Now that's-a what I'm-a talkin' about!
Some Oscar contenders for my consideration...
Lost in Translation: 3.5 Stars. It's pretty safe to say that Scarlett Johannsen has earned the title of best teen actress working these days. Not that she has too much competition, with the Hillary Duffs and Lindsay Lohans of the world doing the dreck they're doing, but it's still an enviable position to hold. Lost is a slice-of-life film...a few days spent between two lonely souls in Tokyo. Bill Murray is at the top of his serious-acting game in this flick, as he plays an American movie star in town to shoot a commercial. Johannsen is the left-alone wife of a workaholic photographer. Their insomnia leads to repeated meetings, and eventually to a tenuous friendship between kindred spirits just trying to get through a miserable few days abroad. Basically what we get to watch a great collection of shared experiences, but not forced or ridiculous like in, say, Before Sunrise. The movie just lets their relationship develop at a nice, easy pace, and it shines as a result. Special kudos to the lovely and talented Anna Faris for her perfect portrayal as a vapid starlet.
Big Fish: 3.75 Stars. I'd heard mixed reviews coming into this film. Dan loved it. Stephanie hated it. Barbara wasn't terrifically thrilled to be seeing it. But oh, was it worth it. There's one word to describe this gem of a picture: Masterpiece. This is the film Tim Burton was born to make, and it's practically an epic poem to his abilities as a visionary director. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney are simply spot-on as the title character, Edward Bloom, a charming Southern tale-spinner whose life bridges the gap between fact and fantasy. The story centers (if there really is a center) around Bloom's straight-laced son (Billy Crudup), Will. Will spends the film watching his aged father on his death bed and trying desperately to decipher what was real and what was fiction about his father's life. This being a Tim Burton film, however, we know we're not going to get any straight answers, and, frankly, I was fine with that. This was a truly beautiful film. The effects were seamless; the cinematography was amazing, and the pure whimsy that suffused the entire movie was a joy to behold. And that's on top of great acting and a fantastic script. The only negative was the length, or more accurately the pacing. I found myself looking at my watch a few times, and that's always a no-no.
Mystic River: 3.5 Stars. Another damned fine film by Clint Eastwood, Mystic River focuses on two tragedies separated by 30 years. The movie is really a whodunit, but one dealing heavily with the psychology of its principal characters. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon are all top-notch as the three boyhood friends linked to both tragedies. They were all scarred (to varying degrees) by the first, and now they, as adults, are forced to deal with the second, and, to some degree, they must all examine the choices they have made in the intervening years which led to their reunification. To tell more would be to ruin the film, but it suffices to say that Eastwood has given us a mesmerizing movie experience. Special kudos to Laura Linney for one simply awesome scene towards the end.
Cold Mountain: 3.5 Stars. This movie surprised me. I figured this civil war epic by Anthony Minghella would pale beside his last great film, the English Patient, but it held up pretty well considering the downgrade in charisma from Juliette Binoche to Nicole Kidman. Jude Law was awesome as the lovelorn soldier just trying to get home to his love, and Renée Zellweger was great as the low-class country girl. Exciting, sad, funny, and heartbreaking at times, this is truly the stuff of epics. Two cameos are worth noting because of their quality. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a disgraced preacher, showed once again why he's the most talented actor in the business, and Natalie Portman was surprisingly able as a Civil War widow. Basically, a heckuva film.
The Butterfly Effect: 3 Stars. Part two of the Ethan Supplee double feature, Butterfly was...well, it's actually good! I know, it almost pains me to say it, but Ashton Kutcher now has two good movies on his resume (Dude, Where's My Car being the other). The basic plot is that Kutcher, having suffered through repeated blackouts as a child, is now able to go back in time to relive those blackouts and, in doing so, try to fix the his life and the life of his friends and girlfriend, Amy Smart (who, for the record, was in the same high school class as Barbara). As with all time-travel films, there are holes you could drive a truck through (if you change something that happened when you were five, will an event that happened when you were ten necessarily happen?), the movie manages to make them overlookable by focusing on the consequences of his actions, not all of which are immediately evident. The film lags a bit in the middle, but it finishes up so strongly that it earned its 3 stars.