The Last King Of Scotland (Fox) places itself on shaky ground by asking viewers to approach the atrocities of Idi Amin's reign by worrying over how they affect his thoughtless (and fictional) Scottish doctor James McAvoy, who finds his conscience late in Amin's reign, then pays dearly for his privileged position as Amin's confidant. But Forest Whitaker's forceful, Oscar-winning performance as Amin is mesmerizing, and well worth the price of admission…

Don't let the all-star cast fool you: Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces (Universal) is strictly a C-level crime film seemingly made by someone who's spent his whole career studying Quentin Tarantino knock-offs. It's a stylish headache of a movie…

A fact-based inspirational story about a teacher who takes a job at an inner-city high school, Freedom Writers (Paramount) has two things going against it from the start: It covers the well-trod territory of other white-woman-in-the-hood movies like Dangerous Minds, and it has the worst title this side of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? But the film works anyway, thanks to Hilary Swank's Pollyanna pluck in the lead role, where she combines indefatigable '50s optimism and '60s civil-rights activism…

Based on Zoë Heller's brow-raising novel, Notes On A Scandal (Fox) tells the story of an attractive, bohemian teacher who has an affair with a student. Though this scenario seems to have been ripped from the headlines regarding the Mary Kay Letourneau case, Heller's real focus is on the narrator, an aging battleaxe who has decidedly slippery motivations for befriending her screwed-up colleague. Driven by a maniacal Philip Glass score, the film version has the fevered emotional tenor of high camp, which well serves Judi Dench's towering performance as the obsessive narrator. No one does haughty imperiousness like Dench, and this may go down as her signature work…

The classroom becomes a giddy form of musical theater in The History Boys (Fox), Nicholas Hytner's flatly directed but dazzlingly acted adaptation of Alan Bennett's hyper-literate, Thatcher-era crowd-pleasing play about the complicated relationship between a class full of academic overachievers and randy teacher Richard Griffiths.