CATEGORIES Features

For moviegoers, autumn traditionally signals a return to serious drama and relatively weighty subject matter after the popcorn-flavored fare of summer. And while we certainly have a decent slate of rock-solid dramas to look forward to this year (including 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps', 'Stone' and 'Fair Game'), there's also a variety of other offerings: Two very different comedies starring Zach Galifianakis, romantic comedies, thrillers with and without action, and films that may or may not be documentaries, to round things out.

Though no major theme dominates the season, a few minor ones are evident, namely directorial Afflecks (Casey's debut and Ben's return), movies involving Facebook, and, as previously noted, questionable docs. Plus James Franco -- virtually a theme in himself these days -- taking on two demanding roles.

Here, in order of release date, are 20 fall movies we're really looking forward to:

For moviegoers, autumn traditionally signals a return to serious drama and relatively weighty subject matter after the popcorn-flavored fare of summer. And while we certainly have a decent slate of rock-solid dramas to look forward to this year (including 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps', 'Stone' and 'Fair Game'), there's also a variety of other offerings: Two very different comedies starring Zach Galifianakis, romantic comedies, thrillers with and without action, and films that may or may not be documentaries, to round things out.

Though no major theme dominates the season, a few minor ones are evident, namely directorial Afflecks (Casey's debut and Ben's return), movies involving Facebook, and, as previously noted, questionable docs. Plus James Franco -- virtually a theme in himself these days -- taking on two demanding roles.

Here, in order of release date, are 20 fall movies we're really looking forward to:

Joaquin Phoenix'I'm Still Here'
Release Date: Sept. 10
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
The mystery surrounding Casey Affleck's documentary (or mockumentary) about his brother-in-law's transformation from successful actor to unlikely rapper/inscrutable talk show personality continues to mount. Is the movie legit? An elaborate hoax? Affleck convincingly says it's the real deal, but then, he is an excellent actor. The truth: it's got a lot of people, including us, more than mildly intrigued.
- What Happens in 'I'm Still Here'?


'the town''The Town'
Release Date: Sept. 17
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner
We were mighty impressed by Affleck's gritty directorial debut ('Gone Baby Gone'), and 'The Town' -- another crime drama set in Boston -- looks equally promising. The adaptation of Chuck Hogan's novel about four thieves being hunted by a dogged FBI agent ('Mad Men's' Hamm, looking every bit a Fed) and a woman with the power to destroy them, has a fantastic cast led by Ben himself and including Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper. We're sold.


'Catfish''Catfish'
Release Date: Sept. 17
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Another entry in the "Doc or Mock?" category, the much-hyped "reality thriller" 'Catfish' (its filmmakers insist it's real) also qualifies for the burgeoning Movies About Social Networking genre (see also 'The Social Network' ). The basic story: After Schulman's younger brother Nev is contacted by an 8-year-old girl via Facebook, he begins an online romance with her older sister, which takes a shocking turn when he visits her in person. The breathless raves from some who've seen it have made us very curious.


Emma Stone in 'Easy A''Easy A'
Release Date: Sept. 17
Starring: Emma Stone
Teen romcoms with literary references have a strong pedigree ('Clueless,' '10 Things I Hate About You') and 'Easy A,' with its parallels to Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter,' looks like one of the genre's better incarnations. Stone stars as a high schooler who uses rumors about her supposed sluttiness to boost her popularity and financial standing. The movie's witty dialogue has many comparing it to 'Mean Girls,' which is high praise indeed.


'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps''Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'
Release Date: Sept. 24
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Carey Mulligan
Douglas' recent cancer diagnosis has put Oliver Stone's highly anticipated sequel to his 1987 original in a somewhat poignant light. All the more reason to appreciate the actor's return as (reformed) financial shark Gordon Gekko, who teaches his protégé/future son-in-law (LaBeouf) the industry ropes. Nice plus: LaBeouf's real-life love Mulligan plays his fiancee and Gekko's estranged daughter.


