And the nominees are:
Nicolas Rapold on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
[David] Fincher's thoughtful and meticulous filmmaking makes something new and beautiful out of a dubious proposition. The story of Benjamin Button — born old, growing young — is like a melodrama experimentally slowed down, and sometimes sped up, opening up moving perspectives on love and wisdom... You make allowances for the odd Gumpy screenplayism because of Fincher's intensity, the exquisite production design, and the film's tidal tugs: besides the imperfections of love, there's the reversal of roles with loved ones over the years, the counterpoints with youthful America (across two postwars), even [Brad] Pitt's own flickering star.
Benjamin Strong on Frost/Nixon:
Ultimately, Frost "wins" by extracting an on-air apology from Nixon. [Ron] Howard implies, in explanatory text preceding the closing credits, that this apology killed Tricky Dick's chances for vindication, definitively. Howard's characters even suggest that Nixon's public humiliation was adequate justice for his war crimes. And yet contrary to what [Peter] Morgan and Howard would have us believe, Nixon has already been granted the revisionist treatment he craved. Indeed there is no better evidence that the leader of the silent majority has triumphed than Frost/Nixon itself — a movie that begs us, in its own words, to understand "Nixon the Man."
Mark Asch on Milk:
Milk professes to share with its subject, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), an understanding of political theater, structuring his life-and-times around a for-posterity recording left by the gay San Francisco Supervisor (America's first out elected official), and showing how he stage-managed protests, manipulated the press and encouraged comings-out to make the gay cause more visible. Yet the spectacles Gus Van Sant directs feel unspectacular — the cast of reenactors often look like they've been edited into the liberally used stock footage through the miracle of reverse shots and close-up inserts, like Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! or something.
Nick McCarthy on The Reader:
Although much skin is revealed — [Kate] Winslet and [David] Kross spend most of the opening 30 minutes flopping around in their birthday suits — The Reader is the antithesis of audacious. What could have been provocative and poetic is too carefully crafted, refined to the degree that actively avoids any lively, artistic flourishes. Hanna Schmitz hides her war crimes behind the veil of following procedure and, despite an appealing depiction of adolescent angst, [Stephen] Daldry's biggest mistake was playing by the rules — making The Reader a literal, proficient adaptation.
Jesse Hassenger on Slumdog Millionaire:
[Danny Boyle]'s one of the few directors who absorbs the influence of music videos into a fluid narrative (it doesn't hurt that he's got great taste in soundtracks, too). Slumdog Millionaire is dazzling entertainment.
If it's only that, and not quite up to the director's absolute best, it's because Jamal and Latika have the simplistic relationship of a silent movie couple — sweet, earnest, torn apart by fate — and not the messy chemistry of true love.