Go see The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It's the smartest film I've seen in several years. Director/Writer Judd Apatow and Writer/Lead Actor Steve Carell created the most unlikely of things: a 21st-century sex comedy that works. The supporting performances are stellar across the board. The comic timing is unbelievably sharp, and the performers relish in their work. You end up really loving the characters, really wanting it all to work out. The whole arc of the story is beautiful.
It would appear that there's a tight little group at the core of this good work. This film is well above the general level of what comes out of Hollywood. I can only hope the minds driving it get the chance and freedom to do more.
My high-level view on culture has always been tilted more to the indie/underground/DIY side of things, but the widening field of outlets and decreasing costs of production is having an impact on more traditional areas of the industry too. In spite of the generally crappy output of the big studios lately, there are more opportunities for producers, writers and directors to work outside the formulaic boxes that define most of the loosing projects. There are also more opportunities for talented performers to break through, as "star-power" proves less and less powerful a driver of economic success. A lot of this seems to be, believe it or not, driven by television.
The producing core that brought us The 40-Year-Old Virgin seems to have ties to the short-lived series "Freaks and Geeks." HBO has made its original dramas into a burgeoning cottage industry of high-quality episodic storytelling. The man behind Buffy, Joss Whedon, will have a chance to transport his brilliant but short-lived series Firefly -- the first space-western to the best of my knowledge -- to the big screen later this month.