I'll go ahead and say it: More great movies are being released this fall than perhaps during any other period in film history. That's a bold statement, but I'm prepared to back it up. To wit:
Raiders of the Lost Ark is being released Sept. 18. Goldfinger and other James Bond titles come out Sept. 25, as do numerous Alfred Hitchcock classics (including Psycho and Vertigo). A slew of horror staples (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, etc.) on Oct. 2; E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on Oct. 9; more Hitchcock that same day; Blade Runner on Oct. 23; the list goes on and on.
To clarify, these are all Blu-ray releases. Hey, I never specified theatrical releases in my grandiloquent opening. But since you asked, let's take a look, shall we?
As is often the case this time of year - that roughly two-month window between summer blockbusters and year-end holiday fare - the pickings are mighty slim. September offers a fifth Resident Evil flick (Resident Evil: Retribution, Sept. 14) and a Nicolas Cage thriller (Stolen, Sept. 14) that looks so similar (even in title) to Taken that Liam Neeson should beat down Cage. Speaking of Taken, October opens with that exciting film's dubious sequel (Taken 2, Oct. 5) and ends with two even more dubious sequels (Paranormal Activity 4, Oct. 19; Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Oct. 26).
So is there anything worth a damn? Sure thing. Admittedly, I had to struggle to fill out the list, but here are 10 films (listed chronologically) that might prove to be winners.
Trouble with the Curve. Clint Eastwood stated that Gran Torino would be his last on-screen appearance and that he would solely focus on directing, yet his new film finds him once again in front of the camera while somebody else (his frequent producer, Robert Lorenz) is sitting in the director's chair. That's fine with me: He should excel in the role of an Atlanta Braves scout who's about to be out to pasture by the home office. Before that happens, he and his estranged daughter (Amy Adams) head to North Carolina for what might be his final assignment. If nothing else, being out publicizing this film should keep Clint from talking to empty chairs for a while. (Sept. 21)
The Master. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's first film since 2007's There Will Be Blood has already been labeled "The Scientology Movie" by industry wags. It centers on a young man named Freddie Sutton (played by Tom Cruise - just kidding; Joaquin Phoenix) who gets involved with a vague religion (called "The Cause") and its creator, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). (National release Sept. 21)
Looper. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has already appeared in two exciting movies this year (The Dark Knight Rises and Premium Rush), so let's see if he can pull off the triple play with this sci-fi yarn in which a hit man (Gordon-Levitt) learns that he's been targeted for termination by his older self (Bruce Willis), who's been sent back 30 years to execute the rubout. This is written and directed by Rian Johnson, who made the critical fave Brick with Gordon-Levitt back in 2005. (Sept. 28)
Won't Back Down. Inspired by actual events, this stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as two mothers who commit themselves to improving the conditions at an inner-city school. It's tough to read this one, as the quality of inspirational films set at learning institutions tends t be all over the map. But with Gyllenhaal, Davis and the always wonderful Holly Hunter heading the cast, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. (Sept. 28)
Frankenweenie. Prior to making his feature-film debut with Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Tim Burton directed a handful of shorts, the most famous being 1982's Vincent and 1984's Frankenweenie. While I prefer the ode to Vincent Price, it should be fun seeing the live-action Frankenweenie remade as a stop motion-animated feature. As before, the plot centers around a boy who, with the help of elaborate lab equipment, brings his dead dog back to life. (Oct. 5)
The Paperboy. This has already earned a measure of notoriety after film festival audiences reported on a scene in which Nicole Kidman urinates on Zac Efron. Director Lee Daniels, who scored a sizable hit a few years ago with Precious, now directs and adapts (with author Peter Dexter) this tale that's set in Florida in 1969, about two brothers (Efron and Matthew McConaughey) who get involved with a rube (John Cusack) sitting on death row and the nymph (Kidman) who pines away for him. (Oct. 5)
Argo. Just six years ago, who could have predicted that Ben Affleck would end up transforming into one of our most exciting directors? After two knockouts (2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town), he returns with this fact-based drama set during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis when militants held 52 Americans captive in Tehran. Six people managed to escape, and it's up to a CIA agent (Affleck) to get them safely out of the country. (Oct. 12)
Seven Psychopaths. Writer-director Martin McDonagh is behind this dark comedy that will doubtless be as profane and violent as his acclaimed previous effort, In Bruges. Colin Farrell (who won a Golden Globe for In Bruges) stars as a scriptwriter whose friends (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) kidnap dogs for the reward money. But they mess with the wrong dog when they snatch a Shih Tzu belonging to a mob boss (Woody Harrelson). (Oct. 12)
Killing Them Softly. Director Andrew Dominik, whose revisionist Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was rightly adored by critics but wrongly ignored by audiences, hopes for more universal acceptance with this drama in which a mob enforcer (Jesse James star Brad Pitt) investigates the robbery of a high-stakes poker game. (Oct. 19)
Cloud Atlas. Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski, the sibling team behind The Matrix, and Run Lola Run helmer Tom Tykwer pool their talents for this adaptation of David Mitchell's novel about soulful connections that stretch from the 19th century through an apocalyptic future. The gargantuan cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent. (Oct. 26)