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Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

  1. 20 Feet From Stardom 2013 Just about everything in this movie is right. And anybody who gives a rip about unsung heroines of popular music and giving credit when credit's overdue had better come up with a good excuse not to see it. full review
  2. Arthur Newman 2013 The script of "Arthur Newman," written two decades ago by Becky Johnston, cries out for deadpan anonymity, not the charismatic likes of these two. full review
  3. A Band Called Death 2013 The film is nothing much cinematically, and some of the narrative details and circumstances seemed fudged. But it's a great story, told with a fan's honest appreciation. full review
  4. Blackfish 2013 The film may be depressing. But even with a terrible, watery musical score, it's also good. full review
  5. C.O.G. 2013 Modest and good-looking, the film starts as dark comedy and ends in pathos. Director Alvarez makes the Oregon scenery a character unto itself. full review
  6. Drinking Buddies 2013 "Drinking Buddies" has a cleaner structure than Swanberg's earlier wanderings, but after several projects I still don't know what compels him as a filmmaker ... full review
  7. Frances Ha 2013 The film may be small, but it's really good. full review
  8. Gimme The Loot 2013 There's barely enough narrative to sustain even an 81-minute picture, yet a sweet spirit buoys this quick-witted, amiably foul-mouthed indie. full review
  9. How I Live Now 2013 I'm not sure whom this movie's for, really. full review
  10. The Iceman 2013 Just when you think you've seen enough of these wiseguys, along comes a story like Kuklinski's, and an actor like Shannon. full review
  11. Insidious: Chapter 2 2013 Wan is getting better and better at figuring out what to do with the camera, and maneuvering actors within a shot for maximum suspense, while letting his design collaborators do the rest. full review
  12. John Dies at the End 2013 "John Dies at the End" dies closer to the beginning, before writer-director Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the book of the same name has reached minute 20. full review
  13. LUV 2013 "LUV" may not convince with Woody's aggressively telescoped transformation. But the actors compensate. full review
  14. Mud 2013 An evocative highlight of the American movie year so far. full review
  15. No Place On Earth 2013 The story told by Janet Tobias' documentary "No Place on Earth" is enough to transcend the film's limitations. full review
  16. Phantom 2013 How did this submarine movie turn out so unseaworthy? full review
  17. Prince Avalanche 2013 It's an actors' showcase. But Green films it with real feeling and an eye for parts of the Lone Star State that, as we can see, are no longer. full review
  18. Room 237 2013 I found most of what's actually put forth in the film interpretively ridiculous. But I'm just one theorist among millions, and the film worked for me anyway. full review
  19. Safe Haven 2013 This is such stuff as paperback-rack and February multiplex dreams are made on. full review
  20. Salinger 2013 A good documentary can lead you to a place of not knowing what to believe about a subject. A bad documentary tells you what to believe, and why, but in ways provoking disbelief in the movie's tactics. full review
  21. Somm 2013 By the end, despite the surface-y quality of the treatment, you're caught up in the suspense, the horse-race aspect of a very particular pursuit of knowledge and excellence. full review
  22. Stand Up Guys 2013 Arkin in particular can barely hide his lack of enthusiasm for the material. Some of the looks he shoots his co-stars appear to contain a secret code of some kind, deciphered as: 'Well, at least I'm in 'Argo.'" full review
  23. This Is Martin Bonner 2013 This Is Martin Bonner explores what it means to be a good person at a crossroads, and whom you might find there. full review
  24. Unfinished Song 2013 When it's over you may notice red marks on your throat, so determined is "Unfinished Song" to strangle the audience into emotional submission. full review
  25. Upside Down 2013 Is the film something to look at? Yes. "Upside Down" is something to look at. But that's not enough for a full-length, full-bodied, romance. full review
  26. 2 Days in New York 2012 The comedy works some of the time; the pathos, more so. full review
  27. Any Day Now 2012 Too much of "Any Day Now" founders in cliche and predictable table-turning and point-scoring instead of building a set of complicated characters at odds with a biased system. full review
