RT's Mid-Year Report - the Best and the Worst of the Year: So Far

  1. By Sara Schieron
    All in all, it's been an interesting 2007 at the movies. Now that we're in the midst of the summer movie season, we think now is the perfect time to take a look back at the best and the worst of the year so far.
    As always, the critics have smiled on a wide range of movies, from blockbusters to micro-budgeted indies, from docs to foreign films. The list encompasses movies from January to June with 50 reviews or more; the rankings are based on a weighted calculation that factors in the Tomatometer and the number of reviews. You'll see recent releases like Knocked Up, Ratatouille, and Live Free or Die Hard sharing space on the list with The Host, Hot Fuzz, and Sicko. And a few small releases made good: Waitress and Once ascended the social ladder from art house darlings to bona-fide hits.
    But they can't all be winners. If you're hungry for something to throw popcorn (or locusts) at, consider The Reaping. Or Because I said So, which features the usually fantastic Diane Keaton in a role that no number of strawberry daiquiris can improve. Even Premonition, an ill-conceived mind-trip vehicle for Sandra Bullock, made the cut. But some stinkers were not quite big enough to make the list: Redline has a robust zero percent rating, but not enough reviews to qualify.
    So whether you're planning your future Netflix list or trying to avoid a hellish time at the matinee, we highly suggest perusing our list. Remind yourself what’s been good so far -- and look forward to the rest of 2007! If it sinks or swims and has at least 50 reviews, you'll likely find it here.

    (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/features/special/2007/midyeareport/?todayonrt=2)
     
  2. The Top 25


    25) Paris, Je' Taime

    Critical Consensus

    Paris Je T'aime is uneven, but there are more than enough delightful moments in this omnibus tribute to the City of Lights to tip the scale in its favor.



    SYNOPSIS
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    IN THEATRES MAY 4, 2007 (Limited)

    Eighteen different directors and a slew of indie actors come together for PARIS, JE T'AIME, a cinematic homage to the City of Light. Each director presents his or her own short story set in a different Parisian quarter, each one featuring a different cast of characters. The pieces vary in length, with some of them striving to tell a fully developed tale--no matter how simple the plot--while others are more abstract, content to rely on sparse dialogue and vivid imagery. With directors such as Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, and the Coen brothers participating, the tales are as varied and oddball as one might expect. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a lonely actress with a fondness for her hash dealer. Elijah Wood encounters a seductive vampire on a moonlit street. Steve Buscemi is a flustered tourist. Natalie Portman falls for a deaf Frenchmen. Each tale is markedly unique, and specific to the quirky style of its director, and the film is a veritable Who's Who for indie buffs. The end product is a bit uneven, with some of the narratives sparkling and others starting strong, then falling flat. But in the moments when it succeeds, the movie can feel mysterious and magical, evoking the romance and longing the city is famous for.
     
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  3. 24) Live Free or Die Hard


    Critical Consensus

    Live Free or Die Hard may be preposterous, but it's an efficient, action-packed summer popcorn flick with thrilling stunts and a commanding performance by Bruce Willis.



    Synopsis

    IN THEATERS JUNE 27, 2007 After a twelve-year hiatus, Bruce Willis is back as New York City detective John McClane, who still plays by his own set of rules. Following DIE HARD (1988), DIE HARDER (1990), and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995), the fourth installment in the popular action series stars DEADWOOD's Timothy Olyphant as Thomas Gabriel, an evil mastermind who is determined to bring down the entire infrastructure of the United States on Independence Day, sending the country into anarchy and chaos. Joining him on his mission of destruction is the elegant Mai, played by Maggie Q from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. McClane becomes involved when he gets caught in the crossfire while transporting prisoner Matt Farrell (Justin Long, most well known as the mac in a series of computer commercials), a hacker extraordinaire who is the perfect complement to the old-school McClane, who eschews cell phones, computers, and doing anything the easy way. But when Gabriel kidnaps McClane's daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from the DEATH PROOF section of GRINDHOUSE), it gets personal. Full of the sarcastic humor, exciting action sequences -- including flying cars -- and fun characters that have defined the series, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARDER is an excellent addition, directed by Len Wiseman (UNDERWORLD and UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION). The plot was based on a magazine article, "A Farewell to Arms," written by John Carlin, that appeared in a 1997 issue of WIRED magazine. The movie also features Kevin Smith as a computer geek -- er, expert -- known as Warlock, who still lives in his mother's basement. Yippee-ki-yay indeed.
     
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  4. 23) Into Great Silence


    Critical Consensus

    A meditative, deliberately paced doc capable of absorbing patient viewers into a whole different world.



    SYNOPSIS
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    INTO GREAT SILENCE fits neatly into the sub-category of films that need to be experienced rather than just watched. Over 162 minutes director Philip Groening films a group of monks who dwell in the Carthusian monastery of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps. The monks have taken a vow of silence, and live life at such a gentile pace that it took them 13 years to respond to Groening's request to make a film about them. The subjects of Groening's film fill their days with slow and highly repetitive routines, so the director shoots at a suitably slow pace, highlighting simple tasks such as praying, gardening, cooking, and doing laundry. Groening lived with the monks for four months and worked under strict conditions dictated to him by the order; no voiceover, music, or interviews were to be included in the film, and Groening was to be the sole crew member on the shoot. There are a couple of moments when Groening breaks with his modus operandi. He interviews an elderly blind monk, the Gregorian Chants practiced by the order occasionally feature, and the monks stage a snowball fight on one of their weekly breaks from the monastery. But the film is mostly comprised of a long, lonely trip into silence, and will doubtless leave its audience members in a contemplative and restful state of mind once the journey comes to a peaceful end.
     
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  5. 22) Starter For 10

    CRITICAL CONSENSUS
    A spirtited coming-of-age tale that remains charming and witty even as it veers into darker subjects.

    SYNOPSIS
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    "Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be clever," Brian Jackson confesses in voice over at the start of STARTER FOR 10. A working-class student from Essex navigating his first year at Bristol University, Brian (James McAvoy) has a lot to prove. While his hometown mates worry about him turning into a poncey wanker, Brian's biggest concern is making the team for the long-running British television quiz show University Challenge. (The game show, which began in 1962 and is something like the UK's answer to Jeopardy, pits four-member teams from posh universities against each other. "Starter" questions, worth ten points each, give the film its title.)

    Amidst Tarts & Vicars dances, anti-Apartheid rallies, minging dorm rooms and puffs of marijuana smoke, Brian also finds himself romantically torn between two very different co-eds: ultra-fit blonde bombshell and University Challenge teammate Alice (Alice Eve), and thoughtful, politically-conscious Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall in Christopher Nolan's THE PRESTIGE).

    With Margaret Thatcher's economically depressed Blighty as a backdrop, and a killer, pitchperfect New Wave soundtrack—featuring music by The Cure, Wham!, Bananarama, Yaz, The Smiths, New Order, Tears For Fears, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Buzzcocks, and The Psychedelic Furs—in the foreground, STARTER FOR 10 is the great British teen 80s movie that never was...

    It is also altogether delightful, with UK comedy sensation Catherine Tate co-starring as Brian's steadfast mum, and McAvoy (THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE'S Mr. Tumnus the Faun) delivering the kind of charming, humorous performance that reinvigorates a genre. Though Brian Jackson knows everything, like all honest coming-of-age stories, STARTER FOR 10 is ultimately about its hero discovering the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Directed by Tom Vaughan, based on the novel by David Nicholls, STARTER FOR 10 is produced by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Pippa Harris and executive produced by Sam Mendes, Steven Shareshian, Nathalie Marciano and Michelle Chydzik Sowa.





    OTHER NOTES
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    Theatrical Release: Feburary 23, 2007 (Limited)
     
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  6. 21) God Grew Tired of Us



    CRITICAL CONSENSUS
    Not just a powerful telling of the journey of exiled Sudanese boys, God Grew Tired of Us is also a poignant account of the determination of the human spirit.



