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Into The Cinematic Unknown!

2004 Holiday Film Season Could Be A Fantastic Voyage

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Throughout the Great Depression that rocked America during the 1930s, the citizens of this great nation always managed to scrape up enough loose change to go to the movies. Cinema provided relief from the ugliness of the real world, and Americans found it easy to lose themselves for a couple of hours in the presence of, say, Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple or Clark Gable.

Post-11/2, half of America is experiencing a different type of Great Depression, one that could last at least four more years. Yet as before, Hollywood, that titanic bastion of liberalism, is more than happy to help us forget all our troubles. Thanks to the magic of the movies, those dream factory denizens are prepared to take us wherever we want to go, whether it's under the sea to chill with Steve Zissou or SpongeBob SquarePants, or back in time to hang out with Howard Hughes or Alexander the Great. Admittedly, it won't be all fun and games -- movies like Hotel Rwanda will be on hand to remind us some brutal realities. But whatever type of movie you choose during the upcoming holiday season, the crop appears to be strong enough to offer a respite from whatever political hangover or holiday stress you're undergoing. Plus, who knows? -- you might even have fun! Here, then, is our handy guide to this year's holiday movie season.

NOVEMBER 19

BRIGHT LEAVES
PLOT: Charlotte filmmaker Ross McElwee returns to his native state to examine his family's past connection with tobacco.

TALKING POINTS: See this issue's Film section for a feature on McElwee and his latest documentary.

NATIONAL TREASURE
PLOT: In an effort to thwart foreign evildoers, an adventurer (Nicolas Cage) must steal the Declaration of Independence, decipher the invisible map written on its back, and locate a treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers.

TALKING POINTS: This action yarn marks the fourth collaboration between Cage and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock, Con Air, Gone In Sixty Second)... This summer's King Arthur was a rare underperformer for Bruckheimer, whose films usually earn zillions (see: Pirates of the Caribbean)... Co-star Diane Kruger was showcased earlier this year in Troy and Wicker Park.

SIDEWAYS
PLOT: Two buddies, a struggling writer (Paul Giamatti) and a has-been actor (Thomas Hayden Church), take a tour through California's wine country, where they meet a pair of women (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) who force them to reevaluate their present lots in life.

TALKING POINTS: See this issue's Film section for a review.

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE
PLOT: SpongeBob attempts to retrieve King Neptune's stolen crown in this animated adventure.

TALKING POINTS: Perhaps mindful of the success of the Rugrats films, Nickelodeon is attempting to launch another TV-to-film franchise... Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson and Jeffrey Tambor are among those contributing vocals.

NOVEMBER 24

ALEXANDER
PLOT: Dubya may have conquered 51 percent of America, but that's nothing compared to Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell), who conquered 90 percent of the known world by the time he was 27. This covers his life from early glory to his death at the age of 32.

TALKING POINTS: Oliver Stone serves as writer-director for this large-scale epic that arrives approximately seven months after the similar-looking Troy... Oscar winners Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins add to the luster.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS
PLOT: The Kranks (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) opt to skip Christmas in order to take a vacation, but when their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) unexpectedly announces that she's coming home for the holidays, some last-minute alterations are in order.

TALKING POINTS: This is adapted from John Grisham's novel Skipping Christmas... Dan Aykroyd and Cheech Marin appear in supporting roles... It's a given this will earn more than the recent disaster Surviving Christmas; now whether it'll also be a better movie is entirely up in the air (based on its torturous trailer, it's a tough call).

FINDING NEVERLAND
PLOT: Stuck in a stagnant marriage, playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) finds inspiration in a widow (Kate Winslet) and her young children, particularly her moody son Peter (Freddie Highmore).

TALKING POINTS: This mixes fact and fantasy to examine how Barrie came up with the idea for Peter Pan... Depp and Highmore will re-team to handle the leading roles (Willy Wonka and Charlie, respectively) in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

NOVEMBER 26

BEING JULIA
PLOT: In 1930s London, an aging stage actress (Annette Bening) enters into a relationship with a much younger man (Shaun Evans), with her manager-husband (Jeremy Irons) watching from the sidelines.

TALKING POINTS: Oscar-winning scripter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) has adapted W. Somerset Maugham's novel Theatre... This is already playing in select theaters across the country, with Bening garnering early Oscar buzz for her performance.

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