Holiday Movie Buffet

By Ann Hornaday
Friday, November 12, 2010

Without "Avatar" around to tell us, how will we know when the holidays start?

Theater owners and film bookers are at sixes and sevens this year, searching for the kind of event movie that packs in audiences and defines a movie season, if not an entire year. In 2009, that movie was "Avatar," which transported viewers to the distant planet of Pandora and kept the movie business aloft on a cloud of box office business and attendant good feeling.

Sure, we have "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1," which opens Nov. 19 and will no doubt draw huge numbers of fans. But it's opening a month earlier than "Avatar" did last year and will most likely burn through its audience in a few weeks (compared to the months that "Avatar" stayed No. 1 at the box office) - which is actually good news for filmgoers.

Because once everyone has seen "Harry Potter," some worthy and otherwise overlooked films stand a chance of finding an audience.

Indeed, the crowded field of movies opening between now and the end of the year is exceptionally well balanced, with just about every genre and taste represented. Families can enjoy "Tangled" or the newest "Chronicles of Narnia" installment; grown-ups can go for thrillers ("The Next Three Days"), dramas ("The Fighter") or romantic comedies ("Love & Other Drugs," "How Do You Know"). And as always, the year-end offerings include buzzed-about performances. This year's Oscar fodder not to miss includes "The King's Speech," with Colin Firth at his most winsomely appealing; "Black Swan," featuring a startling star turn from Natalie Portman; and "Rabbit Hole," with Nicole Kidman in an understated but devastating portrayal of a grieving mother.

Then again, you could always opt for something completely different: Washington's new West End Cinema will be bringing in several under-the-radar titles, including the documentary "Kings of Pastry." The film, about a baking competition in France, will arrive just as people's thoughts are turning to pie. "We're mixing it up a little bit," says West End co-founder Jamie Shor, adding that she's counting on audiences "who are looking for exciting and different fare for the holidays." Bon appetit!

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