    SYNOPSIS
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    In the late 1980s, 27,000 Sudanese "lost boys"–some just toddlers–marched barefoot over thousands of miles of barren desert, seeking safe haven from the brutal civil war raging in their homeland. Half died from bombing raids and starvation; the others reside together in Kenya's Kakuna refugee camp, with few prospects. Recently, the U.S. invited some of the boys to settle in America. Moving and mind-expanding, Christopher Quinn's God Grew Tired of Us follows three unforgettable young men–John, Daniel, and Panther–on their unbelievable odyssey in a strange New World. The culture shock begins with airplane loudspeakers and processed food and continues as they orient themselves to refrigerators, running water, and fluorescent-lit supermarkets. It's fascinating to witness their wonder at Western customs, and even more gripping when the film monitors their spiritual temperatures. Things are tough as the boys juggle multiple menial jobs; for the first time, they find themselves well fed, yet painfully isolated from the brotherly fellowship that once enabled their survival. They face hints of racism and are perplexed by Americans' obsessive need for privacy and anxious about loved ones struggling in Africa. Yet John, Daniel, and Panther–each radiantly charismatic and thoughtful–meet their challenges, fueled by a desire to help others. Though they were bred in unspeakably dehumanizing circumstances, their integrity and honor are impeccable, raising profound questions about the conditions necessary to create a civilized society.


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  7. 20) An Unreasonable Man


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    Critical Consensus

    A compelling documentary that humanizes the controversial, polarizing politician.


    SYNOPSIS
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    As quietly provocative as its thoughtful protagonist, Steve Skrovan and Henriette Mantel's galvanizing documentary, AN UNREASONABLE MAN, examines how one of the 20th century's most admired and indefatigable social activists, Ralph Nader, became a pariah among the same progressive circles he helped champion. Utilizing the standard documentary formula of archival footage, talking-head interviews, and the occasional computer-animated graphic, the film deftly traces Nader's life and career with a robust, lively pace that follows him from his upbringing in a Lebanese immigrant family that took its commitment to civic engagement very seriously (the family discussed politics at the dinner table and attended town-hall meetings together) to his role as the leading consumer advocate of the 1960s and '70s (when he took on the automobile industry and became responsible for many safety features modern consumers take for granted, such as seatbelts and airbags). But the film really picks up steam--and takes the form of an impassioned public debate--when it tackles the contentious 2000 and 2004 presidential runs that elicited accusations of splitting the Democratic vote and enabling the election of George W. Bush, making enemies of Nader's most ardent supporters (including celebrity pundits Michael Moore and Bill Maher; liberal journalists Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin; and even former members of Nader's own advocacy group, Nader’s Raiders) while cementing the continued respect of fellow activists like Mark Green and James Ridgeway. That all these figures appear on screen--alongside such disparate political luminaries as Phil Donahue, Pat Buchanan, and Nader himself--stands as a testament to the film's balanced approach, one that makes a nonpartisan plea that such a lifelong crusader for social justice not be remembered as a mere "spoiler," but as a consummate public advocate and a living example of the average citizen's power to participate in the democratic process.
     
  8. 19) Grindhouse


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    Critical Consensus

    Grindhouse delivers exhilarating exploitation fare with wit and panache, improving upon its source material with feral intelligence.


    SYNOPSIS
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    GRINDHOUSE is the cinematic equivalent of Bach and Beethoven adding their touch to a boy-band song. Master directors Quentin Tarantino (PULP FICTION) and Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY) indulge their inner fanboys and team up for this homage to their favorite B-movies. Rodriguez’s film, PLANET TERROR, is an old-fashioned zombie film that’s infused with enough gore and giggles to please even Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE). Rose McGowan (CHARMED) plays Cherry, a go-go dancer whose night is interrupted by a vicious zombie attack that leaves her missing a leg. Her ex-boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, SIX FEET UNDER), takes charge, fashioning her a new leg from a machine gun and killing zombies along the way. In Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) stalks beautiful women with his deadly vintage car. When he picks a trio of tough girls (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell), he learns they aren’t such easy prey.

