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Wednesday, December 13

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Airbags

Next week will be my "best of 2006" list, one of the most difficult to compile in the 10 years I've been pulling these things together. More discussion on that subject next week. As for this week (which includes a couple of Christmas Day releases), the studios saw fit to hide two films from most of us online folks: Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller, which I was looking forward to; and Black Christmas, the slasher flick I'm guessing you can take grandma to, opening on December 25. I guess they both suck. On to some much better stuff, including a few that will be making their way onto my "best of the year" list.

Children of Men

Next week, I'm going to attempt to look over the hundreds of films I saw in 2006 and compile a list of the must-see movies of 2006. Sometimes this is a list of 30 films, sometimes 40; last year I made it to 50. I promise not to go any higher than that this time around. But the question I get asked more than any in the month of December is: What is your favorite movie of the year? Usually I can nail down my top five without too much trouble, but 2006 was a strange and wonderful year. When I tell people that no one film stands out above the rest, they tend to interpret this to mean the year was mediocre. Not true. This was a great year for quality releases. So while I probably could name the 10 best films of 2006, right now I'm struggling to rank them.

Keeping all this in mind, I have very little doubt that Children of Men will fall among the 10 best films I saw this year. And, depending on the day of the week, I may even make it my top choice. Children of Men is a harrowing look at our world's possible future, a fictional account that seems so completely within the realm of possibility, it may leave people with lingering anxiety after they see it. Technically, the film is science fiction, but writer-director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has eliminated every trace of conventional sci-fi trappings and delivered us into a world where woman can no longer get pregnant.

Cuarón's vision of the future is, in fact, regression. A world in which women no longer have babies is one where anarchy is creeping into the status quo. Nobody seems to know (at least not among common folk) why fertility has become a thing of the past, but the world is beginning to realize the condition is permanent and the end of the world as we know it is in sight. Children of Men is set in a London of 2027 in which foreigners are rounded up and sent to ghettos because they are believed to be inciting destructive thoughts among the locals. Terrorist attacks against government targets are commonplace. Things have gotten so bad and people so hopeless that serene — almost seductive — commercials for a self-induced suicide drug run on television with an alarming regularity.

Clive Owen plays Theodore, a former political activist who once had a relationship and beautiful child with Julian (Julianne Moore). The child died, the marriage dissolved and Theodore has been drifting ever since. One of his only friends is Jasper (the stellar and highly excitable Michael Caine), who smokes pot and philosophizes about the state of the world and how it got there. I could have spent two hours just listening to Caine talk. He's extraordinary here, and between this film and The Prestige, he's had a hell of a year.

Theodore is approached by Julian to fight once again for a good cause and help sneak a woman through tight security to deliver her to something called The Human Project, a sort of utopia for those fighting against the government's nasty human rights violations. It turns out that the young woman in question is extremely pregnant, and her very existence shatters about two decades worth of hopelessness. Obviously, if her child is born alive, scientists may have a shot at saving humankind, but this situation creates as many problems as it solves. Internal squabbling about what should be done with pregnant woman begins almost as soon as people see her for the first time. Content to believe that his ex-wife has sound judgment, Theodore risks life and limb traveling through war zones in an effort to deliver mother and child to The Human Project's base on the coast of England.

Cuarón carefully crafts each scene to evoke the maximum amount of fear, rage, paranoia and hopelessness, and, for better or worse, he hits the mark every time. What you may not even realize at first is that much of the film is told in long tracking shots with some of the most intricately choreographed action sequences ever executed. One sequence in which his jeep is attacked — shortly after Owen first meets the pregnant woman — is shot entirely from inside the vehicle with the camera simply spinning around in the back seat to capture all the action inside and outside the car. That scene alone is worth seeing Children of Men twice.

All of the performances are appropriately desperate, but Clive Owen, in his portrayal of a man who has nothing to live for except his and the planet's eventual death, occupies this role so completely that you feel you should put him on suicide watch. Moore is cool and distant, as many rebels would be after years of witnessing and sometimes planning murders. Also on hand are Chiwetel Ejiofor as one of Moore's fellow rebels, and Peter Mullan in an absolutely insane third-act appearance as a military leader at one of the prison camps. He is bribed to help Theodore but turns on him once he realizes what he's hiding from the world.

