In March, 2002, Hollywood bestowed its most coveted prize on a movie about John Forbes Nash Jr., a real-life schizoid Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. Purists complained that "A Beautiful Mind" romanticized Nash's character, skirting such sticky issues as sexual promiscuity, marital infidelity, child neglect and indecent exposure. Whatever the case, the public bought the pretty part of the package, as did the majority of critics. They wanted someone to cheer for--an inspiring, if quixotic, hero--and that's what they got, thanks to the wizardry of Russell Crowe.

And if Russell Crowe can turn sordid truth into uplifting drama, is there any reason Macaulay Culkin can't perform the same kind of magic? We'll find out when "Party Monster," the recently completed movie in which Culkin plays notorious New York bad boy Michael Alig, opens. Other ripped-from-reality stories are on their way to a theater--possibly even a porn theater--near you. Here are 10 to anticipate...

AUTO FOCUS: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Alex Meneses (Directed by Paul Schrader; Sony Pictures Classics) By no means your standard Hollywood biopic, this is the story of BOB CRANE, the popular star of TV's "Hogan's Heroes" and a real-life sex addict who secretly taped his own one-night stands and ended up the loser in a grisly game of murder. Greg Kinnear stars as Crane, and Willem Dafoe is an American Indian swinger who may or may not have played a part in his final, violent fade-out. In any event, you're not apt to soon forget the scene in which Crane presents his surgically enhanced penis for his sidekick's inspection, or the one in which the two drift into a frenzy of masturbation while watching a porn video that has turned too darn hot. One of Crane's two sons gave his blessings to the Schraderization of his father's life; the other son, known to be angry about a rumored distortion of fact, was physically barred from a preview screening. (Opens 10-18)

FRIDA: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Roger Rees, Geoffrey Rush (Directed by Julie Taymor; Miramax) FRIDA KAHLO had a moustache, and it's said that Salma Hayek--in a gesture that would have warmed the heart of Actors Studio guru Lee Strasberg--grew a moustache to play the legendary Mexican painter. Just a tad of a moustache, but a moustache nonetheless. What else Hayek did to get inside the body and soul of Kahlo, who died at the age of 47 in 1954, has not been reported, but certainly there were many options open to her. Kahlo endured enormous pain and even lost a leg as the result of a bus accident when she was 18, and her moments of serenity were rare. A bisexual communist addicted to alcohol and drugs, she was passionate in her art and in her personal life, which included a turbulent marriage to muralist Diego Rivera (played by Alfred Molina) and a tight relationship with Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), who was exiled by Stalin to Mexico, where he was ultimately assassinated. Director Julie Taymor's first film since "Titus," "Frida" also stars Antonio Banderas as painter David Siqueiros, Ashley Judd as photographer Tina Modotti, and Edward Norton--who has been linked with Hayek offscreen--as Nelson Rockefeller. For the record, Jennifer Lopez also announced plans for picking up a brush and playing Kahlo but dropped the project in order to tend to other affairs. (Opens 10-25)

THE ANTWONE FISHER STORY: Derek Luke, Denzel Washington, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson, De'Angelo Wilson (Denzel Washington; Fox Searchlight) Antwone who? Antwone Fisher, that's who. You may not know this published author now, but you soon will. Not yet in a class with John Grisham or John Irving, Fisher nevertheless did write "Finding Fish," an autobiography he then turned into the screenplay for this drama starring newcomer Derek Luke. But why should we care about this man's life? Because he went through hell and came back to tell about it. Abandoned as a child, little Antwone experienced humiliation and brutality in orphanage after orphanage. Later, in the Navy, he stumbled along, a hostile, combative young man on his way to self-destruction, until a sympathetic but tough psychiatrist came to his aid. The savior shrink, you'll be happy to hear, is played by Denzel Washington, who also makes his directorial debut with this low-budget labor of love scheduled to premiere next month at the Toronto Film Festival. (Opens 12-20)

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, Frank John Hughes, Brian Howe (Directed by Steven Spielberg; Dreamworks) DiCaprio, who opens on Christmas day in Martin Scorsese's famously delayed "Gangs of New York," surfaces the same day in this reality-based drama from Steven Spielberg. Playing FRANK ABAGNALE JR., Leo leaps from the mean 19th-century streets of Scorsese and lands on the 1970's freeways of Spielberg. Who the hell is Frank Abagnale Jr.? He's merely the high-school dropout who--in addition to being a crackerjack bank robber and the youngest man ever to make the FBI's Most Wanted List--managed to pass himself off as various people he most certainly was not (including a doctor, a lawyer, a commercial pilot and the attorney general of Louisiana). Why would anyone ever want to do such a thing? You'll find out when you catch this movie--if you can, and really want to. You may also want to hiss at Tom Hanks, who plays the Fed who fells the fake. (Opens 12-25)

