Saving the Best for Last

Summer movies may have disappointed, but ease into better weather with our fall movie preview

The fall movie season officially kicked off on Sept. 1 with George Clooney’s foreign intrigue thriller The American. It may not be Oscar bait, but Clooney knows exactly how to up the stakes on a stellar career.

There isn’t a bad one in the bunch of other September starters, including Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, Sam Rockwell’s The Winning Season, Jann Turner’s South African-set romantic comedy White Wedding and A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop—Yimou Zhang’s brilliant interpretation of the Coen Brothers’ modern noir Blood Simple.

Robert Rodriguez’s co-directed grindhouse fun-fest Machete is loaded with laughs, gore and ’70s-styled social commentary about America’s immigration crackdown. This is throwback exploitation cinema at its best. Robert De Niro plays a bigoted right-wing politician who gets his just desserts. Yum.

September finds Patricia Clarkson delivering a home-run performance in Mel Damski’s better-than-you’d-expect wrestling drama, Legendary. Pascal Chaumeil’s Gallic romantic comedy, Heartbreaker, is deceptively effective, with Johnny Depp’s talented wife, Vanessa Paradis, doing some fine work opposite Romain Duris as a professional romancer who breaks up bad relationships for a living.

Catfish (Sept. 17) is an inventive and intimate documentary about a Facebook romance that isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Also opening on Sept. 17 is Easy A, a funny teen comedy with a break-out performance from Emma Stone as a high school student who perpetrates her accidentally formed reputation as the school slut.

Ryan Reynolds lays down some pre-Green Lantern acting cred in Rodrigo Cortes’ low-budget thriller Buried (Sept. 24), about a U.S. contractor in Iraq who gets buried alive. More noteworthy is Oliver Stone’s much-anticipated Wall Street sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Sept. 24), with performances from Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Josh Brolin and Shia LaBeouf. Brolin fans can also catch him in Woody Allen’s Cannes fest favorite You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger on Sept. 22.

Documentary audiences will get their fill with Joaquin Phoenix’s traveling freak show, I’m Still Here (directed by best friend Casey Affleck) on Sept. 10. Also of interest is Davis Guggenheim’s look at America’s failing school system, Waiting for Superman (Sept. 24), and Charles Ferguson’s insightful take on our country’s economic crisis, Inside Job (opens Oct. 8).

David Fincher breaks October open with his Facebook drama The Social Network (opens Oct. 1), about Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm-room idea that turned him into a billionaire, and gave office workers one more thing to distract them from work.

A busy guy, Ben Affleck acts in and directs the Boston crime drama The Town (Sept. 17) and then stars in The Company Men (Oct. 22) opposite Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones.

Also on Oct. 22, Clint Eastwood’s first-ever chick flick, Hereafter, stars Matt Damon as a San Francisco psychic whose interactions with dead people affects his personal life. It doesn’t hurt that Hereafter was written by Peter Morgan (screenwriter for The Queen and Frost/Nixon).

Sam Rockwell aficionados can get a second look at one of America’s best-kept secrets when he plays a wrongly convicted man whose sister (played by Hilary Swank) battles for a decade to exonerate him in the fact-based family drama Conviction (Oct. 15). Also in the category of best-kept secrets is Diane Lane, whose performance in Secretariat (opens Oct. 8), as real-life horse-trainer Penny Chenery, has Oscar-nomination written all over it.

Then there’s Jackass 3D on Oct. 15. Those who know the hilarity of the Jackass films will be in mandatory attendance; those who don’t will miss out on the biggest laughs of the year.

Fall won’t redeem an especially poor year for movies, but it will have some bright points. Robert Downey Jr. has so successfully reinvented himself that it would be a mistake to miss him in Todd Phillips’ (The Hangover) R-rated road comedy, Due Date (Nov. 5), where Downey Jr. teams up with Zach Galifianakis.

Musical fans go gaga over Cher’s glamorous return in Burlesque (Nov. 24). Watch out, because Christina Aguilera lets it rip as a dancer with major pipes.

On Nov. 19, the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the beginning of the end to all things Potter.

Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond) directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in a romantic dramedy loosely based on Jamie Reidy’s memoir Hard Sell (Nov. 24), about a ’90s-era Viagra salesman.

Paul Haggis (Crash) steps up with his Americanization of Fred Cavayé’s 2008 French thriller, Anything for Her. Haggis’ The Next Three Days (Nov. 19) stars the painfully serious Russell Crowe as a man who risks everything to help his wife (Elizabeth Banks) escape from prison.

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) mixes things up with 127 Hours (Nov. 5), about mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) who cut off his own arm to save his life after he gets trapped by a boulder.

Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) courts Oscar territory with Fair Game (Nov. 5), an exposé about the Bush administration’s smear campaign against CIA secret agent Valerie Plame. The always-remarkable Naomi Watts plays opposite the equally gifted Sean Penn.

The King’s Speech (Nov. 24) catches Tom Hooper (The Damned United) bringing to life ’30s-era England when King George VI (Colin Firth) seeks the aid of an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to correct his debilitating stammer.

A runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals means spectacle and suspense in director Tony Scott’s Unstoppable (Nov. 12). Denzel Washington plays an engineer with nerves of steel opposite Chris Pine (Star Trek), a trainee who tries to stop the unmanned locomotive.

Hollywood rolls out its big guns in December. How Do You Know (Dec. 17) stars Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson in a romantic comedy from As Good as It Gets writer/director James L. Brooks.

The Coen Brothers’ update of the John Wayne western True Grit (Dec. 25) puts Oscar winner Jeff Bridges back in the limelight as an alcoholic U.S. marshal who takes marching orders from a 14-year-old girl who hires him to track down the man who killed her poppa.

Gwyneth Paltrow will warm hearts as a country singer in Shana Feste’s tale of rehab success Country Strong (Dec. 22). Also of interest is Darren Aronofsky’s suspense ballet thriller (Dec. 1) Black Swan (starring Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel), and David O. Russell’s Dec. 10 opener The Fighter (starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale).

2010 hasn’t been anything to write home about in the way of movies, but the best is all back-loaded for fall. Get your Oscar-ballot predictions ready.

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Documentary Demons

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Documentary Demons

More a sketch of an idea for a horror movie than a fully formed film, The Last Exorcism is a yawn-inducing attempt to cash in on a combination of exhausted genre tropes. Following in the shaky-cam, found-footage footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Stamm directs an incompetent script about an evangelical con man, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton carries on his family’s well-established business of conducting exorcisms for illiterate backwoods types who traditionally respond well to the power of material-supported suggestion.