This year's Polish Film Festival boasts an impressive lineup of 23 vintage and contemporary films, with a stronger focus on Poland's female directors. Watch for appearances by Krzysztof Zanussi (The Singing Soul, The Last Circle) and Barbara Sass (Like a Drug) after screenings, and look for classics like Wanda Jakubowska's 1946 Auschwitz tale, The Last Stage. Nov 5-14, opening night gala $12/all other screenings $7/full series pass $50; call 283-8122 or visit www.polishhome.org for more details. See Stranger Movie Times for complete listings. Broadway Performance Hall

Alaska: Spirit of the Wild
More of a nature documentary than a ghost story. Omnidome

An IMAX examination of the lush forests and exotic animals of the Amazon river basin. Omnidome

American Beauty
Entertaining fluff. Take your typical suburban satire (midlife crisis, bitchy wife, disaffected youth), throw in some excellent performances (Kevin Spacey hams it up brilliantly, while Annette Bening and Chris Cooper give life to the most cardboard of characters), and you've got an art-house crossover film that can appeal to everybody. Even me. (Andy Spletzer) Factoria, Guild 45th, Oak Tree, Pacific Place 11, Redmond Town Center

You're never too cool for school: UW Professor of Cinema Studies Steven Shaviro -- author of The Cinematic Body, Doom Patrols, and Stranded in the Jungle -- will speak at the new Consolidated Works. Mon Nov 8 at 7, $5. Consolidated Works

The Consolidated Works film series continues with David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983), in which a powerful, seductive television signal causes its viewers to hallucinate: playing with Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life, which examines the works of two Long Island taxidermists (both films Thurs-Sat Nov 4-6). Next week it's animated shorts from the Brothers Quay and the Survival Research laboratories. Thurs-Sat at 8, $7. Consolidated Works

The Bachelor
The bastardization of a Buster Keaton short, Chris O'Donnell plays a guy who's gotta get married fast in order to inherit a chunk of change. City Centre, Metro, others

When army-engineered flying mammals invade a small Texas town, it's up to sheriff Lou Diamond Phillips and supermodel zoologist Dina Meyer to stop them. The film is almost completely without suspense, but the seething rubber bat puppets are huge fun. Better still is the explanation by the sweaty mad scientist who created the smart and omniverous killer bats: "Because I'm a scientist! That's what we do. We make things better." (Steve Wiecking) Cinerama, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Pacific Place 11

*Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze's feature film debut takes place in a comically surreal world where it's taken for granted that people build half-sized floors in New York skyscrapers, others dream of being famous puppeteers, and there's a small door that opens into a wet tunnel, leading into the head of John Malkovich. Being John Malkovich is better than most every other film out there right now because, beneath the crazy world it's so happy to exploit, there is an emotional vein that is so strong and so sad, if filmed as anything other than a comedy, the movie would be devastating. Not only does Being John Malkovich explore aspects of storytelling on film that more established directors would never think to try, not only does it thoughtfully explore philosophical issues like identity and desire (and eventually, immortality), and not only is it one of the most emotionally honest movies in theaters today, it's also damn funny and always entertaining. You gotta see it to believe it. (Andy Spletzer) Neptune

The Best Man
Not only is this the best black film released this year, it's also the best romantic comedy. A group of college friends are reunited for the marriage of a professional football star and his college sweetheart. With the exception of the too-long wedding scene at the end, the movie is simply delightful. Directed by Malcolm Lee (Spike Lee's cousin), this is a strong debut full of good writing and superb performances. Nia Long is in top form, while Terrence Howard's unrepentant Epicurean steals the show. Then there's Taye Diggs, the most handsome man working in Hollywood. I wish I were him. I wish I had those muscles. I wish I had those eyes. (Charles Mudede) Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Oak Tree

The Bone Collector
Denzel Washington, a brilliant but paralyzed forensic detective, helps rookie cop Angelina Jolie stop a serial killer. Various theaters

