* 21 Grams
In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, tragedy is finally given the respect it deserves. The story is told in a series of fragments. Flashing forward and back, the audience is given glimpses of its three main characters. Paul (Sean Penn) is on the cusp of death, waiting for his heart condition to finally claim him. Cristina (Naomi Watts) is a suburban wife with two children and a doting husband--who is soon to be scarred by an accident of epic proportions. Jack (Benicio del Toro) is an ex-jailbird turned fundamentalist Christian who can't escape the tragedies of his past which, like the repeated scenes of this film, keep returning as his future. The previously mentioned accident binds these three into an unwanted triad, sending each on a skidding path with their pasts, and sealing what seems to be a predestined fate. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Fox Tower 10

* Anonymously Yours See review this issue. Hollywood Theatre

* Bad Santa
Despite his crippling, perpetual drunkenness, Willy (Billy Bob Thornton) possesses a strange gift: he can crack a mean safe. Every Christmas he and his fiery dwarf friend (Tony Cox, hilarious) team up as a Santa/elf team to work the papier-m=ché North Pole in some generic department store, case the joint for a few days, then sneak in after hours and rob it. It's a ridiculous premise that feels almost like an afterthought as director Zwigoff relentlessly mines the angst-riddled depths of his characters. Through a series of cinematically silly contrivances, Willy shacks up in the beautiful suburban house of an obese boy who thinks he's the real Santa. The boy (Brett Kelly), referred to simply as "the kid," is a typical, picked-on elementary school geek, with no friends and no life. Willy, unsympathetic to the very end, calls him names, shouts obscenities in his face, and eats all the chocolates in his Advent calendar. Through it all the kid remains oblivious, loving Santa always, and eventually Willy, through his drunken haze, starts to feel some love, too. (Justin Wescoat Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Broadcast Video Fest
Show up with your own videos, screen them, and receive feedback. Arrive early if you want to participate, and hey, egomaniacs, no four hour deconstructions of your breakup, okay? Call 236-2869 for info.

The Cat in the Hat
Staying true to the original Dr. Suess classic, two siblings are tempted by a talking cat into wrecking their house. Surprisingly, this live action version nicely captures Seuss' sense of unbridled mischief. In a startling turn, the kids who play Conrad and Sally are completely charming and non-annoying. Their mom (Kelly Preston) is hot and believable, and Alec Baldwin is a goddamn hoot as her slimy boyfriend. Though Seuss purists may pooh-pooh the appearance of a slimy boyfriend, rest assured you'll thank your lucky stars Alec Baldwin is here--because Mike Myers STINKS! (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.

With Czechoslovakia being handed over to Nazi Germany, a mild-mannered crematorium manager sees an opportunity to make his business boom. But his career dreams stumble when he discovers that his wife has Jewish blood. A darkly funny 1968 film. Whitsell Auditorium

Die, Mommie, Die
Set in 1967, and starring Frances Conroy, Natasha Lyonne, and Jason Priestley, the story of a washed up pop diva who may or may not have poisoned her husband to death. A whodunit, double-cross-filled comedy. See review this issue. Cinema 21

* Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood may not follow the rules, but he sure can solve them murder cases. Old Town Pizza

Dirty Pretty Things
An African illegal immigrant works as a cab driver by day and a hotel desk clerk by night, despite his training as a doctor. When he does sleep, it's on the couch of a Turkish illegal immigrant (Tautou from Amelie). He soon discovers an illicit kidney-selling scheme that is preying on fellow immigrants. Frears' London is engaging as a place where corruption is taken for granted, but unfortunately the plot resolves itself mechanically. (Andy Spletzer) Laurelhurst, Mission Theater

Drifting Clouds
The story about a stoic Nordic couple whose lives slip into despair after they lose their jobs. Guild Theater

The Ear w/The Pit, Pendulum, and Hope
A double-billing of psychological horror, fear, and paranoia. And who better to talk about those themes than repressed Czech Republic directors? The Ear is a 1970 film that was banned for 20 years. Something that controversial must be good. Whitsell Auditorium

Elephant shows us a couple days in the life of two grumpy teens who go all Vice City on their Portland high school. Both the boys are cardboard characters who shop for guns on the internet, play violent video games, and have a brief homosexual affair. Neither is likeable, neither evokes sympathy. Their fellow high school students, however, are worse. (Katie Shimer) Fox Tower 10

* Elf
It's no secret that Will Ferrell is one funny mo-fo, and yet to this point in time his movie roles have been limited to comic relief. Elf begs the question: Can Ferrell carry a feature-length film, and can he do it wearing tights in every scene? The answer is yes, because Ferrell, for all his goofiness, has the uncanny ability to take himself utterly seriously. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* For Whom the Bell Tolls
The movie version of Hemmingway's novel, about a young idealist who is fighting in the Spanish civil war. When the man is given a tough assignment--to blow up a bridge--he must wait in the mountains for the right time... and lucky for him Ingrid Bergman stumbles by. Fifth Avenue Cinemas

* Gothika
In the psychologically disarming scare-tradition of The Ring, Gothika tells the suspenseful tale of Dr. Miranda Grey, a gifted shrink (Halle Berry) treating Chloe, a mentally disturbed woman (Penelope Cruz), who's convinced the devil himself is raping her, "filling her with fire." "You can't trust someone who thinks you're crazy," Chloe tells Grey. Pretty soon, Grey figures out what that means when, after having a frightening encounter with a beaten and shivering woman on a bridge, Grey wakes up in the very insane asylum where she works--as a patient. (Julianne Shepherd) Regal Cinemas, etc.

