Capsules by Michael Sragow unless noted. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: **** It starts in 1918, when Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born with an old face, dilapidated plumbing and wrinkled skin over an infant body, and ends in 2005, when his true love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), completes the telling of his story. The movie's emotional completeness leaves you poised between sobbing and applauding - it comes from a full comprehension not just of one man's life, but of the intersection of many lives over the course of the 20th century. The director, David Fincher, working from a robust yet tender script by Eric Roth, weds his painter's eye to a composer's rhythm. His filmmaking has the musical beat, and the heartbeat, of a prime E.L. Doctorow novel rather than the wan F. Scott Fitzgerald story it's based on. PG-13 166 minutes
Milk: *** 1/2 It rests so exclusively and solidly on its performances, especially Sean Penn's marvelous characterization of Harvey Milk, that audiences won't realize how strong its mojo is until an assassin's bullets break the spell. It's not a great movie, but it is an enlivening and unusual one: an effervescent political film that also packs a knockout punch. As Milk, Penn creates a character whose passion is extroverted and infectious: Even his guile conveys a sense of play. Penn convinces you that Milk was both a self-made politician and, by the end, a natural politician. R 128 minutes
Slumdog Millionaire: **** This tinderbox of comedy and drama centers on the unlikeliest epic hero: a ragamuffin in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) who, at age 18, becomes a contender on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Gradually, the scrappy underclass hero comes to stand in for all of us. He teaches, by example, that if you sift through traumas and disappointments and get to the bottom of your own life, you can mine something of value; surrender with humility to destiny, and you may just discover that you've written your destiny yourself. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) outdoes himself with a blend of hair-raising social melodrama, earthy humor and mystic adventure. The result is a movie of kaleidoscopic contradictions and dazzling clarity: a Dickensian extravaganza. R 120 minutes