David Ansen

Bold-Faced Names

The level of acting in movies today is as high as it's ever been; the hard part about coming up with a "best" list is knowing where to stop. Even in terrible movies, the acting rarely sinks to the level of the writing and directing.

Holiday Movie Guide

It will be hard to think of diamonds as a girl's best friend after seeing "Blood Diamond," Ed Zwick's slick, hard-hitting political thriller. The movie pitches us into the midst of a barbaric civil war in Sierra Leone in 1999, in which the profits from illegal, or "conflict," diamonds, sold on the black market to reputable European companies (a tiny splinter of the diamond trade), are used to fund arms on both sides of the war.A rare pink diamond, coveted by all, is the "MacGuffin" that sets...

Cinematic Fantastic

This year may be remembered as one that blurred the lines between reality and fiction. "Borat" wasn't just the funniest movie of the year, but the most controversial, fudging the divide between comedy, documentary and faux-documentary. "United 93" and "World Trade Center" came face to face with 9/11; Paul Greengrass's "United 93" was shot in a cinema verite style that tried to distance it from Hollywood convention.

It's Diva-Licious

To understand the definition of a showstopper, look no further than "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)," which became an instant Broadway legend in 1981 when Jennifer Holliday belted out the song in Michael Bennett's production of "Dreamgirls." Now, in Bill Condon's knockout movie version of the musical, the number belongs to Jennifer Hudson, and her star-making rendition is going to raise goose bumps across the land.The song--a raw, roiling aria of defiance and pain--is sung by Effie...

Mel's Jungle Boogie

Let no one deny that mel Gibson is a true auteur, an artist whose films are deeply personal, intransigently independent of movie-industry fashion and possessed of a singular vision.

It's Diva-Licious

To understand the definition of a showstopper, look no further than "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)," which became an instant Broadway legend in 1981 when Jennifer Holliday belted out the song in Michael Bennett's production of "Dreamgirls." Now, in Bill Condon's knockout movie version of the musical, the number belongs to Jennifer Hudson, and her star-making rendition is going to raise goose bumps across the land.The song--a raw, roiling aria of defiance and pain--is sung by Effie...

The Maverick of Movieland

Robert Altman never courted an audience's affections. A cool, iconoclastic customer, he scorned sentimentality, upended the rules of genre, spurned happy endings.

Snap Judgment: Movies

Déjà VuDirected by Tony ScottThis flashy Jerry Bruckheimer thriller, which starts with the terrorist bombing of a New Orleans ferry, asks that perennial sci-fi question: if you go back in time, can you change the future?

David Ansen on Robert Altman's Legacy

A flinty, cantankerous man whose movies thumbed their nose at Hollywood notions of heroism and uplift, Robert Altman, who died Monday at 81, never courted an audience's affections.

All Heart and No Smarts

"Bobby," Emilio Estevez's heartfelt and soft-headed tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, is set in and around the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, the day of Kennedy's assassination.

Too Funny- Or Too Far?

There's a malicious rumor going around that anyone over 35 won't find "Borat" funny. Then how do you explain all those rave reviews from old farts like, well, me?

Periscope

Letter From the EditorMuch is at stake in this week's midterm elections in the United States, not least control of the Congress and perhaps the fate of the U.S. deployment in Iraq.

Women on the Verge

Pedro Almodovar's latest film includes child abuse, murder, cancer, a corpse stashed in a freezer, a ghost and a village obsessed with the dead--in other words, it's one of his most benign movies.

Movies: With the Chicks

It was in 2003, during the heated run-up to the war in Iraq, when the Dixie Chicks took to the stage at Shepherds Bush Empire in London and lead singer Natalie Maines remarked that she was ashamed that President Bush came from Texas.

Snap Judgment: Movies

Catch a FireDirected by Phillip NoyceFilmmakers have been documenting the horrors of apartheid for decades. Noyce ("Rabbit-Proof Fence") encourages us to feel the echo of current events. "Catch a Fire" tells the true story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), an apolitical oil-refinery foreman in 1980s South Africa whose false arrest and torture transformed him into a gun-wielding freedom fighter.

Snap Judgement: Movies

Directed by Christopher NolanTaking off from Christopher Priest's novel, Nolan and his screenwriting brother, Jonathan, have whipped up a dark, tricky, tale of two rival magicians in turn-of-the-20th-century London.

As the World Burns

Watching Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Babel," it quickly becomes clear that the movie's guiding principle is Murphy's Law. Whatever can go wrong, will.As in "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams" --the two previous films in what Inárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are calling a trilogy--three separate tales are woven together in ways that are not always immediately apparent.

Inside the Hero Factory

Clint Eastwood's tough, smart, achingly sad "Flags of Our Fathers" is about three anointed heroes of World War II--three of the men who appeared, backs to the camera, in the legendary Joe Rosenthal photograph of six soldiers hoisting the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Magicians at War

"Are you watching closely?" asks the narrator of Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" as the camera prowls amid a large collection of black top hats incongruously spead across a forest floor.  The meaning of this image, like much else in this tricky, twisting tale of rival magicians at the end of the 19th century, won't become clear until the end of the tale.  Nolan, a deft sleight-of-hand artist himself, practices what he preaches: like many magic tricks, his film is built on misdirection:...

Get That Mole Removed

Martin Scorsese's profanely funny, savagely entertaining "The Departed" is both a return to the underworld turf he's explored in such classics as "Mean Streets" and "GoodFellas" and a departure.

Romp and Roll

The drag queen host (Justin Bond) of the Brooklyn salon that gives John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus" its name, surveys the room where a frisky and friendly orgy is in full swing, and pronounces: "It's just like the '60s … only with less hope."It's a great line, destined to be much quoted.

Snap Judgment: Movies

All the King's MenDirected by Steven ZaillianDespite Sean Penn's meaty, lip-smacking performance as the populist demagogue Willie Stark--novelist Robert Penn Warren's fictional version of Louisiana Governor Huey P.

Movies: The Good, the Bad, The Hilariously Gross

The studios like to use the Toronto Film Festival as a launching pad for Oscar hopefuls. Last year "Crash" was unveiled here, and look where that ended. There's a risk involved, of course: every major U.S. media outlet has critics and journalists scoping out the prospects, and if they turn against you, you can kiss your Oscar prospects goodbye.

World Economy: Plenty of Cash Is Not Enough

The curse of plenty lives. The latest World Bank list of nations at risk of political and economic collapse counts 26 such "fragile states," up sharply from 17 in 2003, and includes a striking number that are seeing rising revenues from oil (Angola, Nigeria), tourism (Cambodia) or aid (Timor-Leste, Afghanistan).

Up From the Ashes

In Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," on the morning of September 11, 2001, a Port Authority cop named Will Jimeno is doing his everyday job, shooing away prostitutes and panhandlers from the bus terminal, when he hears a loud rumble overhead.

Lukewarm Waters

If you got to "Miami Vice" looking for nostalgia, you're barking up the wrong palm tree. Yes, it's called "Miami Vice" and the two leads are named Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, but there any resemblance to the '80s TV show ends.

Snap Judgment: Movies

Lady in the Water Directed by M. Night ShyamalanThis batty New Age "bedtime story" is all about a "narf" (Bryce Dallas Howard), a mythological water nymph from the Blue World who's discovered in the pool of an apartment complex by its sad-sack super-intendent (Paul Giamatti).

A Busload Of Losers

A dysfunctional family, led by a workaholic patriarch, take a road trip, and the journey mends their wounds. This was the premise of one of 2006's most mirthless comedies, the formulaic "RV." As if to prove that God is in the details, along comes "Little Miss Sunshine." Same premise.

Snap Judgement: Movies

The Devil Wears Prada Directed by David FrankelNever raising her creamy voice, Meryl Streep is scarily sensational as magazine editor Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical, all-powerful arbiter of New York fashion.

'Pirates 2': Jack Sparrow Boogaloo

When Johnny Depp's kohl-eyed Jack Sparrow sashayed across the screen in the first "Pirates of the Caribbean," the impact was instantaneous. The last thing one expected in a big summer extravaganza was a star turn that pulled the rug out from under you.

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