Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson in The Station AgentTHE STATION AGENT

After spending 90 minutes with the cast of Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, I believe I would, à la The Purple Rose of Cairo, have eagerly leapt right into the screen and been content to spend the rest of my life in their company.

Jude Law in Cold MountainCOLD MOUNTAIN

Though the story of two separated lovers braving incredible hardships to eventually reunite is a common one in war-themed movies, I don't think I've ever been less moved by it than in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, an adaptation of Charles Frazier's much-adored Civil War novel.

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta GiveSOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE

In Something's Gotta Give, a sixtysomething womanizer, currently dating a twentysomething auctioneer (!), finds himself, for the first time ever, falling in love with a woman roughly his age, and - wouldn't ya know it? - it's his girlfriend's mother! Has there ever been so High a Concept? A forced, jokey premise like this is usually enough to make me hide under my theater seat; it's a situation so nakedly designed to provide good-natured chuckles and muffled sobs that a hardened cynic like me walks into the movie with all defenses immediately up.

Tom Cruise in The Last SamuraiTHE LAST SAMURAI

Occasionally, all it takes is sharp cinematography to get critics all woozy. How else to explain the positive notices for Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai, a period epic so unexceptional and derivative it might as well have been called Dances with Wolves Meets Braveheart? (Barkeep! Oscars for all!)

Jack Black in The School of RockTHE SCHOOL OF ROCK

I've seen Sidney Poitier do it. I've seen Robin Williams do it. I've seen Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Edward James Olmos ... hell, I've seen Dame Maggie Smith do it. But I have never seen an actor playing The Inspirational Teacher connect with his students as believably, and oddly beautifully, as Jack Black does in The School of Rock.

Nicolas Cage and Alison Lohman in Matchstick MenMATCHSTICK MEN

Ostensibly, Ridley Scott's dramatic comedy Matchstick Men deals with Roy (Nicolas Cage), a professional con artist, connecting with Angela (Alison Lohman), the 14-year-old daughter he never knew he had, and trying to better himself as a father figure.

Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale RiderWHALE RIDER

Among its many, many virtues, what I loved most about Niki Caro's Whale Rider is its toughness. In the past year, we've seen so many variants on the ethnic-female-overcoming-her-family's-prejudices theme - My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Real Women Have Curves, Bend It Like Beckham - that the idea of sitting through another one, even one set on a staggeringly gorgeous New Zealand seaside, filled me with more ennui than expectation.

SeabiscuitSEABISCUIT

Seabiscuit arrives as such a breath of fresh air - an inspirational period piece in a sea of noisy, formulaic action drivel - that you wish to God the movie was better than it actually is.

Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson in 2 Fast 2 Furious2 FAST 2 FURIOUS

How did this happen? How, in a summer chockablock with megahit wannabes of all sorts, did the major studios agree to get out of Universal's way and allow 2 Fast 2 Furious to be the only new release of the June 6 weekend? Are the powers-that-be at Universal holding compromising photos involving the rival studio heads? Are they holding their pets hostage? Why, for the love of God, are Universal's competitors letting this terrible movie become a hit? Granted, the opening five minutes are fun, and there's a squirmy torture scene involving a rat attempting to burrow through a man's stomach.

Shia LaBeouf and Khleo Thomas in HolesHOLES

Here's something I never thought I'd write about a live-action family movie from Disney: I hope it makes tons of money and spawns sequels galore. The movie in question is Holes, and here's something else I never thought I'd write: Thus far, it's easily the finest movie of the year.

Pages