Forget brisk walks around the block: We know the best way to cope with a pumpkin- pie-induced food coma is a trip to the multiplex. Yep, the holiday season is upon us, arriving with a Santa sack of movies big (The Producers), bigger (The Chronicles of Narnia), and just plain HUGE (King Kong). 'Tis also the season of Oscar bait, so look out for Steven Spielberg's take on terrorism (Munich), Ang Lee's gay cowboys (Brokeback Mountain), and Ziyi Zhang's kimonos (Memoirs of a Geisha). Still not satisfied? How about Charlize Theron in a catsuit (Aeon Flux)? Jolly good!
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Wiliams, Anne Hathaway
Written by Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
Directed by Ang Lee
On paper, this movie sounds like a battle cry for the next heated brawl in the culture wars: Two cowboys (Ledger and Gyllenhaal), circa 1963, fall desperately in love while herding sheep on a desolate Wyoming mountainside, and descend into a lifetime of longing and shame, loveless marriages, and perilous trysts.
Sure, the film walks a tightrope of American iconography: There is something almost blasphemous about the idea that these paragons of American masculinity Marlboro Men come to life might be harboring secret sexual passions for each other. But after Brokeback debuted to raves at both the Toronto and Venice film festivals (and snagged the top prize at the latter), the buzz about Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's celebrated New Yorker short story shifted from hot potato to Oscar hot property, anchored by Ledger's achingly vulnerable performance.
''The story haunted me,'' says Lee, who first read the script in 2002, after several directors, including Gus Van Sant and Joel Schumacher, mounted unsuccessful attempts to scale Brokeback. ''I decided to make The Hulk instead, but this story refused to leave my head.'' Once Lee signed on, his artistic and commercial credibility released the project from six years in development hell by attracting a cast willing to give themselves over to the physically and emotionally raw material. ''It was just grueling, especially for the boys,'' says Williams, Ledger's real-life girlfriend, who plays his anguished on-screen wife. ''It's like shell shock or something. We all had our little defenses. We smoked lots of cigarettes.'' DEC. 9
Starring Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Marton Csokas, Sophie Okonedo
Written by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama
A live-action adaptation of MTV's cult animated series from the '90s, Flux is ''a multilayered [action-drama] set in a futuristic world in which there is a political breakdown,'' says Kusama, who's following her 2000 indie breakout Girlfight with this $55 million studio movie. ''It's a classic sci-fi setup a world has been inundated by a viral apocalypse,'' she adds, ''and the last surviving people have all congregated in a walled-off city, Bregna.''Among those survivors is Theron's catsuit-clad gun-for-hire title character, who, along with the Handler (McDormand), heads a revolution against the bad-guy government.
Flux is ruthless and unsentimental...until she's asked to off Trevor Goodchild (Kingdom of Heaven's Csokas), who might not be the evil scientist she's been led to believe. In fact, he just might be her soul mate. ''When I read this,'' says Oscar winner Theron, who admits she's not usually drawn to sci-fi, ''there was something old-fashioned about the love story. And I like the discovery process [my character] goes through: She's a woman on the run, trying to survive so she can find out who she is.'' The stunt work was a fun bonus too even after she injured her neck doing a flip in the first weeks of shooting last year. ''I grew up doing ballet and was always athletic in school,'' she says. ''Every day, I just wanted to hang from the wire. I love all that stuff!'' Dec. 2