It's Christmas in October as potential Oscar contenders arrive to liven up movie theaters
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AP Photos LA105-106
By CHRISTY LEMIRE
AP Movie Critic
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ It happens every year, and it's about to happen now.
After a summer of mindless blockbusters and a so-so September, movies are about to get good again as the Oscar contenders arrive in theaters.
Why do they do this to us? Why do studios and independent distributors wait until the end of the year, then unleash all the quality films at once, all of them crammed into a few weeks and competing for our attention? Well, in theory, it's to keep them fresh in the minds of Academy Awards voters and writers like yours truly who compile top-10 lists in late December.
But as we saw with this year's surprise winner for best picture, that may not be working as much anymore. "Crash" came out in May 2005, at the start of summer blockbuster season _ beating the overhyped, expected winner "Brokeback Mountain," which arrived during prime Oscar wannabe time, early December. So maybe release strategies can change. Hopefully they will.
Until then, here's a look at what you can look forward to in October and beyond. (Whether these 10 are Oscar-worthy or not remains to be seen _ but at least they look intriguing.)
_ "The Last King of Scotland" (already playing in limited release, expands throughout the month) _ Forest Whitaker is just devastating as Idi Amin. He can be charming and generous one minute, then fly into a vicious rage the next. And in showing the many conflicting sides of the Ugandan dictator, he actually makes you feel sorry for him.
_ "The Queen" (already playing in New York, expands to more cities Friday) _ They may as well just give Helen Mirren the Oscar now for her nuanced, humorous, ultimately sympathetic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II during the week after Princess Diana's death. Stephen Frears' film is both dryly funny and pointedly observant.
_ "The Departed" (opens Friday) _ Vintage Martin Scorsese: beautifully edited, brutal violence with a rich sense of culture and place. Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson lead the packed cast in this cat-and-mouse thriller about cops and mobsters in Boston.
_ "Infamous" (Oct. 13) _ So maybe the timing is a little off. A year after Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote, in which he completely immersed himself, here comes another film about Capote researching his true-crime classic "In Cold Blood." (To be fair, they were in the works at the same time.) We just want to see how Toby Jones compares.
_ "Flags of Our Fathers" (Oct. 20) _ After winning best-picture and best-director Oscars for 2004's "Million Dollar Baby," Clint Eastwood is back with this epic about the soldiers who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima, creating the classic image from World War II. Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach and Barry Pepper are among the stars.
_ "Bobby" (Nov. 17) _ A look at 22 people who were at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The words "written and directed by Emilio Estevez" don't exactly inspire confidence, but who knows? The eclectic all-star cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt and Laurence Fishburne.
_ "Casino Royale" (Nov. 17) _ Who cares that he's blond? Daniel Craig has proved in films like "Layer Cake" and "Munich" that he's sexy, charismatic, daring and physical enough to step into James Bond's tuxedo. And no offense to the exceedingly capable Pierce Brosnan, but someone needed to breathe new life into this decades-old franchise.
_ "The Good German" _ (Dec. 8) Cate Blanchett and George Clooney in a post-World War II murder mystery directed by Clooney's old friend and frequent collaborator, Steven Soderbergh. All the elements seem to be in place. (Unless it gets mixed up with "The Good Shepherd," starring Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon and directed by Robert De Niro, which comes out two weeks later.)
_ "Dreamgirls" (Dec. 25) _ It wasn't that long ago that "Chicago" won the Academy Award for best picture. Now, another big, splashy musical goes from stage to screen, starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, Eddie Murphy and former "American Idol" powerhouse Jennifer Hudson, with Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters") directing.
_ "For Your Consideration" (Nov. 17) _ It may not win any Oscars of its own, but this Christopher Guest send-up of awards-season frenzy will probably be the funniest (and most honest) thing to come out of Hollywood all year. The whole gang is back: Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard and, of course, Guest himself.