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By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001
Recent releases recommended by Times film critic Steve Persall
1. Traffic -- Steven Soderbergh's engrossing biopsy of the cultural cancer of narcotics, from the lowest dealers to Washington lobbying parties. An excellent cast includes Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. One of the 10 best films of 2000.
2. State and Main -- Hollywood turns a sleepy Vermont town into a movie location, and nothing goes right except David Mamet's keen writing and direction. The best ensemble cast of 2000 includes Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- George Clooney, John Turturro and marvelously dumb Tim Blake Nelson escape from a chain gang and become Depression-era country music stars. Another weird, wonderful comedy from the Coen brothers.
4. Shadow of the Vampire -- What if the actor who played Nosferatu in 1922 had been a genuine bloodsucker? Willem Dafoe's Golden Globe-nominated performance is a creepy answer. Tampa Theatre only.
5. The Pledge -- Retired detective (Jack Nicholson) feels compelled to find a child killer in director Sean Penn's downbeat character study.