Directed by Billy Ray
Whether or not you know the story of Stephen Glass, the young writer at The New Republic exposed for fabricating stories, this account of his rise and fall is a fascinating tale of a journalistic con artist. Hayden Christensen, atoning for "Attack of the Clones," is smarmily terrific as the unctuous Glass, and gifted chameleon Peter Sarsgaard, as the stiff, unpopular editor who exposed him, is a refreshing movie hero. Writer-director Ray has a no-fuss style that is quietly, thoroughly gripping.
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Though it ends with an eruption of violence reminiscent of the Columbine massacre, Van Sant's Cannes prize winner has no interest in explaining school violence. Instead, he offers a lyrical, elliptical portrait of a suburban high school (using nonprofessional actors) that captures the texture of teenage life with haunting verisimilitude. There's much to argue with, but this unconventional, oddly beautiful film resonates in unexpected ways.
Directed by Jon Favreau
Towering over the elves he grew up with in Santa's workshop, Buddy (Will Ferrell) has to come to grips with the fact that he's really a human. So he sets off to New York to meet his real father, and discovers that a sugar-eating, insanely friendly man in a green elf suit and yellow tights who claims to be a personal friend of Santa Claus's doesn't exactly go over in Manhattan. Ferrell is a hoot. So is much of this witty holiday family entertainment, which, up until the end, when the "true spirit of Christmas" must be reaffirmed, happily favors slapstick over treacle.