August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

>>DOWN IN THE DELTA
Alfre Woodard stars as a single mom who can’t lay off the booze long enough to find a job and cope with her autistic daughter in poet Maya Angelou’s directorial debut. ”I was challenged, but no more than I am about anything I attempt to do,” says Angelou, who’s writing her 22nd book. (Dec. 25)

>>THE LEGEND OF THE PIANIST ON THE OCEAN
The English-language debut of director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) tells the tale of a pianist born on an ocean liner in 1900 who remains a lifelong shipboard ivory tickler. Tim Roth, as the piano man, had to fine-tune acting with his hands: ”I can’t even play ‘Chopsticks’ … [but] Ennio Morricone did the music, so you have to live up to that.” (Dec. 25)

>>THEORY OF FLIGHT
In their first film pairing since making their romance public, Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh star in a drama about a woman dying of a neuromuscular disorder and the man ordered by the court to care for her. ”She wants to lose her virginity before she dies. That’s an important point,” says Bonham Carter. ”It’s not the obvious sentimental disabled weepy story. It’s very funny.” (Dec. 25)

>>THE WIZARD OF OZ
If it only had a brain, Hollywood would’ve thought of this sooner: In the wake of the successful dusting off of Gone With the Wind, Warner’s rerelease of a digitally restored Oz seems a can’t-miss proposition. ”There’s nothing like seeing it on a big screen,” says Barry Reardon, Warner’s president of distribution. ”And this is a classic in the truest sense of the word.” (Dec. 25)

Plus

Breaking the Waves‘ Emily Watson plays troubled cello virtuoso Jacqueline du Pre in HILARY AND JACKIE. LOVE ETC. finds a French philanderer infatuated with his best friend’s wife. And a loner is sent to guard a remote outpost in postapocalyptic ZONE 39.

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