Let's be honest: Summer movie season was filled with crap. Expensive crap. Expensive, unwatchable crap. Sahara, xXx 2: State of the Union, Kingdom of Heaven, The Longest Yard, Bewitched, Fantastic Four, The Island, Stealth, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Sound of Thunder. Pee-yew, what a line-up.
The box office take plunged nearly 10 percent from last summer, leaving Hollywood executives dumbstruck and bleeding profits.
But what about this winter? Surely, there are some good films this winter. Please, god, tell us there are some good films this holiday season! ... Hey, no promises or anything, but we do have a few tantalizing offerings--from the surefire hit of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the most visually exciting of the books to hit the big screen) to the epic anticipation of King Kong (directed by Mr. Lord of the Rings himself, Peter Jackson), from the Oscar buzz of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line to the Oscar buzz of the literary adaptation Memoirs of a Geisha. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we've got a host of musicals, comedies, cartoons and horror films to keep us entertained and away from meaningful interaction with our families.
Remember, though: All opening dates are subject to change. Movie studios are crazy like that.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (Warner Bros.)
Plot: Harry Potter and the other young wizards of Hogwarts return for another year of trials and tribulations. This time, the school is playing host to the TriWizard Tournament--and the resurrection of He Who Must Not Be Named.
If You ... have dutifully read all the books, you'll be eagerly awaiting such cinematic sights as Harry battling a dragon and the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
WALK THE LINE (20th Fox)
Plot: This biopic follows the early days of country music legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his romance with June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon).
If You ... are a fan of the Man in Black (and who isn't?), you'll be there—if only to see how close Phoenix and Witherspoon (who sing their own songs) come to the real thing.
WOLF CREEK (Dimension)
Plot: Three backpackers get lost in the Australian Outback and are tortured by a rural psycho killer.
If You ... were standing in line on Day 1 to see Saw II, you need to put this nasty mixture of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Haute Tension on your “must see” list.
BEE SEASON (20th Fox)
Plot: A Jewish scholar (Richard Gere) tunes out his crumbling marriage (to Juliette Binoche) by becoming immersed with his daughter's quest to become a spelling bee champion.
If You ... read the original novel by Myla Goldberg, you'll want to play compare and contrast with this domestic drama.
IN THE MIX (Lions Gate)
Plot: When a popular club DJ (R&B star Usher) inadvertantly saves the life of a Mafia princess (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the big boss (Chazz Palminteri) hires him as a bodyguard.
If You ... love Usher, The Bodyguard and ethnic stereotype jokes (black DJs! Italian gangsters!), this is the musical comedy crime romance for you.
THE ICE HARVEST (Focus Features)
Plot: On Christmas Eve, a slimy lawyer (John Cusack) and a sleazy strip club owner (Billy Bob Thornton) conspire to embezzle $2 million from the local Wichita crime boss (Randy Quaid). Unfortunately, a sudden ice storm strands them in town with a whole lotta hot loot.
If You ... like your comedy mean and nasty, this R-rated laugher from director Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day) should satisfy you.
JUST FRIENDS (New Line)
Plot: A formerly obese teenager (Van Wilder's Ryan Reynolds) runs into his high school crush (Scary Movie's Anna Faris) and tries to strike up a romantic relationship. But she still just sees him as a pal.
If You ... are a fan of Ryan Reynolds, and love to see comedians in latex fat suits (Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Martin Short), this one's for you.
RENT (Sony Pictures)
Plot: The hot Broadway musical (actually La Boheme rezoned for New York's East Village) comes to the big screen with plenty of singing and dancing and AIDS.
If You ... have the cast album, you can sing along.
YOURS, MINE AND OURS (Paramount)
Plot: This remake of a 1968 Lucille Ball movie finds Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo in charge of a family with 18 kids. Wacky! Eighteen kids! Imagine the wackiness!
If You ... thought Cheaper By the Dozen was a laugh riot, you're sure to find this one 50 percent funnier. Heck, mathematically speaking, it's 200 percent funnier than “The Brady Bunch.”
STREETS OF LEGEND (Lions Gate)
Plot: This low-budget romance involving two teenagers caught in the world of illegal street racing was allegedly shot entirely at night using suction-cupped mini-cameras attached to real high-performance cars.
If You ... thought The Fast and the Furious should have looked more like a high school video project, then you'll probably be willing to overlook this amateur action film's frequent flaws.
AEON FLUX (Paramount)
Plot: MTV's freaky cartoon series comes to life with Charlize Theron as a futuristic assassin leading a rebellion against the leaders of mankind's last remaining city.
If You ... ogled MTV's cutting-edge cartoon in the '90s, you'll be curious to see where this live-action version is headed.
TRANSAMERICA (Weinstein Co.)
Plot: A preoperative male-to-female transsexual (Felicity Huffman from “Desperate Housewives”) undertakes a cross-country journey when (s)he discovers that (s)he has fathered a son, now a teenage runaway hustling on the streets of New York.
If You ... are an open-minded individual, you might be interested to note that Huffman's performance in this comedy/drama has generated some early Oscar buzz.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Buena Vista)
Plot: Based on C.S. Lewis' classic series of kids' novels, this expensive fantasy follows four children into an otherworldly realm, where they attempt to free the land from evil forces.
If You ... are one of those good Christians who helped raise $370 million for Mel Gibson and his Passion of the Christ, you should know that Disney is using a similar approach to this quietly Christian parable, asking church groups to snap up huge blocks of tickets. The power of Christ compels you ... to spend!
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (Sony Pictures)
Plot: Arthur Golden's smash literary sensation comes to the big screen. A poor villager (Michelle Yeoh) overcomes her humble roots to become Japan's most celebrated geisha.
If You ... love Far East films, you should be seduced by this all-star Asian cast including Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and Zhang Ziyi (Hero).
SYRIANA (Warner Bros.)
Plot: Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) wrote and directed this contemporary political thriller weaving together several tense storylines. A CIA operative (George Clooney) is framed for murder, an up-and-coming oil broker (Matt Damon) faces an unimaginable personal tragedy, a corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) helps merge two U.S. oil giants and a Pakistani teenager (Mazhar Munir) falls under the spell of a charismatic cleric.
If You ... think the Gulf War had nothing to do with oil, your political party would probably prefer you not watch this film.
KING KONG (Universal)
Plot: The classic 1933 monster movie gets an epic update, courtesy of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.
If You ... are one of those teenagers who sat behind me when this trailer showed at a local movie theater and said, “God, why did they have to add dinosaurs? It looks like Jurassic Park,” then this surprisingly faithful, '30s-set adaptation is not for you. King Kong had dinosaurs long before Jurassic Park, kids.
THE FAMILY STONE (20th Fox)
Plot: The favored son of the snobby Stone family (Dermot Mulroney) brings his uptight fiancée (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays to meet the in-laws (including Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes, Craig T. Nelson and Luke Wilson).
If You ... can't wait for the next Meet the Parents movie, this might make a decent temporary substitute.
LUCKY YOU (Warner Brothers)
Plot: Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile) directs this drama about a high-stakes poker stud (The Hulk's Eric Bana) who must conquer his own demons to win a Las Vegas poker tournament.
If You ... are constantly glued to “World Poker Tour” on the Travel Channel, I bet you'll be buying a ticket to this one.
THE PRODUCERS (Universal)
Plot: Mel Brooks' wacky comedy about some Broadway con artists trying to produce the worst musical in history started out as a movie. Then it became a Broadway musical. Now it's a movie again. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise their stage roles.
If You ... have already seen Rent, you're in luck: two movie musicals in one season.
THE PROMISE (Weinstein Co.)
Plot: Director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, The Emperor and the Assassin) returns with this lush historical romance about a royal concubine (Cecilia Cheung) empowered by her love for a common slave (Jang Dong-kun).
If You ... like your dramas foreign and historical, you might be interested to know that the Weinstein brothers paid a pretty penny to make this the first acquisition of their new post-Miramax film distribution company.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 (20th Fox)
Plot: Well, Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt are still married ... and they still have 12 kids ... and, um, this time they're on vacation. Twelve kids! Vacation! How wacky is that?
If You ... thought Yours, Mine and Ours was funny, wait till you ... Oh, what's the use?
FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (Sony Pictures)
Plot: This remake of the 1977 comedy finds Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni starring as a bored suburban couple who try to solve their financial problems by becoming bank robbers.
If You ... aren't old enough to remember the original, you'll think this is clever.
HOSTEL (Lions Gate)
Plot: Three backpackers find themselves lost in rural Slovakia where they are soon (what else?) tortured and slaughtered. Another nasty gore film from writer/director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever).
If You ... think this sounds a hell of a lot like Wolf Creek, you're right. But you'll probably still go see both.
RUMOR HAS IT (Warner Bros.)
Plot: The suddenly available Jennifer Aniston stars as a woman who finds out her family might have served as the “inspiration” for The Graduate. In other words, grandma (Shirley MacLaine) slept with mom's boyfriend (Kevin Costner) back in the '60s. Naturally, Aniston sleeps with him too. Ew.
If You ... find the suggestion of incest funny, climb aboard.
THE WHITE COUNTESS (Sony Pictures)
Plot: In '30s Shanghai, a blind American diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) develops a curious relationship with a Russian refugee (Natasha Richardson) who works assorted illicit jobs to support her dead husband's aristocratic family.
If You ... like the stiff upper lip romance of James Ivory's previous work (Howard's End, The Remains of the Day, The Golden Bowl), this pretty period piece is sure to stoke the fires of your soul.
THE RINGER (Fox Searchlight)
Plot: Johnny Knoxville stars as a normal guy who decides to pay off his debts by faking a mental handicap and competing in the Special Olympics.
If You ... laughed at this joke when Cartman on “South Park” did it, here's another chance.
CASANOVA (Buena Vista)
Plot: The famed 18th-century Venetian lover pursues a string of gals in this well-dressed comedy drama. Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) directs, Heath Ledger (The Patriot) stars.
If You ... get hot and bothered by boys in leather boots or girls in corsets, this historical romp is the holiday treat for you.
HOODWINKED (Weinstein Co.)
Plot: This computer-animated comedy purports to tell the “true” story of Little Red Riding Hood, who may have framed the Big Bad Wolf. Voice cast includes Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Andy Dick and James Belushi.
If You ... liked the revisionist fairy-tale world of Shrek, the fledgling Weinstein Company could really use a little bit of your money.
MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (Weinstein Co.)
Plot: Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) buys an old London theater during World War II and reopens it as a notorious hot spot famed for—among other things—its all-nude reviews. Bob Hoskins co-stars, Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, High Fidelity) directs.
If You ... are one of those Anglophiles who dresses in lavender and owns the DVDs of The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, this cheeky comedy is calling your name.