THE UPCOMING holiday movie season should put the crowning touches on a banner year. The Hollywood Christmas assortment in the Washington market will consist of 14 or 15 new releases (one opening remains tentative) and a single reissue.

At least half a dozen memorable and/or popular pictures are bound to emerge from the following group of attractions:

The comedies "Tootsie," "Airplane II," "Best Friends," "The Toy," "Kiss Me Goodbye" and "Trail of the Pink Panther", the dramas "48 Hours," "Gandhi," "Sophie's Choice," "The Verdict," "Six Weeks," "Sitll of the Night" and "Honkytonk Man"; the adventure fantasies "The Dark Crystal" and "Peter Pan"; and the candidate for sleeper of the season, the Australian import "The Man From Snowy River," a frontier-period adventure saga about a young man's search for a runaway colt among the wild herds of the outback. In addition, there are two promising special attractions of Canadian origin: the Imax spectacle "Hail, Columbia!" and an anthology of animated shorts from the National Film Board of Canada.

As Christmas approaches, the American film industry finds itself in the pleasant position of being able to coast to a new annual box-office record, somewhere in excess of $3 billion, based in large part on the continuing popularity of summer blockbusters like "E.T." and "An Officer and a Gentleman." The Motion Picture Association of America expects the 1982 gross to reach about $3.38 billion, reflecting a jump of 14.2 percent, which is still comfortably above an estimated inflation rate of 9 to 10 percent. In addition, it appears that total admissions revenue has increased by about 9 percent.

Given the encouraging nature of the year, a hit or two or three at Christmas, the most intensive and second most lucrative movie attendance season of most years, not only puts the frosting on the box-office cake but also generates momentum for the new year. And 1983, anchored by the late-spring release of "Revenge of the Jedi," appears sufficiently loaded with crowd-pleasing product to break whatever records emerge from 1982. Here, in order of the films' Washington release, are a few notes on the coming attractions that the industry hopes will provide the impetus for another banner year.

Wednesday, Dec. 8: '48 Hours'

In this offbeat vehicle, the talented action director Walter Hill may have brought off an amusing and exciting update of both "Dirty Harry" and "In the Heat of the Night." Nick Nolte plays a seething San Francisco cop, Jack Cates, who arranges a 48-hour parole for a devious young con, Reggie Hammond, in order to locate members of Hammond's former gang who have escaped from jail and murdered several people. Hammond is played by "Saturday Night Live" comedian Eddie Murphy, making his movie debut. Evidently, a good deal of material was improvised in the course of production to capitalize on an emerging chemistry between Nolte and Murphy. Rated R. 'Gandhi'

This reverential biographical epic, the culmination of a 20-year aspiration by director Richard Attenborough, inherits the role of Prestige Historical Production reserved for "Reds" a year ago. Entrusted with the impersonation of Gandhi was Ben Kingsley, a leading actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company whose qualifications include Anglo-Indian parentage (though he is English-born, his real name is Krishna Rhanji). The movie ranges over half a century, from Gandhi's initial political organizing among the Indian community in South Africa in the 1890s through the tumultuous and tragic events connected with independence and partition in India in 1947. The screenplay is credited to John Briley, and the supporting players include Candice Bergen (as Margaret Bourke-White), Ian Charleson, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills and Martin Sheen. The Indian government put up about $7 million of the $20 million production cost. Rated PG.

Friday, Dec. 10: 'Airplane II'

The popularity of the original "Airplane!" is considered a guarantee for the fastest box-office takeoff of the season. Whether it can be sustained is a matter of dispute among interested theater owners. Between the returnees from the original cast -- Robert Hays and the brilliant, beautiful deadpan comic actress Julie Hagerty as the alienated lovers, Peter Graves as the closet-case pilot, Lloyd Bridges as the hysterical controller and Stephen Stucker as the mischievous control room priss--and the fresh recruits--William Shatner, Sonny Bono, Raymond Burr, Chuck Connors, Rip Torn, Chad Everett, Kent McCord, Laurene Landon, Sandahl Bergman and Art Fleming, who gets to revive a round of "Jeopardy" in flight -- there must be something funny going on, if only on a hit-and-miss basis. But then, how consistent was "Airplane!"?

The richly cliche'd situation of midflight peril has been projected into the future, with mad bomber Bono threatening the maiden flight of the first commercial moon shuttle, Mayflower One. Although the writing-directing team responsible for the original film was not associated with "Airplane II: The Sequel," the clips suggest that Ken Finkelman, the new custodian, may have been under rather strict orders to duplicate stuff. Rated PG. 'Sophie's Choice'

The Prestige Literary Adaptation of the season, inheriting the mantle worn uneasily last Christmas by "Ragtime." Although there's probably no other young star who needs to lighten up more than Meryl Streep does, the role of William Styron's haunted and victimized heroine, Sophie Azwistowski, a Polish Catholic survivor of the Holocaust, might inspire an impressive performance in the suffering range Streep seems rather too fond of. At the very least it would appear to be her bid for the 1982 Oscar.

Kevin Kline makes his film debut as Sophie's volatile lover, a Jewish intellectual of uncertain profession named Nathan Landau, and Peter MacNichol plays Styron's frankly autobiographical character, the aspiring young novelist "Stingo," who encounters the star-crossed lovers in a Brooklyn apartment in the summer of 1947. Director Alan J. Pakula also adapted the Styron book, the 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winner for fiction. Rated R. 'Tootsie'

The presumptive long-running hit of the season, and while "Victor, Victoria" makes one a bit leery of transvestite angles, the cast and plot of this show business romantic farce do sound potentially sensational. Dustin Hoffman, resuming the cultivation of feminine virtues he began in "Kramer vs. Kramer," stars as an abrasive, hard-luck Broadway actor named Michael Dorsey who contrives a career-making break for himself when he auditions successfully for a leading role in a soap opera, "Southwest General," while disguised as an actress. The professional pressures created by this imposture are complicated when Dorsey finds himself falling in love with the soap's leading lady, played by Jessica Lange, whose father, a widowed farmer played by Charles Durning, simultaneously falls in love with him.

Hoffman looks pretty cute in the stills -- like a twin of SCTV comic Andrea Martin. Sydney Pollack, who had a hit last Christmas with "Absence of Malice," directed from an original script by Larry Gelbart, who added a role for Bill Murray as the hero's friend and confidant after the project was well under way. The cast is further fortified by Teri Garr, Doris Belack (a fixture on "One Life to Live" for a decade), George Gaynes and Dabney Coleman, back in comic chauvinist harness as the director of the TV series. Rated R. 'The Toy'

This comic costarring vehicle for Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason is the one acknowledged remake of the season. It began as a French film starring Pierre Richard. The title was identical, and the original enjoyed a successful run at the Outer Circle five or six years ago.

Director Richard Donner and screeenwriter Carol Sobieski have transposed the setting to a New Orleans locale dominated by millionaire Gleason, who humors the request of his spoiled but neglected brat (9-year-old Scott Schwartz) for a living Christmas "toy," Pryor as a journalist temporarily employed as a janitor in Gleason's department store. Once again, the hero's sense of humiliation at this demeaning role is gradually altered by his realization that the kid's whim is a desperate gesture for adult companionship and guidance. With Wilfrid Hyde-White as Gleason's butler, Ned Beatty as his yes man and Teresa Ganzel as his unhappy third wife, a boozy platinum blonde bombshell. Rated PG.

Friday, Dec. 17: 'Best Friends'

Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn claim they looked in vain for five years before discovering the right costarring property, which turned out to be this romantic comedy-drama about a misspent honeymoon. Written by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin, it evidently draws on a traumatic chapter of their own lives.

