Director/Studio: Steven Spielberg / Universal
10 Word Review: Impressive, even for Spielberg. More impressive, I think, despite Spielberg.
Best Thing About It: I honestly didn't think Steven Spielberg, he of the tacked on happy endings that seemed almost pathological, had it in him. But he really does tackle the moral ambiguity of the terrorism/vengeance cycle that has encompassed Israel and Palestine for as long as I can remember. I had always been of a mind that the masterminds behind the Black September attacks at the Munich Olympics had it coming to them when they were later tracked down and eliminated by the Israelis. Munich manages to put that quest for justifiable revenge into a perspective in which no side gets off easy.
Worst Thing About It: Falling back on the "innocent child in danger" plot device is a needlessly cheap ploy in a movie that otherwise opts for a tougher route.
Best Performance: Eric Bana is phenomenal as the lead Mossad agent, doing that whole range-of-emotions thing that kept me from liking him in The Hulk (though his tendency to be all growly man-god in Troy was actually endearing).
Movie: Rumor Has It
Director/Studio: Rob Reiner / Warner Bros.
10 Word Review: Promising family comedy devolves into tepid, boring May / December duo.
Best Thing About It: Honestly, the supporting cast is so good. Mark Ruffalo comes to play here, taking the ever-thankless "safe, buttoned-up cuckold-to-be" role and bringing his unique brand of rumpled adorableness to it. Richard Jenkins we'll get to in a minute. Even Mena Suvari is wonderful, nailing down her flighty character. And may I say how much mainstream romantic comedy needs to have Shirley MacLaine around? When you need a boozy, brassy broad of a certain age who has seen a thing or two and isn't afraid to dish some pearls of wisdom over a highball, accept no substitute.
Worst Thing About It: The middle third of the film, which focuses entirely on the flat, chemistry-free duo of Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner. The entire time we're watching his aged ass and her not-young-enough-to-be-scandalous ass romping around the wine country, the audience is impatient for things to get back to Shirley and company.
Best Performance: So, for real this time: how invaluable an asset is Richard Jenkins? How many times to I have write the sentence with "In a relatively small role, Richard Jenkins brings it home"? Because he does, every single time. He's funny, he's folksy, and he packs the film's one true emotional punch. The man deserves his own honorary Oscar.
Grade: C+ (though a B+ for the supporting cast)
Movie: War of the Worlds
Director/Studio: Steven Spielberg / Paramount
10 Word Review: Perfectly passable blockbuster fare undercut by lame acting, lamer ending.
Best Thing About It: As always, when Spielberg envisions something we've never seen before, he can really deliver it. He impressively stomps his tripod monsters actross the eastern seaboard with efficient suspense and action.
Worst Thing About It: The ending. It's just so bad. Beyond the usual tacked-on Spielbergy happy family bullshit, it's also crazy abrupt, with a deus ex machina that even had Signs going "bitch, is you crazy?"
Best Performance: This one's a tough call. Tom Cruise is (and probably will forevermore be) supremely annoying to even look at. Tim Robbins is embarrassingly slobbery. I'll be deep in the cold ground before I recognize Dakota Fanning. I suppose by default I'd have to go for Justin Chatwin as the believably bratty, yet poorly written son Robbie.
Movie: The Family Stone
Director/Studio: Thomas Bezucha / 20th Century Fox
10 Word Review: Warmly acted dramady endears, yet takes too many narrative shortcuts.
Best Thing About It: I don't know what this says about me as a person, but for the duration of that film, I wanted to be a Stone. Loved the bitchy sister, loved the deaf/gay brother, loved Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson as the mom and dad. They were mean, but they were also protective. In a lot of ways, they reminded me of my family, though my mother would sooner die than use the phrase "popped her cherry." But the more I saw my family in the Stones, the harder the emotional punches hit me. This was a sadder movie than a comedy for me.
Worst Thing About It: The characters, though likeable, are largely one-note. And the story kind of sandbags them whenever it wants to shortcut its way to the next plot development. Case in point: the dramatically crucial, yet ultimately false Christmas dinner scene. You'd think a lifetime of being a Stone would prevented deaf-and-gay Thad from being wounded by freaking Sarah Jessica Parker's clueless words. Apparently not in this scene.
Best Performance: Rachel McAdams, who is the most charismatic thing on screen at all times.
Movie: King Kong
Director/Studio: Peter Jackson / Universal
10 Word Review: Unnecessarily overlong, but once it gets going, it's wondrously impressive.
Best Thing About It: Everyone has already said it, and better than me, but the Kong/Ann Darrow "relationship" succeeds well beyond the chances I gave it. The scene on the frozen pond is so touching.
Worst Thing About It: Dudes, this is three difficult hours to get through. Action scenes just go on and on and ON (and the only one that should have was the T-Rex battle, because of its importance). Even the Empire State Building scene. I don't think audiences wanted to be thinking "just DIE already," but they totally were. Shave off a lot of that first hour and a half or so, and you have a much, much better movie. Much as I love Jamie Bell, his entire side plot was ultimately a waste and never paid off.
Best Performance: It's not really a performer's film, and it's not my favorite of her performances in her career, but Naomi Watts brings it home. Hers is no easy task, and she pulls it off.
Movie: Cinderella Man
Director/Studio: Ron Howard / Universal
10 Word Review: Well-made, seriously desperate film fetishizes the Depression in unseemly ways.
Best Thing About It: The boxing scenes. For real. Stellar camerawork and editing there. Everything tended to come together in the ring.
Worst Thing About It: From the opening title cards, Howard's film seems utterly desperate to seem "important." Everything is so grave, every character so noble. It's more of this easy kind of "Greatest Generation" boot licking that, at this point, seems way too easy.
Best Performance: Much as I really don't care for the guy, Russell Crowe is really in his element here. He embodies the role both physically and emotionally, and he even gets me to look past the working-class vocal tics that are laid on so thick with everyone else.