Monthly Movie Guide

AMERICA - FROM HITLER TO M-X Competently made polemic charging that the nuclear-arms race is a consequence of capitalistic self-interest on the part of the military-industrial complex. Directed by Joan Harvey, a sort of cinematic pamphleteer. (Not rated.) BEST FRIENDS

Two pals get married, visit each other's parents, pass through an emotional crisis, and emerge better marriage partners (and friends) than ever in this intelligent, sometimes hilarious comedy. Directed by Norman Jewison. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language and sexual references.) BETRAYAL

An examination of a love triangle in reverse, starting after the affair is over and moving backward to discover its earlier phases. Directed by David Jones , the Harold Pinter screenplay is exquisitely sharp, and the performers match it stunningly, with Jeremy Irons at the top of his form, Patricia Hodge a devastating foil, and Ben Kingsley topping his brilliant work in ''Gandhi'' with the most riveting portrayal of the season. (Rated R; contains adult subject matter and a little vulgar language.) BRITANNIA HOSPITAL

Royalty visits a British hospital that's besieged by a strike, a protest demonstration, and a Frankenstein-like scientific experiment. A fierce and bloody satire, directed with conviction by Lindsay Anderson. (Rated R; contains exaggerated violence and medical details.) CONSTANT FACTOR, THE

Brilliant drama, from Poland, about a young idealist whose campaign to conquer the vagaries of human experience runs into personal obstacles and social resentment. Intuitively directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. (Not rated.) COUP DE TORCHON

''Clean Slate'' is the English-language title of this savage French satire on colonial attitudes, which are embodied by a dull-witted French policeman who loses his mind while trying to impose law and order on a sleepy African town. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, with much more energy than is found in most of his earlier films. (Not rated; contains vulgar language and nudity.) E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL

Lost on the planet Earth, a friendly spaceman becomes the secret pal of a little boy, who can't believe his own good fortune. A grade-school version of ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind,'' directed by Steven Spielberg with lots of wit in the first half, but too much artificial emotion in the long climax, which leads to a resolution right out of ''Peter Pan.'' (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and a sci-fi medical sequence.) 48 HRS

Violence is the raison d'etre of this technically sharp but thoroughly nasty thriller about a cop and a crook who join forces to catch a psychopath. Directed by Walter Hill with his usual slam-bang competence. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, sexual innuendo, and mayhem.) FRANCES

Melodramatic biography of the late movie star Frances Farmer, dealing with her rebellious teen years and her success in Hollywood, and graphically depicting her struggle with a series of apparent mental breakdowns. After some rocky moments near the beginning, Jessica Lange turns in a forceful performance, but director Graeme Clifford stresses the most sordid aspects of the story, and takes evident glee in painting the professional characters (mostly psychiatrists) as fools at best and outright thugs at worst. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, nudity, and much emotional violence.) GANDHI

Dignified but flat biography of the great Indian leader, giving more facts than insight. Directed by Richard Attenborough. (Rated PG; contains occasional scenes of violence in historical settings.) KING OF COMEDY, THE

In a variation on their nasty masterpiece, ''Taxi Driver,'' director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro depict a character so obsessed with TV stardom that he kidnaps a talk-show host (played by Jerry Lewis) and demands network air time as the ransom. Barely under control much of the way, the groggy plot veers between drama and comedy, often settling on embarassment as both its theme and its mood. (Rated PG; contains a little sexual innuendo.) LA NUIT DE VARENNES

Colorful, often amusing, sometimes vulgar historical romp about the waning days of the French aristocracy, which is represented by the aging Casanova. Directed, in French, by Ettore Scola. (Rated R; contains some nudity and sex-related dialogue.) LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER

Routine but energetic concert film featuring the Rolling Stones. Directed by Hal Ashby, whose own filmmaking personality rarely makes itself heard. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar lyrics.) LIANNA

Two women, a teacher and a ''faculty wife,'' have a love affair. Written and directed by John Sayles with dull, plodding earnestness. (Rated R; contains explicit sex.) LOCAL HERO

Slightly daft, utterly charming comedy about a young American sent to a sleepy Scottish village under orders to buy the place up for the oil company he works for. Written and directed with marvelous wit and subtlety by Bill Forsyth. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language.) LORDS OF DISCIPLINE, THE

At a military academy, a white cadet is assigned to protect a black youth from harassment, and finds himself up against a vicious secret society. A vulgar , often brutal, and incipiently racist drama, technically well directed by Franc Roddam. (Rated R; contains violence and vulgar language.) LOVESICK

After breaking all the rules by falling in love with a patient, a doctor leaves the psychoanalysis ''industry'' for a life of just plain helping people. Marshall Brickman wrote and directed this literate romantic comedy, which looks elegant even when it sinks to silliness. (Rated PG; contains broad satire of Freudian sexual discussions and a little implied sexual behavior.) MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER, THE

