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Santa, nativity tale ring in holiday-film season holiday previews

This animated image provided by DreamWorks Animation shows a scene from ’Flushed Away.’

AP photo

Tim Allen, Spencer Breslin and Martin Short, appear in a scene from ’Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.’ The movie is among holiday-themed films slated to open toward year’s end.

AP photos

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood has outdone itself on Christmas spirit. Studios typically offer two or three holiday-themed flicks toward year’s end. This season brings a half-dozen movies with Christmas angles, from romance and horror to family comedy and religious drama. Leading Santa’s sleigh is Tim Allen as St. Nick again in “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” battling Jack Frost (Martin Short), who’s hijacked Christmas. Tricking Allen’s character into magically returning to the instant he first put on the red suit and became Santa, Jack Frost makes off with the Kriss Kringle duds himself and turns Christmas into “Frostmas.” “I love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and I said, if there’s any way to make this an ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ moment, that would be great. Where I get the chance to see the world clearly without me as Santa,” Allen said. “Then I have to figure out a way to get Christmas back.” Also on the holiday front: • A family man (Matthew Broderick) duels with his neighbor (Danny DeVito), who aims to create a gaudy Christmas display visible from space in “Deck the Halls.” • Five youths try to elude airport officials (Lewis Black and Wilmer Valderrama) after they’re snowed in on Christmas Eve in “Unaccompanied Minors.” • A college student (Michelle Trachtenberg) and her friends face a killer terrorizing their sorority house over holiday break in “Black Christmas.” • Two women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) on opposite sides of the world meet on the Internet and decide to trade houses for Christmas in “The Holiday,” which co-stars Jude Law and Jack Black. • The birth of Christ is told in dramatic fashion in “The Nativity Story,” starring Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) as the Virgin Mary. “It is kind of a contrast to the usually funny holiday fare and the other more violent movies you get around the holidays. Maybe it’ll be an antidote to that. It’s not a cynical approach. It’s really quite pure in a way,” said “Nativity Story” director Catherine Hardwicke, whose credits include the acclaimed teen drama “thirteen.” “It does eventually seem to take you to a spiritual place, a more sacred place by the end of the movie.” A look at the season’s other film highlights:

SPY VS. SPY: “Casino Royale,” the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond tales, introduces Daniel Craig as the sixth actor to play agent 007, with the British superspy on an early assignment.

Bond is not yet the callous, love-them-and-leave-them type who has no problem sleeping with women then shooting them later. In fact, young Mr. Bond falls in love with a woman who turns the tables on him.

“She breaks his heart,” said Eva Green, playing a British treasury official whose fling with Bond ends badly. “I think this is when he becomes Bond as a womanizer and a flirt, because he is heartbroken from this lost relationship.”

“The Good Shepherd” stars Matt Damon as a CIA founder who helps establish the agency’s methods amid the Cold War. Robert De Niro co-stars and directs, with a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt and John Turturro.

STAGE TO SCREEN: Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy and “American Idol” star Jennifer Hudson star in an adaptation of the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls,” following the rise of a female pop trio.

“The History Boys” reunites much of the cast from the stage hit about rambunctious British teens angling for admission to Oxford and Cambridge.

TALKING CRITTERS: Hugh Jackman gets into animated action in a big way, providing the lead voice for the mouse tale “Flushed Away” and supporting vocals for the penguin comedy “Happy Feet.”

“Flushed Away” uses the voices of Jackman and Kate Winslet in the story of a pet rodent forced to live among the sewer rats after he’s washed down the toilet.

In “Happy Feet,” Jackman and Nicole Kidman are the mouthpieces for the parents of a penguin (Elijah Wood) who unlike his crooning kin, has a terrible singing voice — but can tap-dance up a storm. The voice cast includes Robin Williams.

An all-star lineup led by Julia Roberts, Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey provides voices for a live-action version of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” the tale of a spider who helps a barnyard pig avoid his fate on the dinner table. Dakota Fanning leads the human cast.

FANTASTIC JOURNEYS: Jackman also stars with Rachel Weisz in “The Fountain,” about a man who discovers a fountain of youth and lives a sprawling adventure from the 16th to 26th centuries.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,”), “The Fountain” completes a busy year in which Jackman starred in a half-dozen movies.

“I hadn’t really had a movie out in two years. I’ve had a bit of time to do some stuff, and they’ve all come crammed together,” the “X-Men” star said. “It’s not really the way I’d wanted it, but I’m excited about the range of roles.”

Clive Owen stars with Julianne Moore in “Children of Men,” a sci-fi tale about a near future facing a plague of infertility that could wipe out humanity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”).

The dragon fantasy “Eragon” features Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou and John Malkovich in the story of a young hero fated to protect his homeland from destruction.

Luc Besson directs the live-action and computer-animated fantasy “Arthur & the Invisibles,” featuring Mia Farrow, Freddie Highmore and the voices of Madonna, David Bowie and Snoop Dogg in the tale of a boy out to save his family home.

COMEBACKS: Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” was a hard-enough sell without his drunken-driving arrest and anti-Semitic comments. The action adventure set against the decline of the Mayan empire centuries ago features an unknown cast speaking an obscure language.

After Gibson’s downfall, the question is whether audiences will turn out for another ancient epic that does not have the Christian appeal of his blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.”

Sylvester Stallone has been on the outs after years of mediocre action flicks. Now he reprises his star-making role in “Rocky Balboa,” the fifth sequel to 1976’s “Rocky,” with Stallone’s over-the-hill boxer contemplating a return to the ring.

Seven-time Academy Award runner-up Peter O’Toole is back in Oscar form with “Venus,” in which he plays an elderly actor rekindling his lecherous ways in an odd relationship with a friend’s teenage grandniece.

FACT MEETS FICTION: Writer, director and co-star Emilio Estevez mixes real life and make-believe with “Bobby,” the story of 22 people present at the hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The ensemble cast includes Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Lindsay Lohan and Laurence Fishburne.

“Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” stars Nicole Kidman as the celebrated photographer in a fictional romance. Robert Downey Jr. co-stars.

“Blood Diamond” stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly in the story of three unlikely partners on a quest for a priceless gem, the tale set against the savage civil war in 1990s Sierra Leone.

Jack Black and Kyle Gass star as variations of themselves in a whimsical comedy about the formation of their folk-rock duo in “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.”

“Fast Food Nation” adapts the best-selling nonfiction book about America’s eating habits into a fictional narrative whose ensemble cast includes Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke and Avril Lavigne.

REUNIONS: Frequent collaborators Denzel Washington, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott reteam for “Deja Vu,” about a federal agent investigating a bombing who discovers there may be something to that psychological sensation of having been there before.

Scott’s brother, Ridley, reunites with his “Gladiator” star Russell Crowe for “A Good Year.” Crowe plays a take-no-prisoners London investment whiz who finds love and meaning during a time-out at the French vineyard he’s inherited.

Crowe and Scott had been discussing various reunion projects, generally bigger productions than a comic romance in France.

“One of the things Ridley went through was this idea, the movie in Provence, this Englishman who inherits a vineyard, and that’s the one that stayed with me,” Crowe said. “I called him back the next day and said, ‘That’s what we should be doing. Let’s do the little one in Provence and have some fun.”’

FOR LAUGHS: Sacha Baron Cohen brings his Kazakh reporter persona from “Da Ali G Show” to the big screen for a journey through America in “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

“Night at the Museum” features Ben Stiller as a museum night watchman guided by a wax figure of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) when the exhibits come magically alive.

Three actors (Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer and Parker Posey) catch Oscar fever when their little movie earns awards buzz in Christopher Guest’s Hollywood satire “For Your Consideration.”

A crook (Dax Shepard) seeks revenge by arranging to become cell mate to the son of the judge who sent him to jail in “Let’s Go to Prison.”

“National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj” promotes the sidekick from the first movie (Kal Penn) to lead status as he takes his partying ways to Oxford.

AFTER THE WARS: Steven Soderbergh directs George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire in “The Good German,” a drama about a U.S. war correspondent and his imperiled former lover in Berlin after World War II.

“Home of the Brave” stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in the story of U.S. troops adjusting to home life after serving in Iraq.

HIGH ART: “The Painted Veil,” adapted from E.M. Forster’s novel, stars Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Liev Schreiber in a love triangle in 1920s China.

Renee Zellweger is children’s author Beatrix Potter, caught up in a romance with her publisher (Ewan McGregor) in “Miss Potter.”

“Candy” features Heath Ledger as a poet whose affair with an art student and bohemian lifestyle leads to heroin addiction.

TURNING SERIOUS: Will Smith plays a struggling dad who finds himself and his 5-year-old son homeless in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering” gives us Jude Law, Juliette Binoche and Robin Wright Penn in a drama about a landscape architect whose life is changed through encounters with a burglar.

Matthew McConaughey relives a sports tragedy in “We Are Marshall,” playing a coach who rebuilds a West Virginia college football program after a 1970 plane crash kills 75 players and coaches.

“Notes on a Scandal” stars Blanchett and Judi Dench in the story of an art teacher’s affair with a student.

Will Ferrell tones it down for a comic tale with sober themes, playing a meek, solitary tax auditor suddenly able to hear an unseen narrator (Emma Thompson) who’s writing the story of his life — and impending death.

“It’s going to be fun to see what the reaction is to me in this type of movie,” said Ferrell, known for over-the-top comic characters. “It’s fun to play something that’s just a little more contained than what I normally do.”

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