Arlington Road

Fear thy neighbor.

Arriving two years before 9/11, this crackling suspense thriller tracks Jeff Bridges as he tries to convince everyone suburbia hides a bomber planning to hit America where it hurts.

Suspect #1 is Tim Robbins, a good-time guy, who, along with wife Joan Cusack, projects friendliness, while leaving some troubling questions left unanswered.

At least for Bridges, who is angry over his wife’s death — she was an FBI agent lost in the line of duty — and increasingly comes off as the unhinged one.

Willing to go where a lot of films won’t, this one lands a roundhouse to the gut.

Dead Man Walking

Sean Penn is the best actor working today.

He and Jodie Foster top my personal list of active thespians, and this film, for which the two-time Oscar winner did NOT win a little gold man, is Exhibit A.

There is no question Penn’s character, Matthew Poncelet, is guilty of the murders for which he’s been convicted.

It’s only whether nun Susan Sarandon can get him to accept that he, and he alone, is responsible for his horrifying actions.

Poncelet has thick defenses, and he snarls and bites, only to scar himself worst of all.

This is the acting gold standard.

Howard the Duck

Call me irrational, but I love this movie.

It’s hip and cool to trash the tale of a cigar-chomping alien duck saving Earth from the Dark Overlord of the Universe while sweet-talking Lea Thompson’s hard-rockin’ heroine.

They call it George Lucas’s folly; the film is supposed to be a punchline.

Too bad, so sad for you and your bitter, closed-off peach pit of a heart.

Marinate in the goofiness of Jeffrey Jones as a cosmic big bad.

And remember, “On my planet, we never say die, we say … NOT MY SHORTS! You perverts!”

I’ll be right there with you.

 

The Hudsucker Proxy

You know, for kids.

And everyone else who digs great movies.

In a career jam-packed with winners, Joel and Ethan Coen’s best work — in my mind at least — is this fast, frantic, and absolutely flawless ode to the newspaper comedies of yore.

Tim Robbins is a yokel with a bigger brain than anyone gives him credit for, Jennifer Jason Leigh machine-guns her dialogue, crackin’ off every barb with gusto, and Paul Newman is silky smooth as the big man with a plan to fleece the rubes.

Toss in one of the great sight gags in cinematic history (“Plexiglass…”), and savor.