Anika Noni Rose, Beyonce Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson in DreamgirlsDREAMGIRLS

You may have heard that, in the middle of Bill Condon's Dreamgirls, former American Idol belter Jennifer Hudson lets loose with a power ballad that has the audience cheering and applauding at its finish. If the screening I attended is any indication, this rumor is untrue. The audience cheers and applauds the number way before Hudson's finale. And no one in their right mind could blame them.

RentRENT

During its first 10 minutes or so, the film version of Jonathan Larson's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent is so thrilling you might want to applaud. As the opening credits unfurl, the movie's cast - all but two of whom reprise their original stage roles - sings Rent's signature number, "Seasons of Love," on a bare stage in dramatic downlight, and performs with fervent, passionate joy.

Lisa Kudrow and Bobby Cannavale in Happy EndingsHAPPY ENDINGS

This summer, I was fortunate enough to catch a special screening of writer/director Don Roos' Happy Endings at the University of Iowa, but decided to hold off on a review until the film made it to our area.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of AzkabanHARRY POTTER & THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Anyone interested in the distinction between routine direction and inspired direction - anyone who has ever wondered what, exactly, it is that a director brings to a movie - should compare Chris Columbus' first two Harry Potter films with Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, helmed by Alfonso Cuaron; Columbus' films are the work of a by-the-numbers craftsman, and Cuaron's is the work of an artist. (Which isn't to say that everyone will prefer Cuaron's style; many people would rather dine on Big Macs than filet mignon.) Cuaron isn't quite able to overcome the series' built-in limitations - the familiarity of the storytelling arc, the "surprising" character reversals that aren't really much of a surprise, the fact that all three movies are too damned long - but for those viewers, like me, who've never been overly enamored of the Harry Potter film series, Azkaban is as fine an entertainment as you could hope for, a visually audacious work with moments of true magic, and it improves on Chris Columbus' vision tenfold.

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.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's StoneHARRY POTTER & THE SORCERER'S STONE

When I sheepishly tell friends that I haven't yet read any of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, their reaction is usually shock - "You're kidding!" - followed by euphoric insistence - "You've got to read them! You'll love them!" When I tell these same friends that I didn't much like the movie version of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone, I get a different response, one that's a combination of mild disgust and serious condescension.