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Universal Pictures
Jamie Foxx better get his tux ready; he's sure to be nominated for his role in "Ray."
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msnbc.com
updated 10/1/2004 7:34:44 PM ET 2004-10-01T23:34:44

Fall is filmmaker time. It’s the beginning of Oscar bait time. It’s a time when adults who want more than cheap thrills have a chance to go back to the theater, and when those kids who want a good popcorn movie still have a lot to choose from. For those who want to celebrate the holidays early, it's also the beginning of holiday movie time — St. Nick even makes a couple of appearances.

This fall actually looks a bit more promising than 2003. It heralds the return of some of the best young filmmakers around, including David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Marc Forster, Bill Condon and David Gordon Green.

There are also some fun animated films for kids, including “Shark Tale,” “The Polar Express” “The Incredibles” and “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” For those who savor scary movies, “The Grudge” and “Saw” should prove pulse-pounding. And biopics abound. Don't be surprised if every best-actor nominee comes from a biopic. From Ray Charles to Alexander the Great to J.M. Barrie, there are a lot of true-to-life stories this year.

The calendar may say that fall starts in September, but our unofficial fall movie season lasts from October to the week prior to Thanksgiving. Whether you want a small art-house film or a big-budget adventure, you should find yourself satisfied.

October 1

“I Heart Huckabee’s”

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Jake Muxworthy, Kevin Dunn
Director: David O. Russell
The story: Albert Markovski (Schwartzman) enlists the help of two existential detectives  (Hoffman, Tomlin) to help him figure out the conflict he’s having with his boss (Law). What’s an existential detective? Well, an existential detective investigates issues like, “What’s it all about, anyway?” Watts plays Law’s perky girlfriend and the star of the television commercials for his store. Wahlberg is an existential firefighter who befriends Albert; Huppert plays the detectives arch-nemesis, a French radical.
The buzz: With Russell (“Three Kings,” “Flirting with Disaster”) you are not going to get a typical straightforward narrative film, which is a good thing. Wait, make that a great thing. This film is sure to pack surprises and offbeat performances from actors who are usually trapped in much more serious fare. You may remember Schwartzman from his career-making performance in “Rushmore.” This is one of six films that Jude Law is appearing in this fall — phew! And yes, that is Hoffman’s real hair.
Web site:  http://www.foxsearchlight.com/huckabees/

“Shark Tale”

DreamWorks SKG

Starring: Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, Peter Falk, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Doug E. Doug, Ziggy Marley
Director: Eric "Bibo" Bergeron, Vicky Jenson
The story: In this “nothing to do with ‘Finding Nemo’ ” animated fish tale, a bottom-feeder (Smith) gains fame by taking credit for the death of a shark (“The Sopranos” Imperioli). Little does he realize that the shark’s father is mob boss Don Lino (De Niro). The Don’s other son, Lenny, (Black) is a vegetarian who devises a plan to help himself and Smith. Jolie plays the sultry dragonfish who’s impressed by Smith’s shark-slaying prowess, while Zellweger plays his more practical friend, Angie.
The buzz: After “Nemo” are we ready for another animated fish film, and will this movie be able to withstand the comparison? Big stars seem to be de rigueur for animation these days. Does loading an animated film with star voices even excite audiences anymore? (Remember Brad Pitt in “Sinbad”)? DreamWorks Animation (producers of the “Shrek” films) wants to show it has what it takes to compete with Pixar/Disney.
Web site:  http://www.sharktale.com/

“Ladder 49”

Touchstone Pictures

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty, Jay Hernandez, Billy Burke, Tim Guinee
Director: Jay Russell
The story: A rookie firefighter (Phoenix) gets trapped in a burning building and reflects about his career and marriage to his wife (Barrett). Meanwhile, his captain and mentor (Travolta) struggles with the other firefighters to rescue him. Hernandez, Chestnut and Patrick are on board as fellow fireman.
The buzz: It’s hard to remember the last time John Travolta made a good movie, but he has become the quintessential comeback kid, so never completely count him out. This is a strangely commercial choice for Phoenix (“The Village”), who usually plays more offbeat roles. Also, for firefighters who thought “Backdraft” seemed way off the mark, “Ladder 49” is supposedly a real look at firefighting. Speaking of real, Barrett is best known as one of the castmates from the London edition of MTV’s “Real World.”
Web site:  http://ladder49.movies.go.com/main.html

October 8

“Raise Your Voice”

New Line Cinema

Starring: Hilary Duff, Jason Ritter, John Corbett, Rebecca De Mornay, Oliver James, David Keith, Rita Wilson
Director: Sean McNamara
The story: After her brother (Ritter) dies, small-town girl Hilary Duff heads off to a prestigious summer music program attended by city sophisticates. Corbett (“Sex and the City”) is on board as an inspirational teacher with some very unattractive facial hair and Rita Wilson co-stars as Duff’s mother.
The buzz: For those who are fans of Hilary Duff’s singing, this movie should be a good showcase for that talent. You may remember Oliver Jones (who plays Duff’s love interest) from his role opposite Amanda Bynes in “What a Girl Wants.” If he stars opposite Lindsay Lohan next, I’m going to start to worry for his career. Once upon a time, this film was supposed to star “Thirteen’s” Evan Rachel Ward.
Web site:  http://www.raiseyourvoicemovie.com/

“Taxi”

20th Century Fox

Starring: Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Ann-Margret, Jennifer Esposito, Gisele Bundchen, Ana Cristina de Oliceira, Christian Kane, Henry Simmons
Director: Tim Story
The story: Based upon the French film of the same name (which inspired two sequels), Fallon stars as a hapless young cop who convinces taxi driver Latifah to help him catch a group of sexy female bankrobbers. Ann-Margret co-stars as Fallon’s mother. Henry Simmons (“NYPD Blue”) plays Latifah’s boyfriend.
The buzz: Once upon a time, Queen Latifah was an Oscar-nominated actress? Now she’s starring in a movie with Jimmy Fallon. Hmm. Some say Fallon is the next Will Ferrell,  but he’s probably closer to becoming to the next Dana Carvey. Tim Story also directed “Barbershop” and is slated to direct the upcoming “Fantastic Four.”
Web site:  http://www.taximovie.com/

“Friday Night Lights”

Universal Pictures

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Jay Hernandez, Tim McGraw, Lucas Black, Derek Luke, Lee Thompson Young, Connie Britton
Director: Peter Berg
The story: Based on the best-selling book by H.G. Bissinger, this film tells the story of the Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas, a town that’s seen better economic days and whose only release is the Friday night football game. The players have big dreams of football stardom and getting out of Odessa. Thornton plays Coach Gary Gaines. 
The buzz: Berg has a spotty track record as a director. He’s made two feature films (“The Rundown” and “Very Bad Things”) and one was moronic while the other was just plain vile. It’s hard to picture him making a feel-good sports movie, but he could surprise with his third effort. There is a trio of interesting young actors here: Luke, who showed his talents in “Antwone Fisher” hasn’t had a meaty role since. Hernadez (“The Rookie,” “crazy/beautiful”) always seems to be underused. And Black, best known for his role in “Sling Blade,” has grown up a lot since that astonishing performance.
Web site:  http://www.fridaynightlightsmovie.com/

“Stage Beauty”

Lions Gate Films

Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville, Richard Griffiths, Edward Fox
Director: Richard Eyre
The story: Set in a time before women were allowed to act on the stage, Billy Crudup stars as the greatest “actress” in 17th century London. He runs lines with his dresser (Danes) every night, while she longs to be on the stage. Finally, King Charles (Everett) grants her wish, but he also bans men from playing female roles. Danes takes it upon herself to show Crudup how to portray, and become, a man again.
The buzz: Eyre directed the acclaimed film “Iris,” so he has some experience with period films. Jeffery Hatcher adapted his own play. Danes (“Igby Goes Down”) and Crudup (“Almost Famous”) fell in love during the shooting of the film and Crudup ended up leaving his pregnant girlfriend, Mary Louise Parker (“Angels in America”) for Danes.
Web site:  http://www.stagebeautymovie.com/index_flash.html

October 10

“Vera Drake”

Fine Line Features

Starring: Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, Peter Wright, Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney, Daniel Mays
Director: Mike Leigh
The story: Staunton stars as a quiet woman taking care of her mother in 1950s London who secretly helps women rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies by inducing miscarriage. When authorities discover what she’s doing, her world is torn apart.
The buzz: Mike Leigh (“Secrets & Lies,” “Naked”) works like no other filmmaker. Using weeks of improvisation, he gets the actors to flesh out their own characters rather than having them memorize a completed script. This often results in the most natural-feeling films around and the sense that the story doesn’t have a plotted direction in which it has to go. He also is great at showcasing talented actors. The film just won the best picture prize at the Venice Film Festival and Staunton took the award for best actress. Don’t be surprised if Staunton or Broadbent get mentioned come Oscar time.
Web site: NA

October 15

“Shall We Dance?”

