I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled to see this summer movie season in the rearview mirror.
Partly that’s due to a particularly weak crop of films this year. The super-hero flicks were rather dull, the comedies largely mirthless and even the animated flicks seemed to be going through the motions. (Next up for Disney: “Hovercraft”?)
In contrast, the cinematic lineup for fall looks meaty. You’ve got the usual Oscar-bait dramas (Streep! Scorsese!), the next epic installments of “The Hobbit” and “The Hunger Games,” and even a sequel to “Thor” – just in case anyone was experiencing comic book-movie withdrawal.
So here's our look ahead to the next few months of movies. Those marked with an asterisk are films I’m particularly passionate about. Please note, release dates are subject to change:
“Prisoners” (Sept. 20) – Hugh Jackman plays the father of an abducted girl who takes matters into his own hands when the police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes up short in this suspense drama.
*”Rush” (Sept. 27) – Ron Howard's drama about the spectacular rivalry between real-life 1970s Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda could garner Academy Award attention. Starring Chris Hemsworth.
*“Don Jon” (Sept. 27) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars, wrote and directed this comedy about a shallow Jersey boy obsessed with pornography, which causes bumps when he finally meets the perfect girl (Scarlett Johansson).
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (Sept. 27) – Meat and other foods are still raining from the sky, so it’s up to hapless scientist Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) to come to the rescue again in this zany animated sequel.
*”Gravity” (Oct. 4) – Sandra Bullock is already getting talk of another Oscar nomination for her role as a stranded astronaut in Alfonso Cuarón’s space drama. Co-starring George Clooney.
“Captain Phillips” (Oct. 11) – Tom Hanks hooks up with powerhouse director Paul Greengrass ("United 93") in this true story of an American cargo ship captain whose vessel is captured by Somali Pirates. Another Oscar nod for Tom seems like a good bet.
“The Fifth Estate” (Oct. 11) – Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in this controversial drama from director Bill Condon.
“Romeo and Juliet” (Oct. 11) – Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth tackle the immortal bard for this adaptation penned by "Downton Abbey" scribe Julian Fellowes.
“Carrie” (Oct. 18) – A head-scratching remake of the supernatural horror classic stars Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. Directed by Kimberly Pierce ("Boys Don't Cry"), it prompts one question: Why?
“All Is Lost” (Oct. 18) – Robert Redford has stayed largely behind the camera lately, but the 76-year-old steps up in this largely wordless drama about an old sailor caught on a sinking sailboat in the Indian Ocean.
“Escape Plan” (Oct. 18) – Essentially “Sneakers” in a prison, this action/drama stars Sylvester Stallone as a guy who breaks out of jail professionally, until he’s thrown into a high-tech dungeon where Arnold Schwarzenegger is the kingpin. Co-starring Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Jim Caviezel.
*”12 Years a Slave” (Oct. 18) – Another early Oscar contender from rising director Steve McQueen, this drama stars Chiwetel Ejiofor in the true story of a free black man who was sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War era. With Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.
*”The Counselor”(Oct. 25) -- Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer who gets in over his head when he dips his toe into the drug trafficking business. Directed by Ridley Scott from the first original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, co-starring Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem.
“About Time” (Nov. 1) -- Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) wrote and directed this quirky British romantic comedy about an insecure boy who discovers all the men in his family can travel through time, a skill he uses in romantic endeavors with Rachel McAdams.
“Free Birds” (Nov. 1) -- In this animated flick, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson voice a pair of turkeys who join forces to travel back in time to take themselves off the first Thanksgiving menu.
“Last Vegas” (Nov. 1) -- Dismissed as “The Hangover for Seniors,” this comedy puts together a foursome of long-in-the-tooth heavyweights – Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline – for a night of debauchery in Sin City.
“Thor: The Dark World” (Nov. 8) -- Chris Hemsworth is back as the Norse thunder god who must team up with back-stabbing brother Loki to take on the ultimate enemy of the Asgardian realm: Dark Elves!
*“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Nov. 15) -- The collaborations of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese have been fruitful, and they’re back for a satirical (but true!) look at the excesses of 1990s high finance. With Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey.
“The Best Man Holiday” (Nov. 15) -- College friends reunite 15 years later and find their sexy secrets are set to boil over. With Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard and Taye Diggs.
“The Book Thief” (Nov. 15) -- “Downton Abbey” director Brian Percival tackles the story of a WWII German girl who pilfers books while her family hides Jewish refugees. A lot of Oscar buzz for this one.
“Great Expectations” (Nov. 15) -- The Charles Dickens’ classic gets a new cinematic adaptation starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Mike Newell.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Nov. 22) -- The “Hunger Games” sequel sees death competition champion Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) forced to sign on for another round of fatal combat as the seeds of rebellion grow.
“Delivery Man”(Nov. 22) -- This remake of a French-Canadian comedy stars Vince Vaughn as a loser delivery truck driver who discovers that his youthful "donations" to a fertility clinic has resulted in him fathering 533 children.
“Nebraska” (Nov. 22) -- Alexander Payne ("Sideways") directs this black-and-white drama about an estranged father and son who come together to claim a winning lottery prize. Starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, a funnyman stretching his wings.
