It used to be that there was a sharp, clear-cut line dividing the popcorn-movie trifles of summer from the highbrow, cerebral films of the fall movie season. But over the past several years, it's become virtually impossible to distinguish between the two. Sure, there are still plenty of brainy prestige pictures to be found at the multiplex as the year comes to a close. But when you look at some of the major studio releases coming up over the next few months, including "Thor: The Dark World," "Anchorman 2," "Riddick," and "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (all of which I'm excited about, for the record), you'd be forgiven for thinking summer never ended.
This is a preview of some of the more interesting upcoming films to look out for, with enough balance between big-budget blockbusters and indie fare to please movie fans no matter what their preference. Unfortunately, I couldn't include everything I'm excited about; the season is jam-packed with potential masterpieces, so this is just a taste of what's out there.
And yes, there's also a little film called "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," due out December 13, but come on, you don't need me to tell you to see that one. Because sometimes, you just want to see a movies with a talking dragon.
"Prisoners" Jake Gyllenhaal plays a detective investigating the disappearance of two young girls. Hugh Jackman is the father who decides to take the law into his own hands. Sounds like the makings of a fairly typical vigilante thriller, but with a cast rounded out by Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo, color me intrigued. (9/20)
"Enough Said" In this romantic-comedy for grown-ups, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a masseuse feeling anxious about her daughter leaving for college. Deciding the answer is to meet new people, she befriends a new client (Catherine Keener) and starts dating again. But unbeknownst to her, the charming new man in her life (James Gandolfini, in one of his final performances) turns out to be Keener's ex-husband. Whoops! (9/27)
"Gravity" It's been seven years since Alfonso Cuarón's brain-meltingly brilliant "Children of Men" hit theaters, and now he returns with this 3D sci-fi thriller, four years in the making. It's got a simple, but killer setup: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play two astronauts whose shuttle is destroyed, leaving them stranded in the vast emptiness of space. (10/4)
"Captain Phillips" Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Ultimatum") directs Tom Hanks as the titular captain, in this thriller based on the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship by Somali pirates. (10/11)
"Zero Charisma" An obsessive, overbearing fantasy RPG-playing geek finds his position as leader of his gaming group threatened by the presence of a handsome, charismatic hipster nerd type in this darkly funny, SXSW Audience Award-winning indie-comedy. (10/11)
"Kill Your Darlings" Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg in this drama centering around the murder investigation of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), which brings together some of the great poets of the Beat movement, including Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dane DeHaan, and David Cross. (10/16)
"12 Years a Slave" Steve McQueen, director of "Shame," adapts the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery. Also starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti. (10/18)
"Carrie" It's going to be tough to improve on Brian De Palma's classic adaptation, but I'm interested to see what a strong female voice ("Boys Don't Cry" director, Kimberly Peirce) brings to Stephen King's tale of schoolgirl angst, telekinesis, and one magical prom night. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. (10/18)
"The Counselor" Ridley Scott directs the first original screenplay from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy in this thriller about a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who finds himself over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. With Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, and Penelope Cruz. (10/25)
"Dear Mr. Watterson" It's too early to say for sure whether this Kickstarter-funded documentary about the legacy of Bill Watterson's beloved comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," will get a theatrical release in Rochester, but it is set to premiere on video-on-demand this November, and I couldn't be more excited. (11/15)
"The Book Thief" A young girl (newcomer Sophie Nelisse) is sent to live with foster parents (played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) in WWII Germany, and begins stealing books in order to learn how to read and write. Based on the acclaimed young-adult novel by Markus Zusak. (11/15)
"The Wolf of Wall Street" Martin Scorsese reunites with frequent leading man Leonardo DiCaprio in this adaptation of stockbroker Jordan Belfort's memoir documenting his descent into a life of crime and corruption. With Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, and Jean Dujardin. (11/15)
"Frozen" Sloth enthusiast Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel lend their voices to this computer-animated Disney film, about an adventurous girl on a quest to break the curse that has trapped her kingdom in an eternal winter. Based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's, "The Snow Queen." (11/27)
"Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl") directs this biopic documenting the life of Nelson Mandela, played by Idris Elba, from childhood through his inauguration as President of South Africa. (11/29)
"Inside Llewyn Davis" The Coen Brothers' latest follows a Bob Dylan-esque musician (Oscar Isaac) as he chases success in the NYC folk music scene of the 1960's. With Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman. (12/6)
"American Hustle" I admit to being somewhat underwhelmed by David O'Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," but his newest, about 1970's-era con artists, looks like a blast. Starring Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence. (12/13)
"The Monuments Men" It's "Saving Private Ryan" meets "Ocean's 11" when George Clooney directs Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett in this WWII-set film about a special platoon tasked with saving artwork from Germany before it's destroyed by the invading Nazi forces. (12/18)
"Her" Joaquin Phoenix is a lonely writer who falls in love with his computer's Siri-like operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). With Spike Jonze directing, it's bound to be quirky, sad, and oddly beautiful. Also starring Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Chris Pratt. (12/18)
"Saving Mr. Banks" Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star as Walt Disney and novelist P.L. Travers respectively, in this account of the behind-the-scenes battle to bring the author's book, "Mary Poppins," to the big screen. This being a Disney production, we'll have to wait and see if they keep the part about how she ended up absolutely hating the final product. (12/20)
"The Past" Iranian director Asghar Farhadi follows up his Oscar-winning "A Separation" with this drama (nominated for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes festival), about a long-separated married couple who reunite in order to finalize their divorce, as she's making a fresh start with a new, much younger, lover. (12/20)
"August: Osage County" Expectations are sky high for this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a crisis that forces the women of the dysfunctional Weston family back to the Oklahoma house where they grew up. With a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, and Sam Shepard, it's like taking a hit of pure, unadulterated Oscar bait. (12/25)
Release dates are subject to change, so be sure to check listings before you go running off to the theater.