Bruce Bennett Short Bio

Bruce Bennett

Bruce Bennett has been the primary contributor to Mad About Movies since it began in 2003. He is an award winning film and theater critic who, since 2000, has been writing a weekly column in The Spectrum daily newspaper in southern Utah as well as serving as a contributing editor of “The Independent,” a monthly entertainment magazine. He is also the co-host of “Film Fanatics” a movie review show which earned a Telly in 2009. Bruce is also a featured contributor at: RottenTomatoes.com

His motto: "I see bad movies so you don't have to."

Best Of Year

Best of 2011

The Best 11 of 2011 Continue reading

Best of 2001

In compiling a list of the best movies I’ve seen this year, I didn’t lose any sleep. There was little struggle in determining what 10 films would make the list. After a slow start and a bleak summer, 2001 offered few movies worthy of the much sought after Mad About Movies “A” for excellence grade. One trend is encouraging: Well made family-oriented movies. There were a lot more of them this year and most of them made lots of money. So why is Hollywood so surprised? (Point of fact: 91 out of the Top 100 grossing movies of the 90’s were NOT rated “R”)
The highlight of the year for local movie fans was the opening of the new state-of-the-art “Stadium 8” movie Cineplex at the corner of Sunset and Bluff here in St. George. Westates Theaters should be applauded for building the theater that, even with its flaws, offers a technically superior movie going experience that rivals anything between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

The butter on the popcorn of this significant upgrade is that Westates is holding admission prices steady at no higher than $6 at a time when theaters in major cities are nudging prices upwards of twice that amount. We’d still like to see the theaters cleaned with greater diligence and Westates has not made good, yet, on their promise of using the older theaters to show independent and art house films of critical acclaim.

Let’s hope stellar movies such as “Memento,” “Amelie” and “The Dish” can find a big screen here in St. George so we don’t have to wait for them to come out on DVD/VHS. (Or require a trip out of town). And let’s not forget how important local film festivals are–they need our continuing support. My final wish for the coming year is that those inconsiderate parents who bring babies to the movies either get a dose of common sense and learn the word b-a-b-y-s-i-t-t-e-r or pick up another leisure time activity that doesn’t involve ruining movies for the rest of us.

Here is the Mad About Movies Top Ten List of 2001. I’ve also included the lists of my local movie critic counterparts:

1) LORD OF THE RINGS/FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Fantasy fulfilled.

2) MEMENTO. Finally a thriller smarter than its audience. The “Sixth Sense” – in reverse.

3) MOULIN ROUGE. Outrageous. Weird. Daring. So was Picasso. Forget Tom and Penelope, Nicole and Ewan rocked my world.

4) MONSTER’S INC. More clever than “Shrek” and no fart jokes. God Bless Pixar.

5) BEAUTIFUL MIND. Schmaltzy ending-but if you don’t like this film you’re the one with the mental illness.

6) OCEAN’S ELEVEN. If liking cool movies with glitzy stars makes me a sucker, I’m in.

7) RAT RACE. Laughed so hard my gut hurt. Guess that says a lot about me.

8) SPY KIDS. Non-stop action, imagination, believable kids, and better gadgets than MI:2

9) PEARL HARBOR. Yeah, I was moved. Yeah, I liked the old fashioned romance. Other critics missed the point. United I stand.

10) THE DISH. Nostalgic, reflective, delicately funny.You never heard of it. Just go rent it.

Best of 2000

Let’s start the discussion about the year’s movies with this obvious admission: Many of the best films will never play in a small market like southern Utah. That will not change unless a) St. George keeps growing b) more movie theaters are built and c) the theater owners are willing to show important, critically acclaimed movies even if they are not big money makers. I have every confidence in “a” and less confidence in the latter two, so we movie lovers will have to make do with the films that do come here.

The good news is that the year 2000 was not nearly as bad as some may feel. With a few exceptions, the majority of my movie going experience this year was enjoyable. What most people missed was a huge blockbuster summer movie(s) since “The Patriot” didn’t arrive until July 4th, “Mission Impossible:2” was such a letdown and Disney didn’t release a mega-musical as in previous years.

