All Wrapped Up

Holiday Film Previews

The end of the year, with its holiday season emphasizing leisure time, disposable dollars, and group activities, is always a period rich with new movie releases. The holiday season is the period the studios reserve for rolling out their high-profile items -- prestige productions, Oscar bait, and "serious" dramas. Would-be award contenders vie for prominence in our fickle hearts and short-term memories. As befits the season, the holiday film menu emphasizes gluttony and overindulgence.

Films by "name" directors will be plentiful during the coming weeks, although some holiday titles, such as Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown and documentarian Errol Morris' Mr. Death, The Rise and Fall of Alfred A Leuchter Jr., aren't due to arrive on Austin screens until February. In the meantime, you might keep an eye out for some of the following films by noted directors. With All About My Mother, Pedro Almodóvar takes a more serious turn away from his campier material (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown); Oliver Stone uncovers football's front-office conspiracies in Any Given Sunday; Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) explores another impossible relationship in The End of the Affair; Atom Egoyan follows up The Sweet Hereafter with another literary adaptation, Felicia's Journey; Barry Levinson (Diner, Avalon) revisits the Jewish Baltimore of his youth in Liberty Heights; Jane Campion (The Piano) re-teams with Harvey Keitel in Holy Smoke, also starring Kate Winslet; Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) tells the story of falsely imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in Hurricane; Boogie Nights' Paul Thomas Anderson returns with another ensemble work, Magnolia; Milos Forman, a master of the biopic (The People vs. Larry Flynt, Amadeus) delivers the much-anticipated Andy Kaufman story, Man on the Moon; Ang Lee shifts time periods to the Civil War after his excursions into Jane Austen territory with Sense and Sensibility and Seventies' Connecticut in The Ice Storm; and Ron Shelton explores the world of boxing in Play It to the Bone, adding another notch to his sports-themed film résumé (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, and Tin Cup.)

A slew of literary adaptations will also be prominent during the coming weeks. Among them are Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, John Irving's The Cider House Rules, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and plays by August Strindberg (Miss Julie) and Sam Shepard (Simpatico).

Listed here are nearly 60 movies expected to hit Austin screens between Thanksgiving and the end of January. The anticipated opening dates provided by the distributors are included when known, but should always be used as a guide rather than a rule. So go out and enjoy. There's a holiday package for every taste under this wide-ranging list.
-- Marjorie Baumgarten


AGNES BROWNE

D: Anjelica Huston; with Huston, Marion O'Dwyer, Ray Winstone, Arno Chevrier.

Adapted from Irishman Brendan O'Carroll's bestselling novel, The Mammy, this Sixties-era drama kicks off to a foreboding start as the death of a family patriarch leaves a penniless mother, and her seven children, emotionally ravaged. Oscar-winner Huston plays the title character and also adds a second notch to her director's belt (Bastard Out of Carolina) with this bittersweet story of second chances.


ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER

D: Pedro Almodóvar; with Cecilia Roth, Eloy Azorín, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz.

The latest from outrageous Spanish director Almodóvar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) sees him mellowing to create this lovingly etched portrait of motherhood and resilient women, as the story follows Manuela (Roth) as she endures the heartbreaking death of a son and embarks on a wrenching journey for a long-lost lover. (Jan. 14)


AMERICAN MOVIE

D: Chris Smith.

This year's contender for Documentary Break-out Hit is this gentle, funny, passionate, and focused study of a man in Wisconsin pursuing his American Dream. The movie's subject, Mark Borchardt, is obsessed with making his dream movie, but the would-be filmmaker possesses more drive than cash. Yet nothing daunts his ambition and nothing deters his will, though the observer might sometimes wonder whether spunk or madness propels Borchardt's quest. (Nov. 24)


ANGELA'S ASHES

D: Alan Parker; with Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle.

Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) and Robert Carlyle (Begbie in Trainspotting) star in this comedy-drama about author Frank McCourt's tumultuous young life in 1930s Ireland. McCourt's novel spent two years on The New York Times Bestseller List and nailed a Pulitzer in the process, so expect much heartwarming chaos and, of course, potatoes. (Jan. 14)


ANNA AND THE KING

D: Andy Tennant; with Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling.

Veteran film actress Jodie Foster dons 19th-century garb for this period-piece update of the celebrated journeys of Anna Leonowens, who was hired by the King of Siam to educate his 58 children. Chow Yun-Fat departs from his usual action fare for what looks to be a richly decorated, cross-cultural love story. (Dec. 17)


ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

D: Oliver Stone; with Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Charlton Heston, Ann-Margret, James Woods, Matthew Modine, Aaron Eckhart, Jim Brown, LL Cool J, Lauren Holly, Lela Rochon, Elizabeth Berkley.

Expect Oliver Stone to turn up a few behind-the-scenes conspiracies in his new football movie, like those involving racism, ageism, and sexism. Al Pacino heads up the fictional Miami Sharks and battles it out, on-field and off, with team owner Cameron Diaz, while longtime quarterback Dennis Quaid gets sidelined and up-and-comer Jamie Foxx saves the day, more or less. Also on hand are Charlton Heston, James Woods, and Dick Butkus, along with a whole lotta pigskin. Win one for the Stoner, guys! (Dec. 22)


BEEFCAKE

D: Thom Fitzgerald; with Daniel MacIvor, Joshua Peace, Carroll Godsman, Jonathan Torrens.

Take a tour through the world of Fifties' muscle magazines in this drama (interspersed with archival footage) that follows photographer Bob Miser, whose Athletic Models Guild agency supplied the industry with many a well-oiled Adonis. The film is director Fitzgerald's follow-up to his debut movie The Hanging Garden. (Jan. 14)


BICENTENNIAL MAN

D: Chris Columbus; with Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davidtz, Wendy Crewson, Oliver Platt.

Robin Williams goes heavy metal in this Chris Columbus (Stepmom) comedy about an android who unexpectedly develops feelings and emotions while working as a family servant in an American household for two decades. (Dec. 17)


BOYS DON'T CRY

D: Kimberly Peirce; with Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alison Folland.

Based on the real-life story of Teena Marie Brandon (about whom a documentary has also been made), Boys Don't Cry tells the story of a Nebraska man with a double life. He was a teenage girl who lived her life as a young man until her exposure unleashed a torrent of hatred. The film is produced by Christine Vachon's Killer Films (Happiness, Velvet Goldmine). (Dec. 25)


CALIGULA

D: Tinto Brass; with Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole.

For everyone who loves porn but blushes red at the counter with a XXX title in their hand,the Bob Guccione-produced Caligula gives sexually charged filmgoers a legitimate excuse to revel in the debauchery and decadence of ancient Rome. The infamous 1980 mix of "historic" porn and gruesome disembowelings comes to theatres as an uncensored director's cut, overflowing with Penthouse pets and the forever-lost youth of a now much-aged cast. (Dec. 3)


THE CIDER HOUSE RULES

D: Lasse Hallström; with Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Michael Caine, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd.

Based on John Irving's bestselling novel of the same name, this quirky story follows the footfalls of Homer Wells, an abandoned child raised by an orphanage doctor. Taught a great deal about medicine, and less about how to survive in the real world, Homer must journey beyond the steps of his home and discover in himself what he never knew existed. This talented and eclectic cast could shine like a crazy diamond under the tutelage of director Hallström (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?). (Dec. 25)


THE CITY (LA CIUDAD)

D: David Riker; with Ricardo Cuevas, Cipriano Garcia, Silvia Goiz, Leticia Herrera, Jose Rabelo.

Compared by critics to the Italian neorealist masterpiece The Bicycle Thief, this film of hardship and woe takes place within the gritty, urban landscape of New York City. By filming in a lustrous black-and-white, writer/director Riker unfolds a carefully constructed story that splits into four tales of illegal immigrants whose dreams of prosperity, love, education, and security are quashed. (Dec. 10)


CRADLE WILL ROCK

D: Tim Robbins; with Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, Joan Cusak, John Cusak, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Cherry Jones, Angus MacFadyen, Bill Murray, Ruben Blades, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro.