Ryan Reynolds in 'Buried''Buried'
Release Date: Sept. 24
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
How's this for a test of acting chops? Rodrigo Cortés' tense thriller is about an Iraq-based contractor (Reynolds) who gets buried alive in an underground coffin with a cell phone and limited oxygen. Most of the movie takes place in the box, as Reynolds' character frantically races against time. Obviously not for claustrophobes, the film should be catnip to anyone into simple, searing suspense. And, of course, to Reynolds fans.


James Franco in 'Howl''Howl'
Release Date: Sept. 24
Starring: James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm
Oh Franco, how you continue to fascinate us. Whether portraying a hilarious stoner ('Pineapple Express') or Sean Penn's cute boyfriend ('Milk'), creating soap opera performance art or simultaneously pursuing graduate degrees at different universities, you are a true marvel. Now you've taken on famed, voice-of-his-generation beat poet Allen Ginsberg in what sounds like a fascinating, offbeat biopic and all we can say is: we're there.


'The Social Network''The Social Network'
Release Date: Oct. 1
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones
Like most, we were completely seduced by the trailer for 'The Social Network,' featuring Belgian choir group Scala & Kolacny Brothers' awesome cover of 'Creep.' So we're hopeful that David Fincher's drama about the founding of Facebook, starring the excellent Jesse Eisenberg ('The Squid and the Whale,' 'Adventureland') as Mark Zuckerberg (along with the always fun Justin Timberlake), will live up to the clip.


Zach Galifianakis in 'It's Kind of a Funny Story''It's Kind of a Funny Story'
Release Date: Oct. 8
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis
Filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are known for raw, thoughtful dramas ('Half Nelson,' 'Sugar'), so their adaptation of Ned Vizzini's comedic novel about a suicidal teen's stint in a psychiatric hospital is an intriguing proposition. The fact that the dramedy stars Galifianakis as the young protagonist's (Gilchrist) fellow patient adds another dimension entirely. (Also featuring Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan.)


Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in 'Stone''Stone'
Release Date: Oct. 8
Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy
Director John Curran, who did very well by Norton with the romantic drama 'The Painted Veil,' reteams with the actor for a dramatic thriller. De Niro plays a soon-to-retire parole officer assigned to a convicted arsonist (Norton) who swears he's reformed. The complex relationship between the two men, complicated by their respective spouses (Jovovich and Conroy) should make for a dark, fascinating ride.


Helen Mirren and John Malkovich in 'Red''Red'
Release Date: Oct. 15
Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker
Not too many cult graphic novels-turned-movies have main characters over 40, let alone 50, but 'Red' (directed by Robert Schwentke, based on Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's book) boasts four. Willis, Mirren, Freeman and Malkovich play ex-CIA operatives-turned-targets who must use their combined expertise to escape assassination and uncover a huge conspiracy. We know they'll be nothing less than badass.


Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon in 'Hereafter''Hereafter'
Release Date: Oct. 22
Starring: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cécile De France
We're always interested in what insanely prolific director Clint Eastwood is up to, and this supernatural thriller sounds pretty enticing. The movie, which has been compared to 'The Sixth Sense,' is comprised of three parallel stories, one of which stars Damon as a factory worker who can communicate with the dead. The fact that the script was penned by Peter Morgan ('Frost/Nixon,' 'The Queen') bodes well for the film.


'Welcome to the Rileys''Welcome to the Rileys'
Release Date: Oct. 29
Starring: Melissa Leo, James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart
One thing you gotta say for Stewart: she's sure not coasting on 'Twilight' fame. (Her fierce portrayal of Joan Jett in 'The Runaways' more than proved her acting mettle.) 'Welcome to the Rileys' should only burnish her reputation as an adventurous actress. Directed by Jake Scott, the indie drama stars the terrific Leo and Gandolfini as a grieving couple whose lives are changed by an underage stripper (yep, Stewart).


