After the summer blockbusters, and before the final weeks of December — when high-profile Oscar bait fills the screens — Hollywood releases some of its most interesting offerings of the year. Seasoned actors taking on meaty parts, plots that challenge conventional tastes and stories that appeal to the over-30 crowd make autumn the best time to go out to the movies. Here are the fall films that we're most looking forward to.
Trouble With the Curve (Sept. 21) Clint Eastwood hasn't put himself in the hands of another director for nearly 20 years, when Wolfgang Peterson put the actor through his paces as an aging Secret Service agent in 1993's In the Line of Fire. But Robert Lorenz has been working as Eastwood's assistant director ever since The Bridges of Madison County, so he'll definitely know how to get his boss's good side. This time Eastwood plays a veteran baseball scout heading out to appraise one last prospect. His daughter (Amy Adams) comes along for the ride.
Won't Back Down (Sept. 28) With the kids back in classes, parents may be eager for this drama about two mothers (Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal) who are fed up with local schools failing their children (and they're not talking about report card grades). The great supporting cast includes Ving Rhames, Holly Hunter and Rosie Perez.
Looper (Sept. 28) The last time Bruce Willis starred in a time-travel action flick, we got Terry Gilliam's unforgettable 12 Monkeys. This time he's a decade-skipping hit man sent back in time to be assassinated by — his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
The Oranges (Oct. 5) If you've been missing Hugh Laurie on House, then you'll definitely want to see the film that could be his big-screen breakthrough. Laurie stars as a New Jersey family guy having a midlife crisis in the worst possible way — developing a crush on the grown daughter of his best friends (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney). The excellent Catherine Keener plays his exasperated wife.
Seven Psychopaths (Oct. 12) This one may be the season's biggest guilty pleasure. When a dognapping ring nabs the wrong pooch — a shih tzu owned by a psychopath gangster (Woody Harrelson) — Mr. Big goes on a bloody rampage to get it back. The quirky cast includes Colin Farell, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits and, of course, the greatest screen psychopath of them all, Christopher Walken.
Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19) The story of an enforcer who is hired by the mob to clean up after one of their card games is raided by gunmen could easily degenerate into your standard Goodfellas-wannabe shoot-'em-up. But writer/director Andrew Dominik, who created one of the most thoughtful westerns of the past decade, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is reuniting with the star of that film, Brad Pitt. With Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins along for the ride, this could be something special.
The Big Wedding (Oct. 26) Let's unravel this plotline: Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton were once married and adopted a son. But they divorced a long time ago, and De Niro married Keaton's best friend, Susan Sarandon. Now the son is getting married, and his birth mother, a devout Catholic, is coming to the ceremony. Only she doesn't know De Niro and Keaton got divorced, a big no-no, sin-wise, in her eyes. So guess what? De Niro and Keaton have to go through the whole wedding week pretending they're still together. The whole film seems like a high-wire act from the get-go, but the cast is first-rate (Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace). And, writer/director Justin Zackham somehow made the maudlin-on-paper Bucket List into a semi-classic, so who knows?
The Sessions (Oct. 26) Oscar winner Helen Hunt doesn't make nearly enough movies, so we're looking forward to this challenging story of a quadriplegic man (John Hawkes) who wants to lose his virginity to a professional sex surrogate, played by Hunt. Overcoming the Ick Factor will be the trick, but with William H. Macy along as Hawkes' confidant/priest, at least we know some interesting social issues will be raised.
Flight (Nov. 2) For more than a decade, director Robert Zemeckis has immersed himself in lushly animated movies (Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol). Now the director of Forrest Gump and Back to the Future returns to live action with what seems like a doozy of a story: An airline pilot (Denzel Washington) makes a miraculous landing after a total system malfunction. But when it's discovered that he had too much alcohol in his blood at the time, he faces life in prison.
Lincoln (Nov. 9) Poor Honest Abe. Movies have either portrayed him as a monument waiting to be carved (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) or a revisionist fantasy (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer). Now Steven Spielberg is trying to get him just right. In this exploration of the last months of Lincoln's life, Spielberg attempts to show Lincoln the politician and war president, simultaneously commanding his troops to victory and trying to forge the peace to follow. With Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe, the movie itself could prove monumental.
Skyfall (Nov. 9) I've always liked my James Bonds a bit more stirred than the Daniel Craig version. His cool detachment may be closer to Ian Fleming's vision of the superspy, but he's just a lot less fun than his relatively carefree predecessors. Still, the director of this latest 007 outing, Sam Mendes, has brought us both the blood-soaked Road to Perdition and my favorite comedy of 2009, Away We Go. So maybe there's hope for a Bond that strikes a delicate balance between fun and function.
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