Prepare ye, screen gazers, for the precious time is nigh!

It will come in a fast and furious assault, between now and the end of the year, a rush of releases will vie for the attentions of holiday audiences for box office status, and for a niche comprised of critics groups and various artistic guild voters for the honor and glory of being considered one of the year’s best films. In keeping with the established routine, after almost 10 months of searching, hoping and praying for some sign of the one film, the one precious that would unite us all, and yet, failing to catch a glimpse of it to the extent that doubt begins to creep in, to settle and wrap itself around our hearts, minds and our very eyes (would we even recognize the one, if we saw it, if it appeared right now), the time has come; the wait is over. Well, almost over.

A small number of highly anticipated titles don’t even have release dates for the region, which means that they will be screened, primarily in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for awards consideration, and then offered to critics for inclusion in top 10 lists that will tease readers and film fans all the more.

There are the films, mainly major studio-supported projects, with buzz and the pedigree to earn solid scheduled dates on the year-end calendar. These titles temper bedrock box office appeal with ethereal, artistic craft. The November cavalcade of precious stones features Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar, with a heavy prosthetic load-bearing Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, Alexander Payne’s Sideways return to form (The Descendents) that boasts the real George Clooney performance of the season, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which signals his child-like embrace of film classics. But, the real studio sparklers arrive in December.

And how about a couple of refashioned, or better yet, reconstituted (anything is better than calling a remake a remake, if you know what I mean) bright lights. The John le Carre novel and television spy classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (December 9) infiltrates the multiplexes thanks to Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and an all-star cast led by Gary Oldman. Weeks later, David Fincher (The Social Network) ushers in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (December 21), his Se7en-meets-Zodiac play on the first novel of the international bestselling series by Steig Larsson. The dark side’s directing bridesmaid certainly looks ready to slink and slither down the aisle like no other with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as The Girl.

Among the other notable seasonal highlights, Cameron Crowe teams up with Matt Damon for the comedy-drama We Bought a Zoo (December 23), about a grieving father who gathers up his young family in the California countryside to re-open a zoo with help from Scarlett Johansson. Angelina Jolie ventures behind the camera with In The Land of Blood and Honey (December 23), a Serbian-Bosnian take on Romeo & Juliet. Steven Spielberg rides in high and hard on his War Horse (December 28), the story of a boy and his horse set against the backdrop of World War I. And then, there’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (January 20, 2012), which pairs Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in a post 9/11 drama about a young boy (newcomer Thomas Horn) seeking to connect with the memory of his father (Hanks), a victim of the New York attack.

These event pictures will claim center stage, but a host of smaller titles featuring highly anticipated performances from Meryl Streep (Iron Lady), Glen Close (Albert Nobb), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Viggo Mortenson (A Dangerous Method) and Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous MethodShame) could emerge as dark horses to upset the photo finish. (tt stern-enzi)