by David Wild

With the fall film season firmly in place, and oddball items such as Jackass: The Movie raking in the bucks, while neat little comedies like Welcome to Collinwood barely avoid straight-to-video status (it actually opens this week). So what's to become of us audience members? Somehow, it'll all probably be business as usual as the holiday film season gears up, with a Bond film and sequels to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings right around the corner. The crowded holiday season will also feature a Scorsese, a Spielberg and a Polanski -- and that is nothing less than royalty. Alas, we also have to look forward to another entry in the continuing downfall of Wayne Wang as well as the newest piece from the continually annoying Roberto Benigni. Something for everyone, and a few for nobody. Here's a look at a few of the titles on the way between now and New Year's Eve.

November 15

Ararat -- With plots layered on top of subplots and a film-within-a-film format, Canadian director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) tells the horrifying true story of the Armenian genocide, conducted by Turks near the beginning of the 20th century. Charles Aznavour, Christopher Plummer and David Alpay star. (limited release)

Half Past Dead -- Alcatraz has reopened, and a former prison executive (Morris Chestnut) has gone bad, breaking into the place with a nasty team in order to get a con to reveal where a whole lot of gold is hidden. Watch out! Steven Seagal -- anybody else think he's looking a lot like Jim Belushi these days? -- is on the inside, ready to break up the plan.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets -- Same director, same writer, same cast, take a stab at the second installment in the J.K. Rowling series. All the kids are back at Hogwarts, even though a strange house elf named Dobby has told Harry not to go. Kenneth Branagh has joined the staff. The first Harry Potter film remains the second-highest-grossing film ever, behind Titanic. Director Chris Columbus says it's darker than the first film, with young Harry given a chance to mature. But with strange forces terrorizing the school, there should be plenty of chances for the thrills and chills that made the original such a big hit.

November 22

Die Another Day -- Pierce Brosnan (after an amazing turn in The Tailor of Panama) is back as 007, this time on a worldwide search for a couple of bad guys with bad ideas. His travels take him to Korea, Cuba, England, Iceland (and a palace built of ice), then back to Korea. Look for many explosions. Oh, and Halle Berry in a bikini.

The Emperor's Club -- Sounding more than a bit like Dead Poets Society, this is based on Ethan Canin's short story, "The Palace Thief," and features Kevin Kline as a no-nonsense professor whose life is changed by a new student (Emile Hirsch) with a will as strong as his own.

Friday After Next -- Part three of the Friday series again has Craig and Day-Day (Ice Cube and Mike Epps) trying to get through all the bad breaks coming their way. They lose everything in an apartment break-in and have to get jobs as security guards at the mall. Third time might not be the charm.

November 27

Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights -- If there's one thing Adam Sandler likes, it's making up crazy voices. And in this animated, not-really-for-kids feature, he gets to take on not one but three. Davey is a 33-year-old whose partying lifestyle has gotten him in trouble with the law. He's given a choice: community service or jail. Opting for the former, Davey finds himself helping out as an assistant referee for youth basketball (which is where the other two voices come into play).

Solaris -- Steven Soderbergh directs this remake of the 1972 film, based on Stanislaw Lem's classic sci-fi novel. George Clooney plays an astronaut sent to rescue scientists from a space station mishap, only to find their commander dead and two survivors haunted by what they have seen.

Treasure Planet -- The newest Disney animated extravaganza looks backward and forward at the same time. It takes place in outer space, during an exciting voyage across the universe, where a young cabin boy befriends a crew member who turns out to be a pirate. The looking back part? It's a retelling, of course, of Treasure Island. It will also play at Spokane's IMAX.

December 6

Adaptation -- Charlie Kaufman is a frustrated screenwriter trying to adapt Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, about orchid poacher John Laroche. Donald Kaufman, Charlie's twin, is a bum who talks a good game. The paths of all four people cross. The brothers are played by Nicolas Cage, the author is played by Meryl Streep, the poacher by Chris Cooper. Spike Jonze directs and, oh yeah, Charlie Kaufman wrote the script.

Analyze That -- Let the mugging begin: Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro reprise their respective roles as Dr. Ben Sobel and Paul Vitti, this time with the good doctor helping the mobster acclimate to life after prison. The doctor could stand to do some work on boundaries, however -- before long he's not only treating Vitti as a patient but bringing him soap and towels as a houseguest.

Equilibrium -- You think Prozac, codeine and Oxycontin take the edge off? You, my friend, have never tried Prozium. In Equilibrium's futuristic society, Prozium makes pesky human emotions like love, lust and crankiness a thing of the past. Unless you miss a dose. Which is what happens to Christian Bale, who suddenly wants to overthrow the regime, beat up his colleague Taye Diggs and make Emily Watson his woman.

December 13

About Schmidt -- Everything is getting strange for Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson). He retires, his estranged daughter announces her wedding and his wife dies. Wanting to start all over, he takes the wheel of a motorhome, convinces himself that the impending marriage is a bad idea and, in dark comic manner, decides to stop it.

Maid in Manhattan -- Is a retelling and modernizing of Cinderella really what we need? Jennifer Lopez is a maid in a swanky New York hotel. Ralph Fiennes is a wealthy JFK-like fellow. When he suddenly thinks she's an equally wealthy guest at the place... la la la, connect the dots. Directed by Wayne Wang, who once had an offbeat touch.

Star Trek: Nemesis -- There's not a whole lot of plot information on the 10th Star Trek film out there, but what does it matter? Almost everyone from Star Trek: The Next Generation is on board, including Data, Picard, Riker and Troi. Oh, and Whoopi Goldberg as the ship's bartender and the one with the fabulous hats. Could this be their last voyage?

December 18

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers -- The names remain confusing, the adventure remains gigantic. At the second installment's start, the Fellowship is still separated, with half heading for the tower where the evil Saruman waits, and the rest going to the tower where the even more evil Sauron waits. Fans of the books can't wait to see how Peter Jackson has imagined the Ents, a race of sentient trees.

December 20

Antwone Fisher -- Derek Luke plays the titular hero of this autobiographical film, based on the life of screenwriter/producer Antwone Fisher. Fisher, once a troubled sailor in the Navy whose repeated fistfights land him in the office of Navy psychiatrist Denzel Washington, turns his life around by finding the family who abandoned him and landing a job as a security guard for the Sony Pictures lot.

Two Weeks Notice -- Hugh Grant plays the sort of charming, shallow cad he's become so adept at, this time as a billionaire who happily lets his lawyer (Sandra Bullock) handle all the troublesome little details, legal or otherwise. She gives him two weeks' notice, offers to find her own replacement and waits for him to realize he can't live without her.

December 25

Catch Me If You Can -- Steven Spielberg goes for another real-life tale, this time about the wealthy Frank Abagnale, a man who faked his way through lots of professions -- doctor, lawyer, pilot -- and was quite the skilled forger, too. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, he's relentlessly hunted by FBI man Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

A Few Good Years -- Or you might call it the Douglas Family Reunion. It's an examination of three generations of successful, dysfunctional New Yorkers, played by Kirk Douglas, his son Michael Douglas, and his son, Cameron Douglas. Kirk's wife Diana Douglas costars. Funny, tear-jerking and the rest.

Gangs of New York -- Finally, the release of the long-delayed Martin Scorsese epic about the chaos known as America during the Civil War, with the action taking place in Manhattan, where a whole other kind of war was being played out. Leonardo DiCaprio fans will be happy to see him star in two films opening on the very same day. Joining him here are Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz.

The Lion King -- Like Beauty and the Beast last Christmas, Disney is putting its tale of the savannah on the really, really big screen this year. The almost Shakespearean story of betrayal and justice has been called Disney's darkest film, and it even spawned a much-celebrated Broadway musical. That opening scene, "The Circle of Life," should be something on the IMAX screen.

Pinocchio -- You know the story, and the talented Roberto Benigni stars in it, co-wrote it and directed it. The Blue Fairy is played by his wife, Nicoletta Braschi, and Gepetto is done up by popular Italian actor Carlo Guiffre. The only question is whether Benigni will overdo it to the point of annoyance.

December 27

Chicago -- Everyone's calling it this year's Moulin Rouge, except instead of one femme fatale/dance hall girl, there are two. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Velma Kelley, who gains instant notoriety (and time in jail) for shooting her philandering husband. Renee Zellweger is an up-and-coming starlet who, secretly hoping for similar fame, tries a similar tactic on her abusive boyfriend. Richard Gere is the celebrity-chasing lawyer who tries to represent them both.

The Hours -- Buzz started early and eagerly for this adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Crossing time spans and continents, the movie follows the experiences of three women. Nicole Kidman -- nearly unrecognizable with a prosthetic nose -- plays Virginia Woolf, worn out from depression and from trying to finish her last novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Julianne Moore is a 1950s housewife, whose conventional, tract house-bound existence is forever altered by her discovery of the novel. And in present day New York, Meryl Streep echoes the fictional Mrs. Dalloway as a woman who is in the midst of party preparations for her best friend, who is dying of AIDS.

The Pianist -- Roman Polanski's return to filmmaking in Poland -- his last was Knife in the Water in 1962! -- has the amazing Adrien Brody starring as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist who managed to stay alive while hiding in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. It's proof of how the human spirit can triumph, and it's based on Szpilman's autobiography. (limited release)

25th Hour -- Spike Lee's first film since the little seen Bamboozled is different from his usual fare, focusing on the last day of freedom for a former bigwig (Edward Norton) before he's packed off to jail. In that period, he tries to fix things up with his father (Brian Cox) and find out if he was turned in by his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson).

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Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11
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