  28. Bernie 2012 Linklater's a glider, not a pile-driver; he hangs back when other directors prefer to bore in. full review
  29. Brooklyn Castle 2012 I don't know diddly about chess, and I still loved it. full review
  30. Bully 2012 The best Hirsch's film can do, in the end, is remind us that bullying means more than we admit, and its effects aren't always immediately clear, even to loved ones. full review
  31. The Central Park Five 2012 An unusually good documentary about an outlandish miscarriage of justice. full review
  32. Compliance 2012 Compliance is one of the toughest sits of the movie year 2012. But it's an uncompromising and, in its way, honorable drama built upon a prank call that goes on and on, getting worse and worse for the people on the other end of the line. full review
  33. Dark Horse 2012 Abe may deserve all that comes to him, but the question of how he got this way sustains the picture, against all odds. full review
  34. The Devil Inside 2012 The Devil Inside joins a long, woozy-camera parade of found-footage scare pictures, among them The Blair Witch Project, the Paranormal Activity films and certain wedding videos that won't go away. full review
  35. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel 2012 The visual emphasis in The Eye Has to Travel is on the pages of the magazines Vreeland dominated, and as such it's a sleek eyeful. full review
  36. Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey 2012 The best material in the film is the loosest, capturing the perpetually insecure and overcompensating Pineda in his early concerts, leaping, bouncing, careening around as if every moment in every song were an audition for the next moment in the next song. full review
  37. End of Watch 2012 Gyllenhaal and Pena are after a lived-in camaraderie and a street-level realism. Pena, especially, succeeds; you buy him every second. full review
  38. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas 2012 Resentments, pregnancies, cancer, spousal abuse and the struggle of a recovering alcoholic all come and go on cue. full review
  39. Headhunters 2012 When we get the remake in a year or two, I hope it retains the edge and compact energy of director Morten Tyldum's movie. full review
  40. Holy Motors 2012 Lavant is splendid in the film, and he's essentially the entire film - and yet, "Holy Motors" is somewhat more than a contraption built for a fearless performer. full review
  41. The Innkeepers 2012 Each visit to the root cellar is an exercise in nerve-tightening; the first time we hear the overloud telephone at the front desk, it's both alarming and funny. full review
  42. Jiro Dreams of Sushi 2012 I really wish Tokyo were closer. full review
  43. Monsieur Lazhar 2012 It's all a bit neat. But whatever the film's limitations, it's certainly engaging to watch. full review
  44. Not Fade Away 2012 Somewhat autobiographical and worth seeing despite its somewhat muffled quality ... full review
  45. Red Hook Summer 2012 It's a scramble, marked by the unruly variety of visual strategies Lee prefers. full review
  46. Red Lights 2012 Cortes made "Buried," which means he has more good work to offer. Better luck next film. full review
  47. Safety Not Guaranteed 2012 The film is modest but skillful and heartfelt, spiced just so by Plaza and company. full review
  48. Samsara 2012 "Samsara" is gorgeous. And sometimes, depending on expectations, looks are enough. full review
  49. The Sapphires 2012 The performers improve it, or save it, depending on your viewpoint. full review
  50. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap 2012 The interviews are often revealing and funny. And much of the music is tremendous. full review
  51. Starlet 2012 Where it counts, "Starlet" ... allows its characters room to maneuver within the potential cliches. full review
  52. Take This Waltz 2012 Polley wonders the same thing in nearly every scene, no matter who's in it. Is a comfortable marriage really marriage enough? full review
  53. This Is Not a Film 2012 Truly and defiantly extraordinary in its own quiet way. full review
  54. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie 2012 If the "Billion Dollar" idea was to attract new viewers, someone should get their money back. full review
  55. The Adventures of Tintin 2011 I fear Spielberg and Jackson hitched their wagon to the wrong technological star here. full review
  56. The Artist 2011 Is "The Artist" a screwball comedy? A sentimental melodrama? A spoof? Serious? What? Yes, yes, yes and yes. full review
  57. Bellflower 2011 It's like the world's coolest iPhone camera app writ large, and while it'd be misleading to make too much of this picture, it'd be a shame to make too little of it, either. full review
