The problem with most seasonal movie previews is their annoying tendency to cram every random title into a finite amount of space, thereby doing injustice to the films most worthy of a discriminating moviegoers' attention. Certainly anyone who genuinely cares about movies as an art form doesn't give a flying fuck that Saw VI is set to open on October 23, or that somebody had the really terrible idea to remake Joe Ruben's 1987 cult classic The Stepfather (Oct. 16) starring Dylan Walsh from Nip/Tuck in the Terry O'Quinn role.
And unless you have rugrats in the house, CGI toons like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Sept. 18), Astro Boy (Oct. 23) and Planet 51 (Nov. 20) probably won't send your heart a-racing either. And don't even get me started on A Christmas Carol (Nov. 6), Robert Zemeckis' latest performance-capture horror show. Those dead eyes that Jim Carrey's Ebenezer Scrooge sports in the Disney film's trailer are already giving me the willies. Of course, kid flicks by grown-up auteurs like Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson are another matter entirely. So think of the following as a baker's dozen films to look forward to this season. Hopefully, some of them will make your must-see list too.
The 19th-century romance of poet John Keats (Ben Whislaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is the subject of Bright Star (Sept. 25), Oscar-winning director Jane Campion's first film since 2003's unfairly maligned In the Cut. A return to the New Zealand helmer's sexually charged corset dramas like The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady, it even charmed the notoriously persnickety Cannes press corps.
Muckraking documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tackles the global financial crisis in his latest nonfiction fusillade with Capitalism: A Love Story (Oct. 2). Look for Wall Street fat cats to take it on the chin just like G.W. Bush did in Fahrenheit 9/11.
Along with longtime writing partner Matthew Robinson, Ricky Gervais co-wrote and directed The Invention of Lying (Oct. 2), a surreal comedy about the only person alive (Gervais) who's capable of fibbing. The delicious supporting cast (including Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey and Jason Bateman) is reason enough to be pumped. (Oct. 2.)
Drew Barrymore's directing debut, Whip It (Oct. 2), stars Ellen Page (Juno) as a high-school misfit who blossoms after becoming a roller-derby skater. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays Page's understandably flummoxed mom. Kansas City Bomber 2 this ain't.
Where the Wild Things Are (Oct. 16), Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's classic, finally makes it to the big screen in Spike Jonze's (Being John Malkovich) CGI-lite live-action adaptation. Jonze's indie cred helped him cast a bunch of cool actors (Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini) not normally associated with family entertainment.
Two other notable October releases without definite Cleveland dates: Antichrist, Lars von Trier's horror/art flick, which freaked them out at this year's Cannes Film Festival; and A Serious Man, the 14th film by national treasures Joel and Ethan Coen.
Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) goes mainstream with The Box (Nov. 6), an adaptation of fantasy writer Richard Matheson's creepy 1970 short story "Button, Button." Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a financially strapped couple whose money woes magically disappear after pressing a button on a wooden box. Frank Langella is the Mephistopheles who helps make their dreams come true.
Frequent George Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov makes his directing debut with The Men Who Stare at Goats (Nov. 6), a fact-based, pitch-black comedy about an American military unit investigating psychic phenomena for use in combat. Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey head up the impressive cast.
Don't let the Oprah or Tyler Perry imprimatur scare you off, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Nov. 20), a magical realist-inflected urban melodrama about a put-upon Harlem teen (Gabourney Sidibe) won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards at Sundance this January. As the girl's unstable mother, plus-sized sitcom diva Mo'Nique gives a performance that's already generating beaucoup Oscar talk. So is the film itself.
George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide the voices for Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox (Nov. 25), fabulist extraordinaire Wes Anderson's stop-motion-animated film based on Roald Dahl's 1970 children's novel. The early buzz has been, no pun intended, fantastic indeed.
The early reviews haven't been kind, and its release was delayed for an entire year, but it will still be interesting to see what Australian visionary John Hillcoat (The Proposition) does with The Road (Nov. 25), Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic best seller. Viggo Mortensen plays "The Man."
Director Rob Marshall's Oscar-winning Chicago was over-hyped, but Nine (Nov. 25), a Marshall-helmed adaptation of the 1982 Broadway musical inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2 is intriguing. For starters, just check out that groovy cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Sophia Loren. Can you say "wow"?