    This double feature plays as a three-hour ode to the horror and exploitation films that once played in grimy grindhouses across the country. As with any Tarantino film, there are plenty of nods to pop culture, and this is no exception. Fellow horror directors Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright contribute fake trailers that are squeezed in between the two features. Genre fans will love seeing familiar faces such as Tom Savini, Danny Trejo, and Bill Moseley. Clearly Tarantino and Rodriguez were film lovers before they were filmmakers, and their passion for the medium is infectious. Those who can stomach GRINDHOUSE’s high level of guns, guts, and gore are in for a treat. The hyper-violent films aren’t for everyone, but three hours of film has rarely been this much fun.
     
  9. 18) After the Wedding


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    Critical Consensus

    The cast brings After the Wedding's melodramatic script to life, creating a movie that is emotionally raw and satisfying.




    SYNOPSIS
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    A businessman offers to make a huge donation to an Indian orphanage in AFTER THE WEDDING. Unfortunately he makes some unreasonable demands on the owner of the orphanage, including a bizarre request to return to his native Denmark to participate in a wedding.
     
  10. 17) The Namesake



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    Critical Consensus

    An ambitious exploration of the immigrant experience with a talented cast that serves the material well.




    SYNOPSIS
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    Like her previous films VANITY FAIR, MONSOON WEDDING, and HBO’s HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS, Mira Nair’s THE NAMESAKE is a lush, beautiful film bursting with rich color and visual texture. Based on the bestselling book by Jhumpa Lahiri, the film follows two generations of the Ganguli family. After wedding via an arranged marriage, Ashima (Tabu) moves with Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) from her native Calcutta to New York. As Ashima struggles to adjust to life in her new home, a true love grows between the newlyweds. When they give birth to Gogol (who does not learn the true origin of his name until adulthood), the Gangolis decide to stay in American for their child’s sake, settling in the suburbs and eventually giving birth to a daughter, Sonia (Sahira Nair). While Ashima and Ashoke attempt to balance their new life with Indian traditions, their children have the very different experience of being raised first-generation Americans. With little interest in their ancestry, both Gogol and Sonia disappoint their parents by having little respect for the sacrifices their parents made for them. Gogol’s desire to change his name, and his relationship with a wealthy American girl (Jacinda Barrett), places a strain on the family which Gogol will later regret.

    Here, Penn proves he can play a serious role while still using his comedic skills to great affect. The actor shows impressive range in growing a clueless teen to a man his father would be proud of. Nair’s skill at directing can be felt in the film’s many great performances. Both Tabu and Irrfan Khan embody their characters so fully that the viewer really feels a personal connection to the story. As the head of the household, Khan's character will subtly make viewers laugh while breaking their heart. Packed with unique characters, THE NAMESAKE offers audiences an outlet into Bengali traditions and the immigrant experience while telling a universal story of family bonds which all parents and children should connect with. Nair excels in what is her most personal work to date.
     
  11. 16) Bridge to Terabithia


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    Critical Consensus

    Bridge to Terabithia is a faithful adaptation of a beloved children's novel and a powerful portrayal of love, loss, and imagination through children's eyes.




    SYNOPSIS
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    Animation master Gabor Csupo directs his first live-action film in this adaptation of the novel The Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, whose son David co-wrote the screenplay and serves as a producer. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is misunderstood. Despite Jess' talents as an artist, the school bullies pick on him, his father (Robert Patrick) belittles his dreams, and his four sisters invade his space in the family's cramped house. Jess' bleak world changes when Leslie (Annasophia Robb) moves into the house next door. Bright, creative and outspoken, Leslie also finds herself an outsider in their school. Soon the two are thick as thieves, spending their after school hours exploring the woods beyond their backyards and on the others side of a creek, which Leslie deems the kingdom of Terabithia. Here, they create their own magical world, complete with a Dark Master and his minions, dragonfly soldiers, giant trolls and a treehouse fortress. In Terabithia, the two friends let their imaginations run wild and control their destiny, far away from school bullies and the pressures of adolescence.

