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.

Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe in Proof of LifePROOF OF LIFE

Proof of Life, the kidnapping drama by director Taylor Hackford, stars David Morse as Peter Bowman, an American engineer living near the Andes who gets abducted by a group of Latin American revolutionaries convinced that Bowman's dam-building project is an insidious political maneuver.

Jamie Bell in Billy ElliotBILLY ELLIOT

Billy Elliot, the British coming-of-age comedy/drama that has finally opened wide after a successful art-house run, is for anyone who longs to see a strong, simple story finely detailed and exquisitely performed.

Helen Hunt and Richard Gere in Dr. T & the WomenDR. T AND THE WOMEN

Dr. T and the Women shows director Robert Altman in a sunny, happy frame of mind - for almost an hour and a half. Trouble is, the film runs a little over two hours. As the movie nears its conclusion, it starts to go sour, and you get a gnawing feeling that Altman and his screenwriter (Anne Rapp) aren't going to know how to end their work.

LeAnn Rimes and Piper Perabo in Coyote UglyCOYOTE UGLY and THE REPLACEMENTS

Most genre flicks in the '80s were pretty crummy, but what absolutely terrifies me is that now, on the verge of a new millennium, we're actually being presented with homages to the crummy movies of that decade: Coyote Ugly, from uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is a nod to the Jerry-produced smash Flashdance, and The Replacements is a paean to professional-doofus sports movies like Major League and Necessary Roughness, with Gene Hackman on hand to remind us of the coach he played in 1986's Hoosiers.

Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood in Space CowboysSPACE COWBOYS

There's so much goodwill invested in Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys, mostly stemming from its venerable and accomplished cast, that I feel like a killjoy for saying that the movie itself is really mediocre.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford in What Lies BeneathWHAT LIES BENEATH

As far as I can tell, the only people who might enjoy Robert Zemeckis' supernatural thriller What Lies Beneath are the ones that haven't yet seen its trailer, but I'm not sure if anyone qualifies anymore. That's not just because the omnipresent trailer gives away far too many plot twists, but seeing the preview makes watching the entire first hour of the film pointless. Movie trailers have been getting worse and worse about providing too much information; this is the first time they came close to spoiling an entire movie for me.

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