[A special note: Bob and I, along with NPR.org movies editor Trey Graham, are headed to the Toronto International Film Festival later this week, where we'll undoubtedly be able to catch some of these films, along with lots of others. So watch this space for updates — we may know sooner than later whether some of this buzz is deserved. — Linda Holmes]
Crystal-ball-gazing based entirely on trailers is always dumb fun, especially in the fall, when the studios are playing their awards-season attractions close to the vest. (No preview trailers yet for Spielberg's Lincoln, f'rinstance — just that poster that makes Daniel Day Lewis look like he posed for the penny.) So based on nothing but hearsay and the 90 seconds or so of footage studios cram into each of their trailers, here's what I'm keeping fingers crossed for before Thanksgiving starts the Oscar rush in earnest, as well as some of the rest of what you can expect.
There are assassins but no vampires in Looper, a thriller about an era in which time travel has been outlawed, meaning only outlaws – like Joseph Gordon-Levitt – travel through time. If Gordon-Levitt looks a little different in the trailers for this one, note that he's been made up to look like a young Bruce Willis, who's playing the man he's supposed to kill: his future self. It's a nice switch on the game they've been playing for a long time in the Terminator movies.
And then there's Argo, which at first sounds like a reverse Wag The Dog, the 1997 comedy where politicians got Hollywood to fake a war for them. This, however, is a true story. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, six diplomats escaped the embassy compound. To rescue them, federal agents got Hollywood — remember, this is true — to create a fake movie shoot in the Iranian desert. So instead of faking an international crisis for Hollywood, they fake a Hollywood film to resolve a real international crisis. Argo is directed by, and stars, Ben Affleck, and though it's still early in the season, it has quite a bit of Oscar buzz.
So does Life Of Pi, about an Indian boy who finds himself shipwrecked on a very small lifeboat with a very big, very uncaged, and very hungry tiger. Yann Martel's bestselling book of the same name was widely thought unfilmable – right up until folks got a look at director Ang Lee's footage. Now, it's regarded as an Oscar contender.
This is the season when those contenders emerge, perhaps none with more current murmuring around it than The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's story of a charismatic leader who sounds an awful lot like the father of Scientology.
This is also when we start hearing about specific performances that might be in the running for little gold statues. Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix from The Master are being talked up as possible awards contenders. So is John Hawkes (of Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene) in the Sundance audience favorite The Sessions. (I'm cheating a little here — I've seen this one, and it's as good as that delighted audience says.) Hawkes' character is in an iron lung because he has polio, but he's determined to lose his virginity, and his therapist suggests a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, might be the answer.
For a more classic liaison and a more typical piece of award bait, how about a great Russian novel? Jude Law plays a chilly aristocrat and Keira Knightly his unhappy wife, Anna Karenina. Tolstoy's romance will square off against a new Wuthering Heights and a different spin on timelessness: the star-studded adaptation of the century-spanning bestseller Cloud Atlas.
If this all sounds awfully adult, rest assured Tinseltown has not left your kids out of the mix. Finding Nemo is being re-released in 3-D, and it will be joined by a raft of animated films, including Wreck-It Ralph, about a video game villain gone good, and some familiar figures from Santa to the Easter Bunny banding together in Rise Of The Guardians.
Not enough for your mini-cinephile? There's also Hotel Transylvania and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.
Of course, not all dog stories are kids' stories. There's a dog story aimed at adults called Seven Psychopaths, about a dognapping ring that makes the mistake of swiping a gangster's dog, after which things turn violently...odd.
Compared to that, the dramedy Silver Linings Playbook is merely neurotic, about a guy fresh from a mental institution who meets a kindred soul. That one is getting Oscar buzz, too.
But there are lots of intriguing films that don't have quite as much awards talk surrounding them, including the high-school dramedy The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, starring Emma Watson and based on the popular novel of the same name. And if cops are more your style than high school students, there's the police procedural End Of Watch, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.
Prefer a little sport in your movie diet? Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams have a father/daughter baseball story called The Trouble With The Curve, but one other film that sounds like it ought to be about baseball, Pitch Perfect, is really set in the surprisingly competitive world of college a cappella singing.
The Pitch Perfect trailer may feature girls singing about being bulletproof, but only one guy in the movies is actually bulletproof, and I think we know how I mean: James Bond, who always seems on the edge of vanishing forever, but who's clearly not lost a step, since he so recently parachuted "the Queen" into the opening ceremonies of the Olympics to promote his next film, Skyfall.
All of this is set to arrive before Thanksgiving. We'll save the Christmas attractions for next time.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
With Labor Day comes the end of another big-budget Hollywood season. Not even a host of superheroes - "Batman," "The Avengers" and "Spiderman" - could save the box office this summer. Despite higher prices, ticket sales were down compared to last year.
