My thoughts on recently-seen, mostly AVERAGE movies (VERY MINOR SPOILERS PERHAPS)
The Princess and the Frog: Disney's first "hand-drawn" animated film since, I think, the little-seen Home on the Range, The Princess and the Frog is a wonderful return to the days of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Randy Newman does the music and songs, and while most of them don't quite have the staying power of, say, the Oscar-nominated tunes from Mermaid or Beauty, they are still lively (a song by the film's voodoo priestess is probably the highlight). I think you prolly all know the basic premise based solely on the film's title, but it's all a lot of fun, with one of the most well-written heroines in Disney film history. A-.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Okay so it's an animated "family film," but The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through. Recurring Anderson players Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe all return (though among them, only Schwartzman has a sizeable # of lines), and they are joined by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, both of whom knock it out the park in their first time (I think) doing vocal work. Some funny visuals - especially the tunneling sequences and the moments when Mr. Fox eats his dinner (savagely devouring it in just seconds) - but the first half is notably better (and funnier) than the second half. B.
Up in the Air: So far, this is the Oscar front-runner for Best Picture, Screenplay, Director (Jason Reitman), and Actor (George Clooney). Like last year's Slumdog, 2007's No Country for Old Men, 2005's Crash (and frankly, most other Best Picture winners from the '00 decade (save The Departed, Traffic, and maybe Gladiator), Up in the Air is generally quite good, yet still overrated. I personally identified with the themes (getting fired, being a frequent flier, searching for a connection), but there were just a few too many seen-it-before Hollywood-esque moments in the film's final third. Too bad, because Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and newcomer Anna Kendrick are all quite good (and Farmiga has a great pooper, assuming she didn't use a butt double). No, people, this is not Jason Reitman's best film - that would be JUNO. I give it a "B+" for "Botched third act."
A Christmas Carol: Did anyone in Hollywood besides Robert Zemeckis actually have a hankering to see this story retold for the gazillionth time?!?! Didn't think so. That said, the rotoscope animation is outstanding, and Carrey is quite good as Ebeneezer Scrooge (among several other roles), with only minimal mugging. I saw this in 3-D so the theater charged $15 or something like that. The 3-D was great but jeezus, the movie wasn't THAT good. Problem is, being so faithful to the Charles Dickens source material means you will have a slightly boring film that kids are likely to hate. From that standpoint, I can see why the box office returns were a bit disappointing for the studio. Not a bad film, just an unnecessary one. B.
A Serious Man: Tony-winning actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays the title role in the latest Coen Bros. film, an ultra-personal, ultra-low budget indie with no big names and, like the infuriating No Country for Old Men, with no ending, either. Basically, he plays the Jewish patriarch of a suburban Minneapolis family in the 1970s who suddenly finds himself getting metaphorically shit on, and he tries to find out why. Interesting, but aimless. Stuhlbarg is great, however. B-.
The Proposal: I generally avoid romcoms like the plague (especially those starring Matthew McConaughey and/or Kate Hudson), so this one, which I watched first on a plane and more recently on cable, was a pleasant surprise. Sandra Bullock (who herself has done her fair share of romcoms) plays the dragon lady boss and editor at an NYC publishing house who is about to be deported b/c she is from Canada and let her working papers lapse. A quick-fix solution has her engaged to her younger, much put-upon, American-born assistant (Ryan Reynolds) for a quick fix, but to convince the immigration officer on their trail they must make it look like a real relationship. Much comedy and a surprising amount of honest familial drama results (Reynold's father, well-played by Craig T. Nelson, isn't exactly pleased that sonny hasn't returned home to Alaska to take up the family biz). The one false note: too much Betty White, who overplays her comic relief role as the nosy grandma. B+.
Body of Lies: Mostly-interesting, though often uneven, CIA thriller about an agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) stationed in the Middle East and often compromised by his manipulative handler (Russell Crowe in an underwritten role). The actors are solid, though this is by no means their best work. Ditto for the direction, by Ridley Scott, who films frequently in the region (see also Gladiator and Black Hawk Down). B-.
Wow, almost the exact same grade for all of those (with The Princess and the Frog being the exception). Truly an unspectacular year for movies). I am looking forward to Avatar, however....