Serious films sweep into theaters; Movies: From Woody Allen to Woody the toy cowboy, the season promises big releases, big directors and big stars; SEASON PREVIEW

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Now, it's time for the heavyweights.

Oh sure, 1999 already has seen the return of a galaxy far, far away in "The Phantom Menace," Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman naked in "Eyes Wide Shut," some unlucky film students in "The Blair Witch Project" and films starring everyone from Michelle Pfeiffer to Bruce Willis.

But now things get serious. Over the next four months, all manner of Hollywood royalty will be featured on screen, including Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Sean Penn and Winona Ryder. We've got new films from Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, John Frankenheimer, Oliver Stone and Milos Forman. We've got the sequel to "Toy Story" and the return of filmdom's favorite duo, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. We've even got more Pfeiffer and Willis, this time in the same movie.

And if you'll excuse the parochial pride, we've got "Liberty Heights," the new film from native son Barry Levinson, shot in Baltimore.

Herewith, the lineup of films scheduled to open here through the end of the year. With, of course, the usual caveat: Opening dates are subject to change (and you can bet more than a few will do just that).

September

"Love Stinks": In this "un-romantic" comedy, French Stewart (TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun") struggles to get rid of the girl. Tyra Banks, Bridgette Wilson and Bill Bellamy also star. Sept. 10

"My Life So Far": Director Hugh Hudson ("Chariots of Fire") takes us to the Scottish Highlands for this tale of a 10-year-old boy, his eccentric inventor father (Colin Firth) and his loving mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Sept. 10

"Stigmata": Patricia Arquette is a young hairdresser who begins displaying the wounds of Christ, and whose plight attracts the attention of the Vatican, which sends a priest (Gabriel Byrne) to ascertain whether the girl's sufferings are for real. Sept. 10

"Stir of Echoes": The thriller stars Kevin Bacon as Tom Witzky, a blue-collar Chicagoan whose life turns ominous after a post-hypnotic suggestion releases a subconscious power he never knew he had. Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas and Kevin Dunn co-star. Sept. 10

"Blue Streak": Martin Lawrence is a jewel thief who, fresh out of jail, wants to get back the $20 million diamond he hid at what was then a construction site but is now a police precinct. His solution: Pretend to be a detective. Sept. 17

"For Love of the Game": Major League pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is having a rough time. Not only has he been traded from his beloved Detroit Tigers, but also the love of his life (Kelly Preston) is leaving him. Costner + baseball -- How can it lose? Sept. 17

"My Son the Fanatic": A Pakistani family living in northern England struggles with balancing their competing cultures. Stars Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths ("Hilary and Jackie") and Stellan Skarsgard. Sept. 17

"Trick": Two men struggle to consummate their passion in this comedy from director Jim Fall. Christian Campbell, John Paul Pitoc and Tori Spelling star. Sept. 17

"Dog Park": A romantic comedy about young people struggling to master the dating game. Stars Natasha Henstridge, Luke Wilson, Janeane Garofalo, Mike McKinney and Bruce McCulloch of "Kids in the Hall," who tripled as writer-director. Sept. 24

"Double Jeopardy": Wrongly jailed for murdering her husband, a woman wins her parole, then finds out he's not so dead after all. Since she's already done the time, she reasons, why not do the crime? Ashley Judd stars, with Tommy Lee Jones as the parole officer who tries to stop her. Sept. 24

"Jakob the Liar": Robin Williams stars in another one of those laughter-amid-the-tears films he so loves. This one's about a Jewish cafe owner in Nazi-occupied Poland who lifts the spirits of his neighbors by making up news bulletins about Allied successes against Germany. Sept. 24

"Mumford": Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan cast the relatively unknown Loren Dean in the lead, as a psychiatrist who rolls into town and cures everyone of their neuroses. Includes Alfre Woodard, Hope Davis, Mary McDonnell, Ted Danson and Robert Stack. Sept. 24

"Simon Sez": This is what happens when you get bored with life in the NBA. Dennis Rodman stars as a way-cool Interpol agent out to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy American executive. Sept. 24

Also in September

"Black Cat, White Cat": Slapstick comedy and European folklore combine as a pair of Gypsy families living by the Danube River find their lives inextricably and surprisingly linked. From Bosnian-born writer-director Emir Kusturica.

"Caligula": The 1979 movie that Penthouse magazine insists is about the greatest film ever made stars Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and lots of naked women. This ode to Roman decadence has been digitally remastered, with an enhanced Dolby soundtrack.

"The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human": A mockumentary look at the bizarre mating practices of 20th-century humans. Mackenzie Astin, Carmen Electra and David Hyde Pierce star.

October

"The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland": The world's most famous tickle victim loses his beloved blanket. To get it back, he must journey to Grouchland and overcome the villainous Huxley (Mandy Patinkin). Oct. 1

"American Beauty": In a film that reportedly defies description (but we'll try), Kevin Spacey faces middle-age surrounded by a cheating wife (Annette Bening), a spiteful daughter (Thora Birch) and a dangerous lust for his daughter's teen-age friend (Mena Suvari). Oct. 1

"Drive Me Crazy": Melissa Joan Hart (TV's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch") and Adrian Grenier play mismatched schoolmates -- she's peppy, he's moody -- who may not be as mismatched as they think. Oct. 1

"Mystery, Alaska": The prolific David E. Kelley (TV's "Ally McBeal," "The Practice") takes us north for a hockey game between a group of locals and the NHL's New York Rangers. Lots of civic pride is at stake. Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds star. Oct. 1

"Plunkett & Macleane": "Trainspotting" stars Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller are a pair of 18th-century British highwaymen who enter into an unlikely partnership. Things turn sour when they rob the coach of the Lord Chief Justice Gibson and Macleane is hopelessly smitten with the man's niece, Lady Rebecca Gibson (Liv Tyler). Oct. 1

"Three Kings": Good advance word on this war flick, with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze as soldiers after Kuwaiti treasure during the Persian Gulf war. Directed by David O. Russell ("Flirting With Disaster"). Oct. 1

"Knockout": Latina woman from East Los Angeles is convinced she can become a boxing champion. Sophia-Adella Hernandez and Eduardo Yanez star. Oct. 8

"Oxygen": Maura Tierney (TV's "NewsRadio") is a police officer whose ability to match wits with a psychopath (Adrien Brody) is the only hope for his latest victim, who's been buried alive with a limited oxygen supply. Oct. 8

"Random Hearts": Director Sydney Pollack and some major star wattage (Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas) look to make hearts throb with this adaptation of the Warren Adler novel. Ford is the internal affairs cop who becomes romantically involved with a congresswoman (Thomas). Oct. 8

"Superstar": Molly Shannon joins the distressingly long line of "Saturday Night Live" stars who have insisted on bringing their characters to the big screen. Shannon's Mary Katherine Gallagher, in search of her first real kiss, decides the only way to get it is to act like a Hollywood star. Oct. 8

"Happy, Texas": Two escaped prisoners (Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn) masquerade as beauty pageant coordinators in a small Texas town in this comedy from first-time director Mark Illsley. William H. Macy, Ally Walker and Illeana Douglas also star. Oct. 8

"Fight Club": Edward Norton falls in with Brad Pitt and begins to frequent an underground "fight club," where men willingly go to get their brains beat out. Directed by David Fincher ("Seven"); also starring Helena Bonham Carter. Oct. 15

"The Limey": Terence Stamp is a Brit ex-con who travels to Los Angeles seeking to avenge his daughter's death. Peter Fonda and Lesley Ann Warren also star in this latest from director Steven Soderbergh ("Sex, Lies and Videotape"). Oct. 15

"The Story of Us": Rob Reiner directs Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer in the story of a couple on the brink of separation after 15 years. Oct. 15

"Anywhere But Here": Susan Sarandon is the domineering mother, Natalie Portman the dominated daughter in director Wayne Wang's adaptation of Mona Simpson's novel. Oct. 22

"Bats": Lou Diamond Phillips and Dina Meyer battle the winged mammals in a small Texas town. Oct. 22

"The Best Man": In a happier version of "The Big Chill," a group of college friends reunite for the marriage of one of their own. Malcolm Lee (Spike's cousin) directs Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun and Melissa DeSousa. Oct. 22

"Bringing Out the Dead": Director Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader (who combined most memorably on "Taxi Driver") and actor Nicolas Cage team up for this chronicle of a New York City paramedic who begins to question his sanity after years on the graveyard shift. Patricia Arquette (the real-life Mrs. Cage), John Goodman and Ving Rhames also star. Oct. 22

"Body Shots": Yet another twentysomething romp, as eight men and women crash their way through the Los Angeles nightlife. Pulitzer- and Tony-winner Michael Cristofer directs. Oct. 22

"Crazy in Alabama": A backwoods Alabama boy named Peejoe (Lucas Black) takes off for Hollywood with his eccentric aunt Lucille (Melanie Griffith). Antonio Banderas directs. Oct. 22

