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REVIEW: Oscar potentials zoom into theaters for holiday viewing

Here are four films I’d put on my must-see list. You’ll be glad you did come Oscar time.

“AVATAR”

(Rated: PG-13) — The word “avatar” may be confusing to moviegoers, but hopefully that won’t stop anyone from seeing what may be one of the most spectacular fantasy films ever made.

The plot sounds complicated. A former Marine confined to a wheelchair joins a corporate conglomerate that wants to mine rare minerals on the planet Pandora. A scientific team goes there to create genetic hybrids of Pandora’s people called Na’vi using DNA from selected Earthlings.

Nothing about this film can be explained before seeing it. It’s stunningly beautiful and imaginative. Director James Cameron (“Titanic”) wrote an amazing story that’s engaging, has heart and is easy to follow. Every moment mesmerizes.

“Avatar” will certainly top many “Best of Lists” this year. Recommended audience: Fans of fantasy and Cameron films. Opened Dec. 18.

“INVICTUS”

(Rated: PG-13) — This movie is not a biopic of Nelson Mandela, but rather more of an inspirational sports film based on a true event. In his 27 years in an African prison Mandela had plenty of time to think about his election as South Africa’s president and his job in 1990 to reunite the African people. His countrymen are as hot as a branding iron about how the country should be run, but Mandela thinks something beyond politics or economics might be his answer — rugby.

He embraces the disfavored rugby team the Springboks — the underdogs in the World Cup playoffs — and sends them on a PR journey. His efforts units the country in a passionate fight “to win” but also to move beyond revenge. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star and are impressively directed by Clint Eastwood. Recommended audience: Fans of sport and Eastwood films. Opened Dec. 11.

“ME AND ORSON WELLES”

(Rated: PG-13) — This drama/comedy should have wild audience appeal. It’s loosely based on Orson Welles’ early life after his acting on stage when he formed the Mercury Theatre in 1937 to produce “Julius Caesar.” What Richard (Zac Efron), a budding thespian, lacks in talent he makes up for with gall when he intrudes on a publicity stunt for Welles’ (Christian McKay) new play and lands a part.

Several subplots abound in this film. Richard falls for Orson’s upbeat and helpful secretary Sonja (Claire Danes), only to discover he’ll have to make some tough decisions if he intends to pursue her. The theatrics of what goes on to get the show to opening night are quite amusing, and the production design of the 1930s is great nostalgia.

McKay gives a great performance as the never-predictable but always engaging Welles. Recommended audience: Classic film and theatrical fans or those of this cast. Opened Dec. 11.

“UP IN THE AIR”

(Rated: PG-13) — Movies can be formulaic but nothing about Jason Reitman’s (“Juno,” “Thank You For Smoking”) films are mechanical. In “Up In the Air” Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a confirmed bachelor with the perfect job. He spends his life flying from one town to another to handle the unpleasant task corporate CEOs dislike — firing people.

While facing the worst time of their lives, Bingham coldly hands them a move-on-with-your-life booklet. Everything about his controlled life comes into question when the ultra sexy Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) enters an airport bar and sits next to him. Reitman delivers a first-rate comedy with wit, warmth and a subject that’s at the top of current conversations about social media’s negative aspects — a lack of personal connection among people. Recommended audience: Fans of Clooney and Reitman films. Opened Dec. 11.