Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to literary adaptation. Both "Jude" and "The Claim" were drawn from works by Thomas Hardy. Nor is the versatile filmmaker a stranger to the post-modern romp, like "24 Hour Party People". In that peon to Manchester's music scene, Steve Coogan was Factory honcho Tony Wilson. In Winterbottom's take on Laurence Sterne's digressive "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman", the prolific helmer combines literature with lunacy and brings Coogan back as the titular character--and then some. Coogan doesn't just portray the 18th century squire, but his father Walter and insecure actor "Steve Coogan." It's a film about the making of a film, effortlessly shifting between Tristram's tumultuous birth and his frustrated adulthood--bogged down in the writing of his life story--and between fiction and (what appears to be) fact. There are no end to the worries on and off the set: Coogan worries his heels aren't high enough, Rob Brydon worries his teeth are too yellow, and Coogan's girlfriend (Kelly Macdonald) worries she isn't seeing enough of him. It may sound like Spike Jonze's "Adaptation", but in spirit, it more closely resembles Tony Richardson's "Tom Jones". Coogan and his co-stars, particularly Naomie Harris as the ultimate film nut, Gillian Anderson as the American brought in to boost the project's profile, and Brydon as Tristram's Uncle Toby are as game for the challenge as their fearless leader. Consequently, "Tristram Shandy" isn't just one of Winterbottom's best films--it's one of the "year's" best. --"Kathleen C. Fennessy"