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movies: Rejoice!

Besides the usual suspects at the box office this holiday season, expect a few quirkier titles, thanks to one big, fat, moneymaking wedding.


The surprising box office success and continued long legs of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" have shaken Tinsel town pundits to their core. Not to mention scaring the bejeezus out of a few aging action stars and some fast-and-furious, "gimme sumpin to blow up" writer-directors. Since the bottom line on Nia Vardalos' romantic "sleeper" is the kind of return most studio execs only dream of, you can bet they're all scrambling to find the next "Wedding"-esque smash.

So rejoice, oh jaded moviegoers! This holiday season there actually might be magic at the box office that has nothing to do with Harry and his Hogwarts cohorts or Frodo and that goshdarn Middle Earth ring-thing. As always with this meandering stroll through press packs and a handful of pre-release screenings, please note that most of these films are listed sight unseen — and that all dates are tentative.

Next Big Thing?

Perhaps the next big "little" movie will be more offbeat, like Spike Jonze's "Adaptation" (Dec. 6), written by Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" collaborator, Charlie Kaufman, and based (loosely) on Susan Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief." Or maybe it'll be "The Emperor's Club" (Nov. 25), a pleasant and often surprising boys-school drama starring Kevin Kline as a teacher struggling to impart important values to his impressionable students. A cross between "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and "Dead Poet's Society," Kline's "Club" looks to be quite the crowd-pleaser.

Todd Haynes' beautiful melodrama about marriage and relationships, "Far From Heaven," (Dec., possibly) could find favor with a broader audience if marketed correctly. It also has the added bonus of a "sure-to-be-nominated" Oscar performance by Julianne Moore.

Get Real

A number of this season's releases are inspired by true stories. Prime among this set is Atom Egoyan's "Ararat," (Nov. 27), a heartfelt attempt to bring to the world the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. More successful, though even more harrowing, is Tim Blake Nelson's devastating film "The Grey Zone" (undated), which tells the story of Jewish prisoners who assisted in the crematoriums during World War II. Among this fall's documentaries, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" (Nov.), stands out as a terrific, tune-filled tribute to the legendary session musicians The Funk Brothers.

High Drama

Among the dramas, "The Hours" (Dec. 27) looks most promising: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman star in the adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, directed by Stephen Daldry ("Billy Elliott"). Other literary offerings include "The Weight of Water" (Dec.), based on Anita Shreve's novel; Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity" (Nov. 27), which is based on her short stories and profiles three women and their peripheral connection to an accident. Similarly, "The Lawless Heart" (Dec.) tells three intersecting stories about the death of a young man.

Then Michael Caine co-stars with Brendan Fraser in "The Quiet American" (late Dec./early Jan.) from director Phillip Noyce. Based on a Graham Greene novel, it's a murder-mystery about a love triangle in 1952 Saigon. For those requiring a little romance with their holiday dramas, Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez pair up for "Maid in Manhattan" (Dec. 13), and Campbell Scott takes to the screen as a womanizing misogynist with a heart in the charming but cynical "Roger Dodger" (Dec.).

Sequels, Remakes, Retreads & Reissues

The season's biggest sequel is undoubtedly "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (Dec. 18), which reunites the cast of the blockbuster first film. Audiences can also live long and prosper with "Star Trek: Nemesis" (Dec. 13), sip martinis with 007 in the James Bond adventure "Die Another Day" (Nov. 22), or share Billy Crystal's couch with Bobby De Niro in "Analyze That" (Dec. 6), where Crystal once again finds himself trying to shrink mobster De Niro's head. Also, Ice Cube and Mike Epps finally get their own place in the next installment of the "Friday" comedies — "Friday After Next" (Nov. 22).

And Roberto Benigni, of the "Life Is Beautiful" Oscar, stars in and directs a live-action, remake of "Pinocchio" (Dec. 25). Disney's big animated offering is "Treasure Planet" (Nov. 27), loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," while "The Wild Thornberrys Movie" (Dec. 20), finds the Thornberry family (from Nickelodeon) on the African Serengeti.

Scares & General Weirdness

Those who like to be afraid ... be very afraid ... at the movies can find creepy things happening in the very distant future in "Equilibrium," (Dec. 6); in "The Hot Chick" (Dec. 13), where the gal in the title wakes up to find herself trapped in the body of Rob Schneider (Now that's scary!!!); or the animated comedy "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights" (Nov. 27).

Tough guys & Guilty Pleasures?

These guys don't dance, and you can be darn sure they don't watch the Lifetime channel. Ray Liotta plays a rogue cop in "Narc" (Dec. 20), and a handful of extreme-sports enthusiasts accidentally find the lair of a Serbian war criminal in "Extreme Ops" (Nov. 22).

Besides the aforementioned Fiennes/Lopez romance "Maid in Manhattan," how about Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock playing dueling lawyers in the would-be modern screwball comedy "Two Weeks Notice" (Dec. 20). Not exactly Hepburn and Tracy in "Adam's Rib," perhaps, but Grant and Bullock can be awfully cute when they want to be, and the pairing sounds promising.

Directors' Cut

Steven Soderbergh follows "Full Frontal" with the space-station drama "Solaris" (Nov. 27), featuring his "Ocean's Eleven" star George Clooney. Martin Scorsese finally unveils his long-awaited "Gangs of New York," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis on Dec. 25, the same day Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can" opens, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio (with Tom Hanks) as legendary con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.

Alexander Payne follows his "Election" success with another dark comedy, "About Schmidt" (Dec. 25), in which Jack Nicholson ponders all of life's little disappointments while Denzel Washington, Best Actor winner for "Training Day," makes his feature directing debut with "Antwone Fisher" (Dec. 20), in which he also co-stars.

And finally, something unexpected happens at the end of "Rabbit-Proof Fence" (Nov. 29), Phillip Noyce's hauntingly lovely film about three Aboriginal girls taken from their families in 1931 Australia. Without giving anything away, I must tell you that it not only brought a gasp to my throat and a tear to my eye, but also served to remind me of why I love the movies — for the surprising and wondrous gifts they can bring to an audience.

May your holiday season be full of such cinematic presents! S

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