Coming to a theatre near us this winter

The Winter/Holiday Movie Preview
Curious about why there have been so many high-profile releases recently? And why there are so many more big flicks headed our way in the coming weeks?
Well, deck the halls and spike the eggnog, because ’tis not only the holiday movie season, but also prime Oscar time. And because the coveted golden statuettes are being tossed out about three weeks earlier than usual — the big day is Feb. 29 — movie studios have crammed their prestige pictures into a packed release schedule so as to best capitalize on Oscar voters’ notoriously short attention spans.
Still, not every upcoming release is meant to be an Oscar darling — and thank God for that. That means you’ll still be able to have a bit of mindless fun at the movies without having to ponder the profundities of The Human Stain or take a cathartic dip in the Mystic River.
Here, then, is a look at 10 of the top movies coming out this season — and their worthiness as Oscar-bait:
The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
STARRING: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen
THE SCOOP: The third and final part of director-writer Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy, ROTK promises even more spectacle than the previous two films. Can Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom? Or will Gollum’s treachery prove to be their undoing? And can Aragorn (Mortensen) assume his rightful position as a king of men and stave off the monstrous forces of the Dark Lord Sauron? Millions of geeks already know the answers, but the joy is in seeing Jackson realize it all so impeccably on the big screen.
Oscar-bait (5 out of 5)
There’s a general feeling Jackson is due for his Oscar. We’re not entirely sure this will come to pass, but ROTK should be able to improve on its predecessors’ hauls.
Cold Mountain
STARRING: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger
THE SCOOP: Pity poor Inman (Law). Not only is he a wounded Confederate soldier, he’s also a deserter. And while he makes the dangerous journey back to his mountain home, he’s also pursued by ticked-off southerners. Meanwhile, back home, his sweetheart Ada (Kidman) is struggling to survive on her father’s farm — with the help of a young drifter (Zellweger). Thank goodness for young drifters.
Oscar-bait (5 out of 5)
This is more Oscar’s style: A sprawling, romantic epic set against the backdrop of the Civil War — and not featuring hobbits and magic rings.
The Last Samurai
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe
THE SCOOP: It’s 1870, and respected American officer Capt. Nate Algren (Cruise) is enlisted to sell weapons to the Japanese military in their quest to wipe out the samurai. But when our ugly American gets captured by said samurai, he learns to respect their code of honour and way of life — so much so he’s willing to fight with them.
Oscar-bait (4 out of 5)
The Academy digs this stuff with a shovel — although Cruise’s own quest to be considered a “Serious Ak-tor” is constantly ignored by the voters. Still, director Edward Zwick scored big time with his last period epic, Glory.
Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World
STARRING: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd
THE SCOOP: Stroppy Kiwi Crowe stars as “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, the captain of the HMS Surprise. But the surprise is on his crew, which includes surgeon Stephen Maturin (Bettany), when Aubrey chases after a more powerful and well-armed privateer. Excitingly set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Oscar-bait (3 out of 5)
Action flick has the right pedigree — Crowe and director Peter Weir — to make some noise come Oscar time.
Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat
STARRING: Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Alec Baldwin
THE SCOOP: Dr. Seuss’ beloved pussycat in a stovepipe hat wreaks havoc on the big screen — with chameleon-like funnyman Myers taking on the titular role. But if this is as good as 2000’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas was, we’ll be sure not to see it.
Oscar-bait (2 out of 5)
This could be a contender for art direction and other production awards, but then again, you have to count Lord Of The Rings as the heavy favourite in those categories.
STARRING: Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr.
THE SCOOP: When successful psychiatrist Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) wakes up incarcerated in her own mental institution for apparently killing her husband, she has to find out whether she really is nuts — or whether there’s some sinister secret behind it all. With a rumoured nude shower scene, we’d like to echo Conan O’Brien’s movement to have the title changed to “The Greatest Movie Ever.”
Oscar-bait (1 out of 5)
We’re not saying this will suck — with that shower scene, how could it, really? — but Oscar generally disapproves of genre fare like this.
Mona Lisa Smile
STARRING: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles
THE SCOOP: She’s been a hooker, a runaway bride and a floozy fighting for the little guy — now Roberts stars in the biggest stretch of her career: An art history professor. Set in the oppressive 1950s, the film follows Roberts to a prestigious girls school, where she tries to teach her young charges about being the best they can be.
Oscar-bait (3 out of 5)
It’s got Oscar winners Roberts and Marcia Gay Harden in the cast, so you can’t discount this flick. And with a dearth of films with strong female characters, this could fill the void.
The Matrix Revolutions
STARRING: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne
THE SCOOP: The final part of that other geek trilogy sees Neo (Reeves), Trinity (Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne) fighting in the final battle between humanity and the Machines. Can Neo finally fulfil his destiny as the saviour of mankind or will the Machines, with the nefarious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), crush Zion once and for all?
Oscar-bait (2 out of 5)
The, ahem, revolutionary effects work could be recognized by the Oscar voters. Even more revolutionary? If Reeves — who has the dramatic range of a sponge — gets a best actor nod. Then we’d really know we’re living inside the Matrix.
STARRING: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel
THE SCOOP: A human baby is raised as an elf in the North Pole. When he grows up into man-child Buddy (Ferrell), he decides to return to the human world to search for his dad (Caan), a high-powered scrooge who lives in New York. Can Buddy save Christmas and make everybody into one happy family again?
Oscar-bait (0 out of 5)
While this goofy comedy has generated some good buzz and we’d watch Ferrell in pretty much anything, you can be reasonably sure Elf will get scrooged at the Oscars.
Cheaper By The Dozen
STARRING: Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hillary Duff
THE SCOOP: This remake of the 1950 comedy classic features Tom and Mary Baker (Martin and Hunt) trying to raise their 12 kids — which include Piper Perabo, tween superstar Duff and Smallville’s Tom Welling — with wacky results.
Oscar-bait (0 out of 5)
A movie families can watch together: Yes. Oscar-worthy: No. A chance to catch up on your sleep in a darkened theatre: Oh yes.
RELEASE DATES (All of them are subject to change)
NOV. 7
* The Matrix Revolutions (Nov. 5)
* Love Actually
* Madame Sata
* Elephant
* Elf
* The Singing Detective
* Bus 174
NOV. 14
* Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
* Tupac: Resurrection
* Looney Tunes: Back In Action
* Falling Angels
* Magnifico
* Love That Boy
NOV. 21
* The Missing (Nov. 19)
* Gothika
* Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat
* The Cooler
* Shake It All About
* The Barbarian Invasions
* The Eye
NOV. 26
* The Haunted Mansion
* Timeline
* In America
NOV. 28
* The Housekeeper
DEC. 5
* The Last Samurai
* Honey
* Blizzard
* LOTR: The Fellowship Of The Ring* ONE-WEEK RE-RELEASE
DEC. 12
* Stuck On You
* Love Don’t Cost A Thing
* Something’s Gotta Give
* Girl With A Pearl Earring
DEC. 17
* The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
DEC. 19
* Mona Lisa Smile
* Calendar Girls
DEC. 25
* Peter Pan
* Paycheck
* Cold Mountain
* Cheaper By The Dozen