Let the floodgates open. A bounty of movie gifts arrive just in time for Christmas and Hannukah, but it's only fair to warn you that many may resemble fruitcake. As the days tick down toward the end of the year -- also known as the deadline for Oscar eligibility -- and people start taking time off for the holidays, distributors are squeezing new releases into theaters trying to grab a piece of the box office and Awards season pie. The calendar conspires against the big studios this year who love to release films on Christmas day, and this year is no exception even though with the holiday falling on Sunday, that means a one-day weekend.

2005_12_mg22_cache.jpgTwo Gothamist Picks: Two of the best films of the year arrive this weekend, and while we encourage you to check-out them both, we do so while admitting that neither is light holiday fare. If you're looking for a movie to enjoy with the family after Christmas dinner or something that pairs well with your Chinese take-out (our usual activity), these may not be your top choice. But if you're looking for a rare cinematic experience with films that will challenge you and make you question the natures of life, love, relationships and humanity, then get thee to Caché (Hidden) (opening tomorrow at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Landmark Sunshine) and The New World. We especially loved director Michael Haneke's startling, brilliant relationship thrille Caché. It's one of our favorite films of the year, and we essentially expressed as much during our coverage of this year's New York Film Festival.

Meanwhile, director Terrence Malick is worshipped by cineastes near and far. The New World is only his fourth film in 32 years and second in the last seven. We've always considered Malick to be a bit of an acquired taste: we understand both why people love his dreamlike imagery and preference for internal monologue, but we also see why those who prefer a conventional narrative might become easily frustrated and even bored. The New World likely isn't going to change anyone's placement on this Malick love-hate spectrum, and while the narrative is a bit simpler and more tangible than in 1998's The Thin Red Line, it's not the Pocahontas/John Smith love-story itself that swept us up and took hold of our attention for most of 2-1/2 hours. We were enraptured, however, by the brilliant and assured performance of 15 year old newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher, as well as Malick's lovely contrast between the wild and lush landscape of 17th Century Virginia contrasted against the hyper-manicured estates and industrial ports of England. The difference between new and old worlds is expressed both visually and in the transformation of Pocahontas from "natural" Indian girl to corsetted British mother. And while the setting may be nearly four centuries ago, the relevance of Malick's message couldn't be any greater today.

Spend Christmas Day the traditional Jewish Way: In one of the most creative bits of programming we've ever seen, Makor Film presents "Chinese Food and a Movie on Christmas Day: Born to Be Wilder -- Films from Billy Wilder and Gene Wilder." For $35 you get a Chinese food buffet and two movies from either the brilliant director Billy Wilder or comedian Gene Wilder. There are two double-feature showings starting at 1:00 PM and 7:30 PM, respectively. You can choose a double bill Billy's Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, possibly the two greatest film comedies of all time, or Gene's Young Frankenstein and Silver Streak.


And that's just the tip of the iceberg! The rest of the new releases, midnight movies and a couple other notables after the jump:

So what else ... crap there's a hell of a lot that's new! But there are certainly plenty of options to choose from. Wednesday saw the arrival of two comedies hoping to get a jump on some big weekend box office: Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni headline the remake Fun With Dick and Jane and Steve Martin returns in the hastily-made sequel Cheaper By the Dozen 2. If your tastes are a bit more highbrow, you can check-out the latest Merchant Ivory production, The White Countess starring Ralph Fiennes and a trio of Redgraves: Natasha Richardson joined by mother Vanessa Redgrave and aunt Lynn.

The lions share of new releases -- big and small -- arrive tomorrow, led by Steven Spielberg's Munich, one of the few films we've ever seen to receive both hyperbolic critical praise as well as an enormous backlash before even opening to the public. Right on its heels in buzz-losing anticipation is Chicago director Rob Marshall's take on the best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Also hitting theaters everywhere is the Johnny Knoxville starring, Farrelly Bros. produced Special Olympics-endorsed comedy (wow, does that descriptive phrase just sound so wrong!) The Ringer, and Pierce Brosnan stars as an eccentric hit man opposite Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis in The Matador. And not to be overwhelmed by all these mainstream releases, the great French director Claire Denis's latest The Intruder opens at the Cinema Village.

Finally on Christmas Day, the screens get even more crowded. If The New World might take too much brain power for your post gift-opening endeavors, there's the new Rob Reiner film Rumor Has It ... with Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine and Mark Ruffalo. We actually thought the premise of this film -- a young woman discovers her family was the true-life inspiration for The Graduate -- was pretty clever, but sadly we've heard only bad things. We hoped to have an opinion of our own, but the transit strike made it impossible for us to get to Tuesday night's screening, so you'll just have to decide whether or not to trust all the negative rumors. Other light fare opening Christmas Day includes Casanova for those who don't want to see Heath Ledger as a gay cowboy. We've usually been fans of director Lasse Hallestrom, but this film's trailer makes us want to stay far, far away. And as we mentioned a week ago, The Producers has been playing at the Ziegfeld in a special engagement that would cost you $12.50 a ticket. Starting Christmas Day, the film expands and you can catch-it elsewhere for the regular low, low price of $10.75. We saw it last night (not at the Ziegfeld) and have to say that $100 for the Broadway show is way more worth it than $10.75 for this overly stagy, drab and ultimately boring film treatment.

2005_12_mg22_Xmas-Story.jpgMidnight Movie Smackdown: Even with an ungodly number of new options, the IFC Center and Landmark Sunshine continue to do their best to bring us entertaining weekend midnight fare. The Sunshine wins the battle this weekend, however. 'Tis the season and all, so the selection of A Christmas Story should just be a given, and we're happy that while Santa is figuring out how to get into Manhattan apartments via the radiator, some people will be sitting watching this great classic Christmas film on Houston Street. Meanwhile, the IFC Center sticks with its "Midnight Rocks" programming and gives us Ken Russell's version of The Who's Tommy, a fun film, but on Christmas weekend? Meh.

Other notable screenings around town: