With Labor Day safely behind us, weekly movie releases can now officially be considered as part of the fall slate. Yes, yes... fall technically starts on September 22. Screw that noise though. Summer blockbusters are done. So begins the race for the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards and all of the other many prestigious awards that will be handed out in the coming months.
What are you most looking forward to seeing? "TRON: Legacy"? "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"? "The Social Network"? Please let us know. I'm going to use this opportunity to run through 10 upcoming fall releases that don't necessarily number among the major tentpoles. Even if you've heard of them, these (mostly) smaller-scale productions are worthy of your attention in the coming months.
"I'm Still Here" -- September 10
Here's one you probably have heard about, even if you don't immediately recognize the title. For the past year-plus, actor Jaoquin Phoenix has been on a pretty wild trip. He didn't go anywhere, not physically. But he did grow his hair long, adopt a scraggly beard and pursue a career in making rap music. The metamorphosis was documented by Casey Affleck, Ben's bro. "I'm Still Here" is the result.
"Howl" -- September 24
Here's one that quietly emerged from Sundance 2010 to nab itself, like "Buried," the rapid turnaround of a same-year fall release. The star power certainly helps: James Franco, who is already getting awards buzz for his performance in Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," plays a young Allen Ginsberg here. The film specifically follows the obscenity trial that the poet face in the wake of the publication of his most famous work, "Howl."
"Monsters" -- October 29
Here we have the feature debut from newcomer writer/director Gareth Edwards. It is essentially road movie/love story set against the backdrop of a global catastrophic event. Some form of octopus-like creature has created an "Infected Zone" throughout a good portion of northern Mexico. Several years into the growing crisis, a freelance photographer is hired to ensure that a wealthy American's daughter is safely delivered back to the states. It's all about the strength of the performances here, as the two thrown-together characters must learn to live with another through increasingly dire circumstances.
"Buried" -- October 8
"Buried" is, simply, Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box for roughly 90 minutes. There's a story, a rather gripping one, and an unbelievable amount of suspense given the closed setting. If you're a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, you can't miss this movie.
"Wild Target" -- October 8
The basic story here is about a hitman who wants to go straight but can't after he shows mercy to one of his targets, a lovely young thief. It's the cast that spices things up here. Bill Nighy is our wayward hitman, Emily Blunt, the young thief whose life he spares and Rupert Grint, in one of his few non-"Harry Potter" features, as an assassin-in-training. Just look at this image and tell me you're not interested.
"Stone" -- October 8
Let's see if the cast alone is enough to sell you: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich. Right? Looks like a pretty wacky thriller, based on the trailer. Norton is a convicted arsonist who tries to maneuver his way to freedom by setting his wife (Jovovich) up with lawman Jack Mabry (De Niro).
"Welcome to the Rileys" -- October 29
Another Sundance vet. Kristen Stewart -- yes that Kristen Stewart -- stars as a troubled young stripper who ends up in the middle of a rather odd family dispute. James Gandolfini plays a dissatisfied husband, depressed after the death of his child. He flees from his wife for Baton Rouge, where he meets Stewart's character, whom he pays in exchange for a place to stay. The abandoned wife, played by Melissa Leo, is soon drawn into the mix as well.
"Morning Glory" -- November 12
Rachel McAdams plays an up-and-coming news producer who is faced with the challenging task of bringing a pair of highly experienced but constantly at odds morning news anchors -- played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton -- into line. Between a supporting cast that includes Jeff Goldblum and Patrick Wilson and production credit going to J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot, this is definitely a fall comedy to keep an eye on.
"True Grit" -- December 25
Ethan and Joel Coen made magic late last year with the release of their Academy Award-nominated gut punch, "A Serious Man." Will they bring the fire again in December? It certainly looks that way. They're re-teaming with the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, who has a role first made famous by the legendary John Wayne. Bridges is also joined by a dynamite cast that includes Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and newcomer Hailee Stanfield. Let's be serious here: there is nothing not to like about this Christmas Day beast of a film.
"The Debt" -- December 29
Sam Worthington isn't starring in December's big 3-D tentpole ("TRON: Legacy") this year, but he does close out the year with a movie that sounds plenty compelling on its own. He plays a young Israeli Mossad agent, one of three who are assigned to hunt down a Nazi war criminal in 1965. While the original mission was an apparent success, a man emerges 30 years later claiming to be the same war criminal. And thus the fun begins again. In addition to Worthington, the kickass cast includes Helen Mirren, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Chastain.
BONUS: "The Warrior's Way" -- November
This was on my list from the start and somehow got left off. I'm correcting that now. I'll admit, I don't know a whole lot about "The Warrior's Way." But Jang Dong-gun stars in this sci-fi western alongside Geoffrey Rush (the town drunk) and a knife thrower (Kate Bosworth). Rounding it out is the villain, Danny Huston. All I need to know really; get me a ticket for this one.