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Peter Travers’ 2012 Fall Movie Preview

The 25 movies to see and five that go straight into the Scum Bucket

fall movie preview

Fall at the movies. The time when Hollywood seeks redemption for shoveling so much summer crap by presenting movies that might actually be – wait for it – good! Daniel Craig is back as James Bond in Skyfall. I'm there. The Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana) are back in the Matrix-like maze of Cloud Atlas. I'm so there. Peter Jackson is back in Lord of the Rings territory in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Ditto. KStew and RPatz are back in The Twilight Saga. OK, I'm not so hot to be there for that one, but at least it's the final vampire chapter. Everybody knows fall is really about one thing: Oscar! Oscar! Oscar! Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, Bill Murray as FDR, Russell Crowe singing in Les Miserables, Quentin Tarantino taking on slavery in Django Unchained, Paul Thomas Anderson exposing religious cults in The Master, Kathryn Bigelow hunting Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck showing real directing chops in the Iran hostage drama Argo. Keep reading for more of the best and Scum Bucket worst to come.

street journeys

Tara Murphy/Sandgrain Productions

‘Street Journeys’

Directed By: Tracy Christian
 
From gifted first-time director Tracy Christian comes an exhilarating documentary that speaks to the nurturing power of art. In the slums of Nairobi, Kenyan actress Anne Wanjugu provides a purpose for children struggling with poverty and worse by putting them on stage. Her intent isn't star-making, it's providing a chance at self-expression. Prepare to be wowed. Wanjugu is a true inspiration and Christian captures her work and spirit with scrappy vibrancy as the kids move out into the world without their mentor.

Killing Them Softly

Melinda Sue Gordon

‘Killing Them Softly’

In Theaters: October 19th
Starring: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini
Directed By: Andrew Dominik

When Brad Pitt is onscreen as a hitman mixing it up with an older counterpart (James Gandolfini) who's having a meltdown, Killing Them Softly radiates a film noir cool that's hard to resist. Pitt worked with director Andrew Dominik on The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford  and their styles mesh beautifully as violence and self-possession battle for control.

The Sessions

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

‘The Sessions’

In Theaters: October 26th
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt
Directed By: Ben Lewin
 
Here's a true story. Polio has forced poet and journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) to live most of his  life in an iron lung. Then this 38-year-old virgin decides he wants to experience sex. Enter a surrogate (Helen Hunt) who strips down and helps him get it on, or off, as the case may be. It sounds like TV movie treacle or, worse, exploitation. Instead, Hawkes and Hunt give award-caliber performances that turn The Sessions into a unique film that brims over with humor and heartbreak.

Cloud Atlas

Jay Maidment

‘Cloud Atlas’

In Theaters: October 26th
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent
Directed By: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
 
Based on David Mitchell's 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas blends past, present and future, and dozens of interlocking stories into a film that casts its stars — Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent — in multiple roles that will either come to fruition as an epic extravaganza or make your head explode. I'm betting on Tom Tyker (Run Lola Run) teaming with the Wachowskis, Andy and Lana (formerly Larry), to create a new matrix for what film can do. Or it could suck. Place your bets.  

Flight

Robert Zuckerman

‘Flight’

In Theaters: November 2nd
Starring:
Denzel Washington
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
 
Here comes an intimate human drama from Robert Zemeckis, the Back to the Future director who's lately been busting technical barriers in motion-capture animation with Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Zemeckis even gave Forrest Gump and Cast Away an epic scale. He thinks big. But Flight, shot on a scant $30 million budget, puts a tight focus on a pilot (Denzel Washington) fighting alcoholism and a nation that sees him as a hero.

Lincoln

David James SMPSP

‘Lincoln’

In Theaters: November 9th
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

This historical drama had me at hello – or at least the high sign director Steven Spielberg gave to Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor of gargantuan talent, when he cast him to play the 16th U.S. President during the last four months of his life. Playwright Tony Kushner adapted the script from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. But to watch Day-Lewis inhabit Lincoln, that's not to be missed.

