Recent Films Worth Checking Out

This is a list of movies that I have seen recently (at the time they were listed) that I think are worth watching. I started this list in 2000 and have been updating it since then. The newest films are the last ones on the list- the top of the list are the oldest. Occasionally I will review a movie that was made two years ago but I only recently discovered it on Netflix or at the video store. I also have an all time favorites list on the website and that list covers a much larger period of time. You may note that there are only a few general release films on the list. Can you spot them? Hint- they are the ones you have heard of. All the rest are either independent films or foreign. Do you see a pattern?

1. Tadpole

2. Beautiful Creatures (Susan Lynch from Ivanhoe and Waking Ned Devine and Rachel Weisz from About a Boy and Sunshine. British flik about two gals who have abusive boyfriends and one comes to the otherxs rescue while she is being beaten and inadvertently kills the boyfriend. They then must dispose of the body and elude the manxs semi-gangster older brother.

3. Diamond Men (Robert Forster and Bess Armstrong. Another marvelous xlittlex film about a type of protagonist we see little of these days- a 59 year old man who is widowed. This one, named Eddie, has just had a heart attack and has been told that he can no longer work at the job he has held for 30 years: a diamond salesman for a large jewelry company. He is no longer insurable to carry the $1million plus inventory around with him to his territory of small town jewelry stores in southern Pennsylvania. He has been ordered to break in a new young fellow as a replacement. As a favor, his young protégé wants to set him up with some female companionship and ends up asking the xmadamx in a brothel he frequents to find his older friend someone suitable. After a false start, she pairs him off with Bess Armstrong who is in retirement from the trade but agrees to help out. This independent film again exemplifies the rich stories and good acting we have come to expect from the non-main stream, non-general release movie.)

4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (This movie has more laughs than any ten comedies. This flik is a charmer.)

5. The Count of Monte Cristo (I think Alexandre Dumas might like this version better than most of the movies treatments of his classic story of revenge.)

6. The Importance of Being Earnest (the Oscar Wilde gem) stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Frances O'Connor, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey.

7. The Bourne Identity This is one of Donna's really big favorites. Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Julia Stiles, and Brian Cox star in this Robert Ludlum classic. This spy-adventure flik captures the flavor of Europe better than any film I have seen in recent years. The script is well written, the production values are great and for once a car chase that is fairly realistic and actually means something in the plot.

8. Lantana (This is a Australian movie that has made its way to the US on a tide of accolades. Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, and Rachael Blake star. To the casual observer this appears to be a murder mystery but it is really a story of how several people's lives interact and path's cross in the course of just a few days. This is one of the few films I have seen that treats woman as three dimensional characters who have minds of their own and are capable of making their own decisions independent of men. The story is much more character driven than plot driven which is unusual for a "cop drama." This film weaves a rich tapestry with all the principals giving strong performances. Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey are totally believable as a couple who have lost a child 2 years before and can't seem to get past it. Anthony LaPaglia, playing an Australian cop for a change (he is an Aussie so no big stretch there) gives a bravado performance of a man in severe burn-out who is having a meaningless affair in spite of the fact that he is very much in love with his wife.

9. Italian for Beginners (Danish movie)

10. Enigma ( Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam star in this story set in Bletchley Park where the British broke the German codes used in their "unbreakable cypher machine called "enigma." This is a fascinating story about a young mathematician who is recovering from a breakdown due to stress and overwork. He returns to work only to find his ex-girlfriend there at Bletchley has come up missing under mysterious circumstances.

11. The Emperor's New Clothes (This is a cute fantasy "what if" story, in effect, asking what if Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena and made his way back to France. What if nobody recognized him and the nut houses were full of men who said they were Napoleon? What if Napoleon met a younger woman who was a widow and fell in love with her?

12. The Monster's Ball

13. Kissing Jessica Stein

14. Possession with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Ehle(from Pride and Prejudice) and Jeremy Northam(who also played with Paltrow in Emma). It takes place in two time periods: the present where professor Paltrow and a fellow male researcher are looking into a possible but unlikely relationship between a male poet who was married and a lesser known female poet who was not married; and in 1850 where we see what is really happening between the poets, played by Ehle and Northam. It also happens that the female poet is a distant aunt of Paltrow so she has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in the family reputation, but evidence keeps mounting to change things.

15. The Business of Strangers with Stockard Channing. She is a high-ranking exec in a big company. On a business trip she gets thrown in with a young female employee who spins her a story about another male employee on the trip. She tells Channing that this guy raped a friend of hers and got away with it, as in "date rape." She enlists Channing to help her get even with the guy. There is very good acting and the story maintains your interest throughout.

16. Charlotte Grey with Kate Blanchett. She is a young gal in WW 2 London and gets recruited into the British secret service and is sent to occupied France because she speaks French fluently. Also she just happens to have a boyfriend in the RAF who was recently shot down over France so maybe there is an ulterior motive in her volunteering for this assignment. The crotchety old French guy that she is a housekeeper for in her cover story is played by Michael Gambon who was the obnoxious lord of the manor who was murdered in Gosford Park. Very well done, good story line.

17. Catfish in Black Bean Sauce. This is the story of a black couple that have adopted two Vietnamese refugee kids. The story begins when the kids are now grown up and the daughter has made contact with her birth mom. The son is a bank manager and is engaged to a black girl. The daughter is married to a Vietnamese-American guy and she has arranged to have her mom fly to the US. Now the proverbial ship hits the sand. The adoptive black mom feels neglected, the Vietnamese birth mom is over-bearing and critical of everything. The black adoptive father is trying to remain above it all. This is a very humorous yet touching flik. It is one of the few films I have seen with black characters who are just ordinary people. Race is not an issue. Cultural differences, yes, race no.

18. Femme Fatale- directed by Brian DePalma. This flik had layers of complexity, nuances, veiled and not so veiled internal and external references. There were elements of Run Lola Run, La Femme Nikita, and several Hitchcock films. There was a duality that pervaded not only the cinematography vis-a-vis the split screen in several scenes, but the characters and plot as well. The basic plot concerns a female member of a French jewel heist gang who double-crosses her partners and finds herself on the "lam" and trying to escape to the US and something like a normal life. She marries an American businessman who becomes a diplomat and unfortunately (for her) his job relocates him to Paris. Now she is in constant danger of being found out. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays the female lead, Laure Ash. Antonio Banderas plays Nicolas Bardo, the semi-lowlife paparazzi who is a real threat to Laure.

19. Mostly Martha- German with English subtitles. This is the story of a female chef, Martha, who is wound rather tightly to start with when two major elements of upheaval take place in her life. First, her sister is killed in a car wreck and "leaves" her an 8 year old niece to care for; and then, the owner of the restaurant where she works hires a male Italian sous chef who threatens Martha's domain. Martha is already seeing a psychiatrist as a condition of her continuing to work in the restaurant. She is full of neurotic behavior that mostly endears her to us rather than alienates. She is rather cold and prickly with the child initially as she is with most people, and the Italian chef with his great zest for life is particularly irritating to her. In spite of her lack of human warmth and maternal instincts we are drawn to Martha and are rooting for her. Martina Gedeck(Martha) is a marvelous actress that Americans have missed out on like Franka Potente in Run Lola Run. Martina gives a strong performance as do Maxime Foerste, who plays the niece, and Sergio Castellitto who plays Mario, the sous chef.

20. Bend It Like Beckham- This is the story of an Indian girl who lives in south London who dreams of playing soccer professionally. Her idol is David Beckham, the soccer star. Her orthodox Sikh parents want her to start acting like a young lady and thinking about university and later marriage. This serio-comedy has elements of cross culture and cross generation conflicts but doesn't take itself too seriously. Overseas this flik has attained the status of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

21. Assassination Tango- with Robert Duvall. It is the story of an veteran hit-man who accepts what will probably be his last job. He is ordered to Buenos Aires to kill a retired general who escaped prosecution for all kinds of human rights crimes. Although Duvall expects to be there for only 2 or 3 days, the general is injured and spends some weeks in the hospital so Duval is forced to wait during this period and becomes interested in the tango. This is not much of a stretch as we knew from the early part of the film that he is a good dancer. He enlists the aid of a young female dancer to help him learn the dance, its history, and its meanings. This movie does not fit easily into any genre: it is not an action flik, nor is it Day of the Jackal. Its strong points are the dialogue and the dance scenes. The underlying subtext of this film is whether Duvall's character is a terrorist or simply a cold-blooded killer. Do not expect this movie to unfurl along the lines of your pre-conceived notions. The only other actors you might recognize in this movie are Kathy Baker and Reuben Blades. The rest of the cast is Argentine and lend a kind of authenticity you get when you aren't thinking of them as actors

22. Confidence- a modern version of the Sting with lots of twists and turns.

23. Identity-a modern version of Ten Little Indians meet the Twilight Zone. John Cusack is great as is rest of cast.

24. Levity- is not about humor. It is the story of a man who, during a robbery, killed a convenience store clerk when they both were teenagers. He has just had his life sentence commuted to time served after 23 years in prison. Billy Bob Thornton plays the tortured ex-con who is looking for some kind of "impossible" redemption and absolution. In that respect it is a little like Monster's Ball but that is where the comparison ends. He is given a job by Morgan Freeman who plays a preacher who runs a skidrow mission that serves both the down and out and teenage boys with too much free time after school. Holly Hunter plays the sister of the slain store clerk that Thornton "needs" to redeem himself with. This is a quiet thoughtful film that is almost totally character driven and it is a pure pleasure to savor these performances by former Oscar winners.

25a. The Man On The Train (L'Homme Du Train)- a French movie about a gangster type who comes to a small town to "case" the bank for a robbery and meets a man who is a retired school teacher. The teacher befriends the crook and offers him a place to stay because the little hotel in town is already closed for the season. The two have great chemistry and they both see things in each others lives that they are envious of. The teacher is played by Jean Rochefort who was terrific in the title role of The Hairdresser's Husband. He also played the mayor in The Widow of St. Pierre and the CEO in The Closet. The gangster was played by Johnny Hallyday a solid French icon who was a rock star in France for probably 30 years and more recently has done films. Both are perfectly cast.

25b. The Stone Reader- It was a documentary about a TV political spot producer who had read a book about 30 years ago that he felt was one of the great books of our time. However the author never wrote another book and the producer wanted to find out about him and find out why he stopped writing. The entire film is dedicated to his search for the man, through people that knew him, his teachers, his agent, his publisher, his critics, his contemporaries, etc. In the process, many modern works of fiction are discussed as well as many "one book" authors and the reasons they never published again. It held my interest very well and when he finally finds the man, the conversations he has with the writer are very interesting.

26. The Shape Of Things- is the story of Adam, played by Paul Ruud, a young man who is working part-time in a museum while in graduate school. One day he meets a beautiful art grad student, Evelyn, played by Rachel Weisz, who starts dating him and slowly "making him over" with suggestions about his haircut, working out, his wardrobe, getting contacts, and finally even a nose job. In the process, Adam introduces Evelyn to his best friends, Jenny and Phil, who are engaged. These characters are suspicious of the relationship b/w Adam and Evelyn because they seem to be exact opposites. Somewhere along the line we are starting to get a little uncomfortable with this girl and when Adam makes a joke about her cooking his pet rabbit, we are not sure whether this portends bad things to come. This movie started out as a play in London and then moved to off-Broadway where the 4 main actors created the roles that they now play in the film.

27. A Mighty Wind- a spoof on a reunion of 3 popular singing groups from the sixties. Very funny. Same group that made Best of Show and Waiting for Guffman.

28. Eight Women

29. Secretary

30. Talk To Her

31. About Schmidt

32. The Girl From Paris- (Une hirondelle a fait le printemps) A great "little film" about Sandrine, a young female computer expert who is fed up with life in Paris and has secretly yearned to own a farm. After attending a two year course at an agricultural college she buys a goat dairy farm in the Rhone-Alps. The tired owner, Adrien, is a widower who insists that he must continue to live on the farm for another 18 months until he can go live with a nephew in Grenoble. The old man has little faith that the young Parisienne can make a go of things in spite of the innovative things she does to make the farm a success. He does nothing to help her and is not particularly cordial to her. This is not a romantic comedy although there are some funny moments, but rather a tale of a woman's struggle to achieve her dream in spite of lack of impetus from her mother and her boy friend. Practically the only encouragement she gets is from the old man's best friend, Jean. He seems to genuinely like and admire her. It is also the story of an older man coming to grips with his mortality and fact that the "family farm" will pass to someone not of his family. The scenery is beautiful as you might expect but it belies the sometimes harshness of the farming conditions and the solitude that the winters bring. Sandrine is played by Mathilde Seigner who portrayed the young wife with 3 small daughters in the "Hitchcockesque" film With A Friend Like Harry.

33. Monsoon Wedding

34. Roger Dodger

35. My Wife Is An Actress- a very good little French/English comedy. The two leading actors play themselves (more or less) and they are married in real life. The story concerns a man who is a sports writer who is married to a famous actress and is having trouble handling her fame, her making love to other actors (even if it is make-believe). her absences, etc. Most of the story takes place while she is in England making a film that concerns an affair between a stewardess and an airline captain- played by Terrance Stamp, so a lot of the dialog is in English.

36. Swimming Pool- with Charlotte Rampling, is a very Hitchcockesque film, even to the music. It is the story of an English female mystery writer who is already in the throes of burnout when her publisher suggests that she spend some time at his country house in the south of France. After she ensconces herself at the home, the publisher's 20 year old daughter shows up unexpectedly and says she is also taking some time off from work and is planning to spend a couple of weeks there chilling out. They don't exactly hit it off and while Charlotte's character is trying to rest (and yet get some work done), the daughter is swimming nude in the pool and bringing home a different local guy every night. Since it is a mystery I will not divulge much else. The movie progresses in a very innocent way, in true Hitchcock fashion, but the audience is getting a strong sense of foreboding, not unlike "With a Friend Like Harry" which also took place in the south of France. The acting is flawless, the script keeps you riveted, and the musical score helps weave the web. You will probably discuss this one afterward with the person who sees it with you and the main questions will be around things that are not as they seem. Don't miss it. My explanation of the plot follows. Don't read it if you haven't seen the movie, but after you have seen it, come back and see if you agree with our analysis. We concluded that the writer-lady, Sarah Morton, (Charlotte Rampling) was in a rut and wanted to write something different. In the very beginning of the story, on the tube (Brit for subway), she told a fan, "I am not the person you think I am." This likely foreshadowed her renaissance, especially in light of her walking into the publishers "out of the rain" here again probably signifying some kind of baptism or change. And she felt that perhaps her publisher was holding her back. Even though he said, "why don't you write something completely different" she didn't feel that he meant it. So when she went to France to stay in his villa, she spoke with him on the phone and said that she was onto something very different, and she was not ready to talk about it. That night she went up to bed and looked out the window- here again probably signifying a "vision" she was now having. I know this sounds like a lot of Freud, but these writers are a symbolically oriented bunch. At any rate, from that moment on, our view (the audience) of her stay in France is all fiction- essentially she is living the story that she is writing. The next time that reality prevails is back at the publisher's office. Predictably(to her), her publisher doesn't like her new book, and she has already taken steps to have it published elsewhere. Arguably, the man that she and "Julie-the publisher's daughter" polished off was her figuratively killing off her relationship with her publisher. There is an interesting little "plot twist" where Sarah first suspects that something has happened to Franck and goes to try and find him, but she apparently doesn't like the way that story line was winding so she re-writes the sequence the following night and "write herself into" the murder plot and helps Julie bury the victim. At the very end where she sees the publisher's real daughter she muses for a moment and "goes back" to the villa and sees the young girl that was the real daughter swimming in the pool, but slowly she morphs into the daughter that she, Sarah Morton-the writer, had invented and then she smiles broadly- obviously liking her own creation much better than the real thing. Something like that.

37. Winged Migration- This is a movie that looks like it should have been at the IMAX or a National Geo Documentary. Breathtaking photography. How did they get up there next to those birds? Hang-gliders? Held my interest, taught me a few things I didn't know.

38. Washington Heights- Carlos lives in Washington Heights in New York City, where his father Eddie runs a local bodega. Carlos works in the East Village as an inker of comics, but is developing his own project he hopes to sell to a well-known publisher. His best friend, Mickey, is superintendent of their building. Mickey's dreams of becoming a professional bowler are met only with derision by his father Sean. Unlike their sons, Eddie and Sean are immigrants who have made peace with their unfulfilled dreams. Like their sons, Sean and Eddie are best friends. In fact, Sean has made the mistake of lending Eddie $25,000 to cover his profligate spending. When Eddie is shot and paralyzed from the waist down during an attempted robbery, Sean urges Carlos to take over the store to protect his investment. For Carlos - who has been challenged by his mentor to rework a superficial comic strip into something with depth and substance - running the store is the last thing on his mind. Nevertheless, Carlos puts his artistic aspirations on hold to take over the store and care for his father. This is a great story with real characters that we care about.

39. Spellbound-. This is a very well done documentary which follows 8 young people from all over the US with different ethnic backgrounds as they go from being local spelling bee champions to participate in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. Each one has a fascinating story with parents, friends, teachers, and local townsfolk who are rooting for them. This is almost as much their story as that of the contestants.

40. Respiro-. In this Cannes award-winner based on a Sicilian fable, a beautiful young mother, Grazia, living on a small island evokes the disapproval of her fellow villagers with her carefree and erratic behavior. When her relatives suggest she need psychiatric treatment, her son, Pasquale, must help her escape the condemnation of the town. He is the one person who seems to understand his mother. This beautifully filmed story stars Valeria Golino whom we have seen in Leaving Las Vegas, Immortal Beloved, and Frida. This is the kind of Italian movie we have come to love where time has stood still in the village for hundreds of years. Much of the cast is so natural you could believe them to be locals

41. The Roads to Riches. This is another good film with Robert Forster who plays an over-the-hill child actor that is still living in Hollywood by his wits. He has become a professional gambler and game show contestant. Coming out of a studio one day he runs into a young fellow "just off the bus" from Texas. Although his efforts are not entirely altruistic, he befriends and helps the man to get on a game show as a contestant and plans to "manage" his career when the producers see a natural charisma in the younger man.

42. I Conquer The Castle. British, period, coming of age flik. Poor somewhat plain girl with beautiful sister lives with her "arty" family" in a castle which is on a larger estate recently bought by a wealthy American family with two eligible males. Comedy drama. Very well done.

43. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. A French film we checked out at Hollywood Video. Black comedy with Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame who gets to show her dark side. This flik is about a female stalker who ends up being diagnosed with "erotomania" which I think must only be found in French medical dictionaries.

44. The Secret Lives of Dentists. Great script based upon Jane Smiley novella, The Age of Grief. This was a very compelling film based on what I would not ordinarily think of as a gripping subject- the breakdown of a marriage due to one partner's suspicions of infidelity of the other. Performances are great and cinematography is very intimate. Dennis Leary is wonderful as the obnoxious patient who becomes as a kind of alter ego to Campbell Scott, whispering suspicions and suggestions in his ear.

45. Cold Mountain- One of the best civil war movies I have ever seen. Marvelous scenery, suburb casting, great script which captured the feeling of the novel superbly. The story is a metaphor for the south during and after the war as seen by the common man, not through the eyes of the gentry as in Gone With The Wind. Nicole Kidman and Jude Law will probably get AA nominations as will the movie.

46. House of Sand and Fog- This was a well made film about a woman who is recovering from substance abuse who loses the house she inherited from her parents due to a clerical mix-up over unpaid taxes. When the house is bought by a refugee ex-colonel in the Iranian army, the former owner undertakes a campaign to regain her property. Somewhat lugubrious for my tastes although sold drama with fine performances by Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly.

47. The Last Samurai- Very well made film starring Tom Cruise. It reminded one of Dances With Wolves in many ways: a white man civil war hero goes to live within a strange culture and helps them fight a war of survival against progress and his "own kind." Even though it was 2 hours and 30 min long, this film did not drag. Another candidate for best picture at the AA's.

48. Something's Gotta Give- One of the best romantic comedies in a while. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keeton are marvelous together, the script is tight, and the supporting cast does a great job. Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, and Frances McDormand are near perfect. Story concerns a perennial 63 y/o bachelor Nicholson who is dating Amanda Peet who is less than half his age. Because he suffers a mild heart attack he is forced to stay at the beach house of Amanda's mom- Diane Keeton. Although they initially mix like oil and water, the not-so-unexpected thing happens- they fall for each other.

49. Timeline- Sci-Fi story of a group of young archeologist grad students who go back to the 1300's to rescue a professor who gets caught in a time warp. This is not a bad flik. We have seen the story many times, but film itself is well made and deserves a look.

50. Whale Rider- this film from New Zealand concerns a young Maori girl whose fraternal twin brother died at birth. The brother was destined to become chief of their tribe, so a few years later the girl's grandfather is now training a class of young boy's to eventually become chief. The only problem is, the girl is "auditing" these classes and seems to be doing better than the boys. All of this causes great social upheaval when historical culture values butt heads with reality and modern notions of gender equality.

51. The Butterfly Effect- which had gotten sucky reviews from several of the "critics." But the audiences apparently liked it, according to IMDB which polls mere mortals. So we took a chance and were very pleasantly surprised. Story concerns a young boy who has been troubled by blackouts during his childhood and is afraid he is following in the footsteps of his criminally insane father. As a college student he learns how to "enter" his memories and re-write them. As you might guess, this causes unexpected and sometimes disastrous consequences in related areas. (The title comes from a quote in chaos theory that says, "The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does.") I am not going to talk any more about the story so as not to ruin it for you. The script,casting, direction, and acting were all very well done. This is not one of those movies that you will walk away from shaking your head and being afraid to admit to your friends that you didn't get it. You may talk about it for the next hour or two, but this time you will be able to hold up your end of the conversation. Go see it. If you don't like it, I'll write you a note to take to the manager to help negotiate your money back guarantee.

52. The Cooler- with William H. Macy, Maria Bello, and Alec Baldwin. Made very much in the cinema noir flavor, it chronicles the last days of employment of Bernie Lootz, who works in the Golden Shangri-La casino as a "cooler." He is the ultimate Jonah, jinx, and ill wind all rolled into one, the basset-faced character that the casino calls on when somebody is on a winning streak. He descends on a gaming table like a black cloud and, in no time, the mood changes, the losing begins, and the universe is back in order- at least in the casino. Years before, Bernie had been a compulsive gambler and had gotten into the casino for $125K and couldn't pay, so his former business associate and now the casino manager, Shelly, (played by Alec Baldwin) breaks his kneecaps and arranges for him to work for 6 years in the Shangri-La to make restitution. As the story starts, Bernie has only 6 days to go...and counting. Then suddenly he meets Natalie, a pretty blonde cocktail waitress who is somehow sees beyond all the gloomy exterior and wants to get to know him. His life starts to change. In the meantime the mafia bosses who own the casino are bringing in a young Turk with new ideas to transform the old-fashioned "gambler's casino" into one of the newer glitzy monstrosities down the street that have a life-sized model of the Eiffel Tower out front. Even though Shelly made them $35 million last year they are unimpressed with his "old school" ideas of running a casino- including the notion that a cooler could really stop a winner in his tracks. Macy gives an Academy Award performance by under-playing the consummate "loser," and is strongly supported by Baldwin whose character fits him like a glove. This movie captures the pseudo-glamour of Vegas, with it's "no clock's" never close mentality and uses it as a backdrop for the hollowness and hopelessness of Bernie's existence. The setup for someone needing their luck to change has never been better. This is a great "small film."

53. Read My Lips- Well, here is another French film. It is very Hitchcockesque. The story concerns a young woman who wears hearing aids and works as a secretary in large construction firm. Her co-workers take advanetage of her and mock her behind her back. When she has a fainting spell her sympathetic boss tells her to hire an assistant. She ends up interviewing a parole just out of prison who has virtually no office skills but is willing to learn. Perhaps because he is the underdog like her, she hires him. Later when a male colleague attempts to cheat her out of the credit on a project, the assistant steals the file and helps her regain what is her due. This is when the story really takes off. Their chemistry is palpable, the characters are well drawn, and the acting is solid. The subplots with the girl's sister and the assistant's parole officer help give this film three dimensions.

54. Cuckoo- This time it is a film which won several international awards. I believe this is either a Russian or Finnish movie, but who cares because nobody in it speaks the same language. The story takes place in WW2 in Lapland. A Finnish sniper has been chained to a rock to prevent him from deserting his "post" and is doing everything to get loose. A Russian lieutenant is being taken back to headquarters for a summary trial and probable execution for "subversive or anti-Soviet" talk. There is a young Lapp war widow living next to a lake who ends up taking care of these two men and nursing them back to health. The scenery is breath-taking, the story is simple but fascinating. At times there is dry comedy in the way the three talk to each other, often misinterpreting what has been said. Her timeless wisdom provides counterpoint to the two "savvy" warriors who have been trying to kill each other.

55. Pieces of April- story of a young 18-20 y/o gal who lives in a ghetto apartment in the inner city with her black boyfriend. She is essentially estranged from her family, but because her mother is dying of cancer, she invites her parents, younger brother, sister, and demented grandmother for Thanksgiving dinner. This is a comedy of sorts but heavy in places and yet touching. Great flik. Patricia Clarkson, who plays the mom, was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

56. The Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. It was a very good adaptation of the John Irving novel. I suspect that Jeff will be (at the very least) nominated for his performance. Elle Fanning who plays the young daughter in the flik is incredibly good for a 4 year old. It is the story of a couple who have lost two sons in a car wreck and then later had a little girl, which was probably a mistake for them. Jeff and Kim live a very Bohemian lifestyle- Jeff wanders around either wearing a long caftan or nothing. He is a famous writer/artist who is a world class letch and Kim Basinger has lost interest in him. Jeff has hired a high school kid from a wealthy family who is interested in writing to act as his "intern" for the summer. Eventually Kim and the youth become attracted to one another while Jeff is having an affair of sorts with his nude model played by Mimi Rogers. Keep in mind that Jeff writes children's books and illustrates them, so why does he have a nude model? We don't know.

57. Wicker Park- wasn't the greatest movie ever made, but it was fairly entertaining. It was either a love story masquerading as an Alfred Hitchcock flick or vice versa. It maintained a great sense of mystery and foreboding most of the way through and the actors did a good job. It is the story of a young couple who appear to be in love, but when the guy asks the gal to move in with him she disappears and he doesn't see her again. That is, not until two years later when he is sitting in a restaurant and think he sees the girl across a crowded room. He can't quite get to her and tries with great difficulty to make contact with her over the next few days. As I said, it is told much in the manner of a mystery story and there are some nice twists which I won't give away. Josh Hartnett plays Matthew, the guy with the obsession to find Lisa, played by Diane Kruger (who was Helen in "Troy.") Another female character, Alex, is played by Rose Byrne (who played Rose in "I Capture The Castle."

58.People I Know- This film stars Al Pacino as an aging PR man who is losing it. He pops pills like candy and he looks like "Dracula's uncle Morty from Kiev" as he describes himself at one point. His last remaining star client, played by Ryan O'Neal, has dropped an indiscretion in his lap in the person of Téa Leoni and wants him to clean up the mess. The chemistry between Leoni and Pacino is so good, you wish that she had a bigger part.Although the story has some mystery/intrigue aspect to it, it is basically a character study and a bravura performance by Pacino. Kim Basinger does a good job as the widow of Pacino's younger brother who is trying to convince him to get out of all this while he still can. The critics either loved or hated this flik. I really liked it and found it fascinating. There was some buzz surrounding the film about Pacino's not so veiled comments about the NY mayor probably signifying Guiliani. Supposedly there were scenes with the WTC deleted because they appeared too prophetic about 9/11. It was made in 2001 and released in 2002, but I don't think it got wide release. I must have missed it at the theatres. Definitely not escapist fare.

59. Monsieur Ibrahim- This is a French film that we liked. The story of a Jewish kid growing up in an ethnic Paris neighborhood who lives with a single father that is almost never there. Omar Sharif plays a Muslim shopkeeper who takes the boy under his wing and tries to teach him some values, etc. It is a good little film about growing up, friendship, the meaning of life, and crap like that... Did I say that out loud?

60. Napoleon Dynamite- is very amusing. The story concerns a nerdy high school kid in Preston, Idaho who decides to help his friend, Pedro, the new Hispanic kid, win the presidency of the senior class. You'll either love this or not get it- depending on how much of a dork you were yourself in high school.

61. Collateral.- Tom Cruise plays against type in his portrayal of an amoral hit man sent to L.A. to kill some witnesses in a federal case. It is very watchable.

62. Before Sunset- This is the sequel to Before Sunrise with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The couple who met in Vienna in the first film nine years ago and vowed to re-unite in 6 months finally get together in Paris when novelist Ethan is there for a book promotion tour. They are older and wiser now and have regretted letting the love of their life "get away." The whole story is told in real time and is really an extended conversation between the two main characters. Hawke and Delpy wrote the dialogue themselves and it is probably one of the most intelligent scripts we've seen in some time.

63. Intimate Strangers- This is a French film with a decided Alfred Hitchcock flavor. The story concerns a strangely dressed woman who comes into an office building to see a psychiatrist and goes into the wrong office. Unknown to her, she is speaking with a tax attorney who is a little confused why she is pouring out all her troubles to him. He tries to explain the mistaken identity but really can't get a word in edgewise. Before he knows it, she has set up her next appointment for the following week. Ultimately he ends up being enthralled by this mysterious stranger and continues to see her as "his patient." Very nice "little film." The characters are interesting, the acting is superb, music is right out of Vertigo or Marnie. Ne le manquez pas. (Don't miss it.)

64. Shall We Dance?- The new Richard Gere remake of the classic Japanese flik They did a very nice job of sticking to the original script with a few minor changes to accommodate American social values. In the Japanese version a major source of conflict was that dancing in public or even holding someone of the opposite sex was still considered shameful in the 1990's, so that had to be worked out in the US version. The original was a great film about a married accountant whose life was in a rut and he sees a beautiful girl looking wistfully out of a second story window of a dance studio each night on his train commute home. One night he gets off the train and decides to take dancing lessons. At first he feels attracted to the beautiful dance instructor but as the story progresses he realizes that he continues to go back because he loves to dance. The story is basically the same in the US version. Jennifer Lopez does a good job of playing the unapproachable dance instructor. Susan Sarandon is fine as the wife and Stanley Tucci shines in the part of a fellow worker who also loves to dance. We thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven't seen the original Japanese version with subtitles, I would definitely check it out at Blockbuster or Hollywood video and compare. You will like them both.

65. Open Range- It is an old fashioned type western- the kind that we grew up with. I think that this was a test for Kevin Costner by the Hollywood film-makers to see if he could make a "normal" movie that didn't lose $100 million like Water World or The Postman. He was a good example of a "wunderkind" who did some great stuff like Dances With Wolves and then got control of the projects he later starred in. This is what happens when inmates run the asylum. He just didn't know when to stop and everything he made cost over 100 million and were just a little too far out for the general public. These folks are usually surrounded by "yes" men who are afraid to tell the great one anything except what he wants to hear. Suddenly he couldn't get backing for anything. Open Range is a "comeback" movie, so he was trying extra hard to make it good and at the same time appealing to a wide audience.

66. Big Fish- Big disappointment. This could be summed up best in one word- boring. I really got sucked in by the hype on this flik. As much as I tried, I just couldn't get into it or stay awake, for that matter. Great cast, great cinematography, and a ponderous collection of flashbacks from a blowhard tall-tale teller's life does not a good movie make. As you all know, I don't usually pan films- I just don't include them- but I saw this last night and it is getting such a build up, I thought I would jump up and say, "Hey, the emperor seems to have on his birthday suit."

67. Paycheck- Ben Affleck trying to catch up with Matt Damon's The Bourne Identity. Guess what- he still has a long way to go. This is not a bad film, it just ain't a good one. Oops, faint praise?

68. Mean Creek- It stars Rory McCulkin and 5 other very strong adolescent actors in a drama about a teenage bully. McCulkin plays Sam, a smallish junior high kid who is victimized, for no good reason, by George, an overweight outcast. Sam's older brother notices the bruises and scrapes on Sam and talks to two of his friends who decide to "do something about it." Sam agrees to go along but wants them to hurt George "without really hurting him." They plan to trick George into coming on a river trip (in a rowboat) with them and then taking off all his clothes and throwing him in the river to embarrass him. In addition to George and Sam, the three older teens invite Millie who is Sam's "girlfriend." Problems arise when some of the group begin to see that George really isn't that bad of a kid and is just lonely and ostracized because of his weight. This film harkens us back to such films as The Lord of the Flies and Bully. The characters in this film are multidimensional- something we aren't used to in stories about this age group. We get a chance to see each of them confronted with moral dilemmas that would challenge any adult. This is the kind of movie you will be thinking and talking about 2 or 3 days afterward. With luck, we are going to see all of these actors again.

69. The Debut- is about a young Philippino-American kid who has gotten a scholarship to UCLA and his family want him to be a doctor but he wants to be an artist. It is the evening of his sister's "debut" party and he has plans to go to a party of his own with some Anglo friends. He has a conflict with his father who, in turn, has a conflict with his own father. We've seen the story many times before but not with Philippinos. Very well done. More like Monsoon Wedding than Big Fat Greek Wedding- a solid "indie" film.

70. Leo. I don't think it has even been released in the theatres. Why- I don't know, because it is so much better than most of the drivel that is hoist upon us at the local Cineplex. For some reason it was only recently released, yet it was made in 2002.The photography is often stunning, the cast is fantastic, it is well directed, the story is compelling. The movie actually has two plot lines running concurrently which may be interconnected- but we are not sure. One story is about a young woman, memorably portrayed by Elizabeth Shue, whose husband and daughter are killed in an auto accident. Additionally, she has great guilt over giving birth to a boy that she thinks is the product of a "revenge affair" even though she later learns she was wrong about her suspicions of her husband's alleged affair. She slowly is sinking into alcoholism as she is raising a bright little boy who reads everything he can find and whose optimism keeps him afloat.The other story is about a recently released convict who has been corresponding with a young boy who wrote to him in prison through a class project. The ex-con, played by Joseph Fiennes, goes to work in a diner and tries to get his life back in order while writing a book in his room at night. Others in the cast include Dennis Hopper, Sam Shepard, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Deborah Unger(from "The Game"). I find a movie like this once or twice a year, hiding on the shelves at the video store and wonder why we have never heard of it. Check it out, as generation X or Y would say.

71. Japanese Story- with Toni Colette- this is very well done story of an Australian female geologist assigned to show a visiting Japanese bigwig the outback while touring their various mining operations. Not a romantic comedy

72. Nowhere in Africa- It is the story of a Jewish couple with a young daughter that get out of Nazi Germany in 1938 just before the borders are closed. They go to Kenya as refugees and work on a farm. This film has very much the flavor of "Out of Africa" and is very well done. Photography is great, there is a compelling plot, and the actors do a marvelous job. At first the wife can't wait to get back to Germany and the husband wants to stay, but gradually the tables are turned as she grows to love her life in Africa. This is a fascinating portrait of a marriage under maximum stress due to both cultural and geographical dislocation. It also examines the difficulty in trying to maintain one's cultural identity in a strange land. It speaks volumes on the adaptability of children. We checked it out at Hollywood Video.

73. Stage Beauty- a film with Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, and Tom Wilkinson. It has some striking similarities to "Shakespeare in Love," however the story is quite different. The story is set in England during the Restoration Period when King Charles II (Rupert Everett) has returned from exile in France and has brought with him a lot of progressive and more morally relaxed ideas. One of them that is crucial to our story is that the female parts played by men on the stage can now be played by females. Naturally this was shocking, but it also had some unsuspected effects on the men who had been trained since childhood to play females roles. Billy Crudup (from "Almost Famous") plays Ned Kynaston who is a "female" star who sees his roles being usurped by his former dresser, Maria, played by Claire Danes. This film does well in showing this painful transition- not unlike our more recent displacement of silent film actors who had poor sound voices when the "talkies" came in during the 1930's. The costumes and scenery in this flik are first rate and it does a marvelous job of transporting you to that era. While "Stage Beauty" is not as strong a romantic story as "Shakespeare in Love" it explores gender identity/confusion and "difficult relationships" from a different viewpoint. I think there were some missed opportunities here, but it is still a very enjoyable flik and I would recommend it. Interesting coincidence: Tom Wilkinson was in both films.

74. Closer- with Jude Law, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, and Julia Roberts. (It is the first film in which I have seen Julia Roberts actually do any acting in quite some time. Am I the only person who feels like she won the AA for a "cause" rather than a performance in "Erin Brockovich?") The actors all gave strong performances in this very "French" movie. It was a little heavier than I expected- definitely not a romantic comedy and definitely earned its "R" rating. There were some scenes in the previews that led us down the primrose path. This film was not about love, but about sexual power struggles. "Closer" was directed by Mike Nichols and, along with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "Carnal Knowledge," it rounds out his grim trilogy - three films that explore the darker side of human relationships. None of the characters are terribly admirable, but it still is a compelling movie. This is not a physically violent film, but it is emotionally brutal. Clive Owen might get an Oscar nomination out of this. The story unfolds as newspaper obit writer, Dan (Jude Law), meets Alice (Natalie Portman) after she has been hit by a car on her first day in London- remember, always look to the right. They begin living together while Dan is writing his novel. A year later, in a photo shoot for his book cover he meets Anna (Julia Roberts), a professional photographer, who was recently separated from a husband we never see. Dan and Anna have some strong sexual chemistry and start an affair. In the meantime, Dan lures an unsuspecting doctor, Larry (Clive Owen), into a meeting with Anna thru an internet chat room as sort of a practical joke on both of them. Little does he suspect that Anna will end up marrying the dermatologist. In this piece, Alice, although a former stripper, is the only true "innocent" while the other three are reckless and cruel in their infidelities and sexual power plays. We liked "Closer" and think it is "required reading" for serious movie buffs.

75. Sideways- a great little film with Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh. It is the quintessential California story. The story is about two 40ish best friends: Jack, who is an actor, (Church) who once was big on the soaps but now is doing commercials; the other is Miles, a writer (Giamatti) who is teaching 8th grade English waiting for his first big break. They live in San Diego but are heading up to the wine country to spend a carefree week prior to the actor's upcoming marriage. They are both divorced. Miles, the writer, is a wine connoisseur and wants to spend the week tasting wines and playing golf. The actor wants to have one last fling before tying the knot. Jack meets Stephanie (Sandra Oh) who works in a vineyard wine shop and strikes up a relationship with her while neglecting to mention his impending nuptials. Miles, who is still in mourning over his divorce two years ago, reluctantly starts seeing Maya, a waitress (Virginia Madsen) whom he met there on a previous trip. This film does an admirable job of exploring the friendship between the two men while showing us how they view love, sex, and that dreaded, over-used word, "commitment." This film is directed by Alexander Payne who did "Election" and "About Schmidt," which were both deeply satirical films about slices of American life. Like its earlier brethren, "Sideways" also takes a somewhat cynical and comical look at two of our cultural institutions- the bachelor party and the midlife crisis. The script is tight, the dialog fresh, and this film flies by although it runs slightly longer than two hours. Even though the actors names are not household words (you'll instantly recognize their faces), you won't see better acting in a film this year.

76. Crash- with a great ensemble cast- Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock (in a serious role), and Thandie Newton. Screenplay was by Paul Haggis who also wrote Million Dollar Baby. We really liked this "tapestry" type story where eventually all the characters are tied together. It was a film that I wanted to last longer so that they might develop several of the characters a bit more. It was a lot more than some "burned out L.A. cop" story. The subject matter was racial interactions in a melting pot city. There were two very powerful scenes in the flik in which characters that you viewed one way initially had a chance to redeem themselves. Fine performances, good script, and pacing that never drug for even a minute. (Ed note- this film later won Best Picture Oscar.)

77. Fear and Trembling- a very good French film with Sylvie Testud and Kaori Tsuji. The story concerns Amélie, a young Belgian woman, who arrives in Japan to begin work as a translator for a giant corporation. Because Amélie spent her early childhood in Japan, she has always dreamt of returning and becoming a "real Japanese." Being eager to pitch in and do things she has not been asked to do, and being unfamiliar with the intricate manners and customs of the Japanese workplace, she commits a series of faux pas and is constantly being demoted from one less meaningful job to the next. This is a fascinating serio-comedy about Amélie's attempt to please her bosses and maintain her sanity. The movie is a wonderful peak into the office culture of a Japanese company and at the same time the story of a tenacious young woman who will not give in or give up.

78. Zelary- a really wonderful Czech film that is the story of a young nurse during WW2 who must get out of Prague because the Gestapo is hot on her trail for espionage. She is secreted away to the mountain village of Zelary where she is given a false ID and married off to a sawmill worker that she met while he was hospitalized (due to an injury) under her care. At first she is very put off by her new husband's lowly cabin with a dirt floor and his "country" ways, but gradually she begins to see the quiet sensitive man who is risking everything to hide her. The script is epic in proportion and really tells the story of the village as much as our heroine . The scenery is breathtaking. I give this one four stars.

79. Alias Betty. This is a French film about a young female novelist who is recently divorced and has returned to Paris from NYC with her 3 year old son. She has bought a nice house in the suburbs and her mother comes to stay with her for a few days. The mother is totally self-absorbed and barely notices the little boy. Early in the visit there is a tragic accident and the boy is killed. Within a day or two the mother has gone to a playground and kidnapped a little boy of the same age who actually favors the deceased son. At first the young mother falls for the story that her mother has agreed to baby-sit this new boy for a few days for some friends, but when she sees pictures of him on television she realizes what has happened. There are two or three other subplots involving the boy's real mom who is essentially a hooker and two of the gal's boyfriends. I can't tell too much more without ruining the flik. Interesting foreign film.

80. The Snow Walker. This is a beautifully photographed story of a Canadian bush pilot who flies to a remote native village to do some trading and ends up agreeing to fly out a young woman who appears to be seriously ill. On the way back to civilization his plane develops engine trouble and they crash in the wilderness. Even though he initially fights her efforts to help him, he gradually realizes that she is wiser in the ways of wild. In addition to the story of their trek, there is the parallel story of the rescue efforts to find them. The cast is very good, the story is simple but very strong, and the Yukon is fascinating.

81. Dear Frankie- This film takes place in Scotland. The story concerns a single mom who is raising her 9 year old son who is deaf. She has told her son that his father is a merchant seaman and is on a shipped named the Acra. The boy is very bright and can actually track the movements of the ship in the shipping news. The mother has created a charade where she intercepts the boy's letters to his father and then impersonates the father in answering the letters. When the boy learns the ship is coming to nearby Glasgow, he is expecting the father to visit him. So that he won't be disappointed the mother hires a man to "be his father" for a day. This is a story that could have been cloying but it wasn't. The acting is very good. The "father" is played by Gerard Butler from Phantom of the Opera. The mother is played by Emily Mortimer who we have seen in a number of things, but she was the "perfect girl" brought to dinner for Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. The boy will steal your heart without once doing anything "cute." You will like this movie and wish that it went on for another 20 minutes.

82. The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. We would have flipped to see this in high school. Antonio was played by Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes was Bassanio, and Lynn Collins was Portia. The scenery, the costumes, the staging are impeccable- you are in the 16th Century. This was a difficult play to make into a movie because it has been dogged by claims of anti-Semitism. Technically this is a Shakespearean comedy and in the 1500's Shylock was portrayed as a caricature of the perfidious Jew. In those times the audience would have liked seeing the old Jew get "what was coming to him." The performance given by Pacino is so good that he turns Shylock into a tragic and sympathetic character. This leads to a somewhat unsatisfactory ending, but this is not the fault of the director, who is bound by the constraints of the script. The final act of the play is not pleasing philosophically because of all the merriment being much at the expense of Shylock. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, this was a very enjoyable film.

83. November- with Courtney Cox Arquette, James LeGros, and Anne Archer. This is a haunting film that reminds you a little of Memento and one other film that if I mention, will give too much away. Courtney plays a photographer whose boyfriend is killed senselessly in a convenience store holdup and she is attempting to deal with the grief and shock. Pulling up her socks, she continues to teach a photography course at the local college and one evening she notes that a slide in the projector is a photo of the convenience store where the murder took place. What is the significance? She must find out who put that slide in the tray. The story is told almost like a series of Polaroid pictures that are painstakingly strung together to make a larger framework. I can't guarantee you will like this film, but, until the final frame, you will be deeply puzzled by it.

84. The Chorus is a wonderful French movie about a teacher who, in 1949, comes to teach at a boys' school that is one step removed from a reformatory. The sadistic headmaster is more interested in punishing the boys than salvaging them. The new teacher tries to teach the youngsters to sing and in so doing gains their respect and trust. Eventually other teachers realize what is happening in the school as behavior problems all but disappear. One particularly troubled kid turns out to have a gifted voice. The story we have seen before, but the acting and the music elevate this film from the ordinary to the memorable.

85. Bigger Than the Sky with John Corbett from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This was not a heavyweight film full of drama and deeper meaning but it was a pleasant diversion for a summer evening. The story concerns a very whitebread kind of guy who feels like he is in a dead end job and is then jilted by his girlfriend. Wallowing in despair, and in an attempt to bring some change into his life, he decides to try out for a part in Cyrano De Bergerac, a play being done by the local community playhouse. Even though he is admittedly not an actor, the director sees something in his audition and casts him in the lead. The experienced local actor who should have gotten the part not only sees the newcomer usurping his role, but also is in danger of losing his actress girlfriend to him. In spite of all that, he decides to give the novice a helping hand. This was a pleasant story with several good laughs. We liked it.

86. A Love Song for Bobby Long with Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta. This movie represents another feather in Miss Johansson's cap as an actress. She is emerging as "the powerful young actress" of this new generation. Travolta didn't hurt himself although some of his fans might not like seeing him portray an alcoholic curmudgeon. The story concerns Pursy Will (Johansson) returning to New Orleans a day late for the funeral of her estranged mother who had been a singer. Her mother left her a one third interest in her house. The other two thirds were given to the present occupants of the house: Bobby Long, a burned out college prof with a tragic past (Travolta) and Lawson Pines, ( Gabriel Macht) a former graduate student of Long's and a burned out writer. Pursy moves in with the two men and they gradually settle into an uneasy truce. The two men are living from day to day in an alcoholic haze which is interrupted by Pursy's presence. Gradually the two men decide to help her finish her high school equivalency and turn her life around. There is actual character development (something we don't see much in American films) in all three of the central characters, although more so in Pursy than the two men. Definitely "slice of life" rather than "escape from life" fare.

87. The Last Shot with Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, and Calista Flockhart. This was a somewhat uneven film with some hysterically funny parts in it. Baldwin plays an FBI agent who organizes a sting operation that is masquerading as a movie production. He knows essentially nothing about the movie business but doesn't let that deter him. He goes to Hollywood to find a script and "start production." In the process he meets Broderick who has written a script called "Arizona" about his sister who was dying of cancer in the desert. In no time "the production" has taken on a life of its own and even though Broderick has promised the lead to his girlfriend (Flockhart), Toni Collette, a real movie star shows up to read for the part. This movie is a more of a nibbling than biting satire of the movie industry. It really never takes on the edge of a film such as The Player nor does it have the directing of a Get Shorty. Nevertheless, this was an amusing flik that had its moments. There were some memorable one-liners in the film such as when the gangster (Tony Shalhoub) says, "I see you are looking at my face. My wife set me on fire. Six months later our marriage fell apart."

88. 3 Iron is a really haunting Korean film. I don't mean that this flik had anything to do with gothic mansions and creaking doors, but rather the fact that you will be haunted by this beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted piece for the next few days. It is the story of a young man who pastes restaurant flyers over the keyholes of the doors of houses or apartments, so that if he comes back a day later, he can tell if the occupants are out of town. He then picks the locks and inhabits their homes, eats a little of their food, sleeps in their beds, but never steals anything, and in fact he usually cleans the place up, does some laundry and fixes broken things like a clock or some bathroom scales. Eventually he enters a house where a beautiful but battered model lives with her abusive husband. At first he doesn't realize that she is at home even though her husband is not. These two "damaged" souls are destined to fall in love. This all takes place in the "first act." This film is basically a fairly unconventional love story. The acting is top notch and is accentuated by the lack of dialogue, the cinematography and directing is first class. I will not discuss the second act other than to say that this is where the couple falls in love. The third act you will be talking about for the next couple of days, trying to sort out what REALLY happened and/or what did it mean. We really liked this film. I would like to hear your take on "what happened" in the final act. I have my opinion. Hint: it has to do with the bathroom scales.

89. A History of Violence. This could very easily become a cult film. The story concerns a small town guy, Tom Stall- played by Viggo Mortensen, who is an ideal father, husband, and citizen. He runs a small downtown restaurant. His wife, Edie, an attorney played by Maria Bello, is very much in love with him and thinks there is plenty of magic left in their marriage. She even puts on a cheerleader's costume to seduce him one evening when the kids are away. One day two really lowlife criminals make a detour in their crime spree and come into Tom's restaurant. They plan rape and murder but Tom gets the drop on them and uses one of their own guns to dispatch them in short order. Naturally he become a hero and makes the national news. This brings to town some even more unsavory mobsters who have seen his picture on TV and are certain he is a long missing killer from back east for whom they bear a nasty grudge. Viggo does a marvelous job in this part. The young actor who plays Tom's son is also good as a high schooler who is being bullied by a larger classmate until his dad's exploits encourage him to stand up for himself. There is some graphic violence in this flik, but this is really not a movie about violence. It is about a person's identity and who a person is, at heart. This is one of the best films I have seen in a while.

90. {Proof} with Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gwyneth plays Catherine who is grieving for her father who just died recently. The father, Robert, played by Hopkins, was a brilliant mathematician who had slipped in and out of mental illness since in his late twenties. Gyllenhaal plays Hal, a graduate student of Robert's, who is looking thru his numerous notebooks hoping to find some meaningful work in a morass of gibberish. Catherine plays a tormented 27 year old who is worried that she has inherited both her father's genius and his illness. She quit graduate school in mathematics to take care of her father and live at home with him rather than have him institutionalized. The story is told in both flashback and "conversations" Catherine is having with her deceased father. In the meantime, Catherine's sister, played by Hope Davis, flies in from NYC to tidy up the father's affairs, sell the house, and try to take Catherine back with her. It is obvious to Catherine that her sister thinks she is going around the bend also like pop. This is difficult movie to describe and it reminds you a little of Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind. It is obvious that Hollywood thinks that you can't be a genius unless you are mad, or tormented, or all of the above. Just look at the recent depiction of Howard Hughes to add to that argument. This movie was based on a successful stage play and Gwyneth created the role of Catherine on the London stage. It has Oscar nomination stamped on it.

91. Flightplan. Starring Jodie Foster. Overall this was an entertaining flik altho it was what Alfred Hitchcock called a "refrigerator film." That is, after seeing it and you are at home getting a late night snack out of the refrigerator, it suddenly dawns on you the serious flaws in the plot. The first half of the film was a really beautiful setup in which Jodie is flying back to the US from Europe with her recently deceased husband in a coffin in the baggage compartment and her six year old daughter in the seat next to her. When she awakens from a nap, her daughter is missing. At first she calmly looks all around for the daughter, but slowly this concern turns to fear and then to panic as the little girl is nowhere to be found. Jodie does a good job of playing her character so close to the edge that even we, the audience, are not sure if she is just imagining that she brought the child on the flight. But behind it all we are fairly certain there is some conspiracy or plot afoot. It is how this situation unfurls and then is resolved that stretches our suspension of disbelief. Great first half or even two thirds, but seriously weak final segment. Not in the league with the best films she has made, like Silence of the Lambs, but not a bad as Maverick.

92. Off the Map. This starred Joan Allen and Sam Elliot. Story is about a family living out in the desert, north of Albuquerque. They raise most of their own food and barter with the townsfolk for their other needs. They have a precocious twelve year old daughter who is being home schooled, but would like to go to a regular school. The father is clinically depressed and the mother is trying to get a family friend who is a veteran to go to the VA hospital in Albuquerque and tell the shrink he is depressed so he can get some free antidepressants. In the meantime a young IRS agent shows up to inquire why they haven't filed a tax return in several years. We thought this was a charming, humorous, and often touching movie.

93. Layer Cake. This is a British gangster flik about a man who is middle level drug dealer. He isn't a kingpin, but he doesn't deal with drug addicts either. He is hoping to make just a little more money and he can retire. In the meantime, he gets a "request" to sell a million ecstasy pills which have been stolen from another drug lord. The other drug lord threatens to have his head (literally) if he doesn't return the drugs. This was a very stylized movie. While it was not the Godfather, it had great acting and was very watchable.

94. Broken Flowers with Bill Murray and an all-star cast including Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpy, and Tilda Swinton. In this film Murray is continuing down the same road as Lost in Translation. This is the story of an over-the-hill lothario whose current girlfriend played by Julie Delpy is walking out on him because she feels like she is his mistress and he isn't married. About this time Murray receives an anonymous letter from a former girlfriend (and there have been many) who tells him that he has a 19 year old son who "may" come looking for him. Murray enlists the help of a neighbor to try to deduce who the mother might be. The film is basically a "road flik" and a journey into Murray's past. There is both humor and pathos in this film and on some levels Murray's character reminds you of the the Jack Nicholson character in Something's Gotta Give.

95. Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polanski. The creation of 1840's London was flawless as far as I could tell. Like practically every treatment of this classic Dickens novel, there were chararacters and subplots left out and I don't think Polanski made us form quite as much attachment to Oliver as in the Carroll Reed musical version nor the 1949 version where Alec Guiness played Fagin, but he was fairly true to the spirit and feeling of the original story. Sir Ben Kingsley does a nice job as Fagin and Jamie Foreman (from Layer Cake) is pretty nasty as Bill Sikes. You will recognize Edward Hardwicke (Cedric Hardwicke's son who played Dr. Watson in the BBC's Sherlock Holmes series) as the kindly Mr. Brownlow, and Mark Strong who plays Toby Crackit was in Emma and the BBC's Prime Suspect. One thing, though. I kept waiting for the Artful Dodger to break out into song with "Consider yourself one of us" or the kids at the orphanage to march to "Food, glorious food."

96. Prime with Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman. Streep stole the show as the dowdy frumpish Jewish mother cum shrink. Thurman is also a great actress but her role as the 37 y/o goya wasn't as meaty. This was an entertaining altho not terribly memorable film. We laughed a lot- mostly at Meryl's antics. I have to say that it was also the most realistic treatment of the subject of "May-September" romance I have seen in a while. Love and smarmy background music doesn't conquer all the differences between them. Nice to see Uma in a semi-normal role after killing Bill- (in two installments.)

97. Where the Truth Lies. It stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a Martin and Lewis-like comedy team that are on top of the entertainment world when a young girl is found dead in their hotel room. Although they have iron-clad alibis, they are through as a team. A young journalist played by Alison Lohman is trying to find out 15 years later what happened that fateful night. It is compelling to watch. The film very effectively captures the kind of backstage lifestyle led by stars who first made it big in mob owned night clubs and later in Hollywood. The sex, the drugs, the using of people as objects are pretty graphically portrayed.

