If I had to devise a list of the top five fall movies I am salivating to see, they would be these:
• "Skyfall," just to see if Daniel Craig's third time up as Agent 007 is any better than the disappointing "Quantum of Solace."
• "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's enigmatic cult tale that sounds as if it will qualify as "The Tree of Life" for 2012.
• "The Man With the Iron Fists," RZA's cracked-out, action movie stuffed with more weaponry gadgets than Q's testing laboratories.
• "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's take on the last months in the life of our 16th president, played by Daniel Day-Lewis (Have you seen those pictures? The clips? Eerie resemblance).
• "Seven Psychopaths," because any time you have Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken and Colin Farrell in a movie with "psychopaths" in the title, how can you not see it?
No doubt there are other movies just as deserving of my saliva, but we've all been burned by movies that failed to live up to our high expectorations. Why chance it?
So, here, I humbly present the annual Daily Herald preview to the fall movies, those scheduled to open in our market through Nov. 21.
As you read these very words, some conniving studio executive with too much time on his/her hands is rubbing his/her hands together in sadistic anticipation over changing a few release dates, or bumping a few movies into next year. But most of the dates you see here will remain good.
So sit back and get ready for a barrage of 3-D movies coming at ya, the really absolutely final ending of the "Twilight" saga, some horror films that sound as if they will not be screened for critics, and a few cutting-edge animated features that just might bring out the kid in all of us.
"Arbitrage" -- Desperate New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) tries to sell his trading empire before anyone finds out about his fraudulent activities. Susan Sarandon plays his wife. Brit Marling plays his brilliant daughter. Laetitia Casta plays his French lover. Tim Roth plays the relentless cop. Drama ensues.
"Beloved" -- During the 1960s in Paris, a young prostitute (Ludivine Sagnier) marries an unfaithful Czech doctor (Rasha Bukvic). Thirty years later, their daughter (Chirara Mastroiani) marries an unfaithful artist. Oh, no!
"Finding Nemo 3-D" -- Walt Disney's 2003 2-D movie won the Oscar for best animated feature, and for good reason. Now it's got an extra dimension of fun as little Nemo the ocean fish (Alexander Gould) winds up in a dentist office aquarium while dad (Albert Brooks) goes searching for the poor little guy.
"Hello, I Must Be Going" -- Melanie Lynskey's soul-searing performance as a depressed woman on the slow rebound from divorce highlights this domestic comic drama about second chances. Hers is with a 19-year-old actor (Christopher Abbott). With Blythe Danner as Mom.
"Last Ounce of Courage" -- Marshall Teague, Jennifer O'Neill, Hunter Gomez and Jenna Boyd star in a story about a grieving father inspired by his grandson to stand up for faith and freedom by rallying his family against the American Civil Liberties Organization run by Northwestern University grad Fred Williamson.
"Resident Evil: Retribution" -- Milla Jovovich's unkillable heroine Alice racks up a lot of frequent flier miles (Tokyo, New York, Washington DC and Moscow) to hunt down the people responsible for the T-virus outbreak that created a world of undead cannibals. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson himself.
"Stolen" -- A master thief (Nicolas Cage) must use his skills and smarts to save his daughter (Malin Akerman), stuck in a soundproof taxi cab trunk by his old partner (Danny Huston). He demands $10 million that he thinks the thief has stashed some place. But, oh, no! He doesn't have it!
"Dredd 3-D" -- Early reviews hail this remake of the Sylvester Stallone film as "grim, gritty and ultraviolent." In a future American wasteland ruled by criminals, cop/judge/executioner combo Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) seeks to stem the flow of a "slow motion" drug. With Olivia Thirlby as Cassandra.
"End of Watch" -- Chicago's own Michael Pena joins with Jake Gyllenhaal in a "found footage"-type format crime drama tracing the lives of two L.A. cops as they go about their daily jobs. Until they run across drug cartels that put out a contract on the cops' lives.
"House at the End of the Street" -- This thriller stars Elisabeth Shue as a mother who moves to a dream house in a small town, only to later discover that a girl killed her parents in the house next door, leaving her brother as the sole survivor. Now, who do you think her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) is dating? Yep. Oh, brother.
