- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

The fall movie season always has more serious fare than the summer. Studios like to release the films that have the best shot at awards just before the deadline so judges have them fresh in mind when it comes time to vote.

This fall might be even darker than usual, though. There are cannibals, Nazis, vampires, werewolves - and not one, but two Republican presidents. You can take He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named off that list of villains, though. The next installment of the Harry Potter franchise has been moved from this fall to next summer.

September is often a bad month for movies, a dumping ground for films that are neither summer blockbusters nor autumn award contenders. This month is different. The directors of last year’s best-picture Oscar winner, Joel and Ethan Coen, are back, this time with one of their farcical comedies. “Burn After Reading” (Friday) stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand. Legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino team up for the first time since 1995’s “Heat” in another cop drama, “Righteous Kill” (Friday).

Auteurs Neil LaBute and Spike Lee both have mainstream pics coming out this month. Mr. LaBute’s “Lakeview Terrace” (Sept. 19) is a thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson as a cop who doesn’t like the interracial couple who just moved in next door. Mr. Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna” (Sept. 26) focuses on an all-black division stationed in Tuscany during World War II.

Mr. Lee made headlines this year not for buzz about his film, but for a long-distance shouting match he got into with Clint Eastwood.

Somehow, in between the war of words, Mr. Eastwood found time to direct two films. “Changeling” (Oct. 31) stars Angelina Jolie as a woman who believes the boy returned to her after a kidnapping is not her son. Mr. Eastwood is in front of and behind the camera for “Gran Torino” (Dec. TBD), in which he plays a veteran who develops a relationship with the immigrant child who tries to steal his car.

There should be plenty of thieves and gangsters in Guy Ritchie’s “RocknRolla” (Oct. 31), which is said to mark a return to form for the director. Jeremy Irons plays the bad guy in “Appaloosa” (Oct. 3), which reunites “A History of Violence” stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris. The Western is also directed by Mr. Harris.

The villains are terrorists in Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” (Oct. 10): Leonardo DiCaprio is a CIA operative who works with a CIA vet played by Russell Crowe to find a terrorist leader operating out of Jordan.

Another ripped-from-the-headlines movie comes from Oliver Stone. In “W.” (Oct. 17), Josh Brolin plays the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. before he even has left.

On the lighter side, “Synecdoche, New York” (Oct. TBD) marks screenwriter (“Adaptation”) Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (Oct. 31) is Kevin Smith’s comedy about a pair of friends who decide on an unconventional way to get out of debt.

November sees what could be two of the biggest box-office hits of the year. “Quantum of Solace” (Nov. 14) is Daniel Craig’s second outing as the first blond Bond, as he seeks revenge for what happened to Vesper Lynd.

“Twilight” (Nov. 21) is based on the first novel of the best-selling vampire romance trilogy by Stephenie Meyer. The young-adult series, which has adult fans, isn’t another “Harry Potter,” but the final book sold a respectable 1.3 million copies in 24 hours when it went on sale last month.

Baz Luhrmann’s World War II epic “Australia” (Nov. 26) should do decent business, too, with stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Two critically acclaimed plays come to the big screen in December. John Patrick Shanley hasn’t directed a film since 1990’s “Joe Versus the Volcano,” but he’s back behind the camera to bring his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt” (Dec. 12) to life once again. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a nun and a priest who go head to head over a crime that the priest may or may not have committed at their school.

Perhaps Frank Langella will get the Oscar nod he should have had last year for “Starting Out in the Evening” when he reprises the role he played on the West End and Broadway in Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” (Dec. 25). He’s the president, while Michael Sheen returns as the British interviewer who got him to admit his Watergate guilt.

As usual, there are a host of other literary adaptations this season. Most people are wondering how Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles managed to make a film of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness” (Oct. 3). Sue Monk Kidd’s novel “The Secret Life of Bees” (Oct. 17) centers on a teenager who runs away from home with her caregiver (played by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson).

Two rather different adaptations open on Christmas. “Marley & Me” is based on the memoir about life with a neurotic dog, while “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is David Fincher’s take on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages in reverse.

“Titanic” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are reunited finally for “Revolutionary Road” (Dec. TBD), based on the Richard Yates novel, while “The Road” (Nov. 14) is this year’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation. (Last year’s was best pic “No Country for Old Men”). The Oprah-approved tale stars Viggo Mortensen as a father on a journey with his son through post-apocalyptic America; it has those cannibals mentioned earlier.

The one film that has Hollywood insiders most curious probably is “Valkyrie” (Dec. 26). Tom Cruise plays the real-life German officer behind a plot to assassinate Hitler. Tongues wagged when the release date for the film kept changing, and Mr. Cruise needs a success. His revived United Artists production company has released just one film, last year’s “Lions for Lambs,” which didn’t do as well as hoped.

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