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CINEMA

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MARTIAL MAGIC: CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
In Ang Lee's martial-arts enthraller, two mature warriors (Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh) are imperiled by a willful young beauty (Zhang Ziyi, right). The stars' lovely melancholy is leavened by buoyant fight scenes-face-offs that exceed expectations even as they defy gravity. The result leaves viewers gasping for breath, and with awe.

CHICKEN RUN
"The Great Escape, with feathers" is how Nick Park (who co-directed with Peter Lord) describes this superb British comedy-adventure about a heroine hen spurring her balky brood to freedom. A triumph of stop-motion animation and a hymn to plucky sisterhood.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
So many affairs are like the one endured here by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai: furtive, guilty, leaving the ache of remorse. Everyone is gorgeous and grieving in this truly adult love story-Wong Kar-wai's threnody to erotic loss.

GEORGE WASHINGTON
Poor kids in rural North Carolina face a drab life and sudden death with varying degrees of grown-up perplexity, anger and idealism. From these convulsions of pre-adolescent yearning, auteur David Gordon Green, 25, weaves a rich, rapturous tapestry of images and emotions. It's the year's most imaginative American independent film.

THE CIRCLE
In theocratic Iran, a woman may be jailed for such "crimes" as riding in a car with a man not her husband. Jafar Panahi's dexterously constructed drama follows half a dozen female ex-cons, trying to stay out of trouble in the larger women's prison that is the Islamic Republic. A daring, despairing, beautiful work.

SUZHOU RIVER
"If I leave you some day," the girl asks her lover, "would you look for me forever?" Of course she does, and so does he in this Vertigo, mainland Chinese-style. Lou Ye swathes the story in swank, high-contrast visuals but never loses the heart of postmodern romance.time and tide To see this hyperkinetic gang epic is to be blasted by gunfire at close range. Tsui Hark's first Hong Kong movie in four years has stud-singers Nicholas Tse and Wu Bai in the leads. But Tsui is the star, working at fever pitch and in top form. He's still No. 1 with a bullet. Welcome back, Master.

ALMOST FAMOUS
A rouged-up memoir of his life as a teen rock journalist, Cameron Crowe's comedy bathes in '70s nostalgia: the music, the drugs, the sex before aids. Surprisingly, and satisfyingly, the characters are agreeable, petty, complex-fully human. Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson shine as two kids forced to grow up too fast.

BAISE-MOI
All right, we're being naughty, placing this brutal, hard-core girls-and-guns epic in the august company of Ang Lee and the talking chickens. But Virginie Despentes' and Coralie Trinh Thi's festival sensation is stark, serious and original. And as one of the amoral avengers, RaffaŰla Anderson has true star quality-part seraph, all slut.

MONDAY
After a funeral scene where the corpse explodes, a film might be expected to slow down. But this psychological thriller from Hiroyuki Tanaka (a.k.a. Sabu) never stops to catch its breath, never runs out of cunning twists on the am-I-guilty? theme. Hitchcock meets Kafka in Tokyo, and has a great time.

THE WORST
DANCER IN THE DARK
Some critics think this is quite the best film of 2000. But that can't stop us from deploring Lars von Trier's drab, sadistic, klutzy anti-musical, starring Bjork as the latest and most stupefied in the director's gallery of women who must die for being too noble. Where's the craft, the logic? If this is the future of movies, give us the past.