|From the original review: "[I]t's hard to come up with a better 'first-day-of-spring' movie than th[is] wickedly funny, rousingly optimistic hip-hop concert flick...Block Party bounces with cool, infectious verve and power-to-the-people, DIY exhilaration...Chappelle's wry irreverence and broad, encompassing good humor are contagious. Often, it seems, he can't believe his luck at becoming the jester-king of Brooklyn for a day, and he grounds and permeates the film with his antic enthusiasm and sardonic, puckish charm."|
From the year-end list: "With performances by some of the most innovative and inspired players in current hip-hop (Kanye, Mos Def, The Roots, The Fugees, Erykah Badu), and presided over by the impish, unsinkable Chappelle, Block Party was one of the best concert films in recent memory, and simply more fun than you can shake a stick at."
|From the original review: "Well, that was a happy surprise. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is by no means a perfect film. But, the reviews are right -- this one's miles above the other two prequels, and definitely can be considered in the same breath as Jedi. Sure, there's a bad movie occasionally lingering in the shadows like a Sith, but for the most part this entry manages to capture some of that ole Star Wars feel."|
From the year-end list: "Thank the Force for small kindnesses: George Lucas put the Star Wars universe to bed with far and away his best outing of the prequels. The film flirts dangerously with the Dark Side, particularly in the 'let's take a meeting' second act, but for the most part Sith felt -- finally -- like a return to that galaxy long ago and far, far away."
|From the year-end list: "A little slower than I would have liked, and it had no second act, but this languid, contemplative film spoke to the comic fan in me."|
|From the original review: "I don't really feel the inclination to write the usual three-paragraph review for Borat...so I'll just leave it at this: It's really funny...[U]nless you're offended by ridiculously over-the-top anti-semitism or have a problem with truly grotesque displays of male nudity, you should find it verrry nice. (But leave the gypsys at home.)"|
From the year-end list: "True, the frighteningly talented Sasha Baron Cohen spends a lot of time in this movie shooting fish in a barrel, and I wish he'd spent a little more time eviscerating subtler flaws in the American character than just knuckle-dragging racists and fratboy sexists. Still, the journeys of Borat Sagdiyev through the Bible Buckle and beyond made for far and away the funniest movie of the year."
|From the original review: "All in all, very well done, and a battered, despairing Michael Caine deserves an Oscar for this much more than he ever did for his turn in the schlocky Cider House Rules."|
From the year-end list: "A bit by-the-numbers, perhaps, but Phillip Noyce's take on Graham Greene's novel was blessed with timeliness and two great performances by Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, both of whom expertly exemplified their homelands' diplomatic tendencies without becoming overly tendentious."
|From the original review: "[W]hat Six Feet Under is to dying, The Savages is to the final stages of aging. It's something we don't really want to think about, but it's there, somewhere over the last ridge. If we're going to dwell on this subject, it's probably best to confront that fact with the mordant humor of [this film] (while keeping in mind that, however inevitable that final end, it's never too late to teach an old dog some new tricks.)"|
From the year-end list: "[F]ew other movie endings this year hit me in the gut quite like this one...[T]his comedy about an ornery lion in winter, and the battling cubs who have to come to his aid, is a worthwhile one, and particularly if you're in the mood for some rather black humor. As Lenny the senescent and slipping paterfamilias, Philip Bosco gives a standout performance, as does Hoffman as the miserable Bertholdt Brecht scholar trapped in deepest, darkest Buffalo."
|From the original review: "[W]hile it was quite good for its genre (and Hugh Grant was surprisingly palatable), I do have some problems with its underlying premises...Since when is one's identity primarily formed by holding down a job you hate?...I don't remember the protagonist of Hornby's book being nearly so shattered by his presumed nothingness."|
From the year-end list: "A surprisingly good translation of Nick Hornby's third book. A bit fluffy, perhaps, and...I'm not sure how I feel about some of the underlying premises, but very well done nonetheless. After all, making both Hugh Grant and a precocious young British lad palatable at the same time is no easy task."
|From the original review: "To be sure, the first forty minutes of the film, including everything that takes place in Zion, is almost unwatchable...But, right about the time Neo gets a call from the Oracle and reenters the Matrix in Chinatown...the film finally starts to find its rhythm...Alas, Neo and Trinity still don't really work as an onscreen couple, but most of the action setpieces are breathtaking (particularly the highway chase and truck fight...in the midst of all the new characters showing up, it's nice to see the Agents still getting their due.) And as expected, Hugo Weaving is just wicked good fun as Agents Smith...they steal every scene they're in."|
From the year-end list: "I won't defend the first forty-five minutes or the ridiculous rave scene. But, right about the time Hugo Weaving showed up to do what he does best, Revolutions found a new gear that it maintained right up until the arc-twisting Architect monologues at the end. And, as far as action sequences go, it's hard to beat the visceral thrill of the 14-minute highway chase."
|From the original review: "L'Auberge was funnier, sexier, and more intelligent than any of the assorted American Pies or their ilk...This movie seems to understand that it's possible to capture the joys of youth and friendship without resorting to a constant stream of lame, mostly unfunny gross-out jokes."|
From the year-end list: "[W]hile Lost in Translation trafficked in existential detachment, L'Auberge Espagnole showed the fun Scarlett Johannson could've been having, if she'd just lighten up and get out of the hotel once in awhile. This paean to the pan-Continental culture of the EU captured the excitement and possibilities of youth in a way that was both sexier and funnier than any of the teen shock-schlock emanating from our own side of the pond. Road Trippers, take a gander."
|From the original review: "In essence PJ's King Kong is the Mother of All B-Films -- the Skull Island action sequences are spectacular, Kong's adventures in New York seem appropriately mythic, the special effects throughout (particularly the Great Ape himself) are mind-blowing...[But] the film has some serious pacing problems, particularly in the first hour, and at times I thought it seemed almost too reverent of its source material. At the very least, Kong, while definitely a Wonder of the World and no mistake, could have benefited from some minor grooming."|
From the year-end list: "I had this film as high as #2 for awhile, and there are visual marvels therein that no other movie this year came close to offering, most notably Kong loose in Depression-Era New York City. But, there's no way around it -- even given all the B-movie thrills and great-ape-empathizing that PJ offers in the last 120 minutes, the first hour is close to terrible, which has to knock the gorilla down a few notches."
|From the original review: "[A] somber and compelling character study of the eponymous author...Hoffman's Capote cuts a complex and striking figure that's hard to take your eyes from -- He's at once vainglorious and needy, extroverted and remote, compassionate and manipulative, convivial and detestable."|
From the year-end list: "I think it'd be awhile before I want to watch this movie again, but, still, it was a dark, memorable trip into bleeding Kansas and the writerly id."
|From the original review: "Blessed with a charismatic and appealing cast that smooths over much of the choppy writing turbulence therein, Abrams' Trek reboot isn't only a rousing, over-the-top, sometimes patently absurd space opera that borrows as much from Lucas' original trilogy as it does from its erstwhile source material -- It's also probably the best of the Star Wars prequels. The more I've thought about it over the past few days, the less sense the movie makes, and the more and more shamelessly derivative Trek seems. But darned if I didn't have a good time during the Big Show itself, which, of course, is what really matters in the end."|
From the year-end list: "There was admittedly a whole lotta stupid in J.J. Abrams' Star Warsy revamp of the Star Trek franchise -- Once exposed to the light, the movie's basic premises completely fall apart. But, like the stomachache that accompanies eating too much candy, those regrets come later. In the moment, Star Trek was more fun than you can shake a stick at, and as solid and entertaining a franchise reboot as 2006's Casino Royale."
|From the original review: "Hearkening to the halcyon days of Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, Spike Lee's Inside Man is a clever contraption indeed -- a sleek, intelligent, well-acted NYC heist flick whose central scheme is more about subterfuge, cunning, and misdirection than technical gimmickry. (In too many films in the genre -- The Score, or Ocean's 11, for example -- the robbers seem to be spending more on state-of-the-art equipment than they'd actually make in the grift.)...True, some of the plot mechanics in Inside Man could be considered contrived, but, Jodie Foster's corporate ninja notwithstanding, at least here the people seem real."|
From the year-end list: "[A] fun, expertly-made crime procedural, as good in its own way as the much more heavily-touted Departed. It was also, without wearing it on its sleeve, the film Crash should have been -- a savvy look at contemporary race relations that showed there are many more varied and interesting interactions between people of different ethnicities than simply 'crashing' into each other. (But perhaps that's how y'all roll over in car-culture LA.)...Inside Man is a rousing New York-centric cops-and-robbers pic in the manner of Dog Day Afternoon or The Taking of the Pelham One Two Three, and it's definitely one of the more enjoyable movie experiences of the year."
|From the original review: "Munich is a movie well worth-seeing, the rare thriller that's not afraid to grapple with today's thorniest political questions, and without insulting the audience's intelligence by giving easy, simple-minded answers to seemingly insoluble problems. The film may at best be a long triple, but, to his credit, at least Spielberg is swinging for the fences."|
|From the year-end list: "[S]urprisingly good. I expected schlock, and got a genuinely funny fall film."|
|From the original review: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...and, whatsmore, I liked it. Without a shred of redeeming social value, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City is a film very noir. It's a sick, depraved, and smutty ride into a crime-ridden hellhole of a metropolis, exactly as it should be...Sin City turned out to be a visual marvel and easily Rodriguez' best film since El Mariachi."|
From the year-end list: "One of the most faithful comic-to-film adaptations on celluloid also made for one of the more engaging and visually arresting cinematic trips this year. I don't know if the look and feel of Sin City can sustain a bona fide franchise, but this first outing was a surprisingly worthwhile film experience (with particular kudos for Mickey Rourke's Marv.)"
|From the original review: "The movie is mostly episodic vignettes in the life of a broken family and at times suggests a more misanthropic Me, You, and Everyone We Know. But it also feels scarily authentic and is probably one of the most convincing -- and wryly funny -- depictions of divorce I've ever seen on film, with particular kudos going to Jeff Daniels as the sad sack father in this outfit."|
From the year-end list: "The Squid and the Whale made ugly, embittered divorce about as funny as ever it's likely to get, thanks to Jeff Daniels' turn as the pretentious, haunted Bernard Berkman."
|From the original review: "We never really understand what's going on, and I could see some folks getting frustrated with this film -- usually, incomprehensibility is not a strong suit in movies. Still, for some reason, Primer works as a heady sci-fi tone poem about the cryptic (and dire) consequences of mucking about with the timestream. Mostly unfathomable, sure, but if you're a fan of the genre, it's definitely worth catching sometime...perhaps yesterday."|
From the year-end list: "A completely inscrutable sci-fi tone poem on the perils of time travel. Kevin and I saw it twice and still have very little clue as to what's going most of the time -- but I (we?) mean that in the best way possible"
|From the original review: "Heath Ledger's performance is engrossing, in part because you spend much of the film just trying to figure out what he's thinking. At times, his character is taciturn to the point of being inarticulate. This speaks in favor of the film's realism, I suppose -- Ennis's whole life after Brokeback is about caution, misdirection, and concealment....At the same time, though, Ledger seems like he's underplaying an underwritten character...And that's ultimately the modest problem with Brokeback Mountain, which is otherwise an excellent film -- at times, it feels as somber, restrained, and delicate as Kabuki theater. Particularly in a film that warns of the dangers of bottling up passion, it'd be nice to have seen less Big Sky Country pageantry and more emotion from all the characters on-screen. If that wouldn't have played in Peoria, so be it."|
From the year-end list: "A beautifully shot and beautifully told love story, although admittedly Ang Lee's staid Brokeback at times feels like transparent Oscar bait."
|From the original review: "A loving throwback to the director's Evil Dead days, and an audience film if there ever was one, [it] delivers a solidly entertaining two hours of low-budge comic mayhem, if you're in the mood for it. It doesn't really aspire to be anything more than what it is -- a B-movie carnival funhouse. But taken as such, Drag Me to Hell offers thrills, chills, and (gross-out) spills with plenty of Raimi's old-school tongue-in-cheek."|
From the year-end list: "Besides being easily the most explicitly anti-gypsy film since Borat, Drag Me to Hell was also, in its own way, as much of a Great Recession cautionary tale as Up in the Air. One hopes that when the Senate takes up financial services reform next year, our erstwhile reformers in that esteemed body will note what happened to Alison Lohman when she, against all better judgment, decided to do the bidding of the Banks"
|From the original review: "An intelligent, well-made throwback to the conspiracy-minded thrillers of the 1970s (such as The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor), first-time director Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton is a withering and mostly plausible excursion into the ethical dead zone that can emerge at the top levels of the money game...It's an adult, believable thriller that's well worth checking out, and George Clooney, as per the norm, is excellent."|
From the year-end list: "Clooney's impeccable taste in projects continues with this, Tony Gilroy's meditation on corporate malfeasance and lawyerly ethics (or lack thereof.)...A small film, in its way, but a worthwhile one."
|From the original review: "I found it a bit broad at times, particularly in the early going, and I definitely had to make a conscious decision to run with it. That being said, I thought The Fountain ultimately pays considerable dividends as a stylish, imaginative, and melancholy celebration of the inexorable cycle of life, from birth to death ad infinitum...I'm not sure you'll like it -- it's very possible you'll love it -- but I'm willing to bet, either way, that it'll stick with you."|
From the year-end list: "Darren Aronofsky's elegiac ode to mortality and devotion was perhaps the most unfairly maligned movie of the year...Clearly a heartfelt and deeply personal labor of love, The Fountain -- admittedly clunky in his first half hour -- was a visually memorable tone poem that reminds us that all things -- perhaps especially the most beautiful -- are finite, so treasure them while you can."
|From the original review: "As a documentary, The Fog of War sometimes gets clouded by its own cinematic devices...[but] the film works best when it's simply an engaging monologue by an intelligent, evasive, and often frustrating Cold Warrior as he muses over a life perhaps not-so-well lived. "|
From the year-end list: "[A] spry McNamara succeeds in penetrating the fog of time to examine how he himself became lost in the maze-like logic of war. If you can withstand the frequent Phillip Glass-scored barrages, it's worth a see."
|From the original review: "Less a paean to 'the people's princess' than a sharp-witted rumination on changing social values and the effect of global 'Oprahization' on contemporary politics, The Queen is an intelligent, discerning and enjoyable slice-of-life that's well worth catching."|
From the year-end list: "A movie I shied away from when it first came out, The Queen is a canny look at contemporary politics anchored by Helen Mirren's sterling performance as the fastidious, reserved, and ever-so-slightly downcast monarch in question...[It's] the type of movie I wish we saw more often: a small, tightly focused film about a very specific moment in recent history."
|From the original review: "Anyone who's ever thrown in The Joshua Tree -- that's millions of people, obviously -- and listened to the thrilling opening strands of "Where the Streets Have No Name" can probably imagine the potential of U2 filtered through an IMAX sound system and projected in multiple dimensions. All I can say, it's pretty darned cool...U2 3D really feels like the future in concert films. As a music experience, it's better than having the best seats in the house (and the drunk girl on her boyfriend's shoulders in front of you -- while in 3D -- never actually obscures your vision."|
From the year-end list: "U2 3D was both a decently rousing concert performance by Dublin's fab four, and -- more importantly -- an experimental film which played with an entirely new cinema syntax. Just as students look back on D.W. Griffith films of a century ago as the beginnings of 2D-movie expression, so too might future generations look at this lowly U2 concert and see, in its layering of unrelated images onto one field of vision, when the language of 3D really began to take off. At which point someone might also say, 'Man, I wish they'd played 'So Cruel' instead of some of these tired old dogs.'"
|From the original review: "Nonsensical, self-indulgent, and occasionally even a tad smarmy, Steven Soderbergh's much-hyped Ocean's Twelve is also, I'm happy to report, just plain fun...Twelve turned out to be what Soderbergh tried and failed to do with Full Frontal...As much a riff on stars and stardom as the heist movie we were all expecting, it's probably the most sheerly pleasurable film experience you're going to find this side of The Incredibles."|
From the year-end list: "Two swollen hours of Soderberghian glamour and inside baseball. Not everyone's cup of tea, I know, but I found it an agreeable improvement on Ocean's 11."
|From the original review: "I went in expecting not much more than an over-the-top 'message movie' schmaltzfest, or at best a harmless helping of mediocre, inert Oscar Bait like Cinderella Man or A Beautiful Mind. But [Elah] turned out to be quite a bit better than I expected...[It's] a melancholy rumination on the hidden casualties of (any) war and a somber inquiry into the heavy toll exacted on the wives, parents, and children of military men...And, biblical parallels aside, the film showcases the best work Tommy Lee Jones has done in years."|
From the year-end list: "Paul Haggis' surprisingly unsentimentalized depiction of the hidden costs of war for the homefront, Elah benefits greatly from Tommy Lee Jones' slow burn as a military father who's lost his last son to a horrific murder...There was something quintessentially America-in-2007 about Jones this year. In every crease and furrow of this grizzled Texan's visage, we can see the wounds and weariness of recent times, the mask of dignity and good humor beginning to slip in the face of tragic events and colossal stupidity."
|From the year-end list: "Surprisingly good, not the least because of the charismatic Vin Diesel, Glengarry Glen Affleck, and the great Wall Street scene."|
|From the original review: "If you've seen the ads, you probably already know whether or not this film will appeal to you: You're either going to find it hilarious or repellent (or probably both). I was sickened and disgusted, and there were times I was laughing so hard that Berkeley thought there was something wrong with me...Alligator Tightrope may just be the dumbest, most nightmarish and cringe-funny thing I've seen all year."|
|From the year-end list: "A heart-warming romantic comedy about a boy, a girl, and the spankings that brought them together...A lot of the people I've spoken with had trouble with the ending, but I thought that it ended the only way it really could...any other way would've given the audience the out they wanted to condemn these people as sideshow freaks. By treating this bizarre couple as just another relationship in a weird wide world, Secretary offers a portrait of two people 'just right' for each other that is much more touching than the average, vanilla romantic comedy."|
|From the original review: "This won't be a film for everyone -- It's often too cute or clever by half, and I'll concede that it probably reeks of forced Little Miss Sunshine or Juno-style indie cachet to people who don't roll with it...For me this definitely goes on the Garden State 'vaguely-guilty pleasure' pile...It'd be hard to sum up (500) Days better or more succinctly than the tagline: 'Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn't.' If this has ever happened to you, and lordy has it happened to me, I suspect you'll enjoy [it] quite a bit as well."|
From the year-end list: "Speaking of sad British pop music, here's a movie the early Elvis Costello would love. Sure, (500) Days is unabashedly for folks who've been on the wrong end of a break-up. But, even if it is ultimately Annie Hall-lite in a lot of ways, it had more truths to tell than most of the rom-coms out in any given year...combined."
|From the original review: "At once a character study of an amoral arms dealer, a bitter tirade againt third world exploitation, and a dark comedy that may run too sour for some tastes, Lord of War is an above-average entrant in the satirical muckraking tradition. And its occasional preachiness is leavened by Nicolas Cage's consistently-amusing and deftly-written performance, most of which is voiceover, at the center of the film."|
From the year-end list: "Anchored by Nicholas Cage's wry voiceover, Andrew Niccol's sardonic expose of the arms trade was the funniest of this year's global message films (That is, if you like 'em served up cold.)"
|From the original review: "Like pretty much all of Weir's other films, Commander is an extremely competent piece of work, in some ways even masterful...[T]he historical details seemed right to my landlubber's eye, and I thought the languid, episodic pacing of the film...helped to convey the rhythm of life at sea in the Napoleonic era...kudos go out to Peter Weir & crew for making a picture as engrossing and transporting as this one."|
From the year-end list: "It's a long title, it's a long movie. But a good kinda long...in fact, as I said in my initial review, it seemed to move to the langorous rhythms of a long sea voyage, one that I may not take again for awhile, but one that I still thoroughly enjoyed. And I'll say this for Russell Crowe...somewhere along the way in each of his films, I tend to forget that he's Russell Crowe. His Capt. Jack Aubrey was no exception."
|From the original review: "[W]ith its crisp, no-nonsense direction and a glut of extraordinary performances...it pretty much has to be considered an Oscar contender...To paraphrase the son of an altogether different neighborhood, sometimes the world is a monster, bad to swallow you whole."|
From the year-end list: "The waters of the Charles are disturbed, something is rotten in the outskirts of Boston, and it's safe to say the Fates are wicked pissed...Mystic River is inhabited and propelled by a spirit of lumbering, impending, inexorable doom...what Legolas might call a 'sleepless malice.' It is that existential malice, rooted so strongly in local color, that gives this River its considerable power."
|From the original review: "Mike Newell's dark and delectable Goblet is brimming over with energy and suspense, and, to my surprise, it's probably the best Potter film so far. (And this is coming from someone who actually preferred Book III to Book IV on paper.)"|
From the year-end list: "[G]ive Mike Newell credit: Harry's foray into Voldemortish gloom and teenage angst was easily the most compelling Potter film so far. Extra points to Gryffindor for Brendan Gleeson's more-than-slightly-bent Mad-Eye Moody, and to Slytherin for Ralph Fiennes' serpentine cameo as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
|From the original review: "[G]iven I have no real reservoir of nostalgia for its titular hero, Jon Favreau's crisp, surprisingly fun Iron Man seems that much more of an achievement...As far as origin stories go, I'd say Iron Man can hold its helmet proudly alongside Batman Begins and the Donner Superman, thanks mainly to its superb cast (and inspired casting)...[I]f you allow for the constraints of the genre, Iron Man is basically everything you'd want in a summer-y superhero blockbuster."|
From the year-end list: "Much better than I ever anticipated, Jon Favreau's (and Robert Downey Jr.'s) Iron Man kicked a summer of superheroes off in grand fashion. In the end, I preferred the gloomy stylings of Gotham in 2008, but there's definitely something to be said for this rousing, upbeat entrant in the comic movie canon. It delivered on its own terms, and it was a much better tech-fetishizing, boys-and-their-toys type-film than, say, 2007's Transformers or (I suspect) 2009's GI Joe."
|From the original review: "I'm happy to report that, while Chris Nolan's Batman Begins has some minor problems -- each character gets a few clunky lines and the final action sequence isn't all that memorable -- this is the Batman movie that fans of the Dark Knight have been waiting for. There's no Schumacher statuary in this Gotham City, and nary a Burtonesque Batdance to be had. Nope, this is just straight-up Frank Miller-style Batman, scaring the bejeezus out of the underworld in his inimitable fashion."|
From the year-end list: "The Dark Knight has returned. Yes, the samurai-filled first act ran a bit long and the third-act train derailing needed more oomph. Still, WB and DC's reboot of the latter's second biggest franchise was the Caped Crusader movie we've all been waiting for. With help from an A-list supporting cast...Chris Nolan and Christian Bale brought both Batman and Bruce Wayne to life as never before, and a Killing Joke-ish Batman 2 is now on the top of my want-to-see list."
|From the original review: "While perhaps a bit too black-and-white in terms of the history, George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck is nevertheless a somber and captivating paean to Edward R. Murrow, his televised expose of Joe McCarthy, and, by extension, the Pioneer Days of Television Journalism...[W]hat could have been an above-average History Channel documentary is instead a powerful and intelligent work of cinema that's easily one of the better films out this year."|
From the year-end list: "A historical film that in other hands might have come off as dry, preachy edutainment, Good Night, and Good Luck instead seemed as fresh and relevant as the evening news...well, that is, if the news still functioned properly."
|From the original review: "The head of the film, its first forty minutes or so, feels like a Paul Greengrass movie such as Bloody Sunday: a grim, gripping tale of social and political injustice...told in naturalistic, faux-documentary style. But the thorax of District 9 delves deeper into old-school David Cronenberg territory, with all the gooey orifices, transformational anxiety, and throbbing gristle that usually portends...And, by the time we get to the abdomen, we're suddenly watching a George Miller or Jim Cameron-style actioner, with more than enough visceral excitement to keep the antennae twitching. All stitched together, District 9 is quite a remarkable feat of summer sensation."|
From the year-end list: "Neil Blomkamp's little (ok, $30 million) [film was the] South African indie that could. Alien Nation meets Cry Freedom with healthy dollops of Cronenberg body horror and old-school Peter Jackson viscera-splatter, District 9 came out as more than the sum of its parts, and...was one of the most purely enjoyable films of the summer."
|From the year-end list: "Perfectly captured the rhythms of campus life. The Dylan song didn't hurt either."|
|From the year-end list: "The Coen brothers stay in form with this beautifully shot film noir. "|
|From the original review: "It's a stunning film, one that I'd even recommend to people who have little-to-no interest in ballet. Like the best documentaries -- and this is the best I've seen in some time -- Ballets Russes transcends its immediate topic to capture larger and more ephemeral truths...Like a perfectly executed ensemble piece, Ballets Russes can take your breath away."|
From the year-end list: "Penguins and comedians, to the wings -- The lively survivors of the Ballets Russes are now on center stage. Like the best in dance itself, this captivating, transporting documentary was at once of the moment and timeless."
|From the original review: "[A] somber and engaging character study of the cops, journalists, and suspects caught up in the hunt for San Francisco's most famous murderer, and a moody meditation on how, as months yield to years without a definitive answer, the long, tiring search for truth comes to haunt and drain their lives away...The film is kind enough to give the audience something of a sense of closure at the end, but Zodiac is most intriguing when it leaves all doors open, and lets its characters get thrown about in the bruising wind that ensues."|
From the year-end list: "The best film of the spring. What at first looked to be another stylish David Fincher serial killer flick is instead a moody and haunting police procedural about the search for a seemingly unknowable truth...Reveling in the daily investigatory minutiae that also comprise much of The Wire and Law and Order, and arguably boasting the best ensemble cast of the year, Zodiac is a troubling and open-ended inquiry...Whatever Dirty Harry may suggest to the contrary, the Zodiac remains elusive."
