Holiday releases 101

The Lord of The Rings: The Return of King

Peter Jackson delivers the concluding chapter of one of the most successful trilogies ever, and a shoe-in as this year’s biggest cinematic event. Lord of The Rings has garnered “Best Picture” nominations for the past two years, and come the end of February it’s possible Return of The King will be walking away victorious. If Helms Deep, the final battle in The Two Towers, was any indication, moviegoers can expect a breathtakingly captured war through focused direction and beautiful cinematography. For those who have opted for the visual adaptations over J.R.R. Tolkiens novels, it’ll be exciting to see how the saga will end. Can Frodo survive? Will Aragorn rise to the throne? All these questions will be answered come December 17. — Pablo Saldana

Mona Lisa Smile

A teacher motivates a group of students to do something with their lives. It sounds like Dead Poet’s Society, but instead it’s the star-studded film is Mona Lisa Smile. Julia Roberts stars as the enlightened professor who wants her students (Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal) to be more than just lifelong housewives. Mona Lisa Smile could very well end up being the year’s ultimate chick flick, but who can do it better than the “Pretty Woman” herself and a school of eager starlettes waiting to seize Roberts’ crown as America’s sweetheart. (December 19) — P.S.

Stuck on You

The Farrely brothers, directors of Shallow Hal and There’s Something About Mary, are back at it again. This time, instead of body fluids, zipper accidents and fat chicks, they are setting their sights at making fun of conjoined twins. And it looks pretty funny. The film stars Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins who grow apart, figuratively, of course. Given the history of the Farrely brothers’ previous comedies, chances are this one will not escape gross humor and fart jokes. But with their serious improvement in subject matter (from the simply annoying Dumb and Dumber to the good hearted Shallow Hal), the film has comedic and plot potential. (December 12) — Olga Robak


Ben Affleck needs to recover from the disaster that was Gigli, and Paycheck may be just the film for him to do it. Directed by John Woo, the movie looks like a smarter version of Mission Impossible. The premise may remind some of Men in Black II, in which Tommy Lee Jones leaves himself clues to remember what he did before he got neuralized. In Paycheck, the memory erasing seems to be more painful, and the plot is slightly less far-fetched then in MIB. The film promises action, suspense and with some help from Uma Thurman maybe a bounce back for Mr. Affleck, whose Dogma and Good Will Hunting days are long gone. (December 25) — O.R.

The Fog of War

Errol Morris is a cool guy who stumbled into making cool documentaries because he liked researching cool stuff. From Stephen Hawking to the guy who perfected the electric chair (proudly known as Dr. Death), Morris lets his subjects do all the talking, while asking very few questions. This organic method of interviewing is well-suited for the likes of Robert McNamara. This is a man who was one of the most important figures of the 20th century concerning U.S. policy on war, population and development, world hunger and the environment. The Fog of War is sure to keep in line with Morris’ track record of highlighting uncommonly fascinating people. (December 19) — Harold Valentine

Big Fish

Director Tim Burton returns to his gothic-adventure roots this Christmas with Big Fish. After the disappointing Planet of the Apes, fans loyal to his dark, quirky style (think Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands) should rejoice about Fish. The misunderstood darkness in Burton’s past heroes usually clashed with their suburban settings, but in this latest tribute to the fantastic, the direction is more southern-gothic as Edward Bloom (Fish’s protagonist) lands on a small town in Alabama.

Edward is an older man who loves to recount tall-tales from his youth. Ewan McGregor plays this character as a young man who exploits his wanderlust, darting from one bizarre episode to the next while circling the globe. Rounding out an impressive cast are Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Buscemi. (December 10) — H.V.

Also in theaters this holiday season:

Something’s Gotta Give: Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton (Dec. 12). Harry (Nicholson) is a bachelor with a taste for young women until he meets Erica (Keaton).

Cold Mountain: Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renee Zellweger (Dec. 25). A civil war epic that has the Academy buzzing even before the film’s Christmas release date.

Calendar Girls: Julie Walter and Helen Mirren (Dec. 19). A group of 45-60 year-old women take off their clothes and pose for a calendar in this comical British import.