My pitiful accounting of films I've seen in 2006 is ever-so-slightly less pitiful now. In the last few weeks I've seen:
Friends with Money - A great cast (Frances McCormand is, in particular, just great; Joan Cusack gets to play a much more real character than the sometimes sitcom-wacky characters she often essays; and Jenifer Aniston proves again that she's got some chops at least) in the service of a wan, plotless, insular little script. That makes it sound like I hated it, but I actually found it at least mildly entertaining, if primarily for those performances. But in the end, the core hook of four female friends, three rich one not wasn't enough to hang a movie on. Still, the script did nail some nicely understated very real-feeling insights, especially through the angry mid-life despair of McCormand's character.
Thanks for Smoking - Highly entertaining and snappy, if in the end somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Aaron Eckhart is slickly great in the lead and (with the exception of a miscast Katie Holmes - whose biggest burden, I think, is that she still plays on screen like a kid, not an adult--and I don't think it's due to anything she's doing, either; I don't think she can do anything about it) the supporting cast is great, but the big ending falls kind of flat. The film tries to mock with high satire both the busybodies who would stop competent adults from smoking if they want to and the hypocritical unfeeling tobacco industry itself, and fails to toe that admittedly vanishingly thin line all the way through.
The Illusionist - Beautifully filmed, gorgeous to look at and with a should-have-been-a-contender supporting performance from a wonderful Paul Giamatti. Two big problems though: We are supposed to believe that at least some of the remarkable tricks the titular stage magician performs are just that - tricks. But when they are executed for us on screen with very obvious CGI magic, there's a disconnect I couldn't get past. Two, the final-moment twist, designed to make us question all that's come before, is executed far too quickly. It may be that the intent is to put that twist in doubt as well - whether the twist is "real" is ambiguous. But the effect is to make the viewer feel as if he's been hoodwinked - as if he hasn't been played fair with. I can deal with ambiguity in films, even in their conclusions, but the build up here was too unambiguous, too traditional in structure and build, to sustain such a wishy-washy climax.