The Haunted Mansion
Eddie "Anything-for-a-Buck" Murphy stars in a traditional haunted house movie (based on the Disneyland ride), playing smarmy real estate agent Jim Evers. Jim misses all his kids' soccer games and cello recitals, which we know because the screenwriters kindly give his wife Sara a whole scene to explain it. Beyond that, there's a heck of a lot of un-comic relief from Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota, playing a head in a crystal ball. If you're as geeky a Disneyland fan as I am, there are plenty of scenes copped directly from the original ride, and most of them are letter-perfect. It's one of the prettiest haunted houses you're ever going to see on screen--but you'll have to ignore Murphy and Tilly to enjoy it. (Dan Howland) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Hitchcock's Spellbound
Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck star as a beautiful doctor, and as a lunatic posing as a reputable doctor, respectively. When Bergman discovers that her cohort is crazy, she goes on the run with him, trying to unravel not only his disorder, but what happened to the doctor he's been pretending to be. Fifth Avenue Cinemas

Jessica Dark Angel Alba stars as a music video choreographer faced with a difficult choice: Sleep with hunky Mekhi Phifer, or have her career ruined? Honey, this is 2003: you can have BOTH. With cameos by Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, and Lil' Romeo! See review this issue. Regal Cinemas, etc

* The Human Stain
Director Robert Benton spends most of the film relationship between a professor (Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman playing a Jew who is actually an African American) and the last love of his life, a janitor played by a terribly thin Nicole Kidman. The janitor is attracted to the professor's prestige; the professor is attracted to the janitor's youth. (Charles Mudede) Hollywood Theatre

* It's A Wonderful Life
Good friends, clumsy angels, and a suicidal banker who learns that the world does revolve around him. Ooh! Ooh! And Zuzu petals! Don't forget Zuzu petals! Shown with Treadmill Softly, a short film by movement theatre company BodyVox. Umpqua Bank

Taking the love triangle between a naive farm couple and a city slicker, director Aki Kaurismaki recasts the 1911 Juani Aho novel in the time that it was written. Shot in black and white, and accompanied by a haunting symphonic soundtrack. Guild Theater

* The Last Samurai See Review this Issue Regal Cinemas, etc.

Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses
The Film Center continues to peddle the series of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's story about a talentless Siberian rock band. When we last encountered the band, they were on a wayward tour of America. Now, get this, they are in Mexico! Guild Theater

* Like Water for Chocolate
Tita's true love, Pedro, is forced to marry her sister, but he only does it to be closer to her. Her immense sadness over the marriage comes through in her cooking, and when she is forced to make the wedding cake, her tears mix with the batter and soon, the whole wedding party ends up crying for her loss. A fairy tale that expounds on the old rules in Mexico.

Liminel Lumen Cycle (Cinema Project)
Filmmaker Luis Recoder makes abstract films without a camera. Meaning, he manipulates film without ever filming anything. Quite a talent. Hollywood Theatre

* Lost in Translation
In less delicate hands, Lost in Translation could easily have been a dull, pretentious disaster, but Sofia Coppola has two cards tucked up her sleeve. One is the city of Tokyo itself, which has never looked so mysterious and engaging in an American film, and the other is Bill Murray, the bulk of whose part comes across as having been improvised. Why someone has not thought of dropping Murray among the citizens of a strange foreign city before remains a mystery, but without him--and despite the fine work of Coppola and Scarlett Johansson--Lost in Translation would surely fail. (Bradley Steinbacher) Fox Tower 10, Lloyd Mall

Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, and Shafted
Willamette Week film editor David Walker's film on blaxploitation. Music by the Black Notes. Kennedy School

A Behind the Music-style episode about 17th-Century sex kitten Marquise du Parc. Whitsell Auditorium

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The year is 1805 and Napoleon is running roughshod over Europe. The only thing stopping France from infecting the whole of the continent is the tiny island of England, which may be lacking in ground forces, but kicks ass on the high seas. Russell Crowe plays Cap'n "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, one of Britain's finest seamen, who runs afoul of a Frenchy frigate boasting twice the guns and manpower. Barely escaping with their lives, Cap'n Jack becomes obsessed with the Froggie warboat, and vows to send ship and crew to the bottom of the briny blue. However, best friend and ship's doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) fears his Captain has slipped off the deep end, and "Lucky" Jack must find a middle ground between swabbing his enemy's decks in blood and his own humanity. Master and Commander may not be sexy, but it's extremely realistic, filling its ship with lashings, maggot-filled food, dirty stinking sailors, and the occasional goat. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.

