[Note: This is a new feature, inspired by similar things done here and here, but my version is much less ambitious (notes only when I feel like it, for example). Eventually, I'm going to set up a dedicated page for these (and my top ten lists), but for now a blog entry will have to do. The most recently watched movies are at the top. The star system is borrowed from the Chicago Reader (i.e. Jonathan Rosenbaum): anything that gets a star is recommended to one degree or another. Stuff without a star is not recommended. I'm more interested in differentiating between the very good and the great than between the mediocre and the horrible.]
The Wackness (Jonathan Levine, 2008) (v) *
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008) ****
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Patricia Rozema, 2008) (v)
RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008) (v) * - It looks drab, there are some rough edges that get in the way of it feeling like a perfectly clockwork caper movie, Jeremy Piven phones in his performance, its gestures towards some kind of emotional resonance are overshadowed (for me) by In Bruges and The Bank Job, and it really bungles just about everything having to do with its single female character. But I still liked it: Mark Strong and Gerard Butler both give strong performances and Ritchie has an Elmore Leonard-esque flair for controlled chaos.
High and Dizzy (Hal Roach, 1920) (s) (v) *** - Harold Lloyd plays drunk for most of this movie.
Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007) (v) *
Eye in the Sky (Nai-Hoi Yau, 2007) (v) **
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) (v) (r) *** - On home video, this lacks the intensity of the "IMAX Experience", but maybe because it isn't as overwhelming, the filmmaking seems tighter. A wash, in other words.
Baghead (The Duplass Bros., 2008) (v) **
The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald, 2007) (v) *
Stop-Loss (Kimberly Pierce, 2008) (v) - The underlying outrage - over why the soldiers are in Iraq in the first place and what they're doing there - never really comes into focus, so the surface outrage over the stop-loss order itself seems legalistic, the premise of an absurd, blackly comic joke that the movie is too earnest to tell.
The Unborn (David S. Goyer, 2009) - Doesn't survive the move from effective generalized creepiness to cliched specifities. Not everything needs to be explained. Especially the stuff that doesn't make any sense to begin with.
Street Kings (David Ayer, 2008) (v) ** - No surprises in this One Good Bad Cop movie: at this point I'm not even sure if any of the filmmakers even expect us to be surprised, despite the nominal twists. Still: good performances (esp. from the underrated Keanue Reeves and Chris Evans) and witty action editing.
Cleaner (Renny Harlin, 2007) (v) *
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2007) (v) **** - After one viewing felt like I had taken a bite out of this meaty, sprawling family drama-comedy, but was already looking forward to going back for the leftovers. In other words: part of what I liked about it is that I don't have the sense that I figured it all out or connected all the dots - there's still more to go back for.
Ballast (Lance Hammer, 2008) (v) ***
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) (v) ***
Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot, 2007) (v) ***
The Witnesses (v) (Andre Techine, 2007) **
Wendy and Lucy (v) (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) **
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) (v) - Kind of like the anti-Naked.
Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008) (v) * - McKay - a multiplex surrealist - is my favorite of Ferrell's collaborators, but the appealing ludicrousness of the first hour mostly evaporates after the obligatory aspirational storyline kicks in. Although the Billy Joel bit near the end is pretty great.
Cadillac Records (Darnell Martin, 2008) (v)
Traitor (Jeffrey Nachmanoff, 2008) (v)
I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel, 2008) (v)
Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) (v) - Not necessarily terrible, but depressing in the way it plugs the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry concepts into a standard 2000s action/comedy, with a mostly-played-straight aspirational character arc and romantic interest for our hero.
Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *
Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008) (v) *** - 10 years ago I thought that someone could make the perfect Batman movie by putting Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and turning it into a Clint Eastwood vehicle. Alas, those ships have sailed, but this will do just fine.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, 2008) (v) * - Professionally done mystery movie: major gripe against it (with which I agree) is that nothing in it seems to demand the theatrical feature treatment.
(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.
Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)
No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon