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.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in TrafficTRAFFIC

Sitting in the audience for Steven Soderbergh's drug drama Traffic, I heard a sound that had been sorely missing from 12-plus months of moviegoing: rapt, appreciative silence. It was the sort of silence that you only get when a director is in full control of his work, when the actors are working at peak form, and when the storyline is so gripping that you can't wait to see where it will lead you next. Based on a British mini-series, Traffic is something increasingly rare in modern films: a large-scale epic with a human pulse, in which every character and nuance is sharply defined, and in which your alliances and points of view change with each passing scene. The accolades and awards already bestowed on the film aren't simply a matter of it being the best of a bum year; it's one of the best movies released in many years.

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.

So, compared to last year, just how bad were movies in 2000? Let's put it this way: Last year, the wonderfully inventive and clever Election narrowly missed making my 10 Best list. I consider it a truly great comedy, and its Oscar-nominated screenplay is superb, but I just couldn't fit it in following a year that produced such milestones as American Beauty, Toy Story 2, Being John Malkovich, The Straight Story, and even South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (and that's not even including such works as Magnolia and The Talented Mr.

Pages