Australian western with all the classic cliches and stale situations, wrapped into a pretty and energetic package by director George Miller. Kirk Douglas plays two roles: a self-made rancher who wants to shield his daughter from romance with a handsome hired hand, and the rancher's long-lost brother, a sort of Gabby Hayes among the kangaroos. (Rated PG; contains some violence.) NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS, THE

Amid the sad confusion of World War II, a group of Italian peasants flee the Germans who control their town and head into the countryside, looking for American soldiers and liberation. Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani with their patented blend of realism, fantasy, and myth. (Rated R; contains some earthy details of peasant life.) OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, AN Except for its realistically rotten language and sexual activity, this is a surprisingly old-fashioned military drama about a young man dragged into maturity by a tough-but-kindly drill sergeant. The training and growing-up scenes are very effective. But the movie also wants to be a love story, and here it sinks into trite and sometimes distasteful formulas. Directed by Taylor Hackford. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and nudity.) PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE Stagy but sprightly film version of the enduring Gilbert and Sullivan operetta about lovable buccaneers, with a lively and talented cast. Directed by Wilford Leach, who doesn't make the show look quite as fresh as it did in his original productions for the New York Shakespeare Festival. (Rated G.) POETRY IN MOTION Documentary about poets who enjoy performing their work as much as writing it. Directed by Ron Mann, who never gets in the way of his subjects. (Not rated; contains vulgar language with sexual and scatalogical references.) SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY

Tuneful and energetic documentary about gospel music and the personalities who sing it to the rooftops. Directed by George T. Nierenberg with customary flair. (Rated G.) SEVEN SAMURAI, THE Reissue, at its full 31/2-hour length, of Akira Kurosawa's classic Japanese adventure about a group of warriors saving a peaceful village from brigands. There's too much hysteria in some of the frantically stylized performances, but the adventure still packs a wallop. (Not rated; contains violence.) SOPHIE'S CHOICE

Harrowing but humanistic drama, set in 1947, about a young writer who gets involved with a non-Semitic survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and her brilliant but unstable Jewish boyfriend. Written and directed by Alan J. Pakula, who eliminates much of the sensationalism and sexual detail of the original novel by William Styron. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, sexual innuendo, and Nazi war crimes.) STATE OF THINGS, THE Slow, strange, stately drama about a movie crew that runs out of film in the middle of nowhere, and has nothing else to do. Brilliantly directed by West German filmmaker Wim Wenders. (Not rated; contains a little sex and vulgar language.) STREET MUSIC

Capably made and energetically acted tragicomedy about residents of a down-and-out hotel trying to save their home from ''progress.'' Directed by Jenny Bowen, who has a good feel for elusive moods. (Rated R; contains some nudity and vulgar language.) TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS

The motley adventures of a writer who feels most comfortable among the dregs of society. Directed by Marco Ferreri with the mixture of sex and masochistic violence he's noted for, plus mountains of perverse sentimentality and oceans of mawkish self-pity. (Not rated; contains sex, violence, and vulgar language.) TENDER MERCIES

Exquisitely written and performed drama about a former country-music star recovering from a wrecked career and a drinking problem with the help of his new wife and stepson. Directed by Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford in his Hollywood debut, with a gentle style that's all the more stirring because it avoids the usual melodramatic twists. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar lAnguage.) TOOTSIE

An out-of-work actor becomes a star by masquerading as a woman in this reasonably funny comedy featuring a complex performance by Dustin Hoffman. Directed by Sydney Pollack. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language and sexual innuendo.) VERDICT, THE

Paul Newman gives what may be the performance of his career as a down-and-out lawyer who risks what's left of his practice to take a courageous stand on a difficult case. Sensitively directed by Sidney Lumet from a screenplay by David Mamet that is flawed only by some bumpy spots near the beginning and end. (Rated R; contains some vulgar language and a few medical details.) VICTORY MARCH Scathing drama on military life in Italy, focusing on a gentle young man who learns to be the opposite. Directed by Marco Bellocchio in a style that swings from hysterical to repulsive to searingly powerful. (Not rated; contains sex, violence, and scatalogical detail.) WITHOUT A TRACE

Drama, directed by Stanley Jaffe, about the search for a missing child and the effect of his disappearance on the parents. A schematic, often contrived look at an important subject. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and some frank talk about sexual abuse of children.) YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, THE

A young journalist takes on his first big assignment, covering the last days of the Sukarno regime in Indonesia, and meets a diverse array of characters, including an enigmatic little man named Billy, brilliantly played by the American actress Linda Hunt. YOU ARE NOT I

Brief but pointed drama about a deranged young woman who wanders away from a mental institution. A strong debut for director Sara Driver. (Not rated; contains disturbing subject matter.)

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