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Serious themes rule the holiday screen scene as studios pull out their Oscar contenders

Holiday Heavyweights

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Mature themes and thoughtful, emotional performances rule the box office this holiday season. Although the cinema crush has already kicked off with the ultimate showdown — Schwarzenegger vs. Satan in "End of Days" and the return of Woody and Buzz in "Toy Story 2" — the majority of movies hitting local screens over the next four weeks are decidedly more serious in tone. OK, you're right, there is that Rob Schneider-in-Adam-Sandlerland comedy about a pool cleaner who becomes a gigolo called "Deuce Bigalow." But what more needs to be said after that?

So, let's get serious. Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat star in the nonmusical retelling of the British governess who changed the heart of the King of Siam in "Anna and the King." Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle co-star in the big-screen version of the best-selling, bittersweet memoir "Angela's Ashes." Another John Irving best seller gets the Hollywood treatment, "The Cider House Rules" starring Tobey Maguire, Kathy Bates, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine. Maguire stars as a young man raised in an orphanage under the patronage of the abortionist who runs it. This marks the fourth character-rich Irving novel to make it to the screen.

Maguire, who was so wonderful in last year's "Pleasantville," also stars in Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil." Set along the Kansas/Missouri border circa 1861, Maguire plays 16-year-old Jake, who joins the First Kansas Irregulars and becomes a part of this bloody chapter of Civil War history. Pop-singer Jewel makes her acting debut.

Famed director Milos Forman returns at the helm of "Man on the Moon." Jim Carrey stars in this look at the crazy world of comic Andy Kaufman. Danny DeVito and Courtney Love co-star. Evoking memories of Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is "Girl Interrupted." Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie co-star in this distaff version of life in a mental institution.

Tom Hanks spends his Christmas vacation in a 1930s-era penal institution in "The Green Mile." Based on Stephen King's best-selling novel of the same name, Hanks plays a prison guard on death row who is forever changed by a convicted murderer. Hanks begins to doubt the gentle giant is guilty when he witnesses him performing what seems to be healing miracles. Ethan Hawke stars in another adaptation of a best seller, "Snow Falling on Cedars." Racial prejudice against Japanese-Americans after World War II lies at the heart of this murder mystery.

Oliver Stone tackles professional football this holiday season with "Any Given Sunday." Al Pacino plays a coach who puts pressure on aging quarterback Dennis Quaid to play despite a dangerous injury. If Quaid doesn't play, he'll be replaced by the younger, more media-savvy Jamie Foxx.

Tim Robbins directs wife, Susan Sarandon, and a cast of other notables, including John and Joan Cusack, Hank Azaria, John Turturro and Bill Murray in "Cradle Will Rock." As a change of pace, this is not based on a novel, but a play. "Cradle Will Rock" tells the true story of the staging of a pro-union, anti-big business socialist play in 1937.

The messy business of jealousy and murder lies at the heart of thriller "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Oscar winners Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow co-star in this retelling of a Patricia Highsmith novel. Damon plays a man hired to entice a playboy (Jude Law) to come back to his family in the States. As Damon ingratiates himself into Ripley's circle of friends and ostentatious lifestyle, he becomes more and more like him. And that familiarity breeds sinister results.

Finally, famed director Barry Levinson returns to his beloved Baltimore for a fourth time with "Liberty Heights." Ben Foster and Adrian Brody star as two brothers in 1954 Baltimore who are struggling with being Jewish, civil rights and the fear of nuclear war. And finally, the usual holiday disclaimer: Many of these films will be released on a limited basis to meet the Oscar qualifying deadline. Which means many will arrive just after the new year here in

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