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New Year, New Movies

Surveying the winter/spring batch

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While it's frequently been stated that all men are created equal, that dictum clearly doesn't apply to motion pictures.

In the upcoming weeks, local audiences will be able to enjoy the wide openings of Oscar-bait titles that debuted in limited release during the waning weeks of 2004, movies that have already made their marks on 10 Best lists and critics' awards: Hotel Rwanda, Million Dollar Baby and a half-dozen more.

On the other hand, audiences will also get to check out titles that are being unceremoniously dumped by their studios, ones like Alone In the Dark, yet another horror yarn based on a video game, or Racing Stripes, featuring David Spade as a turd-loving horsefly named Scuzz. And that doesn't even take us out of the month of January.

Still, there's always bound to be a gem or two among the early crop (last year blessed us with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Here, then, is a checklist of 46 movies (including those eight limited releases) scheduled to open in Charlotte over the next four months. And thankfully, 45 of them do not star David Spade.

JANUARY 7: An architect (Michael Keaton) believes that his dead wife (Chandra West) might be communicating with him through his home's recording devices in the supernatural chiller WHITE NOISE.

JANUARY 14: Inspired by a true story, COACH CARTER stars Samuel L. Jackson as a basketball coach who elects to bench his entire team because of their poor grades... Alias star Jennifer Garner portrayed the Marvel Comics superheroine Elektra in 2003's Daredevil; now, she reprises the role in her own starring vehicle, titled, appropriately enough, ELEKTRA... Director Zhang Yimou, whose martial arts epic Hero was a hit last summer, steps up to the plate again with HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, in which the title outfit combats empirical corruption in 859AD China... Formerly titled Synergy, IN GOOD COMPANY stars Dennis Quaid as a recently demoted ad executive who's not thrilled that his 26-year-old boss (Topher Grace) has begun dating his 18-year-old daughter (Scarlett Johansson)... A zebra (Frankie Muniz) who thinks he's a horse decides to compete in the Kentucky Open in RACING STRIPES, a Babe-styled yarn featuring the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg and Mandy Moore... The Amelie team of actress Audrey Tautou and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet pair up again for A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, an epic romance in which a young French woman suspects that her fiance, believed to have been killed on the battlefields of World War I, might actually be alive.

JANUARY 19: The action yarn ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a remake of John Carpenter's nifty 1976 flick about a siege on a police station; Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne head the new cast.

JANUARY 21: In order to impress his new girlfriend (Nia Long), a guy (Ice Cube) agrees to take her rambunctious kids on a lengthy road trip in the comedy ARE WE THERE YET?... The provocative drama THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON tells the true story of Sam Bicke (Sean Penn), an ordinary guy who decided in 1974 to hold accountable the man he felt was responsible for America's problems... In HOSTAGE, a former hostage negotiator (Bruce Willis) for the LAPD takes a less stressful job as the deskbound police chief in a small town -- at least until a crisis forces him to turn to his old skills to save innocent civilians... The stirring drama HOTEL RWANDA is based on an actual event that occurred a decade ago, when a hotel manager (Don Cheadle) in Rwanda saved over 1,000 Tutsi civilians from being systematically slaughtered by Hutu extremists... Two top talents -- Oscar nominee Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls) and director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others) -- team up for THE SEA INSIDE, the true story of a paraplegic Spaniard who spent three decades fighting for his right to die... After a 12-year incarceration, a convicted sex offender (Kevin Bacon) moves to a quiet neighborhood and befriends a young girl in THE WOODSMAN.

JANUARY 28: A paranormal investigator (Christian Slater) tries to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances in the video game adaptation ALONE IN THE DARK... The thriller HIDE & SEEK stars Robert De Niro as a widower who discovers that his 9-year-old daughter's (Dakota Fanning) imaginary -- and menacing -- friend might be real... The excellent MILLION DOLLAR BABY stars Clint Eastwood (who also directed) as a gym owner who agrees to manage a female boxer (Hilary Swank), leading to unexpected developments.

FEBRUARY 4: In BOOGEYMAN, a young guy (Barry Watson) plagued by nightmares decides to return to his childhood home to confront his past.

FEBRUARY 11: The romantic comedy HITCH stars Will Smith as a smooth operator whose ability to tell other men how to successfully woo women falters when he himself falls for a beauty (Eva Mendes)... The animated POOH'S HEFFALUMP MOVIE, a made-for-DVD feature that's hitting theaters first, is strictly for the wee ones, with Winnie, Tigger and their friends engaged in their usual benign hijinks.

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