Sept. 02--The shift from the summer to the fall movie season usually means the names get bigger and the budgets get smaller. More thoughtful films starring Russell Crowe or Tom Hanks replace blockbusters starring Chris Evans or Shia LaBeouf.
This fall and holiday season is a bit different. There are modest-budgeted films starring Oscar winners, but also sweeping, big-budgeted films starring or directed by Oscar winners. From the bursting-at-the-seams "Cloud Atlas" to the star-packed "Les Miserables" to "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," fall and holiday films seem especially big this year.
It's tempting to try to group the 2012 fall films thematically, to explain why they are coming out at the same time. The releases of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt-centric "Hyde Park on Hudson," for example, could be linked to a presidential election year.
But what about "Anna Karenina"? Were the times crying out for another adaptation of the Tolstoy novel?
Truth is, most of these films have been in the works for years, and share little more than ambition. They are being released in the final part of 2012 because they are finished, and it's awards season.
But for cinephiles who appreciate scope and grandeur, the release of these films in the same movie season is serendipity.
Here is a preview of 20 fall/holiday movies that, based on their trailers, source material or the creative people involved, look compelling. The "very serious" films are those clearly presented for Academy Awards consideration, given their high-profile casts, directors or subject matter.
All dates are subject to change.
-- "The Master": Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") chronicles the rise of a 1950s writer turned religious leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) named Lancaster Dodd. The fictional Dodd shares traits with writer-turned-religious-leader and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. But like Daniel Day Lewis' oil baron in Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," Dodd likely is based on a few people rather than one. Joaquin Phoenix plays an alcoholic World War II veteran who falls under the religious leader's sway. The film was shot partly in Vallejo. (Sept. 21)
-- "Argo": Set during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, this movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck is based on a true story. Doesn't sound like it is, but it is. Affleck plays a CIA "exfiltration" specialist who comes up with a ruse -- a fake movie production team scouting locations in the Middle East -- to try to rescue six hostages who had sneaked away from their captors and were holed up at the Canadian ambassador's house. And they say Hollywood keeps telling the same stories. (Oct. 12)
-- "Cloud Atlas": Future, present and past interact, and Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and other famous names appear in a film with such HUGE THEMES it needed three directors -- the Wachowski siblings (the "Matrix" films) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"). Hanks plays several different characters, in different decades. A five-minute extended preview ("Cloud Atlas Movie Trailer 2" on YouTube) of the film is intriguing but also makes you wonder how they fit all these characters, story lines and worlds into a single movie. (Oct. 26)
-- "Flight": Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot who executes a Sully Sullenberger-style miracle landing. But his actions in averting disaster later are called into question. This film by Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") returns Washington to more serious storytelling, after a few years of genre movies. (Nov. 2)
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