Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: A great doc about Roman Polanski, Jeff Koons reconsidered, and "bad dates" with Robert De Niro.

Published June 7, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired"
Challenging our assumptions about what made legendary director Roman Polanski flee the United States in the wake of being charged with having sex with a 13-year-old girl, this fascinating documentary (premieres 9 p.m. on Monday, June 9, on HBO) explores Polanski and his tragic experiences with respect and lucidity. While not much new information on Polanski's alleged crime is revealed, the details of his legal wranglings are almost too shocking to believe. Filmmaker Marina Zenovich gracefully deconstructs our shared notions about Polanski's character, while doing the hard work of expressing empathy for the legendary director and his alleged victim. Most of all, the documentary offers a front-row view of the ways that the press and the judicial system naturally tend to organize themselves into a lynch mob.-- Heather Havrilesky

Jeff Koons exhibits in Chicago and New York
Twenty years ago, you could have been forgiven for assuming that Jeff Koons was just another huckster opportunist wannabe Warhol. Hell, I did. The inflatable silver bunny. The porn pictures. Cripes. Then, he seemed to represent all that was glib and easy and mocking, the most cynical aspects of contemporary art. Perhaps that was truly where he was, at the time, coming from. Or maybe it's where we were. Yet suddenly, Jeff Koons' work doesn't seem so jaded after all. His new retrospective at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, brimming with his most iconic works, makes a strong case that nobody who didn't truly, unabashedly love the humble trappings of popular culture could find such profound inspiration in it. And his witty, oversize installations this summer on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum -- a heart that looks like a perfect bonbon, a golden balloon puppy, and a swirly slab titled "Coloring Book" -- are a shot of pure grin-inducing joy. He may eternally lack for gravitas, but in a year defined by the word "hope," Jeff Koons may be the artist to define the era. -- Mary Elizabeth Williams

"Ten Bad Dates With De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists"
Like the hero of "High Fidelity," I've got a thing for lists. (Why do you think I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly?) But it's been a long time since I've come across a set of lists quite so piquant and entertaining as "Ten Bad Dates With De Niro." At the urging of editor Richard T. Kelly, movie watchers ranging from the Coen brothers to playwright David Hare to crime novelist George Pelecanos have compiled their own deeply personal and often deeply weird Top 10 Lists. Try "Ten Inimitable Christopher Walken Line Readings" or "Ten Gratuitous Machine-Gun Frenzies" or "Ten Gratuitous Uses of Sex and Nudity by Paul Verhoeven." (How did they narrow that last category down to 10?) If you're looking for the most richly deserving Oscar winner, consider Walter Murch, sound editor of "Apocalypse Now." And if your dinner guests are arguing over the most apoplectic Al Pacino moment, trot out this little beauty from "The Devil's Advocate": "He's laughing his sick, fucking ass off! He's a tight-ass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? Never!" Director Steven Soderbergh, swimming against the tide of 10, offers merely "One Great Film (Greater Even Than Is Widely Supposed)." Take a bow, "Chinatown." -- Louis Bayard

Anthony Mann's "Man of the West" on DVD
In Anthony Mann's desolate 1958 western "Man of the West," a slightly grizzled, tired-looking Gary Cooper plays a homesteader who's traveling to Fort Worth to hire a schoolteacher for his town. Along the way, he makes the acquaintance of a gambler (Arthur O'Connell) and a dance-hall singer (Julie London), and runs into an old colleague (Lee J. Cobb) who wastes no time in stirring up trouble. Mann made some of the greatest 1950s westerns, pictures that knocked the wind out of postwar optimism and instead took the view that nothing is ever what it seems. "Man of the West," just out on DVD, came at the end of that era, and -- with an understated, somber performance from Cooper -- marks it like a tombstone. -- Stephanie Zacharek

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" trailer
I can think of no good reason to see this forthcoming Disney picture about a spoiled L.A. pooch who gets lost in Mexico, but the film's trailer is a delight, especially on the big screen of a movie theater. After a portentous fake-out beginning, it explodes into a Busby Berkley-style extravaganza of dancing doggies, set to a Latin rap song singing the praises of this tiny tribe of "proud warriors," and concludes with fireworks and streamers over an Aztec temple. Does anyone really want more than a minute of this concept? Probably not, but just a dash is muy picante. -- Laura Miller

Erik Nelson's "Dreams With Sharp Teeth"
An eccentric, homemade-feeling documentary compiled over 15 years of interviews and research, Erik Nelson's "Dreams With Sharp Teeth" provides a fitting tribute to the immoderate, confrontational and frequently self-destructive genius of science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison. Very few people can be described as both off-putting and inspirational, but Ellison is one. An autodidact, lady-killer and immensely prolific short-story author whose impact on pop culture is undervalued today, Ellison was once a huge campus celebrity and in old age remains a ferocious radical, undimmed by compromise or common sense. (Opens this week at Film Forum in New York, with more cities likely to follow.) -- Andrew O'Hehir


What's on your list to read, watch, do this week? Share your recommendations with other readers.


Catch up on recent Salon Critics' Picks.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Our Picks