Critic Bob Mondello says the fall movie season has a few more big movies in store, but also a crowd of smaller films hoping to find an audience as the multiplex quiets down. Here's his preview.
BOB MONDELLO: There are few sure bets in Hollywood. But when that comes close is that lines will form and records fall when the world's sexiest shape-shifting teenagers face off in the final episode of the "Twilight" series. Bella married Edward last time out and motherhood has definitely changed her.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 2")
KRISTEN STEWART: (as Bella) After 18 years of being utterly ordinary, I finally found I could shine. I was born to be a vampire.
ROBERT PATTINSON: (as Edward) You're so beautiful. We're the same temperature now.
MONDELLO: But that werewolf with the washboard abs...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN, PART 2")
TAYLOR LAUTNER: (as Jacob Black) A lot of red eyes around here.
MONDELLO: ...is still hanging around, having bonded with Bella's child, who is now in ... immortal danger, I guess. "Breaking Dawn, Part Two" will almost certainly be the box office champ of the fall. But there will be other action fantasies. Chief among them, a thriller about an era in which time travel has been outlawed, meaning only outlaws, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, travel through time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LOOPER")
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as Joe) When they need someone gone and they want to erase any trace of the target ever existing, they use specialized assassins like me, called loopers.
MONDELLO: Gordon-Levitt has been made up to look like a young Bruce Willis who's playing the man he's supposed to kill, because...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LOOPER")
GORDON-LEVITT: (as Joe) The only rule is never let your target escape, even if the target is you.
MONDELLO: Nice switch on the "Terminator" template. And then there is "Argo," which sounds like a switch on "Wag the Dog," that comedy where politicians got Hollywood to fake a war for them. This, though, is a true story. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, six diplomats escaped the embassy compound. To rescue them, federal agents got Hollywood to create a fake movie shoot in the Iranian desert.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARGO")
JOHN GOODMAN: (as John Chambers) You need a script.
BEN AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) We need an exotic location to shoot.
GOODMAN: (as John Chambers) You need a producer.
ALAN ARKIN: (as Lester Spiegel) If I'm doing a fake movie, it's going to be a fake hit.
PHILIP BAKER HALL: You didn't have a better bad idea than this?
BRYAN CRANSTON: (as Jack O'Donnell) This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.
MONDELLO: "Argo" is directed by and stars Ben Affleck. And though it's still early in the season, has quite a bit of Oscar buzz. So does "Life Of Pi," about an Indian boy who finds himself shipwrecked on a very small lifeboat with a very big, very uncaged, and very hungry...
(SOUNDBITE OF TIGER GROWLING)
MONDELLO: ...tiger. The bestseller "Life Of Pi" was widely thought unfilmable until folks got a look at director Ang Lee's footage. Now, it's regarded as an Oscar contender. And this is the season for those, including Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" with Honest Abe played by Daniel Day Lewis. And "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's story of a charismatic leader who seems an awful lot like the father of Scientology.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MASTER")
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (as Lancaster Dodd) ...will urge you toward existence within a group, a society, a family.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion; otherwise you merely have the will of one man, which is the basis of cult.
MONDELLO: Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are said to be possible awards contenders for "The Master." And also in their league is John Hawkes in the Sundance audience favorite "The Sessions." Hawke's character is in an iron lung because he had polio, but is determined to lose his virginity. His therapist suggests a sex surrogate might be the answer.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SESSIONS")
HELEN HUNT: (as Cheryl Cohen Greene) Hi, Mark O'Brien.
JOHN HAWKES: (as Mark O'Brien) Your money is on the desk over there.
HUNT: (as Cheryl Cohen Greene) Yes, it is.
HAWKES: (as Mark O'Brien) That was the wrong way to start off.
HUNT: (as Cheryl Cohen Greene) It really was. Shall we start again?
HAWKES: (as Mark O'Brien) Please, you start.
HUNT: (as Cheryl Cohen Greene) I'm not a prostitute. You don't have to pay me up front and there's a limit to the number of sessions we can have. The limit is six. Shall we get undressed?
HAWKES: (as Mark O'Brien) Sure.
MONDELLO: For a more classic liaison, how about a great Russian novel? Jude Law plays a chilly aristocrat and Keira Knightley plays his unhappy wife, Anna Karenina.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ANNA KARENINA")
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: (as Anna Karenina) I was 18 when I got married but it was not love.
EMILY WATSON: (as Countess Lydia) Your husband is a saint and we must all cherish him for Russia's sake.
JUDE LAW: (as Alexei Karenin) Romantic love will be the last delusion of the old order.
MONDELLO: Famous last words, his wife Anna has already met someone.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ANNA KARENINA")
KNIGHTLEY: You know Count Vronsky, love?
LAW: He's a rich, good-looking cavalry officer.
BILL SKARSGARD: (as Captain Machouten) Dance with me.
