So much for Best Movies lists. Beside the films I've changed my mind about, how about all the good ones that got here late? "Zero Dark Thirty," for example. This new thriller from "Hurt Locker's" Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow follows the CIA's 10-year mission to find Osama bin Laden, and the fateful night a team of Navy SEALS carried out the mission in his compound in Pakistan.
The film has already won numerous best-picture awards from critics' groups across the country at the same time it's drawn official flak in Washington from all over the political spectrum. There's consternation about its depiction of torture, as well as its focus on a single female CIA agent who seems to have brought down the world's most wanted criminal, almost single-handedly. But since she's played by Jessica Chastain with intensity that dominates the screen whenever she's on it, that's not a complaint.
The story may be subject to redaction, but it's still a fascinating look at the way the CIA actually works. It's needle-in-a-haystack stuff, aided by really cool high-tech. Bigelow guides the taut action with precision and power, and the high-risk helicopter assault that ultimately gets its man is among the year's best screen action, even though everyone already knows how it's going to turn out.
We can thank Maui Film Festival's FirstLight for the early look at "Zero Dark Thirty," which won't be opening widely in theaters for weeks.
"This is 40" doesn't have illusions about winning film awards - it's happy just to win the weekly race in the new genre of dysfunctional family and annoying in-law comedies for the holidays. Starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, it focuses on the cute but frustrated married couple they first played in "Knocked Up."
It's written and directed by Mann's real-life husband, Judd Apatow, who casts their two daughters, Maude and Iris, as the, uh, daughters. Not to press the point, but when the honeymoon stage of most marriages end, the partners have to make do with date nights, couples counseling or more drastic measures. Hollywood filmmakers of Apatow's stature have an extra option: they can just turn it into a movie and hope the audience laughs through the pain.
Sometimes we do - the appealing stars do have their moments and Megan Fox, Albert Brooks and Charlyne Li help - but often we don't. The problems of a handful of beautiful people in L.A. aren't all that recognizable anywhere else. "This is 40" kind of makes you wish Judd and his adorable family and friends had ventured a little farther from home to find out what's up.
That's what Cirque du Soleil does, taking us "Worlds Away" as it translates its live magic to the 3-D screen. It's not trying to win any film awards - it's out to rewrite the very language of film.
It starts on a carnival midway on a sultry, firefly-flickering summer night where a doe-eyed young woman, Mia (Erica Linz), falls under the spell of "The Aerialist" (Igor Zaripov). Their surreal romantic journey bends our usual perceptions of time, space, physics and distinctions between different forms of biological life into an enchanted, wordless hour-and-a-half dream.
Filmed in various Vegas showrooms where Cirque du Soleil performs live, the production, aided by James Cameron's 3-D technology, is a collage of magical beings, mind-boggling athleticism, flying, swimming, dancing and cutting-edge stagecraft, all set to an entrancing musical score highlighted by the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper days.
Released before Christmas, "Worlds Away" casts the same kind of magic spell "The Nutcracker" or "Fantasia" did in their times. In our times, when imagination so-called "special effects" are the province of computers and technology, it's awesome to behold what happens when you leave the job to humans.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org