With few exceptions, this year’s crop of summer movies was underwhelming, even by Hollywood’s lax standards. So that’s what makes this fall’s film appear even more like an oasis, as the focus shifts from appeasing the kiddies to satiating adults with stories about something other than antagonistic aliens, chatty critters and pot-smoking Teddy bears.
The schedule offers an array of styles and genres, whether you prefer bio-pics like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” macabre children’s stories like Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” or fascinating documentaries like “How to Survive a Plague,” David France’s take on how gay activists made the world take notice of the AIDS epidemic. There’s plenty of star power, too, with multiple Oscar-winners like Tom Hanks, Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field looking to add a third trophy to their shelves. And there will be no shortage of top directors bidding for your attention, from mainstream standouts Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis to artier artists like Paul Thomas Anderson and Ben Affleck.
By the time Thanksgiving arrives, we’ll have met Abe Lincoln, learned the perks of being a wallflower, traveled through time with Halle Berry, renewed old acquaintances with James Bond, relived the Iranian hostage crisis, and, more importantly, discovered if Bella chooses Edward, Jacob or the director of “Snow White and the Huntsman.” I’m betting on the latter. I’m also wagering that it will be a fun autumn at the cineplex. So to prepare you, here’s a quick rundown on what lies ahead, beginning next Friday, and continuing through Turkey Day:
Arbitrage: Richard Gere makes a case for Oscar while Tim Roth makes a case against him in this Madoff-like tale about a high-flying financier brought down by a crash – a car crash involving his beautiful mistress. Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling play the wife and daughter he works overtime trying to keep from discovering all his secrets.
Resident Evil 5: Retribution: As if four wasn’t enough, everyone’s favorite flesh-eating zombies return for a fifth go-round with their arch nemesis Milla Jovovich, who, God help us, is the last hope for the human race.
Finding Nemo in 3-D: Disney continues its recycling effort by rereleasing yet another of its cartoon classics in resplendent tacked-on 3-D. Finding Nemo? This is more like the Mouse searching for a relatively cheap way to buoy an ocean of riches.
Stolen: Nic Cage sinks farther into the abyss by reteaming with his “Con Air” director, Simon West, for yet another useless action exercise in which he plays a master thief whose daughter is kidnapped and held for $10 million ransom.
10 Years: It was beaten to the punch by “American Reunion,” but that’s not stopping this ensemble drama from covering a lot of the same territory, as a group of star-crossed high school alums mark the 10th anniversary of their graduation. Chris Pratt, Ari Graynor, Kate Mara, Justin Long and Rosario Dawson star.
Trouble with the Curve: Clint Eastwood makes what could be his last pitch for an acting Oscar by playing a washed-up baseball scout hot on the trail of a hitting phenom (Joe Massingill) who could salvage his career. But the only person that can help him beat a rival scout (Justin Timberlake) to the punch is the old man’s estranged daughter (Amy Adams). The film marks the directorial debut of Robert Lorenz, Eastwood’s longtime producing partner.
The Master: Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood”) offers a more cynical version of “The Best Years of Our Lives” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman returns home from World War II eager to start a cult religion that fellow vet Joaquin Phoenix immediately gets suckered into. Amy Adams and Laura Dern costar.
Dredd 3-D: Sly Stallone was a disaster as the original Judge Dredd, so Karl Urban (“The Lord of the Rings”) can’t help but be an improvement in this attempt to reboot the potential franchise about futuristic cops patrolling a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
End of Watch: Director David Ayer (the writer of the Oscar-winning “Training Day”) returns to the crime-infested streets of L.A. with another tale on our men in blue, this one about two overtaxed cops (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) assigned to the city’s notorious South Central district.
Chicken with Plums: In the second part of an Iranian trilogy that began with the Oscar-nominated “Persepolis,” a Teheran musician loses his lust for life, confines himself to bed and takes refuge inside his vivid dreams.
House at the End of the Street: Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence play a mother and daughter who move to a new town and get caught in the middle of years-old murder case.
Liberal Arts: Josh Radnor plays a bookish university counselor who finally finds true love. The only problem is that the woman (Elizabeth Olsen) is a college student many years his junior. Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney and Zac Efron costar.
How to Survive a Plague: Director David France chronicles the rise and achievements of the activist group, Act Up, which was instrumental in finally drawing America’s attention to the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s.
Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hired gun assigned to off mob enemies sent back to him from 30 years in the future. Business is good until his next victim turns out to be his future self, played by Bruce Willis. Rian Johnson (“Brick”) directs.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller make for a terrific trio in writer-director Steve Chbosky’s teen-friendly adaptation of his dark, brooding novel about a Pittsburgh high school freshman (Lerman) discovering the intricacies of life and death under the tutelage of a pair of older, free-spirited step-siblings.
Hotel Transylvania: Adam Sandler and Kevin James top the voice talent for this spooky ’toon about a swank resort for monsters run by Dracula (Sandler) himself. Trouble arises when a clueless mortal (James) stumbles upon the exclusive premises.
Won’t Back Down: Oscar aspirations are written all over the chalkboard in this take-back-the-schools drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as concerned parents determined to use any means necessary to revolutionize public education.
Taken 2: The tables are turned on Liam Neeson in this sequel to the surprise 2008 hit about Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent busting euro-trash butt in order to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Turns out the kin of one of Mills’ victims wants revenge and has taken him and his wife (Famke Janssen) hostage in Turkey. Now it’s up to their daughter (Maggie Grace) to save them.
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton’s tale about a boy who resurrects his beloved dog, Frankenstein style, is evocatively told via stop-motion puppetry, rendered in glorious black-and-white 3-D. Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara lead the supporting voice talent.
Sinister: Ethan Hawke plays a crime novelist who puts his family in danger when he dusts off a box of old home movies depicting disturbing acts of violence.
Pitch Perfect: For all you aficionados clamoring for a movie about collegian a cappella choirs, this crowd-pleasing opus starring Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick is singing directly to you.
The Paperboy: Will writer-director Lee Daniels’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Precious” deliver? It would be news if it didn’t, especially with John Cusack and Nicole Kidman playing a wrongly convicted man and the female pen pal working diligently to free him. Based on Pete Dexter’s novel.
Butter: Jennifer Garner tries to clear the air of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” with this margarine-ly better tale about a woman who melts for Iowa’s reigning butter-sculpting champ (“Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell), then takes his place after he opts to retire. She thinks she’s got the art down pat until a considerably younger, more talented competitor (Yara Shahidi) threatens to stick it to her. Hugh Jackman and Weymouth’s Rob Corddry costar.
Argo: Ben Affleck ventures outside the Boston area or his latest directorial effort, which tells the true story of how six Americans managed to escape when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, taking 52 far-less-lucky souls hostage. Now it’s up to Affleck’s spook, Tony Mendez, to devise an elaborate plan to sneak them out of the country. Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin costar.
Seven Psychopaths: Colin Farrell plays a screenwriter who finds inspiration through the dog-napping exploits of his best friend (Sam Rockwell) and his pal’s partner (Christopher Walken). But before he can finish the script, they’ll have to muzzle the violent psychopath (Woody Harrelson) whose dog the duo swiped.
Here Comes the Boom: Kevin James plays a teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter in hopes of raising enough cash to save his school’s music program. Henry “The Fonz” Winkler costars and Henry Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer”) directs.
Alex Cross: Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) directs the ubiquitous Tyler Perry in an adaptation of James Patterson’s novel about a renowned homicide detective who meets his match in a serial killer played by “Lost’s” Matthew Fox.
Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt reteams with director Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) in an acclaimed drama about a hit man (Pitt) hunting the people responsible for ripping off his bosses. Sam Rockwell costars.
Paranormal Activity 4: Expect more of the same – ho hum – in the fourth installment in the inexplicably popular horror franchise.
Cloud Atlas: Tom Hanks and Halle Berry star in a mind-bending flick based on David Mitchell’s best-seller about the ramifications of cause and effect – past, present and future – and how the phenomenon determines who and what we are. Directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and co-written by Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski (the “Matrix” trilogy), the story follows Hanks and Berry through various incarnations and dream-like environs over the course of decades.
Chasing Mavericks: Curtis Hanson (“8 Mile,’ “L.A. Confidential”) directs this bio-pic about legendary surfer Jay Moriarty (John Weston) and the man (Gerard Butler) who became his mentor. Elisabeth Shue costars.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3-D: In the sequel to the 2006 original, a young woman (Adelaide Clemens) falls under the forces of demons after her father (Sean Bean) mysteriously disappears.
