The holidays are upon us, that magical season of family and film, merriment and multiplexes. It's the second-biggest cinema season of the year, and with good reason. People need to get out of the house, need a break from cooking and wrapping. We need a place to park the kids while we shop.
Go, hang out with James Bond, dreamboat vampires or cartoon critters. Make a vow that you're not getting skunked in the office Oscar pool this year and catch Australia, Frost/Nixon, Doubt or the other "contenders" rolling out between now and New Year's.
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Will a dog named Marley upstage Jennifer and Owen? Is Valkyrie really the big Cruise "comeback?
Harry Potter? You'll have to wait. He's been held back — not at Hogwarts, at the movies. He won't return until next summer.
Some highlights of the holidays:
The crowd pleasers
Bolt (Nov. 21): The animators at the House of Mouse are gambling that their latest will lure kids in with its cute dog, its Miley Cyrus voice casting (she plays the dog's owner) and its 3D glasses. It's not Pixar. But neither are Delgo or The Tales of Desperaux, opening in December.
Twilight (Nov. 21): Toy-boy vampires tempt teens (Kristen Stewart among them) who like their prom dates pale and dangerous in this adaptation of the monster hit novel by Stephenie Meyer.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec. 12): Keanu Reeves stars as the alien who comes to Earth to lecture and threaten us about our warlike ways in this remake of the 1951 Cold War analogy. Will the gamble of hiring the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose to shoot this potential blockbuster pay off? I wonder.
The Spirit (Dec. 25): Comic-book icon Frank Miller directed comic-book icon Will Eisner's story of a murdered cop who returns to scare off evil in this Sin City-ish film event.
Marley & Me (Dec. 25): Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson star in this tale of a big dog who teaches a family life lessons, adapted from John Grogan's sentimental book.
Four Christmases (Nov. 26): Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon contend, despite their protests, with two sets of divorced parents over a holiday weekend.
Nothing Like the Holidays (Dec. 12): John Leguizamo stars in this Latino variation on This Christmas that has a family of Puerto Ricans from Chicago facing the knowledge that this might be their "last Christmas" together.
Yes Man (Dec. 19): Jim Carrey is a guy who makes himself say "yes" to everything during the course of a year, and pretends that this is nothing like Liar, Liar.
Bedtime Stories (Dec. 25): That wacky uncle whose fanciful tales come true for his amazed niece and nephew? Adam Sandler.
Australia (Nov. 26): Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in this epic of love and cattle in the World War II of a land called Oz.
Milk (Nov. 26 in some cities, Dec. 12 the rest): The Oscar buzz is loud with this one, in which Sean Penn plays the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor murdered by a homophobic colleague. Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and Emile Hirsch co-star.
Frost/Nixon (Dec. 5 in some cities, Dec. 12 the rest): Michael Sheen is David Frost and Frank Langella is Richard Nixon in this account of the TV interview that changed Watergate history.
Seven Pounds (Dec. 12): Will Smith stars as a depressed IRS agent who resolves to better the lives of seven strangers.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec. 25): Brad Pitt is F. Scott Fitzgerald's man who ages in reverse in this satire from David Fincher.
Valkyrie (Dec. 26): Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and Terrence Stamp play the Germans who plotted to assassinate Hitler in the last year of World War II.