Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, and Lev Prygounov in The Sum of All FearsTHE SUM OF ALL FEARS

In The Sum of All Fears, the latest film adaptation of one of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan thrillers - the other movies being The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear & Present Danger - America and Russia are headed for war. In a horrifying scene that, given our national consciousness, might deeply unsettle audiences, a nuclear device has detonated at a football stadium in Baltimore, and all indicators point to the Russians and their new president (Ciaran Hinds) masterminding the attack. Our government, and our mildly befuddled president (James Cromwell), are readying a counter-assault that will inevitably lead to World War III, but Jack Ryan, our one-man CIA, knows that something's just not right about our leaders' assumptions, and tries to ... hey, wait a minute, is that Ben Affleck playing Ryan?

Al Pacino and Robin Williams in InsomniaINSOMNIA

In Christopher Nolan's moody, atmospheric thriller Insomnia, based on a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a famed Californian detective now under investigation by Internal Affairs. To escape the surrounding publicity, he and his partner (Martin Donovan) are sent to a remote Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl, found beaten to death by a killer who apparently went to great lengths - washing her hair, trimming her fingernails - to maintain the dead girl's beauty. Dormer finds his suspect relatively early, but after he becomes the catalyst in a tragic shooting accident, Dormer is increasingly haunted by feelings of guilt and remorse - egged on by the endless Alaskan sun, which shines even at night - and finds the tables turned on him; the suspected killer (Robin Williams) has witnessed the shooting, and threatens to end Dormer's career if he is fingered as the girl's killer.

Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in Star Wars, Episode III - Attack of the ClonesSTAR WARS, EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES

Can two or three marvelous scenes make a movie? The question arises after seeing Star Wars, Episode II - Attack of the Clones, the fifth installment in George Lucas' sci-fi series, and the first to make me seriously ruminate on whether or not I actually liked it. (For the record, I found the first film very enjoyable, thought The Empire Strikes Back was a work of near-genius, and found both Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace plodding and dull.) My initial reaction upon leaving the theatre, though, was one of unfettered happiness; replaying the kineticism of the movie's big set pieces, I smiled during the whole drive home, immediately called my best friend, a devout Star Wars fanatic, to tell him he'd love it, and continued, for the rest of the day, to extol the film's surprising merits to friends and co-workers.

Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez in UnfaithfulUNFAITHFUL

Diane Lane has been a terrific performer for close to 25 years without really becoming a star, yet that's destined to change with Unfaithful, the hypnotic new Adrian Lyne thriller that gives Ms. Lane the chance to show, when granted the right material, how incredibly fine she can be.

Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spider-ManSPIDER-MAN

Your enjoyment of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man adaptation will, I think, boil down to just how realistic you want your special effects to be. I imagine that even those who haven't yet seen the film - and there must be at least three or four of you out there - will have seen the previews of our hero as he leaps across buildings and whooshes through downtown Manhattan, and they're all most obviously computer-generated effects; I have friends who refuse to see the film because of how bored they already are of CGI in movies.

Jim Broadbent and Judi Dench in IrisIRIS

Allow me a moment, if you will, to thank the folks at Moline's Nova 6 Cinemas for their continued efforts at occasionally booking more offbeat cinematic fare than the multiplex standard.

Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling in Murder by NumbersMURDER BY NUMBERS

In Barbet Schroeder's thriller Murder by Numbers, Sandra Bullock stars as Cassie Mayweather, a Southern California detective who, along with her nebbishy partner (Ben Chaplin), attempts to solve the murder of a local Jane Doe, killed in a seemingly haphazard fashion and left beside a creek.

Bill Paxton in FrailtyFRAILTY

Until it flirts with supernatural looniness in its last reel, Bill Paxton's directorial debut Frailty is a strong, scary, deeply affecting piece of work - so good, in fact, that it easily ranks, thus far, as 2002's finest film achievement.

Journey into Amazing Caves is a perfectly enjoyable IMAX movie, which is another way of saying that the medium triumphs over the work itself. If you've never seen an IMAX movie, it's a novel experience that showcases the multimedia power of large-format cinema.

Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in High CrimesHIGH CRIMES

If Hollywood studios absolutely insist on feeding us one piece-of-crap potboiler after another, they could certainly do worse than the trashily entertaining military thriller High Crimes.

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