MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Between now and the end of the year, Hollywood will be opening more than 50 films, many hoping for Oscar consideration. We'll get everything from animated French mice to Nazis to visitors from other galaxies. We asked Bob Mondello to give us his annual selective preview.

BOB MONDELLO: 'Tis the season for all manner of entertainment. But for some reason, yuletide blockbusters have lately tended to be apocalyptic. Last Christmas it was "I am Legend" about a worldwide plague. This year in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," disaster is not viral, it's extraterrestrial, though it arrives in a nicely pressed suit.

(Soundbite of movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still")

Mr. KEANU REEVES: (As Klaatu) Yes.

Mr. DAVID RICHMOND-PECK: (As the polygraph operator) Do you feel pain?

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) My body does.

Mr. RICHMOND-PECK: (As the polygraph operator) Are you human?

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) My body is.

Mr. RICHMOND-PECK: (As the polygraph operator) Are you aware of an impending attack on the planet Earth?

Mr. REEVES: (As Klaatu) You should let me go.

MONDELLO: Otherworldly, Keanu Reeves, sounds plausible. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is a remake of a Cold War thriller from the 1950s, which means it will fit right in with all the horrors at the multiplex from a decade earlier. Nazi horrors, stories about Hitler's Germany, are often regarded as Oscar bait. And this year they're everywhere you look.

The film "Good," for instance, brings us a liberal writer who is appalled when his novel becomes a Third Reich propaganda tool. "The Reader" has Ray Fiennes discovering that a woman he'd had an affair with was once a guard at Auschwitz. In "Defiance," three brothers go underground to battle the Germans. And in "Valkyrie," Tom Cruise plays a Nazi officer leading a conspiracy to assassinate the Fuhrer.

(Soundbite of movie "Valkyrie")

Mr. BILL NIGHY: (As General Friedrich Olbricht) We need to reorganize.

Mr. TOM CRUISE: (As Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg): There has to be a chance of success.

Mr. NIGHY: (As General Friedrich Olbricht) That's why you're here.

Mr. CRUISE: (As Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg) Hitler's Germany has seen its last sunrise. Can I count you in?

MONDELLO: Death and destruction not you're thing at Christmas time? Well, how about some social mayhem? It comes in various comic styles, domestic mayhem in the home for Christmas comedy "Nothing Like the Holidays."

(Soundbite of movie "Nothing Like the Holidays")

Ms. DEBRA MESSING: (As Sarah Rodriquez) Why is everybody fighting?

Mr. JOHN LEGUIZAMO: (As Mauricio Rodriguez) They're not fighting, we're conversating.

Ms. ELIZABETH PENA: (As Anna Rodriguez) There's something I'd like to say. I'm leaving your father.

MONDELLO: There's also dog-loving mayhem in "Marley and Me," kid oriented mayhem in Adam Sandler's "Bedtime Stories," animated rodent mayhem in "The Tale of Despereaux," and Jim Carrey-style mayhem in "Yes Man," a comedy about a guy who has always said no, but who changes his tune.

(Soundbite of movie in "Yes Man")

Mr. JIM CARREY: (As Carl Allen) I do want to take guitar lessons. I do want to learn how to fly. Yes, I would like to learn Korean.

Mr. BRADLEY COOPER: What? So what, you are going to say yes to everything?

Mr. CARREY: (As Carl Allen) Exactly. I wasn't open to stuff, and now I am. Things are changing for me.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yo, Carl, heading to the clubs? Got a case of Red Bull, gonna pull an all-nighter. Are you down?

Unidentified Crowd: Yes!

MONDELLO: Changing your life is something of a theme for the holidays, though mostly in more serious stories. There's "Wendy and Lucy" about a woman who heads to Alaska to get a new start. The French award winner "Secret of the Grain" tells of a dock worker who quits his job after 35 years to open a restaurant. And in "Revolutionary Road," Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet struggle with a comfortable suburban existence that isn't nearly as comfortable as they'd expected.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) I support you, don't I? I work 10 hours a day at a job I can't stand.

Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) You don't have to.

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) But I have the backbone not to run away from my responsibilities.

Ms. WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Who made these rules anyway?

MONDELLO: This being the 1950s, the rules are set in stone.

