Tom Hanks in Cast AwayCAST AWAY

In Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis' most fully satisfying work in ages, Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx engineer for whom the world can't move fast enough; he's obsessed with time-saving, whether it be with associates in Moscow or friends at home. Before boarding a plane for a business conference, he even goes so far as to give his girlfriend (Helen Hunt) a wrapped engagement ring, instructing her to open it when he returns. (He saves lead-in time on its actual presentation.) But somewhere over the Pacific, the plane crashes (in one of cinema's most terrifying airplane disasters), and Chuck is washed up on a deserted island with little hope of escape or rescue; suddenly, he has all the time in the world, and the film, which had previously been lightning quick, slows down to a crawl.

The Emperor's New GrooveTHE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE

Despite being saddled with a crummy title, Disney's The Emperor's New Groove turns out to be the studio's most sheerly pleasurable animated feature in ages. It appears to have been made not only for those of us who were sick to death of the tired old Disney formula, but by people who were sick to death of the tired old Disney formula; it attacks the studio's shopworn clichés with a vengeance that is both hilarious and utterly deserved.

Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe in Proof of LifePROOF OF LIFE

Proof of Life, the kidnapping drama by director Taylor Hackford, stars David Morse as Peter Bowman, an American engineer living near the Andes who gets abducted by a group of Latin American revolutionaries convinced that Bowman's dam-building project is an insidious political maneuver.

Samuel L. Jackson in UnbreakableUNBREAKABLE

You gotta give M. Night Shymalan credit: The man gives great preview. Though it's impossible to determine just how much of a hand he had in creating the theatrical trailer for his new thriller Unbreakable, by the time the words "from the writer/director of The Sixth Sense" hit the screen, they're completely superfluous; a mere 30 seconds in, you know it couldn't possibly be the work of anyone else.

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.

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