do with them in post-war West Germany. A cerebral exercise about whom we love, this haunting film delivers many surprises. Special kudos to David Cross as young Michael who does much of the heavy lifting.

Nothing But the Truth
½

Before Republicans dismantled America's anti-trust laws, the Press was known as the Fourth Estate, protected and empowered to comment on current events, not like rabid spinmeister Rush Limbaugh, but like intelligent journalists, as Edward R. Murrow did. This thoughtful movie attempts to address that issue in a fictional riff on the Valerie Plame scandal, but it can't quite crank up the adrenalin to make us care. The issues at stake are harrowing as the reporter is incarcerated for refusing to disclose her sources, but its execution never quite reaches the level that this topic deserves. The manipulations added to the story to raise the stakes (a girls-in-prison slugfest, her husband cheats on her) detract by taking our eyes off the target. Despite the stellar cast, would a better film have resulted if the author wasn't also the director?

Cadillac Records

What a joy! Kinda like "Ray," but with more performing artists in the mix, this is an insightful telling of the first African-American performers who make the leap from "race records" to more mainstream popularity, and the Jew who got them there. The film doesn't shy away from the tough lives of these hardened people contending with drugs, race, bigotry, money, and the fallout that happens when they're all mixed together. Terrific performances by Jeffrey Wright, Adrian Brody, Beyonce; and Mos Def is absolutely charming as young Chuck Berry. Can't wait to download the soundtrack!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
½

A masterful achievement! F.Scott's Fitzgerald's short story is blown into an epic that ponders all the big questions: about love, life, death, pain, and our histories. Without forcing any answers, the script gets viewers to think while watching a very touching film. It's easy to get sidetracked by the dazzling make-up, art direction and camerawork, but there's much more at its core. At nearly three hours, it's also too long. Director David Fincher maintains a languid pace throughout, the film's sole detriment, yet he delivers a gorgeous experience with many outstanding performances. The last one minute is such a surprise that the entire screening audience wept unexpectedly. I need to see this again.

Quantum of Solace

James Bond misses the target. There's practically no plot; to the film-makers, that obviously doesn't matter. Lots of running and shooting and crashing, then you go home. This "franchise" is now so removed from Ian Fleming's original character that his heirs should sue for infringement. Daniel Craig is a dashing James Bond, but he needs a script with more flesh, more humor, and a more clearly-defined villain. Paging: Doctor No!

Doubt
Doubt(2008)

Cleverly expanded version of the prize-winning play, this potent story is better onscreen than onstage, where real locations trump the stage artifice. An intelligent film about real issues, where only emotions explode, far more memorably than any of this year's "tent-pole" pictures. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman prove once again why they are two of America's greatest actors. Highly recommended. And the kids are a delight!

Elegy
Elegy(2008)

Pointless bathos! There is absolutely no reason for anyone to pay money to sit through this morose movie. What a waste.

Slumdog Millionaire

A KNOCKOUT! A remarkable story that covers enormous amounts of material in record time, explaining about the hard lives of street children, the evolution of Bombay into Mumbai, the commerce of television; all told with realism and dazzling photography. Some of it is humorous, much of it is painful, but I'm convinced that what I saw was a slice of the real India. Highly recommended.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Absolutely plotless, but all the pretty kids dance and sing with high energy.

Last Chance Harvey
½

Forgettable movie about finding love late in life. Good acting by all involved, but there are bigger topics they could have tackled.

Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon(2008)

A powerful retelling of the events around the memorable Nixon interviews on television. Funny, touching, and full of surprises even though I vividly remember the TV broadcasts. This is one of the year's best films, cleverly directed by Ron Howard, with two star-turns from the Broadway cast: Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. Highly recommended.

Milk
Milk(2008)

The most important film of the year! Gus Van Sant gets it exactly right, showing us California's political struggles from thirty years ago; you can't help but recognize eerie parallels with our same issues today: church and state, smug Republicans, lies, distortions and Christians. MILK brings immediacy to our plight in California. Those of you who remember the era will be dazzled by the care in which the raw and turbulent 1970s is exposed; those who weren't around yet are in for an emotional journey that only film can deliver. This is potent stuff. The cast and the script are terrific; MILK will win awards.