MONDELLO: Tolstoy's romance will vie with a new "Wuthering Heights" and a star-studded adaptation of the century-spanning bestseller "Cloud Atlas."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CLOUD ATLAS")
JAMES BROADBENT: (as Vyvyan Ayrs/Timothy Cavendish) That's it, the music from my dreams.
BEN WHISHAW: (as Robert Frobisher) I call it the "Cloud Atlas Sextet." There are whole movements I wrote imagining us meeting again and again in different lives and different ages.
MONDELLO: Oh, speaking of different ages, rest assured Tinseltown has not left your kids out of the mix. "Finding Nemo" is being re-released in 3-D, and it will be joined by a raft of animated films, including one about a video game villain gone good.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WRECK-IT RALPH")
JOHN C. REILLY: (as Wreck-It Ralph) I don't want to be the bad guy anymore.
MONDELLO: "Wreck-It Ralph" no longer wants to wreck things. And some familiar figures are banding together in "Rise of the Guardians."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "RISE OF THE GUARDIANS")
CHRIS PINE: (as Jack Frost) Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and the Easter Kangaroo.
HUGH JACKMAN: (as E. Astor Bunnymund) The what? Hmm. I'm a bunny.
MONDELLO: There's also "Hotel Transylvania" and Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FRANKENWEENIE")
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Your dog is alive.
CHARLIE TAHAN: (as Victor Frankenstein) Sparky, shhh. Easy, boy, I can fix that.
MONDELLO: There's also a dog story aimed at adults called "Seven Psychopaths." It's about a dog kidnapping ring that makes the mistake of swiping a gangster's dog.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS")
OLGA KURYLENKO: (as Character) Billy, you've got to give it back.
SAM ROCKWELL: (as Billy) Give it back? Defeats the entire object of the kidnapping.
MONDELLO: After which things turn violently odd.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS")
ZELJKO IVANEK: (as Paulo) Put your hands up.
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: (as Hans) No.
IVANEK: (as Paulo) But I've got a gun.
WALKEN: (as Hans) I don't care.
IVANEK: (as Paulo) It doesn't make any sense.
WALKEN: (as Hans) Too bad.
MONDELLO: By comparison with "Seven Psychopaths," the dramedy "Silver Linings Playbook" is merely neurotic, about a guy fresh from a mental institution who meets a kindred soul.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK")
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (as Tiffany) What meds are you on?
BRADLEY COOPER: (as Pat Solitano) I used to be on Lithium and Seroquel.
LAWRENCE: (as Tiffany) I was on Xanax.
COOPER: (as Pat Solitano) You ever take Klonopin?
LAWRENCE: (Tiffany) Klonopin, yeah.
COOPER: (as Pat Solitano) I know, what?
LAWRENCE: (Tiffany) I'm tired. I want to go. Are you going to walk me home or what?
COOPER: (as Pat Solitano) You have poor social skills
MONDELLO: "Silver Linings Playbook" is another picture getting Oscar buzz. But there are lots of intriguing films that are not: Emma Watson's high-school dramedy, for instance, "Perks Of Being A Wallflower."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER")
EMMA WATSON: (as Sam) Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we're nothing?
LOGAN LERMAN: (as Charlie) We accept the love we think we deserve.
MONDELLO: Also the police procedural "End of Watch," with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "END OF WATCH")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They got a hit on y'all, man.
JAKE GYLLENHALL: (as Brian Taylor) We're cops, everybody wants to kill us.
MONDELLO: Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams have a father-daughter baseball story called "Trouble With The Curve."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE")
AMY ADAMS: (as Mickey) I grew up around men who swore, drank and farted.
CLINT EASTWOOD: (as Gus) Get me a damn check.
ADAMS: (as Mickey) Trust me, I can handle it.
MONDELLO: And a film that sounds like it ought to be about baseball, "Pitch Perfect," is really an a cappella comedy about having perfect pitch.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PITCH PERFECT")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) I'm bulletproof, fire away, fire away.
MONDELLO: Speaking of being bulletproof and firing away, an old friend is coming back after a disappearance in which he was presumed gone forever.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SKYFALL")
DANIEL CRAIG: (as James Bond) 007 reporting for duty.
JUDI DENCH: (as Q) Where the hell have you been?
CRAIG: (as James Bond) Enjoying death.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I only have one question. Why not stay dead? There's no shame in saying you've lost a step.
MONDELLO: Mmm, you've not lost it if you've just parachuted the queen into the Olympics to promote a film called "Skyfall."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SKYFALL")
CRAIG: (as James Bond) Everybody needs a hobby.
JAVIER BARDEM: (as Raoul Silva) So, what's yours?
CRAIG: (as James Bond) Resurrection.
MONDELLO: All of this before Thanksgiving. We'll save the Christmas attractions for next time. I'm Bob Mondello.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.