R. Downey Jr. and Z. Galifianakis in 'Due Date''Due Date'
Release Date: Nov. 5
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx
The trailer may be reminiscent of the classic comedy 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles,' but 'Due Date''s leads -- Downey and Galifianakis -- seem to have a crazy chemistry all their own. 'The Hangover' director Todd Philips knows how to push the limits of ridiculous, and this road comedy about a high-strung father-to-be (Downey) forced to hitch a ride home with an annoying aspiring actor (Galifianakis) and his French bulldog looks like a worthy followup.


Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in 'Fair Game''Fair Game'
Release Date: Nov. 5
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
This political thriller from Doug Liman, based on ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame's eponymous memoir, details the events surrounding the press leak that blew her cover and ended her espionage career. With Watts as Plame and Penn playing her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson -- who was drawn into her investigation of the existence or non-existence of WMDs in Iraq and subsequent controversy -- we're anticipating taut, powerfully acted drama.


James Franco in '127 Hours''127 Hours'
Release Date: Nov. 5
Starring: James Franco
Director Danny Boyle follows up his 2008 smash 'Slumdog Millionaire' with a nail-biting drama based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable survival after becoming trapped in an isolated canyon. With the fearless Franco as Ralston (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara play fellow hikers) and some reportedly very intense scenes, '127 Hours' sounds like a must-see.


'Morning Glory''Morning Glory'
Release Date: Nov. 12
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton
There's a lot to recommend this romantic comedy from director Roger Michell ('Notting Hill') about a struggling TV producer (McAdams) whose attempt to revitalize a morning news show by bringing aboard a legendary TV anchor (Ford) backfires when he clashes repeatedly with his co-host (Keaton); mainly its fabulous cast, which also includes Patrick Wilson and Jeff Goldblum.


Denzel Washington and Chris Pine'Unstoppable'
Release Date: Nov. 12
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson
What is it with director Tony Scott, Denzel and rogue trains? Last year's remake of 'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3' starred Washington as a New York City subway dispatcher who races to intercept a hijacked train filled with panicky hostages; in 'Unstoppable,' he's a railroad engineer who races, along with his young conductor (Pine), to stop a runaway freight train filled with explosives. Unlike 'Pelham,' the new movie is loosely based on a real-life 2001 incident, but we're expecting the same adrenaline rush.


'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I'
Release Date: Nov. 19
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes
That's right, Potter people, it's time for the first film installment of the series' final book ('Part II' is due out next summer). David Yates ('Order of the Phoenix,' 'Half-Blood Prince') is back in the directorial saddle for what's virtually a "road film": post-Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione and Ron embark on a mission to find and destroy Voldemort's secret to immortality. The series adds yet another fine Brit actor (Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour) to its stellar cast.


Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal'Love and Other Drugs'
Release Date: Nov. 24
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway
A romcom set in the pharmaceutical industry, based on Jamie Reidy's memoir 'Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,' 'Love and Other Drugs' (directed by Edward Zwick) boasts the appealing duo of Gyllenhaal and Hathaway (last seen as a couple in 'Brokeback Mountain') as a slickly charming prescription drug salesman and an alluring free spirit he meets on a sales call.

Also coming this fall:

Sept. 10: 'Resident Evil: Afterlife,' 'The Romantics,' 'Legendary'
Sept. 15: 'Never Let Me Go,' 'Devil'
Sept. 17: 'Alpha and Omega,' 'Jack Goes Boating'
Sept. 22: 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,' 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole'
Sept. 24: 'You Again,' 'Enter the Void,' 'Waiting for "Superman"'
Oct. 1: 'Let Me In,' 'Freakonomics,' 'Case 39'
Oct. 8: 'Secretariat,' 'My Soul to Take,' 'Nowhere Boy,' 'Inside Job,' 'Wild Target'
Oct. 15: 'Conviction,' 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest'
Oct. 22: 'The Company Men'
Oct. 29: 'Monsters'
Nov. 5: 'Megamind'
Nov. 19: 'The Next Three Days'
Nov. 24: 'Burlesque,' 'Faster,' 'The King's Speech,' 'Tangled'