Miramax

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Canavale, Nick Cannon, Richard Jenkins, Mya, Lisa Ann Walter, Deborah Yates
Director: Peter Chelsom
The story: Based on the Japanese film (well worth renting), this film tells the story of a man (Gere) who, feeling trapped in his routine, decides to enroll in a dance class taught by Lopez. As he regains his feeling of joy, he realizes that dancing just might be the thing to save his on-the-rocks marriage to Sarandon.
The buzz: The big question mark about this movie is Lopez. With the intense backlash she and Affleck suffered last year, is the American public ready to re-embrace the actress? Luckily, she doesn’t have to carry this film by herself. Gere seems to be on a bit of a winning streak, with “Chicago” and “Unfaithful” both proving that women still find him charming. Chelsom, after the lackluster “Serendipity” and the disastrous “Town & Country”, is a director in desperate need of a hit film.
Web site:  http://www.miramax.com/shallwedance/

“Team America: World Police”

Paramount Pictures

Starring: Trey Parker, Elle Russ, Stanley G. Sawicki, Matt Stone
Director: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
The story: From the creators of “South Park” comes this unconventional puppet film about a team of superheroes who battle terrorism. They recruit up-and-coming Broadway star Gary Johnston to go undercover. Expect everyone from celebrities to politicians to get skewered in the usual take-no-prisoners “South Park” vein. Alec Baldwin is brave enough to voice himself.
The buzz: In at MTV interview, Parker and Stone said they modeled their film on those Jerry Bruckheimer action extravaganzas. This is all puppets. No CGI, not computer help. This is basically done like the British show “Thunderbirds.” The movie also features some wonderful musical numbers — does this mean we can expect another best-song Oscar nod for Parker and Stone? If not, blame Canada.
Web site:  http://www.teamamericamovie.com/

“P.S.”

Newmarket Films

Starring: Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Rudd
Director: Dylan Kidd
The story: Twenty years after her high school boyfriend’s death, grad-school admissions officer Linney finds herself drawn to Topher Grace. He’s a college applicant who bears a striking resemblance to her lost love. Byrne co-stars as Linney’s ex-husband and Harden (always an Oscar threat) is on board as Linney’s best friend from high school.
The buzz: Laura Linney may find that her strongest competition for best actress this year is against herself in “Kinsey.” The actress continues to show the range of her talents and is surely one of our best. Kidd’s directing debut was the highly entertaining “Roger Dodger,” so it will be interesting to see if his followup can live up to that film.  
Web site:  http://newmarketfilms.com/filmDetail.cfm?FID=18

“Eulogy”

Artisan Entertainment

Starring: Hank Azaria, Jesse Bradford, Zooey Deschanel, Glenne Headly, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Kelly Preston, Ray Romano, Rip Torn, Debra Winger
Director: Michael Clancy
The story: In this comedy, a family of misfits reconvenes after the death of the patriarch (Torn). Deschanel is the granddaughter entrusted with writing the eulogy. Azaria plays her supporting-role-in-porn-films-player father. Preston is the aunt who’s preparing to wed life partner Janssen. Winger plays uptight Aunt Alice. Romano plays the black-sheep uncle, who’s also the father to twin boys.
The buzz: There are a lot of good actors here — Azaria, Winger, Torn, Laurie — but Deschanel (“All the Real Girls”) is the one to watch. She has talent, subtlety and none of the cloying qualities that a lot of today’s actresses — hello, Renee Zellweger — enjoy putting on display. This movie may not be successful, but Deschanel will survive to do much better films. Romano is having a tough time transitioning to the big screen and it’s nice to see him do something other than the “Raymond” shtick, but he might just be too identifiable with that character to completely cross over.
Web site:  http://www.eulogythemovie.com/

Sony Pictures Classics

“Being Julia”
Starring: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, Michael Gambon, Bruce Greenwood, Juliet Stevenson, Lucy Punch, Rosemary Harris
Director: István Szabó
The story: Based on the M. Somerset Maughn novel “Theatre.” Bening plays a theater diva who worries that her best days may be behind her. She embarks on an affair with her son’s best friend, Tom. When Tom becomes more interested in advancing his career and romancing a young starlet, Bening's character decides to exact her revenge.
The buzz: It’s always good to see Bening (“American Beauty”) on the big screen and seeing her work opposite Irons (“Reversal of Fortune”) should be fun. Director Szabó is best known for films like “Mephisto” and “Sunshine.” Are American audiences ready for his sophisticated storytelling?
Web site:  http://www.sonyclassics.com/comingsoon.php?page=2

October 20

Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Sideways”
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Gallagher, Alex Kalognomos, Virginia Madsen, Joe Marinelli, Sandra Oh, Alysia Reiner
Director: Alexander Payne
The story: Two old friends, Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Church), decide to take a trip to wine country as sort of a bachelor party before Jack gets married. Miles is a recently divorced, failed novelist who knows way too much about wine, while Jack is a formerly famous actor facing a mid-life crisis. Sandra Oh (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) and Virginia Madsen (“Ghosts of Mississippi”) play the women they encounter on their adventure.
The buzz: Paul Giamatti, amazingly good in last year’s “American Splendor,” looks to put in another strong performance here. Church is probably best known for the short-lived sitcom, “Ned and Stacey” (which co-starred Debra Messing) as well as his role on “Wings.” Payne (“Election,” “About Schmidt”) has a unique vision that may not appeal to everyone, but his films tend to be smarter than most others around. If only he made more of them. This could be a darkhorse Oscar contender, specifically in the supporting acting and writing categories. Sandra Oh is Payne’s wife.
Web site:  http://foxsearchlight.com/sideways/

October 22

Paramount Pictures

“Alfie”
Starring: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon
Director: Charles Shyer
The story: Jude Law stars as the title character in this remake of the 1966 film that starred Michael Caine (well worth renting). Alfie is a cockney womanizer who prides himself on his ability to juggle multiple girls. When one of them gets pregnant, he finds himself questioning the way he leads his life. Tomei, Sarandon and Long are among the women he seduces.
The buzz: While remakes of great movies always strike me as being rather unnecessary, it should be fun to see Jude Law using the full range of his charms — best-case scenario, we will get two hours of what he did in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Director Shyer is best known for family-friendly films like “The Parent Trap” and “Father of the Bride.” Let’s hope, he’s not afraid to give this remake the original’s edginess.
Web site:  http://www.alfiemovie.com/

“The Grudge”

Columbia Pictures

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, William Mapother, Kadee Strickland, Bill Pullman
Director: Takashi Shimizu
The story: Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as a nurse living in Tokyo who, when she goes to check on a creepy house, is exposed to a curse that comes as a result of people dying in a rage. The film is a remake of the ultra-creepy 2003 Japanese film, “Ju-on.”
The buzz: Shimizu directed the original film, so the action should stay just as violent as it was in “Ju-on.” Japanese horror films tend to be a lot less straightforward than those made here, which makes them a lot more surreal and frankly a lot more fun. This seems like a good career move for Gellar, who finally gets a chance to use some of her “Buffy” skills on the big screen. No more “Scooby-Doo” sequels, please! You may remember Behr from the short-lived television show, “Roswell.”
Web site:  http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thegrudge/

“Surviving Christmas”

DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Morrison, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy, Danielle Panabaker, Bryan Fisher
Director: Mike Mitchell
The story: Affleck stars as a rich record executive who tries to regain the Christmas spirit by returning to his childhood home. He bribes the family living there now to let him spend Christmas with them. That family, however, turns out to be crazier than he bargained for. Gandolfini and O’Hara play the parents. Applegate plays their daughter, who is not too happy to find Affleck invading their Christmas.
The buzz: Ben Affleck does comedy — hmm. Well, nothing else worked for him lately, so why not? Mitchell is best known for directing “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and there are also four credited screenwriters. Uh-oh. On the positive side is the always funny O’Hara (“A Mighty Wind”) who did a little time in another Christmas movie called “Home Alone.”
Web site: http://www.survivingchristmas.com/

“Undertow”

United Artists  /  MGM

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Jamie Bell, Devon Alan, Shiri Appleby, Leigh Hill, Robert Longstreet, Kristen Stewart
Director: David Gordon Green
The story: Set in the contemporary South. Bell (“Billy Elliott) stars with newcomer Alan as two brothers who run away from home after their troubled uncle (Lucas) comes to visit. Mulroney (“About Schmidt”) co-stars as the boys’ father.
The buzz: Green is a director whose films feel so natural, so not acted that it’s almost as if he’s just capturing people in their real settings. His films “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls” are well worth checking out. Don’t be surprised if you see some Independent Spirit nominations for this film.
Web site: NA

“The Machinist”

