If you only see one movie in 2006, make it An Inconvenient Truth, which drops to 346 screens this week. And yes, that includes the heavily lauded United 93. Because, frankly, the point of that movie will be lost when 20-foot walls of water have crashed down upon and destroyed large chunks of the world. When you walk out of An Inconvenient Truth, you feel terrified, energized and hopeful. And if you're a Republican (or, in fact, one of many Democrats) that doesn't like Mr. Gore, please just put that aside for 100 minutes. Party politics will be the least of your troubles when the environment hits its critical tipping point as discussed in this film.

It keeps me awake nights to think that, while an estimated 3.1 million people have seen An Inconvenient Truth, some 33.8 million have seen The Da Vinci Code (now on 201 screens). I know I'm supposed to go into greater detail when I write a review, but The Da Vinci Code is really just about the dumbest movie I've seen in a while. And it has nothing to do with the book (which I haven't read) or its nifty little treasure hunt. I'm just talking about a work of complete cinematic incompetence by Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman, who -- inexplicably -- both won Oscars in 2002. (Howard beat out Robert Altman, David Lynch, Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson.) If this is a measure of our national intelligence, I think I'd better run out and invest in some scuba gear before it's too late.

p class="MsoNormal">I guess we can take some small (very small) comfort in the fact that an estimated 30.4 million people shelled out for Ice Age: The Meltdown (now on 136 screens), which isn't quite as intelligent or as direct as Gore's film, but at least it's kinda on the right track.

Leaving off with that thought to send shivers up your spine, let's talk about French movies. French movies were once considered a bit too stuck up for the rest of the world, and that's why filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut began unleashing their scrappy, low-budget masterworks like Breathless, Band of Outsiders, The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player.

Lately, it seems that French movies have gotten a bit snooty again. Over the past six months or so, we've had Michael Haneke's Cache, which I -- like many of my colleagues -- recommended, but honestly, I don't think I'd want to see it again. It's pretty cold and austere and a bit confusing. Then there's Dominik Moll's Lemming, which I also initially liked, but less so the more I think about it, and for the same reasons. And I found the 2005 Palm d'Or winner, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant to be a step backward from their best works; it's ruthless and realistic but without the brothers' usual poetic, personal touch.

I still like Olivier Assayas' international production Clean (one part French, one part British and one part American), though I'm not sure how soon I'll be revisiting that one either; it sprawls a bit and it's not exactly a feel-good film. And I'm still curious to see -- but don't expect much from -- writer/producer Luc Besson's actioner District B13.

Then we have the flat-out losers, Francois Ozon's pathetic, self-absorbed, self-important disease-of-the-week pic Time to Leave (on 5 screens), and that overcooked Oscar nominee Joyeux Noël, about a Christmas truce during World War I, a bit too heavily organized by the filmmakers. Give or take a few good bits here and there, none of these movies is about to rouse a sleeping public, much less inspire a call to revolution.

However, there are a couple of bright spots. First and foremost we have the official U.S. release of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 masterpiece Army of Shadows (on 5 screens), a much harder, more pessimistic film than his gangster stories, but not without its tense glories. And Cedric Klapisch's Russian Dolls (on 7 screens) is the lightest, most purely enjoyable French film I've seen in some time (since maybe Francois Ozon's 8 Women or Eric Rohmer's Autumn Tale or even Amelie). It's not a great movie, mind you, but Klapisch has a genuine affection for romance, characters and locations. We fall right into this circle of friends and feel comfortable there. But most of all, it's Klapisch's energy and enthusiasm that makes the film bright and springy; it's a delightful antidote to the usual, ponderous stuff.

But here comes the big news. Claude Chabrol, former film critic and colleague of Truffuat and Godard, has returned with one of his very best films, The Bridesmaid. Chabrol has been making films of suspense and despair for decades, and he's still the reigning champ. I saw the new film yesterday, and my brain is still buzzing. It won't open until next week, but you heard it here first. If you only see two movies this year, make it An Inconvenient Truth and The Bridesmaid.
categories Columns, Cinematical