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Boogie Nights

Not your typical coming-of-age story, this tale of the making of a 70s porn star (played by the artist formerly known as Marky Mark, no less) evolves into a touching yet refreshingly quirky family drama, as the "star" finds part of a veritable clan made up of flawed but endearing members of the seamy industry, headed by Burt Reynolds' would-be-visionary filmmaker. Director Paul Anderson displays a remarkable eye and ear for the fluffy vacuousness and conspicuously awful taste of the disco era, while paying sincere cinematic homage to the period's greatest directors. --Marshall I. Lewy

Devil's Advocate

Al Pacino steals the show as the head of a truly diabolical New York law firm that snags Keanu Reeves' hotshot Southern lawyer and quickly enmeshes him in a half-kinky, half-campy world of sin and decadence. Borrowing from The Firm and Rosemary's Baby without quite matching either, it tends to flag whenever Pacino's off screen. Fortunately, he's never away for long and treats us to a devilishly good time with his rip-roaringly over-the-top antics.   --Brandon K. Walston

Gattaca

First-time director Andrew Niccol brings considerable visual style and an intriguing premise to this story of a Brave New World society in which the pre-planned, genetically made-to-order elite get the honors and opportunities, and the natural births are relegated to the grunt work. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, a "natural" who borrows the identity a brahmin to fulfill his lifelong dream of leading a mission to outer space. Although the film suffers from unevenness, sketchy characters and muted acting, Niccol's striking images make it all easy to overlook.   --Lynn Y. Lee

The House of Yes

Yet another dysfunctional-family Thanksgiving drama, this time with a little incest and crises of identity thrown in. Josh Hamilton plays a troubled fellow who brings home his supremely normal fiancee (Tori Spelling, surprisingly good in this sugar-cookie role) only to confront the ghost of his past in his sister, "Jackie O" (a delightfully demented Parker Posey), who sports an obsession with the JFK assassination among her myriad kooky charms. What makes this setup more than just a gimmicky grab-bag for originality is the successful mix of the familiar and the disturbing in the composition of the characters.   --Kamil E. Redmond

The Ice Storm

The talented Ang Lee has directed this film about uneasy family relationships in the restless, promiscuous culture of the 1970s with crystalline precision. As the leaders of two archly funny but disturbingly bleak suburban clans, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver give refreshingly honest performances, but the film's ending sadly offers their characters no hint of redemption. The ice storm in this film, as a natural symbol of change and the wiping away of sins, is like Noah's flood without the rainbow.   --Erwin I. Rosinberg

In & Out

This tale of a small-town high school teacher (Kevin Klive) whose life turns upside down when he's declared gay by a former student-turned-star (Matt Dillon) constitutes Hollywood's own coming-out comedy. It's therefore a bland comedy that ends up reinforcing, not puncturing, gay stereotypes, and squanders a cast that includes Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Debbie Reynolds and Bob Newhart. But Kline manages to rise above the plodding humor, as in his show-stopping dance scenes, and Selleck is terrifically funny as the sleazy, sardonic, faintly Mephistophelean tabloid reporter who dogs his footsteps.   --Lynn Y. Lee

L.A. Confidential

You know L.A. Confidential has ended, when it is both daytime and not raining. In a fine version of the somewhat beefy Ellroy crime novel ostensibly about a strange murder, director Curtis Hanson portrays the cool, brutal world of Hollywood glam and corrupt police in 50s Los Angeles, with all its gradations of questionable ethics. Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe turn in fine performances that give us two different approaches to policing, thinking first and hitting later, or vice versa. A reptilian James Cromwell and slick Kevin Space round out a fine cast and a finer tale.   --Nicolas R. Rapold

A Life Less Ordinary

A disappointingly mediocre follow-up by the makers of last year's brilliant Trainspotting. The illpaced narrative tells the story of Robert (Ewan McGregor), a recently-fired janitor who unwittingly kidnaps the beautiful daughter (Cameron Diaz) of his rich ex-boss. Screenwriter John Hodge attempts to freshen things up by tossing in gun-toting angels, a psychotic dentist and some forced romantic comedy, but only manages to further muddle the plot. A messy film that looks like a work-in-progress.   --Jordan I. Fox

The Myth of Fingerprints

A grainy dysfunctional-family drama that seems to be aiming for a Chekhovian blend of humor and pathos, but falls far short of the mark. Its saving grace is solid ensemble acting, with Julianne Moore and "ER" darling Noah Wyle holding their own as the two central characters who make Thanksgiving a squirm with their barely-concealed resentment toward their taciturn and enigmatic father (Roy Scheider). Unfortunately, none of the characters here are given enough depth or dimension to earn any true empathy.   --Lynn Y. Lee

The Peacemaker

Tapping into the post-Cold War paranoia of nuclear arms falling into unknown hands, this wellpaced but predictable action/suspense thriller doesn't ever stir a step beyond the demands of its genre. Nicole Kidman and George Clooney deliver competent if unremarkable performances as the nuclear scientist and independent-minded military officer who team up to save the world from the self-destructive tendenies of a Harvard-graduated loony.   --Jonathan B. Dinerstein

Seven Years in Tibet

A semi-successful, though gorgeous, epic gives much-needed visibility to the tragic modern history of Tibet, but opts for glossy formulaic packaging over genuine emotion, even in the central relationship between Brad Pitt's Austrian mountaineer and the young Dalai Lama. Pitt never frees us from the sensation that he's out of place--a Hollywood heartthrob trying to look spiritual. In fact, the film actually becomes more dramatically compelling as Pitt's character fades in prominence, though it's amusing to watch his arrogant narcissism get deflated.   --Lynn Y. Lee

Washington Square

Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfectly cast in Agnieszka Holland's adaptation of Henry James's novel. An awkward young woman starved for affection is caught between a cynical, distant father and a spirited but selfish young suitor. Holland's camera work and sense of period is engaging throughout, and her trademark comic acuity leavens the somber arc of the story. Eventually, though, Leigh asserts herself just long enough to break your heart. Like its heroine, the film misses true magnificence, but its intelligent cast and sensitive story-telling are more than enough to recommend it.   --Nicholas K. Davis

Year of the Horse

Jim Jarmusch pays a worthy tribute to Neil Young & Crazy Horse through an engrossing collage of biography, interviews and concert footage that's bound to satisfy even die-hard Neil Young fans. Through it all, he also evokes the unusual sense of family that ties the band together, as well as the not-so-obvious connection between his own art and theirs. The result is a fine, occasionally brilliant synergy of music and film.   --Brandon K. Walston

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