1. Michael Clayton. (90 percent favorable rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes). Billed as a realistic walk through the corridors of power, Michael Clayton winds up being a tepid, lugubrious, and preposterous thriller—art-house Grisham. George Clooney plays a kind of lawyer who doesn’t even exist—though he works for a huge law firm, he runs around the greater New York area doling out expertise on criminal cases, immigration issues, family law, and a dozen other specialized areas. Can you picture big law firms sending out sneaky hit teams to take down anyone who might testify against them, even though that person might have told any number of others what he knows? Can you picture firms hiring mugs to blow up cars? Would a hit squad be so dumb that the car is primed to blow up at a seemingly random moment rather than when the ignition is turned on? And finally: if a car exploded and there was no body in or around the car, would a lawyer (or even the stupidest guy in your high school woodworking class) assume that the driver of the car was dead? Like a lawyer who falls asleep during his closing argument, Michael Clayton saves its stupidest trick for last: the wheezing old gag that goes, “Aha! As I just tricked you into giving an incredibly detailed confession, I was recording the whole thing on this little gizmo!”
2. Grindhouse (81 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes)—It’s two, two, TWO movies in one: the first, Robert Rodriguez’s bloody, intentionally amateurish zombie flick parody Planet Terror, is a great success: There’s no denying that it meets or even exceeds its goal to be unwatchably awful, one of the worst movies of the year. Not this year: 1974. You have to be pretty meta to convince yourself you’re enjoying a rotten movie, though. The second part of the double feature, Quentin Tarantino’s talky but enjoyable Death Proof, doesn’t make the mistake of thinking bad writing is good writing if the whole thing is nestled between ironic quotation marks.
3. Enchanted. (93 percent). Great trailer! A story about an animated princess from a Disney movie who winds up as a real person wandering the mean streets of New York sustains its single joke for almost two solid minutes. After that, it’s just Splash with taffeta—but without Tom Hanks or John Candy. The unshaven, barely conscious TV soap star Patrick Dempsey turns out to be the prince of the city. Which, again, like every other plot point, was clear from the trailer. Every so often the movie breaks into song, but none of the lyrics are as funny and tongue-in-cheek as the ones from actual Disney cartoons like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
4. Sicko (93 percent). A film that argues—seriously, it does; this part of the film isn’t meant to be funny—that health care in Castro’s Cuba is superior to that offered in the United States. Memo to critics who don’t read the papers much: Cuba has chronic shortages of aspirin. Michael Moore is an expert at being wrong, but it’s hard to believe he’ll ever be more detached from the truth than he is when he presents the legendarily dyspeptic, tranquilizer-addicted French as a delighted citizenry and deals with the copiously-documented issue of wait times in Canada by asking a couple of people in a single waiting room whether they had to wait long.
5. Persepolis. (98 percent). An animated movie so enticingly drawn, with charmingly childish line drawings and sweetly big-eyed characters, that it holds your interest for up to an hour. Rivetingly, Marjane Satrapi tells us about her childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran while dark clouds appear on the horizon. But it turns out that Iran’s history doesn’t have much to do with anything as Satrapi diverts the story from how her family dealt with the nation’s revolt to chat about her therapy sessions and boyfriend troubles. This isn’t a story; it’s a grab bag of anecdotes. Dead giveaway that this film is winning raves on affirmative action grounds: Critics keep using the word “vibrant.”