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Fall Movie Preview 2013

A peek at 25 films that actually merit the attention they’re getting

All isn't lost. It's fall, when undumb movies push through the din of summer idiocy, when excitement is human instead of digital, when topping the Oscar list is (almost) as important as topping the box office. Don't get me wrong. The greed thing doesn't disappear between Labor Day and New Year's Eve. That's why sequels to The Hunger Games, Anchorman, Thor and The Hobbit are on the fall table. But fall is the season when Hollywood itches for a little respect. And the filmmakers at work – Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen, Spike Jonze – are top-tier. It's been quality famine so far in 2013. Fruitvale Station, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Mud – and then what? You can barely fill a tweet. The movies on this list want to drop-kick a drag-ass year to glory. Game on.

By Peter Travers

anchorman 2

Gemma LaMana

Three Fall Blockbusters

Can epic action and nut-job laughs get respect on awards night? Unlikely, but watch these three try.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (11/22)
Jennifer Lawrence won her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. But some would have given her the nod for The Hunger Games. As Katniss Everdeen, the renegade teen who's willing to fight to the death in a televised gladiator event, Lawrence showed remarkable physical and emotional grace. Katniss fights again in Catching Fire, the second part of the Hunger Games trilogy (Mockingjay comes next year) and finds a new love in Finnick (Sam Claflin). So, if any pop movie can hit the audience sweet spot, this is the one to do it.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12/13)
Hollywood never argues with a balance sheet. And the first chapter in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, took in a billion-plus. Sorry, but the movie was an overinflated bore. Watching Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) hang with Hobbits is no match for The Lord of the Rings. Part II promises more creatures, including scary Azog and the fierce dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Fire-breathing gets them every time.

Anchorman 2 (12/20)
If you think 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy isn't funny, and I mean time-capsule funny, go screw yourself. You and I are through. That's why I eagerly await Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The Seventies have moved into the Eighties, and Ron and the San Diego news team are now working at a 24-hour cable channel in New York. That means Ron (Will Ferrell, nuts and loving it) reunites with Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Veronica (Christina Applegate). Harrison Ford, Kristen Wiig and Sacha Baron Cohen get tossed in for potluck. Does the sequel stay classy? How could it not?

dallas buyers club

Anne Marie Fox

Four Under the Radar Films

Blue Is the Warmest Color (10/25)
Is a three-hour movie about lesbians too much? Not with these lesbians. As 15-year-old Adèle, a wanna-be teacher, Adèle Exarchopoulos gives the kind of explosive performance awards are made for. And she's nearly matched by Léa Seydoux as Emma, the blue-haired beauty who teaches her plenty. Ignore critics who were irked that Blue is filtered through the male gaze of writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche. The film is unique and unforgettable.

Out of the Furnace (12/6)
Remember Scott Cooper, who directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in 2009's indie hit Crazy Heart? Now Cooper is back with a Pennsylvania steel-town thriller about an ex-con (Christian Bale) looking for payback from a mobster (Woody Harrelson).

Dallas Buyers Club (12/6)
Matthew McConaughey, who keeps on performing acting miracles, lost 50 pounds to play a character based on Ron Woodroof, a Dallas homophobe who is diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and gets into the dodgy business of smuggling illegal alternative medicines to find a cure.

The Past (12/20)
For this Paris-set tale of secrets and lies, Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) won the Best Actress prize at Cannes. She plays the ex-wife of an Iranian (Ali Mosaffa) who finds danger in her relationship with an Arab (Tahar Ramin). Look for Asghar Farhadi's spellbinder to lead the race for Best Foreign Film.