An all-star cast with street cred to spare sports 1930s costumery for this look at a period of American history when a cultural revolution closed down communist acting troupes like the one from Orson Welles' (MacFadyen) Federal Theater. (Jan. 14)


DEUCE BIGALOW: MALE GIGOLO

D: Mike Mitchell; with Rob Schneider, Arija Bareikis, William Forsythe, Eddie Griffin, Oded Fehr.

Professional fish tank cleaner Deuce (Schneider) enters the world of upscale male escorts after mistakenly answering the phone of a gigolo client. With a setup like this, Schneider should look completely at ease in Deuce, especially considering his years of similar goofs on Saturday Night Live. (Dec. 10)


DIAMONDS

D: John Asher; with Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Dan Aykroyd, Corbin Allred, Jenny McCarthy.

Screen legend (and real-life stroke victim) Kirk Douglas plays Harry, an octogenarian in failing health who hijacks his son and grandson on a road trip to hunt down 13 diamonds. (Jan. 28)


DOWN TO YOU

D: Kris Issacson; with Freddie Prinze Jr., Selma Blair, Ashton Kutcher, Shawn Hatosy, Julia Stiles, Henry Winkler.

A handful of the industry's top teen stars tackle this romantic comedy in which Prinze (She's All That) plays an MIT student who must grapple with the first serious romance of his adult life. (Jan. 21)


DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB

D: Stanley Kubrick; with Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones.

More lethal than a nuclear waste dump, Kubrick's 1964 komedy at least kills us with laughter. Thirty-five years after its making, this film seems even more insidiously knowing and "on target" than it has any right to be. It's one of the greatest -- and undoubtedly the most hilarious -- antiwar statements ever put to film. See this re-release before the world ends. (Dec. 31)


END OF DAYS

D: Peter Hyams; with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Tunney, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollack, Rod Steiger.

In yet another millennial fever thriller, the last action hero plays a former cop thrust into a diabolical chase with Satan, who is searching for a bride in the final countdown to 2000. (Nov. 24)


THE END OF THE AFFAIR

D: Neil Jordan; with Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea.

Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) reteams with Stephen Rea for a film, based on the novel by Graham Greene, that sells itself as a complex story of paradises lost. During the post-WWII years of Europe, a tortured writer, Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes), dives into a stormy night, and through a happenstance encounter, awakens an obsession over a woman he could never release from his heart. (Jan. 21)


FELICIA'S JOURNEY

D: Atom Egoyan; with Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Arsinée Khanjian, Peter McDonald.

Atom Egoyan follows up The Sweet Hereafter with another literary adaptation, this time a novel by William Trevor. Felicia (Cassidy), who is searching for a lost love on the streets of Birmingham, England, is picked up by an older gent named Hilditch (Hoskins), who goes to great lengths to aid her cause, all while hiding his own pain and loss from her. (Dec. 17)


FEVER PITCH

D: David Evans; with Colin Firth, Ruth Gemmell, Neil Pearson, Lorraine Ashbourne. Based on a book by English writer Nick Hornby, this film depicts the romance between an uptight English teacher and a soccer coach during an exciting championship season.


FLAWLESS

D: Joel Schumacher; with Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Miller, Rory Cochrane, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Daphne Rubin-Vega.

One part My Left Foot, and one part Wigstock, Flawless takes on the heady task of teaching New Yorkers that it's okay to reach out to those strange looking drag queen neighbors who live one floor up. Written and directed by Joel Schumacher, of Batman Forever ill-repute. (Nov. 24)


GALAXY QUEST

D: Dean Parisot; with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni.

