& & by Ed Symkus & & & &

Once again, with summer long behind us, we're about to enter the second most popular time of the year to go to movies -- that brief period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day in which Hollywood and the independents, as well as the international filmmaking community, hope their movies will make big enough splashes to earn lots of money and maybe an Oscar nomination or two.

Although release dates are supposedly in place, they're sometimes set in putty rather than cement, so there's no telling if some of these titles may actually be moved into next year, a year that, alas, Stanley Kubrick will never get to see (more on that later). But the following is a collection of snippets about what's on the way, in the order they're currently scheduled to be unleashed on the big screen. This year the season kicks off early with two potential blockbusters, Unbreakable and 102 Dalmatians, both being released the day before Thanksgiving (for more, check our "Big Screen" section starting on page 51). Our preview starts with Dec. 1 and continues (in typical we-don't-want-the-party-to-end fashion) through the first few weeks of January .

& & Early December & & & &

& & Finding Forrester (Dec. 6) & & & &

A little reminiscent of both last year's The Hurricane and the life of writer J.D. Salinger, Finding Forrester looks like this year's Good Will Hunting. It's about a young black kid (Robert Brown) who tracks down his reclusive hero, an author (Sean Connery), over the Internet, and what happens when he goes in search of the guy in person. Directed by Gus Van Sant and featuring -- gulp! -- Joey Buttafuoco. Rated: PG-13

& & Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Dec. 8) & & & &

A different kind of adventure -- one filled with mysticism and romance -- is to be found in Ang Lee's newest, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The gorgeously photographed and scored martial arts fantasy stars Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Yes, people can fly. Rated: PG-13

& & Dungeons and Dragons (Dec. 8) & & & &

First time director Courtney Solomon goes for big time fantasy in Dungeons and Dragons, in which bad guy wizard Jeremy Irons tries to overthrow new, beneficent empress Thora Birch. Lots of magic and mazes, and it should be stunningly more visual than the boring board game. Rated: PG-13

& & The Gift (Dec. 8) & & & &

Katie Holmes goes missing, and psychic Cate Blanchett tries to find her in Sam Raimi's new thriller The Gift. Keanu Reeves gets to play another bad guy; Hillary Swank costars. Co-written by Billy Bob Thornton. Rated: R

& & Proof of Life (Dec. 8) & & & &

What on earth is the off-camera attraction Russell Crowe sees in Meg Ryan? Maybe that'll be revealed in Proof of Life, where he's a hostage negotiator trying to save a victim (played by David Morse, not Dennis Quaid) but falls for the guy's wife in the process. (Not yet rated)

& & Spring Forward (Dec. 8) & & & &

An ex-con (Liev Schreiber) hopes to get his life together by doing a good job on his new gig as a parks department employee. Ned Beatty serves as his partner, boss and mentor in this Tom Gilroy-directed film. (Not yet rated)

& & Vertical Limit (Dec. 8) & & & &

When a group of climbers are trapped in a cave on K2, another group of climbers, headed by Chris O'Donnell -- whose character had given up climbing under duress -- start scaling the mountain to rescue them. Rated: PG-13

& & Mid-December & & & &

& & The Emperor's New Groove (Dec. 15) & & & &

This holiday's Disney offering has a prince (David Spade) being cursed and turned into a llama, then being befriended by a llama farmer (John Goodman) before what's got to be a happy ending. With music by Sting. Rated: G

& & Dude, Where's My Car (Dec. 15) & & & &

Fresh on the heels -- or shall we say 'wheels' -- of Road Trip, here's the next cinematic frat party to hit the big screen. Jess and Chester wake up after a night of partying to find their stash, their girlfriends and their car are all missing. Rated: PG-13

& & Family Man (Dec. 15) & & & &

Nicolas Cage is a fellow who wakes up one morning to discover he has a wife (Tea Leoni) and some kids in Family Man. The odd thing is that when he went to sleep, he was living the single life. Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) directs this sentimental comedy. Rated: PG-13

& & What Women Want (Dec. 15) & & & &

In another comedy, Mel Gibson wakes up one day to find that he can read women's minds. An interesting ability for a character that's so chauvinistic, especially in his previous dealings with Helen Hunt, Lauren Holly and Marisa Tomei. Rated: PG-13

& & Late December & & & &

& & Thirteen Days (Dec. 20) & & & &

Thirteen Days provides a dramatic background look at the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedys who were involved -- President John (Bruce Greenwood) and Attorney General Bobby (Steven Culp). Kevin Costner plays a presidential aide. Rated: PG-13

& & Cast Away (Dec. 22) & & & &

There's no doubt that the folks who made Cast Away are hoping the American public is still high on Survivor fever. Tom Hanks makes it through a plane crash but ends up alone on an island. It's the newest film from director Robert Zemeckis, who this time goes for character development over special effects. Rated: PG-13

& & Miss Congeniality (Dec. 22) & & & &

Tough, straight-laced, by-the-book FBI Agent Sandra Bullock must -- very much against her will -- go undercover in the Miss United States pageant to thwart a terrorist plot in Miss Congeniality. William Shatner and Candace Bergen are two of many costars. (Not yet rated)

& & Dracula 2000 (Dec. 22) & & & &

The Dracula legend gets another outing in Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000. The story is a contemporary one, set in America, starring Gerard Butler as the Count and Christopher Plummer as Dr. Van Helsing. Note: Craven is executive producing; editor Patrick Lussier is directing. (Not yet rated)

& & Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (Dec. 22) & & & &

The Coen Brothers give the nod to both Homer's Odyssey and Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels in their new comedy-musical Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, the story of three escapees from a southern chain gang in the 1930s. George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson star. Rated: PG-13

& & State and Maine (Dec. 22) & & & &

David Mamet writes and directs a poke at the movie industry when a cast and crew set up shop in a little Vermont town and bring Hollywood-style turmoil with them in State and Maine. The eclectic cast features William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ricky Jay. Rated: R

& & Christmas day & & & &

& & All the Pretty Horses & & & &

The year wraps up with -- believe it or not -- only two films opening on Christmas Day. First is the Billy Bob Thornton-directed All the Pretty Horses, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel about a cowboy (Matt Damon) who crosses the Mexican border in the 1930s and falls in love with a landowner's daughter (Penelope Cruz). (Not yet rated)

& & 2001: A Space Odyssey & & & &

Back to Stanley Kubrick. The year ends with a big bang of music from Richard Strauss, an effects-filled blast through the cosmos and a few gorillas in the perfectly timed re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film will be completely restored, but don't look for any new footage. And even though there aren't many overwhelming Cinerama screens left, this is sure to show up on the biggest screens of your local multiplex. Rated: G

& & January & &

& & Antitrust (Jan. 12) & & & &

In a nod perhaps both to last year's Microsoft-goes-to-court debacle and that software company TV spot that looks just like a movie trailer, comes Antitrust, which stars Ryan Phillippe as a young software designer and Tim Robbins as his billionaire boss and mentor. With Rachael Leigh Cook and Claire Forlani. Rated: PG-13

& & The Pledge (Jan. 12) & & & &

Jack Nicholson is a cop within weeks of retirement when he's called on to solve the murder of a young girl. Sean Penn directs this 1950s-era thriller, which also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren and Robin Wright Penn. Rated: R

& & Traffic (Jan. 12) & & & &

Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich) is back, this time with a drug trade thriller with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. Rated: R

& & Enemy at the Gates (no firm date) & & & &

The siege of Stalingrad during World War II becomes the backdrop for this based-on-fact war story, this time told from the Russian perspective. Joseph Fiennes plays Vassili, a skilled sharpshooter who is suddenly catapulted to fame when a shrewd political officer (Jude Law) builds a propaganda campaign around him. Their friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman (Rachel Weisz) and the Nazi war machine. (Not yet rated)

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

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