Meryl Streep in DoubtDOUBT

Based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, writer/director John Patrick Shanley's period drama Doubt - set in 1964, and concerning a nun who suspects a priest of sexual misconduct with an altar boy - isn't much of a movie. Shanley's previous directorial effort was 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano, and it's a shame he wasn't able to get in more practice over the last 18 years; in an attempt to gussy up the visual blandness that accompanies most theatrical adaptations, Shanley opts for a series of high- and low-angle shots and symbolic thunder, lightning, and wind effects that oftentimes make Doubt resemble a satire of a low-budget horror flick. And it's still visually bland.

Hamlet 2HAMLET 2

Hamlet 2 has been designed as a broad farce, but I'll tell you: In the movie's climactic number, when Hamlet and Jesus took their time machine back to the night of Hamlet's death, and Hamlet prevented Gertrude from drinking the poisoned wine, and Hamlet found it in himself to finally forgive his father, and the Tucson Gay Men's Chorus sang Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," it was pretty damned moving.

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Columbus Short in Stomp the YardSTOMP THE YARD

Before seeing Stomp the Yard, in which a young hip-hop dancer from Los Angeles adjusts to fraternity life at Atlanta's Truth University, I didn't know much about step dancing. But after watching director Sylvain White's inspirational drama, I discovered that there are apparently two distinct types - there's great step dancing and then there's really great step dancing. Though the movie is ostensibly a coming-of-age story wherein our hero, DJ (Columbus Short), finds respect and love during his first year of school, it's really just 8 Mile or Bring It On for the dance world, as warring frats compete to see whose moves out-step whose. (Step dancing - frequently practiced at African-American universities - is a combination of marching and precise choreography, generally accompanied by chants and, in this movie's case, taunts.) Yet it's pretty easy to guess which groups of dancers will be considered the greatest in Stomp the Yard - it's whichever dancers go next.

Tom Cruise and Keri Russell in Mission: Impossible IIIMISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III

Call it envy, call it sour grapes, call it schadenfreude, but I'll admit to hugely enjoying the public meltdown of Tom Cruise, mostly because it's finally making him interesting. Cruise has always been too bland to be true. He's moderately proficient, and in several of his films - most recently Collateral and Minority Report - he's even been impressive. But he has too few resources to draw upon as a performer. It would be hard to accuse Cruise of slouching on the job - he's determined and earnest, and you can sense him trying to suggest interior life. But his line readings have no surprise and his on-screen performances rarely build; whenever a new scene begins, Cruise appears to have forgotten everything his character experienced in his previous scenes. He can't seem to play more than one emotion, or one thought, at a time.

Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2SPIDER-MAN 2

Spider-Man 2 might not be, as many critics have concluded, the greatest comic-book movie ever made, but it's entirely possible that Sam Raimi is the greatest director the genre has ever had.

Scrat in Ice AgeICE AGE

Movies with charm have been in such short supply this year that the animated Ice Age feels like a shot of pure oxygen. Visually, the film is lacking the detail of a Shrek or a Monsters, Inc., and it's a bit on the goody-goody side, but it's a completely enjoyable, amiable good time at the cineplex, particularly if you've been looking for a movie to take the family to that's less saccharine than Return to Neverland and infinitely smarter than the likes of Big Fat Liar and Snow Dogs.

Henry Cavill, Dagmara Dominczyk, James Caviezel, and Luis Guzman in The Count of Monte CristoTHE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

The best reason to see the latest remake of The Count of Monte Cristo is the source material. You can easily shrug off the movie's unimaginative staging, corny laugh lines, and obtrusive score for the chance to enjoy an opulently designed adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' audience-grabbing tale; it's the sort of story that was once called "a ripping good yarn."

Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss in MementoMEMENTO

It has taken quite a while, and an especially long while here in the Quad Cities, but the first unequivocally great movie of 2001 has finally appeared: writer-director Christopher Nolan's crime thriller Memento. And its greatness is of a very particular kind - you want all of your friends to see it immediately, so you can share your excitement with them and work out passages of the film that you're almost sure you understood. (Getting to review works like Memento is the absolute best thing about being a published film critic.) Like The Truman Show, Memento is so clever, so smart, so full-to-brimming with detail and wit and filmmaking passion that it feels miraculous, and within its genre, it just might be a new classic.