The opening shot of writer/director Sofia Coppola’s meticulously sumptuous The Beguiled shows a young girl carrying a basket and singing without a care in the world – her steps providing the tune’s rhythm – in a tunnel of trees. It’s sunny out, but the converging crowns mean she’s walking in the dark wood. When she happens upon an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) while picking mushrooms, it’s impossible to avoid a single thought: Big Bad Wolf.

The girl helps the man back to her secluded Virginia boarding school for girls – which just happens to have seven female residents. They’re not dwarves, but Corporal John McBurney (once his wounded leg is mostly healed) does help with some groundskeeping. So he’s also Snow White.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-ManTHE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

The Amazing Spider-Man is, without question, the absolute best superhero movie to be released this week. Of course, I say this not having seen Katy Perry: Part of Me yet, but I also say this because it's polite, whenever possible, to begin a review with words of high praise, and in this instance, I'm going to have a tough time coming up with others.

2004 in Movies

Was I feeling especially sensitive in 2004, or were the year's most memorable cinematic works, coincidentally, the most unabashedly romantic ones? It could certainly be me - the only (fictional) televised event that moved me to tears was the unlikely but enormously satisfying kiss between Martin Freeman's Tim and Lucy Davis' Dawn on The Office Special.

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?"

Morgan Freeman in DreamcatcherDREAMCATCHER

Just how unspeakably bad is the Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher? Allow me to present a few examples of opening sentences I was considering for this review:

Ving Rhames and Tyrese Gibson in Baby BoyBABY BOY

It's a small movie, but the scope of John Singleton's Baby Boy is enormous; the film is nothing less than a critique of young African-American males, a warts-and-all look at the infantilization of those who consider themselves true men. Singleton received great acclaim a decade ago for his writing/directing debut, Boyz N the Hood, and while his take on Shaft last summer was an enjoyably over-the-top romp, Baby Boy is his first work to make good on the promise he showed in 1991: The movie is superb. Where nearly every scene in Boyz N the Hood was filled with dread and the threat of violence, the images in Baby Boy are steeped in sadness and resignation, with exquisite moments of joy, fear, and strength throughout.

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.