2000 was, however, a great year for war movies. Or, at least, films involving military conflict. And, surprisingly, they were not only diverse but universally excellent as well. Here a few that should not be missed:

“Ride With The Devil” (late 1999 release) (Civil War)

“U-571” (WWII)

“The Patriot” (Revolutionary War)

“Gladiator” (Early 1st Century Roman Empire)

“Rules of Engagement” (Vietnam/Middle East)

The new Kevin Costner film “13 Days” which is receiving very positive reviews and should arrive here in early Jan. 2001 also has a military theme, the Cuban Missile crisis. Other observations:

Best Comeback: Julia Roberts From “Mary Reilly” and “Michael Collins” (Don’t fret, no one else saw these films either) to “My Best Friends’ Wedding”, “Conspiracy Theory”, “Notting Hill” “Runaway Bride” and this year’s “Erin Brockovich”.

Biggest Disappointment: Mission Impossible:2 Simplistic plot, awful dialogue, waste of talent, no cool gadgets and slow-motion overkill.

Next Big Thing: Penelope Cruz The “Spanish Enchantress” is getting huge publicity for her current movie “All the Pretty Horses” and that will continue with the upcoming “Blow” and “Vanilla Sky” (starring Tom Cruise and directed by Cameron Crowe)

Biggest Non-event: No new movie theater in St. George

Guess we’ll have to live with outdated technology, bad projection equipment, indifferent customer service and minimal film choices (and times) for awhile longer. The good news: We pay up to $2 less for a movie than many other cities.

Best Trend: Fewer “R” rated movies Close to 70% of all movies released in 1999 were rated “R” and by my count that number should drop considerably to perhaps around 50% this year. Not sure if that’s because of a conscience effort by the studios to produce more family fare or if the ratings board is simply relaxing their standards for what constitutes a PG-13 rating. Probably a little of both. One thing we know for sure: An “R” rated comedy released today will be more offensive than ever before. (i.e. “Scary Movie” and “Me, Myself & Irene”)

Least Surprising-but- Appreciated Development: Animation Technology Movies such as “Dinosaur”, “Chicken Run”, Princess Mononoke” and “Titan A.E.” used different animation techniques to equally stunning effect.

Most Useful Movie Web-site: www.kids-in-mind.com The perfect tool for discovering the detailed content of any movie.

Best Local Movie Related News: The success of the “Eclipse” independent film festival. Here’s hoping it gets bigger and better every year.

Best Song From a Movie: “Christmas, Why Can’t I find You?” by Taylor Momsen (not the Faith Hill version) from “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

Best Actor/Actress: Russell Crowe (“Gladiator” and “Proof of Life”)
BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR
“Traffic”
“13 Days”
“Gladiator”
“Remember the Titans”
“The Patriot”
“Chicken Run”
“Almost Famous”
“Shanghai Noon”
“God’s Army”
“The Legend of Bagger Vance”
“Small Time Crooks”
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Best of 2009

Saving some of its best for last, the film industry finished 2009 with a bang-helped in large part by the biggest Christmas day and Christmas week box office results in history. “Avatar,” “The Blindside,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” were all still doing boffo business at year’s end.
With less reliance on superhero themes and sequels, this year’s best films got back to the basics of excellent original screenplays and strong storytelling. While few of last year’s films-save maybe one or two-would be considered instant classics, at least 10 stood apart from the rest. Even in tough economic times, going to the movies was still at the top of most people’s favorite leisure time activities. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has increased its best picture nominees to 10, so here are my picks in that expanded category (in no particular order):

“Avatar”: In a breakout year for 3D technology, James Cameron’s vision of Pandora came like a bolt from the blue…literally. Setting a new standard visually for sure, but a good story and memorable characters help. (Just ask George Lucas.)

“The Hurt Locker”: There is a reason this limited release film about a bomb disposal unit in Baghdad is on every critic’s “best of” list. Heart pounding suspense and a high stakes thriller.

“Up”: Proving again its mastery, Pixar also continues to surprise with this sentimental and joyous story about elderly widower Carl and his accidental passenger Russell and their memorable flight to Paradise Falls.

“Inglourious Basterds”: Quentin Tarantino finally lives up to his reputation by making a suspenseful, well-acted, complete film about Nazi killers led by Brad Pitt and one unforgettable and seriously scary S.S. Colonel.

“The Blindside”: This true story about a projects kid-turned-pro football player is grounded in a solid performance by Sandra Bullock and maintains just enough grit without sacrificing its mass appeal.

“The Princess and the Frog”: Disney’s first black princess is a secondary reason to see this throwback to vibrant hand painted animation. Great bayou characters and delightful Dixieland music make it a must-see.