“Frozen” (Nov. 29) -- The latest Disney animated fantasy spectacle finds a young girl traveling through a mystical snowbound land to confront her magical sister. It seems to be in the “Tangled” mode of hijinks leavened by somber notes.
“Oldboy” (Nov. 29) -- For some reason, Spike Lee decided we needed a remake of the Korean action/drama cult favorite, about an everyman (Josh Brolin) who is locked in solitary confinement for 20 years for no apparent reason, then released for a revenge spree.
*“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Nov. 29) -- Idris Elba headlines this biopic of the South African icon, covering his life from revolutionary leader to political prisoner to president. Academy Award nominations appear likely.
“Grace of Monaco” (Nov. 29) -- Nicole Kidman headlines this biopic of Grace Kelly, who gave up Hollywood stardom for the throne of a tiny European country, which faced the possibility of a French invasion in the early 1960s.
*“Out of the Furnace” (Dec. 6) -- “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper looks to make a strong sophomore effort in this film with Christian Bale as a reformed criminal who heads draws on his experiences to go up against a hill-country crime boss (Woody Harrelson) when his brother disappears.
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Dec. 6) -- Matthew McConaughey continues his quest to try and reclaim his leading man cred in this true story of a Texas cowboy who discovers he is HIV-positive in 1985, and becomes a black market dealer in experimental treatment drugs.
*“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Dec. 13) -- J.R.R. Tolkien’s slim novel moves into its second of a trio of three-hour films, as wayward hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues his quest with a baker’s dozen of dwarves to overthrow an evil dragon. You can expect more plot and character add-ons from Peter Jackson & Co.
*“American Hustle” (Dec. 13) -- Writer/director David O. Russell has been on a roll lately, and looks to keep it going with this 1970s story of a con man who becomes a federal snitch. Starring Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (Dec. 20) -- Joel and Ethan Coen are back with this look at a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) trying to make it in Greenwich Village circa 1961. Look for their patented ironic/funny/sad tone. With Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake.
“Anchorman: The Legend Continues” (Dec. 20) -- I'll admit I never grasped the appeal of the original comedy featuring Will Ferrell's pompous windbag newscaster, but it’s definitely achieved cult comedy status. By the early 1980s, he's fallen to the level of announcer at a Sea World knockoff, and gets recruited to start up a 24-hour news service.
“The Monuments Men” (Dec. 20) -- George Clooney co-wrote, directed and stars in this quasi-true caper about a group of art experts who team up during World War II to save antiquities from destruction at Nazi hands. With Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.
*“Saving Mr. Banks” (Dec. 20) -- Could Tom Hanks score two Best Actor nominations in one year? He portrays magic man Walt Disney during his courting of author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to get the rights to her “Mary Poppins.” Could be a great Hollywood-on-Hollywood story.
“Walking with Dinosaurs” (Dec. 20) -- This ambitious 3-D animated film attempts to capture the world of humongous reptiles as it really was – with a cute baby dino, of course.
*“Her” (Dec. 20) -- Trippy filmmaker Spike Jonze (“Adaptation”) teams up with unconventional actor Joaquin Phoenix in this drama about a lonely man who falls in love with his cutting-edge computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Let the Siri jokes commence!
*“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (Dec. 25) -- Ben Stiller directed and stars in this adaptation of the James Thurber story about a boring man with a vivid interior life, who decides to finally take some chances. Co-starring Kristen Wiig.
“Labor Day” (Dec. 25) -- One of Hollywood’s hottest young directors, Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) adapts Joyce Maynard’s novel about a wounded escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who takes a reclusive mother (Kate Winslet) and her teen son hostage.
“The Invisible Woman” (Dec. 25) -- Ralph Fiennes directed and stars in this historical drama about the largely forgotten affair between Charles Dickens and an 18-year-old actress (Felicity Jones).
“47 Ronin” (Dec. 25) -- This troubled production stars Keanu Reeves as a half-breed samurai who gets recruited by a group of ronin to avenge the death of their master. Twice delayed with a rookie director = not good.
“Jack Ryan” (Dec. 25) -- Chris Pine becomes the fourth actor to take on the role of the CIA analyst sprung from the mind of author Tom Clancy. Here he discovers a Russian terrorist plot against the U.S.
“Grudge Match” (Dec. 25) -- The Raging Bull and the Italian Stallion (Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone) climb into the ring together for one final stab at boxing gold. They play formal rivals who go toe-to-toe again 30 years after retiring. Needless to say, it’s a comedy.
*“August: Osage County” (Dec. 25) -- A powerhouse cast headlines this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play about an Oklahoma family that comes together for a strife-filled family reunion. Big emotions will be flung. Starring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard and Margo Martindale.
“Lone Survivor” (Dec. 25) -- In 2005, a team of Navy SEALs were sent to kill a Taliban leader. The mission failed and only one man (Mark Wahlberg) survived in this gritty action/drama.
“Black Nativity” (Dec. 25) -- A contemporary update on the classic Langston Hughes play, this musical drama follows a tough street teen from Baltimore who spends Christmas with his estranged family in New York. With Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson and Jennifer Hudson.