The eggnog high won't be strong or long enough to get you through family gatherings, office parties, and last-minute shopping. Sometimes the best way of dealing with this seasonal madness is to avoid it entirely by seeking refuge in the nearest multiplex. And among the onslaught of holiday movies opening this month are candidates both good and bad for such escape. The films reviewed here—and next week—share some themes amid their competing visions.

The sanctity of family is celebrated in Liberty Heights' close-knit Baltimore clan and in The Cider House Rules' orphanage (where kinship transcends blood ties). Almod�'s All About My Mother also concerns an improvised family of sorts. Yet in The War Zone, family ties are much more problematic—and eventually broken. Even darker and more famously dystopic is It's a Wonderful Life (in its traditional revival at the Grand Illusion), at least in those scenes where George Bailey views a town and family deprived of his existence.

And like Dickens' Christmas ghosts, figures from the past also haunt the holiday cinema. Andy Kaufman is back in Man on the Moon, while unquiet memories infuse The End of the Affair, and Hitchcock's Rebecca and Spellbound (showing in repertory). The Jazz Age returns in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown as the '30s WPA era is revived in Cradle Will Rock. Meanwhile, the protagonist of Bicentennial Man passes through 200 years of time, unlike the documentary subjects of Time Capsule: Message in a Bottle, who seek to symbolically halt its progress.

Ending a year where many films have explored identity and self-invention, The Talented Mr. Ripley shares those themes with Man on the Moon. Yet despite the holidays, there's little overt religion at the box office, although The Green Mile deals with miracles and forgiveness, as does Rosetta , in a powerfully secular fashion. No less uncompromising is The End of the Affair, the most notable and successful December movie to deal explicitly with faith—and its sacrifices.

And for those of us fed up with church, family, shopping, togetherness, peace, joy, and those five golden rings, there's the fittingly apocalyptic vision of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove ending the year at the Varsity—where we can celebrate a glorious conclusion to 1999 and the whole damn holiday season.

Any Given Sunday

A more compelling game than a satisfying movie. by Larry Terenzi

Man on the Moon

Capturing the mimic, not the man. by Brian Miller

I pinned Andy Kaufman

Wrestling with the ghosts of the past. by Cindy Lamb

The War Zone

"Something wrong?" his mother asks. by Brian Miller

The odd couple: Selznick and Hitchcock

Two great egos, three great films. by Sean Axmaker

Ride with the Devil

Rebels with a different cause. by Soyon Im

The Cider House Rules

"Know your business," he's told. by Brian Miller

Sweet and Lowdown

Art for the artist's sake. by Amy Taubin

All About My Mother

The portrait of a lady. by David Massengill

Liberty Heights

You can't go home again. by Brian Miller

Anna and the King

Chow Yun-Fat as Prince Charming. by Soyon Im

Bicentennial Man

Much older man, much younger woman. by Michaelangelo Matos

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