A look ahead at fall movies

August 29, 2011
Taylor Lautner in "Abduction."

Editors note: This is the first of a two-part installment that takes a look at autumn at the box office.

Wait a minute. That's it? Did I miss a memo or something? Just where the heck did summer go? Well, the box office, despite all the hype, really came down to just two words: Harry and Potter.

The summer of 2011 marked the final entry into the most successful franchise in film history and will be likely be the only marker when future writers reflect upon the box office statistics. All the rest of the films are but footnotes.

Sure, there will be some items of note: the success of women being invited into the R-rated comedy summer sandbox ("Bridesmaids"); the fact that Pixar is, indeed, fallible ("Cars 2"); that 3-D is but a fad; and that Ryan Reynolds is not a headliner ("Green Lantern," "The Change-Up").

But no matter how many spandex-clad crime-fighters muscled into the multiplex ("Thor," "Green Lantern," "Captain America") the boy wizard and his Hogwarts pals are by far the heroes of summer 2011.

The year is far from over. There are still a number of films that may not be vying for blockbuster status, but rather for prestige. Not all will take place in Victorian-era mansions with subtitles and suppressed emotions, though. There are many offerings that are purely for grins and greenbacks, too. So here is a smattering of both for you to choose among wisely:

Apollo 18: Moon-landing conspiracy theorists, your film has arrived. A "found-footage" flick of a lunar landing that does not go as planned.

Contagion: An outbreak of a bird flu-like virus wipes out millions. And various humans (Matt Damon, Kate Winslett, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne) all struggle to escape from or cope with it. Steven Soderbergh ("Oceans Eleven") directs.

Drive: Ryan Gosling is a man on a mission. A very dark mission, at that.

Straw Dogs: James Marsden takes over the Dustin Hoffman role in this remake of the Sam Pekinpah thriller.

Abduction: Taylor Lautner takes a break from being a chiseled slab of werewolf beefcake to try his hand at leading man material in this thriller about a young man who realizes his life is not what he thought.

Dolphin Tale: Morgan Freeman stars in this based-on-a-true-tale about a dolphin rescued and given a new lease on life with a robotic tail.

Moneyball: Brad Pitt is Billy Beane, the Oakland A's manager who subverts the system and becomes one of baseball's most prolific prognosticators.

Red State: Director Kevin Smith takes a stab at a horror-ish flick, inspired by the freaky Phelps clan that makes up the Westboro Baptist Church.

50/50: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young radio writer whose life is thrown into a tailspin when he's diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and has the title's odds of beating it. Seth Rogan, Angelica Huston and Anna Kendrick costar.

Dream House: A family moves into a house only to discover it carries with it a mysterious and brutal history. The real mystery is how this seemingly run-of-the-mill horror attracted the likes of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weitz to star and Jim Sherridan ("In the Name of the Father," "My Left Foot") to direct.

The Ides of March: George Clooney performs triple duty as writer, director and star of the political drama of a young staffer ( Ryan Gosling ) of a presidential candidate who learns some ugly truths about the system. Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei, and Philip Seymour Hoffman costar.

Real Steel: You've no doubt seen the ad for the film based on the board game "Battleship" (if not, what are you waiting for? YouTube that pronto, just be sure to catch your jaw when it drops at the sheer ridiculousness of it). Well, before we are treated to that next summer, Hugh Jackman is here to deliver us a flick which looks as though it was based on Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Jackman is a downtrodden promoter who finds a metallic fighter that just might also help him reconnect with the son he never knew. If there was an emoticon for eye-rolling, I'd insert it here.

The Big Year: Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin star as professional birdwatchers (?) who attempt to spot the most avians in a single day. Jack Black as a birder? Fans of the yellow-bellied sapsucker are going to love this. Bird lovers are, too.

Footloose: Kenny Wormald shuffles into the iconic Kevin Bacon role as Ren, a skinny-tied rebel who shakes up things in a small town that has outlawed dancing. While beloved for its only-in-the '80s style, the original was far from classic, and time has not been kind to much of it. So the thought of a remake is hardly heresy, unlike, say...

The Thing: Technically, this is supposed to be some sort of prequel, but after watching the trailer, it seems to stick pretty closely to the original John Carpenter classic (itself, a loose remake), which is still as terrifying today.

Paranormal Activity 3: Director Henry Joost continues what looks like another Halloween-centric cash-grab for horror hounds, presenting yet another couple hours of cobbled-together security camera footage and random loud noises to make you jump.

The Three Musketeers: Is there any ink left in the Dumas well for this, the 19th adaptation (give or take a few, and excluding animated versions)? Hack director Paul W. S. Anderson ("Resident Evil," "Alien vs. Predator") classes up the tale by giving the lads ninja-like fighting skills and making M'Lady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich) into a martial-arts master.

Anonymous: Running with the ages-old rumor that Shakespeare did not, in fact, wield the pen for many of his masterpieces, this political thriller posits that the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) was the prolific scribe whose name was erased from English high school textbooks throughout the ages. Vanessa Redgrave and David Thewlis costar.

In Time: Writer/director Andrew Niccol ("The Truman Show," "Gattaca") envisions another future in which time is more than money; it's life. In a time when life ends at 25 years (unless you can work to buy more), Justin Timberlake stars as a young man who is given an endless life supply, but must evade ruthless cops who want to make like Irene Cara and "Wanna live forever." No word on whether they'll learn how to fly...high!

Johnny English Reborn: Rowan Atkinson revisits his mildly popular character for another bumbling outing. And still we wait for the return of "Black Adder."

The Rum Diary: Johnny Depp is irate in the Caribbean as a freelance journalist struggling to find the meaning of his life amidst a colorful array of losers in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel.

Sleeping Beauty: Certainly not for the kiddies, this adult reworking from first-time director Julia Leigh casts Emily Browning as a young, overworked college student who enters a world of hidden desires when she responds to a want ad that requires her to go on a very unexpected journey.

See what’s ahead in November and December in the Friday, Sept. 2 edition.

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