Richard Babson and Paula McCullen decide to make it legal after several years as successful screenwriting collaborators, contented lovers and housemates. Following a civil ceremony in Los Angeles, they take a train trip east, in the middle of February, to break the news to Paula's parents (Jessica Tandy and Barnard Hughes), who live in Buffalo, and to Richard's parents (Audra Lindley and Keenan Wynn), who live in a high-rise condo in McLean. Somehow, years of compatibility seem to be transformed into instant awkwardness, misunderstanding and hostility.

Norman Jewison directed, and Ron Silver has a showy supporting role as a movie producer desperate for a rewrite from the troubled newlyweds. A bit of location shooting here evidently prompted this wonderful line in the production notes: "The Virginia scenes were filmed largely in the colorful community of Tyson's Corner and nearby Georgetown." Rated PG. 'The Dark Crystal'

Jim Henson's new production looms as a fascinating and perhaps ground-breaking scenic achievement in the fantasy genre. Inspired by the young British storybook illustrator Brian Froud, Henson entrusted him with the pictorial elaboration of a medieval quest fable enacted by an enormous, bizarre cast of puppet characters.

The plot, which involves the search for a powerful magic crystal by an elfin boy and girl, sounds vaguely reminiscent of the "Star Wars" saga, and Henson's coproducer, Gary Kurtz, and codirector, fellow Muppeteer Frank Oz, were only two of several collaborators who came directly from "The Empire Strikes Back." Judging from the stills and illustrations in four "Dark Crystal" books already in circulation for the holiday trade, Henson and Froud have created a phantasmagoric world that may be too intensely creepy and monstrous for little kids but could be eerily compelling for older kids and adults. Henson, Oz and Dave Goeltz supplied the voices for several major characters. Rated PG. 'Honkytonk Man'

Disgruntled exhibitors suspect that Clint Eastwood may be angling for an Oscar nomination with this change-of-pace vehicle, a gritty Depression-era musical drama about a notorious, hard-drinking country-and-western singer, Red Stovall, who heads for Nashville to make an audition date with the Grand Ole Opry -- the show business break he's been simultaneously seeking and jeopardizing for years. Evidently, Eastwood also found it an appealing excuse for a father-son project: Red, knowing that he can't be trusted behind the wheel of his Packard limousine, pays a call on family in Oklahoma and acquires a driver, his 14-year-old nephew Whit, played by Eastwood's son Kyle. They're accompanied by a cantankerous passenger in Whit's grandpa (John McIntire), who wants to return to his native Tennessee.

Eastwood directed on locations in central California and Nashville chosen for 1938 evocations. Clancy Carlile did the adaptation of his own novel and composed the songs, with musical supervision by Snuff Garrett. Rated PG. 'Six Weeks'

The traditional Christmas tearjerker. The source material, a 1976 novel by Fred Mustard Stewart, sounded as icky as "Love Story" when I dipped into it, but it's foolish to underestimate the commercial potential of such ick. Moreover, this one could have a rather polished surface, courtesy of director Tony Bill and costars Dudley Moore and Mary Tyler Moore.

A congressman campaigning for the senatorial primary, William Dalton, is attracted to a cosmetics industry heiress-executive, Charlotte Dreyfus, through the matchmaking charms of her daughter Nicky. Since the candidate happens to have a wife and family, the affair tends to complicate things. Since Nicky is dying of leukemia, it's also heavily freighted with pathos. Katherine Healy, the juvenile model in the photographic book "A Very Young Skater," is cast as the irrepressible, albeit doomed, Nicky. Rated PG. 'Still of the Night'

A reunion for the Oscar-winning writer-director Robert Benton and leading lady Meryl Streep of "Kramer vs. Kramer." The material, cooked up by Benton and David Newman, is a psychological suspense thriller that appears to owe a lot to fond (and let's hope not excessively fond) recollections of Hitchcock's "Spellbound."

