US cinema screens are being hit with a dizzying glut of Christmas season movies as Hollywood rushes to release a series of major motion pictures ahead of a deadline to qualify for the 2002 Academy Awards.
More than two dozen much-anticipated feature films were scheduled for release before New Year -- one of the two key seasons of the year for major pictures to make their debut -- including the fantasy blockbuster "The Lord of the Rings."
The welter of new releases muddies an already murky 2002 awards season, which got fully underway on Thursday with the unveiling of nominations for the Golden Globe awards, seen as a bellwether for the Oscars.
"There are a lot of new pictures out there, and that's making it very difficult for the pundits and critics to decide which films they really like and which ones will make it big," said Tim Gray of Daily Variety.
Nominations for next year's Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are made in February, but to qualify pictures must be released before the end of 2001.
That scheduling prompts studios to wait until the last minute to release their films, in order to keep them fresh in the minds of the Academy Awards nominating jury.
Consequently, movie audiences are finding their Christmas stockings overflowing with celluloid offerings.
The visual orgy began Wednesday with the first in a 270 million dollar trilogy of films, "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," and continued with a raft of new issues this weekend.
Golden Globe favorite "A Beautiful Mind," the true story of a schizophrenic maths genius, a film which picked up six Globe nominations, opens to a limited audience on Friday ahead of a full release in early January.
Universal Pictures' "How High," Paramount Pictures' "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," Warner Bros.' "The Majestic" and 20th Century Fox's "Joe Somebody" also all had wide releases in North America on Friday.
Columbia was due to release "Ali" its story about boxing legend Muhammad Ali starring Will Smith on Christmas Day -- the same day as the opening of Miramax's "Kate and Leopold," a romantic comedy in which time-travel is a major part of the plot, starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman.
"The Shipping News," the story of a widowed journalist based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Annie Proulx, also opens on December 25 starring Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore.
Robert Altman's 1930s comedy suspense flick "Gosford Park" and Halle Berry's new film "Monster's Ball" both open to limited audiences on December 26. Both also picked up key Golden Globe nominations on Thursday.
Also in the congested queue for year-end release are director Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down," Australian star Cate Blanchett's new picture "Charlotte Gray" and Sean Penn's "I am Sam" -- all of which get restricted releases on December 28.
Studios often choose limited openings -- meaning a small selection of theaters -- for pictures that they want to qualify as 2001 films for award purposes, but which are scheduled for full public release later on.
With such a packed field of highly competitive films this year, studios are leery of giving their favorite projects a so-called wide releases at a time when their grand entrance could so easily be overshadowed by a crowd of other popular films.
And the long-awaited film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's books about the battle between good and evil in Middle Earth, "Lord of the Rings" looks set to be a major hit with audiences, threatening to leave its Christmas competitors in the dust and giving Hollywood studios another inducement to debut their films on a limited release basis -- AFP
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )