Critic at Large: With year half over, ‘The Visitor’ best film so far

"The Visitor" is the best movie to emerge so far as 2008 crosses the halfway point, says Gazette fil

2008 is now a bit more than 50 percent memory. Time for a consideration of the movie year so far — its pleasures and disappointments.

The year’s best movie up to now has been “The Visitor,” a movie quite good enough to survive the usual plethora of holiday offerings that will begin bombarding us beginning in November. More than ever, the Hollywood mindset dictates that once a movie is out of sight, it is out of mind, forgotten by a fickle public, including those of us who vote for the year’s best.

So why take a chance releasing a “gem” in June or January? Hence, the early months mark the obligatory “reject” time; that is, an occasion to release bombs, mistakes, or frivolous, forgettable pieces like “27 Dresses” and “Vantage Point.”

Summer is reserved for sci-fi, special effects and roller coaster adventures. The assumption is that come September, we will yank our brains out of deep-freeze and begin to act like grownups.

This sounds like a cynical marketing approach, but I am sorry to acknowledge there may be something to it. Look what happened to “Away From Her,” the remarkable, critically acclaimed drama starring Julie Christie that was released in May 2007. I must confess that when I began mounting a 10-best list for that year, I forgot about it in my initial sketch.

I pledge that on my part this fleeting neglect will not attend “The Visitor,” which is still playing at the Spectrum. I have yet to encounter anyone who did not take to it, and I include “Sex and the City” lovers who are recent college graduates.

Speaking of “Sex and the City,” it is so far the year’s best frivolous slice of enjoyment. In addition to agreement from those who liked it, I have encountered readers who have taken me to task for “lowering” my standards. “You were duped, swayed by the flighty enthusiasm of the ditzy females around you,” said one of my friends — a female, by the way.

Three fine family movies have graced our presence. “Horton Hears a Who” is a hoot while “Kit Kittredge” is a pleasant surprise — a delightful, whimsical piece of nostalgia. The surefire Oscar nominee is Disney’s “WALL-E,” which may appeal to adults more than to kids.

As for summer adventure, the two best are “Wanted” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” But the most enjoyable, while it may not be the most outstanding, is the one I recommend for guaranteed family fun, and that’s the 3-D version of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

I continue to regret the American moviegoer’s response to movies that try to grapple with the mess in Iraq. It’s not a case of recommending movies that will change minds, but one of enabling us to be more acutely aware of the nuances associated with that conflict. Hence, my mention of “Stop-Loss,” a film about the army’s policy of sending soldiers back to Iraq after their service time has ended.

Nothing is to be done about this benign neglect. Funny how we can respond to patriotic activities involving tears and cheers for returning veterans but ignore movies that enlighten us about their lives, and do so with utmost respect.

A few weeks ago at Fenway Park, I saw the senior citizen chorus from “[email protected]” perform, reminding me that it is the year’s most enjoyable documentary.

A review of the movie year so far has to include mention of the worst movie with the best first-week box office record. That award goes to “Hancock,” proving once more Will Smith’s magnetic appeal, even if his film is worse than a mess.

The bottom line is that with the year half behind us, the only live-action Oscar hopeful is “The Visitor.” We are all waiting for the rest.

Categories: Life and Arts

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