30 Must-See Fall Movies

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As the autumnal leaves cover the streets and the birds fly south, a gust of wind blows a whole slew of promising new movies into our local multiplex.

While the summer is all about sound and fury, the fall has dark dramas and Oscar caliber performances dominating the cinematic landscape. Come in from the cold for these highly promising 30 movies, ranked in order of anticipation, which promise to get a warm reception.

30. 'Paranormal Activity 4'

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Release Date: Oct. 19

Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton

The Scoop: While "Activity 3" was a prequel, this one follows the events of Part 2, with Katie and the abducted Hunter (now called "Robbie") moving into a new house in a peaceful area. It's safe to say that the demonically possessed Katie will cause a little ruckus. There goes the neighborhood.

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29. 'End of Watch'

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Release Date: Sept. 21

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

The Scoop: After writing "Training Day," David Ayer became the go-to guy for gritty L.A.-set crime movies like "Street Kings" and "Harsh Times." This one is business as usual for Ayer, with Gyllenhaal and Peña playing two LAPD officers who are targeted by a drug cartel. Good luck with that, guys. We'll be at In-and-Out Burger 'til you're through.

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28. 'Dredd'

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Release Date: Sept. 21

Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

The Scoop: The cult British comic book character from "2000 AD" takes his inaugural motorcycle ride onto the big screen… as long as you don't count the 1995 Sylvester Stallone atrocity. Which we don't. Urban puts on the helmet — and keeps it on — of Mega City One's toughest law enforcement officer. As Nick Frost from "Hot Fuzz" might say, he's Judge Judy and executioner.

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27. 'Trouble With the Curve'

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Release Date: Sept. 21

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman

The Scoop: Eastwood plays a crotchety old man? Get outta town! Yep, Dirty Harry himself is back onscreen for the first time since "Grand Torino," playing an aging baseball scout with bad eyesight who bonds with his neglected daughter (Adams) during a road trip.

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26. 'Killing Them Softly'

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Release Date: Oct. 19

Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta

The Scoop: Apparently not based on the old Roberta Flack song, this crime drama reunites Pitt with "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" director Andrew Dominik, and, although the title is shorter, the violence should be plentiful. Pitt plays a New Orleans mob enforcer dealing with a couple guys who unknowingly ripped off a mafia-protected poker game.

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Also Check Out: 15 Breakout Stars of Fall

25. 'House at the End of the Street'

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Release Date: Sept. 21

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, Elisabeth Shue

The Scoop: J.Law can finally take advantage of her post-"Hunger Games" superstardom with this terror tale about a mother and daughter who move into a house where a multiple murder took place. Things get further complicated when the daughter (Lawrence) begins a relationship with the only survivor of the attack, played by a creepy Thieriot. If Daniel Radcliffe can make the leap from YA family films to horror, the odds are in Lawrence's favor.

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24. 'Silver Linings Playbook'

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Release Date: Nov. 21

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker

The Scoop: Seems like his success with "The Fighter" has given director David O. Russell a taste for audience pleasing, which he looks to do again with this seriocomic flick about a guy named Pat (Cooper) who moves in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution and takes up dancing with the help of another eccentric played by Lawrence. Bonus:  Tucker's first non-"Rush Hour" movie in 14 years!

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23. 'Jack Reacher'

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Release Date: Dec. 21

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog

The Scoop: The hero of Lee Child's neverending series of beach read novels comes to the screen in the form of Cruise, who clearly means business as the title ex-Military Police turned drifter avenger. Of course, for all the action and explosiveness, they had us at "Werner Herzog plays the bad guy." Yeah, we'll pay to see that.

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22. 'Anna Karenina'

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Release Date: Nov. 16

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

The Scoop: This umpteenth cinematic version of Tolstoy's 1877 literary masterpiece also marks the third pairing of Knightley and director Joe Wright after "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement." A visually sumptuous film to be sure if the trailer is any indication, the tragedy of a married aristocrat and her affair with an affluent cavalry officer offers lots of lush scenery, plus Law rocking a balding head that makes him look way more intellectual than we're used to.

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21. 'Wreck-It Ralph'

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Release Date: Nov. 2

Starring: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman

The Scoop: Finally, a movie that truly embraces the culture and aesthetic of video games, from Donkey Kong-esque arcade parlor units to the modern Playstation blast-a-thons. Reilly plays the villain of an old school game who decides he doesn't want to be the bad guy anymore, and wanders off into various other ADD-afflicted modern games. He's a fish out of quarters… er, water.

