Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in "Clerks II"It's awkwardly paced. It's often indifferently acted. The composition is remedial, the humor is juvenile, and for every scene that soars, another one crashes.

When all is said and done, though, you know which summer movie was my favorite? Clerks II. And do you know why? Because it isn't cynical.

JunebugTed Priester, the new president of Open Cities Cinema - formerly the Open Cities Film Society - knows he has a fight on his hands.

He admits that Open Cities, as it nears its 30th anniversary, is widely considered "rather a grandfatherly organization."

He's aware of the difficulty in marketing a weekly film series - one featuring titles readily available to home viewers - to a modern audience, saying, "Anymore, in our society, people work themselves into a frazzle. They want to go home at night and maybe watch a little TV and then lights out."

And he understands that when the organization opens its new season on September 22 - beginning with the Oscar-winning Danish film Babette's Feast - cinephiles may balk at the group's decision to screen DVDs as opposed to 16- or 35-millimeter prints, ceding that "there's a certain richness of sound that can't be replicated" with DVD.

Priester knows all of this.

In the minutes following the announcement of this year's Academy Awards nominations, media outlets were abuzz about the downbeat nature of the major contenders, and it was widely predicted that this year's Oscar telecast - which aired on Sunday, March 5 - would be the lowest-rated one in ages.

The following are the nominees for the 2006 Academy Awards telecast, scheduled to air on ABC affiliate WQAD-TV at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 5. (Note: Boldface denotes Mike's projected winner in each category.)

In discussing this year's Oscar races in the picture, director, and the acting categories, we may as well begin with the nominee area audiences had the least chance of catching, as it was the only major contender yet to get an area release: Duncan Tucker's Transamerica.

So, you've entered your office's Oscar pool - and it's a good Oscar pool, one in which they make you guess the winners in every category - and now you're in a pickle. Best Foreign Language Film? You haven't seen any of the nominees.

How nice is too nice? The question arises after viewing two films written and directed by author and filmmaker Max Allan Collins. Collins, a Muscatine resident, is the author of the graphic novel Road to Perdition, along with dozens of other books.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (R) -Here's something that rarely happens: The movie that received the most Oscar nominations - eight in all - actually deserved to receive the most Oscar nominations. Ang Lee's agonizingly fine romantic western makes the mystery and heartache of love come alive in ways you may have forgotten movies were capable of. Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Heath Ledger), Supporting Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, and Original Score ... and, to be honest, a few others - Best Film Editing, Art Direction, maybe even Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway - wouldn't have been out of line. (Great Escape Theatre, Showcase 53)

Years before he became a filmmaker, writer-director David Riker worked as a photojournalist, and found himself especially haunted and moved by the plight of immigrants in Manhattan's Latin American neighborhoods.

My annual challenge in composing a list of the year's best movies almost never lies in deciding what to list. It lies in deciding when to list. As every movie fan knows, film studios - both majors and independents - generally unleash their most prominent Academy Award hopefuls (and, oftentimes, most interesting works) at the end of December, giving these films their best chance at being remembered, and potentially embraced, by the notoriously forgetful Academy.

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