With his slight body and fey mannerisms, Cillian Murphy seems like a more natural choice to play a transsexual (as he did in Breakfast On Pluto) than a villain, but he followed up a creepy turn as Scarecrow in Batman Returns with an even more menacing performance in Wes Craven's Red Eye (Dreamworks). As an operative who terrorizes a trusting young woman (Rachel McAdams) on a plane, Murphy allows his opaque eyes to do most of the heavy lifting while the fat-free screenplay delivers the thrills with maximum efficiency…

Ladies: Those of you who are fictional movie characters should stay away from Ralph Fiennes. When he isn't playing a Harry Potter-terrorizing demon creature, he's usually a man of noble ideals who can't keep the women in his life from dying. So it is in the mournful, beautifully made John Le Carré adaptation The Constant Gardener (Focus), in which Fiennes plays a British diplomat whose activist wife (Rachel Weisz) gets drawn into an exploitative conspiracy involving a major pharmaceutical company. Fernando Meirelles directs with a subdued version of the flair he brought to City Of God…

A languid character study coated in funky blaxploitation grime, Hustle & Flow (Paramount) suggests 8 Mile by way of The Mack. As a struggling hustler in the midst of an existential crisis, Terrence Howard delivers a star-making performance, investing his sorry-ass-pimp-turned-aspiring-rapper with an air of melancholy. Besides, it's a rare film that leaves audience members with an irresistible impulse to croon "It's hard out there for a pimp," the chorus to one of the year's least likely but most infectious anthems…

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Throughout the '80s, good directors struggled to channel the improvisatory energy of comedian Robin Williams in roles that let him be both dramatic and creative. Then the world at large figured out that Williams is most at home in sentimental tripe like Patch Adams and Jakob The Liar, and good directors stopped caring. But for a glimpse at the brief, not-always-pretty career of Robin Williams The Brilliant Actor, check out the simultaneous Touchstone special-edition DVD releases of Dead Poets Society and Good Morning Vietnam, which show Peter Weir and Barry Levinson, respectively, struggling to mold putty into stone…

The DVD format should suit Tony Takitani (Strand), a tiny Japanese film about a technical artist's need to keep the world contained. It was one of 2005's best films, and deserves a long second life on home video.

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