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20. 'This Is 40'

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Release Date: Dec. 21

Starring: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks

The Scoop: Judd Apatow has made the leap from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" to "The 40-Year-Old Mid-Life Crisis." Rudd and Mann reprise their "Knocked Up" roles of married couple Pete and Deb as they reevaluate their lives while trying to juggle children, career and a host of insecurities. Also featured is comedy legend Albert Brooks ("Broadcast News"), who can still improv with the best of them, as Rudd's guilt-trip delivering father.

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19. 'The Impossible'

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Release Date: Dec. 21

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Geraldine Chaplin

The Scoop: If you saw director Juan Antonio Bayona's brilliant Spanish language horror fable "The Orphanage" then you're aware that he is a scare master of Hitchcockian magnitude. Now he's tackling real-life horror with this tale of a family caught in the massive tsunami after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Their harrowing journey to reunite amid the devastation looks like a moving survival story.

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18. 'Pitch Perfect'

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Release Date: Oct. 5

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson

The Scoop: The lovably adorkable Kendrick plays Beca, the new girl in an all-ladies a cappella group. She meets some resistance when she attempts to modernize their song repertoire and style, but, when the revamp goes well, they realize they could make it all the way to the championship. Wilson, who was hilarious in "Bridesmaids," plays Fat Amy, a role she presumably took on before going into Jenny Craig.

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17. 'Seven Psychopaths'

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Release Date: Oct. 12

Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken

The Scoop: Since giving us the hilarious, slapstick bloodshed of 2008's "In Bruges," Martin McDonagh has more than doubled the number of psychopaths for this new comedy of violence. Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter whose best friend (Rockwell) kidnaps a dog from a violent gangster (Harrelson), setting off a series of unfortunate events that even Lemony Snicket might cringe at.

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Also Check Out: The Complete Fall 2012 Movie Preview

16. 'Frankenweenie'

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Release Date: Oct. 5

Starring: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short

The Scoop: Tim Burton has made movies based on books, comics, soap operas, other movies, even trading cards, but this has to be a first for the gothic auteur: he's remaking his own movie. Based on a popular short he made for Disney in the early '80s, this ghoulish grotesque chronicles a shy mad scientist of a boy named Victor (Tahan) as he attempts to reanimate his plucky dog Sparky. This looks to be a beautiful black and white stop-motion treat, and a throwback to old Universal monster movies as well as the Burton of yore.

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15. 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2'

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Release Date: Nov. 16

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

The Scoop: Whether you see it as tying a bow of finality or the last nail in the coffin, the saga of the Cullens, the Swans and Blacks comes to a rousing conclusion. Bring your hankies. Bella enjoys some of her newfound vampiric powers, while the battle over her baby Renesmee reaches a fever pitch as the Volturi threaten the child.

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14. 'On the Road'

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Release Date: Dec. 21

Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart

The Scoop: The perennial beatnik tome by Jack Kerouac peels out as Sal Paradise (Riley), Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) and Marylou (Stewart) explore the American dream and each other's bodies in equal measure. Brazilian director Walter Salles knows from 1950s road trips, as demonstrated in "The Motorcycle Diaries," but has a lot of expectation in adapting such a beloved work of 20th century fiction.

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13. 'Life of Pi'

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Release Date: Nov. 21

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall

The Scoop: Yann Martel's ubiquitous bestseller struggled for years to find the right filmmaker (M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron, Jean-Pierre Jeunet) before Ang Lee took on the mighty task. Both epic and intimate, the story of spiritually experimental teen Pi Patel and his struggle to survive aboard a lifeboat with a slew of animals, including one ferocious Bengal tiger, will be a challenge for audiences as well… one we're ready to take on.

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12. 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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Release Date: Dec. 19

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez

The Scoop: Will an elite special forces team be able to capture or kill the elusive terrorist Osama Bin Laden? That's a question you'll have to wait to find the answer to (or not), as "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow brings her bag of pyrotechnic tricks to yet another serious story of military bravery. Also, the title sounds like a candy bar.

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11. 'Flight'

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Release Date: Nov. 2

Starring: Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman

The Scoop: Loosely inspired by the Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, Washington plays airline pilot Captain William Whitaker, who saves the lives of his passengers with a heroic hot dog maneuver. Unfortunately, a team of investigators think he also may have caused the accident. Goodman will lend some fat guy levity to this serious ethical quandary from director Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump").

