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Bob Mondello's Holiday Movies Preview

Harry Potter's $101-million opening weekend -- the fourth biggest in movie history -- has finally brought smiles back to Hollywood, where bad news at the box office has been the norm this year. More than 30 holiday movies will open between now and the end of the year -- many of them Oscar hopefuls. Bob Mondello has a selective preview.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: Harry Potter may have been setting quite a pace for children's films, but his series is more than half-over now, so studios are looking for the next book-to-screen phenomenon. Disney thinks it's found it in this C.S. Lewis series. The Chronicles of Narnia are a little trickier to market than the Harry Potter books, because the original novels were conceived as a Christian allegory, which will be a definite plus for some audiences, a potential minus for others.

Brokeback Mountain: Marketing will also be tricky for another of the season's literary adaptations, Ang Lee's so-called "gay western" about two cowboys who form a lifetime attachment that they try hard not to acknowledge. The epic western romance has garnered raves at film festivals, and is widely viewed as a likely Oscar contender for best picture.

Memoirs of a Geisha: An adaptation of the besteller, it takes place just prior to World War II in Japan.

The White Countess: This is the last Merchant/Ivory film, now that Ismail Merchant has died. He has, for what it's worth, gone out with a splash. The White Countess is is an opulent epic starring Natasha Richardson and Ralph Fiennes as lost souls, and Richardson's mother and aunt, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, as her on-screen relatives -- the first time the Redgraves have all performed together on screen.

Mrs. Henderson Presents: Another famous British actress, Dame Judi Dench, is also immersing herself in the late 1930s for this film, the story of a wealthy widow who buys a London theater, and finds a very un-British way to fill it.

Other comedies include a thriller-spoof called The Matador; the dysfunctional family comedy, The Family Stone; a remake of the 1970s suburban satire, Fun With Dick and Jane; and an eccentric romance called Rumor Has It, in which Jennifer Anniston overhears a secret when she goes home to attend her sister's wedding.

The Producers: Mel Brooks' story -- of Broadway-ites who discover they can make more money with a theatrical flop than with a hit, provided that they can find a bad enough script -- comes full circle. It started out as a movie, morphed into a Broadway musical, and is now coming back to the screen as a movie-musical with the Broadway stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

The New World: This drama is from Terence Malick, who only makes about one picture a decade, but who makes each decade count. In Badlands, he dealt with the American Dream gone wrong; in Days of Heaven, with the immigrant experience; and now, in The New World, he takes an epic look at the clash of cultures that began this nation's history

Munich: Stephen Spielberg examines old-world questions, specifically the issues of revenge and an-eye-for-an-eye raised by the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner, Munich is already controversial, though it wrapped up its shooting schedule less than two months ago. It is also the subject of much Oscar speculation.

King Kong: Also drawing Oscar rumors is Peter Jackson's special-effects-laden mega-remake that would normally be thought of as this season's 800-pound gorilla -- except that its star weighs much more than that.

Some other movies coming this season offer a change of pace for the talents involved. Heath Ledger, for instance, will be trading Brokeback Mountain's macho gay cowboy boots, for Casanova's less macho, straight stockings and high heels. Actor Tommy Lee Jones will add director to his resume with a bilingual western called The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada. And then there's Match Point, Woody Allen's dark romantic thriller about a social-climbing tennis pro. It's gotten good reviews, and will open on the final weekend of 2005, just in time for Oscar consideration.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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