Boys Don't Cry
Boys Don't Cry pushes myriad societal hot buttons. Sexuality. Gender. Masculinity. Why we even care about such labels is an indication of how frightened we are about ambiguities. Boys Don't Cry is based on the true story about Brandon Teena, a girl who was murdered for living life as a boy. Hilary Swank, a Bellingham native previously best known for her roles in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the TV show Beverly Hills, 90210, imbues Brandon with an

infectious charisma, but the rest of the film could be seen as an indictment of the American psyche. Boys Don't Cry is not an easy film to watch; the rape and subsequent murder are unrelentingly harsh. Even the reason the story is "interesting" is depressing: Had Brandon been a real man killed in a senseless murder, his death wouldn't have merited one national headline. (Gillian G. Gaar) Broadway Market

Bringing Out the Dead
Nicolas Cage mopes his way through the over-familiar story of a damaged man seeking redemption through the forgiveness of a good woman. No point blaming Martin Scorsese; he's found such niceties as plot and character increasingly irrelevant. The surprise is that the once-over-lightly script comes from the usually dependable Paul Schrader. There are enough whip-pans and rock video moments to enjoy the movie, but not to hide the fact that you've seen it all before. (Bruce Reid) Grand Alderwood, Meridian 16, Metro, Oak Tree

Buena Vista Social Club
Director Wim Wenders and musician Ry Cooder collaborate on this documentary on the Cuban super-group the Buena Vista Social Club. Broadway Market

Tinto Brass' direction is several leagues beneath incompetent, filming the cluttered sets and endless grotesques so ineptly you can't even tell what's going on, and it's never really sexy. That makes for one boring porn movie. Thurs Nov 4 at 5, 8:15; 18+ only. (Bruce Reid) Egyptian

The "Century of Cinema" series ends with its '90s selection, Abbas Kiarostami's quietly despairing Taste of Cherry. As a man contemplates suicide, he learns from caring strangers why he should reconsider. Sat-Sun Nov 6-7 at noon. Grand Illusion

Crazy in Alabama
Antonio Banderas directs his wife, Melanie Griffith, in what is likely her best film since, um, A Stranger Among Us? Aurora Cinema Grill, City Centre

Dante's Inferno
You probably slept through it in Classic Literature 101, so don't miss it on film this time around: Guiseppi de Liguoro's 1911 silent-film version of Dante's Inferno (with its "layers" of hell and sin explored in frightening detail) could be the most compelling thing you see this season. With the Black Cat Orchestra playing the original score. Until Nov 14: Thurs & Sun at 8, $10; Fri & Sat at 8, $12. Call 217-9888 for advance tickets and more info. On the Boards

Double Jeopardy
Libby Parsons' (Ashley Judd) perfect life is straight out of J. Crew, at least until she's framed for her husband's murder and goes to jail. While in prison, Libby discovers her husband is very much alive. Six years later, she jumps parole to find her son. Tommy Lee Jones is her gruff 'n' tough parole officer who tracks her down, but ends up taking her side against this bastard. Though deftly sidestepping gaping plot holes, even with her undeniable beauty and talent, Judd can't possibly save this blurry mess. (Min Liao) Aurora Cinema Grill, Factoria, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Metro, Redmond Town Center

Dry Cleaning
Charles Berling and Miou-Miou play a sedate married couple who own a dry-cleaner's shop in a small town; he's a loving but reserved perfectionist, she's increasingly dissatisfied with a life that consists of "cleaning other people's shit." One night they go out for drinks and dancing, and become enraptured by a brother/sister cross-dressing act. Seeing them again while on vacation, they invite the brother to move in with them after his sister takes off with a chump on a motorcycle. What could have been the same-old same-old about the bourgeoisie opening up to repressed desires, thanks to the intervention of a good-looking tramp, is fortunately something far more sad and thoughtful, due to director Anne Fontaine's compassionate respect for all parties involved and her understanding that love can conquer all, but that doesn't guarantee a happy ending. Fri-Sun Nov 5-7 at (Sat-Sun 2:30), 4:45, 7, 9:15. (Bruce Reid) Varsity Calendar

*Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks Its Back
Chock full of stunning imagery and with a live and in-person score by Chicago's Boxhead Ensemble (including members of Pinetop Seven, Gastr del Sol, Dirty Three, and others), Braden King's Dutch Harbor is both more and less than a documentary of the small Alaskan fishing town. "Narrative" takes a backseat to the moody and fascinating black and white shots of fishermen working on a boat, or waves crashing on the rocks. With this film, you really get a feel for what Dutch Harbor must be like. Thurs Nov 11 at 7, 9. (Andy Spletzer) Little Theatre

*Fight Club
With Fight Club, David Fincher has made his best film yet, taking a bleak story, written in the first person with a detached sense of humor, and matching its tone perfectly. A disenfranchised guy (Edward Norton), hooked on support groups for the terminally ill, gets a grade-school crush on a fellow support group tourist (Helana Bonham Carter), then meets a rebel (Brad Pitt) with whom he starts a masochistic fight club. Only then does the story spins way over the top. The movie may be two and a half hours long, but it flies by. If you even remotely liked it, you'll want to see it again. (Andy Spletzer) Grand Alderwood, Meridian 16, Metro, Oak Tree

SAM's popular series continues with Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment (1949), starring James Mason and Joan Bennett (Thurs Nov 4 at 7:30); next week, it's John Berry's Tension (1950), with Richard Basehart and the ever-sultry Cyd Charisse (Thurs Nov 11 at 7:30). Call 625-8900 for more details. Seattle Art Museum

Happy, Texas
Two escaped prisoners steal a mobile home. It breaks down outside the tiny town of Happy where, oddly, everyone seems to be expecting them. They discover they're supposed to be a gay couple whose business is pageants, and they've been hired to help the town's grade-school pageant wanna-bes brush up on pageant etiquette. So the two decide to rob the local bank. There's no deep message in Happy, Texas. It's simply about characters finding each other and not finding each other, and the fun comes in laughing with, not at, the characters. (Gillian G. Gaar) Guild 45th, Pacific Place 11

The House on Haunted Hill
A complete mess, and not in a fun way, either. Seven people spend a night in a really big house. By dawn, whoever is left alive (if anyone) receives $1 million. A remake of William Castle's classic 1958 fright-fest, House on Haunted Hill is souped-up and dumbed-down with all the '90s special effects in the toolbox. Like The Haunting from earlier this year, it is a throwback to those '80s days, before The Sixth Sense, when Hollywood forgot that the best kind of horror is left up to the imagination. House on Haunted Hill shows the audience everything, and therefore never manages to be scary. But the house is great, so at least there's something to look at. (Bradley Steinbacher) Factoria, Meridian 16, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center

The Insider
Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice) takes on both 60 Minutes and the big tobacco companies, in this movie based on a real story. Reviewed this issue. Factoria, Meridian 16, Metro, Redmond Town Center, Southcenter

*The Iron Giant
Giant robot falls to earth, befriends a local boy, and eats lots of metal. Needless to say, the government doesn't like it. Aurora Cinema Grill

julien donkey-boy
Julien is a schizophrenic, but he's not a "movie schizophrenic." There are no miracle cures or tidy moral uplifts in store for him, only some bright moments. Harmony Korine's julien donkey-boy is filled with scenes and images colliding in ways you have never seen before. Though it has influences -- Korine explicitly acknowledges a profound one by casting Werner Herzog as Julien's tyrannical father -- it has no major precedents. The compassionately unflinching portrait of mental illness is matched by Korine's terrified understanding of how this supremely dysfunctional family struggles on as best they can (including Chloë Sevigny, wispy but resilient, as a pregnant sister, and Evan Neumann as a would-be wrestler, mercilessly bullied by Dad to "be a man"). After seeing Gummo, I referred to Korine as one of our very best young directors; now that's looking like a huge understatement. (Bruce Reid) Varsity

*The Limey
In Steven Soderbergh's latest, fading '60s icon Terence Stamp plays an unstoppable force of vengeance searching for the person responsible for killing his daughter. Fading '60s icon Peter Fonda plays a downwardly mobile record exec who used to date her. Here, Soderbergh expands on the style he began to explore in Out of Sight, the layering of visual flashbacks and flash-forwards grounded with dialogue. Whereas most filmmakers pad their films to two hours or more, this layering compresses what would normally be a two-hour movie into 90 action-packed minutes that keep moving and keep you thinking. The Limey is one of the best films of the year, and Steven Soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. I can't wait to see what he does next. (Andy Spletzer) Seven Gables

The Magic of Miyazaki, Takahata, and Kondo
This retrospective of Studio Ghibli's creations will surely satisfy your Japanimation cravings. The Egyptian's week-long exploration of these unmistakably sophisticated and eerily adult cartoons includes works from the creators of Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service (featuring the voices of Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman, and Debbie Reynolds), and Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. Fri-Thurs Nov 5-11; See Stranger Movie Times for detailed listings. Egyptian

Seattle's celebration of Latino cinema, culture, and arts returns for a third year to 911 Media Arts, the Grand Illusion, and other venues. This year's treats include the Northwest premiere of Carlos Bolado's Baja California: El Limite del Tiempo, the Sundance favorite Paulina (about a child who is bought from her parents and sold to a cruel "owner"), and the avant-garde experimental short The Sacred Confessions and Holy Smoke Trilogy. Theater and dance performances, rare archival films, contemporary shorts packages, and panel discussions will also be part of the festivities. The opening night party at 911 (Thurs Nov 4, $7) -- with food, beverages, and a special selection of films -- will be open to the public. Call 682-6552 for more details, or go to www.mirafestival.com. See Stranger Movie Times for complete film listings. 911 Media Arts, Grand Illusion

Music of the Heart
This would-be salute to the power of music to enrich the young suffers from many flaws, foremost being that it's not really about music or young people. Like the documentary Fiddlefest upon which it's based, Music of the Heart opts instead for an uncritical endorsement of the rigid teaching methods of New York violin teacher Roberta Guaspari, played here by Meryl Streep at her weepiest for the first half, her most headstrong for the second. From that willful schematizing, you can guess how much the script depends upon setting up cardboard problems only to sidestep them. Director Wes Craven is as blithely exploitive as ever, punching all the right buttons, but he should have had a hand in the writing; his own films have better ideas underpinning them. Overall, the film is so paint-by-numbers drab you could scream. (Bruce Reid) Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Metro, Uptown

WigglyWorld, and Seattle's own dance-theater company, 33 Fainting Spells, bring modern dance and film together in this brief festival of international works. Split into three programs, these movement-rich films showcase the talents of directors and choreographers alike. See the Stranger Movie Times for complete listings. Thurs-Sun Nov 4-7. Reviewed this issue. Little Theatre

NW Film & Video Festival
Portland hosts this festival geared toward regional film, now in its 26th year. Matt Groening is this year's judge, and among his favorites are a couple of films from Seattle: Bingo!: The Documentary and Matt Wilkins' impressive short, Interior Latex. If you're gonna be in Portland between November 5-12, stop on by and see some films. Call 503-221-1156 for screening information. Portland Art Museum

The Omega Code
The Christian Channel, the one with the woman with the purple hair, takes a stab at spreading God's word in theaters with this movie about the end of the world, and one man's race to save as many souls as he can before the music stops. Lewis & Clark, Uptown

*On the Ropes
In the end, this "boxing film" is more a story of humanity; how the determination and focus developed inside the ring is applied to life. Thurs Nov 4 at 5, 7, 9. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Grand Illusion

Vicky Funari's documentary about a Mexican girl sold from her family to an abusive owner. Part of the ¡Mira!: Latino Film and Video Festival. Sat-Thurs Nov 5-11. Reviewed this issue. Grand Illusion

