Tom Wheeler has only been with the Iowa Film Office for a little more than three weeks, but already he has a big agenda. He envisions a fund or trust, probably a private-public partnership, that could be used to subsidize production costs for motion pictures shot or made in Iowa.

Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in Along Came PollyALONG CAME POLLY

There's a pretty funny movie lurking within Along Came Polly, but unfortunately, it bears little relation to the slack and obvious one Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston are stuck in.

Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson in The Station AgentTHE STATION AGENT

After spending 90 minutes with the cast of Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, I believe I would, à la The Purple Rose of Cairo, have eagerly leapt right into the screen and been content to spend the rest of my life in their company.

Are mainstream movies, in general, becoming more and more stale? The question arose a couple of weeks ago when an acquaintance asked if I'd seen anything good recently. After a pause I was finally able to reply, "Uh ... Return of the King?"

"Well, of course that. Anything since then?"

Like all good film festivals, one joy of the 10th Annual Hispanic Film Festival at Augustana College will be discovering a wonderful movie you haven't heard much (or anything) about. It also doubles as a sampler of world cinema, showing the breadth and quality of Hispanic movies, which rarely penetrate the American market but can nonetheless be fascinating as cultural studies and breathtaking examples of filmmaking outside of the dominating American studio system.

Jude Law in Cold MountainCOLD MOUNTAIN

Though the story of two separated lovers braving incredible hardships to eventually reunite is a common one in war-themed movies, I don't think I've ever been less moved by it than in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, an adaptation of Charles Frazier's much-adored Civil War novel.

2003 in Movies

Among the year's seemingly endless spate of business-as-usual Hollywood product, with the remakes and sequels and - in the case of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - a de facto remake of a sequel, I saw exactly one work in 2003 that, with absolutely no qualms, I would call a masterpiece, and it made its debut on HBO. (It was that kind of year.)

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta GiveSOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE

In Something's Gotta Give, a sixtysomething womanizer, currently dating a twentysomething auctioneer (!), finds himself, for the first time ever, falling in love with a woman roughly his age, and - wouldn't ya know it? - it's his girlfriend's mother! Has there ever been so High a Concept? A forced, jokey premise like this is usually enough to make me hide under my theater seat; it's a situation so nakedly designed to provide good-natured chuckles and muffled sobs that a hardened cynic like me walks into the movie with all defenses immediately up.

Tom Cruise in The Last SamuraiTHE LAST SAMURAI

Occasionally, all it takes is sharp cinematography to get critics all woozy. How else to explain the positive notices for Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai, a period epic so unexceptional and derivative it might as well have been called Dances with Wolves Meets Braveheart? (Barkeep! Oscars for all!)

Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham in Bad SantaBAD SANTA

You might find yourself fearing the worst in the opening reel of Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa.

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