Technically I'm retired, but that needn't stop me from assigning grades and making glib remarks, need it...?

The Stand-In (Roberto Monticello): F

Easily the single most incompetent feature-length movie I've ever seen -- imagine a painfully bad student film, only shot in 35mm and featuring the occasional cameo by somebody who can actually act (David Ogden Stiers, Judith Ivey). I was quite literally agape throughout, at least when I wasn't stifling giggles at the writer/star/producer's futile attempts to simulate human emotion and behavior. No point in going on, as you'll never see the damn thing: sensibly, no distributor would touch it, and it's opening here in New York only because the filmmakers are paying for the privilege. (Seen for Time Out New York review.)

Fight Club (David Fincher): B+

I slightly underrated it the first time -- in part, I suspect, because of two lengthy, momentum-halting interruptions during the breakneck-paced initial half-hour. (I saw what was allegedly the first U.S. screening of any kind, and the optical track hadn't yet been married, or something -- in any case, the sound kept falling out of sync with the picture, and they'd have to stop the projector and fix it.) A second viewing, however, confirmed my feeling that the Big Fat Metaphorical Revelation at the end is satisfying neither logically nor psychologically -- it feels like a gimmick, and a pretty jejune one at that. Nor am I really in tune with the whole civilization = emasculation thing (although I did feel the urge to beat the living shit out of somebody last week, for what I think was the first time in my life). Fincher's visual sense remains stunning, however, and anybody who still wants to argue that Pitt can't act is invited to step outside. (Whoops, there I go again...)

The Straight Story (David Lynch): B

Glorious when Lynch simply shoots Alvin puttering along on his lawnmower to Badalamenti's stirring score; considerably less so whenever Alvin's dispensing homilies about the importance of family to runaway teens or delivering long, heartfelt monologues about the horrors he experienced in WWII. Had the entire movie been dialogue-free, or at least anecdote-free, we might be talking about the film of the year.

Three Kings (David O. Russell): B+

There's so much terrific stuff here that I'm tempted to overlook the fact that none of it really coheres -- i.e., that Russell never quite decided whether he was making a grim satire or a feel-good redemption saga. Scene for scene, though, it's pretty remarkable, and few Hollywood films this year have been so visually inspired. (Surprised the hell outta me, since I thought that Russell utterly botched the direction of Flirting with Disaster.) The principal cast does fine work, but it's Saïd Taghmaoui's expressive mug that I'd like to see more often; his scenes with a captive Mark Wahlberg are so intense that they make the rest of the picture seem callow by comparison.

Guinevere (Audrey Wells): C

What the hell kind of twisted female fantasy is this?!? Not since Billy Connolly's Mr. Brown have I so thoroughly despised a character that I was clearly intended to find highly sympathetic (if misguided, in this case); the repugnant coda is the romantic equivalent of a group of former death-camp inmates reuniting to celebrate the birthday of the Nazi guard who tortured them. They even pose for a group photo in (metaphorically speaking) their striped uniforms. (For those who think I'm hyperbolizing -- and okay, I am, a bit -- a thought experiment: imagine that the exact same film had been written and directed by a man. Better yet, that the exact same film had been written and directed by Woody Allen.)

Liberty Heights (Barry Levinson): C+

I'd hoped that returning to Baltimore for the first time in almost a decade might wake Levinson up a bit, but his muse still seems to be on holiday, alas. A few nice moments here and there, but overall it's tepid and unfocused (read: kinda boring), with none of the wit and verve of Diner and Tin Men. (It's closer in spirit to Avalon, so if you liked that one more than I did, keep hope alive.) Damning with praise so faint it's barely audible, I'll concede that it's a "nice" holiday picture -- a good choice for the grandfolks over Thanksgiving weekend (which I think is when it opens). Anybody seeking 'oomph' is firmly directed elsewhere.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (Errol Morris): B

Leuchter seems like an ideal Morris subject, yet somehow the movie is never as involving as it ought to be; I'm not sure whether it's because the director was too timorous or because Leuchter is too self-possessed. (Compare him to The Thin Blue Line's David Harris, who's always right on the verge of letting his guard down, tossing off maddeningly oblique semi-confessions.) After about forty minutes, you know everything about the man that you're ever going to know; the rest is just fairly predictable exposition, made watchable thanks to Morris' usual visual flair. Solid work, but hardly revelatory.

Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan): C

God, I hate therapy movies. Especially the ones in which -- ironically enough!! -- it's really the therapist who needs the most help. Kasdan's always been a bit too cute for my taste, but here he's working as if he'd just heard that Quirk, Inc. was going out of business; I had more fun observing the group across the aisle, who were clearly good friends of one of the supporting cast members (the kid who played the depressed girl's boyfriend, to be exact) and cheered him rowdily every time he appeared onscreen.