Here is the second half of our Fall Movie Preview, highlighting the season’s most anticipated studio offerings as well as a number of indie titles expected to receive successful wide releases in the months of November and December. The first section, which looked at films opening in September and October, was a little easier to pilfer through, whereas the closer we get to the new year the more crowded the calendar is and will be with Oscar hopefuls. The big holidays also typically feature a surge of big budget family entertainment like the new installments of the “Harry Potter” and “Chronicles of Narnia” franchises and broad comedies like “Little Fockers” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” which were a little easier to exclude without regret.
Again, these are the movies we look forward to discussing and hearing people talk about, but we expect some will fall out of interest while others will pop up out of the blue as greater water cooler fodder. If there’s a title you think is missing now or later, let us know.
“Megamind” (DreamWorks Animation)
We may have seen elements of this computer-animated feature before, in Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” this year’s “Despicable Me” and DreamWorks Animation’s own “Monsters vs. Aliens,” but there has to be something great in the voice work of Tina Fey as a Lois Lane-type who’s Superman equivalent (Brad Pitt) has just been permanently eliminated by the titular arch-villain (Will Ferrell). Anticipate some high-level bantering from the two “SNL” vets as they present a strange yet comfortable platonic relationship between kidnapper and victim.
“127 Hours” (limited opening; Fox Searchlight)
Danny Boyle follows his Best Picture-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” with this simple but astonishing true tale of mountain climber Aaron Ralston (James Franco), who has to go to extreme measures when a rock pins his arm, trapping him in a crevice. Boyle has never made a bad film, and this does not look like it will be the first deviate from tradition.
“Skyline” (Rogue/Universal Pictures)
Unlike “Monsters,” this should appease those of you looking for more sci-fi spectacle, particularly lots of flying saucers and destruction of cities and people being sucked up into the sky as if it were the Rapture. Little is known about the plot still, but co-directors The Brothers Strause are always good for some great special effects. Their main jobs as visual effects designers had them working on many major blockbusters of the past decade, including “Avatar” and the disaster flicks “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012.”
“Morning Glory” (Paramount Pictures)
The movie that brings Annie Hall together with Han Solo. Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford are morning show anchors and Rachel McAdams is the program’s producer in this comedy that calls to mind both “Broadcast News” and “Anchorman.” Directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) and also starring Jeff Goldblum and Patrick Wilson as McAdams’ boyfriend. The bickering going on in this film should give adults something equivalent to what their kids are getting in “Megamind.”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” Part 1 (Warner Bros.)
The beginning of the end for one of the biggest and most influential franchises of the 2000s also looks to be the best. David Yates, who helmed the last two installments, continues to direct the series into a very strong finish as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends aim to finally defeat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) for good. Expect some kind of frustrating cliffhanger, though, when this film stops. The second part doesn’t hit theaters until next July.
“The Next Three Days” (Lionsgate)
Never mind what you think about Paul Haggis’ “Crash.” This effort, a remake of the French thriller “Anything for Her,” looks to be a little more fun than we’re used to from the filmmaker. It’s also the first Russell Crowe movie I’ve looked forward to in quite some time. In the movie he plays husband to rising star Elizabeth Banks, who goes to prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. With guidance from Liam Neeson, the man breaks his wife out of prison and the couple go on the run.
“Love and Other Drugs” (20th Century Fox)
Edward Zwick’s latest could be this year’s “Jerry Maguire,” with Jake Gyllenhaal in the Tom Cruise slot as a hot shot pharmaceutical rep during the mid-90s launch of Viagra. That would sort of put Anne Hathaway, who previously played Gyllenhaal’s wife in “Brokeback Mountain,” in the Renee Zellweger spot. “Love” is based on a true story, though, adapted from Jamie Reidy’s memoir “Hard Sell,” and fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any precocious children in his book.
“Red Dawn” (MGM)
Will this remake of the 1984 Cold War fantasy, about a Communist invasion, actually be released Thanksgiving weekend? Back in June there was a well-spread rumor that MGM’s financial trouble was causing the film to be delayed indefinitely, but the studio denied this and still has the date listed on their website. So even though it’ll piss off China (the enemy this time around, replacing Russia and Cuba), the Wolverines appear to be ready to go this fall. Though I’m a huge fan of the original, I’m anxious to see if Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Connor (son of Tom) Cruise can similarly speak to the little conservative deep, deep down inside me.
“Black Swan” (limited opening on 12/1; Fox Searchlight)
It’s early in the season, but so far Darren Aronofsky’s drama about an on-the-rise ballerina (Natalie Portman) is the most talked about, especially in terms of Oscar buzz. Portman is said to give the performance of her career and critics believe she’s a shoo-in for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Even before this high praise, based on the film’s trailer I was anticipating this to be one of the rare times I enjoy the actress’ work.
