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The 5th annual Mega Movie guide

'Toy Story 2,' 'Stuart Little,' and 'The Green Mile' are among the favorite films this holiday season, but what about the rest of the year? Aside from reviewing almost every 1999 release, this guide is full of features like the family films (page B5), the results of our reader-favorites poll (B8), and the surprise hits (B12). Start below, where critic David Sterritt picks his Top 10. And now, sit back and enjoy our feature presentation ...


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David Sterritt Monitor panel Meaning

**** **** Excellent

*** *** Good

** ** Fair

* * Poor

DUD DUD The Worst

Red stars denote the reviews of Monitor movie critic David Sterritt unless otherwise noted. Ratings and comments by the Monitor panel (blue stars) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three other moviegoers. Information on violence, drugs, sex/nudity, and profanity is compiled by the Monitor panel.

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Motion picture Association of America ratings are as follows:

G General Audiences: All ages admitted.

PG Parental Guidance: Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

R Restricted: Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 No Children Under 17 Admitted: Age may vary in certain areas.


The Acid House (Not rated) ** Director: Paul McGuigan. With Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Jemma Redgrave. (106 min.)

Three stories of working-class life in Scotland, focusing largely on drugs, degradation, and despair. Two of the tales veer into fantasy that partly defuses their unhappy atmosphere, but the central episode is a powerful melodrama. In Scottish dialect with English subtitles

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (G) **1/2 Director: Gary Halvorson. With Kevin Clash, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa L. Williams, Sonia Manzano. (73 min.)

Elmo has lost his blanket, and nothing can deter him from getting it back from a villain named Huxley (Patinkin). The musical numbers are cute and catchy, though they can be a bit rowdy in typical Sesame Street fashion. The characters are endearing. Children will learn lessons in sharing and how to find courage in sometimes scary situations. By Katherine Dillin

Sex/Nudity/Profanity/Drugs: None Violence: 7 instances of cartoonish violence.

After Life (Not rated) *** Director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda. With Oda Erika, Arata, Naito Taketoshi, Tani Kei, Naito Takashi. (118 min.)

The setting of this gentle Japanese allegory is a homely old building where newly deceased people are asked to choose their most valued memory. The premise seems strained at first, but the fantasy builds delicate emotional power as it explores the lives and wishes of its ghostly "movie producers" as well as the people they're trying to serve. In Japanese with subtitles

Alaska: Spirit of the Wild (IMAX, Not rated) *** Glacial avalanches, aurora borealis, baby bears, and thousands of seabirds are but a few of the visual thrills of Alaska. Director Rodney Taylor spent several years and shot 66 miles of footage to bring the last great Ice Age to IMAX theaters. Charlton Heston narrates.

By Leigh Montgomery

All About My Mother (R) *** Director: Pedro Almodvar. With Cecilia Roth, Penlope Cruz, Marisa Paredes, Eloy Azorn, Candela Pea. (101 min.)

The joys of acting, the complexity of human relationships, and the slippery nature of sex and gender roles are among the concerns of this dramatic comedy about a woman trying to reorder her life after the untimely death of her teenage son. Some will find the movie's sexual antics too explicit and unconventional for comfort. Others will find this Almodvar's most finely crafted picture since the 1988 comedy "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" established him as Spain's most important living director.

In Spanish with English subtitles

All the Little Animals (R) ** Director: Jeremy Thomas. With Christian Bale, John Hurt, Daniel Benzali. (90 min.)

A mentally backward young man flees his uncaring stepfather, winding up in the company of an irascible old hermit who stomps about the English countryside in search of animals to rescue from the ravages of the human race, which he heartily despises. This sometimes dreamlike fable has many original touches, although its fantasy-style plot doesn't mesh easily with the unsettling psychological themes woven through it.

American Beauty (R) *** Director: Sam Mendes. With Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Peter Gallagher. (118 min.)

Bored by their increasingly dull marriage, a middle-aged couple are seduced by morally reckless behaviors that bring them into edgy relationships with everyone from their town's real-estate magnate to the local drug dealer. Stay away from this sometimes violent tragicomedy unless you're interested in a ruthless dissection of suburban malaise. *** Great ensemble cast, disturbing, bleak, thought-provoking.

Sex/Nudity: 8 scenes including 4 scenes with sometimes graphic sexual activity, 1 with implied sex, 3 scenes with partial nudity; 5 instances of innuendo. Violence: 8 scenes total from mild to a disturbing beating. Profanity: 55 expressions, mostly harsh. Drugs: 6 scenes with marijuana, 1 drug deal, 5 scenes with alcohol.

American Hollow (Not rated) *** Director: Rory Kennedy. With Iree Bowling and members of the Bowling family. (90 min.)

Thoughtful documentary about a year in the life of an extended family that has lived for years in the same rural Kentucky area, capturing close-up views of everything from an on-and-off engagement to a son's incarceration for a crime he didn't commit. The movie presents much to learn from, although it would be more persuasive if it probed the filmmakers' own relationship with the people they've intruded on.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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