Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck in DaredevilDAREDEVIL

Though he tries mighty hard, Ben Affleck isn't quite able to ruin Daredevil, Mark Steven Johnson's screen adaptation of the Marvel comic. Among comic-book fans, the news that Affleck would be portraying the tortured hero - an angry, despressed, and, oh yeah, blind lawyer who, when not losing cases in court, dons leather and kicks bad-guy ass - was met with a collective rolling of the eyes; a friend of mine, upon hearing about the casting, put it succinctly: "Oh great. It's gonna suck."

Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter & the Chamber of SecretsHARRY POTTER & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

Although I didn't care for last year's Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone, I was more than willing to greet the new Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets with an open mind.

Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey, and Candice Bergen in Sweet Home AlabamaSWEET HOME ALABAMA

Just how much goodwill are audiences willing to extend to Reese Witherspoon? Quite a lot, actually, if their response to Sweet Home Alabama is any indication.

Billy Bob Thornton, Peter Boyle, and Heath Ledger in Monster's BallMONSTER'S BALL

In Marc Forster's sterling drama Monster's Ball, Halle Berry portrays Leticia Musgrove, the wife of a convicted murderer (Sean Combs), who takes the graveyard shift of an all-night Georgia café to support herself and her pre-teen son (Coronji Calhoun). One of her repeat customers is corrections officer Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), son of an unrepentant racist (Peter Boyle) and father of a damaged, depressed son (Heath Ledger). Through a series of tragedies, Leticia and Hank find spiritual and sexual solace in each other's company, and Monster's Ball asks the question that, sadly enough, must still be asked in modern-day America: Can black and white find a middle ground and truly exist in harmony?

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.

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy GameSPY GAME

Tony Scott's Spy Game opens with one of those enjoyably implausible preludes we're used to seeing in the James Bond series: It's 1991, and American CIA agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is attempting to free a female captive (Catherine McCormack) from a Chinese prison. How will he accomplish this task? Why, by masquerading as a doctor called in to give vaccinations to the inmates, feigning fatal electrocution after touching a wired prison fence - which results in the momentary shut-down of the prison's electrical power, including its surveillance cameras - lying "dead" on a hospital gurney, fleeing the scene when no one's looking, scrambling down ratty corridors in search of the captive, bribing a mentally defunct witness with a piece of gum, and accompanying the prisoner back to the "dead" man's gurney, where prison guards will unknowingly escort the duo to an ambulance and then to freedom. And what trips up the plan? The gum.

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.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in Meet the ParentsMEET THE PARENTS

I'm not sure that any movie genre is harder to critique than the Sitcom Disguised as Feature Film. You know the sort: a comedy, usually with faux-dramatic undertones, filled with likable actors playing likable people (even the antagonists are more pesky than dangerous), where the characters' dilemmas are sorted out neatly in under two hours, and with no serious harm coming to any of them in the end. The dialogue is moderately witty, the physical gags are predictable but amusing, the lighting is overly bright, and the score is bouncy, with moments of sap when the characters show their "souls." What's to discuss? You know going in what to expect, and when the film in question is pulled off well, as Jay Roach's Meet the Parents is, you leave feeling serene and comfortable.

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