Lo and behold, there are reasons to go to the movies this fall. After one of the worst summer seasons in memory, a veritable slew of worthwhile movies hits wide and limited release over the next few months.
The lists below highlight some of the more promising releases coming to our local theaters, but a dozen or so indies will also make the rounds in select venues.
I encourage you to use this article as only a starting point and seek out some of those, too.
And the award goes to ...
Date: Nov. 11
Set-up: Explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial, and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.
Why we care: A Clint Eastwood movie is an event, and he has a great cast for this one, including DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas and Ken Howard.
Date: Nov. 23
Set-up: Set in Hawaii, this is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney), an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki.
Why we care: Director Alexander Payne doesn't work often, but it's usually great when he does ("Sideways," "About Schmidt," "Citizen Ruth"). This trailer alone provokes laughter and tears.
Puss in Boots
Date: Nov. 4
Set-up: Long before he even met Shrek, the notorious fighter, lover and outlaw Puss in Boots becomes a hero when he sets off on an adventure with the tough and street smart Kitty Softpaws and the mastermind Humpty Dumpty to save his town. This is the true story of The Cat, The Myth, The Legend ... The Boots.
Why we care: This doesn't look all that great, but there aren't many other choices for family fare this fall.
Our Idiot Brother
Date: This week
Set-up: Every family has one: the sibling who is always just a little bit behind the curve when it comes to getting his life together. For sisters Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), that person is their perennially upbeat brother Ned (Paul Rudd), an erstwhile organic farmer whose willingness to rely on the honesty of mankind is a less-than-optimum strategy for a tidy, trouble-free existence. After Ned's girlfriend dumps him and boots him off the farm, his sisters once again come to his rescue. As Liz, Miranda and Natalie each take a turn at housing Ned, their brother's unfailing commitment to honesty creates more than a few messes in their comfortable routines
Why we care: Funniest trailer of the fall.
Date: Sept. 30
Set-up: Inspired by personal experiences, "50/50" is an original story about friendship, love, survival, and finding humor in unlikely places. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star as best friends whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis. "50/50" draws its emotional core from writer Will Reiser's own experience with cancer and reminds us that friendship and love, no matter what bizarre turns they take, are the greatest healers.
Why we care: Gordon-Levitt has quietly become one of the best actors of his generation, and this might be the film that helps Rogen shatter the Apatow mold and make better movies.
Date: Dec. 16
Set-up: Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). When returning home proves more difficult than she thought, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate (Patton Oswalt) who hasn't quite gotten over high school, either.
Why we care: Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Up in the Air") might be the best comedy director around, and here he re-teams with "Juno" writer Diablo Cody.
Action (and fangless vampires)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
Date: Nov. 18
Set-up: Bella has a baby.
Why we care: Many of you have hung with this series faithfully, and I can't deny that the movies have gradually gotten more interesting.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Date: Dec. 16
Set-up: Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has always been the smartest man in the room - until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), and not only is he Holmes' intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. The cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead of Holmes as he spins a web of death and destruction - all part of a plan that, if it succeeds, will change the course of history.
Why we care: The game is afoot, this time with Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris in the cast. That's enough for me.
The horror ... The horror
Date: Sept. 9
Set-up: "Contagion" follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.
Why we care: Steven Soderbergh directs a bio-thriller (?) with an amazing cast: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle.
Date: Sept. 30
Set-up: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz star in a suspense thriller about a family that unknowingly moves into a home where grisly murders were committed, only to find themselves the killer's next target.
Why we care: The scenario is overdone as can be, but director Jim Sheridan is known for intimate dramas like "In America" and "My Left Foot." I want to see what happens when that guy makes a thriller, especially with such a strong cast.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Date: Oct. 21
Set-up: This psychological thriller stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a young woman rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a cult and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha's reality and delusion begins to blur.
Why we care: This movie made a huge splash at Sundance and is being hailed as the emergence of Olsen as a major star.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.