Who would’ve thought that Danny Boyle, a specialist in the
grimmer impulses of human behavior, would’ve come up with
this joyous, imaginative, and, yes, uplifting fable about
altruism? Alexander Nathan Etel is a revelation as the grieving
youngster who has visions of the (charmingly down-to-earth)
A History of Violence
A genre crime film about the ripple effects of violence, reinvented
with intellect and emotion. David Cronenberg is at the height
of his powers here, and Viggo Mortensen is mesmerizing as
a humble, small-town family man whose dark past catches up
to him—and him to it—as the sinister plot infiltrates his
still-steamy long-term marriage.
A geopolitical thriller about “petroleum security” that (just
barely) fictionalizes U.S. machinations over the world’s dwindling
oil supply, written and directed by Stephen Gaghan with depth,
complexity, and visual immediacy. The stellar cast includes
an unglamorous George Clooney as a weary CIA operative caught
in the shifting sands of governmental imperative.
4. Lords of War
This entertainingly cynical comedy about a high-level illegal-weapons
trader (Nicolas Cage) assimilates a decades’ worth of censored
stories about the near-genocidal impact of arms proliferation
in the troubled areas of the world.
5. Batman Begins
Director Christopher Nolan elevates the tragic backstory of
the oft-filmed superhero into a compelling psychological drama,
and does so without stinting on moody atmospherics or inventive
combat choreography. Christian Bale is the most interesting
(and watchable) Batman yet, especially in his interactions
with his good-cop ally (Gary Oldman), his warrior nemesis
(Liam Neeson), and his droll butler (Michael Caine).
6. The Squid and the Whale
A penetrating semi-autobiography (by Noah Baumbach) of a family
in the process of disintegration, as two narcissistic intellectuals
heading for divorce let it all hang out in front of their
two troubled sons. Jeff Daniels as the pompous, selfish father,
and Jesse Eisenberg as his worshipful older son, are both
March of the Penguins
Over a year in the filming, this groundbreaking documentary
on the mating season of emperor penguins is a fascinating
tale of tenacity, parental devotion, survival skills, and
love. Though the emperors are adorable, their harrowing trek
to their Antarctic breeding ground is not for the faint of
8. The Constant Gardener
Directed by Fernando Meirelles (from the John Le Carre novel),
this story of a genteel diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) who is awakened
to the harsh realities of his post in Kenya by his passionate,
activist wife (Rachel Weisz) takes on the insidious topic
of corporate profit-mongering in the Third World. Though its
impact doesn’t measure up to its provocative ambition, it’s
dazzlingly crafted and movingly acted.
9. Walk on Water
This gripping espionage thriller from Israel is about an anti-terrorism
agent ordered to assassinate an elderly Nazi. Set against
the most beautiful locations of the Holy Land, it’s also about
the schisms between Jews and Arabs, gays and straights, young
and old, and the fine line between revenge and redemption.
10. Layer Cake
Sheer cinematic pleasure, this pulpy morality tale expertly
utilizes all the best elements of the British crime caper,
including acerbic observations on socioeconomic conditions
(here, it’s the trickle-down corruption of global high finance).
In a star-making performance, Daniel Craig plays a nonviolent
drug dealer with cool-as-McQueen charisma.
Alone in the Dark
Uwe Boll is widely regarded as the worst director making films
today, and this incoherent adaptation of the video game torturously
demonstrates why. Do not—I repeat—do not rent this movie,
no matter how much you like the game.
Seemingly made by zombies for an audience of zombies.
A slick, soulless, and tediously convoluted commercial for
overpriced and ineffectual weapons of select destruction.
Jamie Foxx’s onscreen preening is an embarrassment.
4. XXX: State of the Union
This sequel to the empty-headed but energetic Vin Diesel vehicle
is even more moronic, and the action sequences are cheesy
instead of cheeky. Roly-poly Ice Cube is pathetic as a super-athletic
5. The Island
Hack emeritus Michael Bay takes an intriguing premise—human
cloning for organ harvesting—and blows it up into a mindless
action extravaganza. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson
both strive—and fail—to humanize their cologne-ad characters.
The visually glorious sequel to In the Mood for Love
is even more heartbreaking than the original, with year’s
best performance in Tony Leung’s seedy journalist. Wong Kar-Wei
weaves together the political turmoil of the 1960s, science
fiction and doomed romance into something ineffably profound.
2. Grizzly Man
Nature is indifferent to you, and bears aren’t your friends.
That’s not all you’ll take away from Werner Herzog’s fascinating
documentary about the late grizzly enthusiast Timothy Treadwell,
but it’s a good lesson to learn.
Good Night, and Good Luck.
George Clooney’s elegiac look back at TV journalist Edward
R. Murrow’s battle with red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy managed
to re-create a lost America while speaking directly to our
current political situation.
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
All honors to writer-director Judd Apatow and writer-star
Steve Carell for this deranged but oddly sweet romantic comedy
about, well, a 40-year-old virgin. Stands with the Apatow-produced
Anchorman as one of the great—and deeply weird—comedies
of our time.
5. A History of Violence
Blood and violence have a cost. That’s the message of David
Cronenberg’s haunting—and, naturally, gross—drama about a
seemingly “normal” guy (Viggo Mortenson) with a dark past.
