President George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11FAHRENHEIT 9/11

I have several friends, including professed liberals, who can't stand Michael Moore, and it's not hard to see why: Even if you're on-board with Moore's politics, his glibness, bullying tactics, self-promotion, relentless simplifying, and anything-for-a-laugh gags can get in the way of his Bigger Picture, to the point where his methods overcome his message.

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.

Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, and Eugene Levy in Bringing Down the HouseBRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

Since she executive-produced the film, I shouldn't feel too badly for Queen Latifah in Bringing Down the House; she obviously knew what she was getting into.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in ChicagoCHICAGO

Rob Marshall's film version of the Broadway smash Chicago is so ingeniously staged, so electric, and so welcome to so many of us - The Musical Is Back! - that you might find yourself somewhat heartbroken when you barely remember a thing about the film a day after seeing it.

Kevin Spacey in K-PAXK-PAX

Kevin Spacey has made a career out of being snidely patronizing, of being the smartest person in the room, and that's what I adore about him; he patently refuses to be lovable, and his wicked intelligence and dry-as-sandpaper line readings give a snap to just about every role he plays. (That's why his performance as the physically and emotionally scarred teacher in last year's imbecilic tearjerker Pay It Forward was so disappointing; he's not built for sentiment, and his presence in that mopey role merely exposed the film's schmaltziness.) I guess it was inevitable that Spacey, who always comes off as knowing more than we do, would one day play an alien (or is he?) who arrives on Earth to teach us all lessons about life and love that we can't figure out for ourselves. And so we have K-PAX, which had the potential to be excruciating but, as directed by Iain Softley and performed by a marvelous cast led by Spacey and Jeff Bridges, turns out to be thoroughly engaging; it's a case study in how the right director and performers can redeem mostly worthless material.

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.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in TrafficTRAFFIC

Sitting in the audience for Steven Soderbergh's drug drama Traffic, I heard a sound that had been sorely missing from 12-plus months of moviegoing: rapt, appreciative silence. It was the sort of silence that you only get when a director is in full control of his work, when the actors are working at peak form, and when the storyline is so gripping that you can't wait to see where it will lead you next. Based on a British mini-series, Traffic is something increasingly rare in modern films: a large-scale epic with a human pulse, in which every character and nuance is sharply defined, and in which your alliances and points of view change with each passing scene. The accolades and awards already bestowed on the film aren't simply a matter of it being the best of a bum year; it's one of the best movies released in many years.