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.

Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf in TransformersTRANSFORMERS

I laughed out loud a good half-dozen times at Transformers, and for the first time ever at a Michael Bay movie, not derisively. No one could have been less enthused than I at the prospect of a Bay-directed, live-action "adaptation" of the toys I was too old for in the mid-'80s. (I'll admit to a mildly derisive chuckle at the opening credit: "In association with Hasbro.") Yet all things considered, the resulting movie is great fun - 90 minutes of amusement and frequent exhilaration. The fact that the film actually runs 145 minutes proves to be only a slight detriment.

Christopher Moynihan, Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey in For Your ConsiderationFOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

I love Christopher Guest's improvisational comedies with a passion bordering on mania, and he and co-scenarist Eugene Levy have been wonderfully consistent about treating fans to a new one every three years; 1997's Waiting for Guffman led to 2000's Best in Show and 2003's peerless A Mighty Wind. Now we have For Your Consideration, a skewering of the annual Oscar-derby madness, and I couldn't have been more excited about seeing it. So why, despite its many, many great moments, does reflecting on the director's latest leave me feeling disappointed, and a little depressed?

Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than FictionSTRANGER THAN FICTION

While watching an emotional climax toward the end of Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, I experienced the oddest case of déjà vu. In the film, a man discovers that his life may be in the hands of an unseen puppet-master - that he, himself, has no control over his own existence - and all of a sudden I was transported back to June of 1997, watching Peter Weir's The Truman Show. Yet what set me off wasn't just that the metaphysics of the two films are similar, or even that a comedian (Will Ferrell instead of Jim Carrey) was enacting the situation; it was that the protagonist's seemingly hopeless circumstances had me in tears, and yet all around me, people were laughing.

Laura Linney and Robin Williams in Man of the YearMAN OF THE YEAR

The best I can say about Barry Levinson's Man of the Year is that, considering its advertising, it isn't at all the movie I was expecting.

Jude Law and Sean Penn in All the King's MenALL THE KING'S MEN

In his role as the initially idealistic, eventually corrupt Louisiana governor Willie Stark in All the King's Men, Sean Penn delivers a series of impassioned orations to Stark's constituency, and every time he does, the movie displays a robust, dramatic fire. A self-described "hick" preaching to those he feels have been similarly politically oppressed, Stark barks out his plans for a better future, and Penn, with a thick drawl and a timbre that rises and falls in waves, attacks these scenes with an egocentric bluster that, at first, veers dangerously close to parody - close your eyes, and he could be Jackie Gleason on a dyspeptic tirade in Smokey & the Bandit. Yet you don't laugh at him. Penn's Stark is such a powerful, daunting presence that he transcends hammy Southern caricature through the legitimate emotion in his outbursts and the intensity of his gaze, and during the governor's stump speeches, King's Men writer/director Steven Zaillian has the good sense to get out of Penn's way and let him run the show.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky BobbyTALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY

The Will Ferrell spoof Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, like the actor's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is less a movie than a sketch-comedy figure with a little bit of movie draped around him. And despite its narrow conceit - again, just like Anchorman - it isn't bad at all.

Gilbert Gottfried in The AristocratsTHE ARISTOCRATS

For those who don't yet know, The Aristocrats is a literal one-joke movie. In Paul Provenza's documentary, nearly a hundred comedians re-tell an old vaudeville gag about a group of performers whose act consists of them performing the filthiest, most repellant stage atrocities imaginable - some immoral, most illegal, all unimaginable (or so it would seem). The performers' stage moniker? The Aristocrats.

Heath Ledger and Matt Damon in The Brothers GrimmTHE BROTHERS GRIMM

Fairy tales, at their core, exert a powerful emotional pull, and at rare moments in Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, the director finds a visual equivalent to their hypnotic, wicked appeal. In this typically unclassifiable Gilliam excursion, the first glimpse of Little Red Hiding Hood traipsing through the gloomy forest is enough to give any adult viewer a shiver. Gilliam frames her entrance, and the later arrival of Hansel and Gretel, with ominous portent, the colors - that cape and hood especially - are enticing, and the forest sets have a creepy, storybook elegance. For the briefest of moments, you're a kid again, enraptured by the haunting, suggestive simplicity of these stories; our first sightings of Little Red, Hansel, and Gretel bring with them a spark of tingly joy.

Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy in Red EyeRED EYE

Wes Craven's Red Eye is the beneficiary of an original, intriguing leading character and, in Rachel McAdams, exactly the right performer to play her. A good thing, too, because the movie doesn't have a lot else going for it.

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