“I Love You Phillip Morris” (limited opening; Roadside Attractions)
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are prison cellmates-turned-lovers in this true story based on Steve McVicker’s book, which on the surface sounds like the gay answer to “The Next Three Days.” It took a very, very long time following the film’s 2009 Sundance premiere for this comedy to acquire distribution, and I’m hopeful that the directorial debut of screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Bad Santa”) is worth the wait.
“The Fighter” (Paramount Pictures)
Mark Wahlberg reunites with his “Three Kings” and “I ♥ Huckabees” director for a passion project about real-life lightweight boxer ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward (Wahlberg), who made a major comeback with the help of his half-brother (Christian Bale), a former fighter turned convicted criminal and crack-addict. Six years have passed since David O. Russell’s last release (“Huckabees”), while another project (“Nailed”) went through financial hardships and the filmmaker himself was dragged through the mud as being very unpleasant to work for. He directed two of my favorite films of the ’90s, though, so I don’t care what his on-set reputation is so long as he delivers another strong piece of work.
“The Tourist” (Columbia Pictures/Sony)
Another hot remake of a French film, this romantic thriller sees Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie headlining an English-language redo of the 2005 film “Anthony Zimmer.” Depp is the titular patsy set up by Jolie to throw off a detective on the trail of her career criminal lover. As if the cast, which also includes Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell and Timothy Dalton, wasn’t enough of a draw, this is also the first film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck since he won the foreign language Oscar for “The Lives of Others.”
“TRON: Legacy” (Walt Disney Pictures)
28 years have passed since the first TRON opened to disappointing box office while at least giving the world some of the first and most innovative CGI effects of the time, as well as one of the first video game tie-ins that was more popular and successful than the film itself. Jeff Bridges returns to the digital universe of “Tron” with up-and-comer Garrett Hedlund, who plays his son. For part of his role, Bridges has been made to look like he did back in the ’80s, which is interesting given that the Light Cycles and other aspects of the computer world are so much more advanced than we saw the last time around (there is an explanation for the updated visuals, don’t worry). If no other 3D release wows me the rest of the year, this one better do amazing things with the format.
“The Tempest” (limited opening on 12/10, expands 12/17; Touchstone Pictures/Disney)
After “Across the Universe,” I’m less enthusiastic about Julie Taymor than I used to be, yet I can’t help but be excited for this version of William Shakespeare’s island comedy. Taymor did after all do incredible things with the Bard’s work in her film debut, “Titus,” and the cast of players, including Helen Mirren as a gender-switched Prospero and Russell Brand as the drunk jester Trinculo, is mighty impressive. It won’t be as arty as a Peter Greenaway adaptation nor will it be as accessible to the kids as a “Fantastic Planet” remake would be, but I think it’ll be one of the coolest takes on Shakespeare we’ve seen in a long time.
“True Grit” (opens wide 12/25; Paramount Pictures)
How fun is it that this year gives us both a remake of a Coen brothers movie (“A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop,” which redoes “Blood Simple”) and a remake by the Coens of an old John Wayne western? Actually, this is being sold more as a new adaptation of the Charles Portis novel rather than a remake of the film. But it’s hard not to think of it in terms of Jeff Bridges filling Wayne’s shoes while Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld take over roles originally portrayed, respectively, by Glen Campbell, Jeff Corey, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Kim Darby. I don’t see Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn being more iconic than either Wayne’s version or his previous role for the Coens (The Dude in “The Big Lebowski”). All I can hope is that it’s at least better than the brothers’ last attempt at a remake (“The Ladykillers”).
“The Illusionist” (limited opening on 12/25; Sony Pictures Classics)
Sylvain Chomet’s “The Triplets of Belleville” was one of the best films of 2003, hands down. He finally returns with another brilliant-looking animated feature, this time based on an original story by the late, great Jacques Tati (“Playtime”), about an aging magician struggling to make it during the dawn of rock and roll.
“Blue Valentine” (The Weinstein Company)
One of the big Oscar-buzz titles of the season, this Sundance hit is sure to see nominations for stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple on the rocks. The reunion of these actors (previously co-stars in “The United State of Leland”) isn’t as significant or marketable as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s in the last major emotionally drenching marital drama to come along at Oscar season (for this to have the stunt-casting appeal of “Revolutionary Road” Rachel McAdams would have to be in the Williams role), but the reviews from earlier this year lead us to believe it will be the better film — and I am one of the few who really loved Sam Mendes’ suburban tragedy.
“Another Year” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Mike Leigh’s latest is another big end-of-year Oscar favorite. It’s likely he’ll receive his fifth writing nod, but I’m hoping this one gets him a very deserved third directorial nomination. It’s hard to sum up the plot of “Another Year,” but all you really need going into a Leigh film is his name and the usually terrific assemblage of well-rehearsed British actors, such as Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton.