Fall Preview: Brad Pitt and Company Stake Their Oscar Claims

For better or for worse, the year's true movie season now begins in September, as Hollywood studios and indies alike begin lobbing the good stuff at members of the motion picture academy. Their decision a few years back to hold the Oscars a month earlier has changed release patterns forever. The good news for movie lovers: a newly extended fall movie season. The bad news: an overabundance of riches. (Note: All release dates are subject to change.)

Great Buzz The Bubble (Nov. 9): Two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, fall in love in this richly complex film from Eytan Fox (Walk on Water). Feast of Love (Sept. 28): Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear star in director Robert Benton's artfully compact yet story-dense film version of Charles Baxter's wonderful novel. Lars and the Real Girl (Oct. 19): Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, and Paul Schneider form an ace trio in director Craig Gillespie's genuinely funny and very human comedy about a deeply sad man, the life-size doll with which he's smitten, and the Canadian townspeople who come to love her, too. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Oct. 5): Chopper director Andrew Dominik's long-delayed adaptation of Ron Hansen's classic 1983 novel turns out not to be a disaster at all, but a lyrical, sumptuously photographed tone poem, one marked by superb performances from Brad Pitt as James and Casey Affleck (who's having a big year) as Ford, and equally definitive work from Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, and Garret Dillahunt.

Drama Blame It on Fidel! (Oct. 19): Set in 1970s Paris, this is the debut film from Julie Gavras, daughter of Costa-Gavras. December Boys (Sept. 28): Daniel Radcliff is one of four Catholic orphans seeking adventure in 1960s Australia. The Jane Austen Book Club (Sept. 28): Austen-worthy loves and losses amid a modern-day reading group. With Emily Blunt, Maria Bello, Kevin Zegars, and Hugh Dancy. Lust, Caution (Oct. 5): Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) turns to China for a World War II thriller starring Tony Leung and Tang Wei. The Darjeeling Limited (Oct. 5): Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman are sent across India by director Wes Anderson. Sleuth (Oct. 26): Kenneth Branagh directs Michael Caine and Jude Law in screenwriter Harold Pinter's fascinating new take on Anthony Schaeffer's classic play of gamesmanship and deceit. Rendition (Oct. 19): Reese Witherspoon as a woman taking on the U.S. government for info about her recently detained Egyptian-born husband. Co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Alan Arkin, and the ubiquitous Meryl Streep. Reservation Road (Oct. 19): Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo have an emotional face-off in this suburban drama from Hotel Rwanda director Terry George. American Gangster (Nov. 2): Ridley Scott directs this 1970s-era drama about a showdown between a Harlem drug lord (Denzel Washington) and a New York detective (Russell Crowe). The Kite Runner (Nov. 2): Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel about contemporary Afghanistan is filmed by Finding Neverland director Marc Forster. Lions for Lambs (Nov. 9): Robert Redford directs and co-stars with Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise in this topical political thriller. No Country for Old Men (Nov. 9): The Coen brothers co-direct their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's thrilling thriller. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. Love in the Time of Cholera (Nov. 16): Director Mike Newell and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Piano) adapt Gabriel García Márquez's novel of life and love in turn-of-the-century South America. Let's hope they kept the parrot. Redacted (mid-Nov.): Brian De Palma's fictionalized take on a March 2006 incident in Iraq, where U.S. soldiers raped and killed a young woman and also killed her family.

Comedy Ira & Abby (Oct. 5): Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) wrote and co-stars with Chris Messina in this comedy about two strangers who meet and then marry almost immediately. King of California (Sept. 28): A major role for Michael Douglas in Mike Cahill's comedy about an eccentric and his beleaguered daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), both digging for gold (literally). Run, Fat Boy, Run (Oct. 26): David Schwimmer directs Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, and Hank Azaria in a romantic comedy set during a marathon. Finishing the Game (Nov. 16): Justin Lin follows up his terrific debut, Better Luck Tomorrow, with a spoof about actors desperate to become the "new Bruce Lee." The Heartbreak Kid (Oct. 5): The Farrelly brothers reteam with Ben Stiller for a loose remake of the 1972 Neil Simon comedy about one man's honeymoon hell. Fred Claus (Nov. 9): Vince Vaughn as Santa's repo-man brother. Margot at the Wedding (Nov. 16): Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are feuding sisters and Jack Black the confused focus of their attentions in this dramedy from The Squid and the Whale's Noah Baumbach. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Nov. 16): Imagine Willy Wonka owning a toy store. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman.

Documentaries Lake of Fire (Oct. 19): In his first film since American History X, the ever-controversial Tony Kaye explores the abortion debate in America. For the Bible Tells Me So (Oct. 26): Five Christian families attempt to come to terms with homosexuality in Daniel Karslake's SIFF prize winner. My Kid Could Paint That (Oct. 19): Amir Bar-Lev examines the peculiar tale of 4-year-old painting prodigy Marla Olmstead. Darfur Now (Nov. 9): Don Cheadle narrates and is one of the subjects in filmmaker Ted Braun's look at six people attempting to bring the world's attention to the genocide in Darfur. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (Nov. 9): Absolute Beginners director Julien Temple celebrates the life of the influential Clash frontman.

Humans in Peril Into the Wild (Sept. 28): In what could be a star-making role (at last), the amazing young actor Emile Hirsch stars in Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's best-selling book. Michael Clayton (Oct. 12): George Clooney and Tilda Swinton in a legal thriller from writer-director Tony Gilroy. Hitman (Nov. 21): Timothy Olyphant as a hired killer marked for death. Gone Baby Gone (Oct. 19): Ben Affleck directs his brother, Casey, in this adaptation of a mystery by Mystic River novelist Dennis Lahane. Saw IV (Oct. 26): Words fail us. Beowulf (Nov. 16): Robert Zemeckis enlists Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winston, and Crispin Glover for this computer-animated/live-action retelling of the epic poem. The Mist (Nov. 21): The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont's dream project, a monsters-in-the-fog horror flick based on a terrific 1980 Stephen King novella. Starring Thomas Jane.

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