Taraji P. Henson and Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonTHE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Visually arresting and wildly ambitious, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a tough film to dislike. But I'm giving it a shot anyway, because while director David Fincher's 165-minute opus is spectacular in lots of small ways, it's frustrating and fundamentally unsatisfying in much, much bigger ones. Given several days to reflect on the experience, I no longer hate the movie the way I initially did, yet I remain convinced that what could have, and should have, been a magical, lyrical piece of work is instead a graceless, obvious, and frequently maddening one.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince CaspianTHE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN

All things considered, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is pretty good, and on a purely technical level, it's more than pretty impressive. In his second stab at C.S. Lewis, director Andrew Adamson has fashioned a continuation that's both darker and lighter than 2005's The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe - the film is admirably grim for a Disney outing, and unlike its predecessor, it maintains a sense of humor throughout - and most of its visuals are extraordinary. Yet I still can't build up much enthusiasm for it, because like many recent works of its kind (including The Golden Compass and the last two Harry Potters), the movie wows you with everything except personality. Prince Caspian is epically scaled, gorgeous, and hollow - a Pirates of the Caribbean without Johnny Depp.

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.

Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in National Treasure: Book of SecretsNATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the follow-up to 2004's globe-trotting-archaeologist adventure, could generously be termed "perfunctory"; it gives (family) audiences exactly the formulaic, Indiana Jones-lite action, romance, and humor they adored in the original. It could also, less generously, be described as "crummy," as returning director Jon Turteltaub ensures that every remedially staged sequence has the same bland, going-through-the-motions tone as the one that came before. (At least its predecessor provided a few jokes.)

Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden CompassTHE GOLDEN COMPASS

I would love to give an account of how the little kids in the audience reacted to Chris Weitz's The Golden Compass, but as school was in session during the Friday-afternoon screening I attended, there wasn't a single kid to be found. And I'd give you an account of how the adults reacted, but in all honesty, I was too busy trying not to fall asleep to notice.

Heath Ledger and Matt Damon in The Brothers GrimmTHE BROTHERS GRIMM

Fairy tales, at their core, exert a powerful emotional pull, and at rare moments in Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, the director finds a visual equivalent to their hypnotic, wicked appeal. In this typically unclassifiable Gilliam excursion, the first glimpse of Little Red Hiding Hood traipsing through the gloomy forest is enough to give any adult viewer a shiver. Gilliam frames her entrance, and the later arrival of Hansel and Gretel, with ominous portent, the colors - that cape and hood especially - are enticing, and the forest sets have a creepy, storybook elegance. For the briefest of moments, you're a kid again, enraptured by the haunting, suggestive simplicity of these stories; our first sightings of Little Red, Hansel, and Gretel bring with them a spark of tingly joy.

Johnny Depp in Charlie & the Chocolate FactoryCHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

For the life of me, I can't figure out what director Tim Burton was trying to accomplish with Charlie & the Chocolate Factory that wasn't previously accomplished by Roald Dahl's book or the beloved 1971 film.

Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson in The Station AgentTHE STATION AGENT

After spending 90 minutes with the cast of Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, I believe I would, à la The Purple Rose of Cairo, have eagerly leapt right into the screen and been content to spend the rest of my life in their company.

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.