You know the drill; another fall, another round of sequels: Harry Potter, Saw, Jackass, Paranormal Activity, the Narnia kids and, yes, the Fockers. Even with the inevitable groaners, like a live-action Yogi Bear movie no one asked for, we still have new films from some of our best directors: Sophia Coppola (Somewhere), Wes Craven (My Soul to Take), Julie Taymor (The Tempest), John Carpenter (The Ward) and Woody Allen (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). There’s also the Denzel Washington runaway-train thriller Unstoppable, Ryan Reynolds’s one-man, escape-from-a-coffin nail-biter Buried and Christina Aguilera and Cher in the guaranteed camp classic musical Burlesque.
Here are ten of the most promising—and possibly best—of the year’s remaining cinematic offerings.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (opens September 24)
The Gist: Oliver Stone’s first sequel—to his seminal 1987 film—starring Shia LaBeouf and Michael Douglas.
Why It Could Rock: Douglas is back as Gordon Gekko and Charlie Sheen returns in a cameo as Bud Fox. Given the recent financial meltdown it’s certainly timely. And when he’s on his game, no one can stir an audience like Stone.
Unless: It’s another Stone clunker, in the not-so-proud tradition of Alexander. Will the recent controversy hurt it? Can LaBeouf carry a movie without the help of CGI robots?
Best Case Scenario: “Greed is Good” T-shirts outsell “Pants on the Ground” Snuggies.
The Social Network (opens October 1)
The Gist: The true story of how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) conquered Silicon Valley. Co-stars Justin Timberlake; directed by David Fincher.
Why It Could Rock: May define this techno-toy loving, emotionally detached generation like no other film before or since. Fincher is a genius, Trent Reznor does the music and the trailer is the year’s best.
Unless: It’s even talkier than Fincher’s brilliant but unloved Zodiac. Will audiences get the irony or will they run to their laptops and hit the “dislike” button?
Best Case Scenario: Makes you feel really, really guilty about “un-friending” your FB BFFs.
Hereafter (opens October 22)
The Gist: Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama stars Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard.
Why It Could Rock: At age 80, Eastwood is still one of our greatest American directors. Filmed in London, California, Paris…and Maui!
Unless: It doesn’t connect like Clint’s best work and is instead one of those ponderous, well-intentioned Eastwood movies that people say they admire but never actually see.
Best Case Scenario: Tourists start taking the Hereafter tour in Lahaina.
(opens November 5)
The Gist: Stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis; from The Hangover director Todd Phillips.
Why It Could Rock: Downey Jr. in an R-rated road trip comedy. Enough said.
Unless: A little Galifianakis goes a long way. Was he the really best choice for a co-star over, say, Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey?
Best Case Scenario: Downey Jr. keeps his hot streak going, sans clunky metal costume.
The Tree of Life
(December; exact date TBD)
The Gist: The latest from reclusive genius Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
Why It Could Rock: Malick’s last two films, The Thin Red Line and The New World, split audiences but are widely acknowledged as masterpieces. His films are smart and gorgeous; he’s the only heir to Stanley Kubrick we have.
Unless: It’s a big, pretentious dud. Shot years ago in Texas, it was supposed to open in 2008 and keeps casually missing its release date. Malick is reportedly still working on it!
Best Case Scenario: The film (and its IMAX companion release) prove to be worth the wait.
(opens December 1)
The Gist: Darren Aronofsky’s erotic thriller, set in the world of ballet, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
Why It Could Rock: Aronofsky’s first film since The Wrestler has beautiful leading ladies, sizzling sex scenes and a gripping mystery at its core. The trailer is dazzling.
Unless: Does Showgirls ring a bell?
Best Case Scenario: Men nationwide suddenly become very interested in ballet.
(opens December 10)
The Gist: True-life boxing drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.
Why It Could Rock: Wahlberg has literally been training five years for the starring role. Director David O’Russell made the underrated Three Kings and Bale is back in a gritty, meaty role.
Unless: It’s less like Raging Bull and more like O’Russell’s last collaboration with Wahlberg, the uneven I Heart Huckabees.
Best Case Scenario: Bale gets a long overdue Academy Award.
(opens December 17)
The Gist: Sequel to Tron, starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner.
Why It Could Rock: Looks beyond cool. Bridges plays two roles in his first post-Oscar movie. The 3D won’t be just a gimmick; years in the planning, the f/x promises to be groundbreaking.
Unless: It’s a sequel to a 22-year-old film that had great special effects but a lousy story. Will the plot—about a father and son reunion—connect, or is the CGI going to be the whole show?
Best Case Scenario: After a 25-year wait, Pac-Man: The Movie finally gets the green light.
How Do You Know
(opens December 17)
The Gist: The new comedy from James L. Brooks stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson.
Why It Could Rock: The writer/director of Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets reunites with Nicholson, in his first movie since The Departed. Brooks usually takes time to polish his screenplays.
Unless: Brooks’s last film was Spanglish, an admirable flop. Can he bounce back?
Best Case Scenario: Winds up as the year’s top romantic comedy.
(opens December 25)
The Gist: A western from The Coen Brothers starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon.
Why It Could Rock: The Coens insist it’s a new version of the original novel and not a remake of the John Wayne classic. Bridges reunites with the Coens for the first time since playing The Dude.
Unless: It’s like the Coens’ Intolerable Cruelty, where an all-star cast fumbles with a bad screenplay.
Best Case Scenario: The eye-patch gunslinger look is back.