As the year comes to an end, theatres are seeing a breed of movies that are different than your average popcorn flick. They are very serious but inspiring; they are packed with big names and an anointed new star for good measure; they take a well-calculated risk or two. They are, in short, shameless Oscar baits, and studios are throwing them at the screen in order to qualify for the 2010 Academy Awards.

We’ve broken down some of the more conspicuous ones that are currently playing in theatres or are on the cusp of release, but we’re not making any predictions.

Weighty and/or ambitious subject: Based on a true story in which Nelson Mandela teams up with captain of South Africa’s rugby team to bring together the country post-Apartheid.

Star power: It’s megawatt here: Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star; Clint Eastwood directs.

Weighty and/or ambitious subject: Pregnant for the second time by her father, an obese, illiterate, abused teen learns to read in an attempt to improve her life.

Star power: The buzz is surrounding newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, but Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz are also on the bill.

Weighty and/or ambitious subject: An Italian director deals with his mid-life crisis by getting tangled up with a number of women, all the while singing and dancing — it’s based on the 1982 musical.

Star power: It’s impossible to assemble more A-list, leading ladies: Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, and Sophia Loren.

Wild Card: In addition to that A-list cast, Fergie and Kate Hudson are on board as, respectively, a prostitute and a fashion reporter.

The Lovely Bones

Weighty and/or ambitious subject: After her rape and murder, a young girl watches over her family and killer from heaven, hoping that someone will find her body and working through her own grief.

Star power: Alice Sebold wrote the bestselling book; Peter Jackson is directing; and Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz star.

Wild card: While the novel is haunting and elegant, Peter Jackson likes to blow things up. And then blow them up again.

Weighty and/or ambitious subject: A paralyzed ex-Marine agrees to travel to a distant planet — which happens to be a computer-generated, 3-D world — for the chance to walk again via an avatar body. And, naturally, exploit their resources.

Star power: The cast includes Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver, but everyone’s watching director James Cameron, who hasn’t done a feature film since 1997’s Titanic.

Wild card: There’s rumoured to be an almost $500 million US price tag on this years-in-the-making project, and it kind of looks like fanboy porn.

Latest From ...