  58. Brighton Rock 2011 The new film version of Graham Greene's 1938 novel "Brighton Rock" isn't very good, but if you haven't yet seen the 1947 film version of Greene's book, do so! It's the right time to do so. full review
  59. Coriolanus 2011 You buy the concept, from start to finish, because it feels strong and purposeful and in sync with Shakespeare's own vision of a malleable, fickle populace and a leader raised by the ultimate stage mother. full review
  60. Into The Abyss 2011 Not since Errol Morris' masterwork of investigative documentary, "The Thin Blue Line," has a filmmaker had such an easy time of making the death penalty-crazed state of Texas look quite so casually venal. full review
  61. The Iron Lady 2011 Yes, it's a strangely de-politicized portrait of Britain's first female prime minister. But what's there is actually enough. full review
  62. The Kid with a Bike 2011 The Dardennes' latest is one of their best, a memorable cinematic portrait of troubled youth and soul-saving charity. full review
  63. Like Crazy 2011 The reason to see it co-stars with Anton Yelchin, around whom the project got going. Her name is Felicity Jones. full review
  64. Munger Road 2011 The debut feature from writer-director Nicholas Smith, who surely will go on to more compelling work. full review
  65. Pina 2011 "Pina"is the best possible tribute to Bausch, and to adventurous image-making. full review
  66. Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness 2011 Wonderfully rich, like one of Tevye's monologues, Joseph Dorman's "Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness" captures the spirit of a man and his times. full review
  67. Stake Land 2011 Mickle has talent, and the end credits include a character known as "French Canadian Cannibal," which is worth a half-star right there. full review
  68. Biutiful 2010 Am I the only one who sensed trouble when the painfully methodical spacing and timing of the opening titles suggested the heaviest, most medicinal tragedy of this or any other year? full review
  69. Blue Valentine 2010 The best of it plays like an acting exercise that serves the intimate, often bruising relationship at the core. Gosling seems to be pulling from an impressive bag of performance tricks, Williams from a deeper well, drawn from life. full review
  70. Cave of Forgotten Dreams 2010 See this film. It takes you to a place you won't soon forget. full review
  71. The Company Men 2010 Wells casts a wide but synthetic net. An aura of well-intentioned generica muffles the dramatic impact of "The Company Men"... full review
  72. Countdown to Zero 2010 Some of the footage is astounding. full review
  73. Exit Through The Gift Shop 2010 The brilliantly untrustworthy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop reminds us that a film can start out in one direction and then change course so radically, it becomes an act of provocation unto itself. full review
  74. Greenberg 2010 Cinematographer Harris Savides captures the relentless, rather terrifying sunniness of LA without ignoring the smog. Baumbach's script and direction has brought out the best in everyone on-screen. full review
  75. Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work 2010 Stern and Sundberg made The Devil Came on Horseback (about the massacres in Darfur) and The Trials of Darryl Hunt (about a wrongful incarceration nightmare), and they have a fine eye for detail. full review
  76. The King's Speech 2010 Although everything can go wrong with a film before it gets to the casting stage, and often does, a couple of marvelous performances can elevate solid, well-carpentered material and make it something special. full review
  77. Legendary 2010 Legendary is so intent on paying heartfelt tribute to dogged young athletes that it neglects basic story needs. full review
  78. A Little Help 2010 "A Little Help" settles for familiar and modest payoffs. It's not much. Yet Fischer clearly relishes the chance to play someone who's a demurely reckless mess. full review
  79. Love Ranch 2010 What could have been a juicy, pulpy noir, based loosely on the real-life 1976 Mustang Ranch love triangle involving Joe and Sally Conforte and Sally's boxer paramour, instead has the dramatic consistency of rice milk. full review
  80. Monsters 2010 A sharp little low-fi monster movie operating from a tantalizing premise. full review
  81. Night Catches Us 2010 Its rhythm forces audiences to pay attention to what its superb actors express non-verbally, and to measure the weight of the characters' past lives. full review
  82. Senna 2010 Plays like a narrative feature, juicy and alive, with enough kinetic excitement to hook the Formula One-ignorant (me, I knew next to nothing about the subject), let alone racing fans worldwide. full review
  83. Tiny Furniture 2010 It's a find -- funny and rueful and verbally dexterous, leavening a quippy screenplay with just enough honesty to make it stick. full review
  84. The Proposal 2009 The problem is not the acting. The problem is what these actors are required to say and do. full review
  85. Agora 2009 With fire in her eyes and the riddle of the solar system in her brain, Weisz struggles in fleshing out a historical character well worth a movie, though frustratingly sketchy as written here. full review
  86. Antichrist 2009 I'm inclined to agree with a colleague who told me he could swing with Antichrist when it was simply unstable but couldn't go with it when it turned insane. It's a useful distinction. And yet the first hour...is pretty stunning. full review
  87. Extract 2009 Mike Judge's Extract -- modest, no big deal but very savvy -- is the funniest American comedy of the summer. full review
  88. Fish Tank 2009 A remarkable downer-upper paradox: a bruising tale of teenage resilience, honest and emotionally complicated and alive. full review
  89. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 2009 It's a rather wobbly blend of courtroom drama and loose ends tied, albeit rather leisurely. full review
  90. The House of the Devil 2009 Even the familiar tropes of The House of the Devil are familiar in the right way, like an old, bloodstained sweater. full review
  91. Inspector Bellamy 2009 It's a small work. Yet it's so pleasurably well-made, so obviously the work of major talents in a comfortable groove, why carp about the scale or ambition of the project? full review
  92. Objectified 2009 It gets you thinking. full review
  93. The Perfect Game 2009 The film is perfectly mediocre, which is heartbreaking, not heartwarming. full review
  94. Bottle Shock 2008 The film is based on fact, but its texture is such that even the true bits feel trumped-up, and the fictional components add only the phoniest sort of conflict. full review
  95. Bronson 2008 "Nuffin' wonky about my upbringing," Bronson says, early on. Nothing wonky about Hardy's performance, either. full review
  96. Deal 2008 Moving slowly these days, Burt Reynolds does less than no acting in this role, and he's still the best thing in Deal. full review
  97. Diminished Capacity 2008 Striving for low-key character comedy, Diminished Capacity ends up diminishing its returns. full review
  98. Elegy 2008 Elegy is a curious example of misplaced good taste. Spanish-born director Isabel Coixet's film, adapted by Nicholas Meyer, recasts into softer, more palatable material the...third in Philip Roth's stories driven by the sensual obsessions of Roth al full review
  99. Fly Me to the Moon 2008 The vocal characterizations aren't the problem here; the script and the animation are the problems, and in feature animation, you can't arrange more significant problems than those. full review
  100. Food, Inc. 2008 If Wal-Mart, the Lucifer of multinational corporations in many liberal eyes, sees the fiscal sense in stocking an increasingly wide array of organic foodstuffs, consumer habits truly are changing. full review
  101. Happy-Go-Lucky 2008 The new Mike Leigh film, Happy-Go-Lucky, is a real pleasure, and besides being Leigh's most buoyantly comic feature it's a marvelous showcase for Sally Hawkins, who has worked twice before with the British writer-director. full review
  102. Let the Right One In 2008 I'm so sick of Swedish vampire movies, aren't you? ... If you can stomach just one more, however, "Let the Right One In" is the Swedish vampire movie to see. The film is terrific. full review
  103. Management 2008 Padding disguised as a feature-length screenplay. full review
  104. Momma's Man 2008 It works from a specific place and lets audiences relate to that place, and the people in it, like trusted intimates. full review
  105. Never Back Down 2008 It's a little Karate Kid, a smidge of Fight Club...a lot of The O.C. (evil boy Gigandet played an evil boy on that series), and presto: probable hit. full review
  106. New York, I Love You 2008 The film only feels like two or three different sort of approaches are represented. They don't really feel like widely different attacks on the material. full review
  107. Rachel Getting Married 2008 Hathaway, DeWitt, Irwin and especially Winger are working at a very high level. So is their director. His intuition regarding how to film this particular milestone event, and the stories unfolding in the margins, turned out to be just right. full review
