Here's your annual guide to what's opening between now and Christmas Day. Remember, in addition to these films, there are a number of major productions still playing locally, like Disney's A Christmas Carol; The Princess and the Frog, The Blind Side, Invictus and that mopey vampire-buff werewolf thing all the teenagers were excited about. Happy Holidays!

Sherlock Holmes

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Directed by Guy Ritchie. PG-13, 128 minutes.

What's It About?: Forget the traditional version of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary super sleuth. This story is an quip-filled, action-packed bromance with Holmes (Downey) and his partner Watson (Law) facing a nemesis that could destroy the nation.

Comments: In the hands of Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla) Holmes is still a genius who employs keen observation skills and deduction to solve mysteries. But this Holmes also is adept at kicking ass and he has great abs, too. Remember, you're dealing with a full-fledged event movie, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Up in the Air

Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman. Directed by Jason Reitman. R, 109 minutes.

What's It About?: Existential comedy/drama about a corporate man (Clooney) who spends his life in airplanes and hotels, traveling from town to town firing people for the company. After establishing a satisfying non-committed relationship with a female version of himself (Framiga), he must deal with the prospect of being grounded, thanks to a young upstart (Kendrick).

Comments: Once again, Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Thank you for Smoking mixes drama and edgy comedy in an invigorating look at what it's like to embrace business travel and fleeting encounters as a desirable lifestyle. The film is breezy, entertaining, insightful and slick, but not as glib as Juno. Clooney was made to play this part. Attention hard-core romantics — this is NOT a traditional romantic-comedy.

Avatar

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by James Cameron. PG-13, 163 minutes.

What's It About?: In this highly-anticipated epic adventure, an ex-Marine (Worthington) on an alien planet takes the physical form of the indigenous people as part of a life and death struggle between two worlds.

Comments: Titanic director James Cameron has been working on this for longer than some of you have been alive. The hype for the 3D blend of live-action, motion capture and computer animation has reached ridiculous levels. I suggest you take a deep breath and avoid going into the theater with impossibly high expectations. I haven't seen Avatar yet, but I can tell you this: it's two hours and 43 minutes long and in the early reviews I've read, not one writer even mentioned the length.

Nine

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren. Directed by Rob Marshall. PG, 104 minutes.

What's It About?: Adaptation of the Broadway musical take on Federico Fellini's 81/2. Basically, a famous philandering filmmaker gets writer's block and everybody sings.

Comments: Rob Marshall, who directed Chicago takes on the Broadway smash, aided by a powerhouse cast. Reviews have been mixed, but the film is popping up on a number of critic's groups' "Best of 2009" lists. I'll tell you what I think next week.

The Road

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi McPhee, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. Directed by John Hillcoat.

R, 110 minutes.

What's It About? Thriller set in post-apocalyptic America, as a father (Mortensen) and son (McPhee) travel across the ruins of the country.

Comments: Aah, nothing I enjoy more during the holidays than a post-apocalyptic road movie adapted from a Cormac McCathy (No Country For Old Men) book and directed by the fellow who created The Proposition, the bleakest Western ever made. Reviewers say that Mortensen and McPhee are terrific as the father and son and that the film is haunting. Sounds like the feel-bad movie of the holiday season.

It's Complicated

Starring Meryl Streep, Alex Baldwin, Steve Martin and John Krasinski. Directed by Nancy Meyers. PG-13, 118 minutes

What's It About. Romantic-comedy about Jane (Streep), a successful bakery/restaurant owner who travels to her son's out-of-town college graduation with her remarried ex-husband (Alec Baldwin). One thing leads to another and Jane becomes ... the other woman? Steve Martin plays an architect who falls for Jane and becomes part of a romantic triangle.

Comments; See, it really is complicated! The movie looks promising on paper. Obviously, the cast is impressive and the director is Nancy Meyers, the woman behind What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give and The Holiday. Let's just hope that the finished movie proves to as entertaining as the outtakes are sure to be.

The Young Victoria

Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Ricardson, Jim Broadbent. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. PG, 104 minutes.

What's It About?: Costume romance/drama. Young Victoria (Blunt) is stuck in the middle of of a royal power struggle as she ascends to the English throne. Plus, there's this really groovy boy (Friend) and ...

Comments: Set in 1837, with pomp and circumstance galore, majestic outfits and a sweeping score accompanying the angst and romance. Blunt is receiving many positive notices for her portrayal of the best-looking Victoria in the cinematic history of the throne. If you're part of the Masterpiece Theater crowd, get thee to yon cineplex and bring thine hankies.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Starring Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elizabeth Moss. Directed by Marc Lawrence. PG-13, 103 minutes.

What's It About?: Life is good for upscale Manhattan couple Meryl and Paul Morgan (Parker and Grant), except for their marital problems, of course. Then they witness a murder, becoming the target of a hitman and get taken to a tiny Wyoming town for safekeeping by the Feds.

Comments: Attention hard-core romantics: Remember when I warned you that Up in the Air is not a traditional romantic-comedy? Well, this is. If you can't read the plot description and predict everything that will happen in the movie, then all I can say is, "Welcome to the mainstream world and I hope you enjoy your rumspringa!"

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

Starring Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee and Justin Long. Directed by Betty Thomas PG, 88 minutes

What's It About? The computer-animated singing chipmunk trio continue interacting with the live-action world, dealing with the pressures of school, celebrity and a rival female music group called the Chipettes.

Comments: The first one was a big hit. I barely could keep my eyes open, but my son loved it. This one adds Zachary Levi, the star of Chuck to the cast and I really like that show. So that's something, I suppose.

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