Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
dir. Mike Newell

The fourth Harry Potter: In which Harry takes off his shirt, learns the value of altruism, and discovers that Lord Voldemort has no nose. Mike Newell's take on the J. K. Rowling franchise is less appealing than the last installment, by Alfonso Cuarón, but then again, who ever said puberty was enchanting? Compared to the initial volumes, the fourth novel gets slightly darker, and Newell takes this development literally. From the unsettling dream that kicks off the action to the kids' dawn return to the newly menacing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the camera rarely pokes above a foreboding blue murk.

But the emotional content that's supposed to mirror the darkness gets disappointingly short shrift. Sure, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, in an unpleasant baby-fat-plus-biceps phase) has a bout of jealousy. But he overcomes it soon enough. And yes, Hermione (Emma Watson, altogether too cute) gets huffy and fraternizes with an older Bulgarian. But we're firmly lodged in Harry's earnest point of view, and all we hear from Hermione is that her date is a "physical" creature. (Despite the titillating PG-13 rating, the biggest thrill the movie can offer is hearing Watson say "loquacious.")

Then the teenage drama gets unceremoniously shoved aside to make room for the Triwizard Tournament, in which Hogwarts competes against an all-girls school from France (whose uniforms make them look like blond Smurfs) and a boys school from Eastern Europe (they're swarthy). Though the contest is supposed to be open to students 17 or older, Harry is mysteriously selected as a fourth competitor. Soon he's battling dragons, rescuing drowning friends, and facing down a waxy, noseless Ralph Fiennes and his troupe of Death Eaters in Klan hoods. It's exciting enough; but lacking both the wonder of the first movies and the poignant subtext Harry's adolescence was supposed to herald, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire isn't much more than a kiddie action movie. ANNIE WAGNER

Walk the Line
dir. James Mangold

Johnny Cash was a hero to so many that breaking off the smallest corner of his history feels like biting off more than one can chew. Between his troubled upbringing, addictions, love affairs, and, of course, renowned songwriting, his life is rich with stories told many times over.

Walk the Line is a Johnny Cash biopic, but the chunk director James Mangold tinkers with centers on the evolution of the relationship between Cash and the love of his life, June Carter Cash. So while those expecting to delve into the entirety of the country icon's legacy might be disappointed, those willing to view Cash's career through this slow, tortured courtship will find a deeply compelling—not to mention romantic—drama here.

Joaquin Phoenix is a damn fine Man in Black, burning with rage from a young age due to an oppressive father who unfairly blamed Johnny for the death of his brother. Walk the Line explores how Cash overcame family hardships and taught himself to play guitar, working with the famed Sun Records and hanging with Elvis (Tyler Hilton), Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis (minor characters here who are entertaining even in their supporting roles), through his infamous Folsom Prison performance. But Cash's strongest emotional elements are developed through his courtship of June Carter, played with sharp Southern charm by Reese Witherspoon. Carter moves from being a boyhood idol of Cash's to touring with him, helping him fight a serious drug addiction, and finally becoming his wife. Theirs is a fiery interplay, with Phoenix portraying Cash's yearning for Carter as overpowering and unconditional. Witherspoon plays Carter as a vivacious entertainer whose strong veneer slowly gives under Cash's intrepid affection. Watching the tenderness of these beloved country mainstays grow through time and tribulation makes for a powerful story, even if its main subject feels larger than any one film could ever really encapsulate. JENNIFER MAERZ

Ballets Russes
dir. Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller

This excellent documentary may indulge in a bit of nostalgia for the days when the middle class couldn't get enough high culture, but the story it has to tell is fiery and engrossing. It made me desperately want to go to the ballet.

Ballets Russes is about two warring 20th-century ballet companies, which, like the best enemies, originally sprang from the same head. In 1929 Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe collapsed and two years later, Colonel Wassily de Basil and René Blum (all the major players have fantastic names) revived the company, making stars of choreographers such as George Balanchine and Léonide Massine, stocking the corps with the children of aristocratic Russian émigrés, and ultimately splitting into two rival camps.

The film eventually touches upon all kinds of firsts—first tour of the United States, first preteen "baby ballerinas," first black dancer, first Native American dancer, first (well, only) dancer plucked from the wilds of Seattle, Washington—but the best subplot concerns the true dance battle of the century: the competing London seasons of the two companies before World War II. Through blurry but evocative archival footage, hysterical newspaper headlines, and aging ballet dancers who clearly relish their new roles as raconteurs, Ballets Russes spins a glamorous, multivalent, and deeply political tale. ANNIE WAGNER

Bee Season
dir. Scott McGehee and David Siegel

In a battle of the spelling-bee movies, would you rather see a thrilling documentary about the crazy orthographic passions that bring kids together and the heartbreaking class disparities that pull them apart, or an overbaked narrative feature about a troubled upper-middle-class family (aren't they all?) and their needy spiritual journeys? If the former, you're sane: Rent Spellbound. If the latter, then Bee Season is your movie.

Flora Cross, with her boyish haircut and precocious little face, plays Eliza Naumann, the underappreciated young daughter of a Jewish professor of religious studies (Richard Gere, yeah right on both counts). Her older brother Aaron (Max Minghella, one-dimensional) gets all the quality time with Dad, and she puts up with it like the pint-size stoic she is. Her mom (Juliette Binoche) is acting a little strange, but never mind, because Eliza turns out to be a preternaturally good speller. When she conjures up the correct spelling of a word she's never heard before (say, "dandelion"—the bees are weirdly easy), her eyes flutter shut, dopey CGI graphics illustrate the word (in this case, little dandelion pappi line up to form the proper letters), and her dad loves her again.

Unfortunately, fatherly love comes with a dangerous rider. Professor Naumann decides that Eliza should put her creepy affinity for words to mystical use, and so he instructs her in the Kabbalistic art of permutation of Hebrew letters—basically, meaningless anagrams that open up a dedicated line to God. Eliza takes to the practice, goes into seizures, and keeps on winning spelling bees with simple words. Meanwhile, Aaron gets the hots for a Hare Krishna named Chali (Kate Bosworth at her all-American, beatific worst) and slips down a cultish road of his own. And then there's that nutty mom. Bee Season is nothing if not thorough. ANNIE WAGNER