"House on Haunted Hill": Famke Jannsen and Geoffrey Rush star in this re-make of William Castle's 1958 classic, in which five strangers are offered $1 million each if they spend the night in a haunted house. Oct. 29

"Music of the Heart": Meryl Streep stars as a newly divorced woman who leaves her idyllic hometown to become a violin teacher in East Harlem. When the school board cancels her funding, she refuses to let her program die without a fight. Horror maven Wes Craven directs. Oct. 29

"Princess Mononoke": Japan's leading animator, Hayao Miyazaki, directed this tale of the war between encroaching civilization and the beast gods of the Japanese forest. A huge hit in Japan, the Americanized version features the voices of Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett and Billy Bob Thornton. Oct. 29

Also in October

"Grizzly Falls": Hunters nab bear cubs, bear mother nabs boy, bear mother and boy become friends, boy is reunited with father, father rescues cubs. Stars Bryan Brown, Tom Jackson, Oliver Tobias, Daniel Clark and Richard Harris.

"The Omega Code": Scholars have finally broken the Bible code, and everyone wants the computer discs that are said to reveal the future. The thriller stars Casper Van Dien, Michael York and Catherine Oxenberg.

"Sugar Town": Best friends Ally Sheedy and Rosanna Arquette are among the ensemble cast in this vignettish look at the Los Angeles music scene. Sprinkled among the cast are former members of such bands as Power Station (Michael Des Barres), Duran Duran (John Taylor) and Spandau Ballet (Martin Kemp).

November

"The Bachelor": A confirmed bachelor has 24 hours to find a bride or lose his $100 million inheritance. This remake of the Buster Keaton classic "Seven Chances" stars Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellweger. Nov. 5

"The Bone Collector": Denzel Washington is a forensics detective paralyzed from a gunshot wound, Angelina Jolie the young upstart who has to be his eyes, ears and legs in the search for a serial killer. Nov. 5

"The Insider": Based on the real-life story that ended with "60 Minutes" opting against airing a piece highly critical of the tobacco industry (the show later changed its mind), this latest from director Michael Mann ("Heat") stars Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer and Russell Crowe as a tobacco-industry whistle-blower. Nov. 5

"Light It Up": Six students, desperate to get their message heard, barricade themselves inside a rundown Queens high school, holding a wounded security guard hostage. Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson and Sara Gilbert are among the young ensemble cast. Nov. 5

"The Messenger: The True Story of Joan of Arc": Milla Jovovich stars as the 15-century teenager who led the French in battle against the British. Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element") directs a cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich and Faye Dunaway. Nov. 5

"The Straight Story": Richard Farnsworth is a septuagenarian who drives his lawn mower across Iowa to visit his ailing brother (Harry Dean Stanton) in this latest from director David Lynch. Based on a true story. The film was a big hit at Cannes. Nov. 5

"Mansfield Park": This latest Jane Austen adaptation centers on Fanny, a girl from an impoverished family who's sent to live with her upper-class relatives in Northamptonshire. She eventually settles into family life, but then everything is thrown into a tizzy with the arrival of a sophisticated brother-and-sister pair from London. From Canadian writer-director Patricia Rozema ("I've Heard the Mermaids Singing"). Nov. 12

"Play It to the Bone": Director Ron Shelton's already taken on baseball ("Bull Durham"), basketball ("White Men Can't Jump") and golf ("Tin Cup"); now it's boxing's turn. Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas are professional boxers with a chance for one last showdown in Las Vegas, provided they can get there in a hurry. Lolita Davidovich and Lucy Liu also star. Nov. 12

"Pokemon: The First Movie": Something about an animated Japanese character. Nov. 12

"Three to Tango": Rich tycoon asks gay friend to keep an eye on his girlfriend. Only maybe he's not so gay. Dylan McDermott, Matthew Perry and Neve Campbell star. Nov. 12

"The Legend of 1900": Tim Roth plays a piano prodigy. Nov. 19

"Sleepy Hollow": Director Tim Burton brings his unique sensibilities to the tale of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci star. Nov. 19

"The World Is Not Enough": Pierce Brosnan returns for his third go-round as 007. This time he must thwart a villian (Robert Carlyle) out to corner the world's oil supply. The romantic interests are provided by Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards. Nov. 19

"End of Days": Arnold Schwarzenegger is an ex-cop reluctantly drawn into a millennium-opening fight against the devil. Robin Tunney, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollak also star. Directed by Peter Hyams ("Capricorn One," "2010"). Nov. 24

"Flawless": Robert DeNiro is an ultraconservative retired New York security guard who suffers a stroke and is forced to accept the assistance of his neighbor, a flamboyant drag-queen named Rusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Directed by Joel Schumacher. Nov. 24

"Ride With the Devil": Director Ang Lee ("The Ice Storm," "Sense and Sensibility") journeys to Civil War-era Kansas and Missouri for this look at a group of young Americans facing changes in both themselves and their country. The ensemble cast includes Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire, Jewel, Simon Baker, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, James Caviezel, Thomas Guiry and Tom Wilkinson. Nov. 24

"Toy Story 2": Buzz and Woody (the voices of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks) are back, and this time it's the space guy to the rescue, after a vintage toy collector nabs Woody. Among the new voices: Kelsey Grammer as a prospector and Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel in "The Little Mermaid") as Barbie. Nov. 24

Also in November

"American Movie": This documentary look at Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt won the Grand Jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Being John Malkovich": John Cusack and Cameron Diaz are a pair of hapless New Yorkers whose luck changes when he discovers a portal that places him inside the head of actor John Malkovich. Yes, this does sound like one weird flick.

"Dogma": Matt Damon and Ben Affleck re-unite (first time since "Good Will Hunting") in writer-director Kevin Smith's yarn about a couple of renegade angels trying to con their way into heaven. Also stars Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, George Carlin and Selma Hayek.

"Felicia's Journey": Canadian director Atom Egoyan follows up his justly acclaimed "The Sweet Hereafter" with this tale of a teen-ager who travels to England looking for her lover, where she's aided by a solitary bachelor who specializes in helping homeless girls. Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy and Peter McDonald star.

"Last Night": A cast that includes David Cronenberg, Don McKellar, Sandra Oh and Genevieve Bujold is forced to deal with the knowledge that the world is going to end in six hours. This debut effort from director McKellar (who co-wrote "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" and "The Red Violin") already has won three Genies, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar.

"Man of the Century": A reporter with a distinctly 1920s sensibility may be the only hope of salvation when circulation drops at a New York newspaper in the 1990s. The comedy stars Gibson Frazier, Cara Buono and Susan Egan.

December

"Deuce": Rob Schnieder is a professional fish-tank cleaner who becomes an unlikely gigolo. Dec. 3

"The End of the Affair": After a chance encounter with the husband of his ex-mistress, novelist Maurice Bendrix seeks to rekindle an affair that's been over for two years. What he finds is that her version of their affair differs wildly from his. Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea star in this adaptation of Grahan Greene's novel, directed by Neil Jordan. Dec. 3

"Galaxy Quest": Aliens mistake the stars of a '70s sci-fi show for real intergalactic warriors and abduct them to help fight a war. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and Alan Rickman star in the comedy, directed by Dean Parisot ("Home Fries"). Dec. 10

"Scream 3": Starring the usual cast of knife-bait -- Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette -- plus newcomers Parker Posey, Scott Foley and Matt Keeslar. Dec. 10

"Stuart Little": Stuart, a mouse raised by humans, sets off on a series of adventures. Based on characters created by E.B. White. Human actors include Geena Davis and Jonathan Lipnicki ("Jerry Maguire"), with Michael J. Fox as the voice of Stuart. Dec. 10

"Bicentennial Man": Robin Williams is a robot who begins to show emotions when he's purchased by a family. Sounds like a weeper. Chris Columbus directs. Dec. 17

"The Green Mile": Lots of Oscar hype for this adaptation of Stephen King's six-part best seller, starring Tom Hanks as a death-row prison guard and Michael Clarke Duncan as a black man condemned to die for murdering two white girls. Directed by Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption"). Dec. 17

"Girl, Interrupted": Based on a true story. Winona Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen, a young woman who's committed to a mental institution based on the recommendation of a psychiatrist she barely knew. Also stars Aneglina Jolie, Jared Leto, Vanessa Redgrave and Whoopi Goldberg. Dec. 21

"Any Given Sunday": Oliver Stone directs Al Pacino as an aging football coach struggling with the modern game. Also stars Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Charlton Heston, James Woods, Ann-Margret, Lauren Holly and even Johnny Unitas. Dec. 25

"The Cider House Rules": Tobey Maguire is Homer Wells, who grows and prospers under the guidance of the orphanage doctor, Larch (Michael Caine), but then has to face the real world. John Irving adapted his book for the screen; Lasse Hallstrom directs. Cast includes Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Kieran Culkin, Kathy Baker, Kate Nelligan and Jane Alexander. Dec. 25

"Cradle Will Rock": Director Tim Robbins casts significant other Susan Sarandon, along with Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Watson, John and Joan Cusack, and Bill Murray in a film based on an actual incident in 1937, when the government shut down a musical being filmed by Orson Welles because of the cast's alleged leftist symnpathies. Dec. 25

"Ganging Up": Learning that their father may be dying, three sisters (Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow) are forced to deal with the man who's spent a lifetime driving them crazy. Walter Matthau plays the dad. Directed by Keaton, with a screenplay by Nora and Delia Ephron. Dec. 25

"Magnolia": Details are sketchy (it's said to follow five plot lines), but word has it that Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to "Boogie Nights" should prove just as controversial. The cast includes "Nights" alums Julianne Moore and William H. Macy, plus Jason Robards, Felicity Huffman and a cameo from Tom Cruise. Dec. 25

"Man on the Moon": Star Jim Carrey and director Milos Forman combine for this film biography of comedian Andy Kaufman. Courtney Love and Danny DeVito (who co-starred with Kaufman on TV's "Taxi") are also in the cast. Dec. 25

"Next Friday": This sequel to 1995's "Friday" marks the return of Craig (Ice Cube), forced to match wits with arch-enemy Debo, who's out for revenge. Also stars Mike Epps, Tommy "Tiny" Lister and John Witherspoon. Dec. 25

"Reindeer Games": Ben Affleck is Rudy Duncan, whose dreams of starting a new life with his girlfriend, Ashley (Charlize Theron), are threatened when a team of criminals (including Clarence Williams III and Gary Sinise) force him to rob a casino on Christmas Eve. From director John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate," "Ronin"). Dec. 25

"Tumbleweeds": A single mom goes out on the road with her 12-year-old daughter. Stars Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown and Gavin O'Connor (who also directed and collaborated on the script with his ex-wife, Angela Shelton). Dec. 25

Also in December

"All About My Mother": The latest from manic Spanish director Pedro Almodovar stars Cecilia Roth as a single mother who, after losing her son, seeks solace among an unusual assortment of friends. Almodovar won the Best Director nod at Cannes.

"Angela's Ashes": Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of his impoverished childhood in 1930s and 1940s Ireland comes to the screen. Emily Watson ("Hilary and Jackie") and Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") star as McCourt's parents. Alan Parker ("Fame," "Mississippi Burning") directs.

"Anna and the King": Take the music out of "The King and I," substitute Jodie Foster for Deborah Kerr and Asian star Chow Yun-Fat for Yul Brunner, and this is what you get. Andy Tennant (the charming "Ever After") directs.

"Liberty Heights": Barry Levinson's fourth Baltimore-themed film (after "Diner," "Avalon" and "Tin Men") stars Adrien Brody and Justin Chambers as young men coming of age in 1954 Baltimore. Joe Mantegna and Bebe Neuwirth also star.

"The Ninth Gate": Roman Polanksi returns to "Rosemary's Baby" territory with this tale of a reknowned book locator who's charged with finding the last two volumes of a legendary satanic manual. Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella and Emmanuelle Seigner star.

"Sweet and Lowdown": The latest secret project from Woody Allen stars Sean Penn as a jazz guitarist. Others in the cast include Uma Thurman, Samantha Morton and -- briefly -- John Waters.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley": This one's got "Oscar fodder" written all over it. Matt Damnon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett star in a film written and produced by Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient"). Damon is a young American sophisticate so taken with his friend's Italian lifestyle that he kills him and assumes his identity.

Unscheduled for fall

"Best Laid Plans": Three twentysomethings face some difficult moral decisions as they find their ways into adulthood. Stars Alessandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin.

"Boys Don't Cry": Based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a young Nebraska man who started life, in a town 75 miles away, as a woman and paid a fatal price for that duality. Stars Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard.

"Dreaming of Joseph Lees": In this sensuous psychological thriller, Rupert Graves is the mysterious title character, Samantha Morton the sensuous Eva. Sparks fly.

"Train of Life": French-Romanian writer-director Radu Mihaileanu filmed this tale of a group of villagers who hear of the approaching Nazis and do what they can to outsmart and escape them.

"Rosetta": Winner of the Palm d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, "Rosetta" stars Emilie Dequenne (who won the Best Actress prize) as a poverty-stricken teen-ager with a single goal in mind: getting a job.

"Whiteboys": Four friends, including Flip (Danny Hoch), who's convinced he's a black dude trapped in a white guy's skin, try to find happiness in the modern world.

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