Paramount Classics
Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Michael Ironside, John Sharian
Director: Brad Anderson
The story: Bale stars as Trevor Reznick, a machinist who hasn't slept in a year. After he’s involved with an incident that results in a man losing his arm, his co-workers begin to turn against him. At first, he thinks they’re just trying to get him fired, but then the plot turns more sinister. Or is his fatigue just causing him to imagine the whole thing? Leigh co-stars as Bale’s wife.
The buzz: Bale lost 40 pounds for the role of Reznick and then had to turn around and bulk up for his next role as Batman. Anderson is best known for the indie film “Next Stop Wonderland,” but “Session 9” shows that he’s got some chops when it comes to thrillers. Leigh doesn’t seem to be working as much as she used to, but still has the intensity to add some heat to this film.
Web site:  http://www.machinistmovie.com/index2.asp

October 29

“Ray”

Universal Pictures

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Aunjanue Ellis, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate
Director: Taylor Hackford
The story: Jamie Foxx stars as legendary R&B musician Ray Charles in this story of his painful childhood, rise to stardom, many romances, heroin addiction and refusal to bow to Jim Crow laws. Washington (“She Hate Me”) plays Charles’ wife Della. King (“A Cinderella Story”) plays Charles’ mistress, who also fathered one of his sons.
The buzz: There’s already Oscar buzz for Foxx’s performance in this film, so don’t be too surprised if you see him on the list of best-actor nominees. He did much of his performance in the dark, wearing prosthetics over his eyes; he also worked with Charles to learn his fingering technique on the piano. As Foxx showed in this year’s “Collateral,” he has the ability to disappear into character, and this could be his year. On the negative side, cramming someone’s whole life into a couple hours has a way of creating either a very unwieldy movie or a very shallow look at the person’s life. Hackford is probably best known for directing “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and could use a hit after the disastrous Meg Ryan vehicle, “Proof of Life.”
Web site:  http://www.raymovie.com/

“Saw”

Lions Gate Films

Starring: Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Monica Potter, Shawnee Smith, Leigh Whannell
Director: James Wan
The story: Two men (Bell and Elwes) wake up in an underground room, each chained to a pipe with a dead body between them. Also left in the room: two handsaws and a microcassette. The tape has instructions for Elwes to kill Bell within the next eight hours or both men will die along with Elwes’ wife (Potter) and daughter. Elwes thinks it might be the work of a serial killer named Jigsaw. Glover plays a police detective who’s investigated Jigsaw in the past.
The buzz: When you have two stars who really need a career boost, it’s hard to tell if Elwes and Glover took this film because the script was good or because they just needed the work. Still, the plot seems a bit more intriguing than most horror films these days. And hey, at least Ashley Judd’s not in it. Wan is a first-time director.
Web site:  http://www.sawmovie.com/

November 5

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“The Incredibles”

Walt Disney

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Brad Bird
Director: Brad Bird
The story: This is the story of a family of superheroes who’ve gone into witness protection to avoid a supervillain. Mr. Incredible, aka Bob (Nelson), is itching to get back into the game. Holly Hunter voices Elastigirl, while Samuel L. Jackson voices Frozone.
The buzz: Writer-director Bird is new to Pixar but not to animation. He wrote and directed the very good but underrated “Iron Giant.” It’s hard not to get a little excited about an animated Samuel L. Jackson. The best animated picture race should be a bit more competitive than usual, as “The Incredibles” could possibly take on “Shrek 2,” “Shark Tale” and “The Polar Express.” Fans of NPR’s “This American Life” take note: Sarah Vowell voices daughter Violet.
Web site:  http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/incredibles/intro.html

“Birth”

Fine Line Features

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Arliss Howard, Peter Stormare, Anne Heche
Director: Jonathan Glazer
The story: A 10-year-old boy (Bright) claims to be the reincarnation of Kidman’s husband, who died 10 years earlier. This causes Kidman’s character to reevaluate her life’s choices. Huston plays Kidman’s fiancé; Bacall is on board as her mother; and Heche co-stars as her best friend.
The buzz: Though the story sounds a bit hokey, Glazer did direct the very good Ben Kingsley vehicle, “Sexy Beast,” which may mean that sentimentality will be kept to a minimum. Kidman has had an off-year (“Stepford Wives,” “Dogville”) and could certainly use a hit. Huston (“Silver City”) comes from the prestigious Huston clan — he’s the son of John, the grandson of Walter and the half-brother of Angelica.
Web site:  http://www.birthmovie.com/

November 10

“The Polar Express”

