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Hollywood brings grim tidings this holiday season

A slew of new movies address the dark shades of life and war

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AIDS. Cancer. The Holocaust. Vietnam. Happy holidays from Hollywood! Not exactly ho, ho, ho, huh? Film forecasters warn that this holiday movie season may be one of the darkest in years. True, the studios traditionally roll out ”serious” Oscar contenders at Christmastime. But while this season does have plenty of frothy stocking stuffers (including Addams Family Values), the majority are more sobering than usual. Mindful of the gloomy glut, Hollywood’s doing its best to give each title an uplifting spin. Consider:

* Schindler’s List, directed by Steven Spielberg, is being touted by Universal as the tale of how a courageous German industrialist (Liam Neeson) risked his life to save more than 1,300 Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. It is decidedly not being sold, says a studio source, as ”a Holocaust drama.”

* Heaven and Earth, Oliver Stone‘s third tour of Vietnam (after Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) isn’t about war but ”the strength of one woman’s will,” says Warner Bros. publicity executive Rob Friedman.

* My Life, due in mid-November, isn’t about cancer even though that’s what Michael Keaton‘s character is battling. It’s ”about self-discovery,” says Columbia spokesman Mark Gill, ”how to rediscover your life and live it in a full way.”

* And don’t call Philadelphia an AIDS drama. Despite a story line about a lawyer (Tom Hanks) who loses his job because he has AIDS, it’s just a metaphor ”for many factors” that cause discrimination, explains TriStar marketing president Buffy Shutt.

So, why is the mood especially grim this year? ”Chalk it up to a coincidence,” says one studio executive. ”I don’t think you can look at the soul of America to find a reason.” The success of such grown-up entries as Driving Miss Daisy, JFK, and The Prince of Tides also means it isn’t necessarily the season to be jolly. ”Hollywood now has a real confidence in adult dramas,” says Shutt. ”And that’s basically what these all have in common.” Adds Friedman, ”The holidays aren’t just about gift giving. They’re a very reflective, emotional time.” Far be it for Hollywood to ignore the spirit of the season.