Casino Royale

The indestructible super-spy is back but the results are disappointing. While the filmmakers have shed most of the cartoony sci-fi stuff that was gunking up the franchise, Daniel Craig's Bond is short on both humor and heart, making Casino Royale a longif technically stunningtwo and a half hours. Thank God for Judi Dench, who is tough but retains shreds of her humanity as Bond's boss M.

Shortbus

John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote and starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, has created a movie with hard core sex (straight, gay and sado-masochistic, to name a few flavors) that's somehow not pornographic. Ambitious, funny, sad and a little maddening all at the same time, this film will either start conversations with a bang or end them with a glare. See it with some Red Staters to watch their heads explode.

The Queen

Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II is both iconic and recognizably human--no mean feat for someone who is visible but not really knowable, even by her own family. Peter Morgan's script, both psychologically acute and clever, and Stephen Frears' direction, alive to every nuance of how power works, support Mirren beautifully in a film demonstrating that Princess Diana was more trouble to the royal family in death than she was in life--and that's saying something. James Cromwell as Elizabeth's arrogant twit of a husband leads a solid supporting cast. All hail The Queen.

Little Miss Sunshine

One of the bestcertainly one of the most enjoyableSundance-style comedies in many a year, Little Miss Sunshine benefits from light-handed direction by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, even as the fractured family they depict threatens to crack under the success-is-everything mantra of America today. The few sitcom touches of Michael Arndt's script are overcome by a fantastic cast: no surprise that Toni Collette and Alan Arkin are great, but Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell are both funny and surprisingly touching, and Paul Dano and especially Abigail Breslin as the kids are superlative.

A Scanner Darkly

In a crazy world, paranoia doesn't seem so crazy. Richard Linklater's film uses rotoscoping (live actors shot on video and then "drawn over") to create a world that's both unreal and hyper-real for this adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. Both anti-drugs and anti-government surveillance, the end product is less interesting than the ideas behind it, despite good work from Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and especially Robert Downey Jr., playing, of all things, a drug addict.

Mini's First Time

This feature debut by writer/director Nick Guthe can't quite decide if it's a film noir or a black comedy, and the genre scramble can be both refreshing and funny. Mini, an amoral teen temptress (Nikki Reed), exacts revenge on her abusive mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) via an affair with stepdad Alec Baldwin that soon leads to criminality and complications. While it looks stylish and features some good performances, plumbing the depths of Mini's cruelty ends up being less than satisfying overall.

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green

Carrying both the virtues and vices of a TV sitcom, Ethan Green breezes by thanks to an adorable, talented cast, headed by Daniel Letterle of Camp in the title role as a cute gay guy who consistently messes up his relationships. TV veteran Meredith Baxter escapes from her Lifetime purgatory as Ethan's plain-speaking mom, and the film's refusal to take itself too seriously helps smooth out its rough spots.

A Prairie Home Companion

Loads of talent behind the camera (screenwriter/host Garrison Keillor and director Robert Altman) and a dream cast of actor/singers including Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Lily Tomlin and a surprisingly good Lindsey Lohan only add to the disappointment of this bland, overlong film. It's tough to move from a medium of imagination (radio) to one of demonstration (film), and despite everyone's efforts in what's obviously a labor of love, this film can't capture what makes the long-running radio show of the same name uniquely entertaining and often moving.

Friends with Money

Interesting yet frustrating group character study from writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing) gives rich parts to Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and Jennifer Aniston, and the latter two do impressive work. But Holofcener is an acquired taste who sometimes fails to communicate her sly wit cinematically, and even for a "chick flick" this film meanders and sometimes mystifies.

Film Geek

Obsession can be a great subject for a film, but writer/director James Westby's Film Geek, about the world's most obsessive film fanatic, feels like a chore to sit through. Scotty Pelk, the titular film geek (Malik Malkasian), is pitifully ill-equipped to deal with the real world and essentially a narcissistic bore, but he would be the person you'd want on your team when playing "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."

