It's interesting to see the way filmmakers stake out certain emotional territory as their own over the course of a career. Over the course of six films, Alexander Payne has created a body of work that focuses on the effects of and rebellion against disappointment.
Kenneth Branagh's Thor had a certain playfulness that pitted the ultra-serious world of Asgard, land of the Norse gods, against 21st-century USA. Now director Alan Taylor has taken the reins of the franchise and, with Thor: The Dark World, drains the fun from it.
The story is the time-honored trope of the martial artist who must decide between selling his abilities for money or using them to pursue spiritual goals. Can he find his way back to his own values once he's gone over to the dark side of raw capitalism?
I heard a lot of critics sniff at the inclusion of Richard Curtis' About Time in this year's New York Film Festival. The same cadre, no doubt, uses Curtis' Love, Actually as an example of what's wrong with romantic comedy.
You could think of Aftermath as a Polish version of 12 Years a Slave: a film that exhumes a shameful chapter in its nation's history which some people would just as soon leave buried, rather than confront.
Ridley Scott is one of those overrated directors who, every once in a while, puts together a hard-edged, lean little film that just delivers the goods. The Counselor, unfortunately, isn't one of those efforts.
Machete, which turned veteran character actor Danny Trejo into a leading man, was a wild and wildly violent action-comedy, a spoof of exploitation films of the 1970s. So, obviously, is Machete Kills. How much of a spoof?
Based on the title character's book recalling the 2009 incident -- in which an American cargo vessel in the Indian Ocean was captured by four Somali pirates -- Captain Phillips puts you right in the middle of the action and never lets you go.
Either the title of the documentary Muscle Shoals resonates with you -- in which case it resonates hard -- or you have no idea what it means. But you should -- or you should find out by watching the movie, one of the year's most entertaining and enriching nonfiction films.
Ron Howard's Rush is winning all sorts of praise as being daring (for taking on subject matter that apparently isn't an automatic audience magnet), a throwback to the 1970s (when filmmakers took more risks) and just plain sexy and exciting.
Nicole Holofcener brings a wonderfully humane approach to the subject with Enough Said, a bittersweet romantic comedy made all the sadder by the fact that it represents one of James Gandolfini's final performances onscreen.