The Wrestler
The Wrestler(2008)
½

Better than you think. A painful story told with surprising humor, as we watch a worn-out professional wrestler confront his future options. Similarly, the remarkable Marisa Tomei is a nightclub stripper contemplating her uncertain future as well. This surprisingly real story about people living with fantasy careers is thoughtful and honest, though not for the squeamish.

Burn After Reading
½

Brad Pitt is the best reason to see this otherwise forgettable film about health club employees who stumble upon some CIA data, then get caught up in a system they don't understand. Not biting satire and not very funny. The Coen Brothers miss the mark.

Adam Resurrected
½

Twisted. A Weimar cabaret clown lives like a dog to survive in a Concentration Camp, then sorts out his head by helping others in an asylum for survivors after the war. We know he's recovered when he observes that "Sanity is numbness." Yikes! Who would pay to sit through this? Tour-de-force performance by Jeff Goldblum, but oh, this is dark.

WALL-E
WALL-E(2008)

Best movie I've seen all year! Without ever using the word "ecology," this is the most impassioned movie ever about saving the environment. It's all so ingeniously presented; the graphics are a new achievement in sophisticated animation, and the story about robots that save the world avoids sentimentality but made me cry anyway, as humans reclaim a world that might sustain vegetation. With almost no dialog, complex issues are explained in clever, simple terms, a very rare feat, delivered by a script with a big heart.

Changeling
Changeling(2008)

Powerful picture, and one huge bitchslap to the LAPD. Early on, Angelina Jolie's character says "Never start a fight, but if you're in one, make sure you're the one who ends it." Then she fights City Hall, literally, until she ends it. Clint Eastwood will win awards as this film's director. It's memorable.

W.
W.(2008)
½

Wonderful casting and a well-executed film. But watching this is painful. The audience wants to laugh, but the story is so grim that there's nothing to laugh about. Watching smart-assed Republicans manipulate our ignorant president feels more like picking at your scabs than watching a movie. The definitive movie about Dubya hasn't been written yet. However, there are terrific performances here, especially by Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Richard Dreyfus as Dick Cheney. The next Dubya movie must be take-no-prisoners agitprop, not this story about the arrogant kid who can't live up to his father's expectations.

The Visitor
The Visitor(2008)

Over rated. There's no villain here (except maybe "the system") so there's no real conflict for these characters. And hard to believe this gorgeous guy would be homeless for even ten minutes. This movie needs more drumming and less moping. I taught at NYU for four years and assure you that Richard Jenkins' role bears little resemblance to reality.

Wendy and Lucy

Christ, what a bore! Ten minutes with no dialog followed by 70 minutes of Michelle Williams repeating the name of her lost dog "Lucy. Lucy." Then you go home. I'm amazed this got a distributor.

The Secret Life of Bees

What a charmer! Adhering closely to the book, the story has too many coincidences to be completely believable, but what a majestic story this is, written with a big heart. And how rare to find a film that stars FOUR likeable black women as protagonists! While they are all wonderful (as is Dakota Fanning, who really does the heavy lifting), it is really Sophie Okonedo who steals the show; a likely nominee for multiple awards. The Civil Rights context brings depth to this wonderful and heart-tugging movie.

Rachel Getting Married

Another dysfunctional family. Knock-out performances by everyone involved, especially Ann Hathaway in a very dark role. Everybody screams, everybody cries, then you go home.

Body of Lies
Body of Lies(2008)

High praise. A terrific, though violent, tale of espionage in the Middle East, where characters manipulate each other to achieve their goals. It provokes thought while also pressing some very hot buttons.

Appaloosa
Appaloosa(2008)
½

A terrific horse opera. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are a great team of good guys, and Jeremy Irons brings complexity to the bad guy. Best of all, the writers have not made Renee Zellweger's character into the stock female role usually associated with westerns. Not as good as 3:10 to Yuma or Unforgiven, but damn close!