The Matter With Film
Experimental filmmaker Sandra Gibson explores film as matter. Does film matter or is it matter. Huh? Cinema Project

The Missing
The fact that The Missing is directed by Ron Howard should be a tip-off that it isn't the supernatural and eerie tale promised by the advertisements. Set in 1885 New Mexico, Maggie (played by Cate Blanchett) is a single mom raising two daughters. When her eldest sets out to town one day, she is abducted by an evil shaman and his lawless pack of Navajo Indians, who plan to sell her and several other frontier teens in Mexico. With the cavalry and the sheriff unable to help out, Maggie, along with her long-absent father (Tommy Lee Jones), take off after the kidnappers. What could have been friction between frontier families and Indians, between Christianity and witchcraft, instead turns into long, drawn-out galloping scenes and achingly empty conversations between Maggie and her desperado father. (Phil Busse) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Pieces of April
Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt, Pieces of April has a look and feel that I hesitate to label "documentary-like." Gritty due to its transfer of digital to celluloid and mainly handheld, there is a certain spontaneity in the film, almost an improvised feel, that is enhanced by the sharp cast. Clarkson is particularly good, becoming the heart of the film that the rest of the group rotates around. (Bradley Steinbacher) Fox Tower 10

* Primate Research Documentary
Former OHSU Primate Research employee Matt Rossell shows footage documenting the cruel research methods used at OHSU, and will discuss his personal experience. Laughing Horse Books

* Returner See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater

* Shattered Glass
Stephen Glass, a fast-rising writer and editor for the New Republic, scandalized the journalism world in 1998 when it was unearthed that an article he penned for his employer, titled "Hack Heaven," was an outright fabrication. Shattered Glass chronicles Glass' exposure and tumble. Despite some minor flaws, the film shows us in an intelligent fashion how the reputation damage to the New Republic came about, and gives us a smart portrayal of Stephen Glass the man. (Bradley Steinbacher) Fox Tower 10

* The Station Agent
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), The Station Agent's protagonist, was born a dwarf, and has built up a stone-faced resistance to the stares and slurs directed at him daily. When he inherits a small abandoned train station in rural New Jersey, he leaves the city and makes the shack his home. Within a day, the locals notice him and are banging on his door. (Brian Brait) City Center 12, Koin Center

* Stoked
Mark "Gator" Anthony Rogowski was perhaps the most graceful vertical skater who ever lived. Thanks to his fearless talent on the half-pipe, in a matter of years, Gator progressed from breaking into backyards in order to skate pools, to representing Vision Street Wear, guesting on Club MTV with Downtown Julie Brown, and hanging out with Cindy Crawford. Essentially, he was skateboarding's first national hero, a charismatic, caustic fellow who loved the limelight almost as much as he loved to skate. These days, however, Gator's notoriety comes from darker avenues: in 1991, angry and lost from his decrease in popularity, he raped and murdered Jessica Bergston, the best friend of his former fiancée. Stoked! tells Gator's story, and through it, the story of skateboarding in America, as it grew from a small regional subculture to a fully marketable national pastime, complete with skaters tantamount to rock stars, essentially, such as Gator, Tony Hawk, and Lance Mountain. (Julianne Shepherd) Laurelhurst

* Theater Underneath the Alleys: The Loser of Colourballs
The premise of this film is vague, but apparently Mike the Cop, Coach Bance, and Mr. Wiley spin the tale of the Loser of Colourballs, which explores both past and future. The real event, however, is that they're showing this film in the parking lot under Grand Central Bowl, and following it up with a dance party upstairs at the Pump Room Cocktail Lounge. Now that's some ingenuity! Grand Central Bowl

Timeline, the latest product from the Michael Crichton franchise Books for the Screen Inc., follows a group of nerdy archeologists as they travel back in time to save their leader, who has been stranded in 14th-Century France just as the Frenchies are waging bitter feudal war against the English. No, this ridiculous scenario can't be plausibly explained, but Timeline sure tries, concocting a typical blend of mad scientists and wormholes with so many logical plot holes it could drive the physicist in you nuts. (Justin Wescoat Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

Total Balalaika Show
After two satirical movies about Leningrad Cowboys, the "world's worst rock and roll band," Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki actually had produced a band that had a following. This film is a goofy film about a concert hosted by the Leningrad Cowboys. Yeah, its kind of an insider's joke that really is only funny if you're from Finland. Guild Theater

* A Troma Christmas
If you love the campy, culty fun of Troma films (Toxic Avenger and more) don't miss this jam-packed evening with creator and Troma guru Lloyd Kaufman. Dropping pearls of wisdom, this legendary director/producer will be in attendance for your pestering pleasure. Plus! Diamond Tuck will be furnishing the musical enjoyment, along with manic wrasslin' fun provided by Portland Organic Wrestling! Wotta night! (Wm. Steven Humphrey) DV8

Vanport: A Survivor's Tale
A student film illuminating the years around WWII, the flood of 1949, and the town of Vanport, Oregon. Part of the Portland Cable Access Open House. Hollywood Theatre