Jolie, Cruise, Pitt, Knightley and others get witty put-downs.
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7 Jan 2011 - 2:24 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 7:30 AM

Now and again critics come up with such witty, elegant zingers about stars or movies this correspondent can only say, “I wish I'd thought of that.”

So when British writer and film historian David Thomson demolishes more than 30 actors in a single volume, one can only marvel at his eloquent word-smithing, and his chutzpah.

Thomson unleashes tirades each year as the editor of the New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which sits alongside other works such as his biographies of Marlon Brando, Nicole Kidman, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Berman, Gary Cooper and Bette Davis.

In the latest edition, there are a sizable number of new entries, most of which are pithy putdowns, some mixed with faint praise.

On Brad Pitt: “Hardly anything he touches now is less than 'precious' and 'awesome' — it can't be long before he begins to look very tired.”

On Tom Cruise: “There are those who view Tom Cruise as the representative of all that is immature in American cinema today — the cockiness, the grin, the huge box-office ¬success and the sudden falls from grace. In that spirit, Cruise is the worst of the spoilt brats of Hollywood — because he has been the most successful.”

Those who noticed the number of loving close-ups which director Ben Affleck gave himself in The Town would probably agree with Thomson's assessment of the actor: “He is boring, complacent and criminally lucky to have got away with everything so far.”

But Cate Blanchett's millions of admirers would hotly dispute his jaundiced view of the actress: “Something is not quite clicking. She was prone and unconscious for most of Babel; implausible in Notes On A Scandal; again in Elizabeth: The Golden Age; unbelievable and undesirable in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.” For my money, he's wrong on all counts, although it was a stretch to accept her as the warrior Maid Marion in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.

He can be cruel, observing of Hilary Swank, “In nearly everything she has done, she has been pretty, dull, ordinary and incapable of lifting the film clear of a sanctimonious mud.” That's hardly fair, considering her Oscars for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby.

He acknowledges Keira Knightley's beauty but finds her “about as interesting as a crème brulée where too much refrigeration has killed flavour with ice burn. She is still more credible as a faintly animated photographer's model than as an actress.” Again, a judgment that's way too harsh for all those who enjoyed her performances in Pride & Prejudice (pictured) and The Duchess.

And I'm sure he's in a tiny minority when he questions Meryl Streep's formidable talent and achievements: “She has problems now with seeming natural.”

Thomson is clearly ambivalent about Bruce Willis, declaring, “The mystery continues. Willis makes quantities of commercial junk, where his raised eyebrows soar into the space left by his receding hairline. And then he produces something that unmistakably reveals a tender, wise actor.”

Taking a cheap shot at Angelina Jolie, he observes, “No one writing about Angelina's arrival on screen in the late Nineties could mask sheer wonder at the carnal embouchure that is her mouth. It could blind anyone.” Now if he'd offered a critique of her eye-fluttering work in The Tourist, I suspect few people would disagree.