Favorite

The Fall Crop 

School's back and the movie year now begins the race toward Oscar nominations in earnest. Here's an abbreviated (read: not comprehensive) list of the new crop's most potentially interesting entries.

September

The Four Feathers (PG-13)
Directed by Shekhar Kapur; Screenplay by Hossein Amini, Michael Schiffer; Starring Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou

Think big, period costumes, desert battles on horseback. Kapur, who directed Elizabeth has got the stuff to pull off this tale of friendship and nobility, but can Kate Hudson pull off an English accent?

Drama

Moonlight Mile (PG-13)
Written and directed by Brad Silberling; Starring Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter

Inspired by the writer/director's relationship with his girlfriend Rebeca Schaeffer's parents after Schaeffer was murdered by a stalker in 1989 at age 21. Sarandon and Hoffman as grieving husband and wife are reason enough to think it might work.

Drama

October

White Oleander (PG-13)
Directed by Peter Kosminsky; Screenplay by Mary Agnes Donoghue based on the book by Janet Fitch; Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rene Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Alison Lohman

Janet Fitch's novel was wrenching -- the story of Astrid (Lohman), a troubled girl under the influence of her devious, glamorous, jailed mother (Pfeiffer) and the two other women (Zellweger and Penn) who try to help her. But will Pfeiffer's drama queen be devious enough?

Drama

The Truth About Charlie (PG-13)
Directed and co-written by Jonathan Demme; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, Tim Robins, Joong-Hoon Park, Lisa Gay Hamilton

Remake of Stanley Donen's 1963 film Charade. Newton's ethereal screen presence combined with Wahlberg's all-boy looks sound enticing, and with Demme directing, it's not likely your run-of-the-mill treatment.

Romantic thriller

Red Dragon (R)
Directed by Brett Ratner; Screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the book by Thomas Harris; starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman

In a chronological back flip, we're served the beginning of the Hannibal Lecter series, already adapted in 1986 by Michael Mann as Manhunter. Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Emily Watson and Hopkins? I'm there.

Drama

November

A troublesome month, rife with would-be blockbusters -- a new James Bond with Halle Berry on board; the second Harry Potter flick, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; an I Spy adaptation with Eddie Murphy, directed by Betty Thomas (Dr. Dolittle), yuuuuuck; Treasure Planet, a Disney animated sci-fi fantasy version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, with a $100 million budget, double yuuuuuuck; Tim Allen as lascivious old Santa again in Santa Clause 2; and, oh my God, it gets worse -- animated Adam Sandler in the debut effort of his Meatball Animation studio, Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights. It doesn't sound good. Oh, and I forgot 8 Mile, the Eminem biopic. Two outer-space epics look mildly interesting -- Hilary Swank and Aaron Ekchart save the planet in The Core; and George Clooney plays a brainy, mildly depressed astronaut in Steven Soderbergh's Solaris.

December

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PG-13)
Directed and co-written by Peter Jackson based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien; Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom

You saw the first one -- this one looks even better with huge battles and more Viggo Mortensen.

Fantasy drama

Catch Me if You Can (NR)
Directed by Steven Spielberg; Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson; Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken

A perfect Spielberg vehicle, the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a master impersonator who posed as a pilot, physician and professor passing millions in bad checks when he was a teenager in the mid-'60s. DiCaprio stars.

Drama

Chicago (NR)
Directed by Rob Marshall; Written by Fred Ebb, Bill Condon; Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rene Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly

Screen adaptation of the Broadway musical with dark, underworld leanings. Hoping to take off on the success of last year's Moulin Rouge. Here's hoping Queen Latifah gets, at last, one of the big numbers.

Musical

The Hours (PG-13)
Directed by Stephen Daldry; Screenplay by David Hare based on the Michael Cunningham novel; Starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Allison Janney, Ed Harris

Cunningham's novel threaded together three concurrent stories: a 1950s housewife, mother of a young child (Moore) contemplates suicide; a New York artist (Streep) plans a party for her dying ex-lover; and Virginia Woolf (Kidman) walks through the last day of her life. I hear Oscar calling ...

Drama

Adaptation (R)
Directed by Spike Jonze; Starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton; Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

From the maker of Being John Malkovich, based on the screenwriter's real-life struggle to adapt Orlean's book. Cage plays his own twin. Jonze directing is cause to celebrate.

Dramatic comedy

Punch-Drunk Love (R)
Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson; Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

Inspired by the true story of a California man (Sandler) who bought thousands of cans of pudding to earn frequent-flier miles. Anderson shared Best Director honors at Cannes. Can Sandler pull it off as a legitimate actor?

Comedy

The Pianist (NR)
Directed by Roman Polanski; Screenplay by Ronald Harwood; Starring Adrien Brody

Based on the 1946 memoir of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman who hid from Nazis for years in Warsaw, intermixed with memories of the director's childhood spent in a Krakow ghetto during World War II. Palme d'Or winner for best picture at Cannes.

Drama

About Schmidt (R)
Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne; Starring Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates

From the director of Citizen Ruth, starring Nicholson as a businessman in his 60s who comes to realize he's wasted his life.

Dramatic comedy

Gangs of New York (R)
Directed by Martin Scorsese; Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Scorsese's long-awaited epic tale of the rise of Italian and Irish gangsters in 1860s New York. Lewis picks his roles carefully and this one sounds like a doozy. Oscar bait times three or four.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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