Fall Preview: Autumn tales 

After a lackluster summer filled with more special effects and padding than character depth, the fall (pre-holiday) movie season looks more exciting, with a jumbled mix of sequels, action flicks, comedies and more ambitious fare. Here are the most promising titles. (Note: Opening dates are subject to change.)

ARTHOUSE

Metallica Through the Never Sept. 26

The metalheads: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett

The director: Nimrod Antal

The lowdown: While this is a big, loud Metallica concert film being shown on IMAX screens, director Antal ("Kontroll," "Vacancy," "Armored," and "Predators") also employs a wraparound story about a roadie (DeHaan) sent on special errands for the band. It won't be as deep as "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," but it will surely rock.

Rated: R

Romeo and Juliet Oct. 11

The lovers: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti

The director: Carlo Carlei

The lowdown: Another adaptation of Shakespeare's classic tragedy? It will have a hard time competing with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes' high-style 1996 version. However, it boasts Oscar nominee Steinfeld ("True Grit") as Juliet, and Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") as screenwriter. So this story of woe set in fair Verona has a good chance.

Rated: PG-13

COMEDIES

The Family Sept. 13

The gangsters: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron

The director: Luc Besson

The lowdown: A Mafia family goes into the witness protection program and relocates to France, where they find it difficult to settle in. It will be great to see De Niro as a tough guy again, with Jones in the hard-as-nails authority role. Not to mention that Besson rarely climbs into the director's chair these days — so this may be something special.

Rated: R

Don Jon Sept. 27

The adult material: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

The director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The lowdown: Gordon-Levitt, an excellent actor, makes his directorial debut with this story of a New Jersey man who loves his family and goes to church, but also likes porn. He meets a beautiful young woman (Johansson), but has a hard time reconciling real life with his fantasies.

Rated: R

About Time Nov. 1

The time travelers: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Margot Robbie

The director: Richard Curtis

The lowdown: A man, who learns he can travel through time, tries to win over a woman, only to discover that even with special powers, it's not so easy. The celebrated writer of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" directs for the third time (after "Love Actually" and "Pirate Radio"). If he can wrap up his story in fewer than two hours, he'll be set.

Rated: R

Free Birds Nov. 1

The turkeys: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler

The director: Jimmy Hayward

The lowdown: The turkey that gets the presidential pardon at Thanksgiving is given a special assignment in this animated family film. Hayward, who directed the terrific "Horton Hears a Who!" and the awful live-action "Jonah Hex," may be making a wise move with this potential classic Thanksgiving season offering.

Not yet rated

OSCAR BIDS

The Fifth Estate Oct. 11

The leak finders: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci

The director: Bill Condon

The lowdown: Following the documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" comes the biopic about the rise of the infamous website, with the terrific Cumberbatch starring as Julian Assange. Once-promising director Condon could be back on track after collecting big paychecks for the last two "Twilight" movies.

Not yet rated

The Counselor Oct. 25

The legal team: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz

The director: Ridley Scott

The lowdown: Most exciting, the movie features an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men," "The Road"), certainly among America's greatest living novelists. It's about a lawyer (Fassbender) who gets involved in drug trafficking. Here's hoping slumping director Scott gives this one his best shot.

Not yet rated

The Wolf of Wall Street Nov. 15

The traders: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey

The director: Martin Scorsese

The lowdown: Scorsese and DiCaprio team up for the fifth time for this biopic of stock market crook Jordan Belfort, based on his memoir. "Sopranos" and "Boardwalk Empire" scribe Terence Winter provides the screenplay. Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin co-stars. But the big question is: Could Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") snag another Oscar nomination?

Not yet rated

SCI-FI

Gravity Oct. 4

The astronauts: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

The director: Alfonso Cuarón

The lowdown: Cuarón made one of the best sci-fi movies of recent years with "Children of Men" as well as the best Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." He also made "Y Tu Mamá También." Whatever movie he makes, even if it's about astronauts stranded and free-floating in space, we all should be lining up for it.

Rated: PG-13

Ender's Game Nov. 1

The bug fighters: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin

The director: Gavin Hood

The lowdown: Based on the beloved 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card, "Ender's Game" is an alien invasion story mashed up with a "chosen one" story. That, and the fact that director Hood made the poor "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," suggest nothing terribly new will happen. Still, it will be the most drooled-over fall release.

Not yet rated

SEQUELS

Insidious: Chapter 2 Sept. 13

The haunted: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye

The director: James Wan

The lowdown: Wan's "The Conjuring" was among the best movies this summer and the scariest of the past five years. His "Insidious" was no slouch, either. Will this sequel, which follows the same family members as they try to rebuild their lives, be as scary and innovative, or will it be just another junky horror sequel?

Rated: PG-13

Machete Kills Oct. 11

The scrappers: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Mel Gibson

The director: Robert Rodriguez

The lowdown: Rodriguez's entertaining, extreme 2010 "Machete" is a quasi-grindhouse movie filled with intense, gratuitous violence, nudity, and just about everything else under the sun. Hopefully, the sequel will be more of the same.

Not yet rated

Thor: The Dark World Nov. 8

The Asgardians: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba

The director: Alan Taylor

The lowdown: In the wake of 2012's excellent "The Avengers," this "Thor" sequel has a lot to live up to. Wild-card TV veteran Taylor ("The Sopranos," "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones") replaces original director Kenneth Branagh, a move that could go either way. Fortunately, Hiddleston is back as Loki. That, plus an unusual fall release date for a superhero movie, might mean good things.

Not yet rated

THRILLS

We Are What We Are Oct. 4

The ritualists: Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers, Kelly McGillis

The director: Jim Mickle

The lowdown: A bizarre family maintains an old ritual in their home for generations, which is rudely interrupted by a storm and a flood. It's a remake of a Mexican film by the director of "Stake Land." McGillis, of "Witness" and "Top Gun," stars. If "Insidious: Chapter 2" stinks, this could be the fall's top chiller.

Rated: R

Runner Runner Oct. 4

The gamblers: Gemma Arterton, Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Anthony Mackie

The director: Brad Furman

The lowdown: A college student who pays for his studies with online gambling loses and tries to confront the man he thinks swindled him, which introduces him to an entirely new world of backstabbing. Furman directed the surprisingly good thriller "The Lincoln Lawyer." This may be another winner.

Rated: R

Carrie Oct. 18

The outcasts: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort

The director: Kimberly Peirce

The lowdown: Horror remakes are a dime-a-dozen, but Peirce made the Oscar-winning "Boys Don't Cry." Could she have some kind of feminist masterpiece at the ready, based on Stephen King's story? Brian De Palma's original 1976 movie resulted in a pair of Oscar nominations. Maybe this version will do the same for Moretz and Moore?

Not yet rated

Escape Plan Oct. 18

The prisoners: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

The director: Mikael Hafstrom

The lowdown: In a possibly intriguing action flick, Stallone plays an engineer who finds himself locked inside one of his own high-tech prisons and attempts to escape with the help of Schwarzenegger. The two action titans recently began working together in the "Expendables" movies, and seem to be enjoying it. And Swedish director Hafstrom made the very good "1408," also about being trapped.

Not yet rated

Also look for:

Sept. 6: "Riddick," "Salinger," "Touchy Feely"

Sept. 13: "Jayne Mansfield's Car"

Sept. 20: "Enough Said," "Prisoners," "Thanks for Sharing"

Sept. 27: "Baggage Claim," Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Haute Cuisine," "Inequality for All," "Rush"

Oct. 4: "Bad Milo"

Oct. 11: "Captain Phillips"

Oct. 18: "All Is Lost," "12 Years a Slave"

Oct. 25: "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa"

Nov. 1: "Last Vegas," "Le Weekend"

Nov. 15: "The Best Man Holiday"

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About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bio:
Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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