(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")

Ms. WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Just because you've got me safely in this little trap, you think you can bully me into feeling whatever you want me to feel.

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) You're in a trap.

Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Yes, yes!

Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) You're in a trap.

MONDELLO: "Revolutionary Road" is the first film DiCaprio and Winslet have made together since "Titanic." "Gran Torino" on the other hand is the first film Clint Eastwood has made since, what, "The Changeling" three weeks ago. The difference is he's not just directing "Gran Torino," but also staring in it as a guy who's getting on in years, but who sounds less like an old Eastwood than like the Eastwood of old.

(Soundbite of movie "Grand Torino")

Mr. CLINT EASTWOOD: (As Walt Kowalski) Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's me.

Unidentified Actor #2: Are you crazy, man? Get out of here, man.

MONDELLO: Eastwood will turn out to have a softer side in "Gran Torino," as will a pretty fearsome looking Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler." Rourke plays an over-the-hill tough guy with health and family issues, Randy "The Ram" Robinson.

(Soundbite of movie "The Wrestler")

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE: (As Randy "The Ram" Robinson) In this life, you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. A lot of people told me that I'd never wrestle again. The only one who's going to tell me when I'm through doing my thing is you people here.

MONDELLO: Rourke is giving an outsized, very physical performance in what is essentially an intimate independent film. A couple of historical figures are central to grand performances in grander films. Benicio Del Toro plays Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's two-part, six-hour drama "Che." And Frank Langella recreates on screen his award-winning stage performance as Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," the story of the former president's dramatic post-Watergate TV interviews with talk show host David Frost.

(Soundbite of movie "Frost/Nixon")

Unidentified Actor #3: Three, two, cue David.

Mr. MICHAEL SHEEN: (As David Frost) Are you really saying the president can do something illegal?

Mr. FRANK LANGELLA: (As Richard Nixon) I'm saying that when the president does it, that means it's not illegal.

Mr. SHEEN: (As David Frost) I'm sorry?

MONDELLO: That's Michael Sheen as David Frost, also recreating a role he originated on Broadway. The producers of another stage-to-film adaptation, the Pulitzer Prizewinner "Doubt," opted for new stars. Onscreen, Meryl Streep glowers as a 1960s nun who becomes suspicious about priest Philip Seymour Hoffman when he takes an interest in the school's only black student.

(Soundbite of movie "Doubt")

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) What happened in the rectory?

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Father Brendan Flynn) Happened? Nothing happened. I had a talk with the boy.

Ms. STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) What about?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Father Brendan Flynn) Private matter.

Ms. STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) He's 12 years old. What could be private?

MONDELLO: Serious stuff this Christmas season. So serious that there's even a really wrenching animated film, "Waltz with Bashir," that deals with an Israeli soldier's repressed memories of a wartime massacre. Happily, there will also be stories for escapists, including a century-spanning romance that opens on Christmas Day. It's taken from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who ages in reverse.

(Soundbite of movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")

Mr. BRAD PITT: (As Benjamin Button) My name is Benjamin, Benjamin Button.

Unidentified Actor #4: How old are you?

Mr. PITT: (As Benjamin Button) Seven. But I look a lot older.

Unidentified Actor #4: God bless you. He's seven.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Alas, as Benjamin's getting younger, the love of his life is getting older.

(Soundbite of movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")

Ms. CATE BLANCHETT: (As Daisy) We are almost the same age. We're meeting in the middle.

Mr. PITT: (As Benjamin Button): You know, I'm just thinking how nothing lasts, what a shame that is.

MONDELLO: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett star in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a film that has inspired high hopes in Hollywood with its mix of digital effects and offbeat stories scripted by Eric Roth, who scripted "Forrest Gump." It still sounds downbeat, though. So let me leave you with a picker-upper from the soundtrack of a film noir with music. Set in the 1930s and dedicated to the New Orleans musicians who were affected by Hurricane Katrina, it's called "Dark Streets." And however it ends up looking onscreen, it will certainly brighten the holiday's sound. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of soundtrack of "Dark Streets")

Unidentified Singer: If you're feeling lonely, the (unintelligible) comes around. Just come in from the street now, and lay your troubles down.

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