Emily Browning, Jim Carrey, and Liam Aiken in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate EventsLEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

A friend recently introduced me to the considerable joys of Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket novels, the first three of which have been adapted for the new Jim Carrey vehicle Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.Handler rivals Roald Dahl in his talent for concocting exquisitely macabre and funny children's stories, and the Unfortunate Events series is almost embarrassingly enjoyable reading. (I'm currently on book nine of, thus far, 11.) The novels follow three orphans - Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny - as they're whisked from relative to relative while evading their evil uncle, Count Olaf, a demented character actor attempting to murder them for their inheritance, and the surprising intricacy of the books' plotting is matched by their wit and humor; after reading them you feel jazzed and alert, like waking from an oddly funny nightmare.

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.

Robin Williams in One Hour PhotoONE HOUR PHOTO

One Hour Photo has a simple, juicy premise that's just right for an art-film creepshow. The meek, late-middle-aged nebbish Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) has, for 11 years, run the photo lab at the California discount store Sav-Mart and has become inordinately fond of his regular customers, the Wilsons.

Al Pacino and Robin Williams in InsomniaINSOMNIA

In Christopher Nolan's moody, atmospheric thriller Insomnia, based on a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a famed Californian detective now under investigation by Internal Affairs. To escape the surrounding publicity, he and his partner (Martin Donovan) are sent to a remote Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl, found beaten to death by a killer who apparently went to great lengths - washing her hair, trimming her fingernails - to maintain the dead girl's beauty. Dormer finds his suspect relatively early, but after he becomes the catalyst in a tragic shooting accident, Dormer is increasingly haunted by feelings of guilt and remorse - egged on by the endless Alaskan sun, which shines even at night - and finds the tables turned on him; the suspected killer (Robin Williams) has witnessed the shooting, and threatens to end Dormer's career if he is fingered as the girl's killer.

Kristen Stewart and Jodie Foster in Panic RoomPANIC ROOM

David Fincher can pull off some amazing tricks. Early on in Panic Room, the director's latest thriller, the camera, initially located in an upstairs bedroom where newly single mom Meg (Jodie Foster) rests, glides away from the bed, through the banister of the staircase, and down the flight of stairs, and then scoots through the kitchen - and, it must be added, over countertops and appliances - until it finally lands on the kitchen doorway, where a shady character is waiting to break in.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits WithinFINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN

I can't imagine who could make sense of the gobbledygook plotting of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, yet I can't imagine who will fail to be wowed by the movie's effects; it might be the most visually extraordinary, intellectually banal sci-fi work since 2001: A Space Odyssey. There isn't a moment in the film that isn't amazing to watch, and that includes the moments when the heroine (voiced by Ming-Na) simply walks alone with her hair blowing lightly past her cheeks; Final Fantasy stands as the current standard-bearer in computerized realism.

Haley Joel Osment and Frances O'Connor in A.I.: Artificial IntelligenceA.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

After all the months of secrecy, of waiting, of wondering, we can finally analyze Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. And "analyze" is the appropriate term, because this is a movie for your brain rather than your heart. Those of us who were leery about how the sensibilities of warm, huggy Spielberg would gel with those of icy, cynical Stanley Kubrick (who initiated the project) might be in for a shock; for much of the film, Spielberg mimics the famously clinical, detached Kubrickian style flawlessly. In fact, he's almost too good at it; when actual emotion is called for, the movie falters. A.I. is never less than riveting, stunningly well-designed, and technically miraculous. But I'm still not sure that it's a success.

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