widescreen – Weathering Februarys cinematic slump

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Every year its like this: The film selection in late January/early February is somewhat on the barren side. Take a gander at last weekends major releases: the Jessica Alba horror flick, The Eye; the Adam Sandler-produced comedy, Strange Wilderness; and Eva Longoria testing the waters for stardom outside Desperate Housewives in Over Her Dead Body.

Eva should keep her day job her comedy barely made $5 million. Of the lot, only The Eye made the top 10, but even it was trounced by the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus 3-D concert movie, which raked in a mind-boggling $29 million. Im sure some Hollywood executive is right now singing, Thank heaven for little teenage girls with disposable income.

A movie critic faced with such choices has to ponder his purpose. Instead of wasting six hundred or so words on what surely amounts to cinematic smog, why not catch up on films of quality, films that do what great movies do so well: Lift you to another plane, engage your mind, rattle and touch your soul? Isnt that a better use of your nine bucks?

Id suggest going with the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. The front-runner this year, No Country for Old Men (five stars), is in the lead for a reason: Its astonishing. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, its their best film since Fargo and more than makes up for the travesty that was The Ladykillers.

No Country weaves a tale of law and disorder, replacing Fargos chilly climes for Texas heat. It isnt as quirky as Fargo, but it features all the Coen touchstones, including slightly off-kilter characters and situations that grow more dire by the second.

Its a gripping thriller made all the more harrowing by a performance by Javier Bardem as a chilling psychopath with a soft voice, a determined resolve and an air-compressor gun.

Equally potent and a little more sprawling, There Will Be Blood (five stars) is Paul Thomas Andersons compelling story of one mans ferocious greed and the ultimate depths of disconnect.

A morality tale for our time but set in the early part of the 20th century its anchored by an exceptional performance from Daniel Day Lewis as a burgeoning oil tycoon, and Paul Dano as a young preacher with whom he furiously entangles.
Michael Clayton (five stars) has been reissued into theaters to capitalize on its Oscar nods. Though the film is about to hit the DVD market, Id argue that seeing it on a big screen with an audience will only enhance its richness.
George Clooney and Tilda Swinton are both terrific in this story of a fixer at a major law firm with a tremendous mess on his hands. Its a throwback, evoking a day when movies found their potency in character and in strong, rock-solid screenwriting.

Contact the writer at rshulman@metroweekly.com

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