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Fall brings out award-worthy films

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

Wow, what a summer this has been for the movie business! Hollywood's blockbuster-driven economy teetered on the ledge, a mere sequel or two from total collapse. Johnny Depp basically said, ‘Hey, don't look at me — who knew kids today couldn't relate to cowboy movies?” Spike Lee decided to chuck the studios entirely, and raise his next movie's millions through Kickstarter. Giant robots fought monsters, and it wasn't embarrassing — “Pacific Rim” was actually more than the sum of its explosions.

Traditionally, fall is the time for dumping movies that didn't seem to be summery or blockbuster-y enough, and gradually slipping into awards season, where prestige pictures compete for “buzz” and “momentum.” It's pretty easy to figure out which is which.

There's Ron Howard's portrait of Formula 1 racing, “Rush,” on Sept. 27, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock left to float away in space in “Gravity” on Oct. 4, and the continuation of scary/tough-guy Danny Trejo's evolution into an action hero, in “Machete Kills,” on Oct. 11.

Tom Hanks gets kidnapped by Somali pirates on Oct. 11, in “Captain Phillips,” and Robert Redford gets lost at sea on Oct. 18, in “All is Lost.”

Also on Oct. 18, splatter-horror classic “Carrie” gets remade (starring Chloe Moretz), and the Wikileaks guy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) exposes government secrets in “The Fifth Estate.”

There's a tiny dollop of science fiction and superheroes this fall, too. Sci-fi classic “Ender's Game” finally gets its movie on Nov. 1, and “Thor: The Dark World” returns the Viking superhero-god to his throne on Nov. 8. Then “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” arrives Nov. 15, burning everything in its path.

— Michael Machosky

The following is a list of the upcoming fall movies by Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett's chief film critic. As always, dates are tentative; always check local listings.

Sept. 20

“Battle of the Year” (PG-13): In which Josh Holloway, so great in “Lost,” is selected to help the American team regain its former glory ... in breakdancing. Bet this would have been hot stuff in, like, 1983. Maybe.

“Prisoners” (not yet rated): Hugh Jackman kidnaps Paul Dano, who he thinks has kidnapped his 6-year-old daughter and her friend. Jake Gyllenhaal is the detective trying to sort it all out. The cast includes Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. That's a lot of wattage.

“Thanks for Sharing” (not yet rated): Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow star in a film about members of a 12-step group seeking help for their sex addiction.

Sept. 27

“Baggage Claim” ( PG-13): Paula Patton plays a flight attendant who, thanks to her much-married mother, desperately searches for a husband. Here's to setting women's rights back another few decades.

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (not yet rated): Flint (voice of Bill Hader), the genius who created the food-making machine in the first film, is back. He's helping clean up the island where the food storm hit but learns his machine is still working, now making food-animal hybrids like the tacodile, which is so awesomely stupid-sounding it makes you want to see the movie.

“Don Jon” (R): Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directs and stars in this film about a man seeking to find the satisfaction in real life he gets from watching pornography on his computer. With Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza, of all people. Yay, kind of.

“Rush” (R): Great buzz for Ron Howard's film, about Formula 1 greats Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The racing footage is supposed to be great. Here's hoping the rest of the movie holds up, too.

Oct. 4

“Gravity” (PG-13): George Clooney and Sandra Bullock get set adrift in space. If you remember your fifth-grade science class, you know this isn't a good thing. Alfonso Cuaron co-wrote and directed.

“Runner Runner” (R): Justin Timberlake thinks he's been cheated in online gambling — imagine — and travels to Costa Rica to confront Ben Affleck, the guy behind the scheme.

“The Shadow King” (not yet rated): Jaden Betts plays a kid with long fingers who learns to make shadows, which he uses to fight off a monster threatening New York City. Directed by Henry Selick, who also directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Coraline.” This is a good thing.

Oct. 11

“Captain Phillips” (not yet rated): Tom Hanks plays the captain of a U.S. ship hijacked by Somali pirates, the first hijacking of an American ship in 200 years. Paul Greengrass directs, and the buzz is good, because, you know, it always is when Tom Hanks is involved.

“Machete Kills” (not yet rated): Danny Trejo is back as the title character in the sequel to the absolutely unhinged 2010 original (a guilty pleasure). This time he's taking down an arms dealer. The supporting cast includes Jessica Alba, Amber Heard, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens, Sofia Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lada Gaga and, why not, Mel Gibson. How can you not want to see it?

