Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow in BounceBOUNCE

Writer-director Don Roos might never be a great filmmaker - his staging is obvious in that Kevin Smith way (a lot of two-shots of characters talking) and there's no real visual life on display. But he's wonderful with actors, and he has a great ear for dialogue, writing realistic lines that can flip in a moment's notice to something truly comic or poignant.

Jamie Bell in Billy ElliotBILLY ELLIOT

Billy Elliot, the British coming-of-age comedy/drama that has finally opened wide after a successful art-house run, is for anyone who longs to see a strong, simple story finely detailed and exquisitely performed.

Will Smith and Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger VanceTHE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE

The Legend of Bagger Vance, Robert Redford's golfing fable, isn't a work of any depth, and there's precious little intelligence on display, but it sure looks pretty - so pretty, in fact, that audiences might not realize that the movie itself is a dud. From the golden-hued cinematography of the great Michael Ballhaus to the stunning, Depression-era costuming and production design, it's clear that the film has been made with the utmost care and a real attention to physical and aural beauty; if you didn't understand a word of English, you might find it a masterpiece.

Kim Director and Erica Leerhsen in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2

Let's face it: There was plenty of built-in expectation with the arrival of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and the expectation was that the film would suck. Those who loved The Blair Witch Project, as I did, would miss that film's cinéma vérité style and simplicity, and rail on about how Book of Shadows was exactly the kind of dumbed-down splatter flick that Blair Witch rebelled against. Those who hated the original, which seems the more common response (at least among my acquaintances), would have their beliefs confirmed that the whole Blair Witch "mythology" is lame, and that we've been hoodwinked by marketing and Internet paranoia into making these movies hits. Wouldn't it be great to report that this sequel had defied its skeptics and emerged as smashing entertainment?

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in Best in ShowBEST IN SHOW

The genius of Christopher Guest lies in his belief that nothing is funnier than mediocrity. (He's the antithesis of Peter Shaffer's Salieri in Amadeus, who saw it as a tragic failure.) In his two finest cinematic efforts, This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, the performers examined in the "mockumentary" format - Tap's hard rockers and Guffman's thespians - were delightful because of their clueless self-satisfaction; they truly thought they were creating Art, or at least really kick-ass entertainment. And the joke blossomed every time we watched them perform their shows before audiences, because it turned out that these well-meaning hacks, while by no means terrific, weren't all that bad. They might have been lacking in talent, but their enthusiasm was infectious, and it made sense that their shows were hits. (God knows I've seen worse community-theatre productions than Guffman's Red, White, & Blaine.) Guest, who co-wrote both films and served as director for Guffman, was thereby able to poke fun at his characters and have you genuinely rooting for them at the same time.

Helen Hunt and Richard Gere in Dr. T & the WomenDR. T AND THE WOMEN

Dr. T and the Women shows director Robert Altman in a sunny, happy frame of mind - for almost an hour and a half. Trouble is, the film runs a little over two hours. As the movie nears its conclusion, it starts to go sour, and you get a gnawing feeling that Altman and his screenwriter (Anne Rapp) aren't going to know how to end their work.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in Meet the ParentsMEET THE PARENTS

I'm not sure that any movie genre is harder to critique than the Sitcom Disguised as Feature Film. You know the sort: a comedy, usually with faux-dramatic undertones, filled with likable actors playing likable people (even the antagonists are more pesky than dangerous), where the characters' dilemmas are sorted out neatly in under two hours, and with no serious harm coming to any of them in the end. The dialogue is moderately witty, the physical gags are predictable but amusing, the lighting is overly bright, and the score is bouncy, with moments of sap when the characters show their "souls." What's to discuss? You know going in what to expect, and when the film in question is pulled off well, as Jay Roach's Meet the Parents is, you leave feeling serene and comfortable.

Denzel Washington in Remember the TitansREMEMBER THE TITANS

No one could have been less enthused than I at the prospect of Remember the Titans, the inspirational high-school-football flick starring Denzel Washington. The film's omnipresent previews - which, I swear, seemed to precede every movie released from June through September - not only appeared to give away all aspects of the film's plot but all aspects of the film's subplots, and it was being released right on the heels of the scabs-play-football bomb The Replacements, arguably the most wretched movie of the past summer.

Almost FamousALMOST FAMOUS

Almost Famous, writer-director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical hymn to the joys and heartbreaks of rock 'n' roll, is filled with extraordinarily lovely details and an uncanny fondness for the film's 1970s setting. It's engaging, gorgeously lit, and filled with goodwill. The things it's not are believable, challenging, or memorable. It has obviously been made with great love - Crowe spent years trying to turn his youthful experiences into a movie - and Crowe's attention to the minutiae of the rock scene is heady and alluring. But Almost Famous ends up as far less than the sum of its parts, a movie so intoxicated by its period that elements like character and conflict barely exist; despite its look and the rave reviews being showered on it, the film itself feels empty.

Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union in Bring It OnBRING IT ON

It took me quite a while to catch up with the battling-cheerleader hit Bring It On because, quite frankly, most teen flicks these days make me feel about a hundred years old. It's not just that the casts of these films seem obscenely young, or that adults are completely marginalized - those qualities have been staples of the genre at least since Rebel Without a Cause.

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