98. 11:14 This is a film (we saw on DVD) that smacks of several others we have seen lately in that it weaves a kind of tapestry as it tells the stories of several characters who ultimately become intertwined. Also we are not totally sure the film is being seen in chronological order. It stars Henry Thomas, Patrick Swayze, Hillary Swank, Barbara Hershey, and Rachel Leigh Cook. There are several stories taking place at or about the same time and the entire movie takes place in probably less than a 30 minute time span. This reminded us a little bit of Crash and Identity. I don't want to tell you much about it or it will ruin it for you.

99. Dot the I. It is the story of a young woman who is having a bachelorette party in a French restaurant and the head waiter tells her that it is an old French custom for her to kiss any man she chooses as "one last kiss" before her marriage. She picks a young Argentine and after a long passionate kiss, she begins to have second thoughts about her fiancé and enters in "one last fling" with the man. But all is not what it seems in this romantic mystery/thriller. Both her fiancé and her lover seem to have things to hide and maybe she does to. The lover is played by Gael Garcia Bernal from The Motorcycle Diaries and her fiancé is played by James D'Arcy from Master and Commander.

100. Shopgirl. This film was written by Steve Martin who also starred in it along with Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman (the son of Talia Shire). This is an adult romance and not cut out of the usual Hollywood mold. The story concerns a young woman named Mirabelle (Danes) who works in Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles at the glove counter. She rarely has customers. She has moved to LA from the east and is lonely. Then, she meets a guy in the laundromat who is disheveled and quirky. She agrees to go out with him, but he doesn't have any money so she ends up paying for the movie. They tenuously start a "relationship." In the meantime, a very wealthy 50ish guy played by Martin comes to her counter at Saks and asks her out to dinner. She is bowled over by him. Even though he makes it very clear he is not looking for a permanent relationship (or so he thinks), she can't help but wish for something more. Meanwhile the laundry guy has signed on as a "roadie" with a rock band and says he will be gone for several months. I thought that this movie avoided most of the usual clichés and treated the subject matter in a very realistic way. The directing was tight and the performances were good. The viewers are treated as if they were intelligent. The characters were three dimensional and semi-complicated, and they were allowed to have a few warts.

101. Red Hot Ballroom. We saw it on DVD because we just couldn't get to Dallas in the time allowed us. This was a charming and heart warming docudrama about a bunch of fifth graders from the inner city in NY who are given the chance to learn ballroom dancing. Ultimately there is a competition in which they all participate. We end up being amazed at how far these kids have come in a relatively short time and how well these ordinary kids can dance.

102. Pride and Prejudice. (2005) I was forced to read this novel in college and I probably did the Cliff Notes routine instead. Only years later in the early 90's, did I record the BBC mini-series version for Donna while her sister was visiting and they were unaware it was on. A week or so later, I popped out the tapes and gave them to her. She ranted and raved about how good the first episode was and convinced me to watch the series with her. I was really impressed by how well the production was done. At that time, nobody had ever heard of Colin Firth or Jennifer Ehle. It was the beginning of the Jane Austen craze that brought us Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant, two versions of Emma- one with Gwyneth Paltrow and the other with Kate Beckinsale, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, etc. So, in my mid-fifties I sat down and really read Jane Austen. She was a brilliant observer and chronicler of her age. And there is no doubt that P&P was her masterpiece and that Elizabeth Bennet was arguably the most richly drawn female character in English literature.

That said, there are some obvious problems in trying to tell the story of P&P in just two hours. This was a complicated novel with numerous characters and subplots. To get a screenplay in under the 120 minute wire, some things had to be cut or at least greatly de-emphasized. Emma Thompson was called in as the "script doctor" to help this rendition make sense and to help retain the flavor and most of the nuances of the novel. And if that wasn't enough, the cast and crew were aware that they were going to be compared to the "fairly recent" 1995 BBC version which is now considered the "gold standard" by Jane Austen fans everywhere.

I think the new version was very well done. Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean and Bend it like Beckham) as Lizzy, Matthew MacFadyen (Enigma) as Mr. Darcy do a superb job in the leads. They have great chemistry. Donald Sutherland plays Mr. Bennet and Brenda Blethyn is Mrs. Bennet. In this version, Lizzy's parents are much more down-to-earth and sympathetic characters who actually seem to like each other. Mr. Bennet is not so aloof. Mrs. Bennet is not portrayed as the harridan of the novel or the mini-series. Mr. Wickham and Lydia and their distressing situation are greatly downplayed as are the characters of Lizzy's aunt and uncle Gardiner. The music and photography in this P&P are lush. This is also a "grittier" version of English country life than we are accustomed to seeing. Guys look like they need a shave. Folks have to be careful not to step in pig manure behind the manor house. The dancing at the balls is a little more bouncy and more like square dancing than the minuet. In short, this version was probably closer to real life than previous ones. A couple of years ago, we watched the Greer Garson/Lawrence Olivier version made in 1940. This was almost laughable. First of all, the costumes and sets were all from the wrong period. Then we found out because of budget constraints, they were using hand-me-downs from Gone with the Wind. And of course, Olivier played Mr. Darcy like he was gay. Wait a minute, I think he was gay...

103. Derailed with Clive Owen and Jennifer Anniston. This film had gotten terrible reviews, but we often want to check it out for ourselves. We liked this flik. We are huge Clive Owen fans, and the story held us even though we had figured out a lot of the mystery about halfway thru.

104. A Good Woman with Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, and Tom Wilkinson. This is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's Fan." Here is another independent film that is at least 10 times better than the regular studio fare. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes are all 1930's Italy. The script is, what can we say, pure Oscar Wilde. So the dialog is witty, and the story, as usual, revolves around some kind of mistaken identity. This flik was actually made over a year ago but it appears they were holding it back for some reason. Now that Scarlett Johansson is getting red hot, they decided to release it. The role of the seductress played by Helen Hunt is a welcome change for somebody who has been playing too many frumpy women lately. She "cleans up real good" as they say. Those of you who saw and enjoyed The Importance of being Earnest or The Ideal Husband will really appreciate this film. We did. You will find yourself smiling when you hear one Oscar Wilde quotation after another as part of the dialog for this screenplay. "You have no redeeming vices," "The best way to keep my word is never to give it," and "Bigamy's having one wife too many. So is monogamy" are a few examples.

105. The Last Shot with Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, and Calista Flockhart. This was a somewhat uneven film with some hysterically funny parts in it. Baldwin plays an FBI agent who organizes a sting operation that is masquerading as a movie production. He knows essentially nothing about the movie business but doesn't let that deter him. He goes to Hollywood to find a script and "start production." In the process he meets Broderick who has written a script called "Arizona" about his sister who was dying of cancer in the desert. In no time "the production" has taken on a life of its own and even though Broderick has promised the lead to his girlfriend (Flockhart), Toni Collette, a real movie star shows up to read for the part. This movie is a more of a nibbling than biting satire of the movie industry. It really never takes on the edge of a film such as The Player nor does it have the directing of a Get Shorty. Nevertheless, this was an amusing flik that had its moments. There were some memorable one-liners in the film such as when the gangster (Tony Shalhoub) says, "I see you are looking at my face. My wife set me on fire. Six months later our marriage fell apart."

106. Ask the Dust. This flik was directed and adapted for the screen by Robert Towne who also wrote the screenplay for Chinatown. His capture of 1930's LA is so good that the city actually becomes a character in the piece. This movie is filmed very much in the flavor of cinema noir but yet it is a love story at its center. Colin Farrell plays Arturo Bandini, a second generation Italian-American who has come to California to become a writer, become wealthy, and find attractive women. Selma Hayak plays Camilla Lopez, a beautiful Mexican waitress who works in a cafe that Arturo frequents. Their first meeting gets off to a rocky start but it becomes soon apparent that they are meant for each other. Donald Sutherland does his usual great turn in a supporting role as Arturo's neighbor in the boarding house where he lives. And Idina Menzel has a memorable part as a young Jewish woman with low self esteem who is very impressed by Arturo's kindness toward her. A moderate amount of this film concerns not only the public perception of the "interracial dating" of Arturo and Camilla, but their own feelings about it.

Colin Farrell does extremely well with the American accent, which is important to the credibility of the story. (We have seen a couple of films recently where Brit actors really didn't get the accent right.) The cinematography and directing in this film are first rate. The two central characters have great chemistry. Although this is not Gone With The Wind, or even Chinatown for that matter, it is still a very fine film. We liked it.

107. Somersault is an Australian coming of age film. It is the story of Heidi, a young 16-17 yr old girl, who comes on to her mom's live-in boyfriend and gets kicked out of the house. She runs away to a ski resort area to get a job and get away from her past. Heidi is played by a wonderful young Aussie actress named Abbi Cornish who I think may be joining the ranks of fellow expatriates like Nicole Kidman.

The female director, Cate Shortland, also wrote this remarkable "little film." Heidi exudes sexuality and uses it to get what she wants, but yet maintains a childlike innocence about the repercussions of her acts. Heidi's boyfriend is played by Sam Worthington who looks like a cross between a young Pierce Brosnan and Brett Favre. There were a couple of fairly explicit sex scenes but they did not seem gratuitous. Basically Heidi is always searching for intimacy and usually ends up with sex. (As Kevin Bacon said in a daydream sequence in He Said She Said, "I'll take an order of sex and hold the intimacy.") The characters in this flik were three dimensional and complicated.

108. Bubble by director Steven Soderbergh. This was the first film to be released simultaneously on the big screen, on Pay-Per-View TV, and on DVD. It is a low budget independent film that almost feels like a documentary. The formula that Soderbergh uses is as follows: He finds some non-professional actors and tells them about the general outline of the script. He lets them use material from there own lives to flesh out their characters. The screenwriter tells the cast what she wants to have happen in a scene and basically what she wants them to say but lets them say it in their own words.

The story concerns Martha, a 50ish woman whose invalid father lives with her so that he won't have to go to a nursing home. Martha works in a doll factory where she airbrushes the faces on dolls. She has befriended Kyle, a young man whom she feels maternal toward and gives a ride to work every day. Enter Rose, a young new female employee at the factory who is outspoken and who is attracted to Kyle. In the middle third of the film we begin to suspect that all is not right with Rose and Martha is concerned that Kyle may be hurt by her. This is a nice little mystery that feels like we are watching a slice of real life. The actors are natural and the pace of the film is quiet. We very much liked this movie. Soderbergh has a six picture deal with the studio and this is the first film in that series. Hopefully he will make five more this good with his formula.

There is a fairly large bonus reel on the DVD that is almost as interesting as the film itself. The interviews with the actors when they were applying for their parts were especially interesting. Make sure you watch all of the bonus material, including the alternate ending. It will give you some insights.

109. Caché (which means "hidden") with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, a couple of my favorite French actors. It won the best picture of the year in France and best director at the Cannes Film Festival among several other awards. This flik is a political allegory disguised as a Hitchcockian thriller and will have you arguing with your friends for days afterward about what really happened and who did what. The story concerns a middle class French family who start getting video tapes on their doorstep showing them doing mundane things. Gradually the tapes indicate that they could only have been taken by someone who is intimately acquainted with the family. There is no commentary on the tapes but the message is very clear- you are being watched. The tapes are wrapped in cryptic, childlike yet menacing drawings. The couple eventually go to the police but are told that they can't act unless the family is really threatened. Outwardly the plot concerns two emotions- guilt and paranoia, but as the tapes begin to unnerve the family we see other conflicts emerge. This film will have you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Helpful hint: Most Americans are not aware that in 1961 a number of Algerians living in France marched on Paris to demonstrate against the harsh treatment of their countrymen who only wanted to be free. As many as 200 of these demonstrators disappeared and were never seen again. They are widely believed to have been slaughtered by the French authorities. To this day there is widespread guilt in France over this dark episode in their history and a collective blindspot concerning it.

You may remember Daniel Auteuil from "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" and "The Closet." Juliette Binoche was unforgettable in "The English Patient" and "Chocolat." These are marvelous actors at the top of their craft. They show it in "Caché."

110. Schultze Gets The Blues on DVD. This was a big hit in Germany when it came out in 2003. It won awards at the Stockholm and Venice Film Festivals among others. It is a wonderfully simplistic story of a newly retired East German salt miner who plays the accordion as a hobby. He has been content to be locally "famous" for playing polkas at dances and at the retirement home, but one day he hears some Zydeco music on the radio and it changes everything for him. Ultimately he goes to the US and to the ranch and hill country near Austin where he thinks he will find his music. Disappointed that nobody there seems to play Zydeco, he buys a cabin boat and sets off for Louisiana by what I suspect is the inland waterway. This is a slow paced story without a lot of dialog, but the scenery is rich and story is meaningful- it is not too late to find your dream. This film received a lot of praise for its portrayal of a black woman who offers Schultze a meal of crabs and shrimp and befriends him.

111. Find Me Guilty. This flik was recommended by two friends who, like me, were not big Van Diesel fans. Van Diesel does a very good job playing Jackie DiNorscio, a mobster who is rightfully imprisoned, but finds himself being tried again along with other mafia defendants in a RICO trial. At first he is offered a deal by the DA if he will turn state's evidence but he passionately rejects that idea and because of his dissatisfaction with his mob lawyer from his previous trial, he elects to act as his own attorney. This courtroom drama is based on a true story and director Sidney Lumet used much of the actual transcript to keep from straying too far from the facts. Annabella Sciorra plays Jackie's ex-wife, Peter Dinklage (the diminutive actor from The Station Master) plays the lead defense attorney and does a good job. It is refreshing to see him get several normal parts now, such as in this film where he just plays a lawyer- not a midget who is a lawyer. Ron Silver does a nice job as the long suffering judge in this 22 month trial. This movie goes a long way toward showing you some of what is wrong with the American judicial system.

112. The Ice Harvest is a film which we missed in the theatres just before Christmas. It stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, both of whom are a pleasure to watch. This is a semi-humorous cinema noir flik- not a dark comedy. The plot has been done many times- two guys who work for a mobster boss decide to pull "the perfect crime" and steal two million dollars from him. Oliver Platt does a great job as the drunken present husband of Cusack's ex-wife. They get along famously. On the bonus features reel, they show an out-take scene where Thornton is talking to Cusack, but suddenly turns into the character he played in Sling Blade. That was almost worth the price of admission. We liked this film much better than we expected. It had gotten mixed reviews, but one of the savants who works behind the counter at Hollywood Video recommended it to me.

113.Goodnight and Good Luck, starring David Strathairn with George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robt Downey, Jr., and Frank Langella. This was a great film about Edward R. Murrow's crusade against Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Affairs sub-committee witchhunt in the early 50's. Another film we missed in the cinema. Better late than ever. For those of us who are old enough to remember Murrow, it is eerie to see Strathairn do such a fantastic job of becoming him.

114. I'm Not Scared. I don't remember this one ever coming to our indie theatre in Dallas. If this movie doesn't get you to book a flight to southern Italy, it's because a judge has impounded your passport. (Oops, that's another story) The scenery and photography are lush in this coming of age story of a 10 yr old boy who discovers another boy his same age chained up in a tin covered hole near an abandoned farmhouse. At first frightened by what he has found, his curiosity drives him back where he befriends the boy and brings him food and water. Gradually he realizes that his own parents along with other adults in his small village are involved in a plot to extort money out of the kidnapped boy's wealthy parents. Hitchcock would have been pleased with the beautiful and serene scenery belying the skullduggery that was going on behind closed doors.

What is it about the Italian directors? They love to make films about "wise beyond their years" yet innocent young boys interacting with the adult world. Eavesdropping but not always quite understanding what is happening. Cinema Pardiso and Maléna are two examples that come to mind. For our efforts in this film we get to see the world through a child's eyes for a while and revel in its simplicity without the shades of gray that adulthood brings.

115. Game 6 with Michael Keaton and Robert Downey, Jr. It is the story of Nicky Rogan (Keaton) who is a NY playwright who has made a name for himself with lightweight comedies and has finally written a meaningful semi-autobiographical drama that he deeply wants to succeed. His friend Elliott is bent on filling his head with stories of the new drama critic, Steven Schwimmer (Downey) who ruins careers with his horrific reviews. His daughter tells him that his wife wants a divorce and has hired a "prominent divorce lawyer." Nicky's mistress, played by Bebe Neuwirth, informs him that his leading man can't remember his lines because he has a brain parasite. And this is opening night. All of this takes place on the same day as and against a backdrop of historical game six of the 1986 World Series- and Nicky is a die-hard Red Sox fan. The game is used as a metaphor for Nicky's life and his attitudes toward his career and his family. Both Keaton and Downey are in top form. The dialogue is often crisp and witty. An interesting note: Keaton, Downey, and Neuwirth all took $100 per day as salary on this film. The criminal part is that it was never shown in Arlington or even Ft Worth.

116. Inside Man with Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. You know the movie has the "A List" cast when Willem Dafoe gets 5th billing. I had semi-low expectations for this film as I assumed it would be another "bank heist-hostage" flik. The cast helped immensely in elevating it. That plus a few twists in the plot. This will not go down as great cinema but it was entertaining and my attention didn't wander. Another big plus was the lack of violence in this movie. We liked it. We are big Clive Owen fans and are glad he is getting parts in high profile movies even if they are not as meaty as the characters he played in Closer or Croupier. I read that this film grossed $29M its first weekend- not bad for a March opening.

117. The Baxter- this is a cute romantic comedy that we really liked. Some reviewers didn't care for this flik, but I just don't think they got it. This movie is about the guy left at the altar. The wrong guy. That guy is called the Baxter. The Baxter is the kind of guy you "settle" for because you can't be with the one you really love. This flik has a good cast including Peter Dinklage, the "little guy" in "The Station Master" who has a great cameo. This film has some really funny moments and manages not to go for any potty humor, no four letter words, and has no nudity. Sounds like it was made by the Mormon branch of Disney Studios, right? They don't always go for the belly laugh but there is a lot of subtle understated humor that keeps you chuckling.

118. The River King- this is an almost haunting mystery that takes place in a small New England town where a boy who goes to a posh nearby boarding school has been found drowned in a creek. Abel Grey (Edward Burns) does a great job as a policeman investigating the death, who is also tormented by the suicide of his older brother. Betsy (Jennifer Ehle from the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice) is a teacher/photographer who works at the school who wants to help Abel. There are elements in the film which we are uncertain whether they are simply the memories/imagination of Abel or something more supernatural. There is good chemistry between Burns and Ehle who ultimately become romantically involved as they try to solve the mystery of the boy's death in spite of opposition from the police department and the school, both of whom want no scandal.

119. Junebug- This film was a real surprise. It is the story of a newly married young couple, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) and George (Alessandro Nivola) who own an art gallery in Chicago and are trying to sign up a "primitive" artist in North Carolina. Coincidentally the hometown of the artist is very close to where George's family lives and they decide to kill two birds with one stone and take Madeleine to "meet the parents." To quote one reviewer "Director Phil Morrison...takes us into a melodrama-free zone for this story. A keenly observed slice of life, Junebug captures the little comedies and tragedies of everyday living. There is sadness and humor here, but all understated. The film is mostly about the details of the characters' day-to-day personal dramas - why the VCR won't record, where the screwdriver is, etc. Junebug requires a certain amount of patience from its viewers. Those who provide that will be rewarded in the end." He said it all. Interesting coincidence (or not): Embeth Davidtz and Alessandro Nivola played a brother and sister in the Jane Austin film "Mansfield Park" a couple of years back. I thought the scene in the church where George is asked to sing a hymn was very telling. Madeleine never speaks a word and yet we know much of what she is experiencing.

120. Born into Brothels- this is a pretty powerful film. It is a documentary about a group of children born into the red light district in Calcutta of prostitute mothers. The backdrop of this story seems hopeless, but these kids are bright and even effervescent in the face of a bleak future. The photographer who is making the documentary acknowledges she is not a social worker but she just can't sit back and ignore the fact that if "somebody doesn't do something" these kids will never get out of this ghetto. She gives them cameras and teaches them about photography. Ultimately she arranges photography exhibits of their work in New York and India and raises money to help them get into boarding schools which will give them an education that is almost certain to get them in a university while at the same time providing some distance from them and their background. Well worth your time.

121. Just Friends. This was a pretty lightweight comedy and won't replace "It Happened One Night" but it was amusing. The story concerns a guy who was really overweight in high school and was "best friends" with a pretty blonde cheerleader. Just before graduation he plans to let her know he has been in love with her since grade school, but somebody intercepts his note and he is deeply embarrassed. Fast forward ten years and he has slimmed down and is a highly successful executive in a Hollywood recording studio. He is "assigned" by his boss to squire a very spoiled obnoxious female rock star to Paris for a concert on a private jet. They are forced to land in New Jersey near where he grew up and he ends up taking the rocker to stay at his parents' house. That night he sees his old flame for the first time after all this time. This is a quirky comedy that was often unpredictable. The characters were believable and there were a number of laughs.

122. In Her Shoes. I would have never seen this movie had the gal in the video store not said that she liked it. This flik concerns Rose, a successful lawyer in a Philadelphia law firm (Toni Collette) who has a ne'er-do-well younger sister, Maggie (played by Cameron Diaz). These gals have been raised by their father and emotionally distant step-mom after their biological mom committed suicide when they were small. Rose has been the protective older sister who has put up with much of Maggie's antics, but she gets to the end of her rope when she comes home to find Maggie in bed with Rose's lover/law partner. After she kicks Maggie out, Maggie has no place to go and ends up going to Florida to look up her estranged grandmother, Ella, played by Shirley MacLaine. This is the first movie in years that Shirley hasn't played a caricature. Ultimately Rose ends up at Ella's house as well. I must admit that I had low expectations of this film, thinking it would be another dysfunctional family meets at wise-cracking grandma's house and cuts some high jinx. On the contrary, this movie had sharp dialog and was deftly directed to keep it from being pedestrian or schmaltzy. The cast did a fine job, but Toni Collette was the standout.

123. Lucky Number Slevin. It starred Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsley, Robert Forster, and Stanley Tucci. I read a review of it that said it was like an Alfred Hitchcock script directed by Quentin Tarantino. I couldn't argue with that assessment. Lots of twists. It was difficult to figure out what was going on at first but it starts to make more sense as it progresses. It is a story of mistaken identity where Josh Hartnett's character comes to visit a friend in NY only to find his friend is missing. While staying at his friend's apartment waiting for his return, he is mistaken for his friend by the mob. A pretty girl (Lucy Liu) across the hall is also curious about what has happened to her neighbor. In no time Hartnett finds himself in the middle of a mafia war where the two mob bosses are played by Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley. Both mobsters claim that he owes them money and want him to do something for them to work off the debt. Stanly Tucci plays a police detective who is as confused as the rest of us and Bruce Willis is a hit man who seems to be working for both sides. This movie has some flaws and there is a relatively high body count although most of the violence is pretty toned down by today's standards. Nevertheless it still manages to be very entertaining.

124. Match Point- This is the first Woody Allen movie in quite some time that is memorable. In fact I think Allen can now safely say that rumors of his directorial demise were greatly exaggerated. This film is on par with Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and her Sisters. It stars Jonathan Rhys-Myers (Bend it like Beckham), Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie), and Scarlett Johansson; and it is nothing like the "usual" Woody Allen flik. I don't think most people could tell that this was directed by Woody Allen if his name were not on the credits. It is that different. It has an intimacy we expect from Allen although he is not in it. There is no neurotic protagonist, it really is not a comedy, and it is filmed in London- not NYC. The story concerns Chris (Rhys-Myers), a young ex-tennis pro who takes a job as a tennis instructor at a posh English country club and is quickly befriended by Tom, the son of a wealthy businessman. Tom introduces Chris to his sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), who becomes quite taken with her brother's handsome new friend. In no time, Tom realizes that being friends with this sort of people can change his life for the better. While dating Chloe, Chris meets Tom's fiancée, a cheeky American actress named Nola (Johansson) with whom he becomes obsessed. The viewer knows that nothing terribly good can come of this entanglement. He also knows there is going to be a "train wreck" of some kind but is just along for the ride. This film accomplishes some fairly decent misdirection. I am not going to tell you any more for fear of ruining it for you.

What happens in the second half of this movie is what elevates it from just another routine "romance with complications" story. The film moves past being a character study of Chris and moves into the realm of really good drama. The performances are all top notch and the story is pretty compelling. This is by far Rhys-Myers' best work to date. Johansson does a nice turn as the "other woman."

125. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. It stars Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. True story of a woman with ten kids who has a good-for-nothing husband- he drinks and is a mean drunk. He also drinks up most of his paychecks. She is pretty bright and makes ends meet by entering all kinds of contests in the 1950's and 60's. Mostly stuff she writes jingles for. She was very talented and IMHO wasted her life with her hubby, but she was Catholic and didn't believe in divorce. Also explains the ten kids.

126. Thank You For Smoking. The film concerns a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, the "sultan of spin", played by Aaron Eckhart, who has been given several chores including spreading some money in the movie industry to make sure that stars smoke more onscreen, trying to get the original Marlboro man (now dying with lung cancer) to tread lightly in the press about smoking, and, if that were not enough, to testify in front of Senate investigating committee that wants to put a large skull and crossbones on each pack of cigarettes.

We liked this flik in spite of the not-so-subtle über-liberal message. In H-wood they equate cigarettes, alcohol, guns, drilling for oil, big corporations, SUV's, etc all as things that are equally harmful to humanity and think should be outlawed. My guess is that they would have us live in a "village" where there is no smoking, no drinking, no guns- don't worry the police will have plenty of 'em, we'll walk everywhere, and go to bed at dark- since there won't be any electricity. <end of rant> For a "biting" social satire, it walked awfully light in its loafers. It could have had much more of an edge, yet it was funny. It just picked such easy and predictable targets and then beat them with a dish towel, not a ball bat.

Nevertheless, we liked Eckhart, Maria Bello, Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, and the kid who played Eckhart's son. They all did a good job. I think role of the female reporter, played by Katie Holmes, was miscast. She should have been more of a femme fatale, not the girl next door.

127. The Family Stone with Diane Keaton, Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, and Rachel McAdams. This was previewed as a zany "dysfunctional family home for Christmas" comedy and it really wasn't that at all. It was a drama with some funny moments. I am not giving anything away to say that a part of the story revolves around the fact that the mother, Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) is dying of breast cancer. You will find this out early in the first reel. Sarah Jessica Parker is perfect as Meredith, the up-tight girlfriend of Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who is being brought home to meet the parents. The family takes an instant disliking to her and can't seem to let up in spite of Everett's protests and threats. Rachel McAdams plays a sort of spoiled younger sister, Amy, who has a barb for Meredith at every turn. Luke Wilson is great as Ben the "black sheep" brother from Berkeley who is ultra laid back. He takes it upon himself to get Meredith to loosen up. Early on, Meredith, moves out of the house to a nearby inn and invites her younger sister, Julie (Claire Danes) to join her. Complications ensue when Everett finds himself attracted to Julie and Meredith seems to hit it off quite well with Ben. Naturally one of the sibs is hearing impaired and gay and he has brought home his black "life partner" who seem to be the only people in the story not having some kind of crisis, so Hollywood gets a chance to extol its liberality just a bit even if it is done so subtly that we don't realize what's happening. Yeah, sure. The best thing about this movie is that it had lots of opportunities to turn into something maudlin or cloying and it didn't. The epilogue at the end of the film is handled very nicely to bring loose ends together in an efficient way.

128. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada with Tommy Lee Jones who is also making his directorial debut. It was very well done. The acting was first rate, the scenery was beautiful and it looks like it was filmed around the Big Bend country. It is the story of a cowboy (Jones) who befriends a Mexican illegal and gives him a job. When his friend is killed under mysterious circumstances he investigates on his own because the local sheriff (played by Dwight Yoakum) is not very interested in the case. Ultimately he finds out that his friend Melquiades was killed by a US Border Patrolman. He kidnaps the killer and is going to take him along when he goes to Mexico to bury his friend's body like he promised he would. Does this remind you of Lonesome Dove, or what? The patrolman, we learn, killed Melquiades by accident and is very shaken by it, even if he hasn't turned himself in. Barry Pepper (who was in The Snow Walker) plays the patrolman. His wife is played by January Jones, a pretty blonde who was in Love Actually.

129. The World's Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins. It is the story of Burt Munro, a memorable old "character" from New Zealand, who travels to Bonneville Salt Flats in the US in the 1960's to try to break the land speed record on a 1920 Indian motorcycle. It is a charming and heart warming story of the perseverance of one man who is obsessed with breaking the record against a variety of obstacles- not the least of which is his age. Sir Anthony does a marvelous job of transforming himself into a single minded Kiwi who forges his own pistons and does his own metallurgy. For my money he masters the accent.

130. Tipping the Velvet was very good. It will not be everybody's cup of tea, but we liked it. While it is a love story- it just isn't boy-girl. It is girl-girl, and has a great cast including Rachel Stirling, Keeley Hawes, Anna Chancellor (Duck Face in Four Weddings~), and Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill and Vanity Fair). Basically it is the story of a young woman named Nan Astley who works in her family's oyster bar in a small coastal town in Kent in the 1890's. When a traveling vaudeville troop comes to her town she sees a beautiful female performer named Kitty Butler who does her song and dance act in drag- playing a young man. She is a sensation with the audience and Nan falls in love with her. Eventually Nan goes to work for Kitty as her dresser, but later when they go to London she gets pulled into her stage act as a partner. But the course of "true love" doesn't always run smooth and Nan has more than her share of trials and tribulations. This film has elements of both "the journey of the hero(ine)" and "the coming of age" story. We got this film from Netflix. Blockbuster's website says that they carry it. I think this movie is rated NC-17, but if it were rated in the old system it would probably be rated XX. I know....<rolls eyes...groans>. Please limit your hate mail to 25 words or less, I have a lot more porn to watch.

131. The Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. This was entertaining. Not a great film but I didn't squirm for the last hour either. It was based on a "hauntingly beautiful" Korean movie called Siworae that was released in this country with the "English" name of Il Mare- which is Italian. Go figure. But you guessed it- Hollywood turned their version into a star vehicle and gutted it of a lot of the qualities of the original film. To a certain extent, this is what happened when tinsel town made Shall We Dance? with Richard Gere and J-Lo. The original Japanese movie was much better. Now that is something I don't say too often. I definitely liked The Magnificent Seven better than The Seven Samurai, but times change. In any event the plot of The Lake House is basically this: two people seem to be living in the same lake house but at different times. Bullock is in 2006 and Reeves in 2004. She puts a note in her mailbox to tell the next occupant something about the house as she is getting ready to move and Reeves gets the note and starts communicating with her. Gradually they figure out that they are in some kind of time warp where the mailbox is the portal between their two times. Naturally they fall in love but are thwarted in their efforts to try to get together in the same place and same time. June '06.

132. Nacho Libre. We are emerging Jack Black fans, although not hard core. We liked him in School of Rock, Shallow Hal, and King Kong even though the first two are not very cerebral films. Nacho is even less cerebral than those, but several times I found myself belly laughing over some of his antics. This flik was shot entirely in Oaxaca, Mexico with an entirely Mexican cast. Probably cost them under 10,000 Pesos including the tip. Unless you have been off the planet, you are probably aware that Nacho concerns a monk, played by Black, who wants to become a pro wrestler to help earn money for the orphanage where he works as a cook. This movie reminded me a little of the old Martin and Lewis comedies in that the humor is never mean spirited and kids and adults could enjoy them on some level. Totally ridiculous plots. I remember loving M&L when I was a kid. Uh oh, I get it now. The kid in me liked Nacho. The adult left by the side door so nobody would see him...June '06.

133. Money for Nothing. A friend recommended a John Cusack movie to me that we checked out on DVD via Netflix. It was made in 1993 and totally went under my radar. It is the story of a Philly dock worker who finds 1.2 million dollars that has literally fallen out of an armored truck with a faulty lock on the rear door. The story concerns the machinations he goes thru to try to keep the money. At first he asks his ex-girl friend who works for a brokerage to help him but when she turns him down, he turns to the mob to help him launder it. We thought it was funny and Cusack was as good as ever. It was loosely based on a true story. Not John's best movie but watchable.

134. The Chumscrubber passed below my notice last fall and was recently recommended by a friend, so we checked it out on DVD. This is almost a stylized black comedy about teenage angst in idyllic suburbia. In doing a little research, the critics either hated it or loved it, not much neutral ground there which suggests to me that they either "got it" or they didn't. Jamie Bell (from Billy Elliott), who is a Brit, plays an American kid and really gets the accent right. Also in the film are Glen Close, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, Rita Wilson and a bunch of other recognizable actors. The story concerns Dean (Bell) a teenager who finds his best friend has committed suicide in his room during one of his parents parties. He doesn't bother to let anybody know and just leaves. Dean's father is a self-absorbed psychiatrist who writes pop psych books which are often about Dean. His father wants Dean to show some outward signs of grief or emotional upset, but Dean appears indifferent and in general is acting like the typical disenfranchised loner that many teenage boys feel like. The director does a good job of demonstrating how parents talk at kids and vice versa but neither group is really communicating or terribly interested in doing so. Keep in mind this is a satire and they might stretch reality a bit for the sake of art or to make their point.

It seems that Troy, the boy who hanged himself, was Dr. Feelgood at the local high school and some of his friends think that they are heirs to his stash of drugs. They want Dean to go to Troy's house, under any pretext, and get the stash for them. When Dean brushes them off, they plan to kidnap Dean's younger brother Charlie (played by Rory Culkin). Through a mix-up they kidnap another boy named Charlie who is mildly bewildered, but otherwise seems to be enjoying the attention and the adventure with the older kids. The title of the film comes from a video game that somebody is playing in the movie. I will let you decide how it became the metaphor for this movie.

135. The Duchess of Duke Street, which was a BBC series made in the late 70's in the flavor of Upstairs Downstairs. It totally passed below my radar at the time if it was shown in Dallas. It stars a much younger Gemma Jones who played Bridget Jones' mum in Bridget Jones' Diary. The story is about a talented young female assistant cook in a large household who aspires to become a chef or master cook. One day her boss, the chef de cuisine, is in Portugal on holiday and she is pressed into service to cook for a medium sized dinner party. Little does she know that Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, will be among the guests. He is taken with her cooking and with her. The next thing she knows she is being pressured into marrying the butler and being set up in a house in a nice neighborhood, so that she can "entertain" the prince. The prince would never sully the reputation of an unmarried female, but married ones were OK. As we have come to expect from the BBC, the script is great, the sets and the acting are impressive.

136. The Illusionist with Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, and Jessica Biel. It is a welcome breath of fresh air in a summer that has not shown much promise in movies. The story is set in Vienna of 1900 and concerns a talented "illusionist" named Eisenheim (Norton) who is so good that audiences are often convinced that he is manipulating the supernatural to pull of his tricks. One person who is very irritated by Eisenheim is the duke played by Sewell. He enlists the aid of Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) to get rid of Eisenheim. One evening when the duke is at a performance by the magician, he offers his intended, Sophie, (Jessica Biel) to take part in an illusion. When she climbs up to the stage, Eisenheim recognizes her as a his long lost love from his teenage years. Naturally complications ensue. This film has been described as equal parts romance, mystery, and magic. This has the feel of an indie but deserves wide release. Aug '06

137. Little Miss Sunshine. This stars Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Steve Carrell and Abigail Breslin. The cast does a marvelous job in this quirky serio-comedy about a semi-dysfunctional family who decide to take their young daughter on a road trip to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, CA, where she will be a contestant. Kinnear, the father is a motivational speaker who is full of aphorisms and platitudes, but is having very little success in his own life. Collette is the glue in the family. Arkin, the grandfather, snorts "horse" and is a cantankerous and barely loveable old curmudgeon. Carrell has just moved in with them after a botched suicide attempt brought on by rejection from his gay lover and being fired from his job. The little girl is a bundle of optimism in spite of all this. The premise I have described seems like enough to get you back on mood elevators, but strangely enough, it is funny, poignant, and even uplifting. July '06

138. Speak. This 2004 made for cable TV movie was a real gem and totally passed below the radar. You can check it out at the local video store on DVD. It stars a talented young actress named Kristen Stewart, along with Elizabeth Perkins (her mom), Steve Zahn (her art teacher), D. B. Sweeney (her dad) and Michael Angarano- who was in Sky High. The story concerns a 16 year old high school girl who is barely functioning both at home and in school. Her parents and her teachers think she needs to pull up her socks, get with the program, stop being so quiet, so withdrawn, etc. Her peers all hate her because she called 911 during a party the previous summer and many of the kids were busted for underage drinking. To say she is unpopular is to say the pope is religious. What nobody knows, because she has not told a soul, is that she was raped by a popular boy at the infamous party and she is trying to come to terms with that event. We thought the script was very well done and the acting top notch. This film could have been depressing but was actually a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. We particularly liked Steve Zahn as the sympathetic and encouraging art instructor who sees angst (and talent) in the girl and wants her to work through her situation by expressing it in her art.

139. The Boynton Beach Club. It stars Dyan Cannon, Brenda Vaccaro, Len Cariou, Joseph Bologna, Sally Kellerman, and Michael Nouri. It was originally called the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club, but the producers felt that might be a turn-off. It is the story of several recently widowed men and women who live in a Florida retirement town and have joined a support group that encourages them to get on with their lives. There is nothing special about the story but the script treats seniors like real people with real feelings- not as caricatures or stereotypes. It is pleasure to see actors in their 60's and 70's getting a vehicle where there is more than one of them in it. There are a lot of laughs in this flik.

140. The Black Dahlia. It is a very interesting movie and truly captured Los Angeles of the late 1940's. Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and Hilary Swank did admirably well at dressing and acting the parts in a classic cinema noir potboiler. You could almost overlook the fact that director Brian De Palma forgot to connect a lot of the dots. It's not unusual for this type of mystery to make little sense as the story chugs along, but after 30 minutes of denouement, it still didn't make a lot of sense. Yet it was fun and so visually captivating in setting the mood of an old Philip Marlowe type story you enjoyed being along for the ride. There was one dinner table scene where Fiona Shaw (from Three Men and a Little Lady) plays the inebriated mother of Hillary Swank and totally steals the show. That alone is almost worth the price of admission, not to mention K. D. Lang singing in drag (white tie and tails) in a lesbian night club extravaganza. While it is not Gone With The Wind, nor even The Maltese Falcon, we did enjoy this film.

141. School for Scoundrels. Stars Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder from Napoleon Dynamite. I had almost no expectations for this film, but was very pleasantly surprised. This is not going down as a great movie, but it was really funny. It is the story of Roger, a young man (played by Heder) living in NYC who works in a rather menial job, gets kicked around by almost everybody, and is in love with an Australian girl, Amanda, who lives in his apartment building but she barely knows he is alive. A friend suggests he take a self improvement course which is like a boot camp for losers given by Dr. P (played by Thornton). Just when Roger starts to take control of his life and begins dating Amanda, he finds out that his mentor is also seeing her. They enter into a hilarious battle of one-upsmanship to win her favor. We liked it.

142. The Departed. This was a tour de force film from Martin Scorsese after a lonnnggg dry spell and re-establishes him as a director to be dealt with. This is yet another Oscar vehicle for Jack Nicholson and won't exactly hurt the resumes of Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. By now most of you have heard somehow that the story concerns the efforts of the Boston Police and the Massachusetts State Police to take down Irish mafia kingpin, Frank Costello, played by Nicholson. The cops know that their organization is riddled with leaks, so they take great pains to hide the identity of a mole, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) they have planted in the mob. At the same time, Costello has groomed a protégé, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) to go the police academy in order to spy for him. Neither informant knows the identity of the other, even though they both are aware of the other's existence. You will quickly realize that this film is deep in talent when the shallow end of the pool has supporting actors like Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Mark Wahlberg rounding out the cast. Just so this would not have an all male cast, they do have a female psychiatrist played by Vera Farmiga who ends up being the love interest and provides the third part of the love triangle with Damon and DiCaprio.

For you trivia buffs, this film was a remake of a grade B Hong Kong gangster movie called Infernal Affairs. This is one of those examples of the derivative being at least a quantum leap better than the original.

The big underlying theme of this film is what is loyalty and to whom is it owed. And to a certain extent, what is good and what is evil. But more to the point, how much evil can one do in the name of goodness. And in the end, does anything really change for all our efforts.

That said, this is a very well made movie. The cinematography, the acting, the sets are all first rate. The story moves right along even though no real new ground is broken here. There are one or two minor continuity glitches and at least twice I asked Donna how a character got there- did I miss something? Eh, no matter, this did not detract from the overall effect. One large "character" in the piece is the violence. There is a fairly high body count in this film and most of it is up close and personal. They don't have any big car chases or explosions (well maybe one explosion). In recent years we have backed off completely on "action" films such as the Bruce Willis/Mel Gibson series. We don't do gratuitous violence. On the other hand we do give some consideration to well made and thought provoking movies that happen to have violence in them, such as A History of Violence, which arguably is not about violence, but does contain violence. Whatever. At some point you perform a titration where you weigh how much violence to which you will expose your poor little psyche against how good is the picture. Saving Private Ryan comes to mind in the category of movie where I say that it is not worth it for me. Taste is personal, however, and there are plenty of folks who think Bugs Bunny cartoons are too violent. I don't know any of them personally. Now he ceremonially steps off the soapbox...

After all is said and done, we liked this movie.

143. Edmond. This is a fairly disturbing DVD movie with William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, Julia Stiles, and Rebecca Pidgeon (from The Spanish Prisoner). The screenplay is by David Mamet who wrote The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy, The Verdict, etc. It is based on his own play written in 1982 and to some it may seem slightly dated but that may be because it has been imitated in film before it own author got around to making it into a screenplay. In the title role, Macy gives a bravura performance as a man who goes into freefall one evening and tries to regain his footing while wandering the streets. Much of what Edmond says is a sharp criticism on conformity and "the meaning of life," and although his ramblings at times seem couched in madness, there is a keen internal consistency which will give the viewer plenty of food for thought. I wouldn't be surprised to see Macy get an Oscar nomination out of this.

144. Volver. After a few weather delays, last night we finally saw Volver, a Spanish film with Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura (Talk to Her). It was directed by Pedro Almodóvar and the title means "to return." In my opinion this is his best film to date. As do many of his movies, this one defies easy categorization. It certainly starts out to be a "ghost story" and yet it has moments of the black comedy flavor of Alfred Hitchcock. It is the story of two adult sisters, Raimunda and Sole, who lost their parents four years ago in a fire in the village where they grew up. At the same time as the fire the mother of Agustina, a former neighbor woman, went missing. When the sisters go to visit an elderly aunt in the village they discover that she seems to be living well beyond her abilities. She barely gets around and her vision is quite poor and yet she has baked all sorts of goodies for their visit. And other sights and smells in the house suggests the "presence" of someone else. Not to mention that the aunt talks about the gals' mother as if she lives there with her. Eventually the neighbor Agustina begs an incredulous Raimunda to ask her deceased mother what happened to her own mother. She says it is common knowledge that the dead often appear in this village especially if they had unsettled issues, and besides, the whole village knows that the ghost of the sisters' mother helps take care of the elderly aunt.

This film has a couple of subplots that would be distracting from the story if they weren't so interesting in themselves. They don't stray too far, and the main story is always in sight. This is clearly a female empowerment film as was another Cruz film, Woman on Top, and I think not coincidentally, she plays a chef in this story as well. Volver will affect most women on another level, especially if they have lost their own mother. When Raimunda and Sole's mother begins to appear to them, both sisters get to act out a universal fantasy inasmuch as they are offered a chance to have their mother back with them again- even for a moment. As in many Almodóvar films, important plot points are often hardly noticed by one character and knock another off his (or her) feet. Because this movie is a mystery of sorts, I am not going to reveal much more about it.

Almodóvar has come a long way from his earlier films such as Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and Two Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Volver is tighter and more grounded in plot, theme and characterization. Now he commands and gets great performances from his actors. There were times in this film when Penelope Cruz reminded me of Sophia Loren in Two Women.

145. Jesse Stone series. I was recommending to my mother a series of Tom Selleck films which were made for TV and are being released on DVD. I thought I would spread the word. They are based on a series of novels written by Robert B. Parker and are well worth watching. Parker was asked what he thought after the first movie, Stone Cold, was shown on TV. He said, "Stone Cold got the characters as good as I have ever seen in 30 years of this business. Tom nailed that character and I'm thrilled. I actually cried during Stone Cold." Selleck plays Jesse Stone, a hard boiled ex-LA cop, whose marriage fell apart and he is having some problems with booze. He gets hired as the police chief in a sleepy New England town where they are aware of his problems but don't have a lot of choices among folks with his experience. CBS has made (and shown on TV) four episodes in all, but the fourth one is not out on DVD yet. The series has been so successful for CBS that they have ordered a fifth one which is going to be called Thin Ice. The well traveled character actor, Stephen McHattie, who plays the state police captain is actually from Nova Scotia where the series is filmed. You may remember McHattie from his role as the mad dog killer in the opening scenes of A History of Violence. The Jesse Stone movies were not made in chronological order as far as I can tell. Here is a list in order of their release:

1. Stone Cold. First one made but actually I think it is #2 in the series.

2. Night Passage. This is the prequel to Stone Cold.

3. Murder in Paradise. Hey, this actually is #3. Got very high ratings on TV.

4. Sea Change. Was shown on TV in May of this year but is not released on DVD yet.

5. Thin Ice. Not yet made, just in planning stage.

146. Amazing Grace. This is an historical drama which depicts the struggle to abolish the slave trade in England. This 30 year fight was carried on almost single-handedly by a member of parliament named William Wilberforce who is played by Ioan Gruffudd of the Hornblower series. The rest of the cast reads like who's who in British theatre: Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rufus Sewell, Albert Finney, and Romola Garai. This is a very interesting film in that it explains what the consensus was in England in the 1770's with regard to slavery. There were strong economic reasons for slave labor. The country was dependent on the exports of colonies where slaves provided the labor on the plantations. During the years from around 1610 until slavery was abolished some 200 years later, over 15 million men, women, and children were taken from west Africa and sold into slavery in the West Indies or in the American colonies. Apparently most British saw nothing wrong with this or did very little about it. Wilberforce inconveniently called the evils of slavery to their unwilling attention. The title, Amazing Grace, comes from the hymn written by a reformed slave trade captain who is played by Albert Finney.

147. Babel. I don't usually write bad reviews about movies, but occasionally I make exceptions. We watched Babel tonight and I think I would rather have had a root canal without anesthesia than to watch that again- or even for the first time. This is what happens when you let the inmates run the asylum. I think in some circles this pseudo-intellectual claptrap passes for great art. To me it was shamelessly poseur. Aren't we great and if you don't understand it, we pity you. Well, fu** that. (Luckily I have no strong opinions on it.) To add insult to misery, it was waaaaay too long. We had no trouble figuring out the metaphor in the title; they just misspelled it. Some of the visual imagery was striking, but that makes for great travelogues, not necessarily great cinema. Watch it at your peril. If you need to change the ball bearings in your electric razor, your time will be better spent. hahahaha <maniacal chuckle>

148. Black Book. This is a really fine Dutch film about a young Jewish woman who is being hidden from the Nazis by a farming family during WW2. When the farmhouse is bombed she must seek other accommodations. She is contacted by a Dutch policeman who helps arrange to have her smuggled out of Holland. Unfortunately this is a trap and she witnesses her whole family being shot. Later she contacts the Resistance and goes to work for them. At first she is only cooking in their kitchen but then she takes on bigger jobs and meets a German SS colonel whom she agrees to spy on. This story never lets you off the edge of your seat. The sets and costumes are perfect in recreating wartime Amsterdam as far as I can tell. The acting is first rate and the production is quite polished. Probably the only actor you might recognize is Sebastian Koch (as the SS colonel) who was the playwright in The Lives of Others. The actress who plays the lead, Carice van Houten, will captivate you. She has done a marvelous job of creating and owning her character. Black Book was directed by Paul Verhoeven who made a name for himself in his native Holland before coming to this country to direct Robocop, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers. This film takes him back to his roots to direct a screenplay that he has been writing on and off for nearly 20 years.

149. Borat. To say that it was tasteless would be paying it a compliment. To say that it reset the bar for gross-out movies would be truthful, but it wouldn't capture the depth of that statement. OTOH, you will continually wonder who is that making a fool out of themselves laughing obnoxiously loud at this shock-jock and then discover, not without some embarrassment, that it is YOU. Borat, in case you have been in a coma or just came back from outer space, is a mockumentary about a TV reporter from Kazakhstan who travels to the USA to learn why it is such a great country. It is kind an "Innocents Abroad" as seen through the eyes of Andy Kaufman or those two "wild and crazy guys" from SNL. Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comic and star of HBO's "Da Ali G Show" and who also played the French import NASCAR driver in Talladega Nights, is both the creator and lead actor in Borat.

This film is truly an equal opportunity employer- it will offend just about everybody. In his comic genius Cohen creates a character who is so opinionated, so naive to our ways, and so anti-Semitic, that we almost don't realize that his interviews with a cross section of Americana are more revealing of us than of him. In one scene he asks a GM salesman "What car would attract women who shave down there?" Without skipping a beat, the salesman says, "That would be the Corvette." As one reviewer said, "Right there is the entire history of automotive advertising in America." Borat intrepidly interviews feminists, churchgoers, frat boys, politicians, and gays. Nobody is safe from his political incorrectness. I am guessing that since Cohen is Jewish, we are immediately informed that his anti-Semitism is all tongue in cheek and that we are permitted to laugh (albeit nervously) at it along with all the other racial, ethnic, social, gender, and religious slurs. I could go on and on, but I won't...

We liked this movie, but are kinda embarrassed to admit it.

Post script- this was the first film we have seen with a new digital projector. This movie was not on film. The quality was great. They say it will save millions in reproduction and transport costs, replacing scratched negatives, etc. They can send the movie over the internet to theaters.

150. The Fountain. This is a film that one reviewer said was easier to be impressed with than to like. There is no doubt that director Aronofsky tried and possibly bested Stanley Kubrick in making an enigmatic and ambiguous film. The movie stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz each playing three parts as the story is told in three time periods: the 16th, 21st, and the 26th Centuries. The basic plot however is Hugh Jackman as a medical researcher trying to find the cure for his wife's (Weisz) inoperable brain tumor. She, in turn, is writing a book about Queen Isabella (played by Weisz) who is sending "her conquistador" (Jackman) to find the fountain of youth. The third story takes place in the distant future with Jackman (now with shaved head) trying to learn the secrets of the universe by communing with what I can only interpret as "the tree of life."

This film is breathtaking in its imagery and symbolism. It is an English teacher's pot of gold. One could interpret it in a number of ways although by the end the film really isn't as ambiguous as we originally thought. In this type of film, the director's desire to remain enigmatic often distances us from the characters so that we have no emotional hook. Because of our lack of investment in them on a personal level, we view their plight through somewhat clinical eyes and the story makes less impact than if we really cared. (The English teacher in our family liked this movie and does not agree with my last sentence in this review. She says that any review written by somebody who yawned 14 times, checked their watch 3 times, and went to the bathroom in the last 10 minutes of the flik is not a qualified judge of the film's merits. At one point Donna elbowed me when I was checking my watch and I told her it was because "the movie was so beautiful it was like time had stood still." I don't think she bought this.)

151. In the Land of Women. This film starred Meg Ryan, Adam Brody, Kristin Stewart, and Olympia Dukakis. This was not a plot driven story, but rather was character driven. A young erotica (soft-core porn) screenwriter, Carter, played by Brody is thrown over by his fashion model girlfriend and decides to take a break from the LA scene and go back to Michigan to take care of his aging grandmother(Dukakis) who is convinced she is dying. Across the street lives Sarah (Meg Ryan) with her two daughters. Sarah has recently learned that her husband is having an affair and almost simultaneously finds a breast lump that may be cancerous. She is nearly estranged from the older daughter Lucy (Stewart) who is not navigating her adolescence terribly well. Luckily the younger daughter Paige has her head screwed on straight but still manages to develop a crush on Carter. Carter helps Sarah just by listening. He helps the older daughter by some gentle "brotherly" advice. He tries to help his grandmother but she is too far around the bend to notice much. Olympia Dukakis' grandma does a great job of mixing dementia with wisdom about her impending demise.

This film was good because the director and the actors prevented it from becoming Lifetime TV fodder. Nothing about this movie is over the top- not even grandma's antics. The characters are believable; the situations are believable. Carter uses this episode in his life, in essence, to help him grow as a person and a writer. We liked this movie. We would give it three out of four stars.

152. After the Wedding. This was a four star Danish flik. The lead was played by Mads Mikkelsen who you will remember as Le Chiffre in the recent Bond film, Casino Royale. The story concerns Jacob (Mikkelsen) who runs an orphanage in India that is running out of money. One eight year old boy there that he has raised since infancy is like his son. He returns to Denmark to talk billionaire Jørgen into funding his charity. Inasmuch as Jørgen's daughter is getting married over the weekend, he invites Jacob to the wedding. Reluctantly Jacob accepts only to find out that Jørgan's wife is an old flame. What is more, he learns from the bride that Jørgen is not her biological father and he infers that in all likelihood that he, Jabob, is her real father. Soon we begin to think that maybe these events are not coincidences. And Jacob will be torn between his "new family" in Denmark and the much larger one he has in India. This film really examines the concept of what is family and what it means in modern times. We liked this powerful film.

153. Come Early Morning. Starred Ashley Judd. A familiar theme. A good ole girl in a small Arkansas town sleeps with just about anybody when she is drunk which is a lot. By day she is a contractor in the concrete business. She has a totally dysfunctional family, yet for some reason we are pulling for her. She finally meets a nice guy and really doesn't know how to handle it. This is a film about redemption. Self-redemption. It is not a romantic comedy. We liked it.

154. A Good Year. Starring Russell Crowe. This movie coulda been great, it coulda been somebody, Charlie. Oops, wrong movie. This film was about a guy who makes millions in the markets and has long ago given up his soul. He inherits a small vineyard in Provence and ostensibly goes there to fix it up and sell it. Then the "adventures" begin. It was based on the Peter Mayle novel (remember A Year in Provence) and that may be part of the problem. The story lacks punch. It has a lot of wasted charm and pretty scenery and we never really identify with any of the colorful characters. I'd give it an OK rating.

155. Soundless. This is a German film directed by Mennan Yapo who also directed Sandra Bullock's latest film, Premonition, which BTW, we liked. Soundless concerns a hitman who is so good that the authorities don't even know of his existence, let alone his methods. He runs into a wrinkle when he fails to kill a beautiful woman who is asleep in the apartment of his latest victim. And worse still, he falls in love with her after polishing off her boyfriend. This film is fairly stylized and very well directed. It is slightly reminiscent of the original version of The Day of the Jackal in that there is an experienced police inspector who is hot on the trail of the assassin- and, of course, the killer is always one step ahead. The actor Joachim Krol who plays Viktor, the hired killer, conveys more in a look than many actors do with ten lines of dialogue. And the music was outstanding in this production. We liked it.

