Your guide to the holiday movie season

The rest of the country may wallow in Thanksgiving gravy and candy canes and comfort and joy and all that. In the movie calendar, the holiday season exists for very different reasons.

Two principles are at play: It’s a lucrative time to open new movies, and it’s a chance to get attention for those offbeat films that need awards to stay alive.

How can you tell the difference? Well, in November, a movie about our 16th president will be somber and slow and contain an astonishing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. In summer, Abraham Lincoln is a vampire hunter.

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” opened last week, in competition with that other perennial movie hero, James Bond (in the blockbuster “Skyfall”). This weekend the Big One is the final chapter in the “Twilight” phenomenon, and they’ll come in a flood after that.

So we’ve got some animation for young folks, a big Tom Cruise action flick and some distinguished-sounding performances that will surely be flirting with Oscar. Quentin Tarantino is back, and so is Alfred Hitchcock (in a way).

Abe Lincoln won’t be the only president in the awards derby; Franklin Roosevelt also makes the scene, in the person of Bill Murray. And who would’ve predicted that, in the days of “Meatballs”?

There’ll be a huge, splashy musical in the form of “Les Miserables,” which is something of a gamble, and a throwback to an ancient form of special-event moviemaking.

But when it comes to reading the anticipation meter, these movies frankly pale next to a little thing called “The Hobbit.” The success of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy guarantees a monster audience for this prequel to the J.R.R. Tolkien saga, and it’s another trilogy in the making, as Jackson has divided the novel into three pictures.

So let’s sort through the next few weeks (with the usual warning about release dates changing at the last minute). Here’s the season, and pass the gravy: Click here to see capsules and premiere dates.

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