Fa La La La LaAaaand Cut!

Deck the halls with boughs of Hollywood

The story:An American journalist (George Clooney) goes to post-World War II Berlin to find his former lover (Cate Blanchett), but he stumbles upon a murder mystery in the process. The gimmick is the character patter and film's look rip off/honor such black-and-white classics as Casablanca and The Third Man.

What it's got going for it:The re-teaming of Clooney and one of cinema's most intriguing filmmakers, Steven Soderbergh, who directed, shot and edited Germanall by himself and only with equipment available in the 1940s.

What it's got going against it:The title of the next film, scheduled to be released the same day.

The Good Shepherd(Universal)

The story:The formation of the CIA—not to be confused with that far more sinister and shadowy operation, CAA—is viewed through the eyes of one of its first recruits (Matt Damon), whose naïve idealism is slowly corrupted by Cold War paranoia.

What it's got going for it:Game support from Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro and Mr. Robert DeNiro, who also directs!; a script by Eric Roth of Munich, Ali and The Insider fame.

What it's got going against it:Seriously, why didn't they just combine casts, restrict DeNiro to in front of the camera where he belongs and rename the whole thing The Good German Shepherd?

Letters From Iwo Jima(Warner Bros.)

The story:The Japanese who fought in the WWII battle of Iwo Jima against the United States share their recollections.

What it's got going for it:It's the flipside to director Clint Eastwood's recent ambitious, well-reviewed Flags of Our Fathers; Oscar loooooooves Old Man Clint.

What it's got going against it: Nobody saw Flags of Our Fathers.

Night at the Museum(20th Century Fox)

The story:On his first night on the job at a natural history museum, a night watchman (Ben Stiller) discovers the exhibits come to life. Based on actual events.

What it's got going for it:Maybe it was seeing Robin Williams done up as Teddy Roosevelt. Maybe it was Stiller's back-and-forth lines with Owen Wilson and back-and-forth slaps with a monkey. Maybe it's the soft spot I have for Dick Van Dyke, who plays Stiller's boss and, I don't care what anyone says, IS Rob Petrie. But the trailer for this contrived, big-budget, special effects-laden Hollywood popcorn muncher had me laughing my ass off.

What it's got going against it: Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Ricky Gervais and Mickey Fucking Rooney in the cast! A screenplay, based on Milan Trenc's children's book, written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon of the hilarious The State, Viva Variety and Reno 911!fame! How could there possibly be anything wrong with . . . uh-oh: it's directed by Shawn Levy, who gave us this year's The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married and the pilot episode of Pepper Dennis.

Rocky Balboa(MGM)

The story:An aging former superstar must weigh the risks and rewards of stepping into the limelight after all these years to accept another vicious challenge . . . but enough about Sylvester Stallone shamelessly returning to the Rocky well for a sixth time. He again directs himself as the now crusty Italian Stallion, who is offered a fight against current boxing champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver).

What it's got going for it:Check back when I give a shit.

What it's got going against it:Common decency.

We Are Marshall(Warner Bros.)

The story:Based on the true story of a 1970 plane crash that wiped out most players and the coaching staff of a beloved college football team in a small West Virginia town, this finds a young coach (Matthew McConaughey) trying to mend a program and a community.

What it's got going for it:Corona del Mar hometown boy done good McG (Charlie's Angels, The O.C.) in the director's chair.

What it's got going against it:A 30-second TV commercial that gives away the whole freaking movie.

*   *   *

MONDAY, DEC. 25

Black Christmas(Dimension)

The story:In this remake of a 1974 horror flick, sorority girls get creepy phone calls during their Christmas break, then have unfortunate encounters with a homicidal maniac—as opposed to the fortunate encounters one usually associates with homicidal maniacs.

What it's got going for it:No other horror films to compete against for miles; writers/directors Glen Morgan and James Wong, the team behind the first Final Destination, which, admit it, was pretty dang cool.

What it's got going against it:Oh, so when it's a nice chestnuts-roasting-by-an-open-fire movie, it's a white Christmas, but when it's a demented blood-splattering-on-pretty-white-girls movie, it's a blackChristmas. Screw you, Michael Richards!

Children of Men(Universal)

The story:Set in the near future, with mass infertility having pushed humanity to the brink of extinction, a government employee (Clive Owen) must protect the life of the world's last pregnant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey).

What it's got going for it:A supporting cast that includes Julianne Moore and Michael Caine; Y tu mamá también director Alfonso Cuarón also directs here and co-wrote the screenplay; the source material was the dystopian novel by P.D. James, the English crime fiction writer and House of Lords member who has been credited with upgrading the entire mystery-writing genre.

What it's got going against it:Buttloads of holiday cheer.

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