Hollywood opens its presents early this weekend with the arrival of a few deluxe-wrapped packages full of good holiday cheer.
“Anna and the King,” a richly decorated version of the classic musical “The King and I” sans the music, should pique the interests of romantic moviegoers young and old. It stars Academy Award winner Jodie Foster and Hong Kong action icon Chow Yun-Fat.
Gifts for the kids come in the form of the studio movies “Stuart Little” and “Bicentennial Man.” Based on a beloved children’s novel, “Stuart Little” tells the live-action adventures of a pet mouse, with a voice provided by Michael J. Fox. In “Bicentennial Man,” Robin Williams undergoes a different kind of transformation, playing an android who learns what it means to be human. “Mrs. Doubtfire” director Chris Columbus helms the film.
Other high-profile holiday films opening in limited release include “Simpatico,” a drama featuring A-list talents Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone and Nick Nolte, and “Topsy Turvy,” a film about the lives of entertainers William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Leigh (“Secrets & Lies,” “Naked”).
Below is a list of all the week’s releases.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 15
“Simpatico” (Fine Line) — Jeff Bridges plays an affluent horse breeder whose reputation threatens to go to ruin when his penitent ex-partner played by Nick Nolte resurfaces to expose a horseracing scam the two masterminded many years ago. Albert Finney plays the innocent man who took the fall for their stint. Sharon Stone co-stars as Bridges‘ wife.
“Topsy Turvy” (USA) — Acclaimed director Mike Leigh leaps back in time to enter the lives of two Londoners who were marked by extraordinary creativity: William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The film traces the bumpy collaboration of the writer-composer team after a period of declined popularity and creative impasse. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner co-star.
Opening Friday, Dec. 17
“Anna and the King” (Fox) — Based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, this film casts Jodie Foster as a British governess headed for Thailand to care for the children of the country’s king, played by Chow Yun-Fat. By the end of her stay, she’s managed to touch the lives of both the children and their father.
“Bicentennial Man” (Buena Vista) — Robin Williams plays an android who is purchased as a household robot to perform menial tasks. His proud owners quickly learn that they don’t have an ordinary robot as Williams begins to exhibit emotions and creative thought. Sam Neill, Oliver Platt and Embeth Davidtz co-star.
“Stuart Little” (Sony) — Based on the classic children’s novel by E.B. White, this animated feature combines live-action with state-of-the-art visual-effects technology to bring the lovable rodent and his adopted human family to life. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie co-star. Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly and Bruno Kirby provide voices for the animated characters.
“The Emperor and the Assassin” (SPC) — Renowned Chinese director Chen Kaige and actress Gong Li reunite in this tale of power and ruthless ambition set in feudal China. Li Xuejian portrays a power-hungry king obsessed with becoming the first emperor of unified China, and Li co-stars as his devoted concubine abetting him in the enterprise.
“Magnolia” (New Line) — “Boogie Nights” director Paul Anderson heads back to the San Fernando Valley for this modern-day tale of intersecting stories that feature “Boogie” alums Julianne Moore, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall. Oh, and megastar Tom Cruise.
“Onegin” (Samuel Goldwyn) — Set in 1820s Russia, Ralph Fiennes stars as a dashing aristocrat who’s brought to the countryside through his inheritance of a large estate. There he acquaints Liv Tyler, a doting young woman whose love he refuses. Six years later, the two meet again on vastly different terms — he’s fallen obsessively in love with Tyler while she’s comfortably married to another man.
“Ride With the Devil” (USA) — Directed by Ang Lee, this Civil War drama stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright as three friends who are avid supporters of the Confederate cause. Fighting as civilians, the three men pledge their allegiance to the South by killing unsuspecting Union soldiers. Singer-songwriter Jewel makes her acting debut as their love interest.
“The Cider House Rules” (Miramax) — Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape“) and adapted from John Irving‘s best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron and Michael Caine co-star.