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Fall A+E Guide: Movies

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Illustration: Meg Hunt

Would-be blockbusters: It’s a big season for computer-animated family comedies, with Igor (September 19), Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (November 7) and Bolt (November 21) all looking to appeal to short-attention-span-afflicted kids and the parents who tolerate them. Igor follows a misfit mad-scientist’s assistant who strikes out on his own to save the world, while Escape 2 Africa finds the sheltered zoo animals from the original Madagascar bungling an attempt to get back to their home in New York City, and Bolt chronicles the quest of a lost movie-star dog to return to his owner. All are guaranteed to be cute, and very likely cloying as well.

Gil Kenan moves from animation to live action with City of Ember, a film about a magical city that's losing its light.

On a slightly more mature level, Monster House director Gil Kenan moves from animation to live action with City of Ember (October 10), a fantasy epic about a magical city that is losing its light.

A pair of popular, hip novels about young urbanites, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, make their way to the big screen on the same day (October 3). Friends is based on Toby Young’s memoir about his disastrous stint at an upscale New York City magazine, and stars Simon Pegg as its hapless protagonist. Perpetually hapless Michael Cera stars as Nick, and Kat Dennings is Norah, in Infinite Playlist, about the romance between two New York indie-rockers over the course of one night.

The Disney franchise looks to score again with High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

On the more wholesome musical-romance front, the Disney Channel High School Musical franchise makes the leap from TV to theaters with High School Musical 3: Senior Year (October 24), following Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and all their friends as they sing their way through their last year of high school.

Former Disney star Shia LaBeouf makes his bid for solo action-movie stardom in Eagle Eye (September 26), as a man on the run from a sinister conspiracy. Mark Wahlberg also goes the action-hero route in Max Payne (October 17), based on the popular video game about a cop out for revenge.

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon team up for this year’s requisite holiday-themed romantic comedy, Four Christmases (November 26). They play a couple torn between various family factions on the titular holiday, circumstances which will no doubt force them to learn much about the meaning of family and their love for each other.

The two biggest guns of this fall are one veteran franchise and one brand-new one: The latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace (November 14), features Daniel Craig returning for his second go-round as the British superspy in a series revitalized by 2006’s Casino Royale. And Twilight (November 21) is based on the insanely popular book series about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. Expect lots of swooning fangirls to swarm theaters.

Oscar bait: Period movies are always reliable awards fodder, and this year has plenty of them as usual. The Duchess (October 3) casts Keira Knightley as Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, an ancestor of Princess Diana and a powerful aristocrat in 18th-century Britain. Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (September 26) is not only a period piece, but also one set in the most awards-generating period of all—World War II—about a group of four African-American soldiers stranded behind enemy lines in Italy. Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (October 31), acclaimed at Cannes, is based on the true story of a woman in 1928 Los Angeles whose missing child was allegedly returned, only to turn out not to be her son. Angelina Jolie stars as the mother fighting the system. The long-in-development epic Australia (November 26), from director Baz Luhrmann, finally arrives, with the grand ambition to embody everything about its titular continent in the story of an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) and her romance with a rugged Australian (Hugh Jackman) in the time just before—you guessed it—World War II.

Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Leo - if Body of Lies isn't Oscar bait, what is?

Getting back to the present, or possibly the future, a number of serious films take on science-fiction or fantasy trappings this year. The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles returns with Blindness (October 3), based on the acclaimed novel by Jose Saramago about a mysterious plague of sightlessness that descends on one city. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York (October 24 limited; Las Vegas release TBA), a mind-bending drama about a theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) mounting a play that soon becomes indistinguishable from reality. And Cormac McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalypse novel The Road (November 26) becomes a movie starring Viggo Mortensen as a man on a long trip through a desolate wasteland.

Ridley Scott once again tries to win an Oscar by enlisting the help of Russell Crowe, who stars along with fellow awards heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies (October 10), a thriller about a CIA operative on the trail of a terrorist.

And, in the all-important bid for Best Documentary, comedian and commentator Bill Maher stars in Religulous (October 3 limited; Las Vegas release TBA), in which he and director Larry Charles (Borat) challenge the tenets of major world religions in a way that’s sure to piss off the maximum number of people.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is about, well, you can figure it out.

