Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellen in X-Men: The Last StandX-MEN: THE LAST STAND

In his X-Men films of 2000 and 2003, Bryan Singer managed a marvelous blend of gravitas, insouciance, and pure ass-kicking spectacle, and the highest praise I can give X-Men: The Last Stand is that director Brett Ratner, nearly scene for scene, fools you into thinking that Singer helmed this one as well. For a director with an indistinct visual style, there are far worse ways to go than aping the visual style of others, and in the case of The Last Stand, Ratner's channeling of Singer's tone seems less unimaginative than duly reverent, and even inspiring; you can feel Ratner working diligently to not louse up Singer's vision. And he hasn't. This third, and purportedly final, entry in the mutant-superhero saga is a spectacular entertainment, and if you were worried that Ratner's participation would guarantee acceptable effects but little in the way of personality, your fears will prove unfounded - it's a more-than-satisfying wrap-up to the trilogy.

Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo in In the CutIN THE CUT

Jane Campion's erotic thriller In the Cut is, for the most part, an unholy mess, but as messes go, it's certainly one of 2003's more intriguing ones.

Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale RiderWHALE RIDER

Among its many, many virtues, what I loved most about Niki Caro's Whale Rider is its toughness. In the past year, we've seen so many variants on the ethnic-female-overcoming-her-family's-prejudices theme - My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Real Women Have Curves, Bend It Like Beckham - that the idea of sitting through another one, even one set on a staggeringly gorgeous New Zealand seaside, filled me with more ennui than expectation.

Hugh Jackman in X2: X-Men UnitedX2: X-MEN UNITED

Most reviewers disliked the original X-Men, Bryan Singer's Marvel Comics adaptation that earned money but little critical respect in the summer of 2000. I, on the other hand, loved the original, so much so that, three years later, it still merits regular rotation in my DVD player.

Barry Pepper, Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 25th Hour25TH HOUR

I wish my schedule had allowed me to catch Spike Lee's 25th Hour sooner, as I would have happily spent the last two weeks extolling its merits to everyone I saw. (It ends its run at the Quad Cities Brew & View on April 17.) The film, wherein a convicted drug dealer (Edward Norton) spends his last free day in New York tying up loose ends among family and friends, is probably Lee's most passionate, exemplary work since 1989's Do the Right Thing. Though the movie showcases Lee's trademark anger, profane humor, and uncommon vibrancy, what sets the film apart from his usual fare is its sadness; it has an aura of melancholy that keeps the director's more bombastic impulses in check. (He even pulls off a beauty of a lullaby ending, one which, in lesser lands, could have been disastrous.)

Tim Roth and Mark Wahlberg in Planet of the ApesPLANET OF THE APES

My guess is that Tim Burton's "re-imagining" of Planet of the Apes will meet the same fate as 1999's The Blair Witch Project and last year's X-Men: It'll stand as the most misunderstood, and least appreciated, blockbuster of the summer.

Steven Culp, Kevin Costner, and Bruce Greenwood in Thirteen DaysTHIRTEEN DAYS

Just because a movie is smart doesn't mean it'll avoid dullness. Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days, which documents the terrifying two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is evidence of this, a well-scripted, well-acted drama that might still cause you to doze off.

Almost FamousALMOST FAMOUS

Almost Famous, writer-director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical hymn to the joys and heartbreaks of rock 'n' roll, is filled with extraordinarily lovely details and an uncanny fondness for the film's 1970s setting. It's engaging, gorgeously lit, and filled with goodwill. The things it's not are believable, challenging, or memorable. It has obviously been made with great love - Crowe spent years trying to turn his youthful experiences into a movie - and Crowe's attention to the minutiae of the rock scene is heady and alluring. But Almost Famous ends up as far less than the sum of its parts, a movie so intoxicated by its period that elements like character and conflict barely exist; despite its look and the rave reviews being showered on it, the film itself feels empty.

Hugh Jackman in X-MenX-MEN

Movie reviewers kill me sometimes. The same critics who raved about the "kinetic thrill-ride" that was the senseless Mission: Impossible 2 and who called the ridiculous The Patriot "passionate and engrossing" are now turning up their noses at Bryan Singer's X-Men adaptation. According to most news sources, the movie is portentous, under-plotted, filled with too many characters (or, for X-Men fans, too few), and serves as nothing but the setup film for an obvious franchise.