Gosford ParkGOSFORD PARK

In Robert Altman's Gosford Park, set in 1932 England, a group of well-to-do guests is invited to a country estate for a shooting party, with their numerous servants in tow, and find their weekend disrupted by the murder of their host.

Kevin Spacey in K-PAXK-PAX

Kevin Spacey has made a career out of being snidely patronizing, of being the smartest person in the room, and that's what I adore about him; he patently refuses to be lovable, and his wicked intelligence and dry-as-sandpaper line readings give a snap to just about every role he plays. (That's why his performance as the physically and emotionally scarred teacher in last year's imbecilic tearjerker Pay It Forward was so disappointing; he's not built for sentiment, and his presence in that mopey role merely exposed the film's schmaltziness.) I guess it was inevitable that Spacey, who always comes off as knowing more than we do, would one day play an alien (or is he?) who arrives on Earth to teach us all lessons about life and love that we can't figure out for ourselves. And so we have K-PAX, which had the potential to be excruciating but, as directed by Iain Softley and performed by a marvelous cast led by Spacey and Jeff Bridges, turns out to be thoroughly engaging; it's a case study in how the right director and performers can redeem mostly worthless material.

Johnny Depp in From HellFROM HELL

You can be forgiven for assuming that From Hell, Allen and Albert Hughes' re-telling of the Jack the Ripper saga (based on the immensely popular graphic novel), is a follow-up to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, what with its previews focusing on a shadowy murderer, lots of fog and mist, Johnny Depp's investigator speaking in a British accent (Cockney this time), and Heather Graham in the Christina Ricci role of the Corseted Love Interest.

Anton Yelchin and Hope Davis in Hearts in AtlantisHEARTS IN ATLANTIS

Given current events, are audiences now so hungry for nostalgic, nonthreatening entertainment that they'll happily accept something as profoundly awful as Hearts in Atlantis? If so, you certainly can't blame them, but Lord knows they deserve better than this mawkish Stephen King adaptation, a gooey and incoherent fable that gets more maddening as it progresses. I have friends who swear by the greatness of King's novel (unread by me), but the film version comes off as a mixture of the feyest aspects of the mostly terrific Stand by Me (based on King's novella The Body) and the metaphysical hokiness of King's The Green Mile. It proves to be a nearly unbearable combination, and yet something tells me that this wimpy, unfocused film could turn into a big hit among those who believe, as its author apparently does, that America died right about the time King turned 13.

Jennifer Aniston and Mark Wahlberg in Rock StarROCK STAR and THE MUSKETEER

If you were to guess based solely on their previews, you'd probably imagine Stephen Herek's Rock Star to be a kitschy, affectionate look at heavy metal in the '80s - like This Is Spinal Tap played straight - and Peter Hyams' The Musketeer to be a brisk reinterpretation of the Alexandre Dumas classic with a martial-arts bent - Crouching Tiger, Hidden D'Artagnan.

Mekhi Phifer in OO

We've had so many reinterpretations of Shakespeare's classics in recent years, and so many that have been surprisingly fine (I'm thinking of 10 Things I Hate About You, the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, and the genre's standard-bearer, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet), that you're inclined to give O, which sets Othello in the world of high-school basketball, the benefit of the doubt.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in Moulin RougeMOULIN ROUGE

I loved Baz Luhrmann's musical Moulin Rouge, but what I adore even more than the film itself are works like it - artistically divisive movies that give you no choice but to love or hate them.

Renee Zellweger in Bridges Jones's DiaryBRIDGET JONES'S DIARY

A terrific leading character can atone for a lot of wrongs in a film, and there might be no better proof of that thesis than Bridget Jones's Diary, Sharon Maguire's adaptation of Helen Fielding's incredibly popular novel. Our heroine, a 32-year-old British woman who works a dead-end publishing job, is a completely realistic type we almost never see in movies: a chain-smoking, wine-slurping, slightly overweight, unsatisfied-in-relationships flirt who wants desperately to better herself but doesn't have the motivation or discipline to do so. Flawed as she is, she's intensely endearing, and as perfectly played by Renée Zellweger, she's a magically comic creation, even more wonderful than Zellweger's previous incarnations of Dorothy Boyd and Nurse Betty. That the moviemakers spend the film's running length putting her in one humiliating situation after another, and that she's trapped in a predictable love triangle between a cad and a sweetie, aren't to be held against her; Bridget Jones, and Zellweger herself, triumph over their circumstances, creating a totally enjoyable cinematic work, flaws and all.

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.

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.

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