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10. 'Les Miserables'

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Release Date: Dec. 14

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried

The Scoop: Tom Hooper follows his "King's Speech" Oscar glory with this mammoth film version of the long-running musical. Victor Hugo's story of tragic hero Jean Valjean (Jackman) clawing his way back (that's a Wolverine joke) into society after a 19-year imprisonment. Crowe is his relentless nemesis, Inspector Javert, and Hathaway may just bring the house down as Fantine singing "I Dreamed a Dream."

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9. 'The Master'

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Release Date: Sept. 14

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

The Scoop: Already controversial before it shot a single frame of footage, "There Will Be Blood" filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's veiled look at the birth of Scientology and the fundamentals of belief looks to be another of the director's strong character explorations. Hoffman plays the L. Ron Hubbard stand-in, who starts a religious movement following World War II, with an alcoholic drifter named Freddie (Phoenix) as his right-hand man. Trouble brews when Freddie begins to doubt his mentor.

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8. 'Argo'

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Release Date: Oct. 12

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

The Scoop: That's right, this is the third movie of the fall season to feature the delightfully doughy Goodman, whose appearance is always welcome. It's also the third directorial outing from star Ben Affleck ("Gone Baby Gone," "The Town"), based on the "declassified true story" of six U.S. diplomats rescued from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis under the guise of a fake sci-fi film cooked up by the CIA. The name of that movie was "Armageddon." Just kidding.

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7. 'Cloud Atlas'

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Release Date: Oct. 26

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant

The Scoop: Warning: you may need an actual atlas to navigate the narrative filmmakers Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and the Wachowskis ("The Matrix") have crafted. It's the kind of grandiose, relentlessly eccentric epic you would expect from a movie made by three directors, with stars like Hanks all playing multiple characters of different ages and races in a time-leaping narrative that spans the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future. Does this movie hold the secrets to life, the universe, and everything? It's either this one or "Frankenweenie," that's all we know.

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6. 'Skyfall'

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Release Date: Nov. 9

Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes

The Scoop: James Bond is back, only this time he's a tad rusty after taking a little vacation, which he had to fake his death for. Typical. Craig returns to his much-loved portrayal of England's No. 1 super spy, 007, this time taking on the ruthlessly blonde Raoul Silva (Bardem), who has secret ties to Bond. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes of "American Beauty" brings some beautiful cinematography to the proceedings.

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5. 'Lincoln'

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Release Date: Nov. 16

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The Scoop: After something like a decade of development — with original star Liam Neeson lost in the shuffle — director Steven Spielberg at last brings us a historical epic with Day-Lewis detailing the historical final months of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Expect the multiple Oscar-winner/immersive method actor to bring his trademark intensity to the part, which once again proves that if you need someone to play the hell out of an American icon (Batman, Superman, Nixon, etc), you call a Brit.

Trailer coming soon.

4. 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

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Release Date: Sept. 21

Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

The Scoop: Author Stephen Chbosky adapts and directs his own 1999 novel of teenage angst and introversion. How do we know it'll be movie magic? For one thing, you've got Hogwarts-certified wizard Watson, making a seamless transition to adult roles, as well as that other YA movie hero Percy Jackson (Lerman) as Charlie, the shy kid who has to deal with issues of friendship, sex, drugs, homosexuality and other issues in the teen experience.

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3. 'Django Unchained'

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Release Date: Dec. 25

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington

The Scoop: After years of filling his movies with Sergio Leone homages and Ennio Morricone music, Quentin Tarantino finally gives us the Spaghetti Western we've always wanted from him… even though it takes place in the south. Foxx is the title freed slave-turned-bounty hunter, Waltz his partner, and DiCaprio gets to chew the scenery as evil plantation owner Calvin Candie. Expect this one to be a Royale with lots of (intentional) cheese.

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2. 'Looper'

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Release Date: Sept. 28

Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano

The Scoop: This head-spinning sci-fi mind trip reunites writer/director Rian Johnson with his "Brick" star Gordon-Levitt, but you wouldn't know it from looking at him. Subtle make-up and precision mimicry enabled the actor to create the world's greatest Bruce Willis impression, which came in handy as his assassin character chases after his future self, played by Willis. It's a good bet this will be a heady, "12 Monkeys"-esque classic.

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1. 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

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Release Date: Dec. 14

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis

The Scoop: Perhaps the most hotly anticipated movie in all of geekdom, this prequel to "Lord of the Rings" finds diminutive hero Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) whisked off on an adventure complete with singing dwarves, trolls turned to stone and one greedy dragon. It's all courtesy of our favorite pot-smoking wizard Gandalf (McKellen), and our favorite chubby New Zealander, director Peter Jackson.

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