+ "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada": Praise always seems less impressive in the DV dullness of January and February than it does in the breathless celluloid splendor of December, and so, despite much critical love here for Tommy Lee Jones‘ directorial demi-debut, it already has an air of fading from the screens to it (perhaps because it lurks in the shadows of a certain other prominent cowboy film)
Those who are fondest: Manohla Dargis, Roger Ebert (feh), the Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosenbaum and the LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas (who muses that the film "may not be a love story per se, but for my money it’s the most deeply affecting portrait of cowboy camaraderie to be found on movie screens this season"). Dargis calls it "less an act of revisionism than one of reconsideration," and Rosenbaum also finds it refreshing in its tweaking of old Western tropes:
There’s the taken-for-granted dysfunctional social context, and there’s the visceral macho unpleasantness, which feels dishonest in movies such as Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s "The Wages of Fear" (1953) and Peckinpah‘s "The Wild Bunch" (1969) and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974). I have to admit I still like those three films a lot, and I suspect that what I appreciate most in this movie is the nuance Jones gives these and other shopworn notions.
Nearly everyone cites Peckinpah in general and "Alfredo Garcia" in particular as an influence on this film. The New York Press‘ Matt Zoller Seitz liked the film at first, then rewatched Peckinpah’s work, which leads him to declare that "After revisiting the originals, I find ‘Three Burials’ to be little more than a pretty good tribute." Anthony Lane at the New Yorker finds the film lost him in its second half, mainly due to the character Tommy Lee Jones plays: "The film’s plea for old-fashioned pride and racial tolerance is muffled by a plain, unanticipated fact: Pete Perkins is out of his mind." And Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice also has beef with Jones, calling the cinematic persona he’s cultivated over the years "our living neocon nightmare."
+ "Something New": Most interesting thing about the surprisingly good reviews this modest interracial romance is garnering: that several critics find it a far better depiction of race issues in LA than the hysterics of "Crash." Manohla Dargis:
The filmmaker has a nice sense of some of the less cinematically exploited areas of Los Angeles, like the upscale black neighborhood where Kenya lives and power walks, and the Magic Johnson Starbucks where she first meets Brian on a squirmingly uncomfortable blind date that says more about racial anxiety than the entirety of "Crash."
Mark Holcomb of the Village Voice:
The plotting may be familiar and mundane, but that’s precisely what makes "Something New" work: Its thorny, mostly unresolved questions of identity and racial affiliation are couched in identifiable everyday concerns, like dealing with job and family stress and worrying that a suitable mate may never turn up. In the end, the film is a lucid, tender appeal for flexibility, and no amount of carjackings, LAPD shakedowns, or freeway conflagrations can rival the pleasure of seeing such a concept so engagingly explored.
Roger Ebert was also startled by the film’s nuances (it "respects its subject and characters, and is more complex about race than we could possibly expect."), though he, of course, does not leap on this prime opportunity to "Crash"-bash. Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek is similarly charmed ("’Something New’ is the perfect date movie, not only because it explores a range of suitably romantic sentiments, but because it’s so canny sociologically, as well as being delightfully good-natured.") But Tim Grierson at LA Weekly parts from the crowd, finding the film unrealistic and unoriginal.