The cinema scene in the fall is heavy with film festivals, including the Wine Country Film Fest (Sept. 15&–26), the Mill Valley Film Fest (Oct. 7&–17) and the Sonoma County Jewish Film Fest (Oct. 5&–Dec. 1).
In the mainstream, there is a load of animation, as always: Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt and Tina Fey voice Megamind (Nov. 5), while the war-owl Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Sept. 24) should scare some mice out of the popcorn machines. Oh-so-cute wolves get it on in Alpha and Omega (Sept. 17), and there's the return of the Spike and Mike fest (Sept. 24) with work by Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt and Aubier/Patar (A Town Called Panic). Lastly comes the Disney/John Lasseter retelling of Rapunzel, Tangled (Nov. 24).
For those needing more balls-to-the-wall entertainment, there's Jackass 3D (Oct. 15) and, horribly, Saw 3D (Oct. 29). Finally, the year's most woeful prospect, not counting the baby-poo encrusted Life As We Know It (Oct. 8), is Red Dawn (Nov. 24), although MGM might stall release on this mess. If only they had cast op-ed columnist Charles Krauthammer as himself to lead the charge against the commies in a jet-powered wheelchair . . .
Here are a few of the fall films you might actually want to watch:
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (Sept. 10) Zhang Yimou goes intimate after some wall-to-wall epics, with a remake of the Coen brothers' early film Blood Simple.
Catfish (Sept. 17) "Not based on a true story, not inspired by real events," this puzzling story is observed low-fi camera style by director Ariel Schulman, the brother of the subject. Is it fiction or hand-held cinéma vérité? As in the story of fine artiste Mr. Brainwash in Exit Through the Gift Shop, there's more than an element of untrustworthiness in the narration.
Easy A (Sept. 17) Will Gluck's comedy is witty enough to parallel the ordeal of a modern girl (Emma Stone) surrounded by born-again Puritans in an Ojai high school with the book she's studying: The Scarlet Letter. Plus the adults along for the ride are impressively funny: Thomas Hayden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci and Malcolm McDowell.
The Town (Sept. 17) Ben Affleck's follow-up to Gone Baby Gone looks like some further Southie metaphysics. A gunman (Affleck) takes up with a bank teller (Rebecca Hall) he once robbed. Jon Hamm, in what looks like a big enough movie role at last, plays the FBI agent tracing him.
The Social Network (Oct. 1) Ben Mezrich's unauthorized, semifictional, padded and prolix Accidental Billionaires is the source for David Fincher's version of the fractious beginnings of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Garfield is Eduardo Saverin. Why mention it? Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) must have brought something to this table. It can't just be a blueblood version of Animal House.
Let Me In (Oct. 1) Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) meets girl (Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass), of a kind, in this remake of the intrepid Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In. Matt Reeves of Cloverfield directs what one feels, with ever childlike faith, is a story that's resistant to messing up.
Enter the Void (Oct. 8) This may steal the thunder of Clint Eastwood's Hereafter (Oct. 22), a Peter Morgan&–penned film about near-death experiences. Enter the Void is Gaspar Noë's sex-and-violence-drenched spinoff of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, with a gaijin in Tokyo who is dead but refusing to leave his bardo, a fluorescent half-world co-created by Marc Caro (City of Lost Children). Noë's willingness and ability to shock may have been tempered here by sweeter fantasy.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Nov. 19) Almost ready for another bout with the little dweeb? He and the gang head out in 3-D, this time in search for the source of you-know-who's-power.
The Next Three Days (Nov. 19) This redo of the French film Pour Elle has Paul Haggis showing off his post&–Casino Royale moves. A husband (Russell Crowe) endeavors to break his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison, with the peninsula city of Pittsburgh—looking good in the smashing previews—as the outer perimeter of the lockup.
Faster (Nov. 24) There's some style in the previews of this actioner, with Dwayne Johnson on the warpath. Maybe this will be the one to give the Rock some gravity to go with his mass.
Planning ahead: The holiday season will amp up the prestige with the Coens' version of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges. Bridges also returns to Tron: Legacy. New opuses include work by James L. Brooks (How Do You Know), Sofia Coppola (Somewhere) and Darren Arnofsky, whose color-drenched Black Swan has Natalie Portman as a ballet dancer turning were-swan (unless she's just going nuts, as people often do in Arnofsky's work).