One of Hollywood's brightest hopes for the year-end moviegoing season, "Three Men and a Little Lady," opened just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday and did great business last weekend. Kevin Costner's surprisingly profitable "Dances With Wolves" finally opened across the country and did exceptionally well, though for the first time since its debut it didn't demolish the competition in per-screen averages. The allegedly final Rocky Balboa movie, "Rocky V," hung on to a reasonable amount of business over the weekend but couldn't prevent a possibly disastrous 45 percent drop from the previous weekend.

And yet once again, all of those higher-profile movies had their thunder stolen by "Home Alone," the latest in the series of sleepers that have dominated this year's box office charts. It's too early to tell if the John Hughes-produced comedy will have the staying power of a "Pretty Woman" or "Ghost," but for the second week in a row it was the biggest moneymaker in the country -- and more impressive than that, this time around it was the dominant movie in per-screen averages as well.

Explicit Violence

This week marks the debut of the Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Ratings Administration's new service, in which an R rating is accompanied by a brief explanation of why it was given. But the ratings board, it turns out, is more succinct when it comes to some subjects than others: Everything from onscreen nudity to less graphic sexual situations seems to bring on the blanket designation "sensuality," while violence is sometimes broken down and explained with labels such as "momentary violence," "graphically violent fight scenes" and "kickboxing violence." In the case of the last label, the ratings board probably didn't have to be quite so specific: The movie, after all, is called "American Kickboxer I."

Hope and Glory?

Most of this year's movies that figure to have a real shot at the Academy Awards have yet to be released, but that hasn't stopped the Hollywood studios from launching their first round of special screenings for Academy members. And while studio priorities will become far clearer in a month or so, it is possible, based on the first screening schedules, to see who has high hopes for what. Take the December lineup at Columbia Pictures: The studio has scheduled six screenings each of "Postcards From the Edge" and Rob Reiner's "Misery" (such a hit with preview audiences that stock in NHI Nelson Holdings International Ltd., which owns foreign and video rights, has been surging this week), five of "Flatliners" and Penny Marshall's upcoming "Awakenings," three for Carl Reiner's unsuccessful comedy "Sibling Rivalry" and two for Peter Bogdanovich's flop sequel "Texasville." Of those films, by the way, advance word says that "Awakenings" will have by far the best shot to pick up some major Oscar nominations.

Short Takes

A&M Films, at one time a division of the record company, is preparing a film biography of singer Otis Redding, who died in a 1967 plane crash at the age of 26. Malcolm Leo, who has produced several well-received archival rock-and-roll shows, will produce the film... . A&M is also working on a remake of the 1984 thriller "The Hit," an early film from "Dangerous Liaisons" director Stephen Frears... . The upcoming adventure film "Final Approach" will be the first movie with sound that was recorded, mixed and mastered entirely digitally... . Here's a story to cheer the hearts of all the waiters who really want to break into the movie business -- and in Los Angeles, that means about half the waiters in town. Chris Moore, who works as a waiter in Cambria, Calif., is also a part-time writer with a first novel, "Practical Demon Keeping," due out soon. But Moore should be able to quit his day job before his novel ever hits the bookstores, because the Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures just bought the rights to that manuscript for a price reportedly in excess of $1 million... . And finally, here's a story to cheer the hearts of congressmen looking to moonlight: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) says he's about to make a deal selling a screenplay he wrote a decade ago. The script, titled "The French Doctoresse," is a romantic adventure tale set in France during World War II. Rohrabacher predicts it'll be "the 'Dr. Zhivago' of the 1990s."