Italian craftsmen at Rome's Cinecittà studios re-created Manhattan's notorious Five Points slum for Martin Scorsese's latest, Gangs of New York, an immigrant's tale set during the Civil War. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young Irishman bent on avenging his father's murder; Cameron Diaz is the pickpocket who dazzles him.

Auteur Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark, shot in a single long take, merges fact and fiction at St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum as the camera follows a mysterious diplomat on a tour of the galleries—and of Russian history. Featuring Catherine the Great, Nicholas II, and the most glorious ballroom scene since King Vidor's War and Peace.

Paris-based director Roman Polanski drew on his childhood memories of Cracow for The Pianist, an adaptation of Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoir. Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody, survives the Warsaw ghetto, goes into hiding, and emerges after liberation to wander a decimated city.

Morvern Callar, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's alternately boozy and exhilarating portrait of aimless youth, has live wire Samantha Morton in the title role as a supermarket clerk who finds her boyfriend dead under a Christmas tree. Her life is transformed when she takes his ATM card and his unpublished novel and heads for Spain. (All open this month.)