From the original review: "One of the things I admired most about this very dark film is its sheer remorselessness. From its opening moments and throughout, it instills a visceral fight-or-flight dread in the audience and refuses to let us off the hook, inviting us less to tsk-tsk about the hubris of American military overreaching and more to ponder what measures -- moral, immoral, amoral -- we might take to ensure our own survival in this nightmarish universe. Time and time again in 28 Weeks Later, compassion is absolutely the wrong answer to the problem at hand, and...people surprise you with the decisions they choose to make with their backs to the wall."|
From the year-end list: "Sir, we appear to have lost control of the Green Zone...Shall I send in the air support? Zombie flicks have been a choice staple for political allegory since the early days of Romero, but one of the strengths of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's merciless 28 Weeks Later -- perhaps the best horror sequel since James Cameron's Aliens -- is that it foregoes the 1:1 sermonizing about failed reconstructions and American hubris whenever it gets in the way of the nightmare scenario at hand...There's little time for moralizing in the dark, wretched heart of 28 Weeks Later: In fact, the right thing to do is often suicide, or worse. You pretty much have only one viable option: run like hell.""
From the year-end list (I): "Another surprise...Matt Damon is believable, Chris Cooper and Brian Cox do excellent character work here, and Franka Potente and Clive Owen help lend the film an authentic European flavor that's gone completely AWOL over in the Bond series...If the first film's any indication, I'd rather see another Bourne than another Bond"|
From the original review (II): "[T]hankfully The Bourne Supremacy is just as intelligent, fast-paced, gritty, and near-plausible as the first outing...The surprise here is how well everything's executed -- until the last fifteen minutes or so...the film moves at a kinetic, captivating clip."
From the year-end list (II): "[A] better Bond than anything we've seen in the past 20 years. Paul Greengrass' shakicam work here bodes well for Rorschach in The Watchmen."
From the original review (III): "If you see him, say hello, he might be in Tangier. Or Paris, Madrid, London, New York, Moscow...uh, sir, we have Jason Bourne popping up all over the grid here. Shall I put it on One?...[I]t's clear that Greengrass is firing on all cylinders right now. I was already impressed with him, but Bourne further suggests that Greengrass is among the very best directors working today -- Let's hope he shares with us more surveillance intel in very short order."
From the year-end list (III): "The third installment of the Bourne franchise was the best blockbuster of the year, and proved that director Paul Greengrass can churn out excellent, heart-pounding fare even when he's basically repeating himself. Really, given how much of Ultimatum plays exactly like its two predecessors on the page -- the car chase, the Company Men, the Eurotrash assassin, Julia Stiles, exotic locales and cellphone hijinx -- it's hard to fathom how good it turned out to be. But Bourne was riveting through and through...You just couldn't take your eyes off it."
From the original review: "[W]hile I can't vouch for how well Nolan conceals his own prestiges from the audience here, I found the movie a dark, clever, and elegant contraption, one that suggests razor-sharp clockwork gears and threatening pulses of electrical current, all impressively encased in burnished Victorian-era mahogany. If you're a fan of Nolan's previous work, or of sinister mind-benders in general, The Prestige is a must-see film. Either way, it's among the top offerings of 2006 thus far."|
From the year-end list: "[A] seamlessly made genre film about the rivalries and perils of turn-of-the-century prestidigitation...Throw in extended cameos by David Bowie and Andy Serkis -- both of which help to mitigate the Johansson factor -- and The Prestige was the purest cinematic treat this year for the fanboy nation. Christian Bale in particular does top-notch work here, and I'm very much looking forward to he and Nolan's run-in with Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight."
From the original review: "Andrew Stanton's ambitious, impressive WALL-E is definitely in keeping with the high standard we've come to expect from the Pixar gang...That the reach of WALL-E's ambition ultimately exceeds its grasp in the second hour, when the movie becomes a much more conventional family flick, can't be held too harshly against the film, I think...Still, after centuries of wandering around by himself, gazing at the stars, the Last Robot on Earth has fallen in love. Did we really need to contrive a second act to top that?"|
From the year-end list: "If you saw one movie last year about a boy(bot) from the slums meeting -- and then improbably wooing -- the girl(bot) of his dreams, I really hope it was WALL-E. Hearkening back to quality seventies sci-fi like Silent Running, Andrew Stanton's robot love story and timely eco-parable is a definite winner, and certainly another jewel in the gem-studded Pixar crown. I just wish it'd stayed in the melancholy, bittersweet key of its first hour, rather than venturing off to the hijinx-filled, interstellar fat farm."
From the original review: "Made with as much care and attention to detail as the best of Pixar...Selick's clever Coraline is a children's fable that moves with purpose, bristles with dark humor, and snaps together with satisfying, text-adventure logic. Like Dahl, Carroll, del Toro, and Rowling, Selick and Gaiman get that kids have more of an appetite for the unsettling and creepy than they're often given credit for, and that the best fairy tales are often dark, scary places. Coraline is no exception...And in terms of the sheer wealth of imagination and meticulous craftsmanship on display, it's hard to imagine that very many other films this year will be in Coraline's orbit"|
From the year-end list: "In an auspicious year for both regular and stop-motion animation, Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline was the pick of the litter. It sorta got lost in the early-year shuffle, but Selick & Gaiman's dark, twisted fairy tale delivered the goods, and hopefully it'll find more life on DVD. "
|From the year-end list: "To be honest, I wanted to like it more. Nevertheless, this amusing Coen paean to American folk and Faulknerian absurdity holds its own this year."|
From the original review: "A friend of mine saw the trailer for Shaun of the Dead and noted it looked like a zombie movie written by The Kinks. That's actually a pretty good shorthand for this wry, witty film, although it eschews Ray Davies-like bitterness for a romantic comedy sweet that, for the most part, fits quite well. In fact, for the first hour or so, Shaun of the Dead is a total gas, particularly as Shaun and his couch-potato roommate Ed (Nick Frost) verrry slowly get wise to the shambling undead amidst them."|
From the year-end list: "Although it lost its footing shambling to its conclusion, Shaun of the Dead was great fun for the first two-thirds of its run, and it's now probably my favorite zombie movie (everyone should have one.) A much-needed dry British humor fix to tide us over until Hitchhiker's Guide."
From the original review: "The first half plays out as a well-done and unflinching (non-Spielbergized) look at life and death in the Warsaw ghetto. (Watching Adrien Brody step over the bodies of starved children on his way to work, I was briefly reminded again of how unbelievably unrealistic and offensive I found Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful.) The second half, however, is a different story. When through a combination of luck and timely aid Szpilman finally manages to escape the ghetto, the film enters (at least to me) novel territory and becomes a strangely riveting and unfamiliar survival story."|
From the year-end list: "A 2002 film that I caught in March of this year, The Pianist is a harrowing and unique survivor's tale that's hard to watch and harder to forget (and I can't have been the only person who thought post-spider-hole Saddam bore a passing resemblance to Brody's third-act Szpilman.) Speaking of which, I said in my original review of Adrien Brody that 'I can't see the Academy rewarding this kind of understatement over a scenery-chewing performance like that of Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.; Glad to see I was wrong."
