Kevin Renick | Movies

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1. No Country for Old Men
This was a "wow" movie in every way. The Coen Brothers placed you smack in the middle of the arid hills of west Texas and made you feel every bit of the knife-edge tension of a three-way pursuit of stolen drug money. Javier Bardem portrayed one of the most steely-eyed, memorable bad guys ever, with Josh Brolin’s everyman and Tommy Lee Jones’ weary sheriff never quite able to outwit him. Atmospheric and utterly gripping.

2. Sicko
The revelations and "inconvenient truths" of Michael Moore’s hard-hitting documentary on America’s deficient healthcare system far outweighed any little flaws. With testimony from victims, administrators and others, Moore shows the gaping hole at the heart of America’s profit-driven corporate methodology, and the trail of misery along the way. Unmissable.

3. Once
One of the sleeper hits of the year, this deeply affecting movie told the story of two musicians — an Irish folkie and a Czech immigrant — who meet by chance and start casually making music together, learning a lot about friendship, creativity and hope in the process.

4. Eastern Promises
As a fan of director David Cronenberg and stars Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, it would’ve been hard for me to not like this unsettling, provocative movie about London’s underground Russian crime community. Mortensen gives one of his best performances as a mob chauffeur whose motives are hard to pin down, and the edgy storyline — about the international sex trade, a child of unknown lineage and the darkest imaginable version of "family" values — kept you engrossed, if sometimes simply grossed out.

5. Into the Wild
Sean Penn’s expansive film about Chris McCandless, the upper-class young man who decided to drop out of society and live in the wilds, was a beautiful and compelling piece of work. Penn shot in most of the areas where McCandless journeyed, including the Alaskan frontier where the would-be rebel starved to death. Emile Hirsch does a more than credible turn in the title role, with nice supporting work by Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener and others. But Penn’s camera and sweeping aesthetic were the real stars here.

6. Gone Baby Gone
Although there were a few things I didn’t care for in this film, and it’s about 10 or 15 minutes too long, as a debut directorial project by Ben Affleck, it was astonishing. What starts out as the story of a child kidnapping develops into a searing study of different forms of selfishness and the two honest but naïve freelance investigators (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, both terrific) who are just trying to return a lost child to its mother, but find that they’re in for some serious repercussions. Strong, gutsy stuff.

7. Across the Universe
There was something charmingly uncynical in this lavish, psychedelic musical about the ’60s using Beatle songs (sung by the actors) to tell its story. Director Julie Taymor really loves these songs and provided fresh contexts for all of them, and the actors (including Evan Rachel Wood) mostly did a terrific job singing classics we’ve never heard like this before. The set pieces were colorful and sometimes delirious, and the phantasmagoric scene that accompanies the a cappella version of "Because" is one of the most beautiful chunks of celluloid I’ve seen all year.

8. Enchanted
A funny thing happened while I was watching this updated Disney fairytale about a princess sent to modern-day New York: I became about ten years old again. Maybe it was the temporary immersion into innocence and old-fashioned storytelling again, or maybe it was seeing how much fun the actors — including the adorable Amy Adams, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon — were having with their stylized roles. Whatever the case, I surrendered to this movie’s colorful, sometimes cliché-ridden landscape and enjoyed the heck out of it.

9. Taxi to the Dark Side
I saw several documentaries about the Iraq quagmire in 2007, and this was one of the most compelling. Director Alex Gibney takes as his starting point the sad tale of an innocent Afghan taxi driver who died in U.S. custody in 2002 and proceeds to investigate the torture practices, questionable detentions and authorized denial/doublespeak U.S. officials routinely engaged in at Abu Graib, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Key personnel appear on camera with their versions of events, and you end up with a much clearer understanding of the extent of U.S. culpability in this prolonged conflict. Not fun, but enormously interesting.

10. Lars and the Real Girl
Another film that isn’t perfect, but its value comes primarily in its unique aesthetic: an entire community comes together in support of a disturbed young man (Ryan Gosling as a headcase who brings home an inflatable girl and proceeds to act as if she’s totally real), while the entire cast manages the unique feat of being likable if somewhat idealized. Emily Mortimer and Kelli Garner are both fetching in their roles, and Patricia Clarkson plays an unconventional therapist. The movie treads carefully between the comical and the poignant, and ends up being strangely life affirming, despite its unsavory premise. | Kevin Renick

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