review: This is the quintessential post-9/11 movie. Based on events that occurred after the 1972 Summer Olympics in which Israeli athletes were murdered by agents of the PLO, it is a clear cautionary tale that reflected the response to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It's also a thriller, and can be enjoyed on that level, too. It's also Eric Bana's best movie. It's also Daniel Craig's most significant pre-007 appearance. And, I would argue, Stephen Spielberg's best. Either as a summer escape expert or a harrowing chronicler of history, Spielberg had mastered movies that operated on basically one level at a time, and yet, Munich manages to capture two. Unlike a lot of movies that commented on the wars, however, it doesn't take an overt stance on them. It's a commentary, most of all, about what happens when a particular response is taken, and what it takes to make that response, and what happens to one participant, Bana's character. All this is greatly enhanced by being accompanied by perhaps John Williams' last great score.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
review: To say that the Star Wars prequels enjoy a poor reputation is to put it mildly. To say that a lot of fans would love to pretend they never existed is probably the best that can be said about them. But I've liked them all along. And I think Revenge of the Sith is the best of them, and maybe even the best Star Wars film, period. It reaches truly operatic depths, not once but twice. Once is literally during an opera. What the prequels managed to do that the original trilogy couldn't was allow the concept of the saga to be examined, and the opera scene between Palpatine and Anakin is the only time in the saga in which a simple conversation, not just a scene but an actual conversation, is allowed to play out. It works on a number of levels. It explains backstory. It gives Anakin the impetus to fall utterly under Palpatine's spell. And it allows Palpatine to express things he doesn't even need to state explicitly, that reveal everything there is to know about him, too. And it is successfully presented as an ominous, momentous, truly dramatic moment. The second such moment is the end of the duel with Anakin and Obi-Wan, who expresses his grief over what has just happened, and illustrates the tragedy of the whole prequel trilogy, what had to happen in order to create Darth Vader, what takes it from mere incident (Anakin turns to the dark side, battles Obi-Wan) and humanizes it. Obi-Wan is the means by which we realize that the inevitable, as fans saw it, didn't seem that way to people who actually knew Anakin. The rest of the movie is exactly as the rest of the prequels are, as the rest of the saga has always been, grand sci-fi adventure, filled with wild imagination, heroes and villains, the fate of the universe ever in the balance, or maybe just the relationships caught in the struggle.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
review: Out of the eight movies that resulted from the seven book series, Goblet of Fire, it struck me immediately, most has the ability to convey the true spirit of Harry Potter's story in film. Which is to say, if you were to watch only one of the movies, this would be it. From Harry and his friends having fun with magic, or enduring heartache, or experiencing larger pieces of the magical worlds than were typically explored, to merely feeling like a fantasy movie where dragons can be dragons (because there's a sequence for that, too), it's all there. And the absolute killer aspect of the movie is the absolutely killer last act, in which Ralph Fiennes debuts as Voldemort in the best sequence of the movie series.
review: This is not the best Batman movie (that's the sequel), but it's the best Batman origin story to likely ever be committed to film, and that's pure Christopher Nolan, who brings his usual piercing insight to the least likely vehicle possible, allowing Batman to be the boogeyman Tim Burton envisioned while keeping Bruce Wayne the most important element, and reconciling the difference. How do you adequately explain how Batman is created? By making Batman himself a tragedy, and a response to a mentor who promises him the world, but only if he agrees to destroy it first. Liam Neeson had by this point settled in as essential supporting player material, before his career relaunched as an action star. His arc is actually the one that Nolan draws on to continue the brand of filmmaking he'd been working on at the time, the classic game of misdirection, so there's three levels to the movie.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
review: At the time, I thought that if this one proved to be a massive success, it would've been because fans of the Men in Black movies had found in it a kindred spirit. And yet even fans of the books/radio programs/Douglas Adams seemed to reject it, thinking that it was a massive sellout basically because it had been made in Hollywood. I can't work with that kind of logic. The cast is phenomenal, hugely rewarding in its own right. And I think it does reflect the source material brilliantly. And is hugely entertaining as a movie.
The New World
review: Although I have a wider experience of the films of Terrence Malick now, I still consider this one to be his best, and his best shot at a truly enduring legacy. The classic story of Pocahontas is another of the narratives modern historians are eager to debunk, but at its heart it remains a good one, if nothing else, and this elegiac version is as good a version of it as there is ever likely to be.
review: I'll never understand the impulse critics seem to have of rejecting movies that embrace the art of filmmaking. To them it's a static experience that is hardly different from the theater. To directors like Robert Rodriguez, it's bursting with artful potential. This adaptation of Frank Miller comics transcribes their style while filling the screen with performances from a rich ensemble. Both the visual flare and the actors make this, to my mind, incredibly difficult to dismiss, unless you're really committed to doing so. To what point I can't easily imagine.
review: This adaptation of the stage musical handily recreates its appeal, this time with added Rosario Dawson.
Kingdom of Heaven
review: Along with Gladiator and Exodus: Gods and Kings, this is part of what to this point is Ridley Scott's historian trilogy of epics, all of which follow the same line of exploring what makes a good leader. This one's the most ambiguous, which is not surprising, as like Munich it basks in its 9/11 parallels as it attempts to make sense of the Middle East.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
review: Ridiculously charming Claymation, with ridiculously adorable rabbits. Er, were-rabbits.
Fun with Dick and Jane
review: In some ways the climax of Jim Carrey's popular career. Having transitioned away from playing cartoonish characters, here he's merely in a cartoonish situation, lampooning the financial shenanigans that would a few years later lead to a full-blown Great Recession.
Walk the Line
review: As an admitted fan of Johnny Cash, I was probably predisposed to like this one.
The Constant Gardener
review: An early favorite of mine that year, while I might have found stuff I liked better, I still appreciate this harrowing look at the soul-crushing complexity of how the world works.
review: In which Mel Brooks perhaps realizes, as far as wide audiences go, this one probably had longer legs in post-/11 New York City than it did elsewhere. But it's still hilarious, and this is probably the best way the story, which had already been a film forty years earlier, is going to endure. Will Ferrell has another of his pre-breakout standout supporting roles, reason enough to give it another chance.
review: Like Kingdom of Heaven, this was a chance for Orlando Bloom to see how far his career could go in the wake of appearing in three blockbuster Lord of the Rings and one Pirates of the Caribbean, to that point. This one's a completely different kind of movie, however, a Cameron Crowe kind of movie, because it is in fact directed by Cameron Crowe, with Kirsten Dunst lending a tremendously appealing turn opposite Bloom. I'm not an aficionado of Crowe movies, particularly, but I this one works well as an atypically low-key affair.
The Legend of Zorro
review: Missing the magic of its predecessor, The Mask of Zorro, but maintains the heroic flair, that's missing from more contemporary superhero storytelling these days.
review: Recognized instantly as an iconic, transcendent look at gay romance, and for me personally, a standout movie for Heath Ledger.
review: Fairly standard romantic comedy that for me is elevated by being a fan of the Boston Red Sox, whose historic 2004 World Series victory was unexpectedly reflected in it.
The Brothers Grimm
review: As conventional as Terry Gilliam is ever likely to get, but still enjoyable.
review: A look at the post-9/11 world at a contemporary level, lacking a true killer center.
review: I've yet to see Get Shorty, but this follow-up is easily comprehensible without it, even if the best bits end up falling to supporting players like Vince Vaughn and Dwayne Johnson.
Lords of Dogtown
review: This kind of follow-up to the youth-in-revolt cinema of the '50s is most notable for Heath Ledger's supporting turn, where he channels Val Kilmer.
review: The prestige ensemble, ironically downplayed by critics following its initial success with them in favor of Brokeback Mountain, would probably play better today, or at least as well. Still seems to be missing a true sense of outrage to sell its impact. Again, an irony. Outrage is all we see in the world today, when it plays best in movies, when placed in proper context.
review: Amazing that Will Smith has so rarely turned his charm to the romantic. More amazing that Kevin James, thanks to an unremarkable turn here, launched a fairly successful film career.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
review: Critics, and audiences, were initially wowed by this latest adaptation of the classic book, but subsequent installments sort of revealed what had been overlooked in the first place, that the magic wasn't quite there. In hindsight, a truly new vision of the story might have found something everyone could've enjoyed for longer.
Son of the Mask
review: Any casting limitations are mitigated by this belated follow-up unexpectedly drawing inspiration from the second most notable aspect of the original, the ability of CGI to bring cartoons to life. And that's really what this one is.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
review: Artful, but not as inspired as The Nightmare Before Christmas.
review: One of Heath Ledger's surprisingly infrequent romantic adventures.
The Dukes of Hazzard
review: This is exactly what an updated version of the TV series ought to look like.
review: This cinematic follow-up to the short-lived TV series Firefly exposes its shortcomings, and also celebrates its strengths.
Into the Blue
review: If ogling Paul Walker and Jessica Alba isn't up your alley, than check out Josh Brolin in a supporting role, a little before he finally emerged as a notable cinematic presence.
review: Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star in this lush-looking minor entry in the sci-fi canon.
review: By all accounts this is an iteration of the Marvel comic that looks at the very least too small in comparison to the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Avengers franchises around it. But it still has its charms, notably among them Chris Evans, before Captain America, as an incredibly charming Johnny Storm, the Human Torch.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
review: The whole point of this is to marvel at the combustible chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ah, in real life it turned out "combustible" was the operative word.
review: Russell Crowe in a relative misfire as he attempted to stretch out his early millennium success in a way that proved too calculated.
review: The sky is falling for predictable animated flicks.
A History of Violence
review: A grossly overrated movie, except the supporting turn by William Hurt.
review: Donnie Wahlberg doesn't quite get to relive his Boomtown glory.
review: Nothing particularly wrong with it, except Will Ferrell is sort of in Elf mode without an Elf level story around it.
review: Nothing particularly wrong with this one, either, except that if Jennifer Garner is going to be in action mode, it has to be as interesting as Alias, or have more compelling characters around her.
review: The chilling nature of the drama in the air is sort of sabotaged by Jayma Mays inadvertently stealing the movie at the airport.
review: Fairly nondescript. Hard to remember.
review: Fairly standard Bruce Willis.
review: Dwayne Johnson had yet to figure out how to pick his projects.