Kim Director and Erica Leerhsen in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2

Let's face it: There was plenty of built-in expectation with the arrival of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and the expectation was that the film would suck. Those who loved The Blair Witch Project, as I did, would miss that film's cinéma vérité style and simplicity, and rail on about how Book of Shadows was exactly the kind of dumbed-down splatter flick that Blair Witch rebelled against. Those who hated the original, which seems the more common response (at least among my acquaintances), would have their beliefs confirmed that the whole Blair Witch "mythology" is lame, and that we've been hoodwinked by marketing and Internet paranoia into making these movies hits. Wouldn't it be great to report that this sequel had defied its skeptics and emerged as smashing entertainment?

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in Best in ShowBEST IN SHOW

The genius of Christopher Guest lies in his belief that nothing is funnier than mediocrity. (He's the antithesis of Peter Shaffer's Salieri in Amadeus, who saw it as a tragic failure.) In his two finest cinematic efforts, This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, the performers examined in the "mockumentary" format - Tap's hard rockers and Guffman's thespians - were delightful because of their clueless self-satisfaction; they truly thought they were creating Art, or at least really kick-ass entertainment. And the joke blossomed every time we watched them perform their shows before audiences, because it turned out that these well-meaning hacks, while by no means terrific, weren't all that bad. They might have been lacking in talent, but their enthusiasm was infectious, and it made sense that their shows were hits. (God knows I've seen worse community-theatre productions than Guffman's Red, White, & Blaine.) Guest, who co-wrote both films and served as director for Guffman, was thereby able to poke fun at his characters and have you genuinely rooting for them at the same time.

Helen Hunt and Richard Gere in Dr. T & the WomenDR. T AND THE WOMEN

Dr. T and the Women shows director Robert Altman in a sunny, happy frame of mind - for almost an hour and a half. Trouble is, the film runs a little over two hours. As the movie nears its conclusion, it starts to go sour, and you get a gnawing feeling that Altman and his screenwriter (Anne Rapp) aren't going to know how to end their work.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in Meet the ParentsMEET THE PARENTS

I'm not sure that any movie genre is harder to critique than the Sitcom Disguised as Feature Film. You know the sort: a comedy, usually with faux-dramatic undertones, filled with likable actors playing likable people (even the antagonists are more pesky than dangerous), where the characters' dilemmas are sorted out neatly in under two hours, and with no serious harm coming to any of them in the end. The dialogue is moderately witty, the physical gags are predictable but amusing, the lighting is overly bright, and the score is bouncy, with moments of sap when the characters show their "souls." What's to discuss? You know going in what to expect, and when the film in question is pulled off well, as Jay Roach's Meet the Parents is, you leave feeling serene and comfortable.

Denzel Washington in Remember the TitansREMEMBER THE TITANS

No one could have been less enthused than I at the prospect of Remember the Titans, the inspirational high-school-football flick starring Denzel Washington. The film's omnipresent previews - which, I swear, seemed to precede every movie released from June through September - not only appeared to give away all aspects of the film's plot but all aspects of the film's subplots, and it was being released right on the heels of the scabs-play-football bomb The Replacements, arguably the most wretched movie of the past summer.

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.

Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union in Bring It OnBRING IT ON

It took me quite a while to catch up with the battling-cheerleader hit Bring It On because, quite frankly, most teen flicks these days make me feel about a hundred years old. It's not just that the casts of these films seem obscenely young, or that adults are completely marginalized - those qualities have been staples of the genre at least since Rebel Without a Cause.

Renee Zellweger in Nurse BettyNURSE BETTY

It's one of the iconic movie moments of the '90s: Renee Zellweger, as Dorothy Boyd, responding to husband Jerry Maguire's declaration of love with a throaty "You had me at hello." It was at that point that audiences everywhere lost it, not just because of the perfection of the line itself, but because Zellweger delivered it with such vulnerability and delicacy that it was emotionally overwhelming; you not only wanted to reach out to her, you wanted to hug her and not let go.

D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, and Bernie Mac in The Original Kings of ComedyTHE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY

If The Original Kings of Comedy, the filmed preservation of the wildly popular comedy revue, were merely as funny as it is, it would probably stand as the best American movie of the year so far. But director Spike Lee has done something incredibly savvy with the project. Aided by the terrific editor Barry Alexander Brown, Lee has given the material true cinematic fluidity. The editing rhythms are all right on, the camera is always right where it should be to give the performers their biggest laughs (and it seems that Lee has about a hundred different cameras at his disposal), and there are just enough segments with the performers joshing and relaxing off-stage to give the film true dimension; we're aware that their stand-up personas only hint at who they are.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE - One of the few really entertaining releases of the summer, and of course, almost no one has seen it. In this update of the popular TV cartoon, director Des McAnuff and his screenwriters have a field day with the film's escalating series of verbal puns and visuals riffs, and there are enjoyable turns by the likes of Robert De Niro, Rene Russo (born to play Natasha), and Piper Pearbo. While the film's roster of guest stars yields little humor, and it doesn't hold a candle to the frenzied delirium of the TV show, there are numerous laugh-out-loud funny moments, and when you're not laughing, you're likely to be smiling.

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