Summer may be known as blockbuster season, but Hollywood has saved some of its best this year for around the holidays.
There is plenty of action, romance, comedy, some Oscar hopefuls and plenty of cute cartoons filling our cinematic stocking before the end of the year - although a lot of top movies seem to be taking their sweet time getting to cities like Storm Lake.
The weather outside may be frightful, but there's good reason to get inside the movie theater and check out some of these hot flicks.
Here's our guide to some of the best of what's coming up:
Opens Dec. 12
Academy Award winner Sean Penn has a juicy role as Harvey Milk. Late in life, the New Yorker moves to San Francisco and becomes an outspoken agent for equality and against prejudice and violence. Using humor as a weapon, he became the nation's first openly gay municipal leader in the 1970s, but his destiny and that of another San Fran big shot, played by Josh Brolin, tragically converge. This should be a powerful story well presented by a bevy of Oscar-winning filmmakers.
If action is more your style, Jason Statham is back as Frank Martin in Transporter 3, to safeguard the lovely but nasty Valentina, kidnapped daughter of a Ukraine environmental leader. A chase leads from Marseilles through Stuttgart and Budapest to Odessa on the Black Sea. One catch, Frankie's blackmailers have fitted him with an explosive bracelet that will detonate if he moves more than 100 feet from the car - and he has all kinds of bad guys from both sides on his tail.
Expect a bit of romance with the butt-kicking, and exotic European settings should score extra points here.
Beyonce follows up her star turn in Dreamgirls with another music-themed role, this time playing soul luminary Etta James in Cadillac Records, the chronicle of record label Chess. Mos Def plays the young Chuck Berry in the chronicle of the musical genre and its stars, both joyful and self-destructive. The soundtrack should be a bluesy hit.
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and screen writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) recapture the nerve-wracking battle between disgraced president Richard Nixon and jet-setting TV personality David Frost - one with a legacy to save and one with a name to make, in the untold story of a historic encounter. Michael Sheen and Frank Lagella have both played their respective roles to rave reviews on stage.
This animated fantasy about a far off world with a strictly segregated society has been getting a lot of buzz and took six years to make. With a pointed message, the story challenges adventuous teen Delgo (voiced by Freddy Prinz Jr.) and his friends to try to prevent a war betwen neighboring villages. All-star voices include Val Kilmer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Chris Kattan, Anne Bancroft, Michael Clarke Duncan, Burt Reynolds and Eric Idle.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
A remake of the 1951 sci fi classic (and the short story by Harry Bates) touts Keanue Reeves as an alien with a cryptic message of doom for the planet, unless an ordinary mom (Jennifer Connelly) and son (Jaden Smith) can prove there's hope for us yet. Genuine science fiction is hard to find in these days of computer generated effects.
Acting icons Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War), and Amy Adams (Enchanted), star in this adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning play "Doubt." The film chronicles an escalating conflict between a gregarious priest (Hoffman) and an inscrutable nun (Streep) after the religious woman suspects the priest of abusing a young student. Set in 1964, the story also explores the racial politics of the era. I have to wonder, though, if this one will ever make it to the Vista III.
At age 78, Clint Eastwood steps back in front of the camera, and he hasn't lost a step. He plays Walt Kowalski, a bitter racist who befriends a Hmong teenager in a troubled environment. It sounds like a great story and perhaps an Oscar nod for Eastwood, a star for over 50 years.
Talk about your type casting. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging pro wrestler with a bad ticker. Once a headlining star, he is reduced to small high school gyms and a handful of fans even as his personal life crumbles. Rourke of course gave up acting to rekindle a real-life career as a washed-up boxer - he's not playing this role, he lived it. Marisa Tomei gets a nice opportunity as an exotic dancer girlfriend to the battered dreamer. This one won the Golden Lion at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, and it's one I wouldn't miss.
Academy Award nominee Will Smith reunites with the makers of "The Pursuit of Happyness" for an emotional drama about at IRS agent who grows tired of his badguy career and embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption to change the lives of seven strangers. Great cast, including Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson. It's nice to see Smith, the most bankable star in Hollywood today, break out of the action hero mold of late for a thoughtful turn.
THE TALE OF DESPERAUX
In what looks to be a delightful animated feature for small children, a tragedy leaves a far-away once-happy kingdom cloaked in darkness and despair. The beleaguered mouse Despereaux attempts to come to the rescue in full chivalry mode despite his oversize ears, and meets plenty of colorful characters along the way. Parents, there's a message that you can't judge a person by looks alone. Dustin Hoffman is among the voice actors.
Adam Sandler is a handyman who entertains his niece and nephew with wild fairy tales, only to discover that they are beginning to come true (think Evel Knievel jumping in a Roman chariot). This is carefully aimed at preteens, but looks fun enough for the whole family. The cast includes Keri Russell and Courteney Cox, with a bit of oddball Russell Brand.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
This should be something to see - F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing, Brad Pitt's acting, and a great story idea: a man who ages backwards. The title character is born 80 years old and grows younger in a plot stretching from World War I into the 21st century. It's all about love, loss, life and death, and what lasts beyond time. I smell Oscar.
New Year's eve will dawn with a pack of star-studded historical beauties:
* "Revolutionary Road" with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a 1950s couple struggling to come to terms with their dreams in middle-class America.
* Tom Cruise in the war thriller "Valkyrie" based on the true story of a daring plot to bring down Hitler's Nazi party.
* "Defiance" with Daniel "Bond" Craig as an escaped Jew who leads a ragtag band of Robin Hood-like survivors as they try to fight back against the Nazis.