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:

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

Best Of Year

Best of 2003

Mad About Movies Top 10 Films of 2003

Though there are a few late contenders trickling into the local area that could still make this list, the following are the most unforgettable films of 2003. The Hollywood epic made a big comeback, sequels were occasionally more than worthwhile, and the comic book hero trend seems to be slowing. Here are the films that delivered the goods this year:


The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Director Peter Jackson accomplished the nearly impossible. His final product actually realized his incredible vision, making good on a $300 million gamble with a spectacle for the ages. The final piece of the greatest trilogy ever filmed.


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

A more than seaworthy saga of 19th century brave sailors bringing to life the timeless qualities of camaraderie, courage, and nobility. Though Russell Crowe is ever masterful as his ship’s Captain, don’t overlook co-star Paul Bettany’s superb work here. A gentlemen’s adventure perhaps—but what a soaring ride.


Finding Nemo

Pixar Studios wows us again with this oceanic eye candy. Not only is it a shoe-in to win the Best Animated Film Oscar, it’s hard to even think of another film that deserves to be nominated alongside this relentlessly entertaining family classic. Way cool.



Overly sentimental to be sure, but who can resist a true underdog story told with such majesty and unflinching sincerity?  It starts slowly but gallops toward an ovation-inducing conclusion. Think “Rocky” on four legs. (Don’t laugh—which film won the Oscar in 1976?)


Open Range

A tender, romantic yarn that is helped considerably by the powerfully intimate performances of Kevin Costner (who also directed) and the peerless Robert Duvall. It was time for a classic western. 


School of Rock

It helps if you like Jack Black and 70’s-era burner music, but make no mistake, this is a rare sentimental kid comedy that never to  pander or condescend. I know its only rock in school, but I like it.


Last Samurai

Predictable, formulaic and rarely original. Yet its craft, acting, sets, fight sequences and restrained spirituality lift this Tom Cruise hero epic above the crowd.


Mystic River

You may be miffed by its occasional ambiguity and storytelling shortcomings but this Clint Eastwood film continues his legacy of work that compels, haunts and maximizes the talents of his A-list cast.


A Mighty Wind

Christopher Guest and fellow cast members return with a mockumentary of folk music. The songs alone push it right up on the level with their previous work  “This is Spinal Tap,” “Waiting for Guffman,” and “Best in Show.”


Whale Rider

This beautifully told coming-of-age story is that rare gem of a movie that never resorts to contrivance. You will not see a more honest performance than that of its star, 11-year old Keisha Castle- Hughes portraying Pai, who confronts the traditions of her Maori tribe.


Worst Movie of the Year

“Gigli” would be the popular choice here but somehow it had a can’t- stop-watching- it-like-a-trainwreck effect. Wish I could find something positive about the actual winner “The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume One.” A shoestring budget and inexperienced crew wastes some talented lead actors.


Underappreciated Movies

“Down With Love,” “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” ”Identity.”


How Do They Do It? Award

Eddie Murphy and Angelina Jolie make movies that bomb and rarely show signs of genuine talent yet they keep getting big paychecks. Who do they know?


Biggest Surprises

“Freaky Friday” didn’t suck. Talented Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” did. Diane Keaton’s comeback.


Actor most likely to turn into the guy he channeled in a performance

Chain-smoking, heavily tattooed and pierced Johnny Depp with his mesmerizing Keith Richards impersonation in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”


Whatever Happened To?

All the movie musicals that “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” would supposedly spawn?  Harrison Ford’s career? Movie manners? (To be addressed in an upcoming column) The critically acclaimed smaller films that Westates Theaters was going to bring here? (See “21 Grams,” “Thirteen,” “American Splendor,” et al.)


Agree or disagree? E-mail Bruce at

Best Of 2002

Mad About Movies Top 10 Films of 2002


Nearly twice as many films in 2002 earned the much-heralded “Mad About Movies” grade “A” rating as did last year. So either the movie studios are working harder to put out better product or our movie selections were luckier—it just depends on how cynical you want to be. In a year awash with sequels and safe formulas more often than not the casual moviegoer—especially those faithful readers of the MAM column—a trip to the theater was worth the price of admission. Here are my top 10 picks for Best Movies of the Year.

  1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  If there is a flaw in this movie it’s undetectable. If anyone doubts whether it should win “Best Picture” in any award contest, ask yourself this: Which film will people still be watching, discussing and marveling at for years and years to come?
  2. Minority Report  It’s powerfully dazzling display of mind bending futuristic technology almost makes you overlook that at its core Spielberg creates a textbook perfect action picture.
  3. Far From Heaven After watching this gorgeously shot throwback to 50’s melodrama—I left the theater nearly in shock. Had Hollywood actually produced a serious movie, with serious ideals without one shred of irony or cynicism?
  4. Signs  Few young directors understand that suspense and fear have as much to do with what is unseen. If Hitchcock were alive and teaching film school, no doubt M. Night Shyamalan would be the master’s most prized pupil.
  5. Chicago A splashy, applause inducing movie for musical lovers, and a rousing, saucy musical for movie lovers.
  6. Insomnia Skillfully crafted murder mystery that gives more proof that a) Al Pacino is America’s finest living actor, b) If Director Christopher Nolan (“Memento”) were a stock on the NYSE I’d invest everything in him and c) Robin Williams should stick to playing creepy bad guys.
  7. Spiderman Big budgets lead to big hype and big expectations. Ignore the nitpickers and face the fact—this was one fun comic book of a movie.
  8. Possession For unabashed romantic literates. The cinematic polar opposite of Eminem’s “8 Mile.”
  9. Road to Perdition Sort of a cross between “The Godfather” and “Unforgiven” with all the compelling chill that portends.
  10. Die Another Day Because Bond movies are the reason many of us started going to the movies in the first place. It slides in just ahead of “Bourne Identity.” Why? Two words: Halle Berry.


Other noteworthy films:

Best Guilty Pleasure:Big Trouble” A screwball comedy with plenty of rewind moments. Oh, and about half of  “Jackass The Movie.” The other half was a guilty regret.

Worst Movie: “Handcart” The only experience more excruciatingly long than the pioneer trek itself was watching this movie about the famed expedition. Some bragged that it had been made on “only” $500,000. Where did it go? Catering?

Biggest Disappointment: As usual, many critically praised smaller or limited release films never made it to the southern Utah area. To see nine of Roger Ebert’s Top Ten movies would require a trip out of town. With 40 screens and no competition can’t Westates Theaters occasionally bring some lesser-known movies of quality to our deserving local patrons?

Is My Career Over Yet? Award: Eddie Murphy. Three movies (“…Pluto Nash,” “Showtime,” “I Spy”) three bombs. Is Harrison Ford in line as the next recipient? Say it isn’t so!

Best Family Movie: A toss-up between “Tuck Everlasting” and “Ice Age.”

Most Encouraging Trend: That an average movie like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” can make millions and stay in theaters for months and months proving to Hollywood that adults are starving for movies they can bring their parents to.

Special Achievement Award: To the movie geeks behind the Eclipse Film Festival who give budding artists a forum in which to shine. And kudos to the locals who give them their much deserved support with ever-increasing attendance.

