Poison (18). Perhaps more than any other film-maker working in America today, Todd Haynes upholds the thesis that movies are still a vibrant, challenging and potentially surprising medium. Haynes's first full-length feature, made in 1990, is a radical modern classic that demands, and improves with, repeated viewings. Teeming with ideas, it's a poetic yet insistently formalist montage, which intercuts, cross-references, and, ultimately, collapses three ostensibly incongruous narratives: "Hero", a deadpan mock-documentary about a seven-year-old suburban kid who shoots his father; "Home", a prison-set, Genet-inspired reverie of sexual obsession and bodily secretions; and "Horror", a medical-horror riff, in which a scientist distills the sex drive into liquid form, accidentally ingests the serum, and develops a contagious leprosy-like disease. In common with much of Haynes's other work (Safe, a astonishing disease-movie-with-a- difference, and Superstar, a short film about Karen Carpenter, starring Barbie dolls), Poison is a meditation on stigma and alienation. Shaped by the emergence of Aids (more specifically, by the attendant renewal of homophobia), the film pulls off a rare and remarkable balancing act: it's rigorous in its artistry, but also blatantly political and profoundly soulful.
The English Patient (15). Shrewdly reconfiguring Michael Ondaatje's essentially unfilmable novel, Anthony Minghella's Oscar-garlanded period romance is, without question, a highly competent piece of film-making. But it's also often dull, dogged and too self-consciously epic, and one of the most old-fashioned movies of recent years - which isn't as much a cause for celebration as the film's devotees would have you believe.
Ashes and Diamonds (12) The final part of Andrzej Wajda's Second World War trilogy, following A Generation and Kanal (all three were made in the Fifties), is a tragic portrait of wounded idealism. Zbigniew Cybulski, later killed in an accident and invariably referred to as the Polish James Dean, plays a conflicted Resistance fighter. Despite Wajda's somewhat elaborate direction, the film belongs to Cybulski, who, smouldering behind his shades, clearly had star power to spare.