The holiday season, which is now threatening to begin in September, is already underway, with the successful opening weekend of "The Santa Clause 2," likely to profit again by spreading its farcical Christmas joy this weekend.
But on Friday, Hollywood's year-end festival of big-budget, star-laden films and artistic ventures gets a major boost with the surefire, high-flying return of Harry Potter & Co.
This year, the boy wizard again finds himself facing not simply a new menace but his 2001 competition, the second chapter in "Lord of the Rings."
However, because the further adventures of Frodo Baggins in "The Two Towers" will not rise until mid-December, moviegoers can spend their gold watching the goings-on at Hogwarts with Harry and his friends - and enemies. The dueling book-based films, pitting J.K. Rowling against J.R.R. Tolkien, will enrich Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, respectively (both are components of Time Warner/AOL empire).
But the not-so-little film company to watch is the semi-independent Disney subsidiary Miramax Films.
Besides Martin Scorsese's long-delayed "Gangs of New York," with Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz, Miramax is placing its hopes on Roberto Benigni's live-action "Pinocchio," Rob Marshall's singing-dancing-killing "Chicago" with Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, and "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," directed by and featuring George Clooney, with a cast headed by Sam Rockwell and support from Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts.
Typically, not all the offerings are so adventurous. Two major franchises, the James Bond and "Star Trek" series, are the major offerings from MGM and Paramount. Warner Bros. has another sequel, "Analyze That," with Robert De Niro as a mobster and Billy Crystal as his therapist. And Disney is re-releasing "The Lion King" in a large-format treatment.
The other animated offerings include Disney's "Treasure Planet" and "Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights" from Columbia, opening the same day. Later, Paramount will unleash "The Wild Thornberrys."
Along with "Pinocchio" and "The Lion King," both aimed at families, Christmas Day will bring an adventure that will be hard to beat: Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can," with Tom Hanks pursuing impersonator DiCaprio.
A great many women stars will be on view this holiday, with Jennifer Lopez pairing with Ralph Fiennes in "Maid in Manhattan" and Sandra Bullock contending with Hugh Grant in "Two Weeks Notice." Both look soft compared to two very different pictures showcasing the great Meryl Streep, Spike Jonze's "Adaptation," with Nicolas Cage as two brothers, and Stephen Daldry's "The Hours," with Moore and a heavily made-up Nicole Kidman.
"The Hours" is perhaps the most prestigious project, but a number of other contenders for top awards will be arriving. Kevin Kline stars as a prep-school teacher in "The Emperor's Club," Clooney heads the cast of Steven Soderbergh's venture into space, "Solaris," and Denzel Washington directs and stars in the fact-based "Antwone Fisher." Jack Nicholson has already won acclaim for Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt," and Edward Norton heads the cast of the moody "25th Hour."
A great many other films are scheduled for limited release in November and December to qualify for Academy Award nominations. Some art and foreign films that will be finding their way to Hartford have already opened in New York and Los Angeles; "Far from Heaven" has a Hartford date, but many others are waiting for openings. Most of the late-December limited-release Miramax pictures are in limbo as far as wide distribution is concerned. And as always, dates are subject to change, though the big pictures will hang on to their long-designated slots.
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