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Celebrating the Cinematic Season

At least we survived scary season. (After all, Tuesday was Election Day.)

Now, it’s turkey time — although we fervently hope those turkeys turn up on the table, not on the big screen.

But, in every holiday movie season, the gobblers inevitably show up alongside the sugarplums — and the food for thought.

Reflecting the current recessed (or is it depressed?) economic climate, this holiday movie season isn’t nearly as overstuffed as initially expected, what with the wait-’til-next-year postponements of at least one blockbuster ("Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince") and several Oscar possibilities ("Defiance," "The Soloist" and "The Road"). To say nothing of the usual wait-’til-January delay for the Las Vegas debut of another potential Academy Awards contender, "Revolutionary Road."

Even with those no-shows, there’s still plenty on the movie menu to sample through Dec. 26, whether your tastes run to epic adventure ("Australia"), family-friendly animation ("Escape 2 Madagascar," "Bolt"), heavy drama ("Doubt," "Milk," "Frost/Nixon") or goofy comedy ("Yes Man").

To help you celebrate the cinematic season, here’s a week-by-week rundown of top releases. (And a cautionary note that some release dates may change — and that some movies might not get here at all).

Happy moviegoing to all — and to all a good night! (Or matinee!)

 

FRIDAY

Open me first: "MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA"

In this computer-animated sequel to the 2005 smash, zoo fugitives (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer) join their wacky lemur king pal ("Borat’s" Sacha Baron Cohen) in Africa.

Also under the tree: Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as salesmen mentoring troubled kids in "Role Models"; Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac as estranged "Soul Men"; Anne Hathaway as a recovering addict disrupting her sister’s wedding in "Rachel Getting Married"; Robert De Niro as a desperate Hollywood producer in "What Just Happened"; Sally Hawkins as Mike Leigh’s "Happy-Go-Lucky" London teacher; and the sci-fi Gothic rock extravaganza "Repo! The Genetic Opera" — which was scheduled to make its world premiere tonight at Planet Hollywood.

NOV. 14

Open me first: "QUANTUM OF SOLACE"

Agent 007 James Bond’ (Daniel Craig) uncovers a mysterious international cartel, battles with M (Judi Dench) and dodges danger with a fetching fellow spy (Olga Kurylenko).

 

NOV. 21

Open me first: "TWILIGHT"

Stephenie Meyer’s best-seller recounts the romance between 17-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her swoon-worthy vampire love Edward (Robert Pattinson).

Also under the tree: A canine (voiced by John Travolta) discovers he’s only a TV star, not a superdog, in the computer-animated "Bolt"; a frustrated director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) struggles to re-create New York City onstage in "Synecdoche, N.Y."; Kristin Scott-Thomas generates major Oscar buzz for her acclaimed "I’ve Loved You So Long" performance (in French, no less); and the 8-year-old son of a Nazi concentration camp commandant befriends "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."

 

NOV. 26

Open me first: "AUSTRALIA" — Nicole Kidman reunites with "Moulin Rouge!" director Baz Luhrmann for this World War II-era saga about a British aristocrat who journeys to Australia to sell her philandering husband’s cattle farm — and falls for a hard-driving drover (Hugh Jackman).

Also under the tree: Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as a young couple enduring "Four Christmases" with their divorced (and remarried) parents and the return of hard-charging Jason Statham in "Transporter 3."

 

DEC. 5

Open me first: "MILK" — Sean Penn stars as activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to a major political office, until he’s assassinated by fellow former San Francisco supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin).

Also under the tree: "Rome’s" Ray Stevenson takes over from Thomas Jane as a comic-book avenger in "Punisher: War Zone"; Michael Cera as a 14-year-old desperate to lose his virginity in "Youth in Revolt"; and Beyoncé Knowles, Mos Def, Cedric the Entertainer, Jeffrey Wright and Adrien Brody as R&B pioneers in the musical drama "Cadillac Records."

 

DEC. 12

Open me first: "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" — Klaatu borada nikto! In a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, Keanu Reeves plays an alien trying to warn Earthlings of impending environmental disaster.

Also under the tree: In Chicago, a Puerto Rican family (including John Leguizamo, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña and "Ugly Betty’s" Freddy Rodriguez) celebrates what may be their last Christmas together in "Nothing Like the Holidays."

 

DEC. 17

Open me first: "THE WRESTLER" — Mickey Rourke’s generating major Oscar buzz as a retired pro wrestler angling for one last showdown with an ex-rival.

 

DEC. 19

Open me first: "DOUBT" — Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams headline John Patrick Shanley’s Tony-winning drama about a ’60s Catholic school principal who suspects a parish priest of molesting a 12-year-old boy.

Also under the tree: A suicidal IRS agent (Will Smith) finds new meaning in life in "Seven Pounds"; Jim Carrey becomes an indefatigable "Yes Man"; and Matthew Broderick voices the mighty title mouse in the animated "The Tale of Despereaux."

 

DEC. 25

Open me first: "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON" — Brad Pitt joins "Babel" co-star Cate Blanchett and "Burn After Reading" castmate Tilda Swinton for this F. Scott Fitzgerald tale of a man afflicted by a strange condition that causes him to age in reverse.

Also under the tree: Frank Langella reprises his stage triumph as disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon, facing interviewer David Frost ("The Queen’s" Michael Sheen) in "Frost/Nixon"; Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson bond with a lovable yellow Labrador in "Marley & Me"; Adam Sandler recounts "Bedtime Stories" that spring magically to life; a Louisiana basketball coach (Forest Whitaker) leads a post-Katrina team to glory in "Hurricane Season"; and another masked crimefighter hits the mean streets in "The Spirit."

 

DEC. 26

Open me first: "VALKYRIE" — During World War II, high-ranking German officers plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in this fact-based drama starring Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard and Kenneth Branagh.

Also under the tree: An impoverished Indian teen becomes a game show contestant in "Slumdog Millionaire," director Danny Boyle’s film festival award-winner.

 

SOMETIME IN DECEMBER

Open me first: "GRAN TORINO" — The hardest-working septuagenarian in Hollywood, Clint Eastwood, directs his second movie of the season ("Changeling" opened last week) and stars as a racist Korean War vet with immigrant neighbors.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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