Skyfall. Good; very good. But still not as good as Casino Royale, which is probably what we’re going to be saying about the next ten Bond movies. Especially since Daniel Craig is only signed for the next two. The film does five things at once: it sends Bond through a three-hour action plot that feels like two hours tops, winks at past movies (hello and goodbye, Aston Martin), gives Bond a past (hello, Scotland), sets up the Bondian supporting cast (hello Q and Moneypenny), and creates a modern version of the Bond Villain (hello, Javier Bardem in a bad wig) who can destabilize governments with a single computer and yet still persists in shooting a lot of bullets from big-ass guns that never once hit our hero (hello, Stallone Rules). As an added bonus, Judi Dench reminds us why she won on Oscar for five minutes of screen-time in Shakespeare In Love, and Albert Finney plays the obvious Sean Connery cameo (supposedly they offered it to Connery and he declined) by performing his own version of an in-joke and channeling Wilfred Lawson’s Black George from Tom Jones.
Anna Karenina. You’re either going to love or hate the directorial conceit that embraces this Tom Stoppard script: all the country scenes (and this version actually has the country scenes) take place in the country; but all the Moscow scenes take place on a huge period proscenium stage, including the railroad scenes and (brilliantly, IMO) the horse race. Me, I loved it, and not just because for once we get to see all the Levin and Kitty scenes. I loved it for Jude Law’s Karenin. The way he makes the man sympathetic is astounding when you think that ten years ago he would have been typecast as Vronsky. It makes me want to see him play Torvald in Doll’s House opposite Lily Rabe.
Killing Them Softly. By boring them to death and making them walk out of the movie theatre thinking they just wasted 15 bucks. The perfect George Higgins movie, because it’s just as annoying as the book.
Argo. It’s such a rare pleasure these days to see a movie where you’re on the edge of your seat even though you know the ending. That’s what this movie is: a pleasure to watch, and in retrospect all too rare.
Lincoln. Speaking of movies where you know the ending. Where Argo goes for the excitement of a thriller, Lincoln goes for the excitement of getting caught up in a good novel, which is unsurprising given the Tony Kushner script. What is pleasantly surprising is that it’s the most bookish thing Spielberg has directed, which may be why his usual bag of tricks is not in evidence. All for the better, say I. Other pleasant surprises include Sally Field’s Mary Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones’ scene-stealing Thaddeus Stevens, and James Spader’s unrecognizable “I’m just having a great old time” WN Bilbo. And while it seems redundant to say that Daniel Day Lewis is probably the greatest film actor we will ever see in our lifetime, it’s only redundant in the same way that saying Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player we will ever see in our lifetime. In both cases, the level of the game is raised to stratospheric levels even as they make it look easy. Best movie of the year so far. And don’t forget to stay through the credits and see Joseph-Gordon Levitt get the keys to the Beard Cave from his father’s manservant.