Match Point

Film critics are hailing this as a return to form for Woody Allen, but the too-basic story of lust vs. greed feels thin and underpopulated. An emotionally naked performance by Scarlett Johansson as a neurotic would-be actress shows Woody's touch at directing women hasn't deserted him, but Jonathan Rhys Meyers seems blank as the protagonist. Upper-crust England never looked so good.

Capote

A frustrating film that nevertheless has fascinating aspects, Capote uses the framework of Truman Capote's six-year odyssey in writing In Cold Blood to explore the writer-as-vampire theme. An incredible performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role and strong support from Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Amy Ryan and especially Clifton Collins Jr. as an oddly delicate killer almost make it worthwhile, but be prepared for a sloooooow second half.

The Squid and the Whale

One of the few films that really captures the kids' experience, in all its pain and humor, when parents divorce, The Squid and the Whale features pitch-perfect performances from its central quartet of actors, especially Jeff Daniels as a failing novelist who uses his intellect as a weapon and Jesse Eisenberg as the older son who shows alarming signs of following in his father's footsteps. Writer/director Noah Baumbach succumbs to some too-obvious literary conventions and too-convenient subsidiary characters, but overall he catches both the specifics of this divorce and the universality of splitting up.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Director/co-screenwriter/co-star George Clooney's brave but uneven re-creation of the 1954 battle between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and dangerous demagogue Sen. Joe McCarthy is best at capturing the controlled chaos of producing a live TV newscast, but falls short at the job of humanizing its heroes. Despite Strathairn's efforts, Murrow comes off as more of a paragon than a person, and Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson are wasted in a yawner of a subplot. But Clooney deserves credit for making a film that depicts a chilling climate of fear with eerie parallels to the present day.

Thumbsucker

While it's being marketed as a hipper-than-hip black comedy, Thumbsucker is actually an involving coming-of-age story, with sly, dry humor balancing the drama. A dream cast including Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn support newcomer Lou Pucci in the title role, as a 17-year-old who still sucks his thumb. But don't be fooled, his immaturity is only more visible than that of everyone around him. A strong feature directing debut for Mike Mills.

Steal Me

One of those beautiful-looking, character-driven independent films I wanted to like better, writer/director Melissa Painter's Steal Me has lots of nice moments but fails to deliver emotionally overall. This tale of a teenage thief who briefly becomes part of a seemingly perfect family in idyllic rural Montana features fine performances from a relatively little-known cast, including Cara Seymour as an overprotective mother, Danny Alexander as the homeless thief and Toby Poser as a sexy neighbor.

The Thing About My Folks

Peter Falk works his magic yet again, fully inhabiting his character while remaining blissfully, gloriously himself. Even if the situations in Paul Reiser's screenplay are a bit contrived, the film plays beautifully as a series of duets between Falk and Reiser as father and son before losing its way during a too-neat finale.

War of the Worlds

Has Steven Spielberg embedded a few political messages in his latest cinematic thrill ride? It wouldn't be the first time for this classic alien-invasion tale.

Saraband

Ingmar Bergman's latest film, made with the confidence of a master filmmaker, visits familiar themes: parents squeezing the emotional juice out of children, the bonds of marriage, and the burden and joy of being an artist. Sometimes it's dull, but the good scenes grab you and won't let go.

Crash

It's Racism is Bad 101 in Paul Haggis' directorial debut Crash. The interlocking L.A. stories feature good acting (especially from Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and Don Cheadle) and some scenes can't help but touch you, but the overall film is so mechanical, simplistic and "ironic" that its well-meaning messages get lost or are turned on their head.

Torremolinos 73

In this clever, fable-like comedy-drama from Spain, an ordinary husband and wife (Javier Cámara and Candela Peña) find that making porn films becomes the means to fulfill their creative dreams. Funny and somehow innocent despite the subject matter, with excellent performances by the chameleonic Cámara and the skillful Peña.

Imaginary Heroes

Tedious family dysfunction film, in the mold of Ordinary People and The Ice Storm but not their class, that trivializes a serious subject (teen suicide) without illuminating its causes. Some glimmers of humor and wit, mostly from Sigourney Weaver and Emile Hirsch as too-close mother and son, only highlight the film's overall shapelessness and uncertainty of tone.

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