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The Lovely Bones (Dec. 11)
After the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, director Peter Jackson scales down his scope — not to mention his budget — to adapt Alice Sebold's 2002 best-seller about the murder of a 14-year-old girl (played by Atonement's Saoirse Ronan).
WHY WE'RE EXCITED The perfectly curated cast (including Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon) and atmospheric trailer have us dying to see the final product. Plus, Jackson knows a thing or two about bringing books to the big screen. —AM
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Invictus (Dec. 11)
American audiences may be unfamiliar with the true story behind Clint Eastwood's latest film, about a white South African rugby star (Matt Damon) who partnered with the nation's first black president, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman). Damon, too, had been in the dark. ''I didn't understand how Mandela had used this team to bring the country together [after apartheid],'' says Damon. ''When you talk about that 1995 Rugby World Cup to anybody in South Africa, their eyes tear up.''
WHY WE'RE EXCITED Freeman seems born to play Mandela, and after a long streak of bleak dramas (Gran Torino, The Changeling, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River), it will definitely be nice to see an Eastwood film that's, you know, uplifting. —ABV
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A Single Man (Dec. 11)
Fashion icon Tom Ford makes his feature debut with this festival favorite about a gay English professor (Colin Firth) reeling after the death of his partner.
WHY WE'RE EXCITED Ford's previous career proved he can weave a good yarn (ba dum ching!), and stylish performances from both Firth and Julianne Moore (who plays a booze-loving Brit) already have Oscar pundits buzzing. —AM
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Avatar (Dec. 18)
For months now, we've talked about director James Cameron's 3-D, sci-fi, super-expensive, eco-conscious, the-future-of-movies-is-riding-on-it follow-up to Titanic.
WHY WE'RE EXCITED We actually get to see it. And then start talking about it all over again. —ABV
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Nine (Dec. 18)
Adapted from the stage musical — itself an adaptation of Federico Fellini's classic 8 1/2 — the movie boasts Daniel Day-Lewis as a struggling director, a parade of Oscar luminaries (Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren and Kate Hudson) and a Black Eyed Pea (Stacy ''Fergie'' Ferguson) as the women in his life, and Chicago director Rob Marshall at the helm.
WHY WERE EXCITED Day-Lewis, Cotillard, Kidman, Cruz, Dench, Loren, Hudson, and Fergie, singing and dancing, all directed by Marshall. Even if it doesn't work, it's going to be something to see. —ABV
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It's Complicated (Dec. 25)
Romantic comedy auteur Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) directs a grown-up romp that follows a divorcee (Meryl Streep), her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), and her architect (Steve Martin).
WHY WE'RE EXCITED A Meryl, Alec, Steve, and Nancy package on Christmas Day is better than anything we requested from Santa. —AM
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Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25)
Director Guy Ritchie and Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. dust off the legendary super sleuth for a new adventure: Holmes takes on an evil occultist with the help of his trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) and a lovely grifter (Rachel McAdams).
WHY WE'RE EXCITED It's elementary: Downey Jr.'s buffed-up take on Holmes adds some much-needed sex appeal to the old-fashioned detective. —AM
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Up In the Air (Dec. 25)
George Clooney plays a corporate downsizer obsessed with frequent-flyer miles, and Vera Farmiga (Orphan) the fellow traveler with the boarding pass to his heart, in director/co-writer Jason Reitman's encore to Juno.
WHY WE'RE EXCITED A topical adult drama headlined by a genuine movie star is a rare breed, indeed. And from the moment of its first festival screening at Telluride, it's enjoyed some of the loudest Oscar buzz of the year. —ABV
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Youth in Revolt (Jan. 8)
Michael Cera, Hollywood's go-to guy for undersexed teen roles, is at it again in this adaptation of the 1995 cult-hit novel about an awkward high schooler who falls for a worldly girl (newcomer Portia Doubleday). But there's a twist: The Juno star also plays Francois, the protagonist's suave alter-ego. For help, the actor went straight to the source material. ''It was nice to turn to the book whenever I had a question about the characters,'' he says. ''They're so vivid. It was right on the page.''
WHY WE'RE EXCITED Since his days on Arrested Development, Cera has demonstrated a real knack for picking good material. And this coming-of-age story looks like the perfect vehicle to carry him from boyish comedies into grown-up fare. —AM
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The Book of Eli (Jan. 15)
In their first feature since 2001's From Hell, the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society) give us a postapocalyptic thriller about a nomadic fighter (Denzel Washington) who may hold the key to humankind's salvation.
WHY WE'RE EXCITED Not to judge this Book by its cover, but the trailer for this action pic has us thinking Mad Max meets Training Day. And that's not a bad thing. —AM