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The 2008 holiday season's must-see films 

So far in 2008, superb genre films such as WALL-E, Cloverfield and The Dark Knight have outshone the more "serious" cinematic output of filmmakers such as the Coen brothers, Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood. There's still time for ambitious dramas and other big Oscar-bait films to steal the thunder from the popcorn fare, however. Here are some of the most eagerly anticipated films that celebrate either the holidays or Oscar season (all dates subject to change).

FOUR CHRISTMASES

Vince Vaughn follows up last year's turn as a Christmas curmudgeon in Fred Claus with more spiked eggnog. Vaughn and Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon play a couple, each with divorced parents, who reluctantly make the rounds at four different households during the holidays. Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) directs Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek and Jon Voight as the parents, each of whom offers a uniquely annoying yuletide experience. – Nov. 26

MILK

The recent passage of California's Proposition 8, forbidding gay marriage, finds some almost painful parallels in the biopic of pioneering San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, played in an uncharacteristically elfin turn by Sean Penn. Director Gus Van Sant evokes the struggles of the gay rights movement in the 1970s, with supporting turns from James Franco, Emile Hirsch and W.'s Josh Brolin. As a film about a martyred historical figure that hinges on a contemporary cause celebre, Milk should be a shoo-in come Oscar season. – Nov. 26

AUSTRALIA

Director Baz Luhrmann previously teamed up with Nicole Kidman for the super-stylish musical Moulin Rouge! This time they offer a sweeping romantic period piece set at the brink of World War II. Kidman plays an English aristocrat who inherits an Australian ranch and enlists an unsophisticated stockman (X-Men's Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 cattle across inhospitable terrain – and into the teeth of a Japanese invasion. – Nov. 28

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

A young man (Dev Patel) from the streets of Mumbai flashes back to the highs and lows of his stormy, Dickensian childhood while appearing as, of all things, a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Director Danny Boyle (best-known for Trainspotting and 28 Days Later...) directs this fast-paced, at times harrowing tale that's generating a lot of buzz as a longshot Best Picture Oscar nominee. – Dec. 5

A CHRISTMAS TALE

Kings and Queen director Arnaud Desplechin presents this French drama about an extended family beset by illness and tragedy that manages to gather for a fractious holiday reunion in northern France. Expect something closer to a penetrating character study along the lines of Ingmar Bergman than a reassuring yuletide treat à la Frank Capra. Stars Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni and others. – Dec. 5, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

FROST/NIXON

Peter Morgan, screenwriter of recent Oscar winners The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, explores the intersection of power and personality through another political footnote: disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon's exclusive 1977 interview with British journalist David Frost. Frank Langella won a Tony award for his stage portrayal of Frost/Nixon's Tricky Dick, and reunites with co-star Michael Sheen (The Queen's Tony Blair) as Frost for the big-screen adaptation directed by Ron Howard. – Dec. 12

NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS

A Puerto Rican family living in West Chicago faces possibly its last Christmas together in this likely heart-warmer from director Alfredo De Villa. The crowded cast includes John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, "Six Feet Under's" Freddy Rodríguez, Luis Guzmán and Elizabeth Peña. – Dec. 12

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

"Curious" seems like an inadequate description of this extremely odd-sounding adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, in which a man (Brad Pitt) is born in 1918 as an old man and ages backward until he's a child in the early 21st century. The aging special effects already look to be nothing less than astonishing. Director David Fincher reunites with his Seven and Fight Club star Pitt, who appears alongside Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett in a film that looks to be the season's biggest question mark. – Dec. 25

DOUBT

An all-star cast anchors the theatrical version of John Patrick Shanley's provocative play (which received a superb production at the Alliance Theatre last spring). In 1964, a nun and school principal (Meryl Streep) suspects a charismatic young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of molesting a student, but has no evidence to back up her suspicions. – Dec. 25

VALKYRIE

Screen idol Tom Cruise dons an eye patch and a German WWII uniform for this historical thriller based on real events. As Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, Cruise spearheads a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler at the twilight of World War II. Bryan Singer, director of Superman Returns and the first two X-Men movies, reunites with his The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie for a film that co-stars Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Black Book's Carice van Houten. – Dec. 26

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