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A peek at some of the 30 films that are opening this holiday season

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's taken a year and a half, but Hollywood is finally on a roll. Marvel superheroes, Ghostbusters, Disney animation, even the real-life story of Venus and Serena Williams have all managed to get crowds back to cinemas. How will the film industry keep the momentum going? Critic Bob Mondello has the answer in his holiday movie preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Count on filmmakers to know how to make our everyday troubles feel small. Sure, a worldwide pandemic's got you down. But imagine if you were Spider-Man and your last movie had revealed your secret identity.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

J K SIMMONS: (As J. Jonah Jameson) That's right, folks. Spider-Man is in fact Peter Parker.

MONDELLO: I mean, you could ask Dr. Strange to cast a spell.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

TOM HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) When Mysterio revealed my identity, my entire life got screwed up. I was wondering if maybe you could make it so that he never did.

MONDELLO: Well, he could. But when he does, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield might come leaping into your timeline. And then where would you be?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) What just happened?

MONDELLO: Not saying that's going to happen, mind you. Right now I know as much as you do.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) We tampered with the stability of space-time.

MONDELLO: But Spidey's world is coming apart in "Spider-Man: No Way Home." And the season's other blockbuster is also about a guy whose world feels shaky - if, that is, it's actually the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS")

KEANU REEVES: (As Neo) I've had dreams that weren't just dreams.

MONDELLO: Let's call him Rip Van Neo because he's been out of circulation for almost 20 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS")

JONATHAN GROFF: (As Agent Smith) After all these years, to be going back to where it all started, back to the matrix.

MONDELLO: "The Matrix Resurrections" is directed by Lana Wachowski and was filmed largely during the pandemic, so good thing it's happening in the matrix. Also potentially world-shattering, a threat from on high in the drama "Encounter" that finds decorated Marine Corps veteran Riz Ahmed taking his two hero-worshipping young sons on a very strange trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCOUNTER")

RIZ AHMED: (As Malik Khan) You all ever heard of the Three Musketeers?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No, never.

AHMED: (As Malik Khan) Three toughest soldiers there ever was. They could survive anything 'cause they stuck together. Now, you're telling me if we don't stand by each other, we can't get through anything? I know we can.

MONDELLO: The threat in "Encounter" - alien microbes falling from the sky. Something bigger is falling in a satirical comedy from the guy who made "Vice" and "Anchorman." It's called "Don't Look Up" and has astronomers Jennifer Lawrence and Leo DiCaprio trying to alert President Meryl Streep to an impending cataclysm that interests her not at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DON'T LOOK UP")

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Kate Dibiasky) There's a comet headed directly towards Earth.

MERYL STREEP: (As Janie Orlean) Do you know how many the-world-is-ending meetings we've had over the last two years?

JONAH HILL: (As Jason Orlean) Drought, famine - oh, and the O-zone is so boring.

MONDELLO: There's a seasonal comedy with a similar premise - a well-to-do family that's gathering in the movie "Silent Night" for the perfect Christmas dinner...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SILENT NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Grandma.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Grandma.

TRUDIE STYLER: (As Nicole) Happy Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You're still alive.

STYLER: (As Nicole) Yes, I think so.

MONDELLO: ...On the eve of an environmental apocalypse. Less catastrophic comedies include an indie called "Red Rocket" about a guy who returns to his rural Texas town to discover he's not much in demand after 17 years in what he's called Hollywood either by employers...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RED ROCKET")

SIMON REX: (As Mikey Saber) All right. Look. I'm going to be straight with you. I'm an adult film actor.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Excuse me.

MONDELLO: ...Or by his estranged wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RED ROCKET")

REX: (As Mikey Saber) Before long, it'll be like we're still married.

BREE ELROD: (As Lexi) We are still married.

MONDELLO: "Red Rocket" comes from Sean Baker, whose films "Tangerine" and "The Florida Project" were also about characters on society's margins. A working-class comedy, "The Tender Bar," finds Ben Affleck playing a tender bartender in an establishment with more books than liquor bottles. He's helping bring up his sister's 9-year-old.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE TENDER BAR")

BEN AFFLECK: (As Uncle Charlie) I saw you in the yard playing sports. You're not very good. Find some other activities.

DANIEL RANIERI: (As Young J.R.) I like to read.

AFFLECK: (As Uncle Charlie) You read enough of those, maybe you could become a writer. One more thing, very important - never hit a woman even if she stabs you with scissors.

RANIERI: (As Young J.R.) Got it.