"How To Survive a Plague" -- David France's documentary focuses on the Greenwich Village political group Act Up, which took up the cause of the AIDS epidemic mostly being ignored by the government and health organizations even in 1987.
"Liberal Arts" -- It's encroaching adulthood vs. lingering adolescence as a thirty-something guy (Josh Radnor) falls for a 19-year-old undergrad (Elizabeth Olsen) at his Ohio college alma mater. Zac Efron plays the resident brooding party animal. Allison Janney plays the feisty Romantics professor.
"The Master" -- The trailers look fascinating, and Paul Thomas Anderson's anxiously awaited next movie actually played one night in Chicago last month as a special fundraiser in a glorious 70 mm. format. A seaman (Joaquin Phoenix) returns to a 1950s America and becomes involved in The Cause, a murky cult apparently created by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Co-starring Amy Adams and Laura Dern.
"10 Years" -- It's encroaching adulthood vs. lingering adolescence, again! A high school class gets together on its 10th reunion where everyone reverts back to his/her old self. Jake (Channing Tatum) prepares to propose to his girlfriend until he runs into his old flame (Rosario Dawson). The school bully (Chris Pratt) falls back into his evil ways. Well, you get the idea.
"Trouble with the Curve" -- Former Rolling Meadows resident Robert Lorenz directs Clint Eastwood! He plays an aging baseball scout being put out to pasture by his bosses. When he refuses to leave, his estranged legal eagle daughter (Amy Adams) joins him on one more scouting trip to save her dad's career. With Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and Matthew Lillard.
"Unconditional Love" -- A storybook artist (Lynn Collins) had a seemingly perfect life until her loving husband is murdered, causing her to lose faith and her will to live, She receives a second chance after being inspired by her friend "Papa" Joe (Michael Ealy), a terminally ill man who helps local fatherless children. Now, presented with an opportunity for revenge, will she take it?
"War of the Buttons" -- Two rival kid gangs from small French villages set aside their own conflicts to help a young Jewish girl named Violette (Llona Bachelier) in danger of being betrayed to the Nazis. Sounds like a story about some serious global thinking.
"Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel" -- An intimate portrait of the legendary fashion icon with film, photography, animation, graphics, text, sound, and music. Vreeland virtually narrates her own story.
"Hotel Transylvania" -- Sony Pictures' animated comedy about Dracula (Adam Sandler), who invites Frankenstein's monster and his bride, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Invisible Man and others to his lavish resort where monsters can get away from bothersome humans. Then a human boy shows up and falls for Drac's 118-year-old daughter, Mavis. Fran Drescher, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and David Spade provide character voices.
"Looper" -- This one I gotta see. It takes place in the future when time travel is illegal, but that doesn't stop the mob from sending their "targets" into the past to be bumped off by a "looper" assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). One day the mob wants to shut down its illegal activity, so it dispatches the adult Looper (Bruce Willis) into the past to be killed by his younger self. Can you say "dilemma"? Directed by Rian "Brick" Johnson.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller star in this comic drama about the highs and lows of growing up. Directed and written by Stephen Chbosky, based on his best-seller, number 15 on the list of the 100 most banned books of the 21st century. And the movie is rated a mere PG-13.
"Snowman's Land" -- A wry German dark comedy. Really. A freak accident in a remote region of the Carpathian Mountains turns a nice, easy holiday job for a hapless pair of hitmen into a comically nightmarish fight for survival. Featuring stunning cinematography of deceptively idyllic snowy landscapes.
"Won't Back Down" -- A tale of hope for the activist inside us all. Two concerned mothers (Maggie Gyllenhaal and the force of nature Viola Davis) take on their children's failing inner-city school and through hard work, courage and dedication, make a difference. (This is not a true story, just so you know.)