*Princess Mononoke
Beautiful Japanese film that shows Disney a thing or two about animation. Reviewed this issue. Pacific Place 11, Varsity

The Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study is back, ready to prove to you, once and for all, that psychoanalysis is FUN! The film series pays tribute to solid mental health by exploring how we relate and respond to beauty. Terrence Malick's cameo-heavy war drama The Thin Red Line starts the series off with Malick's signature gorgeous cinematography, sweeping nature shots, and a few seconds of George Clooney. Fri Nov 5 at 7, $7. Seattle Art Museum

Random Hearts
Two people (Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas) discover they were being cuckolded by their now-dead significant others, and find comfort in each other's arms. Pacific Place 11

Regret to Inform
This emotional documentary effectively fills a gap in our movie consciousness, chronicling the effects of war -- not on soldiers or civilians, but on the wives who anxiously saw their husbands go off to fight, and who received back nothing but corpses and dryly bureaucratic letters of apology. Of course, as much pain as there always is to go around, by interweaving the tales of American and Vietnamese widows, the film draws something of a false comparison between those who had to deal with their loss in relative comfort, and those who barely had time to grieve because bombs were raining upon them at the time. Just when that's beginning to annoy you, though, director Barbara Sonneborn lets several interviewees call her on it; which is a nice sign of the decency and humility she brings to her task. Mon-Thurs Nov 8-11 at 4, 5:45, 7:30, 9:15. (Bruce Reid) Varsity Calendar

An uncut, uncensored, provocative French film, titled Romance. We all know what kind of movie this is. Pure smut. Don't see this with your parents. 18+ ONLY! Broadway Market

Run Lola Run
Entertaining techno-fluff from Germany about a girl who has three chances to save her boyfriend. Harvard Exit

*The Sixth Sense
A little boy sees dead people while Bruce Willis sees his marriage disintigrate. Metro, Oak Tree, Redmond Town Center, Uptown

The Story of Us
A couple who should be divorcing decide -- in a big, fake ending -- to stay together. Aurora Cinema Grill, Grand Alderwood, Pacific Place 11

*The Straight Story
Rather than making the journey of hundreds of miles on a riding mower a quixotic, life-defining quest, The Straight Story is even more about an interesting but unremarkable road trip taken by a quite remarkable man. David Lynch's name is so synonymous with violence and twisted sex that it's sometimes hard to remember that nearly everything he's done has been about decent people who were seduced, often literally possessed, by an evil force outside themselves. Blue Velvet wasn't great because it pissed off a bunch of moral standard-bearers, and The Straight Story isn't great because it will charm many of those same people. Both achieve greatness thanks to an endless fascination with how wondrous and mysterious each and every person can be. (Bruce Reid) Harvard Exit, Redmond Town Center

The Terror of Tiny Town
Serial killers, flesh eaters, dead people, and monsters? Whatever. Nothing is as frightening as a completely straight-faced Western shot entirely with "little people" (all actors are under 5 feet tall), Shetland ponies, and miniature sets. Fri-Sat Nov 5-6 at 11. Grand Illusion

The Thief of Baghdad
(1940) This lush Arabian Nights-ish fantasy -- complete with flying carpets, a thief, and a magician, and of course a genie -- is in full Technicolor and FREE for the whole family. Sat Nov 6 at 1:30, FREE. Seattle Asian Art Museum

Three Kings
In its efforts to be a comedy and a drama, as well as an action movie, Three Kings actually pulls it off, despite an occasional misstep. You laugh while you're in the theater, curse the U.S. as you leave, then relax in your La-Z-Boy once you get home. (Bradley Steinbacher) Factoria, Grand Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Metro

Three to Tango
Matthew Perry pretends to be gay to land some work and ends up stealing his boss' girl (Neve Campbell). Not a good movie. Grand Alderwood, Pacific Place 11

The Varsity's tribute to French film director Francois Truffaut ends with a double feature of The Last Metro and The Woman Next Door. Thurs Nov 4. Varsity Calendar