CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor. Call 704-414-2355 for details.
* CITIZEN KANE Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece has been cited as the greatest film ever made from so many different quarters, it's a wonder that a Congressional law hasn't been passed making it required viewing for anyone who claims they like movies.
* OPEN YOUR EYES If you enjoyed Vanilla Sky (and probably even if you didn't), be sure to check out the 1998 Spanish film on which it's based. Even better than the Tom Cruise remake, this audacious eye-opener is a dizzying trip that, along with The Others, marks writer-director Alejandro Amenabar as one of the most exciting talents of recent years. 1/2
* THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR The Run Lola Run team of director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente reunite for this satisfying drama about a nurse at a mental institute who falls for the tortured widower who saves her life. Not as obvious as it might sound, this assured picture may not possess Lola's clever hooks but works better on an emotional level.
* ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S LEGENDARY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION Anyone captivated by the 45-minute IMAX feature Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure can learn more of the story in this 90-minute documentary about the 1914 expedition that was headed for tragedy before turning into a great survival story.
LIGHT FACTORY FILM SERIES Screening will be held this Thursday at The Visulite Theatre. Call 333-9755 for details.
* HYBRID A documentary about a corn farmer may not sound too exciting, but this quirky piece isn't a cut-and-dried affair as much as it's a cut-and-paste job, with director Monteith McCollum deftly mixing archival footage and present-day interviews with experimental sequences that would seem more at home in a Jan Svankmajer feature. This, uh, hybrid of styles spawns a lively look at Milford Beeghly, a Midwestern farmer who discovers a revolutionary way to "mate" corn so that the best possible strain of grain is produced. Beeghly appears to be such a stereotypically down-to-earth codger that his eccentricities, along with the bizarre "corn copulation" sequences, provide the picture with an off-center outlook that largely takes it out of the realm of the ordinary. This will be shown with the 15-minute short, Bullet In the Brain.
GOSFORD PARK Ever since the magnificent one-two punch of 1992's The Player and 1993's Short Cuts, Robert Altman has been struggling as a filmmaker, so even though this ambitious effort doesn't rank with his greatest hits, it's still potent enough to qualify as his best work in years. A stronger opening might have elevated it even more: After all, when a movie attempts to juggle 30 characters, it's imperative that the filmmakers establish each and every one of them from the get-go. As it stands, some initially fuzzy relationships and obscure identities lead to some early stumbling blocks, and it's only after a half-hour that everything falls into place (the studio helpfully sent critics an identification chart prior to the screening, but figuring that paying patrons won't be privy to such valuable info, I felt it best to avoid perusing it). The remainder of the film is largely a delight, weaving comedy, drama and even a dash of intrigue (in the form of a second-act murder) into its look at the members of a shooting party gathered at an English estate in 1932. Altman is renowned for his all-star casts, and here he has assembled one of the best: Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Croupier's Clive Owen are just a few of the crack thespians flourishing under the director's steady command.
THE SHIPPING NEWS When it comes to awards season, director Lasse Hallstrom has become Miramax Films' go-to guy: His past two holiday releases, 1999's The Cider House Rules and 2000's Chocolat, both earned Best Picture Oscar nominations. Whether this one makes it three-for-three remains to be seen, but the Academy could admittedly do worse than toss votes at this tasteful adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Kevin Spacey delivers a soft, sensitive turn as Quoyle, a meek man who returns to his family's Newfoundland home after his slatternly wife (Cate Blanchett) dies in a car accident. Backed by his headstrong aunt (Judi Dench), Quoyle tries to build a new life for himself -- he accepts a job as the reporter for a puny newspaper and tentatively courts a local widow (Julianne Moore) -- but he soon discovers that dark secrets from the past stand poised to undermine any chance at happiness. Hallstrom largely stifled his own creative impulses with the stridently plainclothes Chocolat, but working in tandem with cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, he comes up with some unusual storytelling techniques that serve to deepen the film's emotional relevancy rather than cheapen it. A sober tale of redemption that's frequently punctuated with quick bursts of mordant humor, the film effectively overcomes a certain calculatedness that creeps into its more melodramatic moments.