Writer-director Stephen Gaghan explains Middle East politics
for you. Deceptively complex and totally entertaining, with
great performances by George Clooney, Christopher Plummer
and a talented ensemble.
7. The Constant Gardener
Ralph Fiennes gives the second-best performance of the year
as a nice-guy British diplomat in Africa, unprepared for the
depths of both First-World evil and his wife’s (luminous Rachel
8. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
This documentary about the Enron story contains more pure
evil than a grindhouse splatter flick. When does Ken Lay’s
9. Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki’s animated adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’
novel about witchcraft and war had a topical resonance that
went beyond the story or the fantastic visual ideas. Excellent
voice casting, too, with good work from Christian Bale, Jean
Simmons and Lauren Bacall.
10. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Once in a while, movie stars can be a good thing. The
same goes for big-budget commercial filmmaking. Doug Liman,
who also directed the nifty The Bourne Identity (not
the lifeless sequel), helped the usually dull Brad Pitt and
the usually over-the-top Angelina Jolie become an appealing
Hideous. Cameron Crowe should go back to school. Again.
2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Only missed being the worst of the year because Yoda a good
fight scene had.
That director Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless
in Seattle) dropped this celluloid turd is no surprise,
but Nicole Kidman’s slide into ditzy inanity is a shocker.
Only missed being the worst of the year because Steve Carell’s
channeling of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur was hilarious.
4. The Man
In which Samuel L. Jackson used up the last shred of cred
left from his glory years, and Eugene Levy proved he can’t
save every piece-of-junk comedy.
News flash: Journalists are assholes. I probably hate this
one more than it deserves, but, sweet Jesus, it made me feel
sorry for (the real) Truman Capote—something I didn’t think
Fast moving, sharp-edged documentary about quadraplegic rugby
players will have you both applauding and hoping you never
have to face the likes of these athletes on your own home
court. Refreshingly honest, revealing “differently abled”
athletes in all their glory, warts and all.
2. Good Night, and Good Luck.
Elegantly told, beautifully crafted movie about the effect
of Edward R. Murrow’s staunch defiance of Cold War hysteria
as personified by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Set in mid-’50s America,
the film says more about the current state of journalism than
any other movie. Ever.
3. March of the Penguins
Absolutely mesmerizing documentary about the dating and mating
rituals of the emperor penguin. One can’t help but sound hyperbolic
when describing the sheer beauty and amazement that this movie
4. Layer Cake
Stylish gangster film that rises above the merely attractive
to look at by dint of its sense of real menace and incredibly
sharp dialogue. Plus, Daniel Craig—now the new James Bond—oozes
cool; he’s the frosting on the cake.
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the
Wonderfully effective immersion into the beloved world of
C.S. Lewis’s seven books. Die-hard fans will always find something
to quibble about, but this is a magical, overwhelmingly successful
tale of courage and sacrifice.
complex and intriguing geopolitical thriller that will have
you on the edge of your seat, only in part because that’s
where you’ll need to be in order to pay proper attention to
the myriad maneuverings that weave the threads of oil, terrorism,
money and power into one stunning whole.
7. Me and You and Everyone We Know
Weirdly disquieting, yet profoundly hopeful look at the desire
8. Red Eye
A solid B-movie that, more than most movies this year, showed
how to blend genuine tension with solid storytelling and unusual
Wistful story about love and the longing for it. Despite a
few moments in which Steve Martin’s older lothario comes off
as, well, a little creepy in his pursuit of waif Claire Danes,
and despite the clunky voice-over narration, the movie has
style, wit, lyricism and poetry.
Night, and Good Luck.
photo:Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
What can we say? It’s Wallace and Gromit, dammit, and they’re
me bewildered—why cinematize yet another paltry TV series,
only to make it much worse than that original? At least this
time, the filmmakers score one for equal rights: Instead of
making Darren the insipid, milquetoast partner, they make
Samantha, played by a whispery, fawning Nicole Kidman, the
repulsively unappealing spouse.
2. Must Love Dogs
what you need in order to get through this movie, with its
really tacky, not at all funny plotlines. Not even John Cusack’s
nascent charm can salvage this stinker, in which Diane Lane
plays disastrously against type, as a fidgety, flirty, newly
3. Cinderella Man
Despite a stellar performance by Russell Crowe, this turkey
just can’t rise above its one-two knockout (and I mean that
in a bad way) punch of Renée Zellwegger’s constant whine and
director Ron Howard’s inability to tell the story without
resorting to constant replays and flashbacks meant to ensure
that the audience gets it—really gets it.
4. Man of the House
People mock the fact that Tommy Lee Jones started off on the
daytime soap One Life to Live, but any episode of that
show has got to be better than this purported comedy, in which
Jones plays a crusty lawman entrusted with the care of a gang
of obnoxious college cheerleaders. They happen to be material
witnesses to a murder, but that’s not the point. What is,
apparently, is seeing aging Tommy wrestle with broken curfews
and panties hung in the bathroom. Say it isn’t so.
5. Pride & Prejudice
Watch as the rain pours down on lovely Keira Knightly’s face
each time she, as Jane Austen’s beloved Scarlett O’Hara, I
mean, Elizabeth Bennett, confronts that confounded Heathcliff,
I mean, Mr. Darcy. . . . A movie more in awe of the natural
elements streaming down on its attractive costars than anything
related to the literary classic.