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Fall preview: Hollywood goes big with blockbuster films
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Bryan Cranston, left, stars as Jack O’Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in "Argo," a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. - photo by Claire Folger

I introduced my summer preview by saying Hollywood is counting on 2012 to be the year that audiences return to theaters in greater numbers. The movies are big in scope, feature amazing talent, and are based on reliable characters and properties.

The fall is no different. On paper, this looks like one of the strongest single seasons American cinema has produced in years. We’ll see if the movies justify the hype.

Here’s a look at each genre, films and release dates, the set-up for each and why we care:

Drama

The Master
Sept. 14

After returning from the Second World War, having witnessed many horrors, a charismatic intellectual creates a faith-based organization in an attempt to provide meaning to his life. He becomes known as “The Master.” His right-hand man, a former drifter, begins to question both the belief system and The Master as the organization grows and gains a fervent following.

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few working directors who consistently produce art, and from the looks of the cast and trailer, this has the potential to be his best work.

Trouble With the Curve
Sept. 21

Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, but, despite his efforts to hide it, age is starting to catch up with him. Nevertheless, Gus refuses to be benched for what may be the final innings of his career. He may not have a choice. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country’s hottest batting phenom on deck for the draft. The one person who might be able to help is also the one person Gus would never ask: his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), an associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm whose drive and ambition has put her on the fast track to becoming partner.

Against her better judgment, and over Gus’s objections, Mickey joins him on his latest scouting trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career to save his. Forced to spend time together for the first time in years, each makes new discoveries, revealing long-held truths about their past and present that could change their future.
Shot in several north Georgia locations, and it looks like a winner.

Won’t Back Down
Sept. 28

Inspired by true events, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis portray determined mothers who will stop at nothing to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy and a system mired in traditional thinking, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.

I rarely get excited about “feel-good” movies, but I expect Gyllenhaal, Davis, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, Rosie Perez, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste to inspire big laughs and tears.

Argo
Oct. 12

Based on true events, “Argo” chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans who managed to find temporary refuge in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis. After “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” I find myself looking forward to movies directed by Ben Affleck.

Smashed
Late October

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and drinking — especially drinking. When Kate’s drinking leads her to dangerous places and her job as a school teacher is put into jeopardy, she decides to join AA and get sober. But sobriety isn’t as easy as Kate had anticipated. Her new lifestyle brings to the surface a troubling relationship with her mother, facing the lies she’s told her employer, and calls into question her relationship with Charlie.

Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt hails from Athens and just shot another feature in his hometown. This looks like a strong drama that will catapult Winstead to the next level, especially since she’s supported by Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place and Octavia Spencer.

Anna Karenina
Nov. 7

The story unfolds in its original late-19th-century Russia high-society setting and explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, from the passion between adulterers to the bond between a mother and her children. As Anna (Keira Knightley) questions her happiness, change comes to her family, friends, and community.

The third collaboration of Knightley with director Joe Wright, following “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement,” and adapted by Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). That’s enough for me.

Lincoln
Nov. 9

The 16th president of the United States guides the North to victory during the Civil War. Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, supported by one of the strongest casts we’ve seen in a while.

Hyde Park on the Hudson
December

In June 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) host the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) for a weekend at the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York — the first-ever visit of a reigning English monarch to America. With Britain facing imminent war with Germany, the Royals are desperately looking to FDR for support. But international affairs must be juggled with the complexities of FDR’s domestic establishment, as wife, mother and mistresses all conspire to make the royal weekend an unforgettable one. Seen through the eyes of Daisy (Laura Linney), Franklin’s neighbor and intimate, the weekend will produce not only a special relationship between two great nations, but, for Daisy a deeper understanding of the mysteries of love and friendship.

Murray excels in this type of role, and it will be fun to see him play opposite Linney.

Les Miserables
Dec. 14

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, “Les Misérables” tells a story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption — a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. You probably know the rest.

“The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper helms, and Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen star. It’s one of the most successful stage musicals of all time, and with this cast I expect the movie to be hugely successful, too.