One of the final sequences is set during a fiery and chaotic battle sequences that looks like it was shot in the heart of war-torn Bosnia. Bullets, grenades and shells are hitting and exploding all around. The entire final battle sequence might be my favorite scene in any movie this year, not for the blood and death on display, but for the emotional payoff.

I don't think it's any coincidence that three of the finest films of 2006 (this one, next week's Pan's Labyrinth and Babel) were made by three Mexican directors (Cuarón, Guillero del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) who all happen to be great friends. Clearly this triad set out to make the best films of their careers this year, and they challenged each other by sharing their works in progress during their respective productions. Children of Men feels like a great mystery. You never know where the plot will take you; the fate of the characters is completely unpredictable; and regardless of what happens or who lives or dies, the questions the film considers are timeless and universal. Never has a film about the possible end of the world seemed so relevant, honest and necessary. Children of Men is required viewing. The film opens on Christmas Day.

Dreamgirls

I've seen this film twice now, with two very excitable crowds, and there's no better way to experience this rousing, people-pleasing film adaptation of the Broadway hit that may or may not be a veiled telling of the Motown story (in general) and the rise of the Supremes and Diana Ross (in particular). And while the film covers a great deal of chronological and emotional distance in its slightly more than two-hour running time, writer-director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Gods and Monsters, and an Oscar win for writing Chicago) manages to locate the heart of each of his characters and make us root for everyone to come out in the end relatively happy and successful. Not everyone does.

Sometimes it's a bit difficult to know who to focus your attention on. The temptation is to let your eyes drift toward the most beautiful or most famous actors in this impressive cast. Condon seems to be waging a one-man (well, two-man, including me) admiration society for Beyonce Knowles' hourglass rear. Knowles plays Deena Jones, the Diana Ross-like character who is part of a struggling Detroit-based girl group circa the 1960s called the Dreamettes.

When they are spotted at an amateur contest by car salesman and aspiring record producer and label founder, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), he gets them a gig singing backup for established artist James "Thunder" Early (a transcendent Eddie Murphy, doing the best work of his long and spotty career). Many people will try to convince you that Early is a James Brown stand-in, and they'd be wrong. As Dreamgirls clearly establishes later in the story, he is more like Marvin Gaye, with a little Otis Redding thrown in. Whoever he may or may not be, Murphy is astonishing as the married, womanizing song-and-dance man so desperate for a hit record, he allows his music style to be changed and compromised (but he gets the hits, along with a drug addiction).

Foxx's character might be the least believable, but he plays the self-centered Taylor (based on Barry Gordy) with a smooth sophistication mixed with snake-like charm. He makes decisions for his artists rather than with them. The first big move he makes with the Dreamettes is getting them out from behind Early, renaming them the Dreamgirls, moving the established, slightly plump lead singer Effie (newcomer Jennifer Hudson, the Chicago native who was famously bumped off a recent season of "American Idol") to the background and moving the more traditionally beautiful Deena into the lead singer role. Effie also gets edged out as Taylor's love interest in the film, and her eventual dismissal from the group and Taylor's life serves as the launch pad for the musical's most famous number "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," the live theatre's most memorable temper tantrum/emotional meltdown ever set to music.

And how about that music? Dreamgirls never lets you relax, especially in its second half, which consists of one showstopper after another. Hudson gets two big tearjerker numbers, while Knowles gets a newly penned power ballad "Listen," from the musical's original songwriters, Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen. And while Murphy's vocal skills have thankfully improved from his "Party All the Time" days, what really struck me was his acting, which has never been better. There's a particular scene that haunts here. After Taylor rejects a solid new track from Early for being too much of a message record, he breaks out his drug kit. When those in the room plead with him not to shoot up, Murphy throws a look at them that could stop a bullet in flight for fear of pissing him off, and certainly made me forget to take a breath for an instant. I could say quite a lot about the path Murphy's career has taken since he left the safe and secure confines of "Saturday Night Live." Dreamgirls goes a long way to forgiving many of the choices he's made in the last 20-plus years.

One of the film's nicest surprises is a sweet singing cameo by Loretta Devine, who played the third Dreamgirl, Lorrell (here played by Anika Noni Rose), in the original Broadway musical. Lorrell is the most overlooked of the three girls, but she's also probably the most stable, despite being Jimmy's full-time mistress.

Dreamgirls doesn't feature traditional dance numbers like other recent filmed musical, but it does offers up some truly memorable tunes and lavish costuming. As the record label grows and Deena's star get bigger and brighter, the parallels between this story and the Motown history become clearer. It's fun to watch how Condon has fun with the Motown thing, sometimes presenting other artists from the labels, including a Temptations-like male group, and a group of young brothers wearing fringe, fronted by a high-pitched lead singer. When the curtain comes down and the lights go up, the only thing that truly matters is that Dreamgirls never forgets to be entertaining even at the expense of deeper character studies. Most of the people in the film are not richly drawn by any stretch. We learn just enough about them to keep us interested in what happens to them before the immensely strong songs kick in, and I'm willing to make that sacrifice. Sitting here right now, I can easily hum a half-dozen of the songs without struggling to remember them, and that has to count for something. See the film with as big and diverse an audience as you can; that way, the odds that people will clap after the songs is greater, and that's a great feeling in a movie theatre. The film opens Christmas Day.

The Good German

Like many of the post-WWII-era films The Good German emulates, the plot makes close to no sense and it couldn't matter less. The intent here is to impress you with bizarre and sinister characters (even a couple of the good guys qualify), stunning black-and-white cinematography (the film was shot with cameras in use during the era it portrays) and an atmosphere dripping with betrayal, sex and blood. And, as the ladies discovered with last year's Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney looks good in black and white.

The setting is a devastated Berlin ripe for the picking by Allied vultures, all trying to carve out a piece of Europe for themselves. The Americans, the Russians and even a few Germans race around trying to see where money can be made. Clooney plays U.S. Army war correspondent Jake Geismar, in the city to cover the Potsdam Conference. He doesn't do much reporting but he does manage to do a great deal of investigating, especially when he is seeking out the whereabouts of a former German girlfriend, Lena Brandt (the sultry Cate Blanchett), who is now a high-priced prostitute desperate to get out of Berlin. The film begins colorfully enough with Geismar arriving in Berlin for the first time in many years and getting chauffeured around by the chirpy Tully (Tobey Maguire). Since you can't assume that an actor of Maguire's caliber would get saddled with such a sidekick role, I quickly learned that nobody in the film is what he or she seems.

What shocks you early on is that although director (and long-time Clooney collaborator) Steven Soderbergh uses the ancient cameras from the 1940s, the language and sexual frankness in The Good German is pure 21st century. Imagine Casablanca with nudity, four-letter words and simulated sex. This may not appeal to everyone, but I found the prospect intriguing, and Soderbergh doesn't get too out of hand with the limits of his R rating.

Based on the Joseph Kanon novel, The Good German offers glimpses of the feverish black market that existed at the time, when loyalty lines were blurred and nations staked their claims on Germany and set the stage for a cold war that lasted decades. Soderbergh and company clearly care about the story, but he cares just a little bit more about the look and mood of his work. Normally this is an unforgivable cinematic crime, but here it's an exotic and visually devastating infraction. And the best news: Ocean's 13 hits theatres in June.

The Good Shepherd

Whenever a film comes along with a cast as impressive as this, I get nervous. It's so rare that a long list of great actors translates into a worthy film (a recent example of a failed attempt at this being All the King's Men). But the Robert De Niro-directed The Good Shepherd is a thoughtful and exceptional work that tells the all-too-believable story about the birth of the CIA through the eyes of a man whose dedication and commitment to his country and job surprises even him at times.

Edward Wilson (Matt Damon, giving the performance of a lifetime and his second film this year — along with The Departed — as part of an ensemble cast) is no Jack Ryan super spy. He begins life as a pre-WWII Yale student invited to join the elite, clandestine society Skull & Bones, a place where leaders and men of power are crafted. His reputation as a fiercely loyal man (he turns in a professor he likes for being a Nazi sympathizer) catches the attention of the intelligence/counter-intelligence organization the OSS. His almost unnoticeable recruitment at the hands of the sly William Hurt is the first of many great, understated scenes in The Good Shepherd.

Wilson's relationship with a lovely deaf woman is what keeps him human, but a one-night slip-up with the sister of one of his Skull & Bones comrades results in a pregnancy and eventual marriage neither one truly wants. His wife is played by Angelina Jolie, who gives a mostly restrained performance in the early part of the film. But, as you know, Jolie isn't usually hired for to play prim and proper. With Wilson's job keeping him away sometimes for years at a time, and since he can never share with her the details of his work with his wife, she literally is driven insane by the quiet nature of their marriage.

The plot, from a screenplay by Eric Roth (Munich, Ali, The Insider), paints Wilson as one of the architects of the Central Intelligence Agency (the agency OSS evolved into). He is one of the masters not only of gathering information but also disseminating false background and intelligence to feed the enemy (in most cases, the Soviet Union's KGB). There are a number of fantastic sequences involving the cat-and-mouse information game he plays with his CIA counterpart that are so slick and impressive, you can't help but laugh a little. The Good Shepherd is not a film about explosions, flash cars and beautiful but deadly female assassins. No, this film takes a wholly cold and emotionless tone. There are many great actors present who are known for scene stealing, including director De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup, John Turturro, Joe Pesci and Timothy Hutton. But De Niro seems to have given strict instructions to dial everything back. Much of the dialogue is spoken in quiet tones, at least that's how it seemed.

Not surprisingly, spending your entire career dealing in secrets and lies breeds a healthy amount of paranoia. Much of the film is told in flashbacks, and Wilson remembers how he got involved in the business to begin with. In the present day, he is being investigated for possibly leaking state secrets. He is also dealing with his now grown son, who seems desperate to follow in his father's shoes, if only to get his dad's approval. The Good Shepherd is a swirling, mesmerizing work. The film manages to be both chaotic and beautifully organized. De Niro makes no effort to glamorize the life he's depicting, but he does manage to relay the appeal of such a chosen profession. Secrets are power, after all.

You may not realize how truly involved you are in this film until it's over, and, upon reflection, the levels the film is working on are many and highly intricate. It also isn't until the end that you'll realize you've been feeling edgy for most of the movie, and you'll probably need some help prying your fingers from the armrests. De Niro's means of building is so subtle as to almost be unnoticeable until you're deep into the work. The Good Shepherd is a film of substance that presents the events without judging them or the players too harshly. He leaves that to the audience. Between this film and The Departed, Matt Damon has given us his best year as an actor. True, he goes back to his comfort zone of franchise work next year with both Ocean's 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum coming out in the summer, but those are hardly films to dread. But it's his work in The Good Shepherd that shows us a side to his abilities yet untapped. This restrained performance somehow still manages to show us the heart of a man whom the government would prefer be heartless. Check this film out immediately.

Rocky Balboa

One of the greatest surprises at this or any other Butt-Numb-a-Thon was how much the closing chapter in the six-film Rocky series genuinely moved me and everyone in the room. There is nothing like the feeling you get having a couple hundred of your nearest and dearest chanting "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" and meaning every word of it. It makes me feel very, very old to think that the first Rocky came out 30 years ago, but watching it again recently made me remember why there was a time when Sylvester Stallone was not an action hero or an icon; he was simply an actor born to write and play a character that was so close to his heart. It didn't matter if Rocky won his first major fight against Apollo Creed; that wasn't the point. He went the distance. His fight wasn't against a man, but against a time and place that seemed always ready to push him down and refuse to let him rise up from his working-class roots.

Rocky Balboa is the closest Stallone has gotten to capturing the spirit and purpose of the original film. He has written and directed this heartfelt effort, and he reminds us one more time in the guise of this aging, worn out man that we all have a little fight left in us. More than an opponent, the death of his wife Adrian has come close to defeating him as a man.

He has opened an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia and spends most nights there entertaining customers with his war stories, providing a living, breathing highlights reel of his fight career. It both sad and empowering to see him leading a fairly successful life and still get recognized everywhere he goes in the city. When ESPN (who must have co-produced this film for the amount of product placement they get here) runs a computer-simulated fight between Balboa and the current heavyweight champ Mason "The Line" Dixon (actual boxer Antonio Tarver) and Rocky wins, Dixon's team sees dollars signs and a chance to legitimize their client in the eyes of boxing fans who think he's only fighting guys that are guaranteed wins.

Rocky almost doesn't have a choice but to take the exhibition fight as he is swept up in the thrill of the moment. Many things are going on in his personal life that might be helped if he takes this fight. An estranged relationship with his grown son (Milo Ventimiglia) seems at stake, as does a newly formed bond with a local bartender named Marie (newcomer Geraldine Hughes) and her would-be thug son. One sense that Rocky sees these relationships firming up and getting stronger if this fight happens, and why not?

One of the most interesting things Stallone chooses to do with Rocky's opponent is make him a somewhat decent guy. Dixon is not a super villain the way Mr. T or Dolph Lundgren were; he's just a young man still more comfortable being selfish and safe than being a real fighter. These two men have a lot to learn from each other.

I would be remiss without mentioning Burt Young's perpetually cranky character Paulie, Rocky's brother-in-law and constant grumpy companion. The fact that this man is still alive is cause for celebration.

I will confess that the idea that Stallone is now eyeing a fourth Rambo movie does not thrill me. At least with Rocky Balboa, the stated intention was to retire the character with this film. Stallone is playing his age, and the film is essentially about an older man not giving up on life just because he is past his prime in his chosen profession. The climactic boxing match is exciting, but hardly unpredictable. And as much as I liked seeing Stallone throw a few punishing blows once again, I enjoyed the quieter story of Rocky in his twilight years more. Seeing Rambo in his twilight doesn't hold quite the same appeal. Rocky Balboa reminds us that certain movie characters are legendary for a reason; they not only make us cheer for their wins (real or symbolic), they remind us that life is worth living. It may sound hokey, but at the end of this film, my first thought was, I hope I'm still able to do something that life affirming when I'm 60.

Curse of the Golden Flower

There are some directors you trust to take you on an incredible journey every time they get behind a camera. Sometimes that journey takes places in modern times as a poor pregnant woman goes from her small Chinese village to the big city to seek some form of justice. Other times, the story involves gender equality in an age and culture where sex roles are in transition. And sometimes these directors you have faith in present you with thousands of 10th century assassins and soldiers locked in combat that is in no way influenced by or subjected to gravity. One such filmmaker is Zhang Yimou, who has been on something of a martial arts kick of late, but his films (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) are in no way typical of the genre. They are ornate and sweeping epics, featuring a scope that is unprecedented in martial arts films from any nation. The colors alone are enough to make you afraid to blink, but when you add on complicated plot and superb acting, well, then you get a handful of masterpieces.

Zhang's last film, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, was a small personal journey about a father attempt to film a famed but rarely performed Chinese opera for his dying son. Only the truly heartless couldn't get choked up by its small and deeply moving tale. But the director was only taking a breath so he could jump into Curse of the Golden Flower, a story of an Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) and his conniving wife (Gong Li, making her first appearance in a Zhang film in about 10 years). To get too deep into the plot would take away the joy of watching it unravel in all its splendor. The couple has three sons, each wavering in their loyalties and plotting within the family structure. There are illicit love affairs with servants, mysteries about the relationships between royalty and commoner. All the stuff that made Shakespeare sweaty.

But the plot is only half the fun of Golden Flower. There's color, costumes, warfare, millions of yellow chrysanthemums, weapons, blood, black-clad assassins swooping down mountain sides — seemingly by the hundreds — and a cast of thousands. For the last half an hour or so, you just have no other choice but to sit back and swim in the spectacle of it all. There isn't nearly the amount of martial arts that the previous two such films featured, but I didn't really miss it. The story and the acting were so gripping, that all other things fall by the wayside.

But the focal point of all the action is Gong Li (although she does no actual fighting herself), who will always be the most beautiful woman on earth. Here, her flawless face is called upon to maintain a serene look while her emotions and sanity begins to rage out of control. There is so much pain and anger in her eyes, you can feel the heat coming off the screen, but the politics and ceremony of the household forbid her from any outward expression of emotion in the emperor's presence. Yeah, right.

The production design and color scheme of Golden Flower is enough to recommend it. There are hallways in the palace that appear to be the inside of a rainbow. In other rooms, the abundance of gold is enough to blind you. The entire film is a sumptuous and overwhelming work that gives way to bloodshed and violence on an almost unheard of scale. You don't have much choice but to let the movie engulf your senses and fill your brain with tumult.

We Are Marshall

I'd been warned in advance that the story of the 1970 Marshall University football team was one that has made grown men weep openly for more than 25 years. On a November night, the chartered jet carrying the team, coaches, fans and prominent members of the Huntington, WV community from a game in North Carolina that afternoon crashed just short of the airport where it was meant to land, killing about 60 people. The incident didn't just shatter the university's student body; it nearly destroyed the town of Huntington, where the families of many of those killed resided. So the question of whether to bother ever rebuilding the university's football program hardly seemed important to most.