Guilty pleasures: We may be smack-dab in the middle of election season, but this fall’s political movies aren’t the same deluge of dull, serious documentaries we’ve seen in recent years. Instead there are bizarre projects like An American Carol (October 3), a conservative take on the Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol story from former parodist David Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), featuring a Michael Moore-like filmmaker visited by the ghosts of George Patton, George Washington and JFK, who teach him to stop hating America and embrace blind patriotism. Or there’s Oliver Stone’s W. (October 17), the rushed-through-production biopic about George W. Bush, which will either be one big joke or a startlingly profound insight—or both.

Movie I’m Looking Forward to:

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (October 31) Arguably the most promising aspect of this film is that it isn’t called Jay and Silent Bob Make a Porno. Kevin Smith has spent the bulk of his writing/directing career in a self-referential rut, exiting only once to make Jersey Girl while leaving behind many of his raunchiest strengths. But if the hilarious red-band trailer is any indication, Zack and Miri will retain the sex jokes and Star Wars references that Smith’s longtime fans demand, while casting Jason Mewes as someone other than Jay for a change.

Add to that the lucky rabbit’s foot of two Judd Apatow alumni. Knocked Up cemented Seth Rogen as the silver screen’s most loveable schlub, and once again, he’ll be improbably hooked up with a statuesque, blond beauty (Elizabeth Banks, who co-starred with Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Expect the same combination of comic sex and saccharine sweetness that has dominated the box office lately, with a few extra wordy pop-culture references. - Matthew Scott Hunter

For less polarizing oddities, check out Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno (October 31), starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as best friends who … well, you can probably guess from the title. And just in case the season seems a little too predictable, there’s always Repo! The Genetic Opera (November 7 limited; Las Vegas release TBA), a sci-fi musical about a repo man who reclaims people’s replacement organs if they get behind on their payments. It’s directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the man behind Saws I-IV, and its stars include musical-theater veteran and pop singer Sarah Brightman, horror icon Bill Moseley, Skinny Puppy frontman Ogre and Paris Hilton. We’re betting on this one to be a blockbuster and win an Oscar.

Clint Eastwood's Changeling, about a son kidnapped and the wrong child returned, has received great acclaim at Cannes.

Movie I’m looking forward to:

Changeling (October 31) The older Clint Eastwood gets, the more quickly he churns movies out—almost as if he fears that he’ll keel over, shark-like, should he ever stop moving. Just two years after making back-to-back WWII dramas (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima), he already has a couple more pictures in the can. Gran Torino, due at Christmas, stars the man himself and presumably features a cool car, but I’m far more excited about Changeling, a period melodrama that premiered to great acclaim at Cannes.

Set in late-1920s LA and based on a true (and apparently truly bizarre) story, it stars Angelina Jolie as a single mother whose young son is kidnapped and then safely returned—except that Mom maintains, contrary to all evidence, that the rescued child isn’t hers. Jolie is such a ferociously modern actress that it’s hard to imagine her in another era; even the stills of her clad in a cloche hat and kid gloves look vaguely surreal. But advance word is strong, and it certainly sounds like a potential humdinger. - Mike D'Angelo

Based on a Cormac McCarthy book, The Road's ace in the hole is Australian director John Hillcoat.

Movie I'm looking forward to

The Road (November 26) Normally a movie adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel would be cause for the greatest trepidation; it’s pure Oscar bait, just waiting to be praised for its so-called “social importance.” And the fact that the last movie based on a Cormac McCarthy book, No Country for Old Men, was such a rousing success—and won several Oscars—doesn’t make things any easier for The Road. But the ace in the hole is Australian director John Hillcoat, who made the tough, amazing 2005 Western The Proposition. Based on that, and the casting of Viggo Mortensen as the intrepid dad who, accompanied by his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), navigates a ravaged American wasteland, we’re looking at an intense experience and not just some critic-friendly fluff. It’s a shame that Hillcoat couldn’t have snapped up one of McCarthy’s vintage Western stories, which seem like they would be a better fit, but this fall The Road promises singular and unique boldness. - Jeffrey M. Anderson

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