MONDELLO: "The Tender Bar" is based on a Pulitzer Prize winner's memoir, which makes it one of quite a few holiday films based on real life. Another is a documentary called "Flee" that takes a unique approach to protect the identity of a man who fled Afghanistan. It's his voice you hear, but the images are animated.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "FLEE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MONDELLO: Elsewhere, there's the true story of an American soldier and his pregnant wife as he's about to be sent to Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN")

MICHAEL B JORDAN: (As Charles Monroe King) What is this?

CHANTE ADAMS: (As Dana Canedy) It's a journal so you can write to your son.

JORDAN: (As Charles Monroe King) What do I write?

ADAMS: (As Dana Canedy) Tell him who you are, what you believe in. And tell him you love him.

MONDELLO: Denzel Washington directs and Michael B. Jordan stars in "A Journal For Jordan."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN")

JORDAN: (As Charles Monroe King) Dear Jordan, the moment I met your mother, I knew she was the one.

ADAMS: (As Dana Canedy) He is not exactly my type.

MONDELLO: And then there's the true story of a married couple who you may have heard made something of a name for themselves in 1950s television.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEING THE RICARDOS")

NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Lucille Ball) I am the biggest asset in the portfolio of the Columbia Broadcasting System.

MONDELLO: We go backstage with them for one week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JAVIER BARDEM: (As Desi Arnaz) Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the show.

KIDMAN: (As Lucille Ball) I had no idea it was going to be a hit.

MONDELLO: A redhead named Lucy, played here by Nicole Kidman, and the bandleader named Ricky, played by Javier Bardem, in a film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin called "Being The Ricardos." And Sorkin isn't the only filmmaker peeking at showbiz folks behind the scenes. Guillermo Del Toro is readapting the novel that inspired the 1947 film noir "Nightmare Alley." Bradley Cooper plays a con man and carnival barker.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NIGHTMARE ALLEY")

WILLEM DAFOE: (As Clem Hoatley) Step right up in the home of one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe. Is he man or beast?

MONDELLO: Cate Blanchett is the psychiatrist with whom she teams up. A more realistic drama, "Jockey," looks at a rider at the end of his career bonding with a younger rider who claims to be his son. And director Pedro Almodovar gives us a feminine variation on family bonding in his melodrama "Parallel Mothers."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PARALLEL MOTHERS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: But for real passion over the holidays, the cinema is turning to its older cousin, theater. In the double-double-toil-and-trouble category, put Denzel Washington, not just directing "Journal For Jordan" but also starring in Shakespeare's "The Tragedy Of Macbeth."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH")

DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Macbeth) Whence is that knocking?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

MONDELLO: That something wicked may well be Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth - behind the camera, her husband Joel Coen, who will be directing for the first time without his brother Ethan. Also from the stage, the most romantic swordsman in dramatic literature...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) Cyrano.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character) Cyrano.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character) Cyrano.

MONDELLO: ...But one who thinks himself unworthy of love.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CYRANO")

PETER DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano de Bergerac) Pleasure to meet you - Cyrano de Bergerac.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As character) You're a freak, freak.

MONDELLO: Cyrano is usually played as a man with a big nose that he regards as disfiguring.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CYRANO")

HALEY BENNETT: (As Roxanne) My dearest friend, I'd be very angry with you if you died.

MONDELLO: Short of stature, Peter Dinklage will forego the nose in "Cyrano," the musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano de Bergerac) My sole purpose on this earth is to love Roxanne.

BASHIR SALAHUDDIN: (As Le Bret) Does she know?

DINKLAGE: (As Cyrano de Bergerac) The world will never accept someone like me and a tall, beautiful woman.

BENNETT: (As Roxanne, singing) I need something to die for, write poems and cry for. And I won't be ashamed.

MONDELLO: Another musical, another pair of star-crossed lovers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

RACHEL ZEGLER: (As Maria) I never seen you before. You're not Puerto Rican.

ANSEL ELGORT: (As Tony) Is that OK?

ZEGLER: (As Maria) Do you want to start World War III?

MONDELLO: Tony and Maria in a new "West Side Story."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

ARIANA DEBOSE: (As Anita) If you go with him, no one will ever forgive you.

MONDELLO: An acclaimed and argued-about classic preconceived by Steven Spielberg but, because he wanted it seen on the big screen, delayed for more than a year by the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

RITA MORENO: (As Valentina, singing) There's a place for us.

MONDELLO: It's just possible...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

MORENO: (As Valentina, singing) Somewhere a place for us.

MONDELLO: ...That for the first time in two Christmases, that place for this film and all the holiday attractions will be a theater. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.