    Hutcherson and Robb are well cast as Jess and Leslie in this coming-of-age tale. Hutcherson handles both the melancholy intensity and unbridled joy of his character beautifully, and Robb's smile and charisma are infectious. Zooey Deschanel also stars as Miss Edmunds, the music teacher who befriends Jess. Parents should read the book or learn more about the story before taking young children to see this film, as the story includes not only some scary creatures, but also the death of a young person. Terabithia and its creatures are created by WETA Digital LTD, the same company that did the effects for the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and KING KONG.
     
  12. 15) Breach


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    Critical Consensus

    Powered by Chris Cooper's masterful performance, Breach is a tense and engaging portrayal of the FBI's infamous turncoat.






    SYNOPSIS
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    Chris Cooper (ADAPTATION) gives a remarkable performance as complicated and bitter FBI agent Robert Hanssen in BREACH. Hanssen is a computer specialist who, after 25 years of service, is put under surveillance as a suspected sex offender. Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe, CRASH) is the ambitious young upstart they put on the job, assigning him to pose as Hanssen’s new clerk in order to win his trust and keep an eye on his every move. Eric is dismayed to be put on such low-priority detail, accustomed as he is to investigating high-profile terrorism suspects. His reluctance is multiplied as he gets to know the subject of his inquiry; Hanssen is at first harsh towards his young secretary, but as he opens up, Eric gets to know and respect him as a family man of strong Catholic faith. Soon, however, Hanssen is infiltrating Eric’s personal life and causing problems between him and his wife, Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas, HOLLYWOODLAND), and just when Eric is about to give up the case, he discovers that it is much bigger than he ever imagined. Eric finds himself in the middle of an investigation into the biggest security breach in U.S. history, forcing him to resort to dramatic and ingenious tactics in order to bring down the suspect. Director Billy Ray’s first directorial effort was the dramatization of the Stephen Glass scandal at the D.C. magazine The New Republic in SHATTERED GLASS, and here he once again turns his eye--with great success--to a true story with a complex villain. Cooper’s excellent characterization invites pity and horror in equal measure; his performance is well supported in this character-driven thriller by Laura Linney (KINSEY) as the hard-nosed agent leading the investigation, and Phillippe as the resourceful and introspective O’Neill.
     
  13. 14) Red Road



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    Critical Consensus

    Red Road director Andrea Arnold skillfully parses out just enough plot details at a time to keep the audience engrossed in this seductive thriller.



    SYNOPSIS
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    Developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, Red Road is a bristling, atmospheric thriller that rumbles with intensity.

    In the squalor of urban Glasgow, Jackie (Katie Dickie) works at a video-surveillance firm that is in charge of protecting people who live on a single block of Red Road. One day a man appears on her monitor, a man she thought she would never see again. That man is an ex-con named Clyde (Tony Curran). Clearly shocked to see him free from prison, Jackie begins stalking Clyde, compelled to confront him for his crimes. What mysterious history do they share, and why is Jackie so determined to punish this man? Filmmaker Andrea Arnold keeps the audience guessing and the tension building as Red Road crescendos to an explosive finale.
    After three acclaimed shorts, including Wasp, which won the Sundance Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking and the Academy Award, Red Road marks Arnold's highly anticipated feature debut. It was constructed within the framework of Lars von Trier's experimental Advance Party project, the first of three films set in Scotland, by three different directors, using the same nine characters. Masterfully crafted, Red Road gets the project off to a stirring start.
     
  14. 13) The Hoax




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    Critical Consensus

    The Hoax is an enormously appealing film, thanks to the uniformly excellent performances and Lasse Hallström's zippy direction.




    SYNOPSIS
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    In 1971, Clifford Irving achieved the very heights of American journalism, nabbing a series of unprecedented interviews with the most famous man in the world – ultra-reclusive, immensely powerful, superstar billionaire Howard Hughes – revealing his most intimate memories and controversial secrets.

    Actually, that's a lie.

    In 1971, writer Clifford Irving told an incredible whopper – one that became one of the most audacious and outrageous hoaxes ever perpetrated on the media and American public. Claiming to have obtained Howard Hughes' long sought-after memoirs, Irving pulled the wool over the entire publishing industry's eyes, and nearly made off with major cash and worldwide fame, until his clever yarn unraveled into a serious crime.