Since sex changes are in this season, there's a sex change here, with Roy Scheider inheriting the old Ingrid Bergman role. He plays a New York psychiatrist who begins to suspect that a murdered patient may have been killed by his mistress, a jumpy auction gallery employe played by Streep. This suspicion leaves the hero in a quandary because he has fallen in love with the ambiguous enchantress. Jessica Tandy turns up again as Scheider's mom, also a shrink. Rated PG. 'Pink Panther'

Perhaps foolproof, but the whole idea sounds ghastly. Drawing on scenes and outtakes from the earlier Pink Panther farces, director Blake Edwards has evidently stitched together a strangely necrophiliac highlight feature which recycles the late Peter Sellers in his Greatest Moments as Inspector Clouseau while purporting to be a "new" story, prompted by an investigation into Clouseau's mysterious disappearance. Given the actual reason for this disappearance, Edwards appears to be expecting the public to humor him in an unforgivable mercenary venture. "The Trail of the Pink Panther," with David Niven, Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark and other fixtures. Rated PG. 'The Verdict'

Always overdue for an Oscar, Paul Newman may finally have the inside track with this courtroom melodrama adapted by David Mamet from a novel by Boston malpractice attorney Barry Reed and directed by Sidney Lumet.

Newman's character is Frank Galvin, a disillusioned, rummy criminal attorney who pulls himself together when given a malpractice suit that gradually becomes a Big Case. The actor describes the role in terms that recall Rocky Balboa in another profession: "His victory is that he fights it through all the way to the end. His emotional progression from a down-and-out alcoholic to a whole person again is tied in with his ability to find the strength to keep fighting. And he's battling more than just institutions: he's scratching and clawing to save his life." Whew!

At the bar he must scratch and claw against a smoothie played by James Mason. Meanwhile, romantic rehabilitation beckons in the arms of Charlotte Rampling. Rated R. 'Snowy River'

Still a tentative attraction, "The Man From Snowy River" was the runaway popular hit in Australia this year. Kirk Douglas has a dual role as crusty mountain men, and the Australian star Jack Thompson plays a character role, but the romantic leads are Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton as young lovers united in a wild horse hunt. It's only natural for outsiders to confuse the director, George Miller, with the George Miller who directed "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior," but he's actually another George Miller. The film, reputed to be a pictorial gem, is based on a popular narrative poem by Banjo Paterson. Rated PG. Air & Space

Beginning Dec. 17, the Air and Space Museum will commence regular weekend showings of the IMAX spectacles "Hail, Columbia!" and "The Silent Sky" at the museum's Langley Theater. There will be an admission charge of $3 for adults and $2 for children, students and senior citizens. Detailed information on this new bill may be obtained by calling 357-2700. "Hail" is a record of the first Space Shuttle mission and "Sky" a lyric impression of sailplaning along the California coast.

Wednesday, Dec. 22: 'Kiss Me Goodbye'

"Blithe Spirit" with a sex change appears to be the guiding gimmick behind this comedy. Sally Field, the widow of an exuberant hoofer-choreographer, James Caan, is distressed to find his ghost interfering with plans for her remarriage to Jeff Bridges, an Egyptologist, who attempts to exorcise the unwelcome rival with the aid of Paul Dooley, a crackpot colleague. Robert Mulligan directed from a script by Charlie Peters. The supporting cast includes Claire Trevor (as Field's mother, who prefers her deceased son-in-law), Mildred Natwick, William Prince and Stephen Elliott. Rated PG. 'Peter Pan'

The latest return flight for the 1953 Disney animated version of the James M. Barrie classic. Spoken by Bobby Driscoll, Peter was given a rare boyish reading. Kathryn Beaumont, the Disney Alice, did Wendy, and Hans Conreid was Captain Hook. Most of the songs were composed by Sammys Cahn and Fain. Rated G.

Friday, Dec. 24: 'Animation'

The 17th Tournee of Animation: The latest installment in the annual animation anthology hosted by the Biograph is devoted to 21 selections from the inventory of the National Film Board of Canada, ranging chronologically from Norman McLaren's 1961 "Opening Speech" to Janet Perlman's 1981 Oscar nominee "The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin."

If all this fails to brighten the holiday season, stand by for a mere 40 to 50 titles awaiting available opening slots in late January and early February.