Anne Bancroft and Sigourney Weaver in HeartbreakersHEARTBREAKERS

Though the competition is fierce - The Insider, All That Jazz, maybe even Beetlejuice - I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie that made smoking look more repellant than David Mirkin's comedy Heartbreakers.

Edward Burns and Robert De Niro in 15 Minutes15 MINUTES

Near the start of writer/director John Herzfeld's 15 Minutes, two tourists-cum-thugs, the Czech Emil (Karel Rodin) and the Russian Oleg (Oleg Taktarov), murder a pair of acquaintances and torch their apartment, while the movie-loving Oleg videotapes the crime.

Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in The MexicanTHE MEXICAN

We've had the evidence for years, but I think it's time we made it official: Brad Pitt is a gonzo supporting player stuck in a (rather dull) leading man's body. Recently, he portrayed the heavily-accented Irish boxer in Snatch, giving the film a jolt of pure, comedic adrenalin - his screen time was brief, but he was the most entertaining performer in the movie - and when he appeared as a supporting actor in 12 Monkeys, Thelma & Louise, and True Romance (probably his best, and easily his funniest, screen work), his performances were well-calibrated and often inspired. Pitt can display a true flair for off-kilter comedy; it's telling that his most enjoyable lead performance has come from the darkly comic cult film Fight Club, where his Tyler Durden was clearly one of Pitt's nutjob character roles gone berserk.

Kevin Costner in 3000 Miles to GracelandI remember a time, not so long ago, when I actually looked forward to movie trailers. Getting the chance to see what certain performers and directors had coming up next, witnessing the artfulness of the preview itself, which has to build anticipation with three minutes of footage, experiencing that happy rush when an entire audience simultaneously reacts to a trailer with a feeling of, "I can't wait to see that" ? I ate it all up.

 

Chris Rock in Down to EarthDOWN TO EARTH and SWEET NOVEMBER

Is it a coincidence, or a frightening sign of flicks to come, that the two most high-profile movie releases this past weekend were remakes of movies that no one could have reasonably wanted remakes of at all? Sure, it's commonly accepted that Hollywood has all but run out of fresh ideas, but to be subjected to both Down to Earth and Sweet November in the same weekend seems a little harsh.

HANNIBAL

About halfway through Hannibal, the long-awaited sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, our good Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is in mid-vivisection of his latest prey when the victim's cell phone rings. On the other end is FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), who has called to give the soon-to-be-deceased warning about Lecter's grislier instincts. And then, with a thrilling, inevitable perfection, Hannibal picks up the phone and says with his patented, seductive purr, "Hello, Clarice." It ranks with one of the all-time-great moments in sequel history - the first reunion of these indelible characters in 10 years - and it produced an audibly electric sensation in the audience, where everyone simultaneously released a deep-throated chortle mixed with a shudder. It might be worth sitting through the film, at least in a packed movie house, just to get to that moment. But be warned: It'll probably be the only time during the movie when you'll have that feeling.

Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonCROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

You may have heard that Ang Lee's latest work, the historical-drama/romance/martial-arts/action pic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is in Chinese with English subtitles. It's true. Yet no filmgoer with a subtitle phobia should be dissuaded from seeing the movie, because it's such a thrilling, intoxicating, heady ride that its subtitles are absolutely superfluous. Ang Lee has created something rather amazing - an accessible, American-audience-friendly foreign work - that will leave you gasping at its audacity and superior visuals while finding yourself completely enraptured by its two sets of heartbreaking romances; it's a Chinese Titanic with a better script.

Helen Mirren and Jack Nicholson in The PledgeTHE PLEDGE

Sean Penn is one of the few dependably downbeat figures in American film, and those who like their dramas moody, atmospheric, and richly detailed will get some initial pleasure with The Pledge, Mr. Penn's third directorial outing.

Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, and Alan Ford in SnatchSNATCH

First, the bad news: Guy Ritchie's latest crime thriller, Snatch, is nearly a carbon copy of his sizzling 1998 debut film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The good news: Who cares? Those who like their thrills fast, bloody, twisty, and awfully funny will be in B-movie paradise here; we're only three weeks into January, and we already have a movie that's more enjoyable than 90 percent of what was released last year.

Steven Culp, Kevin Costner, and Bruce Greenwood in Thirteen DaysTHIRTEEN DAYS

Just because a movie is smart doesn't mean it'll avoid dullness. Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days, which documents the terrifying two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is evidence of this, a well-scripted, well-acted drama that might still cause you to doze off.

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