By EW Staff
Updated August 20, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Aviator

Before he was famous for being a reclusive germaphobe–or, in Logan’s words, ”the old man in Las Vegas with long fingernails and shoe boxes on his feet watching ”Ice Station Zebra” as his Mormon aides put codeine in his arms”–Howard Hughes was famous for being a few other things: movie mogul, Hollywood lady-killer, and above all, pioneering aviator. Scorsese’s reported $100 million epic, starring DiCaprio as the eccentric entrepreneur, focuses on the 20-year period when America’s first billionaire revolutionized the business of air travel. ”The film presents a Howard Hughes not really known,” says Scorsese, who was recruited to the project by his ”Gangs of New York” star DiCaprio. The actor developed the film with Logan and helmer Michael Mann, but the latter begged off due to biopic burnout after ”The Insider” and ”Ali.” Scorsese came aboard despite a fear of flying. ”But the more anything upsets me,” he says, ”the more I want to learn about it.”

”The Aviator” does deal with the Hollywood Hughes, too. Scorsese, noted for his encyclopedic knowledge of movies, says he got some cineast kicks out of restaging scenes from ”Hell?s Angels,” one of the two films Hughes is credited with directing. The film also chronicles romances with Katharine Hepburn (Blanchett), who the film argues was the love of his life, and Ava Gardner (Beckinsale), with whom, the film suggests, Hughes was sexually obsessed. ”He was attracted to large-breasted women, and she had the biggest pair around,” says Beckinsale. Meanwhile, Logan and Scorsese both say they went to great lengths to present sensitively and seriously the mental illness that would ultimately define Hughes? image–his terror-stricken interface with the world. ”Like washing his hands. How he deals with a doorknob. How his people bring him lunch,” says Scorsese. ”The details entrench him in a kind of madness that he can?t move out of.”

Since wrapping last November, Scorsese has been working to whittle the film to about two hours and 40 minutes. Miramax and Warner Bros. will jointly distribute ”The Aviator,” and producer Graham King says all is well between Scorsese and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, who publicly clashed over the running time of ”Gangs.” ”The difference is night and day,” says King, who adds that no one in the ”Aviator” camp dares utter the O-word. ”But wouldn?t it be great if this could be the one for Marty?” WHAT?S AT STAKE That elusive O–as in Oscar, which Scorsese has never won. (Dec. 17)

The Woodsman

When ”The Woodsman” debuted at Sundance, it was deemed too hot for any distributor to handle. But the story of a convicted pedophile returning to society after a 12-year jail sentence was picked up by Newmarket (which also distributed ”The Passion of the Christ”) for a reported $1.5 million.

Bacon admits the material gave him pause. ”I was haunted by the script, so I let (real-life wife) Kyra read it,” recalls the actor. ”Just, you know, ‘Am I crazy, or (is this) really good?’ I found the character’s struggle to get well compelling.” He was also impressed with first-time director Kassell and Fetcher’s deft handling of the topic. (The screenplay was adapted from Fetcher’s 2000 Off Broadway play.) ”It’s not a cut-and-dry morality tale,” says Bacon, ”and that’s what independent films should do: challenge the emotions we feel in mainstream movies.” Sedgwick worried that playing her husband’s love interest would be distracting, but she found the character of Vicki, a lumberyard worker, too rich to pass up. ”It’s a beautiful story about redemption,” she explains. The characters ”are both so damaged you don’t even know if they should be together. In their quest for help, these unhealthy people find each other.” WHAT?S AT STAKE Newmarket’s streak. After ”Monster” and ”The Passion” the indie distributor has proven it can translate controversy into box office. (Dec. 24)

Lemony Snicket?s A Series of Unfortunate Events

”It was easy for me to get a real hate on for those kids,” says Carrey of his pint-size costars. ”Especially the little ones. The monkeys. The monkeys were out of control, I swear to God. If you’re not giving ’em an M&M or somethin’ they’re impossible.”

Nevertheless, rug rats are an unavoidable work hazard when you sign on to play the villain in an adaptation of a beloved children’s-book series. And Daniel Handler’s darkly comic ”Snicket” novellas follow not one, or two, but three knee biters: miserable orphans Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny, who fall in and out of the care of inept guardians (like Streep’s ultraphobic Aunt Josephine) and dodge Carrey’s hawk-nosed Count Olaf. ”We ended up shooting seven months straight,” says a weary-sounding Silberling (”Moonlight Mile”) of his $100 million-plus movie. ”For the younger actors that’s a lifetime. The last night of shooting I said to (the kids), ‘Labor law requires we wrap you by 10, but there’s nothing saying you can’t stay afterwards,’ so they pulled an all-nighter with the crew.”

The script, written by ”Men in Black II”’s Gordon after an initial draft by Handler, telescopes the first three books in the series. Given the hilarious neo-gothic tone of the source material, the result could well fall in the great, spooky-goofy tradition of the ”Addams Family” movies. The wild card is that no one really knows how deep an affection kids have for Handler’s books, which are wildly popular but haven’t whipped up the frenzy of ”Harry Potter” or the critical acclaim of Philip Pullman’s ”His Dark Materials” trilogy. ”It doesn’t matter. I love these books,” says Carrey. ”They have this don’t go in that closet (vibe). There’s this great balance going on, because the narration gets very hopeful, but ultimately negative things happen. In comparison, audiences’ lives will seem quite bright.” So it’s an uplifting story about the misery of three small children? ”Exactly. You walk out of the theater going ‘Whew! I’m glad I’m not them!”’ WHAT?S AT STAKE Everyone is looking for the next ”Harry Potter.” Paramount hopes they’ve found it in Snicket. (Dec.17)