"About Cherry" -- Sounds like a potential sequel to "Boogie Nights." A teen (Ashley Hinshaw) with a troubled home life moves to San Francisco where she enters the porn industry under the name Cherry. Heather Graham (from "Boogie Nights") plays a porn director. "Cherry" was shot in the San Francisco Armory, home of the largest adult film studio in the world. "Cherry" director Stephen Elliott is a former sex worker who also wrote the screenplay with porn performer Lorelei Lee.
"Butter" -- An ambitious woman (Jennifer Garner) married to Iowa's reigning butter sculpting champ (Ty Burrell) enters the contest after he retires. She's the shoo-in to win ... until an adopted young black girl (Yara Shahidi) discovers she has an uncanny talent for butter-carving in a movie that will melt your heart ... or least your stick of butter.
"Escape Fire" -- This doc examines the powerful forces trying to maintain the status quo in a medical industry designed for quick fixes rather than prevention, for profit-driven care rather than patient-driven care. Pro Obamacare or anti-ObamaCare? We shall see.
"Frankenweenie" -- Finally, Tim Burton has made a stop-motion feature-length movie out of his 1992 film short that jump-started his career as a Walt Disney animator and movie director. A boy (Charlie Tahan) reanimates his late, beloved canine Sparky, with humorous results. Voices by Martin Landau, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara. It's in black-and-white, too!
"The Other Dream Team" -- Marius A. Markevicius directs a doc about Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis, who led the USSR to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Poster boys for the Soviet sports machine, they emerged four years later as symbols of democracy, willing newly independent Lithuania to the medal stand in Barcelona.
"The Paperboy" -- A prisoner (Chicago's own John Cusack) convicted of killing a cop gets help from his betrothed pen pal (Nicole Kidman), who enlists a couple of journalists (Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo) to get him off death row. Variety calls this a "tale of murder, idealistic journalism, warped sexual desires, a slipshod legal system and inbred backwater types hostile to outsiders." That pretty much covers it.
"Pitch Perfect" -- Anna Kendrick stars as the new girl on campus who manages to put together a crackerjack a cappella singing group consisting of fierce rivals within her inherited social clique. Brittany Snow and Christopher Mintz-Plasse co-star.
"Sinister" -- See? Movies can hurt you! Ethan Hawke discovers what censors have known for decades. He plays a crime novelist who plays old movies he finds in a mysterious box, and boy is he ever sorry. As film.com critic Eric D. Snider writes: "Your pants. Do you like having them scared off you? Then you and your pants will enjoy 'Sinister'!"
"Taken 2" -- You'd think after the fatal whuppin' that Liam Neeson gave the last guys who kidnapped his daughter that no one would be stupid enough to do it again. But they do. So when his daughter (Maggie Grace) asks him, "What are you going to do?" we know exactly what Liam means when he answers, "What I do best!" And it's not filling out taxes.
"V/H/S" -- See? Movies can hurt you! How many times do you have to be told? Petty criminals hired to retrieve an old videotape from a rundown house find a corpse in a sea of old television sets surrounded by a kajillion VHS tapes. Naturally, they must look at them all to find the one they came for. But can they keep their sanity after watching so many tapes as they become increasingly horrific?
"The Well Digger's Daughter" -- French movie star Daniel Auteuil makes his directorial debut with this remake of Marcel Pagnol's 1940 classic about a widower well-digger Pascale (Auteuil), whose daughter becomes impregnated by a wealthy young pilot (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who promptly abandons her for the frontlines. Pascale must deal with the consequences.
"Argo" -- The trailers look really suspenseful. Even though we know the outcome. When militants take over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, six Americans escape and take refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home. A CIA agent (Ben Affleck) devises a diabolical plan to smuggle the Americans out by pretending to film a movie in Tehran. John Goodman and Alan Arkin co-star.
"Here Comes the Boom" -- And here comes the Fonz, alias Henry Winkler, in an action comedy about a dedicated schoolteacher (Kevin James) who tries to rescue the music department by moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter at night. With Salma Hayek as the eye candy.
"Seven Psychopaths" -- When two guys (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) steal a beloved pet dog from a psychotic gangster (Woody Harrelson in type casting), a struggling writer (Colin Farrell) gets all the inspiration he needs to finish his new screenplay titled "Seven Psychopaths." From director Martin "In Bruges" McDonagh.
"Alex Cross" -- A switcheroo for comedy director/actor Tyler Perry. He plays the title character based on James Patterson's literary homicide detective. Rob Cohen directs this suspense thriller as Cross chases a clever serial killer ("Lost" star Matthew Fox) in a case that -- yes, you guessed it -- gets personal this time.
"Easy Money" -- Three men -- a business student, a petty fugitive and a hit man -- become tangled up together in the dark world of organized crime.
"Killing Them Softly" -- Hollywood Reporter calls this "a juicy, bloody, grimy and profane crime drama that amply satisfies as a deep-dish genre piece." Brad Pitt plays a hitman hired to avenge the robbery of an expensive card game run by a shifty gangster (Ray Liotta). DeKalb native Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini co-star in this crime tale based on George V. Higgins' 1974 political allegorical novel. Directed by Andrew Dominik.
"Paranormal Activity 4" -- Katie Featherston returns in this third sequel to the popular horror series. Here, she reaches out to Hollywood actor Haley Joel Osment to see if he can talk to dead people and figure out what's up with the weird stuff following her around. OK, I made all that up. The plot is a secret. So here's the trailer: bit.ly/NMg1SW
"Smashed" -- A comic drama version of "Days of Wine and Roses." A school teacher (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) jeopardizes her career and marriage with too much drinking. But the road to sobriety takes a stronger toll on her than she imagined. With Octavia Spencer and Megan Mullally.
"Chasing Mavericks" -- Oscar-winning director Curtis Hanson presents a fact-based story about surfing icon Jay Moriarty, who becomes a protégé to a local surfing legend who teaches him how to conquer Northern California's most dangerous wave. With John Weston, Gerard Butler and Elisabeth Shue.
"Cloud Atlas" -- From the Chicago guys who gave us "The Matrix" (who are now a guy and a girl thanks to the miracle of transgender surgery) comes an epic story that spans across centuries. Based on David Mitchell's 2004 novel that features six interwoven stories. In this movie, also directed by Tom Tykwer, actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent play multiple roles in the six stories that wind up with a whopping 165-minute running time.
"Fun Size" -- This comedy might be treading on some un-PC ground if it gets the humorous attitude wrong. A teenager (Victoria Justice) is forced to take her little bro along for some trick-or-treating at Halloween, and when he disappears, she and her teen buddies set out to find the little guy before Mom realizes what has happened. Co-starring Chelsea Handler and Johnny Knoxville.
"Keep the Lights On" -- Reportedly "an honest look" at the escalating relationship between a doc filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) and a handsome, very closeted attorney (Zachary Booth) in 1997 New York.
"The Sessions" -- A 38-year-old California journalist and poet (John Hawkes) decides he wants to finally lose his virginity. But that's not as easy as it sounds. He's been confined to an iron lung for a long, long time, and it will take support from his doctors and his priest (along with some attention by Helen Hunt) to make his dreams come true.
"Silent Hill: Revelation 3-D" -- On the eve of her 18th birthday, Heather Mason discovers she's not who she thinks she is. With her father (Sean Bean) missing, she struggles to keep from falling into a demonic world that would possess her in 3-D.
Also in October: "Special Forces" -- Diane Kruger and Djimon Hounsou star in an adventure action thriller about a French special forces unit dispatched to rescue a kidnapped journalist in Pakistan.
"Deadfall" -- A brother and sister casino heist team (Eric Banas and Olivia Wilde) go on the lam after a car wreck kills their driver and a cop. During a white-out blizzard, they split up with him cutting a swath of destruction where he goes and her getting picked up by a man headed for Thanksgiving dinner with Mom (Sissy Spacek) and Dad, a retired sheriff (Kris Kristofferson). Oops.
"Flight" -- From the great Chicago director Robert Zemeckis comes a nail-biting case study in situational justice. When a veteran pilot (Denzel Washington) lands a crashing jumbo jet and saves lives, he's a national hero. Until blood tests reveal he was under the influence. Did that create the crash? Or enable him to remain utterly cool enough to guide the plane to relative safety? Can't wait for this one.
"The Loneliest Planet" -- Sure, it might look like an ordinary drama about a serious couple (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) and their guide backpacking through the Caucasus Mountains just before their wedding. It's really "a tale about betrayal, both accidental and deliberate, about masculinity, failure and the ambiguities of forgiveness." The press notes say that, so it must be true.
"The Man with the Iron Fists" -- This could be the action movie of the year from director/star RZA. He plays an ancient blacksmith who creates ridiculously cool weapons for the James Bonds of his era. Knives in shoe toes, fans with blades, the usual stuff. Presented by Quentin Tarantino with the slogan "It puts the fu in kung fu!" Also stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu.
"Wreck-It Ralph" -- The trailers make it look very funny. Video game character Wreck-It-Ralph (voiced by Chicago's own John C. Reilly) gets tired of being the bad guy who lets Fix-It Felix save the day. So he jumps out of his game and tries his animated hand at being the hero in other games, all real arcade games that kids from the '80s and '90s will remember. Voices by Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.
"Holy Motors" -- "Nothing makes us feel so alive as when we watch others die!" So says Oscar (Denis Levant), an assassin who drives all over Paris with his fetching partner Celine (Edith Scob). I don't know much about this creepy looking movie except that Oscar is in pursuit of "the beautiful gesture, the mysterious driving force, the women and the ghosts of past lives." Good luck with that, Oscar.
"Lincoln" -- Steven Spielberg's biographical drama on the final months of America's 16th president finally gets to the silver screen with Daniel Day-Lewis looking perfectly Lincolnesque in his beard and top hat. Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens. The omnipresent Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Robert Todd.
"Skyfall" -- It's the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movies that began with "Dr. No" in 1962. Daniel Craig returns for the third time as Agent 007, pretending to be killed in the opening scenes. (Didn't Bond already fake die earlier in "You Only Live Twice"?) He must act in order to save M (Judi Dench). With Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes.
"Anna Karenina" -- After making "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement" together, Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright re-team to tell the story of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel of love and betrayal and really fancy outfits. Judging by the trailers, it's an easy contender for the best cinematography Oscar. With Jude Law and Matthew MacFadyen.
"Chasing Ice" -- Still don't believe in global warming? National Geographic photographer James Balog uses revolutionary time-lapse cameras to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers. His videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.
"This Must Be the Place" -- An aging former rock star (Sean Penn) goes to New York and picks up where his late father left off in seeking revenge against those who humiliated him in the past. It's a comic drama co-starring Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton and Judd Hirsch.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2" -- "Part 1" already had the perfect ending to the movie series. Why keep prolonging the goodbye? Here, Bella raises her child and gets to say the immortal line, "She was born, not bitten!" Again, a note to Stephenie Meyer: Dawn can't "break." Day breaks, and the act of breaking day is called "dawn." Just so you know.
"Life of Pi" -- Oscar-winning director Ang Lee presents a coming-of-age story about a zookeeper's son (Suraj Sharma) who survives a shipwreck by stowing away on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. With Gérard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Irrfan Khan, Tobey Maguire, and Bollywood actress Tabu.
"Red Dawn" -- Finally, the remake of John Milius' 1984 war drama makes it to theaters, starring Josh Hutcherson, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Isabel Lucas as teens forced to take up arms when foreign armies invade the United States. Directed by Dan Bradley, a second-unit director for such movies as "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Spider-Man 3."
"Rise of the Guardians" -- Not to be confused with Warner Bros. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," a mind-numbing overproduced adventure from Zack Snyder. This one features the voices of Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law and Alec Baldwin as fantasy characters who must team up to save the world. Again.
"Silver Linings Playbook" -- Bradley Cooper stars as a man who must stay with his mother after being treated for depression. It's a comedy directed by David O. "The Fighter" Russell, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Cooper's girlfriend. Robert De Niro and Chris Rock rock the supporting cast.
Also in November: "A Late Quartet" -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken star as members of a world-renowned string quartet struggling to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust. Sounds like a real plucky group.