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The Butcher Boy (18). Based on Patrick McCabe's justly lauded 1992 novel, Neil Jordan's most vivid and imaginative film in years is, on one level, a careful evocation of early-Sixties rural Ireland - a curious microcosm caught up in Catholicism, Cold War paranoia, and the American dream. It's these contradictory myths and beliefs that stoke the warped fantasy life of the movie's volatile, pugnacious, and

hyper-verbal 12-year-old anti-hero Francie Brady (newcomer Eammon Owens, giving the role a raw immediacy trained actors would kill for). An incorrigible dreamer with a suicidal mother and boozy father, Francie gets by on his overactive imagination; he lives out one elaborate obsession after another - with ultimately tragic consequences. The Butcher Boy unfolds entirely within the head of its protagonist, and the film takes on a propulsive, heartbreaking inevitability as Francie starts to lose his grip on reality. Jordan keeps the tone unsentimental yet empathetic; hands down, it's one of the year's bravest and most devastating films.

Good Will Hunting (15). Gus Van Sant's worst film (yes, worse than Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) never gets past the trite, smug, self-serving script by It-Boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who also star. Damon has the choice lead role of the blue-collar genius - a tough-guy Boston janitor who also happens to be a maths whizz, not to mention an emotional cipher waiting to be psychoanalysed by an underachieving, homily-spouting therapist (Robin Williams). Van Sant, once one of indie film's most electrifying talents, went on from this soulless mush to a Hanson video, and one of Hollywood's most inexplicable current projects - a scene-for-scene remake of Psycho.

The Postman (15). The year is 2013; the dilapidated landscape is the result of a world war and various ecological disasters; and that messianic, Mad Max-ish figure emerging from the horizon on his mule, well, that's Kevin Costner. The Postman's high concept (drifter delivers mail, saves America) is the stuff of high farce, but Costner - directing his delayed follow-up to Dances With Wolves - pretends not to notice. Straight-faced and simple-minded, the film takes refuge in blind patriotism: a paean to the restorative power of communal lies.

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