Madagascar: Escape 2 AfricaMADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA

Dreamworks' animated hit Madagascar concerned a group of Central Park Zoo denizens who, en route to Africa, find themselves stranded on the island of the film's title, and ended with the citified animals forcibly, though not unhappily, taking residence in their newfound environs. Not having seen Madagascar since its 2005 release, I'll admit that I had to look up this last bit of information before catching Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. And if and when there's a Madagascar 3, I'll no doubt have to look up the details on its predecessor, because a mere two days after attending this sequel, I've already forgotten nearly everything about it.

Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear in Ghost TownGHOST TOWN

Maybe you need to have seen a lot of bad romantic comedies, or bad movies involving ghosts, or bad romantic comedies involving ghosts, to appreciate just how good Ghost Town is. Maybe not, of course, especially considering how hysterical Ricky Gervais is in the movie's lead. But if you sit through enough dreary Hollywood outings of this sort, it doesn't take long to realize that something pretty special is happening here.

Rachel Weisz and Ryan Reynolds in Definitely, MaybeDEFINITELY, MAYBE

If anyone's keeping track, writer-director Adam Brooks' Definitely, Maybe is the third romantic comedy of 2008 to climax with its protagonist taking a hasty cab ride to an inevitable romantic clinch and subsequent Happily Ever After. And that's about the only conventional element in it. I'm a little staggered by just how wonderful this movie is, as nothing about the film, from its cutesy setup to the presence of leading actor Ryan Reynolds, appeared to suggest anything more than the latest spin on a tireless (and, by now, tiresome) genre. Yet Definitely, Maybe is sensational, so smart and witty and refreshingly grown-up that, hours after seeing it, you may still find yourself in a great mood; the only times I stopped smiling at the movie were when I was laughing out loud.

Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney in The Nanny DiariesTHE NANNY DIARIES

There are two wholly different films at war in Shari Springer Berman's and Robert Pulcini's The Nanny Diaries, and unfortunately, the wrong one wins.

Steve Carell in Evan AlmightyEVAN ALMIGHTY

Thank God for lowered expectations.

I adore Steve Carell, and so I was initially jazzed about Evan Almighty, as director Tom Shadyac's sequel was a vehicle for the comic who handily stole 2003's Bruce Almighty away from hard-working star Jim Carrey. Yet after I saw the trailer, my excitement quickly turned into dread. Not only did the three-minute preview appear to give away every second of the movie - it showed the climactic flood approaching, for Pete's sake! - but the sight of a gray-bearded, robe-attired Carell looking benevolent while surround by all those cu-u-u-ute animals instantly set off my gag reflex; watching brilliant comedians sell out in witless kiddie flicks is to be expected, yet I was praying that it wouldn't happen with Carell. (At least, I was praying that it wouldn't happen again - does anyone else recall the actor's involvement in the 2004 atrocity Sleepover?)

Gerard Butler in 300300

Whatever its problems, and they are myriad, you can't say that Zack Snyder's 300 doesn't give you plenty to look at. Adapted from Frank Miller's and Lynn Varley's graphic novel, the film - which follow s the ancient Spartan army in a wildly violent, self-sacrificing battle against Persian forces - is filled with memorably outré images: an enormous tree and a 20-foot-high wall, both composed entirely of corpses; a triad of elephants, backed over a cliff, that plunge to their deaths; the sky blackening with what appear to be locusts, instead proving to be the incoming trajectory of thousands of steel-tipped arrows. In 300, Snyder shows a remarkable gift for graphic-novel composition, and continually keeps your eye engaged. Too bad the same can't be said of your brain.

Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a PlaneSNAKES ON A PLANE

Incessant buildup for a potential Hollywood blockbuster is nothing new, of course. But in the case of Snakes on a Plane, it was the nature of the buildup that proved fascinating; everything hyped about this cheesy scare flick - the hysterically candid title, the presence of Samuel L. Jackson in bellowing motherf---er mode, the re-tooling to secure an R rating from its original PG-13 - seemed to promise, "This movie is gonna suck, and you're gonna love it." Offhand, I can't think of another movie that was so aggressively - one might say honestly - marketed as the schlock it was almost certain to be. By the time the movie opened last Friday, the anticipation among connoisseurs of cinematic crap had reached such a fever pitch that nothing less than the Best Bad Movie of All Time would do.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Snakes on a Plane isn't the best bad movie of all time. But it'll still do.

MurderballMURDERBALL

I've seen a lot of sublimely satisfying documentaries this year, but none with the scope and passion of Murderball. Like last year's brilliant Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the film's title and ostensible subject matter - quadriplegic rugby - are probably enough to frighten off the audiences who would love it the most, which I pray won't happen; Murderball, currently playing at the Brew & View Rocket, is, thus far, the most invigorating, fascinating, surprising, and deeply human movie of 2005.

Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen in Star Wars, Episode III - Revenge of the SithSTAR WARS, EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH

I've spent a lot of time - both in print and in person - making fun of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, and for a reason: It's pretty easy. The prosaic (and endless) exposition, the flat staging, the unspeakable dialogue, the ba-dum-ching! clunkiness of the comedy, the videogame-inspired mayhem, Jar Jar Binks ... there's practically no end of topics worth goofing on.

Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Be CoolBE COOL

Granted, I've missed a few of the year's more high-profile flicks - Are We There Yet?, White Noise, Son of the Mask, that thing with the Heffalumps - but, in general, the releases I have viewed have been so crummy as to be some kind of joke. (The Citizen Kane of the group would actually be the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which should tell you everything you need to know about Hollywood's output in early 2005.) But, with the arrival of Be Cool, the joke is no longer funny. Be Cool is worse than Elektra. Hell, it's worse than Alone in the Dark. I literally can't remember the last time I left a screening feeling so angered by the waste of time and talent onscreen; it's the sort of smug, lazy Bad Movie that puts you in a foul mood for the rest of the day.

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