Don't over-think this one, folks. As awards season kicks into high gear, commentators of all stripes are going to talk about 'Up in the Air' in terms of its zeitgeist relevance, its timely attention to economic instability and the corporations that feast on the carrion of the down-sized and dispossessed. And in so doing, they will overlook how simply satisfying it is as a piece of filmmaking. Grade: A-.
If you had polled a random sampling of movie nerds in 1993 and asked them to name the best living male and female American actors, I'm willing to bet the winners would have been Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep. Fifteen years later, Streep is as revered and versatile as ever. But what about Bob? 'Everybody's Fine' is exactly the sort of role he doesn't need at this point in his career — one so low key and inoffensive that he doesn't seem to know what to do with it. Grade: B-.
Director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan adapt Jon Ronson's nonfiction book, turning Ronson into reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who heads to the Middle East in 2003 to cover the Iraq War. Instead, he finds Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who was part of a 1980s military program launched by idealistic Vietnam veteran Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) to develop "Jedi Warriors" — soldiers with psychic abilities. Grade: C-plus.
The title refers to the number scrawled on the back of a rag doll (voiced by Elijah Wood) who wakes up with no knowledge of the world. Wandering through a crumbling, corpse-strewn city, he soon spots a similar figure marked as 2 (Martin Landau) and learns that a dangerous mechanized predator stalks the streets. Because '9' is an animated feature, it’s inevitable that some potential viewers are going to assume it's kid-friendly, which it most decidedly is not. Grade: B.
It's worth noting that 'District 9' co-writer/director Neill Blomkamp sets his pivotal event (the arrival of a derelict alien spacecraft over Johannesburg, South Africa, leaving more than a million extraterrestrial refugees) in the 1980s. Apparently, that’s when the filmmaker learned everything he needed to know about allegorical/satirical science fiction. Grade: C.
In a feature-animation landscape increasingly dominated by young guys with computers, Hayao Miyazaki is a 68-year-old, 30-year veteran devoted to traditional hand-drawn animation. Maybe 'Ponyo' doesn't find him at his captivating best, spinning visions that will shape the next generation of animated filmmaking, yet he still shows that he can teach the young turks a thing or two. Grade: B.
Meryl Streep continues to delight in an effervescent turn as cooking legend Julia Child, whose biography makes up half of this fact-based trifle from writer/director Nora Ephron. Her counterpart is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a frustrated would-be novelist who turns to her avocation for cooking, opting to launch a blog in which she'll chronicle preparing all 524 recipes from Child's seminal cookbook 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' in 365 days. Grade: C.
Almost exactly 20 years ago, 'When Harry Met Sally' practically perfected the sympathetic control-freak as romantic comedy heroine. And it takes more than a list-maker with a pretty face to earn the "sympathetic" part of that description. Sadly, Katherine Heigl is no Meg Ryan. Grade: C.
The filmmakers behind 'The Proposal' didn't even try to find a new premise. They found something that had worked before and changed a few of the other details. And the fact that it actually worked again says everything about the virtues of simple execution. Grade: B.
Look, I'm not making any inappropriate allegations. All I'm saying is that, if Tony Scott has scandalous photos of Denzel Washington, it might explain a lot. This is what I'm trying to wrap my head around: How does one of the most universally respected actors of this generation come to trust this particular director? Grade: D.