Family outings

Wreck-It-Ralph
Nov. 2

Video game character “Wreck-It Ralph” longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect Good Guy, Fix-It Felix, but nobody loves a Bad Guy. But they do love heroes ... so when a modern, first-person shooter game arrives featuring tough-as-nails Sgt. Calhoun, Ralph sees it as his ticket to heroism and happiness. He sneaks into the game with a simple plan — win a medal — but soon wrecks everything, and accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens every game in the arcade. Ralph’s only hope? Vanellope von Schweetz, a young troublemaking “glitch” from a candy-coated cart racing game who might just be the one to teach Ralph what it means to be a Good Guy. But will he realize he is good enough to become a hero before it’s “Game Over” for the entire arcade?

Retro video game references abound, and this looks like a very clever concept.

Rise of the Guardians
Nov. 21

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost must join forces to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children everywhere when an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world.

Another clever concept, and Dreamworks Animation has steadily improved in quality.

The Hobbit
Dec. 14

Surely you know the story of the “The Hobbit.” This movie is part one of three, all of which spring from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic, epic novel.

There’s nothing about this that doesn’t make me excited.

Comedy

Silver Linings Playbook
Nov. 23

After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Coooper) moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

David O’Russell (“The Fighter”) directs a promising, quirky romantic comedy/drama.

This Is 40
Dec. 21

Writer/director/producer Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Funny People”) offers an original comedy that expands upon the story of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) from “Knocked Up” as we see first-hand how they are dealing with their current state of life.

Hopefully Apatow’s latest will be heavier on middle age insight than vulgar gags.

Action

Looper
Sept. 28

In “Looper,” time travel exists but it’s illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” — a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good, until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination. Writer/director Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom”) brings his unique style to a sci-fi actioner. Gordon-Levitt and Willis are supported by Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels.

Taken 2
Oct. 5

Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent who stopped at nothing to save his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from kidnappers. When the father of one of the villains Bryan killed swears revenge and takes Bryan and his wife hostage in Istanbul, Bryan enlists Kim to help them escape. Bryan then employs his unique tactics to get his family to safety and systematically take out the kidnappers, one by one.

Let’s hope this sequel is as riveting as the original. Grace gets to do more of the action this time.

Seven Psychopaths
Oct. 12

Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” was one of the best movies of the decade. I expect more of his brilliant wit and hilarious storytelling from this one.

Alex Cross
Oct. 19

“Alex Cross” follows the young homicide detective/psychologist (Tyler Perry), from the worldwide best-selling novels by James Patterson, as he meets his match in a serial killer (Matthew Fox). The two face off in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, but when the mission gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits.

Perry gets out of his comfort zone in an adaptation of Patterson’s popular character.

Cloud Atlas
Oct. 26

An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer co-direct a movie that mixes action with philosophy. It’s so complex a concept that the first “trailer” is actually an introduction/explanation by the three directors. This could either be great or a historic failure.

The Man With the Iron Fists
Nov. 2

Quentin Tarantino presents the debut of rapper the RZA as a director, co-writer and leading man, alongside an international cast led by Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. Pic tells the epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero who all descend on one fabled village in China for a winner-takes-all battle for a fortune in gold.

A great cast supports RZA’s first attempt at directing. Expect loads of exploitation-style violence and a great soundtrack.

Flight
Nov. 2

Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane?

Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo dramatize an intriguing concept.

Skyfall
Nov. 9

Daniel Craig is back as Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Bond’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

With Sam Mendes at the helm and Craig supported by Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Albert Finney, the anticipation is high.

The Horror ... The Horror ...

House at the End of the Street
Sept. 21

Seeking a fresh start, newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) find the house of their dreams in a small, upscale, rural town. But when startling and unexplainable events begin to happen, Sarah and Elissa learn the town is in the shadows of a chilling secret. Years earlier, in the house next door, a daughter killed her parents in their beds and disappeared, leaving only a brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), as the sole survivor. Against Sarah’s wishes, Elissa begins a relationship with the reclusive Ryan — and the closer they get, the deeper they’re all pulled into a mystery more dangerous than they ever imagined.

Lawrence will be missing Katniss’ bow and arrow as she battles a haunted house.

Sinister
Oct. 5

Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.

They’re playing around with standard horror film tropes, but the trailer is horrifying.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II
Nov. 16

The sparkly conclusion. Please, Lord, let it end.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.

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