A season with something for everyone 

After a summer of sequels and amiably raunchy teen comedies, fall is finally here, and with it comes a collection of fast-paced thrillers and serious-minded dramas that may soon vie for Oscar gold. Among them:

September

Across the Universe Sept. 14

"Across the Universe," a lively musical inspired by the songs of the Beatles and starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Eddie Izzard and Bono, will finally reach theaters after a nasty rift between director Julie Taymor ("Frida") and Sony Pictures threatened to derail the project entirely. All you need is love? Maybe not. Rated PG-13.

The Brave One Sept. 14

Twenty-three years after vigilante Bernard Goetz shot four teenage would-be muggers in a New York City subway comes "The Brave One," starring Jodie Foster as a radio host who angrily exercises her right to bear arms after a savage beating in Central Park leaves her hospitalized and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews of "Lost") dead. Rated R.

Eastern Promises Sept. 14

Hot on the heels of "A History of Violence," his biggest box-office success since 1986’s "The Fly," director David Cronenberg reteams with Viggo Mortensen for "Eastern Promises," the brilliant and unflinchingly violent tale of an ill-fated Russian prostitute and the enigmatic stranger who comes to the aid of her orphaned infant. Rated R.

Mr. Woodcock Sept. 14

Billy Bob Thornton as a wry sadist in dire need of an attitude adjustment? Who’d have suspected that? Rated PG-13.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Sept. 21

Brad Pitt plays one of America’s most notorious outlaws, plotting his next caper while dangerously unaware there’s a Ford (Casey Affleck) in his future. Rated R.

Into the Wild Sept. 21

Inspired by the true story of 22-year-old Christopher McCandless, who left behind his well-to-do family and was found dead, two yearslater, starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness, "Into the Wild" is the fourth film from Sean Penn — a director who, like McCandless, often chooses the road less traveled. Rated R.

Resident Evil: Extinction Sept. 21

The third entry in the "Resident Evil" franchise is either a profound meditation on the prospect of extraterrestrial life, informed by the theories of Stephen Hawking, or yet another hyper-violent fantasy starring sometime model Milla Jovovich. Take a guess. Rated R.

Feast of Love Sept. 28

From Oscar-winning director Robert Benton ("Kramer Vs. Kramer") comes a tale of troubled but ultimately uplifting romance, told from the perspective of a sage professor with an easy laugh and a deep, soothing voice. Starring — who else? — Morgan Freeman. Rated R.

The Kingdom Sept. 28

Death. Car crashes. Heatstroke. On-set altercations. In other words, just some of the setbacks facing actor-turned-director Peter Berg during the grueling shoot of "The Kingdom," a post-9/11 thriller in which an elite FBI squad hunts terrorist bombers in Saudi Arabia. Berg’s next challenge? Selling his movie to the public, which has yet to support America’s presence in the Middle East at the polls or the box office. Rated R.

Run, Fat Boy, Run Sept. 28

Boy meets girl. Boy leaves girl at altar. Boy realizes, five years later, that it is his destiny to win girl back, and enters a marathon as proof of his willingness to commit to something. Intriguing? Sure, when you consider that the boy in question is played by "Hot Fuzz" star Simon Pegg. Rated PG-13.

October

Grace is Gone Oct. 5

After scoring a surprise hit with "1408," John Cusack returns with a film honoring American victims of the war on terrorism. Sickened by the Bush administration’s refusal to allow media coverage of coffins returning from abroad — "one of the most shameful, cowardly political acts I’ve seen in my lifetime," he calls it — Cusack was quick to pursue "Grace is Gone," an indie film about a father who can’t tell his children that their mother won’t be coming home. Not yet rated.

The Heartbreak Kid Oct. 5

Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers, who last worked together on a little film called "There’s Something About Mary," are reunited in this remake of Elaine May’s 1972 comedy about a groom who dumps his dearly beloved during their honeymoon. This time, Stiller’s commitment-phobic newlywed trades down, swapping his Barbie-doll wife (Malin Akerman) for a more down-to-earth sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan). Fans of gross-out humor, fear not — this "Kid" may have a heart, but its funny bone remains intact. Rated R.

Michael Clayton Oct. 5

George Clooney stars as a hotshot in-house "fixer" at a Manhattan law firm whose habit of fudging the truth for his cutthroat employers gives him pause. Rated R.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age Oct. 12

Reprising her Oscar-nominated turn as Queen Elizabeth I initially seemed like a mistake to Cate Blanchett, who came around to the idea only after being recruited by friend and co-star Geoffrey Rush. Now, she’s ready to explore the British monarch’s tumultuous midlife relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and take another run at that elusive Best Actress award. Rated PG-13.

Rendition Oct. 12

Mrs. Streep, meet Ms. Witherspoon. Two of the

world’s greatest actresses combine talents in "Rendition," a dramaabout an Egyptian-born terrorism suspect who disappears during a flight to Washington — prompting his American wife (Reese Witherspoon) to launch a desperate investigation. Not yet rated.

Sleuth Oct. 12

Michael Caine and Jude Law— stars of the original "Alfie" and the 2004 remake, respectively — butt heads in "Sleuth," a tense drama about adultery and carefully plotted revenge from director Kenneth Branagh. In the 1972 "Sleuth" original, Caine starred in the role played by Law. Rated R.

30 Days of Night Oct. 19

"Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi has produced plenty of stinkers on the side — "The Grudge," anyone? — but this grim thriller, adapted from the terrifying graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, could be an exception. Set in an Alaska town shrouded in darkness for 30 days each winter and filmed exclusively at night, it pits Josh Hartnett and "Alias" star Melissa George against an army of thirsty vampires. Rated R.

Gone Baby Gone Oct. 19

Nobody has been holding his breath for Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, but give the man his due — he has surrounded himself with top talent (Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton) and drawn on a novel by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River") for his inspiration. Shrewd moves, to be sure, but perhaps none as wise as the back-to-his-roots decision to film in his hometown of Boston, site of his "Good Will Hunting" screenwriting success. Rated R.

Reservation Road Oct. 19

Writer-director Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda") returns with another heartbreaking drama about two couples torn apart — and subsequently driven together — by personal tragedy. Not yet rated.

Dan in Real Life Oct. 26

What the worldneeds now is ... another Dane Cook comedy? No, but at least he has "40-Year-Old Virgin" Steve Carell as his wingman. Rated PG-13.

Saw IV Oct. 26

Jigsaw’s back for another Halloween blood bath, leaving some — including series star Donnie Wahlberg — to wonder how. After dying rather convincingly in "Saw III," Tobin Bell will reprise his role as the sadistic prankster for another entry in New Line’s flagship horror franchise. Rated R.

November

American Gangster Nov. 2

Russell Crowe. Denzel Washington. Drug kingpin versus unflinchingly honest cop. ’Nuff said. Rated R.

Bee Movie Nov. 2

If you’ve ever wondered why Jerry Seinfeld arrived at the Cannes Film Festival wearing a big, fuzzy bee suit, the answer should be obvious: Guys who sleep on piles of cash can do whatever they like. That, and they might have a movie to promote — in this case, an animated comedy featuring plenty of Seinfeldian humor and enough juvenile silliness to please the kids. Rated PG.

Fred Claus Nov. 9

Bad Santa? Hardly. Jolly old St. Nick (Paul Giamatti) is a model of decorum in the latest comedy from "Wedding Crashers" creator David Dobkin. It’s Santa’s brother Fred (Vince Vaughn), a crooked repo man pathologically incapable of spreading good cheer, who deserves a lump of coal in his stocking. Rated PG.

Lions for Lambs Nov. 9

Director Robert Redford’s latest is a political drama starring Tom Cruise as a Republican senator eager to share his thoughts about the war in the Middle East with a journalist played by Meryl Streep. Not yet rated.

Beowulf Nov. 16

Director Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future") directs a truly all-star cast (Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn) in this lurid, visually dazzling take on the classic epic poem we all read in high school. Rated PG-13.

Love in the Time of Cholera Nov. 16

Another high school favorite, Gabriel García Márquez’s classic novel comes to the big screen with director Mike Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") at the helm. Rated R.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium Nov. 16

Now that Willy Wonka has twice found a suitable successor to run his chocolate factory, it’s Mr. Magorium’s turn. Played by Dustin Hoffman with a touch of the same fey flamboyance that Johnny Depp brought to his recent turn as Wonka, Magorium is a 243-year-old kid at heart who intends to hand over the keys to his magical toy emporium to an awkward but endearingly innocent store manager played by Natalie Portman. Rated PG.

Enchanted Nov. 21

Disney’s latest fairy tale, a mix of live action and animation — and one of the few true children’s films of the season — finds a princess (Amy Adams) thrust into modern-day New York, where she makes fast friends with a lawyer played by Patrick Dempsey of "Grey’s Anatomy." Rated PG.

Hitman Nov. 21

Fresh off his chilling turn as a cyber-terrorist in "Live Free or Die Hard," Timothy Olyphant is back to playing high-stakes computer games as Agent 47, the bald, genetically engineered star of the "Hitman" series by software giant Eidos Interactive. Not yet rated.

December

The Golden Compass Dec. 7

Fantasy fanatics, rejoice! The first installment of best-selling author Philip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials" trilogy, an epic odyssey that tracks 12-year-old Lyra’s (Dakota Bue Richards) travels through a world populated by daemons, shape-shifters and battle-weary polar bears, has finally arrived, with a cast featuring "Casino Royale" co-stars Daniel Craig and Eva Green. Not yet rated.

Leatherheads Dec. 7

For his third directorial feature, George Clooney risked his surgically repaired back as Dodge Connolly, the captain of a struggling smash-mouth football squad who brings a fresh-faced ringer into the fold — only to watch his star recruit fall for his fickle fiancée (Renee Zellweger). Not yet rated.

I Am Legend Dec. 14

Unafraid to go where two men have gone before — Vincent Price in 1964’s "The Last Man on Earth" and Charlton Heston in 1971’s "The Omega Man" — Will Smith is the latest to tackle the tale of Robert Neville, the lone man left in a world overrun with mutants. (Arnold Schwarzenegger tried a decade ago, but was rebuffed after director Ridley Scott’s budget went overboard. For the record, with its own $100 million-plus price tag, "I Am Legend" proved no less costly.) Not yet rated.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets Dec. 21

In this sequel to "National Treasure," Nicolas Cage returns as an endlessly resourceful though not-so-rough-and-tumble archaeologist — think Indiana Jones minus the bronzed biceps and trademark fedora — searching for a mythical tome filled with classified information. Not yet rated.

Sweeney Todd Dec. 21

Based on the hit musical by Stephen Sondheim, Tim Burton’s latest holiday offering will be a typically bloody affair, with longtime collaborator Johnny Depp playing the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Joining him in the macabre fun is Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s real-life leading lady, whose diabolically delicious meat pies are all the rage. Not yet rated.

Fall arts preview

» Tuesday: Theater and dance

» Wednesday: Classical and popular music

» Thursday: Visual arts and family events

» Today: Movies

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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