DreamWorks SKG pays homage to the legacy of Star Trek with a deep-space adventure movie of the adolescent kind. As the aged members of the long-canceled TV show Galaxy Quest make their rounds at national sci-fi conventions, a group of real aliens entreat the faux-star travelers to save them against a deadly foe. This comic group of actors just might be able to pull off this science fiction/action spoof. (Dec. 25)


GIRL, INTERRUPTED

D: James Mangold; with Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Vanessa Redgrave, Whoopi Goldberg.

Based on the true experiences of Susanna Kaysen (Ryder), Girl, Interrupted tells the story of a young woman in a mental institution who patrols the border between reality and insanity with a handgun loaded with six barrels of chaos. Jolie, as another patient, seduces Susanna to let go of the outside world and give up the fight with her inner demons. (Dec. 21)


GRAND ILLUSION

D: Jean Renoir; with Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Dita Parlo, Gaston Modot.

Jean Renoir's 1937 masterpiece is one of the most eloquent antiwar films on record. In it, French POWs are held in a German camp during WWI and develop an unusually sensitive relationship with the camp's commandant, played most memorably by the aristocratic Erich von Stroheim. This French film spoke volumes in the years leading up to WWII, and its humanist sensibilities remain fresh and original. (Jan. 21)


THE GRANDFATHER

D: José Luis Garci; with Fernando Fernán-Gómez, Rafael Alonso, Cayetana Guillén Cuervo, Agustín González, Cristina Cruz, Alicia Rozas.

In this Oscar-nominated foreign film set in turn-of-the-century Spain, an aged man learns the true meaning of family, fidelity, and betrayal as he seeks to discover the hidden truths about his blood ties. (Nov. 24)


THE GREEN MILE

D: Frank Darabont; with Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Sam Rockwell, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Sinise, William Sadler.

This season's Stephen King adaptation looks to be a keeper, thanks to the talents of director Darabont (who scored seven Oscar nominations with his previous King effort, The Shawshank Redemption) and Hollywood's golden boy, Tom Hanks. Like Shawshank, this one also takes place in prison, but features a meatier supernatural twist in the form of a mysterious death-row convict whose eerie powers lead prison guard Hanks to question not only his faith in the system but also in life, God, and mice as well. (Dec. 10)


HOLY SMOKE

D: Jane Campion; with Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier, Julie Hamilton, Sophie Lee.

Jane Campion (The Piano, Sweetie) directs this story about the relationship between a young Australian woman who joins a religious cult while in India and the American deprogrammer hired by her parents to rid her of her foolishness. As the nature of their contact grows, the tables gradually turn from a questioning of religious assumptions to a questioning of personal sexual politics. (Jan. 21)


THE HURRICANE

D: Norman Jewison; with Denzel Washington, Vicellous Shannon, Deborah Unger, Liev Schreiber.

During the summer of 1966, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (Washington), a viable contender for the middleweight boxing title belt, was mistakenly arrested for the murders of three New Jersey citizens. Socially conscious director Norman Jewison reteams with his Soldier's Story co-star to recount what looks to be an inspirational tale of redemption and the resilience of the human spirit. (Jan. 14)


LAST NIGHT

D: Don McKellar; with McKellar, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, David Cronenberg, Geneviève Bujold, Roberta Maxwell.

If the world were to end in six hours, what would you do with the time? In a nutshell, this is the premise of Last Night, an introspective story which marks the 1998 feature directorial debut of Don McKeller (The Red Violin scriptwriter). With an eclectic cast, the film looks to deliver an odd, if not altogether surreal, experience. (Dec. 17)


LIBERTY HEIGHTS

D: Barry Levinson; with Adrien Brody, Bebe Neuwirth, Joe Mantegna, Carolyn Murphy, Richard Kline.

Never mind Drew Carey: Baltimore rules, okay?! At least according to director Levinson, who has used the city as home base for everything from Diner to Tin Men. Liberty Heights continues the tradition with this ensemble tale of growing up Jewish in the mid-1950s, during the early years of desegregation and rock & roll. It features Adrian Brody (Summer of Sam), Joe Mantegna, and Lilith herself, Bebe Neuwirth. (Dec. 25)


THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE

D: Léos Carax; with Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Klaus-Michael Gruber.

