David Edelstein

David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.

A member of the National Society of Film Critics, he is the author of the play Blaming Mom, and the co-author of Shooting to Kill (with producer Christine Vachon).

At the far end of town
Where the Grickle-grass grows
And the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
And no birds ever sing excepting old crows ...
Is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

In sophisticated comedy, what's funny is the tension between proper manners and the nasty or sexy subtext. Whereas in low comedy, there are no manners, and the nasty or sexy subtext is right there on the surface.

And then there's Wanderlust, in which the subtext is blasted through megaphones — the characters say so insanely much you want to scream. The satire is as broad as a battleship and equally bombarding. But it takes guts to do a comedy this big without gross-out slapstick, and the writers and the actors are all in.

The coming-home genre is so rife with stock ingredients that first I'd like to tell you what Liza Johnson's very fine drama Return doesn't do. The camera doesn't move in on returning-veteran Kelli, played by Linda Cardellini, as the sound of battle rises and she's back in her head on the front lines. The film doesn't give you what I call the "psychodrama striptease," in which a past trauma is revealed piece by piece until you're finally, at the end, shown the essential bit.

The flashy Denzel Washington thriller Safe House will probably gross in a few hours what Steven Soderbergh's Haywire has made in several weeks, but if you like action you ought to catch both back to back. Soderbergh's film is a reaction to the jangled, high-impact style of Safe House and its ilk.

As Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close has hair that's cropped and orangey, and a voice that rarely rises above a nasal croak. She lives and works as a waiter in a high-toned hotel, where she stands with lips pressed together, tight yet tremulous, her searching eyes her only naturally moving parts. She resembles no man I've seen, but no woman, either. She's the personification of fear — fear of being discovered to be a woman. Because hers is a society that treats all poor people badly, but poor women worse.

Ralph Fiennes showed up for a frenzied cameo near the end of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, and her hand-held, adrenaline-charged approach clearly inspired his film of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, which he both acts and directs the bloody hell out of.

I admit I was biased against the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. Not, you understand, against Thatcher and her Tory politics. Against Meryl Streep and her accents. Which are great, no doubt. But I went in resolved not to fall for her pyrotechnics yet again. I wanted realism.

Well, it didn't take long to realize that I was watching not only one of the greatest impersonations I'd ever seen — but one that was also emotionally real.

Some critics are indignant over Stephen Daldry's film of Jonathan Safran Foer's book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. They say the appropriation of Sept. 11 for such a sentimental work is exploitation.

The fourth Mission: Impossible picture is nonsense from beginning to end — and wonderful fun. The director is Brad Bird, of Ratatouille and The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, and there's no doubt now, in his live-action debut, that he's a filmmaker first and an animator second. Part 4, titled Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, is in a different league from its predecessors.

Most people will find the first 20 minutes of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy difficult to follow — I did, and I've read John le Carre's novel and seen the haunting 1979 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness, although decades ago.

The movie is chopped up into short scenes featuring people we don't know working for a circus — what? — and for someone called "C," and talking about a woman called Karla? Meanwhile, the star, Gary Oldman, doesn't say a word for the first 18 minutes.

The Irish actor Michael Fassbender stars in two current films that revolve around the perils of sex — which means you see him have a lot, so he'll have something to regret.

You know how the sex will play out in Shame, because of, well, the title. Fassbender plays a sex addict, Brandon Sullivan, born in Ireland, raised in New Jersey, and he seems to work in advertising, which is unfortunate since he resembles Mad Men's John Hamm.

In Hugo, Martin Scorsese has hired himself a bunch of A-plus-list artists and techies, and together they've crafted a deluxe, gargantuan train-set of a movie in which the director and his 3-D camera can whisk and whizz and zig and zag and show off all his expensive toys — and wax lyrical on the magic of movies.

The source is Brian Selznick's illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which takes place in 1930 and centers on an orphaned 12-year-old, played in the film by Asa Butterfield, who lives in a flat in the bowels of the Paris station.

Writer-director Alexander Payne is either the American cinema's most acerbic humanist or its most empathetic jerk. Whichever it is, the protagonists of the novels he adapts are outsiders who pay an emotional price for their sense of superiority.

Payne's The Descendants is his first film to be told from the perspective of a person of privilege, but real-estate lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) is the ultimate outsider: a stranger to his family and his lifelong home, Hawaii.

Metaphors don't come balder than the one at the center of Lars von Trier's Melancholia. It's both the emotional state of the protagonist Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, and also the name of a small planet on what might be a collision course with Earth. Actually, it does strike Earth in a lyrical, eight-minute, slow-motion prelude, but there's no way to know if that's real or a dream. Of course, the whole film can be taken as a dream, a bad but gorgeous one scored to the same few bars of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.

Movies are often about falling in love and sometimes falling out of love, but the best for my money are about falling in and out of love in a way you'd need a higher order of physics to graph. That higher physicist could start with Drake Doremus's drama Like Crazy, which evokes as well as any film I've seen the now loopy, now jagged flow from infatuation to intoxication to addiction to withdrawal to re-addiction. It's not an especially deep or psychological movie. It's just crazy painful.

Two new films show how tough it is to do justice to good writers on-screen. Johnny Depp certainly means to do right by his pal Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary. He played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's rollicking but not especially watchable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and narrated a documentary about him.

The timing is almost too good: a terrific Wall Street melodrama at the moment the Occupy Wall Street protests are building. We haven't seen the like since Three Mile Island had a near-meltdown a couple of days after The China Syndrome exploded into theaters. Now, Margin Call seems anything but marginal.

At festivals and in interviews, Pedro Almodovar is such a furry cuddle bear that it's possible to forget what a perverse filmmaker he can be — that is, until you watch something like his nasty new gender-bent Frankenstein picture, The Skin I Live In. It's a self-conscious, madly ambitious work, rife with allusions to countless other films. But does it have a soul? I couldn't detect one amid all its borrowed tropes.

Before it turns predictably cynical, George Clooney's campaign melodrama The Ides of March plays like gangbusters. The banter is fast, the cast in clover: Actors love to play hyperarticulate characters, people who actually know what they're talking about, and there are lots of good details here about How Things Work behind the scenes in a political campaign.

It's easy to giggle at the hero of Jeff Nichols' second feature, Take Shelter. Michael Shannon is Curtis, a crew chief for an Ohio sand-mining company who's ravaged by apocalyptic visions and nightmares. He's wiggy to start with and increasingly more unhinged, on a switchback track to madness that threatens to devastate his family. Curtis sees funnel clouds, locusts, even people staggering through the night like zombies. He knows it might all be in his head: His mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at about the same age he is now. But in the end, he follows his dreams.

The film of Michael Lewis's game-changing nonfiction bestseller Moneyball is inside baseball, literally, but it wouldn't be so rousing if that were all it was. The book tells the story of Billy Beane, the General Manager of a small-market ball team, the Oakland Athletics. Heading into the 2002 season, he has a quarter the amount of money to pay players as the near-perennial champions the Yankees.

The hero of Drive is called "Driver" because that's what he does, and in a thriller this self-consciously existential, what he does is who he is.

He's played by Ryan Gosling as a kind of anti-blowhard. He's taciturn, watchful, cool. He works as a mechanic and sometimes a Hollywood driving stuntman. He also drives getaway cars with astonishing proficiency and a computer-like knowledge of L.A. surface streets, holding a matchstick between his teeth as if to keep his mouth from moving, and his feelings under wraps.

Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground centers on a woman who joins and, after a decade, flees a fundamentalist religious order, but the tone isn't irreverent: The film is flushed with wonder, hope, and, finally, heartbreak. In the memoir on which it's based, This Dark World, writer Carolyn S. Briggs never stops longing for a connection to God.

Chilean-born director Raoul Ruiz is 70 years old has made more than 100 films, only a few of which have been distributed in the U.S. — but he's beloved at festivals and in film studies programs everywhere. I've seen seven of his movies, and five struck me as less than meets the eye — not just difficult but pointlessly disorienting, the disjunctions like manic tics meant to break up the relationship between image and language.

Few fictional films wear their political messages as proudly or loudly as The Help, which centers on black female domestic servants in Jackson, Miss., in the early 60s and a 23-year-old white woman who induces them to tell their stories for a book to be called, appropriately enough, The Help.