A fine last-minute option for the movie buff on your Christmas list, the fifth edition of David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film was published in late October. I finally got around to cracking it open this week … and I’ve yet to close it. Thomson’s 1,076-page tome is as addictive as ever, bound to keep one engrossed as they move from entries that have appeared in every edition since the first, in 1975, to new and/or updated capsules on those who’ve emerged since his most recent edition in 2004.
Thomson’s elegant prose, incisive critical skills and encyclopedic grasp of film history (especially when it comes to classic Hollywood) remain on display, as does his sometimes perplexing omissions, quirky personality and seemingly willful subversions of popular opinion. Try this from his fairly generous entry on Jennifer Aniston: “I have the hunch still that with a great script and in the right hands Jennifer Aniston could make a romantic comedy to live with the best.” Really, David?
Speaking of generous, his love for George Clooney seems a bit much, while his take on Viggo Mortensen is about right: "He is an actor who demands to be seen, a grown man in an era of lost boys." And his questioning of Wes Anderson’s “mealymouthed” fans is dead-on: “WA seems to exist at the far end of a very private, isolating corridor.” Though he rightly praises Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Thomson's acid-tongued dismantling of Ben Affleck is quite funny, and his fondness for Andrew Wagner’s largely overlooked Starting Out in the Evening is a welcome surprise (rarely has someone with as thin a filmography graced the book). His extended exploration of Robert Altman’s singular career is among the best committed to page. Then there’s this hilarious final sentence in the George Lucas entry, which oddly (as is this book’s sometimes head-scrathing wont) hasn’t been updated since Episode III: Revenge of the Sith surfaced five years ago: “One day, for sure, all six episodes will exist — and maybe robots will watch them.”
I could go on, but I’d rather you pick up the book and experience its joys yourself.
Back to the present day: As you probably know by now, the Golden Globe nominations were announced this week, and two of today’s releases are among those up for Best Picture: Drama. That duo is backed up by a mixed bag, the worst of which looks to be Yogi Bear. But, if tt stern-enzi’s review is any indication, Tron: Legacy might actually take that dubious honor. But I doubt it.
BLACK SWAN — Natalie Portman is all grown up, and the proof is in her searing portrayal of the innocent perfectionist Nina in Darren Aronofsky’s intense exploration into the dark heart of a rising ballerina. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at AMC, Esquire Theatre, multiple Rave Cinemas.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A
THE FIGHTER — As a story about a scrappy, working-class nobody who gets an unexpected shot at the title, David O. Russell’s The Fighter was bound to earn comparisons to Rocky. And the comparisons are justified — not just because of its plot but also because of its concern for quirky characters and a sense of place. Like Rocky, The Fighter understands that we need to care just as much about what happens when the hero isn’t wearing a pair of gloves. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated R.) Grade: B-plus
HOW DO YOU KNOW — Veteran filmmaker James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, the overrated As Good as It Gets and the underrated Spanglish) returns with this multi-genre story of a former tennis player (Reese Witherspoon) caught in a love triangle with a buttoned-up corporate guy (Paul Rudd) and her baseball-playing beau (Owen Wilson). Jack Nicholson, long a Brooks favorite, co-stars. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.
TRON: LEGACY — Twenty-eight years after the original Tron pimped now-antiquated special effects, director Joseph Kosinski's follow-up finds the son (Garrett Hedlund) of Jeff Bridges' video-game-designer character searching for his long-lost father. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: D-
YOGI BEAR — The 1960s Hannah-Barbera cartoon series gets a 3-D update, complete with an animated Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his sidekick Boo-Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) frolicking in a live-action world populated by actors Anna Faris and Tom Cavanagh, among others. Eric Brevig, a visual-effects expert who last guided Journey to the Center of the Earth, directs this shameless-looking family-friendly attempt to draw holiday box-office dollars. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.