Want to see a first-rate film? Here are eight to consider

Without doubt, this is the optimal time of the year to view the very best of movies.
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Without doubt, this is the optimal time of the year to view the very best of movies. It’s not just tasty leftovers from the holiday season, but other new films that had to be released in New York and Los Angeles before the end of the year and could not fit into the marketplace in other cities without being buried. The latter were “platformed” to arrive in places like ours during the first two months of the year.

I count at least eight films worth your while or, should I say, quality movies that range from the challenging to entertaining. Among them are some strikingly pleasant surprises.

A month ago, only a handful of moviegoers had even heard of “Juno,” the independent comedy starring Ellen Page as the 16-year-old pregnant girl who opts out of an abortion and then searches for adoptive parents. Last week, it was the third-highest-grossing film, and signs are that it is still holding in there, almost a month after its wide release.

Needless to say, audiences are loving it. “Real people,” my son observed, after seeing it with his wife and two boys. “Real people.”

There is even talk that it will sneak into the Oscar race for best picture. And, in a year when most of the other excellent films are tough and violent, I’ll be darned if this one does not stand a chance. “Juno” appeals to adults and teens, even pre-teens, and if there ever were a film that kids and parents could see together, this is it. In fact, this is the kind of movie the target audience of teens should be seeing. More experiences with movies such as “Juno” are surefire ways to elevate taste in a target audience deemed by producers as horny kids with the intelligence of amoebas.

Educational Opportunity

Put into that same class of film “The Great Debaters,” with director Denzel Washington as the professor who took his debating team from a small, all-black Texas college to competitions with students from prominent colleges such as Harvard, although in reality the black students defeated debaters from the University of Southern California.

Though it will entertain and satisfy most of us, this is the kind of movie especially inspirational for teens who need to understand that they will remain in the lower strata of society unless they speak and write their language with pride and precision. I feel sure that is the underlying message intended by Washington and by the film’s primary promoter, Oprah Winfrey. Administrators and teachers who arrange to take classes to see this movie deserve the kudos of taxpayers, who should feel privileged to underwrite the experience.

The other noteworthy films still around are “Kite Runner,” “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Savages,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The new movie worth seeing is “Cloverfield,” the first noteworthy 2008 film.

No need to expound more on those entries, some of them award winners and contenders, but once more, at least two are excellent films for teens as well as for adults. With the appearance of two Afghan children, “The Kite Runner” is an excellent dramatic experience, while, along with “Juno,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” is the most entertaining movie now playing. It is also informative and stimulating. If this Mike Nichols movie with Tom Hanks gets an Oscar for Best Picture, it will be deserved.

Overrated ‘Atonement’

You may note that I did not include “Atonement” in the category, even though it is still playing and even though it garnered a Best Picture from the Golden Globes, whose voters are foreign correspondents, many of them entertainment reporters who, I assure you, do not regularly see films. Often, their job is to report on the glitz of Hollywood.

Note that it was snubbed as an entry from the Producers Guild and other critics’ organizations. But in fairness, the adaptation of the British novel got the largest number of nominations from BAFTA, sometimes known as the British Academy Awards.

I think “Atonement” has too many flaws and excesses to be regarded as one of the best; moreover, I take umbrage at judgments that I believe flow from the obligatory impulse to honor a British project with just the right pedigree.

“Charlie Wilson’s War” may not come from a terrific novel, but as a movie with verve, style and substance, it trumps “Atonement” hands down. So does “Into the Wild,” which was snubbed by BAFTA.

The other entry with that elevated pedigree is “Sweeney Todd,” what with its Broadway origins and the Stephen Sondheim score. And it stars the terrific actor Johnny Depp. This is another movie that comes with great direction but lacks that distinction of greatness, not to mention excellence. I do not understand why Depp, whom I like and respect, got a Golden Globes nod instead of George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis or Viggo Mortensen (“Easter Promises”). I risk sounding jingoistic.

Wide-open Competition

Consider those my biases, if you wish, but that winning pictures and performers in some circles were ignored by other groups underscores the presence of the most diverse field of films and critical opinions I have ever witnessed. We may well have a situation in which “Juno” ends up getting an Oscar at a ceremony boycotted by the stars.

Just when I thought all this award stuff was turning boring.

Categories: Life and Arts

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