Best of 2014

The Best 14 of 2014
While last year was short on epics and long on sequels and continuing franchises, there were plenty of above-average films released aimed at the mass market. With a little bit of research the average movie fan was assured of having a good time at the local cinema. Final box office tallies aren’t available yet, 2014 looks like another successful year for the film industry even if the threat of direct-to-home streaming looms large. No one can accurately predict what the future holds, but as long as the industry continues to improve the quality of the theatrical presentation (more IMAX theaters, please!), provides consistent artistry and variety of films (mutually dependent terms) at a comparatively reasonable price, people will still go out to see a film and buy expensive concessions. (If you think movie tickets are expensive, have you attended a professional sporting event, Broadway show, or a major rock concert recently?)
It is a tired old adage that film studios don’t make quality films anymore. The releases of 2014 prove that, even if there wasn’t one particular industry-changing release – notwithstanding the North Korean terrorist threats—which apparently was the year’s biggest non-event. Here are the 14 best releases from the past year, your humble critic’s 14th such list since this column began in 2000. The industry applauds the provocative and the edgy, but this list looks for excellence in whatever form it manifests itself.
In no particular order:
The Imitation Game: An engaging war movie, a vibrant period piece, a spy thriller, a riveting personal portrait, and an illustrative historical drama all in one.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The best superhero film since “The Avengers” was practically a parody of the genre – but oh so fun and funny.
The Lego Movie: Clever and even a little subversive but this might have been the year’s biggest surprise—an outwardly commercial film that satisfies every demographic.
Selma: Achingly topical theme with an incredible performance by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and a galvanizing script that avoids political grandstanding.
Interstellar: It’s an ambitious sci-fi epic to be sure, hence its flaws, but its thought-provoking adventure in the cosmos is grounded in a great father-daughter story.
Whiplash: Is the price of excellence worth the humiliation and brutality a teacher exacts on his student? This electrifying and intense film doesn’t so much ask as scream this question.
Live. Die. Repeat. Edge of Tomorrow: The year’s best action blockbuster is also the most fun with a perfectly imperfect Tom Cruise character as the unlikely hero.
Into the Woods: Retains the best of Sondheim’s great music, casts terrific singers and frames it nicely in a foreboding forest of murky motifs and melody.
Birdman: Not for the masses but the performances (especially Michael Keaton) and the film’s tracking shot concept make for caustic, compelling, undeniably memorable filmmaking about a once great movie star’s search for relevance.
Snowpiercer: Here’s one rousing crazy train in an iced over dystopian future and a wildly bizarre and violent attempt of some of the passengers to take control.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies: It has been a long, sometimes exhausting road but that shouldn’t diminish what Peter Jackson accomplishes in this exciting, emotional, beautifully choreographed fitting conclusion.
The Maze Runner: Sure it is a trendy YA film, but it doesn’t pander to the genre instead creating a taut thriller that rewards both fans of the book and newbies – a difficult standard.
Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal is creepy good as an amoral crime footage photog- -for-hire in this year’s most topically relevant film. Unsettling and absorbing.
The Wind Rises: Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyasaki’s last film may be his first adult-centric story but it is also his most quietly affecting and richly rewarding.

Biggest Comebacks: Michael Keaton, Reece Witherspoon (See “The Good Lie” before you see “Wild”), Godzilla and the Bible (though the latter deserves better films).

The Overrated: “Grand Budapest Hotel” (Visual splendor, maximum tedium), “Boyhood” (Stunning technique, unremarkable story), “Wild” (Strangely shallow and unadventurous).

The Underrated: “If I Stay” (Earns its tears), “Mom’s Night Out” (goofy politically incorrect fun), “Begin Again” (avoids cliché, Keira surprises), “Walking with the Enemy” (A twist on the Holocaust theme), “The November Man” (Nothing new, just perfectly solid), “And So It Goes,” (Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas worth the time).

Feel Good Movies of the Year: “The Good Lie,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” “Muppets Most Wanted.”

A Good Year for Animation (Even without a Pixar film): “The Lego Movie,” “The Wind Rises,” “The Book of Life,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and “Big Hero 6.”

Find and See These Documentaries: “Life After Manson,” “Poverty, Inc.” “Life Itself,” “My Father’s Highway.”

Heavily Hyped Movies You Can’t See: “Selma” (19 theaters nationwide), “American Sniper” (4 theaters nationwide). Sure they will expand, but we hate the Oscar consideration- only release tactics.

Best of 2013

The Re-watchable 13 of 2013 Continue reading

Best of 2007

A Heavenly Eleven from 2007 Continue reading

Best of 2012

A Terrific Twelve from 2012 Continue reading

Best of 2008

A look back at a not quite great 2008 Continue reading