With the big bangs - and bucks - of escapist summer cinema finally wrapped for another year, it's time to look toward the films of fall.
Just as sequels are the standard of summer, many of the movies released from September through mid-November are carefully positioning themselves for award-season gold. This year's crop of fall movies includes animated rats, historical epics, crime thrillers and a new look for a certain super spy. Here are some highlights.
HOLLYWOODLAND: Ben Affleck, Diane Lane and Adrien Brody star in this true-crime story of death and desire in Hollywood. The second Superman feature released this year, it stars Mr. Affleck as George Reeves, the actor best known as television's Man of Steel.
LUCKY YOU: Curtis Hanson, the director responsible for L.A. Confidential, In Her Shoes and 8 Mile, returns with this family drama set in the world of professional poker. The film stars Robert Duvall and Eric Bana as a father and son who face off in cards and life.
THE BLACK DAHLIA: Hollywood crime dramas evidently are big this year. This true story of the murder of a studio starlet features Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as the Los Angeles cops assigned to the case. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank play the apex of a love triangle and a femme fatale, respectively. Suspense master Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Carrie) directs.
ALL THE KINGS MEN: The last time this Robert Penn Warren novel was adapted to the screen (1949), it ended up with seven Academy Awards nominations and won three, including best picture. With familiar faces such as Sean Penn, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins in the cast, it isn't unthinkable to believe this version could repeat the feat.
SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS: After attending a confidence-building course, a young traffic cop (Jon Heder, of Napoleon Dynamite fame) finds himself at odds with his unscrupulous instructor (Billy Bob Thornton) for a woman's (Jacinda Barrett) affections. Todd Phillips (Old School) directs.
THE DEPARTED: Martin Scorsese returns to his gangs-and-guns roots with a tale of a cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a career criminal (Matt Damon) going undercover in each other's organizations. Jack Nicholson, long overdue for a Scorsese outing, plays the head of a Boston crime syndicate.
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS: Based on the popular memoirs of Augusten Burroughs, this coming-of-age story centers on the insanity of family and actual insanity. Annette Bening stars as a bipolar mother, Alec Baldwin is her distant husband and Brian Cox is the loopy psychiatrist charged with the upbringing of young Augusten.
THE FOUNTAIN: Conquistadors, true love and bubbles floating in space collide in this long-gestating sci-fi spectacular. The film stars Hugh Jackman as a man who cannot die, a role he picked up after Brad Pitt left the project.
MARIE ANTOINETTE: Director Sophia Coppola follows her Lost In Translation success with this modern take - think Versace at Versailles - on costume drama. Kirsten Dunst plays the young queen and Jason Schwartzman her awkward king.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS: The first of two Clint Eastwood-helmed films about Iwo Jima, this first installment tells the stories of the figures who raised the flag in the famous photograph. A second film, Letters From Iwo Jima, tells the same story from the Japanese perspective and opens in December.
BABEL: Three connected stories told in four languages, Babel is less a traditional narrative than an examination of the challenges of communicating across barriers of culture, language and belief. The film stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal.
THE PRESTIGE: Designed as the cinematic equivalent of a magic trick, this tale of dueling magicians stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson and is directed by Batman man Christopher Nolan.
FLUSHED AWAY: The first computer-animated feature from the Aardman Animations studio (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run), this film, about rat society, retains the distinctive Aardman look, despite the CGI polish. Hugh Jackman (what is with this guy?) voices society rat Roddy, while Andy Serkis - best known as the actor behind the digital faces of Gollum and King Kong, provides the voice for the decidedly more earthy Spike.
BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN: Part mockumentary and part [filtered word]-style prank program, this fish-out-of-water comedy stars Sacha Baron Cohen as a Kazakhstan newscaster charged with gathering information on American culture. Most of the interactions in the film were shot guerrilla-style, with Mr. Cohen walking into situations in character.
STRANGER THAN FICTION: As if an incessant interior monologue weren't irritating enough, an IRS agent discovers that the voices he has been hearing are actually an author writing his tale. Problems arise when he discovers that she is writing his demise. Will Farrell plays the IRS agent and Emma Thompson plays the blocked writer.
FUR: Loosely based on the life of photographer Diane Arbus, this story centers on the artist's discovering odd and disquieting people on the fringes of society, people who eventually become her muses. Nicole Kidman is Ms. Arbus and Robert Downey Jr. plays one of her models.
A GOOD YEAR: This film reunites director Ridley Scott with his cinematic gladiator Russell Crowe, but don't expect any bloody battles. Instead, the gentle film features Mr. Crowe as a London banker who find he has inherited at vineyard in Provence. The pair will get back to violent business in American Gangster, a period crime drama scheduled for a 2007 release.
CASINO ROYALE: After years of increasingly improbable adventures, super spy James Bond is rebooted and brought back to his gritty roots. Daniel Craig steps into the secret agent's shoes, becoming the sixth actor to swig martinis in the series.
TENACIOUS D IN 'THE PICK OF DESTINY': A (sort of) origin story for the hard-rockin' acoustic duo, this comedy follows the D's misguided attempts at stealing a guitar pick carved from Satan's tooth. Seriously.
HAPPY FEET: Hugh Jackman (again?!) and Robin William lend the voice talent to this animated tale of a penguin who, having failed to woo with song, becomes a dancing fool. Unlike that other penguin movie, nobody gets eaten by a leopard seal.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: The informal troupe responsible for Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind lampoons awards season with this mock-doc about a film cast and crew who unexpectedly find themselves being hyped as Oscar favorites. Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy and Ricky Gervais star.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.