F THERE doesn't seem to be an overriding theme to the upcoming holiday movies this year, there are certainly enough films to do with boats or planes. We're on the water in this flick. We're in the air in that one. Diving and soaring. Splashing and fluttering.

In Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," a crew of eccentrics (headed by Bill Murray) goes in quest of a mythical "jaguar shark." And then there's "Incident at Loch Ness," a documentary in which Werner Herzog hunts for the equally mythical lake beast. There's also "Beyond the Sea," Kevin Spacey's telling of the Bobby Darin story. And we have "The Sea Inside," about a quadriplegic man's fight for his right to end his life. Okay, fine, so those last two titles are metaphorical, although in "The Sea Inside," protagonist Ramon Sampedro's predicament has been caused by a swimming pool dive.

If water isn't your thing, try taking to the air with such aeronautical films as "Flight of the Phoenix" or the Imax movie "Fighter Pilot." And then there's "The Aviator," an account of Howard Hughes, the reclusive billionaire who dreamed of building the perfect flying machine. And let's really stretch the flight theme: You can look forward to Zhang Yimou's breathtakingly choreographed martial-arts film "House of Flying Daggers."

As everyone knows, the holidays mark Hollywood's final rush to Oscar season. As far as surefire bets go, two actors might as well order their high-price tuxedos right now. Jamie Foxx is sensational as Ray Charles in the movie "Ray," already out. And Don Cheadle hits his own high notes in "Hotel Rwanda," about the heroic actions of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu who helped hundreds of Tutsis escape death during the genocidal horrors in Rwanda.

It's harder to imagine Colin Farrell getting a nomination for sword-and-sandaling his way through "Alexander." If publicity and the public's interest are anything to go by, Oliver Stone's epic should expect some kind of booty at the box office. And there should be strong response, too, for Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," which marks the return of Leo the Great, as in DiCaprio.

Family audiences are already having a pretty good season. Pixar's witty, inspired "The Incredibles" took in more than $144 million in its first two weeks, and the visually splendid "The Polar Express," which opened last week, has already made more than $30 million. "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," sprung from the popular Nickelodeon TV show, opens Friday. And there's always "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," starring Jim Carrey as the strange Count Olaf, based on the popular children's book series, as well as the liveaction version of the 1970s TV cartoon "Fat Albert."

What about just good, quality films? Our best bets, based on having seen the movie or just having great expectations, are: James L. Brooks's "Spanglish," a romantic comedy from the man who gave us "Broadcast News"; "The Life Aquatic"; "The Chorus," a French film about a teacher who makes choir singers out of abandoned, unloved children; "The Woodsman," featuring Kevin Bacon as a child molester trying to live a good life; "A Very Long Engagement," a World War I romance from the maker of "Amelie"; "House of Flying Daggers"; "Hotel Rwanda"; Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education," slated for Jan. 14; and "William Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice,' " starring Al Pacino as Shylock, scheduled to open in late January.

There are more for you to discover. Read on.