'Tis the season for high-profile movies like "I Am Legend" starring Will Smith. No wonder David Edelstein is in total movie immersion:
How can anyone keep up with all the movies opening between now and New Year's? I can't and it's my day job. There's popcorn pictures, family films, then all the arty stuff, the awards bait, that needs to open before the 31st to be eligible for the Oscars.
We need a strategy here, an attack plan.
OK: In the past I've recommended "The Savages," "No Country for Old Men" (which I warn you is very depressing!), and "Starting Out in the Evening" for Frank Langella.
"The Golden Compass" is deadly.
The best thing about "I Am Legend" is seeing New York City depopulated - a lovely fantasy if you've been fighting holiday-shopping crowds.
"The Great Debaters" is an inspirational go-for-it film about an African-American debate team coached by Denzel Washington. Oprah's company co-produced, so it's more good-for-you than good. But it is good.
Everyone seems to love the teen-pregnancy comedy "Juno" but me; I hated the hipper-than-thou dialogue and the pushy soundtrack. But teenage girls will idolize Ellen Page for her mixture of dynamic self-possession and vulnerability.
"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" is a send-up of musician biopics like "Walk the Line," and it's amazing a) how ridiculous biopic conventions are, and b) how many funny variations you can get out of one joke if your star is John C. Reilly.
"Atonement" has the Oscar buzz. It's a faithful adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel: It crams in all the big themes and shifts in perspective and the final twist that knocks you for a loop. Well, it did in the book - the film is too arm's-length. Still, James McAvoy will make millions sob almost as hard as they did when a certain ocean liner went down.
How we doing on time here? I got, like, 30 more movies to cover!
"The Kite Runner" is brisk and bland, but if you've read the novel you know it has a great melodramatic hook. The hero, to redeem himself, has to go back to Afghanistan and rescue an orphan boy from the Taliban, portrayed as a bastion of homosexual rapists. The kites send you home on a higher note.
It's back to Kabul again in "Charlie Wilson's War," based on the late CBS correspondent George Crile's book about a congressman, played by Tom Hanks, who helped the Afghans devastate the Soviet occupiers, which helped precipitate the fall of the Soviet empire, which led, ironically, to al Qaeda with a lot of American weapons.
It's momentous stuff, told by writer Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols in a lickety-split style that makes the history lesson go down easily. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the picture as the CIA guy who hates Commies and his clueless bosses in equal measure.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" is the jewel, as well as the freak show: a psychodrama with the epic scale of an Old Testament parable. It wouldn't work without an actor the size of Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays a monomaniacal oilman and looms as large as the derricks that dominate the unruly landscape. His drive for success corrodes his family ties - every business triumph has a catastrophic personal corollary. Preview audiences hooted at the bloody and absurd last scene; I think it's brilliant - and, yes, completely bonkers. Anderson has made a mad American classic.
And I didn't even have time to tell you about "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" - great music, and arterial spray to die for. (There will be more blood.)
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