Would-be circus performer Alex and Michèle -- a young artist running from a failed relationship and slowly going blind -- love, struggle, suffer, and bacchanal with Paris' oldest bridge and the city's streets and waterways as backdrop in this legendary French film from 1991. (Nov. 26)


MAGNOLIA

D: Paul Thomas Anderson; with Henry Gibson, April Grace, Luis Guzman, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Felicity Huffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Melora Walters.

The much-anticipated encore film from wunderkind director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) is already creating a swarm of anticipation in the world of independent film -- especially since Tom Cruise goes unbilled in a small role. With an ensemble cast that pulls many, many players from his previous efforts, Anderson's story follows a series of six interconnected tales, set in the San Fernando Valley, dealing with issues of parents, children, loneliness, and love. (Jan. 7)


MAN OF THE CENTURY

D: Adam Abraham; with Gibson Frazier, Cara Buono, Susan Egan, Anthony Rapp.

In this homage to studio films, Frazier (who also co-wrote and co-produced with director Abraham) plays Johnny Twennies, a fast-talking, stogie-chomping newspaper reporter oblivious to his surroundings in modern-day New York. Abraham's hysterical man-out-of-time schtick is an inspired and memorable piece of cinema which played to thunderous applause in its screenings at last year's SXSW. (Dec. 3)


MAN ON THE MOON

D: Milos Forman; with Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti, Tony Clifton.

With all the star muscle invested in this biopic concerning the late Andy Kaufman, this dark comedy will no doubt trade its strong pre-release buzz for a supernova opening weekend. As the film's teaser trailers impress upon even the casual viewer, Carrey has transformed himself into the profanity-spitting image of the eccentric actor/comedian Kaufman, who was never fully embraced by a public he longed for all his life. (Dec. 22)


MANSFIELD PARK

D: Patricia Rozema; with Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Embeth Davidtz, Harold Pinter.

Just when you thought we were running out of Jane Austen novels to adapt, along comes Mansfield Park, a film version of the author's third novel. Canadian director Rozema, best known for her lesbian-tinged romances, When Night Falls and I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, also wrote the script and incorporates some of Austen's letters into the story. (Dec. 25)


MISS JULIE

D: Mike Figgis; with Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan, Maria Doyle Kennedy.

Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) directs this period piece, based on August Strindberg's 1888 play, about the overheated passion of a count's daughter (Burrows), who manipulates the family bootman into seducing her.


MY DOG SKIP

D: Jay Russell; with Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson, Kevin Bacon.

The memoirs of recently deceased and much-beloved Southern scribe Willie Morris form the basis of this family-friendly tearjerker about a boy and a talented terrier in Yazoo City, Mississippi, in the Forties. (Jan. 12)


NEXT FRIDAY

D: Steve Carr; with Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, John Witherspoon, Don "DC" Curry.

Bathroom humor never worked so well as in the original film, and no doubt fans of Friday can expect more of the same streetwise comedy in this follow-up to the 1995 movie. Picking up where the first story left off, Craig (Cube) enters the ring for another round with his arch-enemy Debo. This go-around, however, the action takes place in the more polite arena of the suburbs, which should make for some rousing politically incorrect commentary. (Jan. 12)


PEEPING TOM

D: Michael Powell; with Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley.

This 1960 British thriller is a disturbingly titillating tale about a murderous photographer who films his female victims at the moment of their death. A classic study in point-of-view camerawork, the film is the work of The Red Shoes' Michael Powell. (Jan. 28)


PLAY IT TO THE BONE

D: Ron Shelton; Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Lucy Liu, Tom Sizemore, Robert Wagner.

Rival professional boxers Vince Boudreau (Harrelson) and Caesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) get one last shot to fight one another -- if they can make it to Las Vegas under a strict deadline. Roaring down the interstate with a fetching driver, Grace Pasic (Davidovich), the two sparring men knock heads over women, fighting, and the past that brought them to where they are now. (Jan. 14)


PRINCESS MONONOKE

D: Hayao Miyazaki; with the voices of Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett, Billy Bob Thornton.