“Romeo & Juliet” (PG-13): Stop us if you're heard this story before. ... Carlo Carlei directs yet another version of Williams Shakespeare's take of doomed romance, with Douglas Booth as Romeo and Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet. With Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti and Stellan Skarsgard, among many others. Because everyone likes a shot at Shakespeare.

Oct. 18

“All Is Lost” (not yet rated): Robert Redford is the sole cast member in this film (listed as “Our Man”), about a sailor on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean who winds up stranded. Intriguing, if nothing else.

“Carrie” (not yet rated): Risky remake of Brian De Palma's classic 1976 take on Stephen King's novel, with Chloe Grace Moretz in the role that helped make Sissy Spacek a star and got her an Oscar nomination. Why risky? Because the original was so good. Piper Laurie also got a nomination as Carrie's mom, a role Julianne Moore takes on here. We'll see. ...

“Escape Plan” (R): Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger star in ... well, if you're old enough, that's enough, isn't it? Stallone has to break out of a high-tech prison he designed. Hope they fight. And don't pretend like you don't.

“The Fifth Estate” (R): Benedict Cumberbatch — what isn't he in lately? — stars as Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who exposed government secrets before accusations of sexual assault landed him in asylum. Oscar potential for Cumberbatch for sure.

Oct. 25

“The Counselor” (not yet rated): OK, Cormac McCarthy wrote the script, Ridley Scott directs, Michael Fassbender stars (as a lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking) and the supporting cast includes Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Hey, I think I might watch this thing. ...

“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” (not yet rated): Johnny Knoxville blends fact and fiction, playing an old man who takes his 8-year-old grandson (Jackson Nicholl) across the country. A hidden camera captures interactions with real people. Like “Borat” for stupid people? Eh. Maybe.

Nov. 1

“Ender's Game” (not yet rated): Gavin Hood's adaptation of Orson Scott Card's novel is garnering headlines for all the wrong reasons: Cards' vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. Meanwhile Asa Butterfield stars as Ender, a gifted kid sent to a military school in space. Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis also star.

“Free Birds” (not yet rated): Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson provide the voices of rival turkeys who go back in time to try to get turkey taken off the Thanksgiving menu. With Amy Poehler, Colm Meaney and George Takei.

“Last Vegas” (PG-13): Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline head to Las Vegas, for a bachelor party for Douglas' character. Great cast. Can screenwriter Dan Fogelman and director Jon Turteltaub keep up?

Nov. 8

“About Time” (not yet rated): Domhnall Gleeson plays a young man who discovers he can travel in time, and change his past. Complications ensue, as one might expect. With Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy.

“Thor: The Dark World” (not yet rated): Chris Hemsworth returns as the title character. He's going all out to protect Natalie Portman, who is being menaced by dark elves of Svartalfheim. Yes, fans at Comic-Con loved it, but that's not the most discriminating audience.

Nov. 15

“The Best Man Holiday” (not yet rated): Malcolm D. Lee (cousin of Spike) makes a sequel to his 1999 film “The Best Man.” This time the gang gets back together after 15 years, and all the old behaviors, good and bad, resurface. With Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs.

“The Book Thief” (not yet rated): Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), a girl living in Germany in World War II, steals books and shares them. Meanwhile, a Jewish fighter (Ben Schnetzer) hides in her home. Based on Markus Zusak's novel.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (not yet rated): Crank up the Oscar-making machinery. Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill, among others, in the story based on the life of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a real-life stockbroker on whose book the film is based. Terence Winter wrote the script. This is the kind of thing the Academy salivates over. Everyone else, too (if it's good).

“Delivery Man” (PG-13): Ken Scott makes an American version of his French-Canadian film “Starbuck,” about a man (Vince Vaughn) who learns that, thanks to sperm-bank donations, he has fathered 533 children. He has to decide whether to identify himself after 142 of them sue to find his identity. Vaughn could use a hit.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (not yet rated): Every ‘tween girl on the planet awaits with bated breath. Others, too. The next film in the series, based on Suzanne Collins trilogy, finds the Hunger Games victory by Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) sparking riots. The Big Brother-type government does not approve. Whatever, as long as Stanley Tucci is back as Caesar (and he is).

“Nebraska” (R): Bruce Dern stars as an old man who travels from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son to claim a million-dollar prize. Alexander Payne directs, but not from his own script, which is unusual. Bob Nelson wrote the screenplay. Intriguing.

Nov. 27

“Black Nativity” (not yet rated): Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett star in a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes' play.

“Frozen” (2013): An animated Disney film in which a girl named Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a snowman (Josh Gad) to find Anna's sister (Idina Menzel). What was the last truly great animated film? “Toy Story 3”? We're overdue for one.

“Homefront” (R): Jason Statham plays a DEA agent who moves his family to a small town, but runs afoul of James Franco, playing the leader of a gang of meth traffickers. Based on Chuck Logan, the screenplay was written by none other than Sylvester Stallone. Don't laugh; he wrote the first “Rocky,” too (and got an Oscar nomination for it).

“Oldboy” (R): Spike Lee remakes Chan-wook Park's 2003 thriller about a man (Josh Brolin) held captive for 20 years, then released. He tries to find the people responsible for his torment. But if this film hews to the original, the torments are just beginning. It'll be interesting to see if the remake has the courage to portray the ugliness of the original.

Dec. 6

“Dallas Buyers Club” (R): Matthew McConaughey is getting great buzz for his performance as an HIV-positive man who battles pharmaceutical companies and the medical establishment, leading him to seek alternative treatments. Jean-Marc Vallee directs.

“Out of the Furnace” (not yet rated): Casey Affleck plays a man who goes missing, Christian Bale the older brother who tries to find him. Strong buzz for Bale.

“Saving Mr. Banks” (PG-13): Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, who wrote “Mary Poppins.” What more do you need to know?

Dec. 13

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (not yet rated): Here we go again. The first part of what director Peter Jackson turned into a trilogy premiered last year, and was a long, long slog. This time around we should get some relief from Smaug, the dragon, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (who also plays the Necromancer). This reunites him with his “Sherlock” co-star Martin Freeman, still holding down the fort as Bilbo Baggins.

“Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas” (not yet rated): Perry is back doing his Orson Welles thing, writing, directing and starring in a film based on his play. Madea helps a friend visit her daughter in the country for Christmas; the usual hijinks ensue.

Dec. 18

“The Monuments Men” (not yet rated): George Clooney co-wrote, directs and stars as the leader of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, an Allied crew during World War II that works to recover priceless works of art stolen by Hitler before he can destroy them. Clooney's a sneaky-good writer and director; this might be something.

Dec. 20

“Anchorman: The Legend Continues” (not yet rated): You know how studios save their Oscar bait for late in the year? Yeah, this isn't an example of that. Who cares? It's just nice to look in on TV news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his loyal band of idiots again. Harrison Ford (!) and Kristen Wiig are among the new additions to the cast this time around.

“Walking with Dinosaurs” (not yet rated): An underdog dinosaur becomes a hero. Cute, you're thinking? BBC Earth, which made the film, is stressing the immersive 3-D aspects. Audiences will “truly see and feel what it was like when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.” All-righty then. Wouldn't you want to just run?

Dec. 25

“47 Ronin” (not yet rated): Keanu Reeves plays an outcast who joins a group of samurai out to avenge the death of their master. A fictional account of a real event and at least the third film version of it. But it will have sat on the shelf for more than a year by the time it opens. Never a good sign.

“August: Osage County” (not yet rated): John Wells directs a Tracy Letts script, based on his play, about the women of the Weston family, who must gather at the Oklahoma house where they grew up. The cast? Um, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper. ... That's enough proof that this one's gunning for the big awards.

“American Hustle” (not yet rated): Two con artists have to work with the feds to catch others. OK. How's this for a cast? Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. ... Yeah, this might get some buzz.

“Grudge Match” (PG-13): Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play aging boxing rivals who are persuaded to fight one more time, 50 years after their last match. Really? Peter Segal, of “50 First Dates” sort-of fame, directs. Maybe it'll be great. But the odds seem rather long.

“Jack Ryan” (not yet rated): Chris Pine jumps into the shoes of Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin before him, playing the popular character from the Tom Clancy novels. Ryan uncovers a Russian plot to destroy the U.S. economy, because that's the kind of thing Ryan does.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (not yet rated): Ben Stiller directs and stars in yet another film version of the great James Thurber short story, about a boring man with a vivid fantasy life. This time it sounds as if Walter will actually get to live out some of his fantasies. Hmm.

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