From the original review: "Well, as you've probably heard, Knocked Up is both very, very funny and surprisingly real. For one, it's got a funky, down-to-earth, DIY, lived-in feel that helps make it, along with Hot Fuzz, the most satisfying comedy of 2007 thus far. But Knocked Up also manages to be rather touching by the end, in a way that feels totally earned. The film doesn't rely on cutesy baby antics or wildly improbable romantic flourishes to garner your affection, but rather on showing flawed, realistic, well-meaning people trying to make the best out of the complicated situations that make up life, be they modern love, marriage, or an unplanned pregnancy. As such, Knocked Up turns out to be a knock-out, and a very welcome special delivery."|
From the year-end list: "Judd Apatow's sweet, good-natured take on modern love and unwanted pregnancy was probably the most purely satisfying film of the summer. As funny in its pop-culture jawing as it was well-observed in its understanding of relationship politics, Knocked Up also felt -- unlike the well-meaning but overstylized Juno, the film it'll most likely be paired with from now herein -- refreshingly real. "
From the original review: "In sum, Miles is almost completely beaten down by life...so of course he attracts the attention of a smart, beautiful woman (Virginia Madsen) who shares all his important interests and remains fond of him, even and despite his awful behavior. If you can get past this one critical and wholly improbable plot point (and I did, eventually), Alexander Payne's Sideways is a trip to California wine country well worth taking. The movie basically plays like an approaching-middle-age version of About Schmidt (right down to the unfortunate nude scene), but this seemed a more well-rounded and generous film than its predecessor."|
From the year-end list: "Like a fine 1961 Cheval Blanc, Alexander Payne's elegiac toast to California wine country and the regrets and indignities of middle-age has a tendency to linger in the senses. Paul Giamatti must tire of playing depressive, barely sociable losers, but he's great at it here...Sideways isn't as funny as Election, but it is a memorable trip."
From the original review: "A Swedish import that combines elements of the age-old vampire mythos with My Girl, My Bodyguard, and Morrissey (hence the title), Let the Right One In moves and feels like a particularly well-crafted Stephen King short story (or perhaps a bleaker version of one of Guillermo del Toro's Spanish Civil War fairy tales), and definitely makes for a compelling nightmare before Christmas if you're in the mood for it...[A]t times it feels as naturalistic, character-driven, and hyperliterary an endeavor as In the Bedroom or Little Children. There's definitely some gore here and there, but as with the best horror stories, Let the Right One In is most frightening in the realm of ideas, and for what it doesn't ultimately show or explain."|
From the year-end list: "As if living in public housing in the dead of a Swedish winter wasn't depressing enough, now there's a nosferatu to contend with... My Bodyguard by way of Ingmar Bergman and Stephen King, this creepy and unsettling tale of a very unsparkly pre-teen vampyrer will leave bitemarks long after you step out into the light."
From the original review: "I'm pleased to report that the Coens' first foray into full-fledged romantic comedy (although one could argue for The Hudsucker Proxy) is an out-and-out winner. I'd heard earlier that the Coens had diluted their trademark zaniness for the sake of a mainstream audience this time around, but I found the reverse to be true -- the brothers have instead juiced up what could have been a tired genre exercise (Imagine this film with Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Kate Hudson, or Sandra Bullock) with their unique flair and managed to create one of the best, funniest romantic comedies I've seen in some time."|
From the year-end list: "I expect I'll be in the minority on this pick - This more-mainstream-than-usual Coen joint only got above-average reviews, and hardly anyone I've spoken to enjoyed it as much as I did. Still, I thought Intolerable Cruelty was a pop delight, 99.44% pure Coen confection...Light and breezy, yeah, but I thought it was that rare breed of romantic comedy that actually manages to be both romantic and hilarious...[I]t's good to know we can always rely on the Coens for consistently excellent work, and I for one am greatly looking forward to The Ladykillers."
From the original review (X2): "I'm not sure how it'll play to people who didn't grow up on the comic, but last night's midnight showing of X2 was much better than I had anticipated. Offhand, I can think of three setpieces (Nightcrawler at the White House, the assault on the mansion, and Magneto's escape) that were the closest thing to fanboy pr0n I've seen in ages (LOTR notwithstanding), and that's not counting all the great little flourishes and knowing winks throughout...Sure, the film drags a bit in the last twenty-five minutes or so (as they set up X3), but overall Singer & co. hit this one out of the park."|
From the year-end list (X2): "Laugh if you want, but I can't think of any other movie where I had more fun this year. Arguably the most successful comic film since Superman 2, X2 improved over its rather staid predecessor in every way you can imagine...X2 was ripe with moments that seemed plucked directly out of the comics, if not straight out of the fanboy id. To me, my X-Men."
From the original review (S2): "Here he comes, watch out bud. He's got genetically engineered blood...and a frozen run of bad luck like you read about. After a series of underwhelming summer films so far, Spiderman 2 is a happy surprise, and a distinct improvement on the decent original. After an up-and-down first outing, both Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire (as well as the gaggle of writers on board, among them Michael Chabon) have clearly settled into the rhythm of Peter Parker's struggle-filled existence, and the result is the most enjoyable and faithful comic book adaptation this side of X2."
From the year-end list (S2): "A definite improvement on the first adventure of your friendly neighborhood wallcraller, Spiderman 2 was a perfectly made summer film that stayed true to the spirit of Peter Parker. Along with X2, this is the gold standard for comic book-to-film adaptations right now."
From the original review: ""I'm an old broken-down piece of meat and i deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me." If that's your man, then tag him in: The final and best film of last Friday's four, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is a downbeat, moving, and resonant character study of a man past his moment. If Frost/Nixon was the 'feisty underdog takes on the champ' Rocky movie of the day, The Wrestler captured the other half of that famous story -- the aging athlete shuffling around his 'real' life, looking for any place he can make sense of himself outside the ring...I wouldn't cry foul if The Wrestler manages to pin down Oscars for Rourke and/or Tomei, and it's too bad Aronofsky got locked out of Best Director contention this year -- dabbling in the 'rassling form has clearly been good for him."|
From the year-end list: "Have you ever seen a one-trick pony in the fields so happy and free? Me neither, to be honest, but Aronofsky's naturalistic slice-of-life about the twilight days of Randy "the Ram" Ramzinski was likely the next best thing. I don't know if Mickey Rourke will experience a career resurrection after this performance or not. But he won this match fair and square, and nobody can take it from him."
From the original review: "A taut, minimalist "men-in-combat" thriller that immediately goes up on the top shelf of Iraq flicks next to HBO's Generation Kill (and, if you're counting Gulf War I, Three Kings), The Hurt Locker is also that rare thing in the summer of Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, and GI Joe: a war movie for grown-ups...In vignette after vignette, The Hurt Locker ratchets up the suspense by degrees, until you find yourself -- like the EOD team we're following -- living out each moment in a heightened state of tension, endlessly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's an impressive moviemaking feat, and it helps to make The Hurt Locker one of the best films of the year."|
From the year-end list: "Bombs away, and we're not ok. Other than Modern Warfare 2 and Generation Kill, this immersive, nail-biting account of an IED team's travails in the midst of the suck was the best pop culture simulator out there for feeling embedded in Iraq...and stuck at the wrong Baghdad street corner at just the wrong time. And with the tension ratcheting to uncomfortable levels in each of the ordnance disposal scenes, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker...was the action movie of the year."
From the original review: "He may seem cruel and indifferent. He may even be vain and jealous (Exodus 20:5.) Still, thank HaShem for the Coens! Like manna from Heaven, the brothers are the cinematic gift that keeps on giving. At this late date, you probably know if you vibe to the Coen's mordantly kooky aesthetic or not. And if you do, A Serious Man, their sardonic reimagining of the Book of Job set in late-sixties Jewish suburbia, is another great movie in a career full of them...A word of warning, tho' -- Despite the funny on hand here, and there is quite a bit of funny, in a way this world may be the Coens' darkest yet."|
From the year-end list: "Oy vey. This existential disquisition into wandering dybbuks, sixties Judaica, quantum mechanics, and Old Testament justice was yet another triumph for those devilishly talented brothers from Minnesota. The Job-like travails of Larry Gopnik introduced us to several colorful, Coenesque personages (Sy Ableman, Rabbi Nachtner) and offered vignettes (the Goy's Teeth) and quotable philosophy ("Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you") that cinephiles will ponder for awhile to come. The Coens abide."
|From the original review: "True, you can guess where this is basically going from the opening moments. The Cooler is ultimately a brief genre exercise in noir romance - It's not reinventing the wheel. But the wry script takes a few jags I wasn't expecting, and Kramer, Macy, and Bello succeed in fashioning two lovebirds who veer from playful to amorous to desperate for each other in a way that belies the cookie cutter courtship of so many other films...[I]f you can stomach the occasional burst of Old Vegas-style mob brutality (usually at the hands of Baldwin), The Cooler is a testament to the notion that even perennial losers can sometimes catch a lucky break, and a touching character-driven romance well worth checking out."|
From the original review: "Granted I tend to be a sucker for these sorts of films, which are far too rare nowadays...Nevertheless, I found Duncan Jones' low-key, hard-sci-fi rumination Moon to be really, really great -- exactly the sort of small-budget 'big think' science fiction production that it feels like you used to see a lot more of back in the day. (Silent Running, Outland, even stuff like Capricorn One and Soylent Green.)...Sure, I probably saw this film under ideal conditions for the subject matter -- by myself at the 11:45pm showing -- but I was riveted by it. And if you're a science fiction fan (or a fan of Sam Rockwell, who's showcased here to great effect), Moon is a must-see."|
From the year-end list: "While Michael Bay, McG and their ilk tried to top each other with gimongous explosions this summer, Duncan Jones' moody, low-key Moon just aimed to blow our minds. A throwback to the seventies big-think sci-fi that has fallen out of favor in the post-Star Wars-era, Moon's big special effect, other than Sam Rockwell, of course, was its clever ideas. And in a year of hit-or-miss (mostly miss) blockbusters, Rockwell's quiet two-man show turned out to be the sci-fi extravaganza of 2009."
From the original review: "Technically, Requiem is a masterpiece. Darren Aronofsky pulls out every visual effect and cinematic sleight of hand he previewed in Pi, and then some, to great effect. There are some truly unforgettable moments in this movie, although I must admit that -- very occasionally -- the technical razzmatazz does get in the way...[D]espite...substantial problems, Requiem is a powerful, enthralling film that invites comparison with such downer classics as A Clockwork Orange and Taxi Driver. Two days later, I'm still mulling it over in my head. I'm not sure if I completely enjoyed it, but I do know I must recommend it."|
From the year-end list: "Powerful, dazzling, and a technical masterpiece, despite the flawed ending. Gets stuck in your head like bits of food get stuck in your teeth."
From the original review: "Arguably the best film about the realities of politics since Charlie Wilson's War, Milk is blessed with excellent performances across the board -- most notably Sean Penn, James Franco, and Josh Brolin, but also supporting turns by Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill, and others. And as a chronicle of a key moment in an ongoing civil rights struggle, Milk also feels like a watershed film of its own in its approach to its gay and lesbian characters. In short, it's one of the best films of 2008."|
From the year-end list: "What with a former community organizer turned 'hopemonger' being elected president -- while evangelicals, conservatives and sundry Mormons inflicted Proposition 8 on the people of California -- Gus Van Sant's vibrant recounting of the tragedy of Harvey Milk was obviously the timeliest political movie of 2008. But, in a year that saw entirely too much inert Oscar-bait on-screen in its final months, Milk -- romantic, passionate, and full of conviction -- was also one of the most alive. While it extends some measure of compassion even to its erstwhile villain (Josh Brolin), Milk is a civil-rights saga that harbors no illusions about the forces of intolerance still amongst us, and how far we all still have to go."
From the original review: "[A] smart, stylish, and sublimely smooth British crime film that does Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch one better...Essentially, you know the drill -- this is a puzzle film in which you'll have to listen carefully and learn to distinguish between various delinquents with names like Tiptoes, Kinky, Slasher and Shanks. And, while the final few grifts just get a bit too big to be believable, for the most part the story holds together with intelligence and verve, in no small part to Daniel Craig, who's a magnetic presence here, and Matthew Vaughn, who displays a crisp, confident direction that's all the more impressive for being showy without ever seeming flashy."|
From the year-end list: "If X3 turns into the fiasco the fanboy nation is expecting with Brett Ratner at the helm, this expertly-crafted crime noir by Matthew Vaughn will cut that much deeper. Layer Cake not only outdid Guy Ritchie's brit-gangster oeuvre in wit and elegance and offered great supporting turns by Michael Gambon, Kenneth Cranham, and Colm Meaney, it proved that Daniel Craig had the requisite charisma for Bond and then some (and that Sienna Miller is no slouch in the charisma department either.)"
From the original review: "Seduced in by this teaser (and the accompanying song, Frou Frou's "Let Go", which has been flitting about my head for days now), I entered expecting a stylish but showy and self-indulgent film, as befitting a first-time triple threat. (At worst, I feared something along the lines of a Whit Stillman or P.T. Anderson flick.) But Garden State feels not only intelligent and confident but grounded, understated, and, like its dazed, over-medicated protagonist, even somewhat self-effacing. More than anything, I found the movie a sweet, quirky, and good-natured tone poem about awakening to both the pain and the possibilities of the life around you."|
From the year-end list: "Writer-director Zach Braff's 'anti-Graduate' debut was a small but touching ode to home that, along with reviving Natalie Portman as an actress and offering the best soundtrack of the year, delivered exactly what it promised. A bit hokey at times, sure, but Garden State wore its heart on its sleeve and, for the most part, got away with it. It was a witty and eloquent voyage to the Jersey burbs and a testament to the proposition that as Paul Weller put it, it's never too late to make a brand new start."
|From the original review: "All in all, this is a marvelously genre-bending film with wonderful anchoring performances by the Gyllenhaals. I think I liked this movie much more for not knowing a lot about it going in, so I won't mention the particulars here. But it's definitely worth seeing. Extra points for the soundtrack, which with 'Head over Heels,' 'Love will Tear Us Apart,' and 'Under the Milky Way'...reminded me more of my own high school experience than any other film I can remember. (The Dukakis era setting helped, since that was my own eighth grade year.)"|
|From the year-end list: "An excellent adaptation of a great book, even if I preferred the Elvis Costello britrock emphasis of Hornby's tome to the indie Subpop scene of the movie."|
|From the original review: "Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love -- a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances -- and 2046 -- a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache -- back-to-back, here's an "|
From the original review: "[I]t perfectly captured the feeling of life in New York after the fall. Everyone's trying to go on with their business and pretend to move on, and yet everywhere you look there are grim reminders of that day's events, and somehow it's all you end up talking about. And the last fifteen minutes of the film, which tread a very fine line between hokey and surprisingly touching, are a haunting representation of what was lost that day (and, Lee seems to suggest, what could be lost if further attacks necessitate a New York diaspora.) In effect, this is Lee's ode to NYC's magic and resilience, and I think there were very few other filmmakers that could have pulled this off."|
From the year-end list: "Another 2002 hold-over, and the best film yet made about the aftermath of 9/11, (which only seems natural, given that it's by one of New York's finest directors.) Haunted by might-have-beens, what-ifs, and what-nows, The 25th Hour feels real and immediate in its attempt to grapple with both 9/11 and the slamming cage in Monty Brogan's future. Only once, with the Fight Club-like fracas in the park, does the film flounder. Otherwise, it's a thought-provoking meditation throughout."
|From the year-end list: "Just when you thought it was safe to see a David Lynch film. After the surprisingly conventional Straight Story, Mulholland proves that David Lynch is still a master craftsman of the mindbender."|
From the original review: "[A]n impressive and heartfelt depiction of how one man's personal Hell becomes, through love, will, memory, and imagination, at least a barely endurable purgatory...And, when the camera later forsakes the diving bell world of flesh and frailty for the butterfly realm of memory and imagination, we feel the same exhilarating sense of liberation Bauby describes in voiceover. By finally soaring out of the confines of Bauby's body and roaming the world with abandon, Diving Bell offers a visceral reminder of the power of film, and of imagination."|
From the year-end list: "Through the wonders of cinematic alchemy, Julian Schnabel took the sad real-life account of Vogue editor Jean-Do Bauby's horrific imprisonment within his own body and made it soar. No other film this year put the "locked-in" experience of taking in a movie as inventively in service of its story...Special kudos to Mathieu Almaric for conveying so much with so little to work with, and to Max von Sydow for his haunting turn as Bauby's invalid father."
From the original review: "Well, the folks making next summer's Fantastic Four film must be having a really bad couple of weeks. 'Cause it's hard to see how they can even close to topping the energy and fun of Brad Bird's The Incredibles, Pixar's new gold standard (and here I thought Toy Story 2 was going to hold that honor for some time to come.) More a film for comic fans than for little kids, The Incredibles is an inventive, madcap romp through superhero tropes that gives Spiderman 2 a serious run for its money as the best comic book film of 2004."|
From the year-end list: "Pixar has been delivering well-constructed eye-popping wonders since Toy Story, and The Incredibles is the best of the lot. I figured it might be awhile before a movie topped Spiderman 2 as a sheer comic book spectacle, but, as it turned out, The Incredibles did it only a few months later. One of the best comic book films ever made, The Incredibles was two hours of unmitigated fanboy fun."
|From the year-end list: "In a spring and summer characterized by truly awful blockbusters, this small film proved that a great story is still the best eye-catcher around. A gimmick, perhaps, but flawlessly executed."|
From the original review: "[T]his is a gut-bustingly funny film. I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed so hard in a theater. (Alas, it was probably 21 Grams, and that was for all the wrong reasons.) True, given that this is a sharp-edged, basically anti-Dubya political satire that goes out of its way to reward pop-culture geekery (Frodo, Ron Weasley, and the White Stripes are all used as epithets at one point or another), I'm probably as close to a target audience for this sort of movie that's out there. Nevertheless, if your sense of humor runs anywhere from squirmathons like The Office UK or Curb Your Enthusiasm to sardonic political comedies like The Candidate or Bob Roberts to the current-events commentaries of Stewart and Colbert, this movie is a must-see. (And if you don't find hyperarticulate Scotsman Peter Capaldi spewing forth rococo profanities funny just yet, you probably will after watching In the Loop.)"|
From the year-end list: "I'm not normally a huge laugher at movies, but this flick had me rolling. Basically, In the Loop is Office Space for people in politics, and it's a smart, wickedly funny entertainment. And like Judge's film and The Big Lebowski, I expect it will enjoy a long, happy, and very quotable renaissance on DVD. If you find The Daily Show or Colbert Report at all enjoyable, this is a must-see. And, even if you don't, well the choice Scottish swearing should get you through."
|From the year-end list: "An expertly-made, nuanced glimpse at the drug trade that was good enough to convince policymakers in Washington...of the inefficacies of fighting supply at the expense of demand. Gets better with repeated viewings."|
From the original review: "[A]n unflinching look at the agony and torment of the human soul that is lying around your five-star Tokyo hotel with nothing to do...The film is funny, touching, sweet, often entrancing, and Bill Murray is really wonderful in the lead. It captures the disembodied detachment of travel insomnia and the exquisite anticipation of a newly-made connection in ways that belie the standard Hollywood older-man-meets-younger-woman narrative (Re: mogul wish fulfillment.) I do have nagging problems with Lost in Translation....But, not to lose the forest for the trees, I did quite like Lost in Translation. The film is honest and poignant in its depiction of two ships passing in the night, and Bill Murray - almost always good these days - is outstanding."|
From the year-end list: "It was fun for a while, there was no way of knowing. Like a dream in the night, who can say where we're going? I still think Sofia Coppola cut a little close to the bone here in terms of autobiography...Still, I find this tale of chance encounters and foreign vistas has a strange kind of magic to it, and it has stayed with me longer than any other film this year. Bill Murray comes into full bloom in a part he's been circling around his entire career...Lost in Translation has its problems, sure, but at it's best it's haunting, ethereal, and touching like no other film in 2003."
From the original review: "While perhaps a bit too dry and convoluted for some tastes, Stephen Gaghan's Syriana is, IMHO, a top-notch political thriller that's easily one of the best films of the year. Admittedly...the movie definitely can be tough to follow. But, in a way, that's part of its charm -- Like the film's protagonists, we only occasionally glimpse the shadowy tendrils of the beast that is Big Oil, and come to share their despair that it can ever be subdued. In sum...Syriana is both an intelligent, compelling work of cinema and a enthralling piece of social commentary, one that not only feels pertinent but necessary."|
From the year-end list: "I know Stephen Gaghan's grim meditation on the global reach and ruthlessness of the Oil Trade rubbed some people the wrong way, but I found it a gripping piece of 21st century muckraking, in the venerable tradition of Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair. True, Christopher Plummer was a mite too sinister, but otherwise Syriana offered some of the most intriguing character arcs of the year, from morose CIA Field Agent George Clooney's ambivalent awakening to corporate lawyer Jeffrey Wright's courtship with compromise. In a year of well-made political films, among them Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich, Lord of War, and The Constant Gardener, Syriana was the pick of the litter."
From the original review: "Boasting a standout performance by Clive Owen..., great character work by Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and others; timely ruminations on issues ranging from the War on Terror to immigration reform; a wicked streak of black humor...; cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki...that's both striking and muted; and some of the most visceral urban-warfare scenes this side of Saving Private Ryan, the film has a lot in its corner, and is definitely worth checking out this holiday season."|
From the year-end list: "[O]ne of the most resonant 'near-future' dystopias to come down the pike in a very long while, perhaps since...Brazil. Crammed with excellent performances by Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor and others, Children is perhaps a loosely-connected grab bag of contemporary anxieties and afflictions (terrorism, detainment camps, pharmaceutical ads, celebrity culture). But it's assuredly an effective one, with some of the most memorable and naturalistic combat footage seen in several years to boot."
From the original review: "Eastwood's first crack at Iwo Jima in 2006, Flags of our Fathers, was to my mind a well-meaning dog...[But] Letters is really something quite remarkable. A mournful, occasionally shocking testament to the inhumanity and absurdities attending war, and a elegiac dirge for those caught in its grip, even on the other side of the conflict, Letters from Iwo Jima is an impressive -- even at times breathtaking -- siege movie. And strangely enough, elements that seemed trite or intrusive in Flags -- the desaturated landscape, the minimalist piano score -- are truly haunting and evocative here."|
From the year-end list: "To some extent the Unforgiven of war movies, Iwo Jima is a bleakly rendered siege film that trafficks in few of the usual tropes of the genre...Instead of glorious Alamo-style platitudes, we're left only with the sight of young men -- all avowed enemies of America, no less -- swallowed up and crushed in the maelstrom of modern combat. From Ken Watanabe's commanding performance as a captain going down with the ship to Eastwood's melancholy score, Letters works to reveal one fundamental, haunting truth: Tyrants may be toppled, nations may be liberated, and Pvt. Ryans may be saved, but even 'good wars' are ultimately Hell on earth for those expected to do the fighting."
From the original review: "I know very little about this subject, so I can't vouch for how well van Donnersmarck recreates the rigors of East German life in the 1980s. Still, as an Orwellian parable of secrets and surveillance, The Lives of Others is a very worthwhile film, one strong enough to overcome some perhaps overly cliched moments of awakening by various characters along the way."|
From the year-end list: "[A] timely and compelling parable of art, politics, surveillance, and moral awakening in the final days of the Stasi. In a way, Lives is an East German counterpart to Charlie Wilson's War, a story about how even small political acts of individual conscience can change the world, even (or perhaps especially) in a decaying Orwellian state. With a memorable central performance by Ulrich MÃ¼he and a languid conclusion that ends on exactly the right note, the resoundingly humanist Lives of Others is a Sonata for a Good Man in Bad Times. We could use more of its ilk."
From the original review: "Holy Catastrophic Wreck of a City, Batman! After two viewings, I'm happy to report Christopher Nolan's moody, sinister The Dark Knight was well worth the wait, and bears the high expectations set for it quite impressively. In fact, at two and a half hours (which zip along, and even feel somewhat truncated at times -- see below), this sprawling Gotham crime saga is almost too much movie to take in the first time around...Most importantly, if Begins, as I said in 2005, was 'the Batman movie that fans of the Dark Knight have been waiting for,' this is undoubtedly the Joker movie we've all been hoping for as its companion...Heath Ledger here is a true force of nature, embodying to a tee the malevolent, frighteningly insane jester of The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns."|
From the year-end list: "Yes, it's the obvious fanboy pick. And, admittedly, TDK had pacing problems -- it was herky-jerky at times and the third act felt rushed. Still, in a not-particularly-good year for cinema, Christopher Nolan's operatic reimagining of the Caped Crusader and his arch-nemesis was far and away the most enjoyable experience i had at the movies in 2008. And if Candidate Obama was America's own white knight (metaphorically speaking) this past year, Heath Ledger's Joker was its mischievous, amoral, and misanthropic id. If and when the economic wheels continue to come off in 2009, will stoic selflessness or gleeful anarchy be the order of the day? The battle for Gotham continues, and everybody's nervously eyeing those detonators. Let's hope the clown doesn't get the last laugh."
|From the year-end list: "Amazing film. Nothing bad to say about it. Go now."|
From the original review: ""Seen the arrow on the doorpost, saying, 'This land is condemned'..." Well, Bob, East Texas may seem rough, but trust me, West Texas is even worse. I'm always going to have a soft spot for Miller's Crossing, and The Big Lebowski is its own strange and beautiful beast, but the Coen Brothers' tense, brooding No Country for Old Men, which I caught this morning, is right up among their best work, and that is no small thing...[I]f you harbored any doubts about the Coens after their botched remake of The Ladykillers, fret not. The brothers are back in form."|
From the year-end list: "[T]he Coens' expertly-crafted No Country works as both a visceral exercise in dread and a sobering philosophical rumination on mortality and the nature of evil. (And in his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem has crafted a movie villain for the ages.)...No Country for Old Men seems so seamless and fully formed, so judicious and economical in its storytelling, that it reminds me of Salieri's line in Amadeus: 'Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.' A dark journey that throbs with a jagged pulse, No Country for Old Men is very close to the best film of the year, and -- along with Miller's Crossing, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski -- yet another masterpiece sprung from the Coens' elegant and twisted hive-mind."
From the original review: "Whether or not the world really needed a film about the events that took place on United Flight 93 the morning of September 11, 2001 is, I suppose, still an open question...That being said, having run the gauntlet earlier this week, I can now happily report that United 93 is magnificent, and arguably the best possible film that could've been made about this story. Both harrowing and humane, it's the movie of the year so far."|
From the year-end list: "A movie I originally had no interest in seeing, Paul Greengrass's harrowing docudrama of the fourth flight on September 11 captured the visceral shock of that dark day without once veering into exploitation or sentimentality...While 9/11 films of the future might offer more perspective on the origins and politics of those horrible hours, it's hard to imagine a more gripping or humane film emerging anytime soon about the day's immediate events. A tragic triumph, United 93 is an unforgettable piece of filmmaking."
|From the year-end list: "I can't remember another film this year that resonated so strongly. While I think last year's award hoopla erred too far toward the histrionics of Sissy Spacek and away from the nuanced performance of Tom Wilkinson, the moral center of the film, In the Bedroom nevertheless powerfully depicts how ostensibly 'good' people eventually find themselves contemplating and acting out evil deeds. Plenty of complex and memorable scenes throughout, such as Wilkinson watching the distracted guests at his son's funeral, or his pained attempt to forge a connection with Marisa Tomei, a woman he has nothing in common with except loss. A very, very good film that, if anyone has the stomach for a double dose of grief, bookends nicely with Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter."|
From the original review: "[A] masterfully crafted tale of discovery and transformation, passion and misunderstanding, intimacy and heartbreak, love and loss, and worlds Old and New. In short, it's the best film of 2005."|
From the year-end list: "A movie which seemed to divide audiences strongly, Terence Malick's The New World was, to my mind, a masterpiece. I found it transporting in ways films seldom are these days, and Jamestown a much richer canvas for Malick's unique gifts than, say, Guadalcanal. As the director's best reimagining yet of the fall of Eden, The New World marvelously captured the stark beauty and sublime strangeness of two worlds -- be they empires, enemies, or lovers -- colliding, before any middle ground can be established. For its languid images of Virginia woodlands as much as moments like Wes Studi awestruck by the rigid dominion over nature inherent in English gardens, The New World goes down as a much-overlooked cinematic marvel."
From the original review: "[T]o be honest, it's hard to imagine how this film plays to people who aren't all that into Dylan...But, if you do have any fondness for Bob, oh my. The short review is: I loved it. Exploding the conventional music biopic into shimmering, impressionistic fragments, Todd Haynes has captured lightning in a bottle here. The movie is clearly a labor of love by and for Dylan fans, riddled with in-jokes, winks, and nods, and I found it thoughtful, funny, touching, and wonderful. Put simply...I'm Not There is my favorite film of the year. I can't wait to see it again."|
From the year-end list: "Admittedly, it was a wonderful confluence of my interests. Nevertheless, Todd Haynes' postmodern celebration of Bob Dylan, brimming over with wit and vitality and as stirring, resonant, and universal as a well-picked G-C-D-Em progression, was far and away my favorite film experience of the year. It seems to have slipped in a lot of critics' end-of-year lists...but so be it -- You shouldn't let other people get their kicks for you anyway. A heartfelt, multi-layered, six-sided puzzle about the many faces and voices of Dylan, l found I'm Not There both pleasingly cerebral and emotionally direct, and it's a film I look forward to returning to in the years to come. Everyone knows he's not a folk-singer."
From the original review (FotR): "Post-Film Update: They did it! They pulled it off!"|
From the extended edition review (FotR): "The Galadriel/Lothlorien stuff works much better now, with both Galadriel and Celeborn taking on the flavor of Tolkien's tome. Moreover, all of the underutilized members of the Fellowship - Boromir, Gimli, Merry, Pippen, and even Samwise - are given more characterization. And it just seems to take longer to get from place to place, which might take away from the film's dizzying pace, but definitely captures more of the feel of the book."
From the year-end list (FotR): " Suffice to say, it was everything I had hoped for and more. NOT for fanboys and fangirls alone - In fact, given its epic breadth and cinematographic sweep, I'd put it up as a worthy successor to the works of David Lean. Mr. Lucas, the bar has been raised."
From the original review (TTT): "After two showings yesterday, I must say I'm delighted and (still) surprised at how wondrous this second chapter turned out...[O]verall a deliciously good second installment in the Tolkien trilogy. And, with the ends of both the Isengard and Cirith Ungol storylines to be packed in with all the multitudinous events of ROTK, I see no way the next one can clock in under 210 minutes. Should be grand!"
From the extended edition review (TTT): "All in all, as with Fellowship, the extended Two Towers DVD includes a better, richer film loaded with tons of fascinating extras. If you're a fan, I'm sure you're getting it anyway...but if you're a casual Rings admirer, the TTT:EE is just as worth picking up as the FOTR:EE."
From the year-end list (TTT): "No surprise here. Although Fellowship may have delivered a bigger emotional impact, Peter Jackson and co. handled massive expectations with aplomb and deftly translated J.R.R. Tolkien's most unwieldy tome (Silmarillion notwithstanding) into the action-epic of the year."
From the original review (RotK): "Return of the King is an amazing conclusion to a trilogy that's surpassed all expectations and, I say this without hyperbole, redefined the medium -- From the technical breakthrough of Gollum to the seamless intertwining of jaw-dropping FX and character-driven emotion throughout, these films have expanded our vision of the possible and set a new standard for epic filmmaking."
From the extended edition review (RotK): "As with the FotR:EE and the TTT:EE, the Extended Edition is clearly a better film than the theatrical cut, with richer, denser characterizations, more Tolkien lore, and an improved sense of flow...All in all, RotK:EE, like its predecessors, is a wonderful gift to the fans of Tolkien and Middle Earth. And, although we have come now to the end, these three DVD sets (which look great on the shelf together) will now live on forever as a beacon of hope to fandom."
From the year-end list (RotK): "If you didn't see this pick coming, welcome to GitM...Even in spite of the pacing problems mandated by the TE running time, Return of the King is a marvel, the perfect ending to this epic for the ages and easily the best third-movie in a series ever. There's so many ways these films could've turned out atrociously...The fact that they didn't -- that they instead shattered all expectations while staying true to Tolkien's vision -- is a miracle of inestimable value. In the post-Star Wars age, when epics have been replaced by 'blockbusters,' and most event movies have been hollowed-out in advance by irony, excessive hype, dumbing-down, and sheer avarice, Peter Jackson has taught us to expect more from the cinema once again. Beyond all imagining, he took the ring all the way to Mordor and destroyed that sucker. So have fun on Kong, PJ, you've earned it."
From the original review: "I thought Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind lived up to the hype and then some. One part Annie Hall, one part Sliding Doors, three parts Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine is an exceptionally strange take on the romantic comedy...(It probably helped that I tend to be a fan of almost all the folks at work here...Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah "Bad Frodo" Wood, and David Cross...Sunshine is a fun, thought-provoking look at relationships and memory."|
From the year-end list: "The one true classic of 2004, Eternal Sunshine has only grown in my estimation since its initial release in March. (David Edelstein's take on it as one of Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell's remarriage comedies is well worth reading.) A heartfelt examination of love, loss, and memory, Eternal Sunshine was also a strikingly adult take on romance and relationships...With great performances from a caged Jim Carrey and an electric Kate Winslet, the film managed to be both an earnest, passionate love story and a wistful paean to those person-shaped holes we all carry in our hearts and memories...(Why even bother? We need the eggs.)"
|From the series-finale review: "Pour a glass of Jamesons and give the devil (way down in the hole) his due: The Wire, a television show with a better claim than most to the title of "Best Ever" (and definitely the best show ever made about American politics), ends this evening...And you know the only thing better than having enjoyed all 60 hours of the show? Having never seen it at all. If that's you, pick up Season 1 and start from the beginning -- you're in for a real treat."|