Katherine Heigl charms from first to last in "27 Dresses," a straightforward romantic comedy that delivers what you want it to and brings the tears with the laughter at just the right moments. The "trying on" set piece is wonderful fun.
Jonathan Levine's "50/50" is worth a trip to the theater DESPITE what you've heard or think you know about it. Life is filled with seriousness, and even tragedy, but that doesn't mean the human spirit won't find a way to rise above it--and the sheer virtuosity of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen's performance makes this little gem of a film heartwarming and unforgettable.
Adam Resurrected is a bizarrely mesmerizing exploration of the darkest recesses of the human psyche and its abilities to turn unimaginable pain into compensatory fanfares of poetic justice, finding redemption when known could be thought possible. Jeff Goldblum excels in the lead role, based on brilliant Israeli novelist Yoram Kaniuk’s novel which I long ago praised in The Los Angeles Times Book Review. Kudos to writer Noah Stollman, director Paul Schrader, and long-suffering producer Ehud Bleiberg for bringing this masterpiece to the screen.
Alice Adams This 1935 film directed by George Stevens, despite probably the most excruciatingly painful dinner scene in the history of cinema and the worst overall acting (including by the hopelessly wooden Fred MacMurray), manages to be utterly delightful because of the sweetly naïve presence of Katherine Hepburn in one of her earliest roles as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with illusions of grandeur.
Jean Luc Goddard's "Alphaville" is oddly compelling and compellingly odd, French to the core, insightful with a ham fisted vengeance, sexy without a flash of flesh, and a mesmerizing prelude to movies like "The Matrix" that would not exist without it.
Angels & Demons, though a much earlier novel by Dan Brown, is in every way a more satisfying film than
Alejandro Amenabar's "Agora" is an intelligent, gripping, suspenseful, sensual historical drama about the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria (played by the mesmerizing Rachel Weisz) who was persecuted--and finally murdered--by Christians who could not tolerate her questioning of how the universe really operates.
Pierre Salvadori’s “Apres Vous” is an A+--one of the sweetest, smartest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen, thanks to the genius of the script and Daniel Auteuil, Jose Garcia, and Blanche Grimaldi. Not a false beat or predictable turn, and you will be charmed to the root.
For sheer, non-stop action, violence, and "poetic truth," Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” is an amazing tour de force that should NOT be missed! It’s one of those rare films you hate to see end because you’ve been yanked into its reality.
You'd have to call Takashi Miike's "The Audition" ("Odishon") an errotic horror fantasy, spinning a widower's longing and opportunity into a nightmarish fugue.
Avatar Joseph Campbell is applauding from his grave for this beyond-masterful combination of dramatic storytelling and mythic substructure from no doubt the greatest filmmaker of our time, and seeing it in "3D" is a must once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you feeling as rocked as you were when you saw the first "Star Wars."
The Battle of Algiers, brilliantly directed documentary style reconstruction of the lost battle that won the Algerian war for independence is a must-see drama that explores the dilemma of rebellion vs. revolution.
In the tradition of “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Tender Mercies,” Arliss Howard surprises us with “Big Bad Love,” not only for his performance but for his directing as well. If you like homespun Southern grit with style and insight into the indomitable human spirit, add this one to your list. Debra Winger is good too!
Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book" is another riveting war drama--its directing equalled only by its acting--about the lengths the human spirit will go to to degrade, and to triumph.
Petri Kotwica's "Black Ice" is dark, disturbing, compelling, mesmerizing drama as chilly and chilling as its Finnish winter settings-another tone poem deftly exploring the landscapes of the human heart.
I’ve been a fan of Aronofsky’s since “Pi” but “Black Swan” is the first time, including “The Wrestler” (which I loved), I felt he commanded the BIG screen and showed his global potential as a filmmaker capable of anything. Although I thought the movie was too graphic in some dark particulars, it explores the masochism of art in a profoundly moving and thought-provoking way. Don’t miss it while it’s still in theaters!
If you're just plain in the mood for a lovable band of rogue warriors whose lives make violence a dog-headed sport, David Webb Peoples' "Blood of Heroes" will keep your blood warm on a Sunday afternoon--the trade off for Rutger Hauer being the quick Joan Chen.
"Bread & Tulips" is one of those quiet little (Italian) movies about seizing the gioia della vita that quietly overtakes you and leaves you in tears.
Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” is a riveting war drama, filled with poignantly haunting performances (Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepherd, Natalie Portman) delivering the age-old message that war is an unspeakable atrocity that the human race has yet to cure itself of.
Atom Egoyan's "Chloe" is hard to stop watching, one of those pictures you wish would keep going on, so mesmerizing sensuous are the performances of Juliannne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, and Liam Neeson.
I'd missed seeing The Chronicles of Narnia, hearing that it was too faithful to the book, etc., but now that I've seen it I was moved by the second half and fell into its spell, faithful or not. Sometimes sticking to the book is a good idea, and this is one of them.
Feels like centuries since I”ve watched Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights,” and heartily recommend it for its sheer exhilaration and capture of the human spirit at its comic, earnest best: “Be brave! Face life’s challenges.”
Francis Lawrence's directing of "Constantine" is worth seeing if only for the Breughel-like special effects, and the sultry-perfect performance of Rachel Weisz against the perfectly sullen Keanu Reeves...
Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiters” is a must-see addition to your WWII collection, a film that subtly covers old territory from the uniquely original (and true) perspective of a man whose artistic challenge must be balanced with his awareness of his fellow prisoners’ suffering and his knowledge of the impact his success might have on the outcome of the war. In all regards, a brilliant film.
The Cooler For sheer lovability, graced with sex and edge, this movie is a compelling tour de force of great acting (William H. Macy, Maria Bellow, Alec Baldwin) and directing (Wayne Kramer). You won’t be disappointed.
Departures (Okuribito) Directed by Yojiro Takita, this lyrically mesmerizing, deeply compelling movie about an artist identifying his true art deserves an A+ as simply one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Put it in your queue and move it to the top!
Guillermo del Toro's darkly atmospheric "The Devil's Backbone" is a brilliant, touching, deeply moving evocation of a childhood marked with growing pains beyond imagination.
Mattias Bize’s “En la cama” has everything—suspense, eroticism, sensuality, betrayal, intimacy, confession, redemption, tragedy, comedy—a one-room film could possibly offer.
Even Money is a relentlessly depressing, painfully honest, and brilliantly acted (on the part of Danny DeVito, Kim Bassinger, Forrest Whitaker, and Ray Liotta) exploration of the human hunger for more and the terminal trouble it can get us into.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a perfectly delightful piece of fluff and froth that will keep you laughing and titillated thanks to the effervescent Kristin Bell, the sultry Mila Kunis (I met her!), and the irrepressible star-writer Jason Segel.
“If you like war movies, you’ll like ‘Four Feathers,’ Don Sharp’s retelling of an old British story of the soldier left behind who’s shamed into proving his heroism in a non-combat way. I watched it because it was Ted Kennedy’s favorite, and found it absorbing—including the young Jane Seymour.”
Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” and highly recommend it as an example of the docudrama at its best. Frank Langella is splendid as Nixon.
Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low” is a classic celebration of the surprising stories at the heart of every human being and every town. With stellar performances by Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek this southern Gothic drama will spellbind you.
The Girl in the Cafe “A truly unusual little film, intimately directed by David Yates and powerfully acted by Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald, begins as a May-December romance but quickly moves into the painfully poignant depths of international politics as young Gina serves as Lawrence’s female companion at a G-8 conference and can’t keep herself from speaking up—forcing him to choose between unexpected love and a lifelong career.”
Niels Arden Oplev’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a stylistically delicious, perfectly-paced thriller that charts the volatile collision of two superbly-constructed characters and compels us along with them on their mission of discovering the passions of the past.
Gloomy Sunday Set in pre-WWII Hungary, this dark and subtly erotic romance (directed by Rolf Schubel) is of the most profoundly fascinating and powerfully compelling films I’ve seen in years. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
"Hide and Seek," with great performances by Robert DeNiro and (the riveting) Dakota Fanning is a truly creepy-chilling little contained psychological horror film that grows on you insidiously.
Hoodwinked, a delightfully zany Rashomon-like retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that does credit to the twice-telling of tales.
The Horse Whisperer A deeply moving film about a daughter and mother's coming of age, catalyzed by an intense cowboy who knows human nature a well as he knows horses-Robert Redford at his best, along with Kristen Scott-Thomas at her sexiest, and Scarlet Johansen in a captivating early role.
Hotel for Dogs Thor Freudenthal’s tour de force is an urban fairytale that assimilates the best of your favorite dog movies and serves them with novelty, affection, and aplomb and will leave you tearing up through your smiles.
Gotta say I loved “How to Train Your Dragon” despite its massively derivative storyline, just proving that we really do want the same story every time: reluctant hero, feisty accomplice, villain with a heart of gold, misunderstandings and conflict, laced up with triumph and a little romance. Can’t wait to see it again!
Kurosawa's "Ikiru" is deeply moving and sharply portrayed social-insight classic that tracks the spiritual and emotional transformation of a dying bureaucrat and shows-to his shocked coworkers and to the audience- that it's never too late to make a difference.
Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is a quietly riveting study of the intersection of two unlikely characters, whose relationship is twisted by both external and internal forces beyond their control. Colin Farrell is perfectly balanced by Ralph Fiennes, both delivering performances you don’t want to miss.
Quentin Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds," despite its ode to violence, completely won me over with the power of its directing, acting, and sheer storytelling audacity--who says you can't change history? Heartily recommend to anyone who missed it.
“Inside Job” is a devastatingly revealing documentary that will open your eyes to the reality behind the Recession and the current plight of all but the to ½ of 1 percent of Americans. Its most dramatic moments are the titles that declare, time after time, “he declined to be interviewed for this film.” Don’t miss it!
In The Bedroom A disturbing, stumbling un-centered film (by Todd Field) with marvelous performances by Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei, and Tom Wilkinson that yet holds your attention because of the powerful implausibility of its premise (based on the novel by Andre Dubus).
Ki-Duk Kim's "The Isle" is a mesmerizing visual tone poem pitting Eros and Masochism against Thanatos on a watery lake that literally takes you back to the bloody womb.
And though I swore I wouldn't watch it, Netflixed "It's Complicated" and found it delightful, heartwarming--Alec Baldwin hilarious.
If you haven’t seen “Juno” yet, you have to add it to your list as a stellar example of how great writing and directing can deal with a subject that would normally get treated in a film released in the U.S. It’s a sheer delight, first to last.
The King of Kong (directed by Seth Gordon) transcends its subject matter and genre to grip you from beginning to end about niche heroism and the human spirit.
Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” is certainly a contender for Best Actor, with Colin Firth’s unflappable but stammering performance as George VI, the accidental king. All about the movie is gripping and fascinating, a behind-the-scenes look at British monarchy in trouble we haven’t seen yet. I heartily recommend it.
Lars And The Real Girl Only an indie film can focus on an original high-concept conceit (though “shades of Pygmalion!) like this and put it through its emotional and dramatic paces with such skill and virtuosity—largely thanks to the brilliance of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of a man who comes of age because a town loves him enough to support his delusion until it has worked its way through his system.
Toru Ichikawa’s “Legend of Red Dragon,” though badly made in general, is thoroughly entertaining if only because of the song and dance martial arts routine of the redoubtable Otomatsu “brothers” and the intriguing performance of Tatsuya Gachuin.
The Lives of Others Mesmerizing from first to last, here’s another film you hate to see end. The acting is impeccable, the story filled with heart and horror, betrayal and poetic justice, romance and tragedy, as it explores art against the state and art’s power to reach through the wires and walls and touch even the most hardened of hearts.
Ang Lee's pre-WWII romantic drama "Lust/Caution" is a remarkable story, brilliant directing, compelling acting, sexy...in a dark spiraling ambience that takes you there and makes you hate to leave.
Gus Van Sant’s "Milk" draws you into the truculent and unexpected life of slain San Francisco gay congressman Harvey Milk in away that gives insight into the way a hero is made and courage is born out of responsibility. Sean Penn truly earned the Oscar for his role as Milk.
Miracles Filled with heart, action, and emotion “Miracles” will make you love hockey even if you’ve never seen a game.
Mishima A darkly troubling and memorable experimental film by Paul Schrader (produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola), this is a sharply visual and imaginative exploration of the great novelist's innermost psyche where narcissism, art, and action created a choreography with death.
Ann Fontaine’s “Nathalie” is a virtuoso performance from all concerned, displaying the determined ability of each member of the human species to live in a world of self-delusion and the catastrophic results of that narcissism world being consciously manipulated by another. Whereas its American version, “Chloe,” is sexual, “Nathalie” is sensual and intellectual from first to last.
Original Sin For fans (like myself) of Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, this psychological romantic drama will not disappoint. The twisted plot and colonial Cuban setting add steam and suspense to the fateful attraction between the two.
The Outsiders Francis Ford Coppola's tribute to adolescence is stylistically compelling, a gritty-surrealistic riff on "West Side Story," and features ingenue performances by Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillion, Tom Cruise-all in all, not to be missed.
Jon Turtletaub's "Phenomenon," with touching performances by John Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick, shows how easy it is to steal a plot and reuse it--along with some really great dialogue.
If you like old familiar turned new, Gary Marshall’s “Raising Helen” gives it all—family, tears, romance, laughter, cuteness, sexiness, and a satisfying ending that wins your emotions despite every effort on the part of your onboard critic to find fault.
