Familiar faces coming to the big screen this fall

Gandalf, Bond and Lincoln in most-anticipated films this awards season

Thanks to “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” the summer of 2012 had some record-breaking box office takes, but most of the season’s movies were a little lackluster.

With the exception of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and Sundance hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the movies didn’t offer much in the way of “serious” moviegoing fare.

The fall is traditionally the time of year studios release what they think gives them their best chance for Oscar gold, and there’s an intriguing crop of movies slated for release for the rest of 2012.

“The Master”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to 2007 Best Picture nominee “There Will Be Blood” opens in limited release on Sept. 14 and starts expanding in wider release the following week.

One of the most talked-about projects in Hollywood, Anderson’s post-WWII drama is controversial because it is said to mirror or at least take inspiration from the story of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a charismatic leader who starts a religious organization and Joaquin Phoenix falls under his spell. Surprise screenings on the West Coast have built up a feverish buzz around the film, which had its official world premiere Sept. 1 at the Venice Film Festival.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the action thriller “Looper.”


You may not expect a Bruce Willis sci-fi action movie to be considered among the more brainier films of the fall, but expectations are high for writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Looper,” which opened the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 6 and goes wide in the States on Sept. 28.

After his independent features “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom,” Johnson is becoming known for combining genres in all kinds of unique ways, and in “Looper,” he’s going for a gritty film noir time-travel movie.

Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play the same character — a hitman in his 50s — and 20s — and are forced to hunt each other down.


This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, center, in “Argo,” a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.


Ben Affleck is in the middle of quite a career rejuvenation. “Argo,” the third film he’s directed following “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” is poised to continue his streak of Oscar-nominated performances.

Based on the true story of a bizarre rescue attempt staged by the U.S. and Canada during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis by disguising six hostages as members of a film crew, “Argo” co-stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and lots of bad ’70s wigs and plaid suits.

The trailer is a deft combination of drama and humor, so here’s hoping “Argo” — opening wide Oct. 12 — contains string performances without being as heavy-handed as “The Town.”

“Seven Psychopaths”

Anticipation is high for this black comedy, and not just because of its stellar cast. Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits are just four of the psychopaths of the title in writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the cult-comedy favorite “In Bruges.”

If he can balance the dark humor and violence with slivers of unexpectedly poignancy like he did so well with “In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths” could prove to be more than just a goofy tale of gangsters and dog thieves, which is how its previews are selling it.

It opens Oct. 12, after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival the month before.


This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tom Hanks as Zachry and Halle Berry as Meronym in a scene from “Cloud Atlas,” an epic spanning centuries and genres. )

“Cloud Atlas”

Without a doubt, the Wachowski brothers (responsible for the “Matrix” films and the vastly underrated “Speed Racer”) have the most ambitious project of the season in “Cloud Atlas.”

Adapting David Mitchell’s award-winning novel, the Wachowskis teamed with director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) to present six nested stories set in different time periods from 1850 to an apocalyptic future.

Tom Hanks plays four roles, while Halle Berry plays three, and Susan Sarandon plays an Indian man named Ursula. Confused yet?

The 164-minute film was filmed in four different countries and will no doubt have an even more front-and-center philosophical bent than the “Matrix” movies.

“Cloud Atlas” opens wide in the U.S. on Oct. 26.


After three motion-capture animated features in a row, director Robert Zemeckis returns to the real world, directing his first all live-action feature since 2000’s “What Lies Beneath” and “Cast Away.”

Denzel Washington stars as an airline pilot who turns into an instant hero when he saves an entire plane full of passengers in a daring crash landing. But he quickly goes from hero to pariah when it’s discovered he had alcohol in his blood.

Skipping the festivals, this drama has a slick mainstream appearance and opens wide on Nov. 2.


Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in “Skyfall.”


Daniel Craig returns to the role that made him a superstar in 2006.

His third James Bond film started production in 2010 but was suspended amid film studio MGM’s crippling financial troubles.

It resumed in late 2011 and is on schedule to be released Nov. 9 in the U.S., after two weeks overseas.

Javier Bardem is the villain that Bond follows to the South China Sea following a blown operation in Istanbul, and Judi Dench plays M for her seventh consecutive Bond film.

“Skyfall” is also Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes’ (“American Beauty”) first action film.


Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Abraham Lincoln in the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln.”


At a time when the country couldn’t be more divided, director Steven Spielberg presents “Lincoln,” a story that documents the last months of the 16th president’s term, where he tried to move the country forward following the South’s defeat in the long and bloody Civil War.

If anything screams Best Actor Oscar frontrunner already, it’s this long-gestating Spielberg dream project.

Need further proof? Intense method actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln in what producer Kathleen Kennedy has already described as a “very, very performance-driven movie.”

“Lincoln” drops Nov. 16 — the movie, that is.


This film image released by 20th Century Fox shows Suraj Sharma in a scene from “Life of Pi.”

“Life of Pi”

Based on Yann Martel’s best-selling fantasy adventure novel, “Life of Pi” chronicles a 16-year-old Indian boy who survives a shipwreck and is stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger.

The movie promises to deal with themes of spirituality and faith, as the boy (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) learns how to survive. “Life of Pi” may not be the most obvious choice for a film to be presented in 3-D, but that’s just what Oscar-winning director Ang Lee is doing.

The film already has early buzz for its beautiful cinematography, which is on display in its trailer. “Life of Pi” opens Nov. 21.


Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf in a scene from the fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

Now that it has been revealed that Peter Jackson is indeed adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit” into three feature films, the Oscar-winning writer/director has realized he still has some footage left to film. Principal photography on the project was said to be finished in July of this year, but now Jackson has three consecutive December releases to produce.

With tons of actors reprising their roles from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, there will no doubt be a lot of familiarity with “The Hobbit.”

What remains to be seen is if Jackson can make the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as narratively compelling as he did for Frodo. Part one opens everywhere Dec. 14.

“Zero Dark Thirty”

There are no fewer than two other projects in the works about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” will be the first to make it to theaters, since it was already in production when the global terrorist was killed by U.S. troops in May of 2011.

From the advance trailer, it looks to be another riveting movie with intense action sequences — like Bigelow’s last film, “The Hurt Locker”— and it supposedly concentrates on the men and the mission, not the politics. “Zero Dark Thirty” is not a star-driven film, although it contains recognizable actors like Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, and Jessica Chastain.

The movie is set for release Dec. 19.

“This is 40”

You can’t really call it a sequel, so I guess writer/director Judd Apatow’s new comedy “This is 40” could be considered a spin-off.

Featuring Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann, reprising their roles as the married couple from his 2007 film “Knocked Up,” “This is 40” explores what life is like for couples well into their marriages and raising kids. What remains to be seen is if Apatow’s latest features any of the dark overtones of “Funny People” or if it’s mostly lighter fare. I’m betting on the latter and hoping it’s just a bit more focused.

“This is 40” opens Dec. 21 everywhere.

“Django Unchained”

Quentin Tarantino’s latest violent revenge picture takes place in the Antebellum South and follows a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx), who is freed by a German bounty hunter (Cristoph Waltz).

He journeys far to find his wife (Kerry Washington) and ends up crossing paths with a ruthless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino always has a flair for the cinematic, turning seemingly trashy material into something bigger and more transcendent.

What better day than Christmas for a bloody revenge tale set during a shameful period in our history?


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