Skyfall

Francois Duhamel

‘Skyfall’

In Theaters: November 9th
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem
Directed By: Sam Mendes
 
In my mind, Daniel Craig made the best James Bond since Sean Connery. That's if you stopped after watching him in 2006's Casino Royale. If you saw Craig drown in the muddle that was 2008's Quantum of Solace, you may have your doubts. I'm betting that Craig, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and a new villain in Oscar-winning Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) will pull off a save to celebrate 007's 50th anniversary onscreen. What do you think?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

Andrew Cooper

‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’

In Theaters: November 16th
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson
Directed By: Bill Condon

It's over for the Twilight films and for RPatz and KStew, if you study the tabloids. At least vampire Edward (Pattinson) and his turned bride, Bella, (Stewart) can walk happily into the sunset with their daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). The big question is whether Part 2 can wipe away the bad taste the usually astute director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) made of Part 1. Any guesses?

Silver Linings Playbook

Jojo Whilden

‘Silver Linings Playbook’

In Theaters: November 21st
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed By: David O. Russell
 
Pat (Bradley Cooper), the substitute teacher who may be bipolar, is out of the loony bin after going ballistic on his wife and her lover in the shower. He's living with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) while trying to deal with the illusion that his wife will take him back. Then he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who's suffering her own trauma. Director David O'Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) pours heart, soul and healing humor into his take on Matthew Quick's 2008 novel. And Cooper and Lawrence reward him with performances that take your breath away.

Life of Pi

Jake Netter

‘Life of Pi’

In Theaters: November 21st
Starring: Suraj Sharma
Directed By: Ang Lee
 
How in the hell does anyone make a movie of Yann Martel's 2001 novel about a boy, Pi (Suraj Sharma), lost at sea in a lifeboat with a roaring tiger? You call Ang Lee, that's what you do. If anyone can bring vital life to this haunting tale on screen it's the Taiwanese director who did the impossible before with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain

Hyde Park on Hudson

Nicola Dove

‘Hyde Park on the Hudson’

In Theaters: December 7th
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney
Dircted By: Roger Michell
 
Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? That should be enough to get us all lining up at the box office. Some mixed reviews out of the Telluride Film Festival might gives us misgivings about the plot. FDR's flirtation with his cousin Daisy Stuckley (Laura Linney) over a 1939 weekend when England's stuttering King Gorge VI (Samuel West in for Oscar winner Colin Firth) comes looking for U.S. support in the war. But Big Bill as FDR? Count me in.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

James Fisher

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

In Theaters: December 14th
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen
Directed By: Peter Jackson
 
Who better than Lord of the Rings Oscar-crowned ringmaster Peter Jackson to  bring J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to his Rings cycle to the screen. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is only part one of Jackson's planned trilogy. But this tale of hobbit Bilbao Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his quest for a dragon's treasure, with some help from the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), has a presold hold on our attention.

Les Misérables

Laurie Sparham

‘Les Misérables’

In Theaters: December 14th
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Directed By: Tom Hooper
 
Don't think there was little risk for director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) in filming Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel. Hooper's Les Miserables is – wait for it – a musical, adapted from the film version of the 1980s blockbuster stage tuner. That means Hugh Jackman, as ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, will be singing his guts out to – wait for it – Russell Crowe, as dogged cop Javert, who sings back! Anne Hathaway is along as poor and sickly Fantine, whose performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" in the trailer has already sparked Oscar talk. To add to the daring, Hooper had the cast sing live on set when most movie musicals have actors lipsync to prerecorded songs. This means Les Miz can soar or fall on its ass. That's a risk worth cheering.

Zero Dark Thirty

Jonathan Olley

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

In Theaters: December 19th
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
 
After becoming the first woman to win an Oscar for directing, Kathryn Bigelow (and Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal) follows up that 2009 triumph with Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden with Joel Edgerton as a Navy SEAL and Jessica Chastain as a CIA operative. Zero's release has been postponed until after the November election to avoid controversy that the filmmakers were let in on classified info from the Obama team. Then there's a new book to contend with. No Easy Day, by Mark Owen (the pseudonym of a member of the bin Laden SEAL team who broke protocol to write this eyewitness account), could render Bigelow's film's out of step. I'm intrigued. You?

Jack Reacher

Karen Ballard

‘Jack Reacher’

In Theaters: December 21st
Starring: Tom Cruise
Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie
 
As a card-carrying admirer of Lee Child's 17 superb Jack Reacher novels, I had an eyebrow-lifting moment when I learned Tom Cruise had been cast as Child's brawny hero. Why? Reacher, a West Pointer who served 13 years in the military police before becoming a drifter, is described as  a 6' 5" mountain of a man with a 50-inch chest. That's not Cruise. But my guess is that Cruise will do just fine with catching Reacher's icy focus as he brings down a sniper in director Christopher McQuarrie's take on Child's 2005 bestseller One Shot. That's for damn sure.

Not Fade Away

Barry Wetcher

‘Not Fade Away’

In Theaters: December 21st
Starring: John Magaro, James Gandolfini
Directed By: David Chase
 
It's a major movie event when Sopranos creator David Chase makes his feature debut as a director. The script draws from Chase's own experiences growing up in New Jersey. John Magaro is one of three boys who sees the Rolling Stones on TV in 1964 and forges a dream to form a rock band. James Gandolfini plays the kid's dad. But there's no blood and badabinging. This is one from the heart.

This Is 40

Suzanne Hanover

‘This Is 40’

In Theaters: December 21st
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
Directed By: Judd Apatow
 
Remember Pete and Debbie, the married couple played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in writer-director Judd Apatow's 2007 smash Knocked Up? They already bore more than a passing resemblance to Apatow and Mann, his real-life wife. So now the filmmaker has chosen to catch up with them on a milestone birthday. Expect This Is 40 to dig deeper than laughs. Apatow always does.

Django Unchained

Andrew Cooper SMPSP

‘Django Unchained’

In Theaters: December 21st
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
 
OK, if any movie can knock the year-end faves out of the Oscar box, it'll be Django Unchained. The plot, about a renegade slave out to go medieval on the ass of a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCarpio), sounds gonzo nuts. But I wouldn't expect less of Quentin Tarantino, who wrote and directed this inglorious take on spaghetti westerns. QT always brings it.

Dredd 3D

Joe Alblas

Five With a Bad Vibe: ‘Dredd 3D’

In Theaters: September 21st
Starring: Karl Urban
Directed By: Pete Travis
 
As law-and-order vigilante Judge Dredd, Sly Stallone screwed up the comic-book character big time with his 1995 screen version. Karl Urban (Bones in the Star Trek reboot) better hope audiences have short memories. No way is 3D going to give depth to this vile concept.

hotel transylvania

Sony Pictures Animation

Five With a Bad Vibe: ‘Hotel Transylvania’

In Theaters: September 28th
Starring: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez
Directed By: Genndy Tartakovsky
 
Adam Sandler hit a career low this summer with That's My Boy. Now he's out to beat his record with Hotel Transylvania, an animated attempt to turn Dracula (Sandler) into an innkeeper for monsters and a father who struggles to keep his 118-year-daughter (Selena Gomez) in line. Ugh.

alex cross

Sidney Baldwin

Five With a Bad Vibe: ‘Alex Cross’

In Theaters: October 19th
Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed By: Rob Cohen
 
The guilty pleasures that come from readiing James Patterson's thrillers about police psychologist and family man Alex Cross diminished in the miscasting of a too-old Morgan Freeman in 1997 and 2001. Now Tyler Perry, best known for playing a big momma in big-flowered dresses in his Madea comedies, takes on the challenge. Maybe I'll be surprised and Perry will give the role the machismo and integrity it deserves. But I'm getting toxic vibes.

paranormal activity 4

Dean Hendler / Paramount Pictures

Five With a Bad Vibe: ‘Paranormal Activity 4’

In Theaters: October 19th
Starring: Katie Featherston
Directed By: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
 
Oh no, not again!

red dawn

Ron Phillips

Five With a Bad Vibe: ‘Red Dawn’

In Theaters: November 21st
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson
Directed By: Dan Bradley
 
In 1984's Red Dawn, it was high schoolers fighting off a Commie invasion. Now it's North Korea raising the ire of the kids. The remake has been sitting on the shelf for three years due to studio financial problems, which usually means it just sucks. In the interim, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) upped their popularity profiles. I'm guessing it's not gonna help.

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