Here in the dawn of the New Year, I'm still nursing my holiday hangover, so I'm going to finish up with my three-part Overlooked and Underrated series of columns, starting with Julian Jarrold's Becoming Jane, a fictitious biographical romance about Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway). It garnered unfavorable comparisons to Shakespeare in Love (1998), a film as dreadfully over-hyped as its cousin was under-hyped. (The hype meter must be perfectly balanced now.) James McAvoy -- currently receiving showers of awards attention for his involvement in Atonement (306 screens) -- plays the smoldering lover who titillates the educated and prickly Miss Austen. Unlike most brain-dead comedies in which the lovers are supposed to "fix" each other's shortcomings, these lovers are perfectly matched. Not to mention that Maggie Smith gives another one of her deliriously snooty performances.
I can't figure out why Richard Shepard's The Hunting Party failed, when it was just as energetic and funny as The Matador -- unless critics bristled at the film's political pokings. In this one, Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg make a wonderful team as three journalists (ranging from rookie to washed-up) who journey through Bosnia to find an infamous war criminal. Shepard's movie is constantly unexpected and alive, with three-dimensional characters you won't soon forget. Stick around for the whimsical closing credits, which explain the parts of the film that were "real."