The Razor’s Edge Because of Gene Tierney's mesmerizing performance (and despite Tyrone Power's plodding one), this film is a masterpiece of dialogue, theme, character, and storytelling you can't look away from for a second.
Alejandro Amenabar's "The Sea Inside" is one of those movies you set aside because it seems like it will be depressing, but when you finally watch it you're sorry you hadn't watched it immediately. Xavier Bardem's virtuoso performance--evoking tears and laughter, love and grief--makes this painful story a triumph of the human spirit.
Sentimental, maudlin, over-the-top, and Diane Ladd is as gorgeous as Big Red--yeah, and I loved "Secretariat"!
The Coen brothers have outdone themselves with subtle irony in “A Serious Man,” a quiet little film that captures an ethnic mindset with the flawless precision of a fine diamond-cutter.
Session 9 is a horror film that relies on the power of the human mind, both the audience’s and the characters, to terrify itself. Building gradually from the real to the imaginary, you’re never quite sure where you lose your bearings—but lose them you do, as you take this ride into the horror of piecing together the past in a haunted house that turns out to be the human brain itself. Brad Anderson directs this little gem.
Julio Medem's "Sex and Lucia" makes up in its erotic fire for the hopelessly complicated structure of narratives within narratives and is eminently watchable from beginning to end thanks to Paz Vegas's smoldering performance.
Slumdog Millionaire is "the compleat film," containing passion and adventure, comedy and tragedy, romance and lust, the maudlin and the edgy, the agony and the ecstasy of modern-day Mumbai-in short as filled with contridictions and energy as is India itself. It is one of the most entertaining films in years!
David Fincher has created an utterly contemporary "Rashomon" in "The Social Network," an entertaining and thought-provoking not-to-be-missed...
Nancy Meyers' "Something's Gotta Give" just couldn't be more delightful--sorry it took me so long to get to it. With Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, and Amanda Peet-how could it be otherwise!?
“The Station Agent,” ably directed by Thomas McCarthy, is another one of those “homey” heartfelt movies that you want to pack your bags and move into. Patricia Clarkson is the perfect foil to Peter Dinklage, both seeking to be left alone and both needing companionship badly.
Cyrus Nowrasteh’s The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of those pictures you postpone seeing indefinitely, as I did, but that you regret not having watched a long time ago: riveting photography, flawless directing and acting, and a story that grabs your throat and heart and won’t let go to the last bloody frame. Don’t postpone it!
For all who are considering the screenwriting career, I highly recommend “Tales from the Script,” featuring interviews with favorite screenwriters Dennis Palumbo, Paul Schrader, Ron Shelton, Shane Black, Ron Shusett, Frank Darabont, William Goldman, Larry Cohen, Stephen Susco, John Carpenter, Guinevere Turner…. “Amadeus” took 46 drafts! There’s no end to better. Respect for the process. John Carpenter: “Stop bitching—stop whining—and move on.” “A career is broken only if the artist allows it to be broken.” All agree that, “Right now it’s the strangest it’s ever been”—and it’s even stranger now in the “Post-content era.” I would call this well done doc a “reality pill” for sure.
Tupac Resurrection A remarkably watchable documentary of the rise and fall of the rapper whose dark dreams of violence turned out to be prophetic-compelling from first to last.
I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, but “The Ugly Truth” (with Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler) has the freshness of also being raunchy, obscene, and wildly politically incorrect so it led me through hating both characters to falling in love with their zany intensity.
Francis Parker's "Water for Elephants" is a welcome change of place--a movie filled with poignant and delightful surprises, not the least of which is definitive evidence that Robert Pattinson is destined to be a major star.
Sal Stabile's "Where God Left His Shoes" is a touching slice of reality, done with such passion, heart, and integrity that it will make you appreciate the human spirit under the harshest duress even as you suffer along with it.
Where The Wild Things Are is Spike Jonze's poetic tone-poem tribute to our favorite kids' book, moody and moving. Catherine Keener brilliant choice for Mom.
“Why We Fight” begins with Eisenhower’s haunting final speech to the nation, warning us against the terrible power of the military-industrial complex—and proceeds to review an endless string of Presidentially-ordered invasions that have occurred nearly every single year since, culminating in the massive stupidity of the Iraqi war and the hopeless quagmire of Afghanistan. A definite must-see documentary about what really causes wars.
Wilde is a quietly moving and beautifully rendered film about the unshakably eccentric vision, both literary and personal, of Oscar Wilde in a world that can stand only so much artistic defiance before it punishes revolutionaries as rebels.
Miranda July's "You and Me and Everybody We Know" is a delightfully convoluted little film that artfully interweaves an odd assortment of humans and their foibles in a fresh and involving way. Highly recommend a look.