Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetSWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

As the title character in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Johnny Depp gives a controlled, admirable one-note performance in a role that calls for many more notes. This isn't a knock - well, not a huge knock - on his singing of this legendary Stephen Sondheim musical; Depp may not have the vocal power or range to do full justice to Sondheim's and book-writer Hugh Wheeler's masterful creation, but he gives it a good shot, and his morose speak-singing fits director Tim Burton's interpretation of the work. It's the interpretation that's the problem.

Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden CompassTHE GOLDEN COMPASS

I would love to give an account of how the little kids in the audience reacted to Chris Weitz's The Golden Compass, but as school was in session during the Friday-afternoon screening I attended, there wasn't a single kid to be found. And I'd give you an account of how the adults reacted, but in all honesty, I was too busy trying not to fall asleep to notice.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Freddie Highmore in August RushAUGUST RUSH

There's a scene in the tear-jerker August Rush in which the titular musical prodigy (Freddie Highmore) and a friendly Irish rocker (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) - unaware that they're father and son - engage in a happy bit of dueling guitars in Central Park, their matching grins widening as the improvised strumming reaches its climax. It's a great moment, and I mention it because it's the only one in the film that I didn't find excruciating.

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old MenNO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Two days after viewing Joel and Ethan Coen's crime thriller No Country for Old Men, I did something unusual for me: I went to see the movie again. Or rather, I went to listen to it again.

Paul Giamatti and Vince Vaughn in Fred ClausFRED CLAUS

As crass, demeaning, insufferable holiday-themed comedies go, Fred Claus is a little bit better than The Santa Clause 3, Deck the Halls, Surviving Christmas, and Christmas with the Kranks. (This faint praise might also extend to examples released before 2004, but I've succeeded in blocking those titles from memory.) It's also a little bit worse than 80 percent of the movies I've seen this year.

Emile Hirsch in Into the WildINTO THE WILD

As a director, Sean Penn has proven more than proficient, but he hasn't exactly demonstrated a lightness of spirit; within his The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, and The Pledge, you can pretty much count the number of smiles generated on one hand. I love the gravity that Penn brings to his directing/writing projects, his readiness to explore anguished and vengeful depths, but his seriousness as a filmmaker has its downside, too. Penn's works have been so dour and laden with portent that, as their narratives progress, they begin to feel oppressive and one-dimensional. Like a joke now and again would kill him?

Charlize Theron and Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of ElahIN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah continually approaches greatness without ever really getting there.

Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney in The Nanny DiariesTHE NANNY DIARIES

There are two wholly different films at war in Shari Springer Berman's and Robert Pulcini's The Nanny Diaries, and unfortunately, the wrong one wins.

Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy in Becoming JaneBECOMING JANE

I have friends, most of them equipped with a Y chromosome, who wouldn't be caught dead at an 18th century British period film studded with corsets and bucolic splendor and one of those "That man is so insolent and frustrating I must be in love with him!" storylines.

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