Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 5 Movies of the Year

5. The Great Debaters- Denzel Washington’s acting has always been in a class all itself. If the star keeps directing at the impressive clip he has, he’ll join the ranks of double threats like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood faster than you can say Mississippi Masala. A heartwarming directorial follow-up to the ‘02 tearjerker Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters treks deep into Texas and finds the true story of a debate team coach (Washington) and his three courageous black students, played by Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker. With the stench of racial injustice rampant in 1935, the pupils stand up to challenges from the likes of Harvard in various debates. Oscar winner Forest Whitaker plays one of the student’s fathers. Scenes with him and Washington are almost combustible. Still, the moment with future star Smollett articulating on social injustices with every fiber of her soul in front of a crowd of agitated whites proves the most memorable.

4. The Mist- This claustrophobic work of genius from director Frank Darabont and writer Stephen King, though splattered with blood and creepy bugs, is more than just a horror movie. Darabont (Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile) grasps the writer’s essence and fully understands what it takes to make compelling cinema. The Mist’s major players –the heroic father (Thomas Jane), a way-too-logical lawyer (Andre Braugher), one Bible-toting hellion (Marcia Gay Harden)- are quickly established in the supermarket. When doomed souls dare to venture into the mist-smothered parking lot, everyone sees the ghastly things that can happen, but amazingly, they all react differently. Fight or flight… or the Christian right? Once uneasy minutes become helpless hours, shoppers fearing the Apocalypse begin taking sides—and it’s then that the true horror builds in the aisles.

3. Ratatouille- Many things are debatable in this world. Pixar’s storytelling genius is not one of those concepts. Whether the fantasy takes place under the sea (Finding Nemo) or on the racetrack (Cars), the army of animaniacs never ceases to amaze with its cartooning cleverness. This latest is a delightful tale of an out-of-sorts rat named Remy that’s blessed with the cooking skills of Wolfgang… yuck! A cooking rat?! That’s the thing. Rodents and kitchens don’t have the best of history together. But this time, instead of using Raid on the critter, the hapless Linguini decides it’s best to team up with the saffron-loving pest and create culinary magic at one of Paris’ most beloved restaurants. It’s a silly concept, we know, but one perfectly served with a dab of wit, a touch of heart and a couple of really strong pinches of visual majesty.

2. Bourne Ultimatum- We’re sure there was some CGI-aided special effects wizardry happening here, but thankfully, it was never enough to take the viewer to some far off land of make believe populated by Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise. That wasn’t the case with the first or second Bourne installment and it most certainly doesn’t fly here, our third time following economic assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) around the globe as he rids the world of terrorists and pieces together his life’s back story—often in the same flurry of bullets and clenched fists. The martial artistry remains fluid. The car chases are still some of the best the big screen’s ever seen. The smooth dialogue director Paul Greengrass uses to tie it all together with makes this final installment (?) one for the choice position in the DVD collection.

1. Michael Clayton- Big business marches to the sound of dollars and cents and nothing else. The little consumer gets stepped on. Lawsuits ensue. Whoop-tee-doo, right? Wrong, especially when big business (in this case, a multibillion dollar agriculture company selling deadly fertilizer) is defended by someone as callous as Tilda Swinton while the public is represented by a cool-headed George Clooney. This one proves a slam dunk case from the opening credits. The verdict for movie of the year turns wholly into Michael Clayton’s favor once Tom Wilkinson’s award-worthy depiction of a disturbed-but-determined lawyer is presented as Exhibit A. Simply a stunning all-around portrayal of Corporate America messiness and Hollywood’s mastery of it all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Released- November 16, 2007
Reviewed- November 16, 2007
Rated- B-

Psychiatrist Carl Jung would have had a field day at Margot’s parents’ house. With all the head games and stench of dysfunction about the place, the old Swiss doc could dissertate for hours on how we often pluck and pick at the bad in people, or how big, otherwise-joyous occasions often bring out the worst in family members. Margot (Nicole Kidman, making an incredibly strong bid for a second Oscar nom) is the centerpiece of the familial skirmishing here. She and her son (Zane Pais) are guests to the quiet New England nuptials of her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and unemployed fiancee (a slightly-reserved Jack Black). The siblings’ reunion is sufficient enough for a glass of white wine or two, but the instant things get comfortable, the unstable Margot grows uneasy. Margot is rude (she refers to Black’s character as “completely unattractive”), crude (her yelling at the neighbors stirs an already-brimming pot) and rarely in a good mood (she consistently calls her son names). Margot is a L.L. Bean-wearing, negating imp, and you’ll find repulsing glee in every second Kidman embodies her on the screen. Sadly, Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale) examination ends with as many question marks as it begins with. But as is often the case in instances that deal with matters of discontent under one roof, resolution shouldn’t be expected after a single two-hour session at the movie theater. -DW