The release of this Japanese animated movie has been eagerly anticipated in the U.S. ever since rave word of mouth started spreading on the heels of its phenomenal box-office success in Japan. Loosely based on Japanese folklore, the adult-minded movie tells the graphic story of the eternal war between nature and civilization. English-speaking actors give voice to the original animation by Japanese giant Hayao Miyazaki. (Nov. 24)


RIDE WITH THE DEVIL

D: Ang Lee; with Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, James Caviezel, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jewel.

Celebrated director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) helms this Civil War epic, which narrows upon the uphill efforts of a loosely organized group of Southern rebels called the Bushwhackers. After two Missouri-born childhood friends (Maguire and Ulrich) join the guerrilla troop, the jarring realities of war, ill-timed romance, and internal demons provide the duo with experiences unlike anything they'd previously dreamed. Pop singer Jewel makes her feature film debut here as a war widow with a penchant for kindness. (Dec. 17)


ROSETTA

D: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; with Emile Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Anne Yernaux.

Belgian-born brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne took home the year's Palme d'Or from Cannes for this stirring portrait of a teenage guttersnipe named Rosetta (Dequenne). A product of poverty and neglect, Rosetta trudges hangdog through the perilous streets in search of a steady job, which she believes will ballast her universe. Acting well beyond her years in the eyes of her peers, 18-year-old Dequenne's performance also won her a shared Best Actress prize at Cannes.


SAME OLD SONG

D: Alain Resnais; with Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Andre Dussollier.

This tribute by the great French director Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) to the work of Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) was described in The New York Times as "a contemporary musical comedy about real estate, agoraphobia, hypochondria and Parisian tourist landmarks, among other topics." In Resnais' usual fashion, it sounds like anything but the same old song. (Dec. 3)


SIMPATICO

D: Matthew Warchus; with Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catherine Keener, Albert Finney.

A solid ensemble buoys this tale of love and betrayal among friends and criminals. Based on a play by Sam Shepard, the film follows Vinnie, who seeks to settle the score 20 years after his best friend (Bridges) and best gal (Stone) ran off together with the loot.


SIXTH HAPPINESS

D: Waris Hussein; with Firdaus Kanga, Souad Faress, Khodus Wadia, Ahsen Bhatti, Roger Hammond.

Firdaus Kanga plays himself in this personal documentary, based on his autobiography Trying to Grow, which recounts his trials as a boy afflicted with brittle bone disease. Now a grown man, Kanga acts in and narrates the story of his life and explains how his tireless mother, with her endless capacity for love, dubbed Kanga her "sixth happiness," a reference to the 1958 Ingrid Bergman movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.


SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS

D: Scott Hicks; with Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Sam Shepard, Max von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, Rick Yune.

Scott Hicks' follow-up to Shine is this adaptation of David Guterson's novel, a moving account of the internment of Japanese-Americans following World War II. Hawke plays reporter and war veteran Ishmael Chambers, whose private passions make it difficult to intervene when a young Japanese-American is accused of murder primarily due to his race. (Jan. 7)


SOME FISH CAN FLY

D: Robert Kane Pappas; with Nancy St. Alban, Kevin Causey, Rich Nagel , Clarke Bittner, Nina Howie, John Rowe, Bridget Barkan.

First-time director Pappas gives us a story about true love beset by obstacles (he's a confirmed New Yorker and she's a stubborn Irish lass). Underlying this 10-year-long love story is a satirical account of the travails of a young filmmaker trying to put that story on the screen. (Dec. 10)


THE SOURCE

D: Chuck Workman.

Workman's documentary takes a stream-of-consciousness slide into the twisted, inebriated world of the Beat poets, mixing interviews, rare footage, criticism, oral history, and the works themselves. Interviews are conducted with such figures as Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and Gregory Corso, and works are read by Depp (Jack Kerouac), Hopper (William S. Burroughs), and Turturro (Allen Ginsberg). (Jan. 17)


SPEAKING IN STRINGS

D: Paola di Florio.

This intimate documentary explores the gods and monsters that colored the life of concert violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, dubbed the "Bad Girl" of violin early in her career. It was Sonnenberg's tumultuous love-hate relationship with her music that carried her into a severe stage of depression, which ultimately ended in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Director di Florio (a life-long friend of Sonnenberg) captures this tragic fall from grace and takes us behind the scenes of the highly stressful, and overly competitive, world of classical music. (Dec. 10)


STUART LITTLE

D: Rob Minkoff; with Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, and the voices of Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly, Bruno Kirby, Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn.

Based on the ever-popular book by beloved American author E. B. White (Charlotte's Web), this magical tale follows the adventures of mouse Stuart Little, who searches the land to learn the true meaning of loyalty and friendship. (Dec. 17)


SUPERNOVA

D: Walter Hill; with Angela Bassett, Wilson Cruz, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Facinelli, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Spader.

This futuristic sci-fi thriller finds a group of scientists fighting off the impending explosion of a supernova. Whether Hill's name or a pseudonym will be on the film come release time is still a dangling question; the director left the expensive picture during post-production when he and the MGM hierarchy disagreed about further shooting. (Jan. 14)


THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

D: Anthony Minghella; with Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The director of The English Patient, Anthony Minghella, based his screenplay on the literary thriller by Patricia Highsmith. Set in 1950s Italy, the film stars superhunk Damon as the titular Ripley, who has been commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to bring his epicurean, gadabout son back to both the U.S. and his senses. Middle-class Mr. Ripley, of course, takes matters into his own hands and (egad!) runs afoul of a very serious identity crisis, if you know what I mean. Gwyneth Paltrow co-stars and rounds out a cast so easy on the eyes you may never dare to look in the mirror again. (Dec. 22)


THOSE WHO LOVE ME CAN TAKE THE TRAIN

D: Patrice Chereau; with Pascal Greggory, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Charles Berling, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Bruno Todeschini, Sylvain Jacques, Vincent Perez.

From the French director of Queen Margot comes this hand-held observation of a train full of mourners accompanying an artist's corpse back to its final resting place. The dead man's tangle of family, friends, ex-lovers, and colleagues is brought into sharp focus. (Jan. 14)


TOY STORY 2

D: John Lasseter; with the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack, Wayne Knight, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf.

After the astounding success of the orginal animated film, this sure-to-be-a-hit follow-up was as inevitable as Stephen King's next New York Times bestseller. This go-around, cowboy toy Andy (Hanks) heads for summer camp and is stolen by an evil toy collector. It's up to Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and co. to save the day. (Nov. 24)


TRAIN OF LIFE

D: Radu Mihaileanu; with Lionel Abelanski, Rufus Clément Harari, Michael Muller.

If the idea of a concentration-camp comedy sounds familiar, it does to director Mihaileanu as well. He allegedly showed this script for Train of Life -- a story about a village of central European Jews who decide to escape the Nazi roundups by deporting themselves in an elaborate charade and then making a fast break to the Promised Land -- to Roberto Benigni, who passed but then went on to make Life Is Beautiful. (Dec. 25)


TUMBLEWEEDS

D: Gavin O'Connor; with Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O'Connor.

A wild and spirited mother (McTeer) totes around her only loyal companion, daughter Ava (Brown), from city to city, leaving jilted lovers behind. O'Connor won the Filmmakers' Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival for this southern-fried journey of self-discovery.


THE WAR ZONE

D: Tim Roth; with Ray Winstone, Lara Belmont, Freddie Cunliffe, Tilda Swinton.

The mercurial actor Tim Roth debuts as a director with this emotional family drama that focuses on the claustrophobic dynamics and dysfunctions that bubble below the normal-seeming surface of things. (Jan. 14)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

end of days, holiday films, last night, mark borchardt, american movie, toy story 2, anna and the king, stuart little, oscar race, man on the moon, emily watson, denzel washington

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