Oliver Stone’s W.(Lionsgate) churned up some pre-release controversy as the first major cinematic profile of a sitting president, but once released, it rightly sunk without fanfare. The cast is often terrific—especially Josh Brolin as George W. Bush and Toby Jones as Karl Rove—but the film’s cheap armchair psychoanalysis, its dull adherence to a safe middle ground, and its quick-and-shallow look at history suggest a high-school term paper or a cheapie TV movie-of-the-week more than a serious biopic…

Surprise nominations for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay have thrust little-indie-that-could Frozen River (Sony) back into the spotlight after a quiet theatrical run. As it stands, the performance deserves more acclaim than the script: Melissa Leo, an ace character actress who spent years enlivening bit parts (watch her quietly steal 21 Grams from the histrionic leads), digs into the meaty role of a trailer-dwelling mother of two forced into a dangerous smuggling operation just to make ends meet…

Given the title and the running theme of people trapped in a terrifying world without sight, it’s ironic that the visuals are by far the best thing about Blindness (Miramax), Fernando Meirelles’ muddled adaptation of José Saramago’s celebrated novel. When an epidemic blinds an entire city, Julianne Moore pretends she’s lost her vision so she can care for her husband when he’s forced into a horrific treatment center. From there, none of her decisions make sense, as she inexplicably forces herself through a series of beautifully shot, emotionally wrenching ordeals straight out of a Lars von Trier film…

There was no more disappointing film in 2008 than Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna (Buena Vista), which squanders a golden opportunity to call attention to the African-American soldiers who sacrificed their lives for a country that not only didn’t value them, but led them to the slaughter. Lee tries to take a page from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan with his mix of old-fashioned war-movie camaraderie and a more modern, visceral take on the horrors of combat, but he comes up short in both departments…

Legendary African-American theater director George C. Wolfe helped bring da funk and da noise to Broadway (oddly, through his play The Wild Party), but his hilariously melodramatic 2008 Nicholas Sparks adaptation Nights At Rodanthe(Warner Bros.) is egregiously devoid of funk and noise, not to mention soul, subtlety, and shame. Diane Lane gives it her all as a single mother who falls for soulful, tormented doctor Richard Gere at a quaint bed-and-breakfast, but the romance that follows is pure pandering schmaltz.