Ed Johnson-Ott Several high-profile year-end films have already opened, but there is more to come. Here’s a look at the movies scheduled for national release between now and the holidays, along with a peek at some of the Oscar-hopefuls that will reach Indianapolis in early 2006. All dates, of course, are subject to change. Friday THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE Fantasy adventure starring Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Anna Popplewell, Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Skandar Keynes The Basics: C.S. Lewis’ revered adventure follows four siblings in World War II England as they find a portal to Narnia, a peaceful land populated by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs and giants that has been cursed to eternal winter by the wicked White Witch. The children join forces with the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) to fulfill prophecy and make things right. Anticipation Level: High. Fans will be watching to see if the Christian allegories make it to the big screen without getting twisted. And everyone will be hoping that the film becomes the dazzling beginning of a new epic franchise. SYRIANA Political thriller starring George Clooney, Amanda Peet, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Jeffrey Wright The Basics: Steven Gaghan, the writer of Traffic, offers multiple storylines about the pursuit of wealth and power set against the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. A CIA operative uncovers disturbing truths about his profession. An oil broker deals with family tragedy while partnering with an idealistic Gulf prince. Add a few more plotlines and stir. Anticipation Level: Simmering. The talents behind the camera are as impressive as the cast. But did they make a movie or a civics lesson? Could be great, could be as dry as the desert. Wednesday, Dec. 14 KING KONG Remake of the classic 1933 action-adventure starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler The Basics: When word first broke that another Kong remake was in the works, the first question that popped to mind was, “Why? What was wrong with the original?” Adding to the general wariness was the memory of the boneheaded Dino De Laurentis-produced 1976 remake, which forced poor Jessica Lange to turn to Kong and scream, “You Goddamn chauvinist pig ape!” But writer/director Peter Jackson, whose stunning success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy earned him the clout to get a green light for the project, believes a high-tech version was needed. “I love old films and I saw them all the way through my childhood and wasn’t concerned at all,” Jackson said. “But your average teen-age kid today just isn’t interested in black and white films anymore. They won’t watch them. So I thought it’s a very good time to do a remake of Kong that can preserve everything that I loved about the original. I don’t want to change what I loved about it. I don’t want to reinvent it because it doesn’t need reinventing. It’s not going to be different. It’ll be everything that I love about the original. It is a wonderful story. I just thought it’s a good time to give kids a realistic looking Kong because that’s what they’re going to respond to.” The Jackson version is set at the same time as the original, with Jack Black taking over for Robert Armstrong as reckless showman Carl Denham. Adrien Brody steps in for Bruce Cabot as heroic Jack Driscoll and Naomi Watts stars as plucky Ann Darrow, reprising the role that made Fay Wray famous. Anticipation Level: As high as the top of the Empire State Building. In October, Jackson replaced composer Howard Shore, his collaborator on the Rings trilogy, with James Newton Howard. Was the late-in-the-game change a sign that the movie was in trouble? Apparently not. Universal Studios’ contract with Jackson mandated that the finished film be no longer than two and a half hours, but when he recently screened a three-hour cut of the film for execs, they were elated, even though the longer running time means fewer screenings per day. Studio bigwig Stacey Snider told the New York Times, “This is a masterpiece. I can’t wait to unveil it.” Friday, Dec. 16 THE FAMILY STONE Comedy starring Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Craig T. Nelson The Basics: Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson play the parents of a family of well-to-do New England bohemians. When their eldest son (Dermot Mulroney) brings his new straight-laced Manhattanite girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays, it soon becomes clear that Miss New York Control Freak does not fit in. Expect awkwardness, confusion, conflict and lots of comedy, including the slapstick kind. Anticipation Level: Medium-high. While this isn’t the kind of film that gets people all juiced up, who doesn’t enjoy a well-made holiday comedy about a tumultuous family gathering? And if the great roster of actors is any indication, The Family Stone ought to be a good one. Wednesday, Dec. 21 CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 Comedy starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff, Tom Welling, Piper Perabo, Eugene Levy, Carmen Elektra The Basics: Sequel to the 2003 hit that took the title and basic concept of the charming 1950 original film and turned it into a standard issue big-screen sitcom. This time, Tom and Kate Baker (Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt) take their 12 kids (including Indianapolis native Forrest Landis) on vacation, where they end up competing with the overachieving large family of Jimmy Muraugh (Eugene Levy), Tom’s longtime rival. Anticipation Level: Quick, a show of hands. How many of you saw the first film and found yourself craving more? On a positive note, the storyline for Cheaper 2 actually sounds more promising than Cheaper 1, which mandated that poor Bonnie Hunt be sent out of town for most of the movie. FUN WITH DICK AND JANE Comedy starring Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Angie Harmon, Jeff Garlin, Alec Baldwin The Basics: When upscale married couple Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni find themselves in financial ruin due to the collapse of an Enron-style company, they decide the best way to maintain their quality of life is to become armed robbers. A remake of the 1977 Jane Fonda/George Segal comedy, which was based on the novel by Gerald Gaiser. Anticipation Level: High, based on the reactions of a sneak preview audience to a trailer for the film. Personally, I find Carrey’s neediness a real turn-off. Whether doing strained comedy or mawkish drama, his every move screams, “Love me!” and I don’t. Come to think of it, I generally find Téa Leoni pretty annoying as well. Friday, Dec. 23 MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA Romantic drama starring Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li The Basics: Sumptuous tale of a peasant girl (Ziyi Zhang from House of Flying Daggers) who rises to the top of the geisha class, supported by Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but treated with disdain by Gong Li from Raise the Red Lantern. Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) plays a man who just might be Mr. Right. Based on the popular novel by Arthur Golden and directed by Rob Marshall, whose last film was a little something called Chicago. Anticipation Level: Medium. The trailer is full of striking visuals and scenes of high drama, but it has a vaguely off-putting air of self-importance. The cast is fantastic, but their name recognition is still limited on these shores. Word of mouth will be crucial for this one. MUNICH Drama starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Marie-Josee Croze, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Kassovitz The Basics: Thriller from Steven Spielberg, set in the aftermath of the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The film follows a secret Israeli squad assigned to track down and assassinate 11 Palestinians believed to have planned the massacre, studying the effect the mission of vengeance has on the team. The story is based in part on the recollections of some who participated in the actual events. Angels in America creator Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay. Anticipation Level: Are you kidding me? A fact-based drama from Steven Spielberg? The only people that won’t be there are those fearful that the movie will be too grim. THE RINGER Comedy starring Johnny Knoxville, W. Earl Brown, Brian Cox, Katherine Heigl, Jed Rees The Basics: In order to raise some desperately needed money, Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) sets out to (get ready for this) fix the Special Olympics by pretending to be one of the mentally-challenged athletes. Holy shit, this must be a Farrelly brothers comedy! According to Entertainment Weekly, the latest from the There’s Something About Mary boys was shot in fall 2003 and shelved until the studio figured out how to market it. They appear to have decided to take the sneaky-inspirational route — oh sure, it may look like we’re using retarded people to get some easy laughs, but we’re really making a statement about how the world mistakenly perceives intellectually-challenged individuals. You understand, don’t you? Don’t you? Anticipation Level: So-so. Word of mouth will make this a hit only if the movie is both outrageously funny and big-hearted enough that it doesn’t leave viewers with a bitter aftertaste. Sunday, Dec. 25 THE PRODUCERS Musical comedy starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Farrell, Roger Bart The Basics: Talk about your long strange trips. In 1968, Mel Brooks presented the original, a riotous comedy starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder about the misadventures of a pair of mismatched conmen. In 2001, a musical comedy adaptation of the movie starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick became a smash hit on Broadway. Who would have thought? Now it all comes full circle, with a movie based on the musical based on the movie. Lane and Broderick reprise their acclaimed roles as conniving theatrical producer Max Bialystock and neurotic CPA Leo Bloom. Their crooked plan is to raise far more money than is required to put on a new Broadway musical. If the production is a flop, no one will expect any return on their investment and the boys can pocket the cash. The trick is to come up with a musical guaranteed to fail. Max and Leo’s solution: a song and dance spectacle titled Springtime for Hitler. Anticipation Level: Huge. The original was hilarious and the theatrical adaptation remains one of the most popular and acclaimed productions in the history of Broadway. With Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman joining Lane and Broderick, the potential here is enormous. Unless they overplay it … HOODWINKED Computer-animated comedy for all ages featuring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Jim Belushi, Patrick Warburton, Anthony Anderson, David Ogden Stiers, Xzibit, Chazz Palminteri Andy Dick The Basics: A classic fairy tale becomes a comic crime story when Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and Detective Bill Stork (Anthony Anderson) are called to investigate a domestic disturbance at Granny’s (Glenn Close) cottage. The charges include breaking and entering, intent to eat and wielding an axe without a license, but first the police have to investigate. Is Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway) as innocent as she appears? And what about that wise-ass wolf (Patrick Warburton) and cloddish Woodsman (Jim Belushi)? Anticipation Level: As I write this, zero, but by the time you read it, the publicity machine should be in high gear. Families will make this a hot ticket, but will it be funny enough to draw in everybody else? The trailer is clever, but it didn’t make me laugh. RUMOR HAS IT Romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Ruffalo, Mena Suvari The Basics: Remember Charles Webb’s novel and Mike Nichols’ film, The Graduate? Sarah Huttinger does. She’s just learned that it may be based on a tryst between her grandmother and a Benjamin Braddock-type who is now a middle-aged man. Now take a look at the cast list and figure out who is playing the guy and who is playing Grandma. Pretty cool, eh? This could be the film that makes Jennifer Aniston a full-fledged movie star. Anticipation Level: High. The concept is ingenious and the cast is impressive and appealing. Plus, Rob Reiner was brought in to direct, and he made This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally (not my cup of tea, but lots of people loved it) and The American President. Of course, he also made The Story of Us, but let’s focus on the positive. On the horizon The following are some of the more intriguing films opening this month in New York and/or L.A. A few of these may pop up here late in December, but most will not reach Indianapolis until early next year, when the Oscar race kicks into high gear. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN Romance starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams Ang Lee’s epic adaptation of the slim Annie Proulx story of a reluctant romance between a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy in the early ’60s has drawn great attention, from rapturous audiences at festivals where the film has garnered awards to TV comedians eager to make some gay jokes. The buzz is that Heath Ledger is a lock for a Best Actor nomination and that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams might well get nods in the Supporting categories. THE NEW WORLD Historical adventure starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, Raoul Trujillo Highly respected director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) travels back to the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, where he offers a take on the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas. Based on Malick’s previous efforts, the film should be beautiful to behold, deeply thoughtful and long … quite long. MATCH POINT Drama/thriller starring Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox Woody Allen wrote and directed the story of a young tennis instructor who gets involved with a wealthy family. His ascent into the upper class becomes hampered by his romantic involvement with two women. So far, no one knows the truth. Could the only way to protect his newfound standing be (gasp) murder? TRANSAMERICA Drama starring Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Pena Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives is Bree, a transgender about to take the final step to become a woman — but then she finds out that she is the parent of a long-lost son. Afraid to tell the rebellious teen the truth, she comes upon the only logical solution — road trip! CASANOVA Romance starring Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Oliver Platt First Brokeback Mountain and now Casanova. Heath Ledger is clearly the king of romance for the holiday season. The legendary lover is stunned when Francesca, an alluring Venetian beauty, actually refuses his advances. Driven by his heart and the fear of a damaged reputation, he sets out to win her over by any means necessary. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, My Life as a Dog).