Warner Bros.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, Peter Scolari, Eddie Deezen, Michael Jeter, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Robert Zemeckis
The story: When his friends and family insist that there’s no Santa Claus, a boy keeps the faith. He and other children are rewarded when a mysterious train conductor shows up to whisk them off to the North Pole. There they receive a gift that’s meant only for true believers in Santa Claus. The film is based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. Hanks voices five characters in the film, including the boy, the train conductor and Santa.
The buzz: Zemeckis’ (“Cast Away,” “Forrest Gump”) team used “performance-capture animation” to create this feature. Reflective dots were attached to the actors’ faces and bodies and were transferred via camera directly into the computer. There were no costumes or sets for the actors to work with; they simply had to act out their parts. Hanks reteams with former “Bosom Buddies” co-star Scolari, who voices another one of the kids.
Web site:  http://polarexpressmovie.warnerbros.com/flash/index.html

November 12

“Finding Neverland”

Miramax Films

Starring: Johnny Depp, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Radha Mitchell, Freddie Highmore
Director: Marc Forster
The story: Depp stars as author J.M. Barrie in this story of the family who inspired him to pen “Peter Pan.” Winslet plays the matriarch of the family who strikes up a friendship with Depp. Hoffman co-stars as Barrie’s financial backer and scoffs at the idea of a play full of “fairies.” Mitchell (“High Art”) is on board as Depp’s not-very-understanding wife.
The buzz: The film is “inspired” by Barrie’s story and doesn’t claim to be a true biopic, thus avoiding any of the nasty rumors Barrie faced in his lifetime — this is strictly feel-good fare. Forster, best known for directing the very dark “Monster’s Ball,” does a 180 with this sweet story. There’s already some Oscar buzz for Depp’s performance here. Depp speaks with a Scottish accent in the role, but other than that the actor doesn’t add any of his trademark quirks.
Web site:  http://miramax.com/JMBarries_Neverland/

“After the Sunset”

New Line Cinemas

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Woody Harrelson, Salma Hayek, Naomi Harris, Don Cheadle, Obba Babatunde, Alan Dale
Director: Brett Ratner
The story: Brosnan and Hayek star as jewel thieves who decide to retire after their last big score. Or do they? FBI agent Harrelson tracks them down in the Bahamas where he’s convinced they are planning their next big crime. Cheadle co-stars as a local hood who’d like to employ their services.
The buzz: According to Entertainment Weekly, this film has had a bit of a rough shoot with Ratner (“Rush Hour”) stepping in for Dean Stockwell (“Blue Crush”), who left the film due to “creative differences.” One of Brosnan’s best roles was in the remake of “Thomas Crown Affair” and this looks to be fairly similar territory. Keep your eye on Cheadle (“Ocean’s Eleven”) who has enough on-screen charisma for two actors.
Web site:  http://www.afterthesunset.com/

“Kinsey”

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry
Director: Bill Condon
The story: Neeson (“Love Actually”) stars as Alfred Kinsey, the Indiana professor who wrote “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (and then followed that up with a book about females). The story spans six decades, from Kinsey’s childhood until his death. Linney (“Mystic River”) plays his wife and research partner. O’Donnell (“The Bachelor”) plays another one of the researchers.
The buzz: It will be interesting to see how a post-Nipplegate world responds to the racy content here — although it is treated rather clinically. Condon directed the excellent “Gods and Monsters.” Lots of Oscar buzz surrounding Linney’s performance. Sarsgaard, so good in “Garden State” looks to turn in another strong performance here.
Web site: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/kinsey/

“The Ringer”

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl, Brian Cox, Zen Gesner, John Taylor, Jed Rees
Director: Barry W. Blaustein
The story: Knoxville (“Jackass”) stars as a guy who, when desperate for cash, decides to pretend he’s physically challenged to rig the Special Olympics. Knoxville finds that even though he’s not physically challenged, he’s no match for the other special Olympians.
The buzz: When a movie has the same plot as an episode of “South Park,” it seems like a pretty bad sign. Can Knoxville really improve on Cartman’s incredible portrayal? No, I don’t think so either. Hard to believe this movie wasn’t scheduled for the movie junkyard that is the month of January. And yes, the Farrelly Brothers do have something to do with this — they are the executive producers.
Web site: NA

“Seed of Chucky”

Starring: Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Redman, Hannah Spearitt, John Waters, Redman
Director: Don Mancini
The story: The fifth — have there really been five? — film in the Chucky saga tells the story of Glen (Boyd) the orphan offspring of the evil Chucky (Dourif) and Tiffany (Tilly). Glen learns about his parents on the set of a Hollywood movie about their lives — with the actual Tilly starring as the movie version of Tiffany. After Glen brings the couple back from the dead, he’s not too keen on joining them in another murder spree.
The buzz: Mancini, who penned all the “Chucky” films, makes his directorial debut here. John Waters has a small role as a sleazy reporter. Eminem contributes a song, “I See Dead People,” to the film.
Web site:  http://www.seed-of-chucky.com/home.html

November 19

“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”

Universal Pictures

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent
Director: Beeban Kidron
The story: This movie takes place four weeks after the first film ended, with Bridget (Zellweger) and Darcy (Firth) still happily besotted. Trying to navigate her way through the relationship, Bridget hits a number of bumps along the way, including former flame Daniel Cleaver (Grant). Meanwhile, her job at “Sit Up Britain” isn’t turning out to be exactly what she’d hoped.
The buzz: The original film was one of the rare romantic comedies that actually seemed to work. But can the sequel — especially one in which Bridget is no longer single — sustain the Doris-Day-with-an-edge quality of the original? Seems rather unlikely. Director Kidron (“Too Wong Foo!”) takes over for original director McGuire. The second novel didn’t do as well as the original, so expect the movies to follow that pattern.
Web site:  http://www.bridgetjonesmovie.com/

“Bad Education”

Sony Pictures Classics

Starring: Francisco Boira, Javier Cámara, Alberto Ferreiro, Gael García Bernal, Daniel Giménez Cacho
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
The story: Almodóvar directs this story of two old friends who meet again after 20 years after they attended Catholic school together. Enrique (Boira) is a film director who’s looking for his next project. Ignacio (Bernal) is a drug-addicted drag queen. The film features flashbacks from their childhoods as well as a movie within a movie.
The buzz: Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”) continues to mature as a filmmaker. As he does, he gets further and further away from his lighthearted early films like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” This film has a noir style and is semi-autobiographical, as Almodóvar also had a Catholic-school upbringing. Bernal (“Motorcycle Diaries”) continues to be one of the most exciting actors around, unafraid to take any role. In drag, he's also prettier than many actresses.
Web site:  http://www.clubcultura.com/clubcine/clubcineastas
/almodovar/malaeducacion/index.html

“National Treasure”

Touchstone Pictures

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Don McManus, Mark Pellegrino
Director: Jon Turtletaub
The story: Cage stars as archeologist Benjamin Franklin Gates who, along with his buddy Riley Poole (Bartha), is searching for a war chest hidden by the founding fathers. The map to the treasure is believed to be on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Kruger (“Troy”) plays a Smithsonian curator who gets caught up in the action. Bean is a British adventure who’s trying to beat Cage to the treasure.
The buzz: With Jerry Bruckheimer producing, you know you’re going to get an explosion-filled, popcorn movie for those dark days of fall. Director Turtletaub (“Disney’s The Kid,” “While You Were Sleeping”) is not exactly known for helming pulse-pounding action fare. And who would have thought it would take nine credited writers to come up with one screenplay. Still, Cage is pretty dependable when it comes to delivering mindless action in flicks like “The Rock.”
Web site:  http://nationaltreasure.movies.go.com/main.html

“SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”

Paramount Pictures

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, Jeffrey Tambor, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke
Director: Stephen Hillenburg
The story: The first (but probably not the last) big-screen edition of the popular Nickelodeon kids' series about a free-spirited sea sponge. When someone steals King Neptune’s Crown, it’s up to SpongeBob and best pal Patrick to find it. Meanwhile, Plankton plans to steal the formula to Krabby Patty and rule the world.
The buzz: A few celebrity voices join the cast of the movie. Tambor (“Arrested Development”) voices King Neptune. Baldwin (“The Cooler”) provides the voice of hired hitman Dennis. Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”) voices King Neptune’s daughter Mindy. This film should pull in the many fans of the Nickelodeon series.
Web site:  http://www.spongebobmovie.com/

__________

THE FOLLOWING FILM HAVE BEEN MOVED TO NOV 24

“Alexander”

Warner Bros.

Starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Director: Oliver Stone
The story: Colin Farrell stars as the Macedonian conqueror created an empire by the time he was 32. The story starts with Alexander’s childhood — Jolie plays his mother — and follows his rise to glory. Dawson (“25th Hour”) plays his wife Roxanne. Leto (“Requiem for a Dream”) co-stars as Hephaestion, Alexander’s general who may have had a homosexual relationship with him. Kilmer (“Spartan”) plays Alexander’s father. Hopkins (“Red Dragon”) plays Ptolemy, another one of Alexander’s generals, who eventually become the Pharaoh of Egypt.
The buzz: With “Troy” not exactly being embraced by American audiences, this film is a bit of a question mark. Do we want to watch war epics while we’re actually at war? My feeling is: no, we don’t. However, that said, Oliver Stone (“Salvador,” “Wall Street”), who directed one of the better war films (“Platoon”) around, and who pours his blood, sweat and tears into every film he touches, means "Alexander" is likely to be an immediate, visceral experience rather than just a collection of majestic set pieces. The supporting cast is strong, but Farrell (“A Home at the End of the World”) seems completely unproven as a leading man. Does he have the chops to pull this role off? Stone is a potential best-director Oscar nominee. There's also some Oscar buzz for Kilmer.
Web site:  http://alexanderthemovie.warnerbros.com/

THE FOLLOWING FILM HAS BEEN MOVED TO DEC 3

“I am David”

Lions Gate Films

Starring: Ben Tibber, James Caviezel, Joan Plowright, Maria Bonnevie, Silvia De Santis, Adrian McCourt, Paco Reconti, Alessandro Sperduti, Clem Tibber, Carnci Viola
Director: Paul Feig
The story: Based on the novel by Anne Holm, newcomer Ben Tibber stars as a 12-year-old boy who escapes from a 1950s prison camp in Bulgaria and struggles to make his way across Europe to Denmark. Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) co-stars as a fellow inmate. Plowright plays a painter who lives on the Swiss border and befriends the young boy, teaching him how to trust again.
The buzz: Director Paul Feig is best-known as the creator of TV’s “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” — two quirky series cancelled before they had a chance to find an audience. This is a pretty big change of pace for him and his feature film debut. He also penned the screenplay.
Web site:  http://www.iamdavidmovie.com/

THE FOLLOWING FILM HAS BEEN MOVED TO DEC 22

“Flight of the Phoenix”

20th Century Fox

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Miranda Otto, Giovanni Ribisi, Scott Michael Campbell, Tony Curran, Hugh Laurie, Jared Padalecki, Jacob Vargas
Director: John Moore
The story: Dennis Quaid takes on Jimmy Stewart’s role in this remake of the 1965 film of the same name. A team of oil workers are stranded in the desert after a cargo plane crash during the middle of a sandstorm. They attempt to build a new plane from the wreckage of the old one. Will they make it home alive? “Lord of the Rings” co-star Otto and Ribisi (“Lost in Translation”) play two of the other oil workers.
The buzz: Moore directed the surprisingly good action film, “Behind Enemy Lines.” “Flight” was shot on location with Namibia standing in for Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. On doing this remake, Quaid told the Associated Press, “I don’t think a lot of people from this generation really remember the movie or are that aware of it.” With this film, he could be onto something.
Web site: NA

THE FOLLOWING FILMS HAVE BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL 2005

“In My Country”

Sony Pictures Classics

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Ngakane, Brendan Gleeson, Menzi 'Ngubs' Ngubane
Director: John Boorman
The story: The story of a journalist (Jackson) and an Afrikaanerpoet (Binoche) documenting the Truth and Reconciliation meetings in South Africa, in which both victims and perpetrators of apartheid come together to confront the murderous past and hope for a new beginning. The intensity of the stories they hear bring Jackson and Binoche closer and closer together.
The buzz: Boorman is known for lavishly visual films like “The Emerald Forest” and “Beyond Rangoon.” He also doesn’t shy away from politics. Amazingly, for as many films as he’s done, Jackson’s never played a romantic lead and it will be interesting to see what his chemistry’s like with Binoche (“Chocolat”). Gleeson, who was in Boorman’s incredible “The General” (a good film to rent), should be fascinating as notorious torturer Colonel De Jager.
Web site:  http://www.sonyclassics.com/comingsoon.php?filmid=85&page=2

“A Sound of Thunder”

Warner Bros.

Starring: Edward Burns, Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack
Director: Peter Hyams
The story: Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury and set in the year 2054. Ben Kingsley stars as the manager of a time-travel agency that arranges trips for wealthy people who would like to hunt dinosaurs. But when one traveler accidentally steps on a butterfly, the future as they know it may be irreparably changed. Burns co-stars as the lead dinosaur hunter and McCormick plays the inventor of the time travel technology.
The buzz: Hyams (“End of Days,” “The Relic”) is a B-level action director who replaced Renny Harlin, originally slated to direct. According to SciFi.com, Harlin was let go when he wanted to remove one of Bradbury’s key elements of the story — namely the butterfly.
Web site:  http://asoundofthunder.warnerbros.com/

Paige Newman is the Movies Editor for MSNBC.com

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