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Oscar Seasoning



No year-end film wrap-up needs much of an introduction, but there are a couple of things to consider here: 1. Most of this year's Oscar hopefuls, pushed as far to the end of the year as possible, have not made it to Richmond yet, so it's silly if not impossible to "look back" at them. (I can't wait to see P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" either, but I have no idea yet if it's any good). 2. The lists below are not the best and worst movies of the year, but those that stood out, for their courage, entertainment value or loathsomeness. No doubt some unconventional choices will be found, as well as, potentially, some unfortunate omissions. 3. Just as they don't trample on overstuffed blockbusters (OK, except for "Transformers"), it's not intended to pick the obvious in any category. You already know about those.

Five to Remember

Movies small and large, obvious and obscure

"Alpha Dog" -- Nick Cassavetes' gripping, stylish but ultimately realistic look at a group of dangerously indulged upper-middle-class white kids is surprisingly well told, helped tremendously by a solid performance from Justin Timberlake — yes, Justin Timberlake.

"Delirious" — Steve Buscemi's indie was little noticed, not even scheduled for release on DVD, but if you can find it still tucked away in some obscure theater somewhere, this commentary on celebrity (with Michael Pitt and Gina Gershon) is a rare satire with bite.

"Fay Grim" — Perfect casting against type: Parker Posey as a Robert Ludlum character who couldn't karate-chop her way through rice paper wets this dry satire of political thrillers with enough laughs to keep it from cracking.

"Rescue Dawn" — Paired with director Werner Herzog's documentary on the same Navy escapee from a Laos prison camp during the Vietnam War, Christian Bale offers yet another excellent version of the resourceful, determined hero archetype that fills the idealistic director's work.

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" — Ken Loach could become the next English import after Paul Greengrass to shake up Hollywood after his unconventional and moving story set during the early days of the Irish Republican Army.

Five to Forget

Movies that call for money-back guarantees

"Across the Universe" — Broadway lioness Julie Taymor creates what a movie-length Benetton commercial from the '60s would look like.

"Black Snake Moan" — Crass sexploitation masquerading as social commentary.

"I'm Not There" — This star-studded but uninteresting look at the life and times of Bob Dylan was the biggest letdown of the year.

"Reign Over Me" — A serious Adam Sandler character learns how to get over 9/11 by dating girls and becoming an unquestioning consumer again.

"Transformers" — If people got upset about being suckered at the box office, we'd now have our own Bastille Day to celebrate.

Five to Forgive

Enjoyable or important but far from perfect

"Atonement" — A beautiful pre-World War II elegy pairing Keira Knightley with James McAvoy that gets lost in its second half.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" — Peel away the groundbreaking, imaginative action choreography and you have a routine, clichéd thriller, but it's still so much fun.

"I Am Legend" — Impressive set pieces and a suspenseful first hour eventually evaporate into the insistence of turning star Will Smith's character into yet another cardboard-cutout hero.

"Lions for Lambs" — Good intentions sunk by an utter lack of character and suspense, the movie is more notable as an unexpected debut for new studio head Tom Cruise.

"No Country for Old Men" — It's meaningless and doesn't even make sense by the end, but this stylish Western-set thriller is never boring, reason enough to see something these days.

The Cutting Room Floor

Honorable mentions

Year of Social Awareness: Because social commentary made its way into innumerable dramas and action movies in 2007, a list of notable films would be incomplete without mentioning all the documentaries focusing on societal ills. A short list would include Michael Moore's uneven but revealing "Sicko," the Iraq/Afghanistan war recap "No End in Sight," as well as "The 11th Hour" and "Darfur Now."

Must-See Foreign Films: "La Vie en Rose," "Lust, Caution," "Paris, je t'aime."

Also Recommended: "Black Book," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "Bug," "Color Me Kubrick," "Gone, Baby, Gone," "In the Valley of Elah," "Michael Clayton," "Zodiac." S

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