THE HOURS: Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Allison Janney, Ed Harris, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Dillane, Charley Ramm, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson (Directed by Stephen Daldry; Paramount) Nicole Kidman (sporting an ambitious makeover that includes an oversized nose) plays VIRGINIA WOOLF, the moody, monumentally influential British author who ended it all with a suicidal step into the sea. But Virginia Woolf is just one of several major figures in this intricately embellished slice of life. Equally prominent are Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep as two very different women living in separate worlds, each of whom is profoundly affected by Woolf's artistry and humanity. Stephen Daldry, the man behind "Billy Elliot," directed David Hare's adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham. The question is, how many ladies can be Oscar-nominated for Best Actress in the same picture? (Opens 12-25)

THE PIANIST: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer, Ruth Platt (Directed by Roman Polanski; Universal/Focus) Director Polanski, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, returned to Poland to shoot portions of the story of WLADYSLAW SZPILMAN, the celebrated classical musician who succeeded in hiding out, albeit in horrific conditions, during the Nazi occupation of his country. As the fragile pianist who possessed astonishing powers of resilience, Adrien Brody may finally achieve the stardom predicted for him just before director Terrence Malick took a scissors to his performance in "The Thin Red Line." And Polanski, whose brilliant career plunged when he made a swift exit from America to avoid charges of statutory rape, may hit those high notes once again. (Opens 12-25)

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND: George Clooney, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Fred Savage (Directed by George Clooney; Miramax) The dangerous mind belongs to CHUCK BARRIS, a furtive, mercurial man who claims to have led a double life as the star of a seventies TV program called "The Gong Show" and as a CIA hit man known in select circles as Sunny Sixkiller. Sam Rockwell, a superstar waiting to happen, plays Barris, and first-time director Clooney wisely cast himself as the CIA agent who coaxes the game-show host to play the assassination game. Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts are the (presumably) real-life femme fatales encountered by Barris along his crooked path, and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon pop up as contestants on "The Gong Show." (Opens 12-27)

PARTY MONSTER: Macaulay Culkin, Dylan McDermott, Seth Green, Marilyn Manson, Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne (Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato; Killer Films) Proving that nobody's life is too sordid to merit a biopic, this grosser-than-fiction tale from the writer-director team responsible for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" dishes up the grisly stats about MICHAEL ALIG, the club-scene gadabout who administered a lethal injection of Drano into the vein of his roommate-cum-drug-dealer, dumped him into the East River, and then boasted about the deed on a TV talk show. I suppose it beats staying home alone. (Scheduled to play Sundance in January)

PROZAC NATION: Christina Ricci, Jessica Lange, Jason Biggs, Michelle Williams, Anne Heche, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Frida Betrani, Nicholas Campbell, Cinty Lentol, Todd Poudrier, Klodyne Rodney (Directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg) Everything seemed to be going right for ELIZABETH WURTZEL, as she recalled in the autobiographical "Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America." In truth, very little was going right for Wurtzel (Christina Ricci), a brainy teen-ager who got published in Rolling Stone and had no trouble getting admitted to Harvard. She was a self-loathing wreck who drank, doped, engaged in degrading sex, told lies about her father, betrayed her friends, stalked a male student, turned classmates off with her petulant behavior, and attempted suicide. But if you think that's bad, wait till you see the grief she caused her mother, played by valiant, long-suffering Jessica Lange. (And she thought she had it bad in "Frances.") (Opens 3-14)

AGAINST THE ROPES: Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Kerry Washington, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly (Directed by Charles S. Dutton; Paramount) JACKIE KALLEN, a nice Jewish girl from Detroit who somehow became a top boxing manager and then the commissioner of the International Female Boxers Association, is portrayed by Meg Ryan, an actress who has frequently demonstrated she knows how to come out slugging. Among the sluggers turned into champs by Kallen was James Toney, played here by an all-buffed-up Omar Epps. Heavyweight actor Charles S. Dutton takes his first jab at directing, and he could be a contender.