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Hollywood dishes out holiday buffet

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- Hollywood has served up enough turkeys for one year. After a so-so year of movies, the industry hits the home stretch with one of the most promising slates of holiday films in recent times.

''Meet the Parents'' and ''Charlie's Angels'' helped prime things, and the holiday movie season begins in earnest this weekend as Jim Carrey visits Whoville, the Rugrats visit Paris and Arnold Schwarzeneg-ger visits a cloning clinic and busts up the joint.

This year has produced solid hits, but movie attendance is down and the box office is only now recovering from a midsummer drought. The year produced one epic bomb (''Battlefield Earth'') and more down-to-earth flops (''I Dreamed of Africa,'' ''Get Carter''), but 2000 has been most notable for failing to generate standout successes such as last year's ''The Sixth Sense,'' ''The Blair Witch Project'' or the ''Star Wars'' prequel.

From now through year's end, though, box-office analysts and studio executives expect audiences to crowd cinemas for a stream of big movies.

''Everybody, even as early as late last year, we were looking at this November and saying this is going to be an incredible month, and even the whole holiday season in general,'' said Robert Bucksbaum, who tracks the box office for Reel Source Inc. ''From now until basically the end of the year, we're going to have one hit after another.''

Carrey's live-action version of ''Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas'' has been one of the year's most anticipated movies. The film wittily fills in the back story on why the Grinch hates Christmas and makes little Cindy Lou Who a pro-active crusader to bring the curmudgeon into the fold.

The Grinch has built up a psychological ''callus against all the people who shunned him,'' Carrey said at the movie's premiere. ''Cindy Lou comes along like some sort of emotional pedicure and scrapes him down to the nerve.''

Like the children's book and the 1960s TV cartoon on which it is based, the movie has charms that will appeal to young and old.

''It evolved pretty naturally out of the spirit of Dr. Seuss,'' said ''Grinch'' director Ron Howard. ''The reason his stuff endures so well is it's smart and it's funny. It doesn't really talk down to kids, and therefore, adults see a lot of wit and ideas and comedy in it.''

Mainly for the kids is ''Rugrats in Paris -- The Movie,'' the second big-screen outing for the plucky youngsters from the animated TV series.

Schwarzenegger gets an unwanted doppelganger when he is cloned by an evil business empire in ''The 6th Day,'' an action flick that's part ''Total Recall,'' part ''The Running Man.''

Also arriving this weekend is ''Bounce,'' a love story between an advertising executive (Ben Affleck) and the widow (Gwyneth Paltrow) of a man to whom he gave his ticket on a doomed airplane.

Powered by ''The Grinch'' and today's debuts of "102 Dalmatians'' and ''Unbreakable,'' Hollywood could be in line to break the Thanksgiving weekend box-office record of $225.5 million set last year, when ''Toy Story 2'' opened.

''So many people will be coming to those three movies that there's going to be a cascading effect at theaters,'' said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which is releasing "102 Dalmatians'' and ''Unbreakable. ''There's going to be times when there's no seats available for those hits, and the benefit will be the rollover of those audiences into other films.''

Here's a roundup of other top films opening by year's end. Some movies open in limited release for Oscar consideration and expand to other cities next year.

HERMITS AND CASTOFFS:

Sean Connery and Geoffrey Rush play writers in isolation. In ''Quills'' (today), Rush stars as the Marquis de Sade, imprisoned in an asylum where a sympathetic chambermaid (Kate Winslet) smuggles out his scandalous writings for publication. Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix co-star.

Connery lives in self-exile as a legendary novelist whose reclusive ways are tested when he becomes mentor to a talented student in ''Finding Forrester'' (Dec. 19).

Tom Hanks sprouts a Grizzly Adams beard as a Federal Express engineer stranded on an island in ''Cast Away'' (Dec. 22), co-starring Helen Hunt and directed by Robert Zemeckis.

DOGGIES AND DRAGONS:

Glenn Close is back in "102 Dalmatians'' (today), with Cruella De Vil still scheming to turn those spotted puppies into fashionable outerwear.

The movie version of the role-playing game ''Dungeons & Dragons'' (Dec. 8) stars Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans and Thora Birch in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy.

VAMPIRES AND SEERS:

''The Sixth Sense'' writer-director M. Night Shyamalan rejoins Bruce Willis for ''Unbreakable'' (today), an otherworldly tale of the sole survivor of a train wreck. Samuel L. Jackson co-stars.

The Count goes mod in ''Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000'' (Dec. 22), with the vampire coming to contemporary America. It stars Gerard Butler, Jonny Lee Miller and Christopher Plummer.

Cate Blanchett is a Southern widow making ends meet with psychic readings in ''The Gift'' (Dec. 22), a supernatural murder thriller that co-stars Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank and Keanu Reeves.

Willem Dafoe plays a vampire playing an actor playing Nosferatu in ''Shadow of the Vampire'' (Dec. 29), a darkly comic fictional take on the making of a silent horror classic. John Malkovich stars as director F.W. Murnau.

LEADERS AND UNDERLINGS:

Kevin Costner plays confidant to JFK (Bruce Greenwood) in ''Thirteen Days'' (Dec. 20), a tense drama about the Cuban missile crisis.

The animated adventure ''The Emperor's New Groove'' (Dec. 15) features the voice of David Spade as a smarmy ruler who's turned into a talking llama and John Goodman as the peasant who befriends him.

MEN AND WOMEN:

Meg Ryan hires a hostage negotiator (Russell Crowe) to free her kidnapped husband in ''Proof of Life'' (Dec. 8), a romantic drama set in Latin America.

An accident with a hairdryer and a bathtub leaves Mel Gibson able to read the female mind in ''What Women Want'' (Dec. 15), which co-stars Helen Hunt.

In ''The Family Man'' (Dec. 22), Nicolas Cage wakes up with a loving wife (Tea Leoni) and kids in the suburbs. Trouble is, he went to bed the night before a high-powered broker on Wall Street.

Sandra Bullock goes the Pygmalion route as a tomboy FBI agent who goes undercover as a beauty contestant in ''Miss Congeniality'' (Dec. 22). Michael Caine co-stars as her beauty consultant.

Gillian Anderson takes a timeout from ''The X-Files'' for ''The House of Mirth'' (Dec. 22), a lush but somber romance about a penniless, freethinking woman in turn-of-the-century society. Eric Stoltz co-stars.

''The Claim'' (Dec. 29) features Peter Mullan, Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley and Milla Jovovich in a complicated tale of passion and penance in a 19th-century gold-mining town.

FOOD AND DRUGS:

Juliette Binoche is a chocolatier whose sinful candies cause uproar among conservatives in a small French town in ''Chocolat'' (Dec. 15), directed by Lasse Hallstrom (''The Cider House Rules'').

Steven Soderbergh (''Erin Brockovich'') directs ''Traffic'' (Dec. 27), a drama about drug-dealing that stars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid.

WAYFARERS AND ADVENTURERS:

Cliffhangers abound in ''Vertical Limit'' (Dec. 8), with Chris O'Donnell on a rescue mission to save his sister and her mountain-climbing team on K2. Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton and Scott Glenn co-star.

Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh star in ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' (Dec. 8), an action-packed combination of martial arts and historical romance set in ancient China.

Joel and Ethan Coen have a go at Homer's ''The Odyssey'' with ''O Brother, Where Art Thou?'' (Dec. 22), updating the adventure into a colorful Depression-era road trip. George Clooney and John Turturro star.

A young Texan (Matt Damon) finds forbidden romance and big trouble when he seeks his fortunes in Mexico in the adaptation of the best seller ''All the Pretty Horses'' (Dec. 25).

TOUPS AND STUPES:

Two clueless party animals find riches and fetching alien women during an excellent adventure to find their lost auto in ''Dude, Where's My Car?'' (Dec. 15).

Northern Ireland barbers try to corner the toupee market amid political troubles in Barry Levinson's ''An Everlasting Piece'' (Dec. 25).

ARTISTS AND WRITERS:

Ed Harris stars and makes his directing debut in ''Pollock'' (Dec. 15), a grueling portrait of brilliant but self-destructive abstract painter Jackson Pollock.

Painter Julian Schnabel directs ''Before Night Falls'' (Dec. 22), a provocative look at the tragicomic life of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem).

Writer-director David Mamet's latest, ''State and Main'' (Dec. 22), spoofs Hollywood as a madcap film crew sets up shop in a quirky New England town. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker.



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