Must See: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson's adaptation of the Roald Dahl tale of wily foxes (Americans) vs. nasty farmers (Brits) is charming until it runs out of steam in the last third (the script is by Anderson and Noah Baumbach). But the stop-motion animation is gorgeous and voice actors George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are superb. The movie has already performed well in the UK; it opens in NY and LA before going wide on Thanksgiving. The critics adore it: Tomatometer: 92%; Metascore: 88.
To counteract press about Anderson directing long distance from Paris to London, Fox is trying to showcase his involvement, which will also be a factor in whether the animation branch of the Academy takes Anderson seriously. Check out the clip on the jump.
Must See: The Messenger
Israeli screenwriter and rookie director Oren Moverman's military service informs this thoughtful, painful movie, which is beautifully acted by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson (in his second juicy role this year, after Zombieland) as two casualty notification officers delivering terrible news to families. Steve Buscemi pops in a small role as an angry man who lashes out at the messengers; Samantha Morton portrays a widow conflicted by grief for her dead husband and attraction to Foster. Like The Hurt Locker, this movie is more personal than political: a close-up view of how people feel in the face of war. I look forward to seeing more of Moverman's work. The movie played well at Sneak Previews; during the Q & A, Harrelson and Morton made a point of stressing how important it is for them to accept low-paying assignments on indie movies like this (even with first-time directors) which give them robust characters to play. Harrelson twisted his schedule into a pretzel to do this movie. When they choose a film, neither of them considers whether it will score with audiences.
Must to Avoid: Pirate Radio
I am Richard Curtis's biggest fan. He's the witty Brit behind Working Title's success (he wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones Diary and wrote and directed Love Actually), which is why WT co-chiefs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner allowed him to make this 60s period stinker about a gaggle of djs marooned on a boat in the Atlantic. Philip Seymour Hoffman can't salvage this; neither can Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost or Curtis stalwart Bill Nighy. Originally titled The Boat That Rocked, the comedy plays almost like a Curtis parody, flopped in the UK, and was recut for stateside release by Focus Features rather than Universal. (I saw the Brit version on a plane.)