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by Jay Bobbin

(NOTICE: Ratings for each film begin with a 'star' rating - one star meaning 'poor,' four meaning 'excellent' - followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)

STARTING THIS WEEK: "THE WORDS": With all the plagiarism controversies of recent times, you'd think the creatively blocked author (played by Bradley Cooper) at the heart of this story would know better ... but then, you might not have this somewhat intriguing movie. While visiting Paris, he just happens to run across another writer's manuscript, which he gets published under his own name and has great success with. Inevitably, though, he pays a big price for claiming someone else's credit. The impressive cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde. DVD extras: two "making-of" documentaries. *** (PG-13 and unrated versions: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and Movies on Demand)

"THE WELL-DIGGER'S DAUGHTER": Celebrated French actor Daniel Auteuil ("Jean de Florette," "Manon of the Spring") also serves as director and screenwriter in this take on the Marcel Pagnol screen classic, in which Auteuil casts himself as a widower struggling to furnish good lives for his six daughters. His plan goes off course when the eldest of the siblings (Astrid Berges- Frisbey) becomes pregnant by a pilot (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who soon goes off to serve in World War I, first dividing and later uniting the two families. *** (Not rated: AS) (Also on Blu-ray)

"IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE": With the week of Christmas a light one for new releases, it's appropriate to include several seasonal staples, such as this Frank Capra-directed 1946 classic. James Stewart makes the perfect George Bailey, the hapless Bedford Falls citizen whose experience of seeing how life would be without him has been echoed by countless TV series episodes. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and (as wingearning angel Clarence) Henry Travers lend great support. DVD extras ("Collector's Set"): theatrical trailer; "making-of" documentary; Capra tribute. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)

"WHITE CHRISTMAS": As comfortable as an active fireplace on a cold winter's night, this tuneful 1954 retooling of the 12-years-earlier "Holiday Inn" makes great use of its Irving Berlin score. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye make an ideal team as military veterans who become successful entertainment partners, then use their talents to help their former commander (Dean Jagger) re-energize his failing resort. Rosemary Clooney - aunt of George - and Vera-Ellen are charmers as the siblings who distract the guys. DVD extras ("Anniversary Edition"): two theatrical trailers; audio commentary by Clooney; seven "making-of" documentaries. **** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)

"A CHRISTMAS STORY": There's never a doubt this holiday favorite will come back around, thanks to its annual 24-hour marathon on television. Anyone who ever desired that one special holiday gift can empathize with Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), author-narrator Jean Shepherd's young alias who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun - the one his mother (Melinda Dillon) warns will "shoot your eye out." Always deserving of citing is Darren McGavin as the gruff dad who never actually curses, though it sure sounds like it. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; three "making- of" documentaries; audio commentary by Billingsley and director and co-writer Bob Clark. *** (PG: P) (Also on Blu-ray)

"LOVE ACTUALLY": From the outset, writer-director Richard Curtis' fabulous 2003 comedydrama is all about the countdown to a British Christmas ... and also about a lot more, thanks to a labyrinth of characters with involving stories. Among the best: the new prime minister's (Hugh Grant) attraction to an aide (Martine McCutcheon); an art gallery manager's (Andrew Lincoln, "The Walking Dead") secret passion for his best friend's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new bride (Keira Knightley); and a faded music star's (Bill Nighy) bid for a comeback with a seasonally refitted pop tune. DVD extras: deleted scenes; music video. *** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray)

COMING SOON: "LOOPER" (Dec. 31): A veteran assassin (Bruce Willis) is sent back into the past, where he becomes the target of his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). (R: AS, P, V)

"DREDD" (Jan. 8): Karl Urban plays the futuristic law enforcer, who tries to stop the suppliers of a dangerous drug. Olivia Thirlby co-stars as the rookie assigned to him. (R: AS, P, GV)

"HIT & RUN" (Jan. 8): A protected witness (Dax Shepard, also the writer and co-director here) emerges from hiding to drive his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) to a job interview. (R: AS, N, P, V)

"HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET" (Jan. 8): A divorcee and her daughter (Elisabeth Shue, Jennifer Lawrence) move to a neighborhood where a dual murder occurred years before. (PG-13: AS, P, V)

"TAKEN 2" (Jan. 15): CIA veteran Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) falls into the hands of a relative of one of the kidnappers he previously saved his daughter (Maggie Grace) from. (PG-13 and unrated versions: AS, V)