    Now from Academy Award®-nominated director Lasse Hallström (CIDER HOUSE RULES, CHOCOLAT) comes THE HOAX, a riveting caper inspired by Irving's untrue story. Jumping off from the still controversial facts surrounding Irving's ruse into a fictional reverie, the film mischievously and imaginatively explores how a man, an industry and an entire nation could become intoxicated by a good story . . . in sheer defiance of the fact that it never really happened.

    Golden Globe winner Richard Gere takes on the roguish role of Clifford Irving, an ambitious yet struggling writer who's been looking for that one big story for so long, he brazenly decides to make one up. At first the idea is just a savvy artistic prank, but if that's what the world wants, Irving believes he can take it further. Shrouding himself in a clever cloud of secrecy, he drops the news to a major publisher that he has been approached by the one man the entire world most wants to know about – aviator, movie mogul, ladies man and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes – to ink his priceless biography.

    There's just one little problem: not a word of what Clifford is saying has an ounce of truth to it. He's never so much as seen a glimpse of the real Howard Hughes. But Irving banks on the idea that Hughes' seclusion and notoriously thin hold on reality will allow the con to succeed. Hughes has not been seen or heard from in public for over a decade. He is a total recluse. Irving relies on this fact to protect his bogus story – as Hughes refuses to confirm or deny anything so prevalent is his fear of appearing in public. Recruiting his anxiety-prone but loyal best friend Dick Suskind (ALFRED MOLINA) and European artist wife (Academy Award® winner MARCIA GAY HARDEN) into the scheme, Clifford soon finds himself in a wild maze of treachery, as he is forced to dodge the fallout of his falsehoods at every turn. What started as an adventurous lark soon turns into a seemingly inescapable maze of forgeries, thefts, tall tales, deceptions and impersonations.

    Yet Clifford's plan works like magic as his publishers, hungry for a bestseller at any cost, are hoodwinked by the thrill of it all. When Clifford stumbles upon possible links between Hughes and a corrupt Nixon administration, the stakes for his book grow even higher. Clifford is on top of the world . . . until the real Howard Hughes shockingly emerges to pull the rug out from under him. Only now, Clifford is so caught up in the tale he created that he may no longer know where his incredible story ends and reality begins.
     
  15. 12) The Italian




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    Critical Consensus

    The Italian stands out from other European tearjerkers with its gritty cinematography and amazing, poised performance from the lead child actor.



    SYNOPSIS
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    Despite the title, THE ITALIAN is actually a Russian film set at a bleak orphanage in rural Russia. The story opens when six-year-old Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) is introduced to an Italian couple who are hoping to adopt a child. Vanya is a handsome, bright-eyed little boy, and the couple takes an instant liking to him, agreeing to give him a home. It is quite clear to the other children, and to little Vanya, that he is in an extremely enviable position. The adoption by the Italians will take Vanya away from the miserable conditions of the orphanage, where the teenagers run a mini-Mafia, taking candy from the children and doling out beatings whenever anyone withholds money from them.

    Vanya is nervous, though accepting of his fate, until the mother of another orphan comes to reclaim her son, and she is told he has already been adopted. After she is forced off the premises, the woman commits suicide. When Vanya learns of this, he is desperate to find out whether or not his own real mother is still out there. But the greedy adoption agent, known as "Madam" (Maria Kuznetsova), is determined to give Vanya to the Italians, who will pay her a generous sum for him. With the help of another orphan, Vanya makes his escape. He sets off for the address of the orphanage where his mother first left him, hoping to find some answers. While the plot of the ITALIAN may be small-scale, it packs an enormous emotional punch, and Spiridonov's performance is heartbreaking in its realism. The sight of the little boy racing through the grubby streets is reminiscent of another Italian, the round-cheeked Bruno of THE BICYCLE THIEF. Like little Bruno, Vanya will make your heart race with horror and hope, as he struggles to grasp the harsh realities of the adult world.