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Holiday Movie Preview
Advance buzz is high for many of seasonï ¿ ½s Oscar-hopeful offerings

Thus far, the bulk of the fall offerings from most movie studios have been spotty at best.

December is traditionally when the studios release their big, "prestige" Oscar hopefuls. Here's a look at what they're serving up this year. Please note: all release dates are subject to change.

Dec. 7

"Atonement"

The year's best corset/period drama should be something along the lines of "Howard's End" by way of "The English Patient" or "Cold Mountain." Keira Knightley stars as an upper-crust, hard-to-get girl who falls big time for one of the hired help ("Narnia's" James McAvoy), but is sabotaged by her jealous little sister.

"The Golden Compass"

Being referred to as the "anti-Narnia," this first installment of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy is garnering lots of negative buzz for its perceived bashing of organized religion. The movie's "Lord of the Rings" meets "Peter Pan" approach might go far to squelch the well-organized protest campaign.

"Revolver"

Don't get your hopes up for this comedic crime thriller from Guy Ritchie (aka "Mr. Madonna"). Ritchie mainstay Jason Statham stars with Ray Liotta in a movie that's been in the can since 2005 and has been described by those who have seen it as even worse than Ritchie's previous collaboration with his wife, "Swept Away."

"Romance and Cigarettes"

Character actor John Turturro's troubled and long-delayed crime/musical features a dream cast (including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Mandy Moore), but comes with almost universal bad buzz. Like "Revolver," it's been on the shelf for a while and shows no signs of promise.

Dec. 12

"The Perfect Holiday"

Far from "perfect," this lightweight romantic comedy with a Christmas theme features Gabrielle Union as the divorced mother of three who falls for an aspiring songwriter (and part-time Santa Claus) played by Morris Chestnut.

Dec. 14

"Alvin and The Chipmunks"

This movie will either be a total smash or a complete bust. Based on the animated TV series from the '60s, it features talking and singing vermin, voiced with digitally enhanced talent, who sound as if they just had a date with a canister of helium. The promising wild card: Jason Lee ("My Name is Earl") voices David, the lead human character.

"Grace Is Gone"

The advance buzz for this dramatic weepy is off the charts. John Cusack plays the widower whose wife was killed in the Iraq War. He must come to terms with being the single parent of two distinctly different young daughters. Let's hope it's better than "Martian Child."

"I Am Legend"

Based on a book that's already been adapted to film as "The Omega Man" and "The Last Man on Earth," this apocalyptic sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith is a guaranteed box-office winner. Its "one man standing" thematic similarity to the Tom Cruise bomb "Vanilla Sky" could be the single factor able to kill it.

"The Bucket List"

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as two cancer patients who hit the road with their "before I die" wish lists in this piece of primo Oscar bait. Considering director Rob Reiner's dismal output of late ("Alex and Emma," "Rumor Has It ..."), don't be surprised if it's a real clunker.

Dec. 21

"Juno"

Director Jason Reitman's ("Thank You for Smoking") brilliant sophomore offering stars Ellen Page ("X-Men," "Hard Candy") as a pregnant teen who decides to put her baby up for adoption. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner play the prospective parents of the child. Oh, and it's a comedy.

"The Kite Runner"

Based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, this throttling drama about an Afghani writer's spiritual journey over three decades is being hailed by fans of the book, but is also mired in controversy. Three of its child actors are receiving death threats because of their participation.

"National Treasure: Book of Secrets"

The inevitable sequel to "National Treasure" appears to be as far-fetched as the first installment. After learning one of his ancestors was involved in the Lincoln assassination, thrill-seeker Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) tries to get to the bottom of it all.

"P.S. I Love You"

Based on the cloying trailer, this appears to be your typical chick-flick tear-jerker. Hilary Swank plays a woman whose dead husband (Gerard Butler) starts sending her letters imploring her to get on with her life. Lisa Kudrow and Kathy Bates co-star.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton join forces for the sixth time in this highly anticipated adaptation of the legendary Broadway musical. We know Depp has the acting chops to pull off the role; whether or not he can actually carry a tune is an entirely different matter.

"Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"

"Talladega Nights" second banana John C. Reilly essentially recycles that movie in this fake biography of a one-hit-wonder pop star. Jenna Fischer ("The Office") plays the love interest.

Dec. 25

"Charlie Wilson's War"

The always formidable Mike Nichols directs this drama, starring Tom Hanks as the title character. Wilson is a Texas congressman who, along with his wife (Julia Roberts) and friend (Philip Seymour Hoffman), lobby everyone they know for funds on behalf of Afghani soldiers in their war with the Soviet Union.

"Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

This fact-based drama from director Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat," "Before Night Falls") is about a full-of-life magazine editor whose outlook is greatly affected after suffering a debilitating stroke. It's based on the acclaimed novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

"The Great Debaters"

This is the second directorial effort from Denzel Washington, who stars in the fact-based drama about a Texas teacher who inspires his students to emerge victorious in, what else, a debating competition.

"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep"

In this fantasy/adventure family movie, a young Scottish boy finds a large egg that hatches and turns out to be the Loch Ness Monster. If director Jay Russell handles the material in the same manner he did in "My Dog Skip," this could turn out to be a real winner.

"Youth Without Youth"

Francis Ford Coppola's latest effort is based on the novella by Mircea Eliade. Tim Roth plays a professor in pre-World War II Romania who, after a nasty accident, is able to travel back in time and prevent his break-up with his long-lost love.

Early 2008

"Cassandra's Dream"

This Woody Allen thriller sounds a lot like the recent "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." Two financially strapped brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) fall for the same woman and find themselves involved in a crime that ultimately divides them.

"There Will Be Blood"

Director Paul Thomas Anderson's ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia") first film in five years is based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a silver miner who gets rich after mistakenly hitting oil and becomes a ruthless and paranoid industrialist.