In the past 24 hours I've seen such eagerly awaited fall releases as Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, A History Of Violence and Elizabethtown. So naturally, I'm going to start off today talking about an Austrian documentary that almost nobody's heard of. We Feed The World isn't exactly brilliant from a cinematic standpoint, though director E. Wagenhofer does his best to add some visual flair to what's essentially a news-magazine report about the cruel inefficiencies of food production. There's a harrowing sequence at a chicken processing plant, and some haunting shots of hothouse-clogged Spanish fields and landfills overflowing with discarded two-day old bread. From the sound design to the visual design, Wagenhofer really tries to emphasize the unnaturalness that the global food industry has brought to the natural world. (Rarely has the sound of a bleating goat been so disturbing.) But mostly We Feed The World is worthwhile for its depiction of the way number-crunchers make decisions that seem rational on paper, but wreak havoc when carried out. The documentary misses its chance at greatness mainly because Wagenhofer doesn't play fair. It's hard to deny his anecdotal examples of families who starve in Brazil because their grain has been shipped to European chicken plants, but backing up those stories with statistics, in this case, only shows how the right set of numbers can prove anything.

Now from the factual to the fanciful, here's the strange case of two auteurs on the run. When last we met David Cronenberg and Cameron Crowe, the former had made the aesthetically rigid, bone-dry Spider, and the latter had made the ambitious, aesthetically calamitous Vanilla Sky. Both films have defenders—and Vanilla Sky actually made a little money—but both were also the kinds of movies that directors of significance need to follow up very carefully. In a way, Cronenberg and Crowe beat a retreat with their respective latest. A History Of Violence is Cronenberg's "straightest" film ever: an audience-friendly small-town semi-action movie with a heart and brain. Meanwhile, Elizabethtown has Crowe returning to the sprawling, open-hearted Americana of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous (both of which have kind of been mashed together for this new film).

I liked both very much, though only one of them needs me to come to its defense, and it's not A History Of Violence. Cronenberg's film is drum-tight—perhaps to its detriment at times. The story of an Indiana diner owner who fights off two robbers and subsequently invites more trouble to his doorstep, A History Of Violence comments boldly and clearly about how bloodshed begets bloodshed, and how we in America may be perfectly willing to live with that. Some may have trouble with the movie's pulpy tone, which betrays its origins as one of those too-tough-for-its-own-good "mature" graphic novels, but Cronenberg and his excellent cast (including Viggo Mortensen and a magnificent Maria Bello) work the exaggerations of genre fiction into the larger statement, thereby giving the audience some "woo-hoo!" moments and then giving them a chance to mull over whether they really want to whoop. It's pretty excellent.

A History Of Violence takes pop seriously, though not as seriously as Cameron Crowe takes it in Elizabethtown. People unwilling to get on Crowe's dippy, quasi-ludicrous wavelength are going to have a lot of trouble with this movie. It's too long— the word is that it'll be cut some before official release—but I wouldn't go so far as to call it way too long. There's just too many walking-around-while-a-cool-song-plays montages in the middle of the picture, and about one or two big set pieces that are spectacularly ill-conceived. (Susan Sarandon's meant-to-be-bravura memorial speech is a special kind of disaster.) But I hope Crowe doesn't touch a frame of the movie's final half-hour, which includes a climactic road trip. Because of the excess of music earlier in the film, a lot of audience members aren't going to be in the mood for a 20-odd-minute mix-tape at the end, but on its own, the final sequence is moving and meaningful. Just as Vanilla Sky's best scenes showed how even a callow man organizes his memory by iconic pop moments, so Elizabethtown ends with a tour of America as expressed in song. Scott didn't write about it in his blog, but he told me that he groaned during the scene at the MLK assassination site, scored to U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)." I had a vastly different reaction. As on-the-nose as it seems, that song choice speaks to what Crowe has done throughout his career: take the big gesture, the movie-ish dialogue, the implausible action, the hit song, and fit it all into a deeply personal cosmology. He's a little too blunt about it here, and too self-serving. (The heroic failure played by Orlando Bloom is clearly a stand-in for the director, indulging in some "yay me" boosterism.) But the movie's sincere faith in our common brotherhood—one nation under a groove—burns through every sloppily conceived frame. It's a mess, but a lovely mess.

One more from the past 24 hours … Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Not much to say about this one. It's entertaining, but very, very slight. Burton's always been kind of a faux-outsider, making weirdness safe for mall-walkers. Lately he seems to have given up pretending that he's not secretly a suburban family man. Frankly, I like the new Burton better. I never bought into the Edward Scissorhands/Ed Wood myth, and the reconciliation of the fantastic and the mundane in Big Fish, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and now Corpse Bride seems much truer to who the director really is. Now if he can just learn how to carry a story along to a third act…..

Coming up: Bee Season and Harsh Times tonight. (And maybe a midnight of Isolation if I'm not too tired.) The Quiet, Cache and either Lie With Me or Oliver Twist during the day tomorrow. Posting may come late.