The Lucky Ones

A Winner! An odyssey across America by three soldiers home from the Iraq War. Hilarious and heartbreaking. TIm Robbins stars, but Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams steal the movie, a frozen snapshot of our nation in its current discomfort for the war and economy. The clever script delivers constant surprises, capturing the mood of America at unrest. And it makes you laugh.

Flash of Genius

You've seen the formula before, but it's an important story to tell. Greg Kinnear is terrific as the Everyman who challenges the corporate behemoth: the Ford Motor Company after his invention is stolen. Well cast, well done.

Happy-Go-Lucky
½

An attempt at whimsy that feels tedious instead. A chronically ditzy British school teacher loses her bike, takes driving lessons, takes flamenco lessons, meets a guy, then you go home. I guess this is supposed to be an illuminating slice-of-life, but it's just pointless. Maybe you have to be British . . .

The Duchess
The Duchess(2008)
½

A gorgeous historical drama based on fact. The story's not as engaging as "Pride And Prejudice" to which Keira will be compared inevitably, but the film is also notable for its costumes, scenery and set decoration. Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes are terrific as mismatched lovers with no chemistry who struggle for power over each other. Recommended.

Towelhead
Towelhead(2007)

Alan Ball, the creator of "American Beauty" and "Six Feet Under" delivers a film that presses all the buttons . . . with a sledgehammer! Sometimes funny and more times icky, "Towelhead" is a letdown about: coming-of-age, child abuse, race relations, sexuality, dysfunctional Arab and American families, and assimilation. The film is well-crafted and there are some memorable performances, but this film is too shrill for its own good. Don't pay for this one.

Man on Wire
Man on Wire(2008)

The most entertaining documentary of the year! Although I'm old enough to recall how the story ends, the film was enormously suspenseful. And the ending is absolutely sublime, thanks in no small part to the charisma of Phillipe Petit, the film's Man on a wire. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who ever had a desire to perform!

Tropic Thunder

An instant classic! The funniest movie of the year. The "Blazing Saddles" for the war film genre. The cameos alone are worth the price of admission.

Ben Stiller has crafted an edgy satire about prima donna movie stars faced with actual combat. The raucous humor skewers Hollywood, with jokes that resonate with an LA audience better than anywhere. Cleverly edited, perfectly cast; I never thought I'd be laughing at explosions, but every minute of this film works.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
½

Sublime. A sexy, romantic story that could only be told by someone old enough to riff on the twists our lives take to make love work. This joyful film is filled with laughs but grounded in passion's realities; one of Woody Allen's most memorable and heartfelt films, the best flick I've seen so far this year. No bombs, clones, bat suits; just intelligent characters in interesting situations in gorgeous Barcelona. Bravo to Woody for escaping NYC!

Swing Vote
Swing Vote(2008)

When it's good, it's very good, but when it's bad, it's Costner. Fortunately, the strong ensemble around Kevin Costner makes this clever and heart-felt script work, with political zingers and a poignant plea to the US President: "If this is the richest country on earth, how come so few of us can afford to live here?" Costner dazzles onstage as a Rockabilly singer, and nails the ending when he gets to be cerebral. But his self-conscious performance as a hick is too much Lil Abner, not grounded in the reality that's required to carry this role. Still, a clever film that documents our era well.

Traitor
Traitor(2008)
½

Courageous choices by all involved to tell the tale of a Muslim terrorist, making the protagonist an unsympathetic character. Powerful topics in this movie press all the emotional buttons of our era.

The Dark Knight
½

"Die as a hero or live to become a villain," sez the very human Batman. It's easier to be involved in this noisy adrenaline-rush than in the campier Tim Burton film, because the evil is really menacing, with some disturbing modern-day references. Celebrate this as a comic-book movie that doesn't feel like a comic book. Wonderful performances and an impressive use of its musical score.

Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia!(2008)

Estrogen overload. Women are Mamma Mia's director, choreographer, musical director, and of course, its stars. And they do a terrific job. But the plot has no villain, no antagonist, so there's little motivation for concern. The Greek Island looks great and the women sing nicely. Then you go home. The music isn't integrated into the story as smoothly as the best movie musicals, but that's the flaw of the stage show too. "Chicago" it ain't.