Fun Size: Josh Schwartz, the Rhode Islander who created the cult TV hits “Gossip Girl,” “Chuck” and “The O.C.,” tries his hand at directing aided by young Victoria Justice, who loses her little brother after her mother (Chelsea Handler) places her in charge of taking the tyke trick-or-treating.
The Sessions: A journalist (John Hawkes) confined to an iron lung seeks to lose his virginity – at age 38 – to a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) in a fact-based drama from writer-director Ben Lewin.
The Big Wedding: Remember when Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton were starring in “The Godfather” trilogy? My how they’ve fallen, reducing themselves to costarring with Katherine Heigl in a remake of a French comedy in which they play a long-divorced couple pretending to be married while attending their son’s wedding. Amanda Seyfried, no stranger to stinkers herself, costars along with Robin Williams and Susan Sarandon.
Wreck-It Ralph: When it comes to dumb ideas for a movie, “Ralph” rates. At least it has John C. Riley lending his voice to an animated apocalypse in which Riley’s Ralph, a villain in a video game, suddenly goes off the reservation and asserts himself into other games inside the video arcade with (and I don’t use the term loosely) disastrous results.
The Man with the Iron Fists: Give RZA credit for trying, but I fear for how well the hip-hop star will fare playing a 19th century Chinese warrior. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu add to the film’s interesting casting choices.
Flight: Denzel Washington teams with Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) for an airborne thriller about a disgraced pilot who redeems himself by coming to the rescue of a doomed airliner. But upon further review, this budding Sully Sullenberger might turn out to be something far less than a hero. Melissa Leo, John Goodman and Don Cheadle costar.
This Must be the Place: Sean Penn piles on the eyeliner to play a fading Goth rock star who travels from Ireland to America to hunt down the Nazis who tormented his recently deceased father. Fellow Oscar-winner Frances McDormand costars.
Skyfall: If you like your James Bond dry and unstirred, than Daniel Craig is your man. Last seen escorting Queen Elizabeth to the Olympic Games, 007 re-emerges to assist another elder Brit in M (Judi Dench), whose past has come back to haunt her. And although MI-6 comes under attack, Bond will do everything in his power to clear the old gal’s name.
Lincoln: England may have its Bond, but we have our Honest Abe, who also knew a thing or two about covert enemies and putting his life on the line. And who better to tell his iconic story than an iconic director in Steven Spielberg? Yet, he couldn’t resist casting a Brit, Daniel Day Lewis, in the title role. How revolutionary! Filling up “Lincoln’s” administration are such household names as Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Weymouth’s own Hal Holbrook. Even better, Tony Kushhner (“Angels in America”) wrote the screenplay based on a book by Boston-based historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2: Will this thing ever end? I’ve heard promises that this is indeed the final time Team Edward and Team Jacob will do battle over Kristen Stewart, whose much-publicized off-screen affair with a married man has proven that she’s not worthy of either a vampire or a werewolf – just scorn.
Anna Karenina: For a more worthwhile heroine, look no further than Tolstoy’s magnificent creation, whose shoes Keira Knightley aims to fill. Director Joe Wright (“Hanna”) again guides his muse from “Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice” along the path of an epic love story, this one adapted by the brilliant Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”).
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell follows up his Oscar-winning “The Fighter” with another tale about human weakness, this one involving a man (Bradley Cooper) forced to live with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after he’s treated for depression. It’s a bitter fate made sweet when he encounters the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence.
Rise of the Guardians: Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher provide the voices for what promises to be a rip-roaring animated saga about fairytale characters joining forces to stop an outer-space invasion led by the notorious Pitch (Jude Law). The movie is based on a series of children’s books by William Joyce, who co-wrote the screenplay with Boston-born playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”). Joyce also co-directs with Peter Ramsey.
Red Dawn: The original “Red Dawn,” about a Soviet takeover of the United States, was cheered and reviled in equal measure. Now comes this remake, or should I say, re-imagining, of the John Milius original in which scrappy teens (including Josh Hutcherson and the god-awful Chris Hemsworth) stand up to the invading Chinese communists. Hey, wait, aren’t Americans already slaves to the Chinese?