“Star Trek”: Few films lived up to such immeasurable hype as this re-booted franchise winner. The action and actors boldly went where even non-nerds agreed the Enterprise had never gone before.

“Up in the Air”: Sharply written and superbly acted story featuring George Clooney at his most charismatic and vulnerable as a corporate hit man. At times tragic, at others touching, but couldn’t be more timely.

“Sherlock Holmes”: Maybe it’s the genius pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but this fun, detailed, impressively shot, fast-paced update of Doyle’s classic gives birth to film’s first super-sleuth.

“(500) Days of Summer”: How can a date movie make you think? By flipping conventions on their ear and still speaking truth about today’s relationships.

Just missed the cut: “State of Play,” “Whip It,” “Drag Me to Hell,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Taken,” “Public Enemies.”

If you see just one documentary: “The Cove”

Magnificent Meryl: “It’s Complicated,” and “Julie & Julia”

Most Underrated: “Fame”

Worst Movie of the Year: “Observe and Report.” Is Seth Rogen’s 15 minutes up yet?

Here’s Hoping: Instead of building more screens, our local theater companies will invest in renovating and cleaning up our existing theaters.

Best of 2010

Best Films of 2010
Animated films rule. At least they did in 2010. Every two months or so, just when there seemed to be pretty slim pickings at the theater, along came a stellar animated film that proved the studios still knew how to make a product that could be hailed by the harshest critic and the most cynical audience member. Early in the year it was “How to Train Your Dragon,” the summer offered “Toy Story 3,” and “Despicable Me.” The fall brought “Megamind” to pick up the slack and “Tangled” was a shining star in an otherwise lackluster holiday season.

The fact that all of these films also incorporated excellent 3D treatments bodes well for the technology that is making a significant contribution at the box office. Why so much high quality from this genre? Likely it is the intense competition, the self-imposed standards for excellence, a determination to think outside the box, and because of the financial stakes involved, the ability to hire Hollywood’s best and brightest creative and technical personnel.

But there were other excellent films in 2010. Here’s a rundown on the cream of the crop-as usual, in no particular order:

Inception: Chris Nolan’s vision of a team of dream weavers is that rare film that amazes even as it confounds yet entertains on every, um, level.

The Social Network:strong> A cyber-thriller and cautionary tale all in one that chronicles the rise of Facebook and crackles with relevancy, aided by a razor-sharp script.

Rabbit Hole: This quietly powerful drama about a couple that copes with a tragic loss features career-defining performances by Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman.

Toy Story 3: Not just effective because of its familiarity but because of its emotional heft and penetrating peril, as Woody and friends break out of the day care center from Hades.

Waiting for Superman: This documentary on our educational system rings with urgency yet avoids demonizing and generalizing while using personal stories that pack an unforgettable punch.

How to Train Your Dragon: Dreamworks’ tale of young dragon whisperer Hiccup is impressive visually, contains thrilling action sequences, and earns its lump-in-your-throat charm.

True Grit:
The Coen brothers’ most accessible film is much more than an update on a classic; it’s a rewarding, expertly written, moving and oft-hilarious homage to the Classic Western.

Flipped: This little seen gem is a 60s era coming-of-age story that’s shamelessly sentimental but all the more effective for its lack of cynicism while dealing with its serious subject material.

The Fighter: More profane and gritty than your average fight film, but nonetheless memorable as a redemption story of a 90s fighter and, more poignantly, his crack-head brother played with stunning nuance by Christian Bale.

Tangled: Disney’s almost overlooked, old-fashioned musical proves there’s still life in this formula, especially with songs this good and wit this appealing.

Just missed the cut: “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” “The Town,” “Oceans,” “Despicable Me,” “Conviction,” “Unstoppable,” “Let Me In.”

Best Date Movie: “Life As We Know It.”

Underrated: “The Karate Kid,” “Dear John,” “Knight and Day,” “Robin Hood.”

Best All-Star Cast in a Good Action Movie: “Red.”

Best All-Star Cast in a Bad Action Movie: “The Expendables.”

Worst Film of the Year: “8: The Mormon Proposition” Not because of its subject, which deserves intellectual debate, but because of its embarrassingly shallow, fear-mongering style.

Here’s Hoping the Rumors Are True: A state-of-the-art, megabucks film production studio and a major chain multiplex may be coming to southern Utah.

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