Now in theaters: "Syriana," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Brokeback Mountain."
The gold is black, the plot is murky. Syriana -- a politically charged tale about Middle East oil -- snarls half a dozen stories that even Ferdinand Magellan couldn't follow. The good news: This film tells them through three Oscar-worthy performances.
George Clooney is a CIA field operative with a black bag and dirty hands. He ends up in trouble. Matt Damon's money guy learns greed is good, even at the cost of his son's life. Jeffrey Wright, one of our unsung great actors, finds his investigation of an oil company murder is expected to be a cover-up.
The controversy here: Did this really happen? My answer: This isn't a documentary. It's a movie. The question here should be: Did the filmmakers make you believe it could happen? They do. That's why George Clooney, the anti-movie star, put on 35 pounds, grew a beard, mumbled his lines and is going to get an Oscar nomination. Grade: A-
Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha takes place in a world so male-dominated I'm ready to find my old "women's lib" buttons and go outside and picket the theater. Then, I get it: That's how this beautiful film is supposed to make you feel.
The controversy here: The three Oscar-worthy actresses -- Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh, -- are Chinese. Some Japanese are angry over the fact that Chinese actresses are portraying something so important and unique to their culture. And some Chinese, who've never forgiven Japan's World War II atrocities, are angry that Chinese actresses would portray Japanese women so sympathetically. Grade: B+
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are gay cowboys, but "Brokeback Mountain" is more than a gay love story. It's a powerful film about loss. Ledger follows a compulsion he never anticipated and can't understand. And we watch it destroy his life. He can't tell us the high price he's paid. He shows us.
"Brokeback Mountain" may well be the most-nominated film this Oscar season. With nods for Michelle Williams for supporting actress, co-star Gyllenhaal and director Ang Lee. Ledger's my favorite to win Best Actor. Grade: A.