COLD MOUNTAIN
Dec. 25

NICOLE KIDMAN as southern belle Ada Monroe

The Place: North Carolina, 1861-64
The Threads: Petticoats, muddy work clothes
The Love Quandary: Can a well-bred lady make do on the family farm while her love (Jude Law) goes AWOL during the Civil War?

RENEE ZELLWEGER: as feisty farmhand Ruby Thewes

The Love Quandary: Will the 19th-century Martha Stewart—a drifter who helps Ada learn to get her hands dirty-find a man? (Hint: Watch for the White Stripes' Jack White, whom she began dating after they met on the set.)

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
Dec. 17

LIV TYLER: as elf princess Arwen
The Place: Middle Earth
The Threads: Regal Goth
The Love Quandary: An immortal elf loves a mortal human (Viggo Mortensen): Can this relationship last?

MONA LISA SMILE
Dec. 19

JULIA ROBERTS as art history prof Katherjne Watson

The Place: Weliesley College, 1953
The Threads: Bohemian way before her time
The Love Quandary: Can a liberated Californian impart feminism to starched Boston college girls while carrying on a faculty romance?

JULIA STILES as brainy student Joan Brandwyn

The Threads: Demure debotante
The Love Quandary: Will she be able to be the perfect suburban soceity wife and a Yale Law student too?

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL as class sexpot Giselle Levy

The Threads: 1950s flirty
The Love Quandary: Can she keep on bed-hopping without eventually winding up with a broken heart?

GIRL WITH PEARL EARRING
Dec. 12

SCARLETT JOHANSSON as servant girl Griet

The Place: Delft, Holland, 1665
The Threads: Natural fibers, odd headwear
The Love Quandary: The painter Vermeer (Colin Firth) finds a muse in his waifish maid, but will she brush off the butcher's son (Gillian Murphy, left) for him?

THE OSCAR RACE

Costume dramas? Historical epics? It must be Oscar season. Here are the movies, and movie stars, already primping for the Feb. 29 ceremony

BEST PICTURE

When the 2003 Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 27, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (above), opening Dec. 17, will be the movie to beat. Competition could include Master and Commander, Mystic River, Finding Nemo, Seabiscuit and Lost in Translation. Some very strong contenders open this month: The Last Samurai (Dec. 5), Big Fish (Dec. 10) and Cold Mountain (Dec. 25).

BEST ACTOR

Watch for Gandhi himself, Ben Kingsiey, as a bad guy in House of Sand and Fog, opening Dec. 26. He could duke it out with Russell Crowe (Master and Commander), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) and Tom Cruise (The Last Samurai). Sean Penn could score with both 21 Grams and Mystic River. Johnny Depp (above) could be honored for his outrageous turn in Pirates of the Caribbean—no, seriously!

BEST ACTRESS

A few Oscar vets may be back for more: Cate Blanchett (in Veronica Guerin or The Missing), Diane Keaton as a playwright who falls for Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give (opening Dec. 12) and Cold Mountain's Nicole Kidman, who could compete with fellow Aussie Naomi Watts (above) from 21 Grams. Comedic turns are often ignored, but Jamie Lee Curtis deserves major props for Freaky Friday.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Albert Finney (above) is the sentimental favorite as a dying father making peace with his son (Ewan McGregor) in Big Fish. Other contenders include Tim Robbins (Mystic River), Paul Bettany (Master and Commander), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), Bill Nighy (Love Actually) and Chris Cooper (Seabiscuit). Also worthy: Alec Baldwin as a Vegas villain in The Cooler and Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes in Sylvia.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nicole Kidman could also make this category, thanks to The Human Stain. Renée Zellweger (Cold Mountain) and Jessica Lange (Big Fish) may show up on Oscar night, along with Emma Thompson (above) as a betrayed wife in Love Actually. Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) and Holly Hunter (Thirteen) are in the running. Gaining buzz is Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider.