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Meet the new flicks . . .

. . . same as the old flicks

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Once upon a time, in the magical realm known as cinema, there was a season known as the fall. And it was good . . .

Time was, the fall was populated by potential Oscar candidates, giving audiences a respite between the summer and holiday blockbusters.

But things have changed over the years. While some of that has been precipitated by trends in filmmaking, it's safe to say that there are now almost as many action movies and sequels in the fall as there are during the summer.

For example, "The Matrix Revolutions," the third and final part of the Wachowski brothers' science-fiction epic, is opening in November. Same for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," which marks the second time this year that Johnny Depp has appeared in an action piece. Even the returning Quentin Tarantino is getting into the act, with the violent martial-arts thriller "Kill Bill, Vol. 1." (The second part will be seen next March.)

Still, there are some award-hopefuls scattered throughout, including Clint Eastwood's all-star thriller "Mystic River," based on the best-selling novel, and "Matchstick Men," a cheeky grifters comedy that is already receiving comparisons to "The Sting."

Also coming to a theater near you:

Because of Halloween, you can expect at least a handful of horror movies. They include a remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," the zombie flick "House of the Dead" and the flesh-eating-virus thriller "Cabin Fever." Scariest of all may be "Scary Movie 3" . . . which means to be funny, not scary.

The invasion by Mormon cinema continues with the much-anticipated (for good or ill) "Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey," as well as "Day of Defense," which uses LDS missionaries to broach the subject of religious freedom.

On a lighter note, Jack Black teaches prep-school students in "The School of Rock," George Clooney and the Coen brothers re-team (after "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") for "Intolerable Cruelty," Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore have domestic problems in "Duplex" and Woody Allen takes a back seat to Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci in "Anything Else."

In the indie world, writer/director John Sayles introduces us to "Casa de Los Babys;" the Sundance Film Festival hit "American Splendor" gets national release; and Bill Murray heads up "Lost in Translation," directed by Sofia Coppola< (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola; she previously had a modest hit with "The Virgin Suicides").

And, of course, the next "Lord of the Rings" movie — the concluding chapter, "The Return of the King" — will be out later this year (more about that in our annual holiday-movie preview in November).

2003 fall movie lineup highlights

2003 fall movie lineup

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com