Kiss the Bride
½

A pleasant surprise, and a delightful debut for screenwriter Ty Lieberman, it's a funny script that puts a new spin on gay relationships. Best line: "'Bi' is what gay men say to their wives just before they leave."

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

An entertaining thrill ride, with diminishing returns. Some of the special effects are dazzling, others are simply cheesy. There's really nothing new to add to the happy memory of the first three installments; apparently the only reason to make this movie was to hustle a buck. The fun doesn't start until Karen Allen arrives. Let's hope Spielberg doesn't make a fifth installment!

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The opening is spectacular, but the swordfights get redundant, and the religious allegory is heavy-handed as the writers adhere to the original book. Poor Ben Barnes, hampered by some phony accent, is absolutely lost while the four charming young leads do all the heavy-lifting. The film looks great, including some impressive CGI animation. It sets up the inevitable sequel, which is already written and scheduled for release in 2010.

Mongol
Mongol(2008)

One of the greatest film feats EVER, I was amazed MONGOL didn't win last year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film. See this on the biggest screen you can find: it's an epic like Lawrence of Arabia, with sweeping battles, love, death and politics; the astounding story of the boy who will become Genghis Khan. Filmed in Mongolia, it provides a rare glimpse at a place few of us will ever see, kinda like looking at the moon. Highly recommended!

Kung Fu Panda

"The Roadrunner" on steroids. The artwork and animation in Kung Fu Panda are absolutely stunning, but it's all just window-dressing to a mindless script that is continuously manic. The frantic pratfalls wear out early but keep coming anyway, making this an excruciating sit. Rent "Ratatouille" instead.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)

A comic-book movie that accomplishes the impossible: Iron Man manages to be both a topical story about the realities of warfare and an entertaining fantasy at the same time. Highly recommended.

Son of Rambow
½

The delightful, feel-good ending cannot compensate for the far-fetched premise that sets up this predictable movie. A boy in a religious cult isn't allowed to see movies; the class bully is trying to film one. Can you guess the ending?

Leatherheads
Leatherheads(2008)

A movie to remind us why "they don't make them like they used to." Despite snappy dialog by a stellar cast, this attempt to recreate an earlier film style just seems forced, as funny as a deflated football. Renee Zellweger comes off best.

Stop-Loss
Stop-Loss(2008)

"Fuck the President!" yells Ryan Phillippe's character, then the audience applauds. That's a good reason to pay for Stop Loss, a powerful view of postwar instability. In a good way, this film is frozen in time, capturing forever what it feels like to live in George Bush's America; the unseen Commander-in-Chief is the villain who never shows his face. The script addresses difficult material that we've never seen on film before, and the use of actual soldiers maimed in battle reinforces its authenticity. This movie is a direct descendant of "The Deer Hunter" in its structure. It's flaw: how do we react to an anti-war film that's also a pro-army film? The director and cast try valiantly to play upon that dichotomy, leaving audiences to ponder the Iraqi War on their own.

Flawless
Flawless(2008)
½

Great fun! Some moments of pure Hitchcock suspense, bogged down by sappiness and inadvertent camp. Michael Caine is terrific, and Demi Moore is a hoot as she lifts a manhole cover in high heels!

Married Life
Married Life(2008)

Heavy-handed director didn't trust the material: a stylish dramedy about Sloppy Seconds. Attempting to recreate a "Double Indemnity"- era pic with modern cameras, it feels more like an exercise than an entertainment.

Definitely, Maybe

Not even sexy Ryan Reynolds doing the mating dance with THREE women can spike any adrenalin into this lethargic chick flick. Even with iconic shots of NYC and a cameo by Bill Clinton, this flick's a BORE.

Charlie Bartlett
½

I howled! A movie about teenage angst, handled with hard-edged humor. Young Anton Yelchin deserves accolades for making this character so entertainingly real.

Teeth
Teeth(2007)
½

The premise works better on paper than in production. This naughty movie could have been hilarious with a director like John Waters. Instead, it's kinda leaden, with much humor missed. Skip it.

Gone Baby Gone

Deftly written, with many surprises. Ben Affleck makes an impressive debut as a director. HIghly recommended.