Everyone knows the holidays are for spiritual rejuvenation -- and for families to give each other presents that they can later exchange for something better at Hecht's.

But the season also marks that special time when Hollywood packs the moviegoing schedule with prestige or big-name productions just in time for Academy Award contention. This is the Dream Factory's equivalent of a Dear Santa request. A good opening weekend around Christmas and Hanukah can give these movies a "word of mouth" boost that translates into Oscar nominations and ticket sales. The December strategy has worked in the recent past for "Driving Miss Daisy," "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting."

With so many releases this year, the traditional Christmas openings have become the equivalent of a holiday film series throughout the months of December and January, with such movies as "The World Is Not Enough," "Mansfield Park" and "The Green Mile" already in play. (Personally, I believe "The Green Mile" is going to be the big kahuna of the season. But then, I was the one who walked out of "Field of Dreams" thinking, "Not even diehard baseball fans are going to fall for this junk.")

On this page and the next, we're deep in holiday movies, with reviews of "American Movie," "Anna and the King," "Bicentennial Man," "The Cider House Rules," "Ride With the Devil" and this week's top delight, "Stuart Little."

After that, we preview upcoming holiday highlights, including "Man on the Moon," featuring a hunched and beady-eyed Jim Carrey as the late uncomedian Andy Kaufman; "The Talented Mr. Ripley," starring Matt Damon as the mysterious antihero; and "The End of the Affair," starring Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore as doomed lovers in wartime England.

So enjoy, take notes and remember all scheduled openings are subject to change.