156. Sweet Land. This film is about a German mail-order bride that comes to the US just after WW1 at the behest of a Norwegian immigrant farmer. The townspeople don't like/trust her since she is German and of course the preacher is dead set against her ("she just isn't our kind") and won't marry the couple. Good story, good cast including Elizabeth Reaser (Grey's Anatomy), Tim Guinee, Alan Cumming, John Heard and Ned Beatty.

157. The Dead Girl. Starred Toni Collette, Piper Laurie, Giovanni Ribisi, James Franco (Flyboys), Marcia Gay Harden, and Mary Beth Hurt. This is the story of a girl who has been murdered by a serial killer and it is told, in turn, from the viewpoint of the woman who finds her in a field, her mother, a woman who believes she is her sister, and even the serial killer's wife. The story is very compelling and the acting is first rate. It was written and directed by Karen Moncrieff.

158. The Last Time. Starred Michael Keaton, Brendan Fraser, and Amber Valletta (the rich gal in Hitch). This film got mixed reviews and those who liked it really liked it and vice versa. The basic story is: Keaton is a very successful but cynical salesman for a large tech company in their NY division. Fraser, who is Keaton's polar opposite, has just been hired and brought in from the Midwest where he was a super salesman for another company. Valletta is his fiancée. Keaton has been assigned to teach Fraser the ropes and in the process, meets Valleta. Fraser can't seem to make a go of it in the new organization and begins drinking heavily and neglecting Valletta. At this point she begins an affair with Keaton. But more is going on than meets the eye. This film typifies a number of independent films made by Keaton in recent years, such as Game 6 and Jackie Brown. The acting is solid, the production values are decent, and the script, while not Gone with the Wind, holds your attention. We liked it.

159. The Painted Veil. Starred Naomi Watts (the big guy's love interest in King Kong) and Edward Norton (The Illusionist). It is based on the novel by Somerset Maugham and set almost entirely in China in the mid 1920's. This movie had the feel of a Merchant-Ivory piece with lush cinematography, great costumes, acting and sets. Both the leads give bravura performances. There were also strong turns given by Toby Jones (Capote in Infamous), Liv Schreiber, and Diana Rigg.

The story concerns Walter Fane, a doctor/bacteriologist, and his wife, Kitty, who are a couple that got married for all the wrong reasons with both sides contributing to their mutual unhappiness. When Kitty (Watts) has an affair with Charlie (Schreiber), Walter (Norton) learns of it and gives her an ultimatum- either she accompanies him into the interior where he has volunteered to fight a cholera outbreak or he will subject her to a scandalous divorce. When Kitty learns that Charlie has no intention of leaving his own wife for her, she reluctantly agrees to go with Walter. Having spent some time off the beaten track in China, I can attest to the authenticity of the scenery and the conditions once you get 200 miles out of Shanghai. In fact they haven't changed much on either account. The new situation Kitty finds herself in is nearly unbearable. She is living in a foreign land where she is not only threatened by disease but political unrest. In addition, her husband is barely speaking to her. Nonetheless, she is given a unique opportunity to redeem herself when she visits an orphanage/convent run by Mother Superior (Rigg) and sees that she can help out there as many of the nuns have fallen to the epidemic. This is an interesting story on many levels. Not only is it a great historical film, but a love story where both main characters are given a chance to grow. It is also a tale of redemption and forgiveness. As to what is the metaphor in the title, the "painted veil" in Greek mythology represents a "trompe l'oeil" or misdirection of vision, i.e., something which fools the eye. In more modern times the term "painted veil" appeared in a sonnet by Shelley ("Lift not the painted veil which those who live call life..."). In our story it seems to refer to the notion that we sometimes fall in love with another person based on a projection of what we need rather than what is actually there. I'll let you be the final judge.

160. Miss Potter. This is a bio-pic about the life of Beatrix Potter who created, among many other things, "The Story of Peter Rabbit." It stars Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, and Emily Watson. This is a wonderfully well made "little film" which does not have lofty aspirations, but fulfills its purpose admirably: It tells an engaging story and it entertains. Although there are some minor liberties taken with Beatrix Potter's history, it sticks pretty close to the facts. The screenplay is handled something like a Jane Austen novel. The heroine is an intelligent, headstrong, unmarried female whose parents would like nothing better than to see her married off, however in this case she really isn't out to find a fiancée. Instead, one finds her in the person of her publisher, Norman Warne, played by Ewan McGregor. Up to this point in her life, Beatrix has not had many friends. They make a point of the fact that she created most of her friends from the characters in her stories. When she found Norman she also got his sister, Millie, played by Emily Watson, as a lifelong friend. This film did a nice job of telling a heartwarming story without being maudlin or cloying. The all British cast looks like "who's who" from the BBC miniseries- Masterpiece Theatre films we have come to look forward to. One of Norman's brothers is played by David Bamber whom you may remember as the über-unctuous Mr. Collins in the 1995 BBC edition of Pride and Prejudice. Bill Paterson, who played in Wives and Daughters, was Ms. Potter's father. Ms. Zellweger seems to be making a habit of playing Brit heroines; she certainly has the accent down. We think she is becoming quite the actress and we liked this film.

161. Seducing Dr. Lewis. This played in the theatres about 2 years ago and we missed it. Later I couldn't remember the title to look for when it came out on DVD. Finally I consulted the "oracle" (Donna) who did a web search on the subject matter and voilà. First of all, if you liked Waking Ned Devine you will like this movie. The story takes place in St. Marie-La-Mauderne, a small Québécois fishing village where the entire populace is on the dole since the fishing played out 8 years before. Even the mayor is moving to "the city" to get a job as a policeman. The new acting mayor learns that a company will place a factory in the village if they are able to secure a full time doctor. After failing to land a physician through conventional methods, they enlist the help of their ex-mayor to coerce a big city doctor to come there for one month in order to avoid legal difficulties on a minor drug charge. The charade the townspeople put on to seduce the doctor is both charming and hilarious. It also reminds one a bit of the Chevy Chase flik, Funny Farm, where he and his wife bribe the local citizenry to make their town look and feel like a series of Norman Rockwell prints. It is difficult to make a movie touching and not cloying these days. This film succeeds. We really enjoyed this movie.

162. Seraphim Falls. Starred Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. For the most part, this was an old fashioned archetypal western in the flavor of Shane and The Searchers. It is a classic story of revenge with a larger-than-life protagonist and antagonist. It's just that we are not sure which one is which. The cinematography is lush as is the scenery; the costumes are subdued and don't call attention to themselves as in so many "modern" westerns. The acting is just what we might expect from such heavyweight stars. There are a couple of interesting cameos: one from Wes Studi who played Magua in The Last of the Mohicans and also played the die-hard Pawnee raider in Dances With Wolves; another from Angelica Huston. The critics were about evenly divided on this film. Some did not like the last 20 minutes and didn't think it quite fit with the tone of the rest of the film, but Seraphim Falls really held my interest and entertained me. I would give it three out of four stars.

163. Jindabyne. Starred Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne. It is based on "So Much Water So Close to Home," a short story by Raymond Carver and it was directed by Ray Lawrence who directed Lantana, another favorite film of ours from down under. When I read a review of this film before seeing it, I couldn't quite envision the conflict that could be engendered by the premise. Four men hike to a remote lake in the mountains for a weekend of fishing and one of them finds the body of a murdered Aboriginal girl floating in the water. At first they are sickened by their discovery but one of the group sprains his ankle and they silently elect to spend the night before trekking out to notify the authorities. They discuss the situation and realize that it is a crime scene and they shouldn't move her. Furthermore, if they take the girl out of the water she will soon attract wild animals so they leave her in place but tie her leg to a tree root so she will not float away. The next morning, Stewart (played by Byrne) gets out of his sleeping bag, and without thinking, picks up his fishing pole and soon catches a large mountain trout. The others join in and, for a few hours, they push aside all thoughts of the dead girl. When they contact the police on Monday morning they are severely reprimanded for not reporting this earlier and soon the media learn of their procrastination. This exposure brings down the wrath of both the white and the Aboriginal communities as well as that of their families. Stewart's wife, Claire, cannot seem to get past her husband's actions no matter how hard he tries to explain the situation. The fishing buddies had committed a callous error in judgment but surely what they did was not equal to the act of the murderer. Yet they had quickly become a focal point of stored up enmities not so far below the surface. In the Aboriginal group it was racial hatreds that were hundreds of years in the making. In the white community, the female police detective investigating the crime lost no time in showing Claire the marks on the dead girl's leg caused by the fishing line. She has no reason to do this except to stir up thoughts of chauvinistic indifference. Even though Claire wasn't very likeable to me, I started to understand her when she asked Stewart if he would have acted the way he did if the body had been that of a white boy. Stewart is hurt and incensed by these accusations because he has never given this question any thought. He doesn't consider himself sexist or racist and here he is accused of being both. At this point I started to squirm a bit because I think Stewart might have acted differently. Jindabyne is a miniature tapestry story and a psychological drama. This type of film requires a deft touch by the director and talented actors to pull it off. The characters in this movie are complex; they have warts; they don't always act the way we would like them to, sometimes maddeningly so. This makes for an interesting story and it keeps us on our toes as we try to put the pieces together. We liked this film.

164. The Lives of Others. This is a successful movie on many levels. It is a German film which has already won many accolades and will certainly be in the running for a best foreign film AA this year. The setting is East Germany in 1984 before glasnost has even been a whisper and the Stasi or secret police are protectors of the regime against subversive thoughts both from within and without. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a captain in the Stasi who is charged with surveillance on famous socialist playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress-girlfriend, Crista-Maria Sieland (played by Martina Gedeck, a wonderful actress from Mostly Martha). Although Dreyman and Sieland figure large in this film and both actors give great performances, this is really Wiesler's story. Ulrich Mühe, who plays Wiesler, is an accomplished actor who shows rather than speaks the character change that is taking place as he observes these two artists and begins to realize what kind of life they live, the music the listen to, the books they read, the friends they converse with, and stoically compares this to his own existence with its Spartan apartment and occasional visits from a prostitute. He also realizes that he is being ordered to dredge up charges on the playwright (who is no threat to the state) so as to remove him as an impediment to the seduction of his girlfriend by a high DDR government official. Gradually and almost imperceptibly Wiesler starts to ignore things he is hearing in the artists' bugged apartment and begins to alter reports even though this is placing himself in danger or at least putting his career at risk. This is the directorial debut for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who also wrote the screenplay. It is to his credit that in this complex story with complex characters, we the audience are treated as intelligent creatures as well. We really liked this film. It is still in theatres at this time.

165. Mr. Brooks. Starred Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Demi Moore. This is more of an old-fashioned mystery-thriller than one of the new styled slasher films disguised as a whodunit. I won't tell you anything that isn't apparent in the first 5-10 minutes of the movie. Costner plays the title role, Earl Brooks, a squeaky clean successful businessman who, as the film opens, is receiving Portland's man of the year award. He is also the poster child for husband and father of the year. But nobody suspects that he is also the "thumbprint killer" who has been a serial murderer on and off for several years. The fact that he has escaped detection is due to his superior intellect, meticulous planning, and strict attention to detail. He is aided and abetted in his nefarious pursuits by the amoral Marshall, his alter-ego, who is played effortlessly by William Hurt. At first there is a tug-o-war going on between Earl, who seems to want to stop killing, and Marshall who is obviously does not. Only Earl and the audience can see Marshall and the conversations that are taking place between them. Costner by himself, to my thinking, would have more difficulty convincing us that this mild mannered clean cut guy is seriously impaired. Marshall is a strong literary device to keep us mindful of the evil constantly lurking just below the surface in Mr. Brooks. Were it just Costner playing the killer, we would probably end up rooting for him. Demi Moore plays the hard edged police detective who, in spite of a boatload of personal problems, is obsessed with finding the "thumbprint killer." This movie held my interest and managed a few surprises. We liked it.

166. Music and Lyrics. Starred Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Let me say up front that this film will not win any AA nominations, but it had a lot going for it in all the other things that it was not. And I thought it was entertaining and engaging. Hugh Grant plays a rock star, Alex Fletcher, whose star eclipsed several years ago. He now earns a modest but comfortable living entertaining at state fairs, college reunions, and Knott's Berry Farm. Out of the blue, Cora, a Britney Spears clone, played incredibly well by 17 year old newcomer Haley Bennett, wants Alex to write a hit song for her. Alex hasn't written anything in years but this opportunity represents a huge opportunity for a comeback. Ms Barrymore plays Sophie Fisher, a woman who is filling in for a friend who tends Alex's plants. She overhears him struggling with lyrics and fills in a line or two and you can guess the rest. Brad Garrett, from Everybody Loves Raymond, plays Alex's long time manager/friend. Campbell Scott plays a smug college prof who has written a best selling novel about his former graduate student who just so happened to be Sophie. Sophie is still reeling emotionally from being ill-used both in her relationship with her deceitful mentor and in the book, even though her character is given an alias.

As to the things that this film is not: It's not raunchy. Cora makes some suggestive moves in a couple of her songs, but those are tame by today's standards; There was essentially no sex in it, or at least none displayed. They faded to morning when things started heating up; There was no potty humor; There were almost no sight gags; They had no major suspension of disbelief. The characters and situations seemed possible; It was not "over the top, go for the easy laugh." The humor was often understated. Hugh Grant did a masterful job with timing, glib one-liners, and self-deprecating humor that was his forte in Four Weddings and Notting Hill; There was an age difference between Alex and Sophie and they didn't pretend it wasn't there. Music and Lyrics wasn't Chateaubriand with sauce Béarnaise. It is more like a warm cup of hot chocolate by the fire.

167. Lonely Hearts. Starred John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Selma Hayek, Jared Leto, and Laura Dern. The movie is based on a true story of two psychopathic killers, Ray Fernandez (Leto) and Martha Beck (Hayek) who lured lonely well-off women into schemes where they swindled them out of their money and then murdered them. The flavor of the film is very Raymond Chandler with fedora hats, wide lapels, and cars with running boards. Travolta plays Det. Elmer Robinson and Gandolfini is his partner, Charlie Hildebrandt, who start putting the pattern together and get on the trail of Ray and Martha. The acting is first rate, the script is well written, the directing is seamless. We liked this polished "little gem" and hope they continue to make movies like it.

168. Driving Lessons. Starred Julie Walters (Educating Rita and Billy Elliott), Laura Linney, and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter's red-haired sidekick). It was a classic coming of age story where Rupert plays Ben, a seventeen year old Brit who is totally repressed by his über-Christian and evangelical mom, Laura (played by Laura Linney). Looking for a summer job, Ben answers an ad in "Hello Jesus" put there by "Dame" Evie Walton who is portrayed by Julie Walters in an Oscar quality performance. Evie is a semi-retired actress of another generation who swears like a sailor and has a zest for living that is totally foreign to Ben. Against the wishes of his mother, Ben drives Evie on a camping trip to Edinburgh where she has agreed to give a poetry reading. This odyssey proves to be an epiphany to Ben in more ways than one as he defies his mother, has his first beer, and then meets a girl who works for the publishing firm sponsoring Edie's event. Even though this was not a comedy as such, there were some very funny moments in the film. Good acting and a strong script kept this movie from becoming a cliché. We really liked this flik.

169. Convicted. Starred Aidan Quinn, Connie Nielsen, and Kelly Preston. This was a "little" indie film which takes place in Oklahoma and was made by a Danish film company. For reasons that escape me this movie was released with the title Return To Sender but the DVD was called Convicted. It is the story of Frank Nitzche (Quinn), a cynical and disillusioned man who writes to death row inmates in order to gain their confidence so he can later sell their stories to the press. His latest victim is Charlotte Cory, played by Nielsen, who is nearing execution for a murder-kidnapping of a child whose body has never been found. At first Frank thinks this is going to be just another routine scam for him until he starts believing that something is terribly wrong with this conviction. Of course Frank has some secrets of his own. Kelly Preston plays Susan Kennan, Cory's lawyer who is running out of grounds for an appeal. This is another fine example of a simple story told well with interesting characters and good acting and direction. We liked this film.

170. Irresistible. Starred Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt (who played the bitchy assistant in The Devil Wears Prada). For reasons that escape me, this movie went directly to DVD which is happening more and more. Occasionally you will find a film of this type that is really quite good, and Irresistible is a prime example. This film smacks of the influence of Hitchcock which is usually a plus. It is the story of a woman, Sophie Hartley (Sarandon), who is a professional children's book illustrator who has recently lost her mother and is still very much in the grieving process. She is getting support from her two young daughters and a very sympathetic husband played by Neill. Then suddenly things start happening. Sophie seems to be losing things- or have they been stolen. Her husband's sexy young assistant shows up wearing a dress just like one that is missing from her closet. There are elements of Gaslight and What Lies Beneath in this story as we are not sure from the treatment whether somebody is really out to get her or Sophie is just losing it. I am wondering if this film will "back into" TV after bypassing that medium on the way to Blockbuster.We liked this film.

171. Keeping Mum. Tonight we watched a DVD that we got several weeks ago and only now just got around to watching it. It is a dark Brit comedy in the flavor of Alec Guinness in The Lady Killers. It's called Keeping Mum and stars Dame Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder), and Patrick Swayze. Grace (played with usual aplomb by Dame Maggie) hacked up her philandering hubby and his girlfriend 40 years ago and put them in a trunk. After being imprisoned all this time, the Home Secretary has now deemed her rehabilitated and she comes to work as a housekeeper for Rev. Walter Goodfellow and his wife, Gloria (played by Atkinson and Scott Thomas). Because Walter is pre-occupied with his parish, his marriage is on the shoals, and Gloria has caught the licentious eye of Lance, the local golf pro, who is played Patrick Swayze. Gloria's daughter is consorting with the worst sort of boys and her son is bedeviled by bullies at school who call him "God-boy." Right away Grace sets out to put things in order. Only she usually does it with a spade, or a cleaver, or the occasional steam iron.

172. La Moustache. French with subtitles, it starred Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos. It is a strange Kafkaesque story about a man who shaves off his moustache and nobody, including his wife, seems to notice. At first he thinks they are all playing a joke on him, but soon he realizes that they don't believe that he ever had one to begin with- or do they? There a elements of dark comedy and Hitchcock in this unsettling and wonderfully crafted flik. The performance by Lindon is mesmerizing as he questions his marriage, his identity, and perhaps his sanity...

173. 3:10 to Yuma. Those of us oater aficionados who were also Glenn Ford fans will remember the original 1957 version that also starred Van Heflin and Felicia Farr. The modern rendition stars Russell Crowe as the gangleader Ben Wade, while Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, the rancher who desperately needs money to save his drought-parched ranch. The new flik is an old fashioned "adult" western in the best tradition of movies like Shane and High Noon. The plot is uncomplicated, but the characters are not all black and white. Ben Wade is educated, quotes the Bible, and even draws sketches as a pastime. Dan Evans although inherently honorable, has a past and demons of his own. When Dan and his sons witness a stage coach robbery from a nearby hillside, his sons are appalled that he doesn't intervene even though there are at least ten armed outlaws. He is even more docile when the gang catches them and takes their horses. When the gang splits up for a later rendezvous, Ben Wade is captured and the stagecoach line offers $200 to anybody and everybody that will help get him to Yuma for trial. Dan agrees to take the job and sets out with a small group to spirit Wade to the town of Contention where the following day they will catch the train of the title, the "3:10 to Yuma." Naturally Wade's gang gets wind of the plans and sets out to intercept them. Although there is no shortage of action in this film, it is basically a story of redemption. A good argument could be made that this was cinema noir masquerading as a western.

The original story was written by Elmore Leonard some 50 yrs ago. He also wrote the screenplay for Valdez is Coming that starred Burt Lancaster, and more recently Jackie Brown and Get Shorty (with John Travolta). The credit line of this film ran deep. Mr. Butterfield, the stagecoach line owner, was played by Dallas Roberts who you will remember as the recording studio owner who gave Johnny Cash his start in Walk the Line. Dan Evan's oldest son is played by Logan Lerman from The Butterfly Effect and A Painted House. There were numerous smaller roles played by the likes of Peter Fonda, Luke Wilson, Gretchen Mol, and Alan Tudyk. Tudyk was the accidentally drugged and hilarious fiancé in the recent Death at a Funeral and as Heath Ledger's sidekick in A Knight's Tale.

174. Eastern Promises. Starred Viggo Mortensen, Naomie Watts, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. This film was directed by David Cronenberg who also teamed with Mortensen in A History of Violence. EP has been called "The Russian Godfather." I am not sure that this is fair to either film, because while there are some similarities, Eastern Promises is a very different type of story. This movie has Academy Awards written all over it, perhaps as best picture, a leading man nod to Mortensen, and maybe best director.

The basic story: Naomi Watts plays Anna, a second generation Russian immigrant, who is a midwife in a London hospital. When she delivers a badly hemorrhaging 14 year old Russian prostitute/drug addict, the girl dies in childbirth but they are able to save the baby. The dead girl has a diary in her purse that is written in Russian. Anna hopes to find a clue to the girl's family in it and asks her uncle to translate it for her, but he warns her not to get mixed up in this "business." In the diary she finds the card for a Russian restaurant, and she goes there hoping to get more information. The owner of the restaurant is Semyon played by Mueller-Stahl, an avuncular Russian who is in reality the "papa" of a Russian crime family. He offers to translate the diary for her. Little does she know that he is stringing her along and now both her life and the baby's are in danger. Mortensen plays Nikolai, the driver for the crime family, who takes a protective interest in Anna. Semyon's son Kirill is a cruel, impulsive boozer who has ordered a man killed in the beginning of the story. Semyon realizes that, like Don Corleone and his sons in Mario Puzo's The Godfather, he can trust an outsider, Nikolai, more than his own son. There are three fairly trademark Cronenberg violent scenes in this film, but by far the most graphic and most memorable is the attack on Nikolai in the Turkish bath. Mortensen fights two would-be assassins while completely nude. This is going to be a benchmark scene in the future similar to the finale of The Godfather.

I am not going to give any more of the plot away, but suffice it to say that this is a powerful story with archetypal characters. It immerses you into the world of the London branch of the Russian mafia. Mortensen has transformed himself again into a new character that is different from anything else he has played before. This film proves that A History of Violence was no fluke. Cronenberg is now firmly established as an "A List" director. You won't soon forget this film.

175. The Brave One. This is more than a little like the 1974 Charles Bronson cult film, Death Wish, wherein Bronson's wife is murdered and his daughter is left a vegetable after being attacked by a group of thugs who follow them home to their apartment in NYC. Bronson then stalks the streets of New York as the Vigilante Killer, exacting vengeance on muggers and street thugs. In this modern rendition, Foster plays Erica, a radio talk show host, who is engaged to David, a physician. One evening when walking their dog in Central Park, they are set upon by a group of muggers who beat David to death and nearly kill Erica. It takes her several weeks to come out of a coma and then to recover physically enough to go home. At first she can't leave her apartment, but then she summons the courage, only to go to a gun store and buy a pistol, ostensibly for protection. Within a short time she is accosted on the subway by two hooligans who threaten her with a knife. She calmly pulls her handgun and dispatches both the miscreants. She is on her way. While this film seems to be modeled on Death Wish, it is a more intellectual and complex story, in that it more closely examines the effects that the initial attack has had on Erica and moreover, the toll that her revenge is taking on her. At one point when she is talking to police detective Mercer who is following up on her case, he asks her how she is coping and getting her life back. She tells him that she has become someone else and that person is moving on. The detective is realistically portrayed by Terrence Howard. This film could have easily become preachy about gun control or police ineffectiveness, but it did not. Nor did it attempt to answer the complex questions raised by Erica's actions. We liked this film.

176. The Sure Thing. Not too long ago the studio released a special edition DVD of a favorite film of mine called The Sure Thing (1985) which was the second film directed by Rob Reiner and the first starring role for John Cusack. While dismissed by some as just another 80's teen movie, this film had a witty and sophisticated script that many "adult" comedies could aspire to. It also served as the launching pad for Daphne Zuniga who was in 110 episodes of Melrose Place, Anthony Edwards as a regular on ER, Tim Robbins, and Nicollette Sheridan of Desperate Housewives.

The story concerns Walter "Gib" Gibson who is getting off to a rocky start in his freshman year at a small Ivy League college. Viveca Lindfors does a wonderful cameo as Prof Taub, his English teacher. He is also smitten with Alison Bradbury, played by Zuniga, who sits next to him in English class. Naturally Gib is a free spirit and the studious Alison has cornered the local market on uptight. When Gib's friend suggests that Alison is more interested in the "intellectual type," Gib remarks "I'm intellectual and stuff." His friend retorts, "You are flunking English, your mother tongue- and stuff." Although Gib finally wrangles a study date with Alison, it ends badly. And the final kibosh is put on their budding relationship when Gib accidentally hands in to Prof Taub, instead of his English assignment, a lurid letter that his roommate has written to Playboy magazine, only to have the professor read it aloud to the class. The major plot complication comes in when both Gib and Alison, unbeknownst to each other, take a ride-sharing trip to Calif over the Christmas holidays. Alison is going to LA to visit Jason, her boyfriend at USC, who is even more uptight than she is. Gib has been lured there also by his old high school pal, Lance (Anthony Edwards), who promises him a date with an incredible specimen of feminine pulchritude. And if that wasn't enough, he gushes, "She is just out of parochial school and is in her experimental phase- she's a sure thing, Gib, a sure thing."

The middle third of this film becomes a road picture that turns out to be hilarious, touching, and self-revealing all in about equal measures. Although we have seen short fantasy glimpses of Gib's dream girl along the way, only in the final third of the film are we really introduced to Nicollette Sheridan, the titular "sure thing" (I can't decide whether the pun is intended or not). What is unique about this movie is that Gib and Alison are real teenagers; they don't know more about sex than Masters and Johnson; they are full of insecurities and don't always say the right or the cool thing. This film is, at heart, a love story reminiscent of the sophisticated comedies of the 30's and 40's like It Happened One Night.

177. Here is a list of 10 independent films that are worth watching and are available on DVD:

1. Antonia's Line- (Dutch) Winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and many other prestigious international honors, Antonio's Line is the remarkable story of a woman who builds a new life with her daughter in a quiet Dutch village after World War II. Earthy, sexy, romantic and filled with laughter and warmth, it's a joyous, multi-generational celebration of simple pleasures and enduring passions.

2. An Affair of Love- (French) A nameless woman places an ad searching for "a pornographic affair." A nameless man answers. They correspond, meet and begin an affair as mysterious as their hidden desires. After the liaison ends, the two confess their feelings to an interviewer.

3. Rivers and Tides- documentary from Thomas Riedelsheimer won the Golden Gate Award Grand Prize for Best Documentary at the 2003 San Francisco International Film Festival. The film follows renowned sculptor Andy Goldsworthy as he creates with ice, driftwood, bracken, leaves, stone, dirt and snow in open fields, beaches, rivers, creeks and forests. With each new creation, he carefully studies the energetic flow and transitory nature of his work.

4. Three Times- Chinese film in which love is the central theme in this collection of three stories set in different years -- 1911, 1966 and 2005. In the first tale, a man leaves his true love to serve in the army. When he returns, he finds that his girlfriend has disappeared, so he sets out to find her. A man develops an unlikely bond with two women in the second tale; and four Taipei teens relieve their angst with technology and sex in the last story

5. Gille's Wife- (French) the same director as An Affair of Love (see above). This movies follows one woman's struggle to love her husband despite his faults. Though she's willing to accept her husband Gilles's overactive libido, Elisa (played by Emmanuelle Devos from Read My Lips and The Beat That My Heart Skipped) isn't sure how she feels about him having an affair with her sister. And compounding matters is the fact that Elisa is pregnant with their third child.

6. Don't Move- (Italian) Esteemed surgeon Timoteo (played by Sergio Castellitto from Mostly Martha and Caterina in the Big City) waits in agony to hear whether his 15-year-old daughter will live through a surgery being performed by a co-worker. As thoughts race through his mind, he can't help but recall his past mistakes, including the tempestuous adulterous affair he had with a young, docile, beautiful woman named Italia (played by Penelope Cruz).

7. Keep Your Distance- With a rewarding job and a beautiful wife, David Dailey seems to have it all. Yet he has the uneasy feeling that something's not right, a suspicion that grows even stronger when he begins receiving anonymous notes warning that his life is about to change … for the worse. While David senses he's being watched, he has no idea who's watching. Good cast.

8. Water- Set in India in the 1930s during the rise of the independence struggles against British colonial rule, the film examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

9. Be Here to Love Me- Even if you're not a fan of documentaries, hell, even if you're not a fan of folk/country, this film is a beautiful and well-directed story of the life of singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. More than just a movie for hardcore fans of the genre and the artist, the impeccable visual style of the movie keeps the average movie-goer enthralled within it's heartfelt and hilarious interviews of friends, family, and musical contemporaries give dialogue almost too good for a movie.

10. The Beat That My Heart Skipped- French film about a man who works in "real estate" but often he is little more than a thug who forcefully evicts apartment squatters. One night he meets his old piano teacher who encourages him to take up the piano again and try to become a concert pianist. He hires a female Chinese music conservatory graduate student to help him. In the meantime he is getting lots of pressure to continue his old life from his father and his business associates.

178. Here is a list of BBC movies and mini-series that are well worth watching. They are all available at Netflix and/or Blockbuster Online.

1. Daniel Deronda- written by George Eliot. All of these BBC offerings have great casts and sets and acting.

2. He Knew He Was Right- by Anthony Trollope.

3. The Way We Live Now. Tour de force performance by David Suchet.

4. Under the Greenwood Tree- by Thomas Hardy. Sort of "Far From the Madding Crowd Lite."

5. O Pioneers- This was actually a Hallmark Hall of Fame film made in the early 90's with Jessica Lange and David Strathairn.

6. Our Mutual Friend- by Charles Dickens

7. Wives and Daughters- Somewhat reminiscent of Mansfield Park.

8. Martin Chuzzlewit- by Charles Dickens

9. Bleak House- by Charles Dickens. A personal favorite and very well done. I think Gillian Anderson got an Emmy for this mini-series.

10. The Forsyte Saga- The modern version. Very well done.

11. The Aristocrats. Multi-generational saga of an aristocratic family.

179. Michael Clayton. This film stars George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Sidney Pollock, and Tom Wilkinson. We have seen this story done before but perhaps not so well told. This is an intellectual thriller that makes demands on the viewer to sit up and pay attention. The casual watcher who expects the plot points to be laid out on a platter will be lost in no time. Clooney plays the title role, an attorney at a large law firm who has a reputation for being the "fixer" or as he calls himself, the "janitor" because he is frequently called in to clean up someone else's mess. Although he is well remunerated for his job, he is not happy so often finding himself knee deep in muck. Arthur, a brilliant albeit manic-depressive (and medicated) colleague played by Wilkinson, has just gone "round the bend" when he discovers some very damning evidence about a corporate client that he represents. He is threatening to go public with his knowledge about U-North, the corporation that is making a product which may be killing folks with cancer. Again nothing new here- Hollywood doesn't like anybody to the right of Mao Tse Tung. Michael is told by his boss, played by Pollock, in no uncertain terms that he is to keep this genie in the bottle. Tilda Swinton does a marvelous job of playing U-North's in-house lawyer who will stop at nothing to keep a lid on the findings as well, although her methods are less constrained than Michael's. The problem in this story is Michael's crisis of conscience. Not long ago he was an assistant D.A. who had a strong moral compass. Now, just a few short years later he has made one too many "convenient" decisions, looked the other way one too many times. He has crossed a number of small lines, but to the present he hasn't crossed any major one. Will he now? We liked this film.

180. Almost Strangers. This is a really good 3 part British mini-series with Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice), Michael Gambon, Claire Skinner (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Lindsay Duncan (Under the Tuscan Sun). This is the story of Daniel (played by Macfadyen), a young man who accompanies his parents to an extended family reunion at a London hotel. His grandfather, (and his father by extension) was a black sheep because he elected to disengage himself from the family and move to a far suburb where he set up a furniture factory many years before. Now is the first time that his family has attended this reunion since he was a child and he is attempting to see where he fits in- or doesn't. Just like in any family, Daniel is slightly turned off by some relatives and attracted to others. The stories he hears and the lives he is drawn into begin to add new meaning to his own life and some old mysteries start to unravel. The cast in this series is never less than perfect as is the script. We liked this film.

181. My So-called Life, the 1994 TV series with Claire Danes was recently released on DVD. She won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy for her role as a girl enduring the traumas of high school. It had passed totally under our radar, but recently was released on DVD. There was just the one season- 19 episodes, but then TV usually cancels anything that smacks of quality. Bess Armstrong plays her mom. Jared Leto is her boyfriend. Great cast, scripts, directing. We really enjoyed it.

182. American Gangster. Not all that violent. Good cast, good story. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. We liked it.

183. We have also seen two French comedies and one American on DVD that were worth watching (both of the French fliks had Daniel Auteuil in them): My Best Friend is about a guy who has a lot of business associates but no real friends. He is goaded into a bet that he can't produce a "best friend" within the next couple of weeks. The Valet is a story of a wealthy man who is caught by the paparazzi with his mistress. Since his wife has a majority interest in their company's stock, he cannot afford a divorce. So he hires the parking valet who was also in the photo to pretend to be the boyfriend of his super-model girlfriend. He also enlists the aid of the mistress in the charade. Kirsten Scott Thomas stars in this one as well. The American film was a quiet comedy called Broken English with Parker Posey. This is the story of a 30ish woman in NYC who just can't seem to end up in a long term relationship with a man. Ultimately she meets a French guy for whom she has no real expectations who helps her learn about herself. Parker Posey captures this role.

184. Lars and the Real Girl. This film has a weird premise and of course you think it is going to be filled with fraternity humor, but it is actually a serious flik. Ryan Gosling (of Fracture with Anthony Hopkins) plays the painfully lonely guy who lives next to his married brother in a garage apt. His sister-in-law is played by Emily Mortimer of Match Point. One day he brings home a life-size (and anatomically correct) female "doll" and treats her like she is a living person, much to the consternation of his brother and others. They end up encouraging him to see the family doctor played by Patricia Clarkson. She advices the relatives to "go along" with his delusion until he "no longer needs it." Lars is a quiet nice guy and well liked in the small town and soon most folks are going along with it. Soon the delusion begins to take on a life of its own. We really liked this film.

185. No Country For Old Men with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem (currently also in Love in the Time of Cholera), Josh Brolin, and Tess Harper. This film was directed and produced by the Coen brothers and is a wonderful archetypal tale set in modern west Texas. The story concerns three men whose lives are intertwined when Moss (played by Brolin of American Gangster), who while hunting, stumbles onto the aftermath of a drug deal gone very bad. He finds a case of money and takes it home to hide it. Anton, played with an incredible evil presence by Bardem, is sent to retrieve the money and in so doing sets a new standard for psychopathic killers, basically dispatching almost everyone he encounters. Hannibal Lector, eat your heart out. Or is that your liver with some fava beans? Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, is the quintessential west Texas lawman. It is the late 70's and he is just starting to see the large influx of drugs from Mexico and all that accompanies it. The sheriff starts putting the pieces together and concludes from the trail of bodies, that somebody is in his territory looking for somebody/something. Although he doesn't believe Moss is involved in drug smuggling, he thinks Moss is at risk and tries to find him before the drug people do.

This film progresses in an unrelenting fashion. The directing is first rate. Acting is Oscar quality. There are some marvelous cameos by Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Tess Harper is perfect as the sheriff's wife. This movie reminds me of A History of Violence in some respects even though the plots are different. The story line is pretty heavy and mercifully gets a bit of comic relief from Tommy Lee Jones's quips to his deputy. No Country For Old Men will get my vote for one of the top 3 or 4 movies this year. Too bad it is being shown in such limited release.

185. Vitus. This is a Swiss film about a young boy, Vitus, who is a child prodigy. Not only is he a very precocious piano player, but he is highly intelligent and takes in everything around him. His parents, at first bewildered by his genius, soon try to help him obtain a good piano teacher thinking that he will eventually become a concert pianist. The boy himself just wants to be normal even though he isn't exactly sure what that is. His grandfather (played by Bruno Ganz from Bread and Tulips) is also his best friend and only wants Vitus to be happy. Vitus's father is an inventor and works for a hearing aid company where he has developed their latest technology, but the company is on shaky ground financially and Vitus knows that his father fears he will soon be out of a job. At nearly the same time his grandfather tells Vitus that he only has enough savings to live for about five more years. Will Vitus's super intellect come to the rescue? Will Vitus convince his baby sitter, who is six years older, to wait for him so that he can marry her someday? Will Vitus ever be "normal?" Do you speak Switzer-Deutsch? Don't worry, the film has subtitles. We really liked this modern fable.

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