In what was deemed by many to be the ultimate act of bad taste, the university's president (David Strathairn, in full nervous twitch mode) was convinced by the team's few surviving players (most of whom were injured and never made the trip) to keep the "Thundering Herd" football program alive and rebuild it in time for the following season. Eventually, the team's one surviving coach, Red Dawson (played respectfully by "Lost" star Matthew Fox) is brought back to the field after swearing he could never do it. After going through the entire list of potential head coaches, the university president receives a letter from an outsider (apparently Marshall coaches are historically alumni).

Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, who enters the picture full of excitement, talking out of the side of his mouth and sporting a hideous '70s hairstyle, temporarily erasing all his sex symbol appeal. McConaughey has simply never been this good, and it genuinely is exciting to see him actually acting again and not just smiling and looking tan. He creates a complete character in his portrayal of Lengyel, a man and coach who took some getting used to. Lengyel didn't spend much time being somber or paying tribute to the dead players and coaches. He had to build an entire team in less than a year. And with so many of West Virginia's finest players opting to play for the state school, West Virginia University, the pickings were slim.

But getting the Marshall students excited about the new team was simple compared to convincing the Huntington community, some of whom cried "too soon!" to this new team. Ian McShane plays the father of one of the dead players, and his voice of dissent is the loudest when the school leaders decide to keep the football program alive. Also on hand lending supporting roles are the always great Anthony Mackie as one of the three players who didn't die in the crash, Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Lengyel's supportive wife and January Jones as the fiancée of McShane's dead son.

The football scenes give director McG (both Charlie's Angels films) the opportunity to move his camera the way we're used to seeing him, but he shows impressive restraint when he needs to in We Are Marshall. The progression of that season's football games is unique, in that you see the team get better with each game. Every game is a struggle, and often it's a struggle they lose. But as it will inevitably be pointed out time and again in reviews of this film, the object of Marshall's 1971 season was not to be champions but to simply play and stay alive. The movie has unexpected emotional impact, even to those of us not normally moved by sports films. We Are Marshall doesn't always aim for the heart or the tear ducts with obvious sentimentality, but it somehow manages to hit those spots anyway. For the players and the audience, the conclusion of the season is an emotional release that feels well earned and wholly appropriate.

So Goes the Nation

Being two years too late to have any real impact on the American election process, and about a month after Democrats took control of the Congress, this nevertheless intriguing documentary about the pivotal role Ohio played in the last presidential election can be viewed as more a cautionary tale than a probing piece of investigative journalism. Taking as the premise that "the way Ohio votes, so goes the nation," filmmakers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo chronicle the near bloodletting that went on for the soul of Ohio in 2004. The state was experiencing some of the worst poverty in the nation, so President Bush couldn't exactly play the economy card there, but Ohio also had an extraordinary number of its residents serving in the Gulf War, making the friends and loved ones less susceptible to cries from John Kerry's campaign that the war was a mistake.

The filmmakers carefully and clearly lay out all the tricks both sides used to capture the voters. Nowhere was the cry of Kerry the Flip-Flopper more loudly heard. Democrats countered with claims that Republicans were disenfranchising African-American voters, in some cases by deliberately confusing people about where they should vote or if they were even allowed. What's particularly fascinating about the film is the bold honesty both sides had once the election was over. Democrats admitted the other side won because they played smarter and because John Kerry wasn't as willing to play dirty.

This film was clearly made before recent claims of voter fraud in Ohio surfaced, so this isn't a film claiming that conspiracies were afoot. As a result, So Goes the Nation is as even-handed a film about politics as I've seen in many years. I doubt the fair presentation of either party's tactics is going to sway you or have you switching sides, but it does paint "the enemy" as far more human than I'm used to seeing in documentaries of late. The movie is intelligently executed and even a bit suspenseful, despite all of us knowing the outcome. You may forget the 2004 election was far from predetermined, and it all came down (as it did in Florida in 2000) to one state tallying its ridiculously close votes. The analysis from the top strategists down is fascinating, remarkably honest and should serve as food for thought for the next two years. The film opens today at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to steve@steveatthemovies.com.

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