  108. Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2008 Clone Wars was executive-produced by George Lucas, who may be feeling a tad sheepish about the results. full review
  109. The Tale of Despereaux 2008 I admired the craft more than I loved the results. But The Tales of Despereaux is still better-than-average animation. full review
  110. Zack and Miri Make a Porno 2008 While I wouldn't call the role of cheery, foul-mouthed Miri nuanced, Banks and Rogen click in a way that Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up did not. full review
  111. Civic Duty 2007 Not even Richard Schiff's droll underplaying as the drollest underplayer in the FBI can make dramatic sense of Civic Duty. full review
  112. The Devil Came on Horseback 2007 With an estimated 400,000 dead since 2003, and 2.5 million Sudanese left homeless in the wake of the genocide, ignoring the story doesn't seem like a humane option. full review
  113. Auf der Anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven) (On the Other Side) 2007 The film has a bit of the overdetermined, cosmic-coincidence quality you find, for example, in a work like Babel. These are troubled people caught in the grip of fate, yet Akin, I think, has the skill and the insight to make do with a little less p full review
  114. Flawless 2007 For all its stodginess, however, Flawless is a reasonably good time, for one reason. The reason's name is Maurice Micklewhite, better known as Michael Caine. full review
  115. Helvetica 2007 By rounding up a great group of eloquent obsessives eager to explain their feelings about a font, Hustwit has come up with 80 unexpectedly blissful minutes. full review
  116. The Hunting Party 2007 If the director traffics in the realm of black comedy, any attempts to win us over or encourage sympathy or empathy with the rollicking hell-raisers on screen tend to give off a bad odor. full review
  117. Mr. Untouchable 2007 Nonjudgmental without being morally dense, the film makes human sense out of an inhuman example of addiction capitalism, '70s style. full review
  118. No End in Sight 2007 [No End in Sight] may be the best and saddest film of the year so far. full review
  119. Paranoid Park 2007 Van Sant has made his best film in many years. I didn't realize it until a second viewing. These things sometimes happen, especially if the first encounter was in the middle of a film festival. full review
  120. The Pool 2007 It's a bit schematic and sweet-natured, perhaps to a fault, yet the faces linger. full review
  121. The Rape of Europa 2007 This one has focus trouble, canvassing too many countries, too many issues, and the filmmaking is on the ordinary side. full review
  122. There Will Be Blood 2007 There Will Be Blood reminds us that the greatest screen performances don't settle for capturing one trait, a dominant emotion or an easy way in. full review
  123. Curious George 2006 If these virtues sound passive, it's because the movie is passive, not to mention overplotted and misfocused. full review
  124. Failure to Launch 2006 Cursed with an honest title, Failure to Launch waves a white flag in scene after scene, declaring surrender. full review
  125. Sherrybaby 2006 The film works. It doesn't go soft or inspirational in its later stages, when most films would. It doesn't pump up the redemption or the melodrama. full review
  126. The Treatment 2006 Janssen is an intense screen presence. Too often she's stuck playing humorless towering antagonists. Here, happily, she's allowed to be a real person. full review
  127. Unknown 2006 While Brand manages a couple of effectively brutal bits of violence, Matthew Waynee's gassy screenplay is all premise and no propulsion. full review
  128. Brokeback Mountain 2005 A good and eloquent Wyoming-set love story with a great performance at its heart. full review
  129. Commune 2005 Commune gets at the central, seductive paradoxes inherent in so much counterculture belief and practice. full review
  130. Freshman Orientation 2005 Freshman Orientation is not incompetently made. Nor is it badly acted. But there's not a fresh idea in it, and everyone on screen seems to be in a different comedy. full review
  131. Neil Young: Heart of Gold 2005 Heart of Gold is the work of an egalitarian lover of music. Demme uses the camera as a divining rod, pointing at the man with the guitar. full review
  132. Rent 2005 full review
  133. I Like Killing Flies 2003 The central figure in this exuberant documentary, a committed Freudian who probably would've tossed Freud himself out had he looked at him sideways, spouts one gem after another. full review

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