OK, as we sweat through the remaining dog days of summer, kids are headed back to school and we're reminded that fall is just around the corner. Along with the season comes a new slate of movies headed to theaters. These are typically the ones that are a bit more highbrow than the summer movie fare of gigantic budgeted sequels and bombastic action pictures. This is the season that generally contains more thoughtful and Oscar-worthy pictures to the big screen. (Undoubtedly, there will be some stinkers mixed in for good measure.)
But for the benefit of those lucky people (small in number as they may be) who read on, the following is a brief rundown of some of the more notable films set for release in the fall (September-November). So get a writing utensil in hand and prepare to mark your calendars, as I'm sure you all do regularly. Keep in mind, release dates are subject to change. For example, one movie, "V for Vendetta," starring Natalie Portman was just moved this past week from November to March 2006.
So here we go ...
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose"
Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Jennifer Carpenter, Campbell Scott and Colm Feore
Coming on the heels of a couple of "Exorcist" prequels tanking at the box-office, comes another exorcism movie – this one based on a true story. Starring Oscar-nominees Tom Wilkinson as a priest on trial for the death of a teenage girl and Laura Linney as the lawyer defending him, I'm willing to give this the benefit of the doubt. But I better not see any head spinning or green pea soup spitting going on. (Sept. 9)
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis
Reteaming "Shakespeare in Love" star Paltrow with director John Madden, "Proof" centers on a daughter coming home to care for her noted mathematician father (Hopkins), who is suffering from mental illness. Paltrow previously played the role in a London theater production in 2002, under the direction of Madden. Hmm, if this movie has the same star and director, couldn't somebody have just set up a camcorder in the theater a few years ago to save time and money? (Sept. 16)
"Lord of War"
Starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, Eamonn Walker and Ethan Hawke
Cage and Leto play brothers who start out small selling weapons, but eventually find themselves as major arms dealers to all sorts of morally questionable people in foreign countries. Hawke is an Interpol agent determined to bring them to justice. Good thing the U.S. doesn't participate in any such nefarious activities, or else this story could hit a bit too close to home. Well, come to think of it ... (Sept. 16)
"Just Like Heaven"
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue and Jon Heder
Witherspoon plays a workaholic doctor with no time for romance, who is helpfully killed in the early part of the movie. Oh, well she does return as a ghost, only to find her apartment occupied by a new tenant (Ruffalo), who is the only person who can see her. The two hate each other at first, then slowly fall in love and eventually have ghost babies. OK, that last part I made up, but it's gotta be something like that. The film also stars "Napoleon Dynamite" himself, Jon Heder, which the trailer helpfully points out. As if putting Witherspoon in a romantic comedy isn't enough of a box-office draw. (Sept. 16)
"Tim Burton's Corpse Bride"
Starring the voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson and Albert Finney
Just a mere two months after the release of box-office hit "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Tim Burton returns with another film, this one a stop-motion puppetry feature (in the same vein as "The Nightmare Before Christmas"). Depp stars once again, giving voice to a young groom about to marry one woman (Watson), only to discover another very dead one (Bonham Carter) wanting to tie the knot with him. Not the quintessential kiddie flick, methinks. And as Burton is actually married to Bonham Carter, does he really need to refer to her in his movie title? Personally, I think she's way more attractive than a corpse. (Sept. 23)
Starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Erika Christensen and Sean Bean
Foster is a mom who loses her young daughter on a transatlantic flight, but seemingly encounters a plane full of people who question whether the little girl was ever onboard. Did anybody check those overhead compartments? You could totally fit little kids in them. Not that I'm suggesting that as a wise decision when it comes time to put away your carry on luggage. (Sept. 23)
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
Starring the voices of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and Peter Kay
Already carrying multiple Oscar wins under his belt for animated shorts, "Wallace & Gromit" creator Nick Park brings his cheese loving inventor Wallace and intelligent dog Gromit to the big screen. Park has proven he can make a hit out of clay animation ("Chicken Run"), but can he do the same for his dynamic duo? (Oct. 7)
"Two for the Money"
Starring Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo, Jeremy Piven and Armand Assante
A former college football star (McConaughey) shows he's got a great knack for picking sports winners, which lands him a powerful position in a New York City sports-betting agency, run by Walter Abraham (Pacino). Let's see ... Pacino playing the head of an agency involved in high stakes gambling. Any bets on Pacino playing the role quiet and understated? I thought not. (Oct. 7)
Starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Paul Schneider and Alec Baldwin
For a change, Bloom actually plays a character set in present day, and even better, he does so for writer-director Cameron Crowe in a comedy/drama about a young man dealing with a professional failure as well as the death of his father. Crowe has regularly proven to be a real actor's director, writing complex and interesting characters. But does he have to take so long in between projects? (His last was 2001's "Vanilla Sky.") Local area plug: The movie was partially filmed in Eureka Springs, Ark., and Oklahoma City, Okla. (Oct. 14)
Starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman
Adopting his own novella of the same name, Martin stars as a businessman who falls in love with a Saks Fifth Avenue counter clerk (Danes). Problem is, she's also being courted by a bit of a slacker (Schwartzman), who's also much closer to her age. Let the romantic competition begin! Martin has had success starring in his own script before ("Roxanne"), so there's hope that he can do it again. (Oct. 21)
"The Legend of Zorro"
Starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rufus Sewell
After hitting box-office gold in 1998, it seems quite surprising that it took seven years to put together a sequel, which reunites the director (Martin Campbell) with two of the original's stars (Anthony Hopkins is MIA). But when you pair lookers like Banderas and Zeta-Jones together, who cares what the plot is? Just prepare for lots of smoldering looks, swordplay and other derring-do. Just don't count on a mariachi band to provide musical entertainment. (Oct. 28)
"The Weather Man"
Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine and Hope Davis
Heading up his second movie in as many months, Cage stars as Dave Spritz, a weather man (sorry, meteorologist) who is finally seeing a break come in his career. However, his personal life is a bit of a mess, with a divorce, ill dad and trouble with his kids to deal with. This movie was delayed from a spring release, but has a solid cast and good trailer working for it. (Oct. 28)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Cooper, Lucas Black and Jamie Foxx
An adaptation of the best-selling book of the same name by Anthony Swofford, Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") directs this story of a Marine sniper squad during the 1991 Gulf War. A war movie that features no prominent roles for women in a time of ever-growing dissent of the war in Iraq could require some interesting marketing strategies from Universal, the studio distributing the film. But it's got Oscar-calibre written all over it. (Nov. 4)
Starring the voices of Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack, Amy Sedaris and Steve Zahn
As the infamous chicken that thought the sky was falling, Braff gives voice to the title character, who now believes that an alien invasion is in the works and recruits other animals to help save the day. This marks Disney's first all-CG film after years of leaning on the great films from Pixar. But now that the two are divorced with only "Cars" still to come from their collaboration, Disney's animation division needs a hit now more than ever. Not to put any pressure on this 'Chicken' or anything. (Nov. 4)
Starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Tracie Thoms
When you want to make an adaptation of a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Broadway musical about New Yorkers dealing with the outbreak of AIDS, it's only natural for writer-director Chris Columbus' name to come up. The director of "Home Alone" and the first two "Harry Potter" movies is clearly not an expected choice, but stranger things have happened. The fact that most of the cast also starred in the Broadway production is a nice security blanket. (Nov. 11)
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon and Brendan Gleeson
Speaking of the young wizard, he returns to the big screen in the fourth adaptation of the J.K. Rowling series of books. Admittedly, I've been missing out on the adventures at Hogwarts, so I'll assume fans already know the basic storyline. Now their main concern will be to see what things get left out from the book. Oh, and to see how much more the three main characters have grown since their last outing. (Damn you puberty!) By the way, Warner Bros. has already fast-tracked "Order of the Phoenix" for 2007. (Nov. 18)
"Walk the Line"
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin and Robert Patrick
After the success of another biopic centered around a well respected musical talent ("Ray"), there should be some good vibes coming for the Johnny Cash story, starring Phoenix as the Man in Black. Witherspoon portrays longtime wife June Carter. Cash saw a resurgence late in his music career before his death in 2003, so that could bode well for this pic. (Nov. 18)
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Michelle Monaghan, Chris Cooper and Jeffrey Wright
Featuring interweaving storylines in the style of "Traffic," that film's Oscar-winning screenwriter, Stephen Gaghan, is the writer and director of this film based on a 2002 book from a former government operative. Focused on the Middle Eastern oil industry, the film takes a critical look at the CIA's role in the war on terrorism, among other plot points. Can you say topical? (Nov. 23)