A few weeks ago, the Oscar race looked wide open. The stately, historical "Lincoln" seemed like the safe and likely choice, with the provocative "Zero Dark Thirty" and the quirky and inspiring "Silver Linings Playbook" very much in the mix for the Academy Award for best picture.
Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" continued to gather awards momentum as the National Board of Review named the Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama the best film of the year.
How does "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!" squeeze even more fun out of our porous little hero and the Bikini Bottom gang? By turning the animated characters three-dimensional for their holiday special.
If "Flight" weren't so exceptionally crafted and acted, this tale of self-destruction and eventual redemption might feel like the sort of feel-good fare you'd see on the Lifetime Movie Network, or even a 12-step-program promotion.
You might think that Robert Zemeckis, having devoted himself to motion-capture animation for the last 12 years, would be thrilled to return to the unpredictability of live-action filmmaking — those moments of serendipity when the elements align for something surprising. You would be wrong.
You might think that Robert Zemeckis, having devoted himself to motion-capture animation for the last 12 years, would be thrilled to return to the unpredictability of live-action filmmaking _ those moments of serendipity when the elements align for something surprising.
For a little while it looked as if Ben Affleck might try to be the next Harrison Ford: He starred in action movies like "Daredevil" and "Armageddon" and even briefly filled Mr. Ford's old shoes in the role of Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan in 2002's "The Sum of All Fears."
"Argo" _ A movie about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis probably doesn't sound like it would be a laugh riot _ or should be _ but that's just one of the many ways in which this is a glorious, gripping surprise. Directing his third feature, Ben Affleck has come up with a seamless blend of detailed international drama and breathtaking suspense, with just the right amount of dry humor to provide context and levity. He shows a deft handling of tone, especially in making difficult transitions between scenes in Tehran, Washington and Hollywood, but also gives one of his strongest performances yet in front of the camera as the film's star. It's exciting to see the confidence with which Affleck expands his ambition and scope as a filmmaker. "Argo" reveals his further mastery of pacing and storytelling, even as he juggles complicated set pieces, various locations and a cast featuring 120 speaking parts. And the story he's telling sounds impossible, but it's absolutely true (with a few third-act tweaks to magnify the drama). When protestors stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 people hostage, six employees sneaked out a back door and sought refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Longtime CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a crazy scheme to rescue them: He'll fly to Tehran, pretend that they all entered the country together to scout locations for a schlocky sci-fi movie called "Argo," then walk right out the front door with them and fly home. Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are among the excellent supporting cast. R for language and some violent images. 120 minutes. Four stars out of four.
In James Lee Burke's previous Dave Robicheaux crime thriller, "The Glass Rainbow," the Cajun detective from the New Iberia, La., Sheriff's Department ended up struck in the back in a bayou shootout with the bad guys.