DOUBT: By necessity, a stage play with a confined setting has to be performance driven when it becomes a movie. That’s what you get in this film about a domineering Catholic school principal (Meryl Streep) who accuses a charismatic young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of an “inappropriate relationship” with a student (Joseph Foster II). Director/writer John Patrick Shanley leaves much of the script from the Broadway production intact and the actors make the most of their dialogue. Oscar winners Hoffman (CAPOTE) and Streep (SOPHIE’S CHOICE) will likely be nominated again in about two weeks along with Amy Adams (JUNEBUG) and Viola Davis (FAR FROM HEAVEN) who both stand out in supporting roles. The plot might well be regarded as a sort of “Did he or didn’t he?” mystery and can be appreciated even if a viewer looks at it solely from this standpoint. But I think it’s also a fascinating study of a mindset of people that refuse to accept changing times becuse of an unwavering conviction that the Almighty is on their side. The film never quite breaks out of its inherent staginess which hinders the camera work of cinematographer Roger Deakins with unneeded restrictions. Without revealing too much, I can say that the conclusion’s lack of resolution wasn’t as bothersome to me as Streep’s unforeseen and not terribly convincing outbreak of contrition and remorse (not to mention her accent which appears only at the beginning and end of the movie). These defects might keep this film out of the Academy Award’s Best Picture race but not from any nominations for acting or screenwriting. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

THE 10 BEST MOVIES I SAW IN 2008 (in ascending order): 10. LAKEVIEW TERRACE 9. UNDER THE SAME MOON 8. THE BANK JOB 7. RELIGULOUS 6. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL 5. IRON MAN 4. TROPIC THUNDER 3. JUNO 2. THE DARK KNIGHT 1. WALL-E

HONORABLE MENTION: BURN AFTER READING, CLOVERFIELD AND NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST