Maybe I've been burned by too many sleepy "important" Oscar movies released in the fall, but this year, I'm less pumped by the big, prestigious dramas than the minor, silly comedies. Three of my most anticipated autumn films will quite likely be the dumbest, too. Here they are, prioritized. (All release dates are subject to change.)
1 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Nov. 3).
Sacha Baron Cohen currently is stealing scenes as the gay French racer in Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, but for his first starring vehicle, he uses a recurring character from "Da Ali G Show." Clueless Kazakhstani TV star Borat crosses America to make a documentary in what sounds like an unlikely, one-joke premise, but the advance buzz, trailers and interviews all promise hilarity. Apologies in advance to the nation of Kazakhstan.
2 Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (Nov. 17).
Before Jack Black became a major movie funnyman (and even Kate Winslet's romantic interest in December's The Holiday), he earned a huge following teamed with Kyle Gass as the pudgy, "heavy acoustic" rock duo Tenacious D. The previews make the group's "origin story" film look uncomfortably like Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, but "The D's" uproarious, over-the-top tunes always rock your socks off.
3 Jackass: Number Two (Sept. 22).
Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera and their masochistic buddies re-up for more mortifying pranks and kamikaze stunts. Arguably, the previous film featured humor at its lowest form -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't funny.
4 For Your Consideration (Nov. 22).
At the other end of the subtlety spectrum lies the latest heavily improvised film from Christopher Guest and his usual team of collaborators from A Mighty Wind, Best in Show and other comedies. Here, a made-up indie film called Home for Purim gets My Big Fat Greek Wedding-style Oscar buzz. Ricky Gervais (BBC's "The Office") joins such usual suspects as Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard.
5 All the King's Men (Sept. 22)
Oscar season kicks off in the real world (if Academy Award excitement qualifies as "reality") with the Katrina-delayed release of this slick adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's classic novel about a demagogue politician, based on Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. Two questions, though: Should we worry that the film was bumped from release last December, Katrina or not? And isn't Sean Penn kind of svelte for the heavyweight role that won Broderick Crawford an Oscar?
6 Casino Royale (Nov. 17)
The James Bond franchise gets relaunched with this adaptation of Ian Fleming's first novel (previously filmed as an unrecognizable parody). Daniel Craig plays 007 on his first "license to kill" mission, and though Craig proved a cool customer in Layer Cake and Munich, disgruntled Bond fans have been launching online boycotts to protest his casting. It's one of the most pointless acts of geeky Internet behavior you've ever seen, and that's saying something.
7 Dreamgirls (Dec. 21)
The acclaimed stage musical inspired by the rise and breakup of the Supremes casts Beyonce Knowles in the Diana Ross role, alongside Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose as the other singers -- along with Jamie Foxx's music manager and Eddie Murphy in a comeback role as a James Brown-esque singer on a downward spiral. Directed by Bill Condon (Kinsey, Gods and Monsters).
8 Running With Scissors (Oct. 27)
Augusten Burroughs' darkly humorous, dysfunctional childhood memoir made David Sedaris look like Norman Rockwell. The screen version casts Joseph Cross as the young author-to-be, Annette Bening as his bipolar mother and Brian Cox as a shrink more messed up than his patients.
9 The Good German (Dec. 8)
One of the season's political thrillers, Steven Soderbergh's black-and-white film noir puts George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire in post-World War II Berlin and promises a vibe like The Third Man.
10 The Good Shepherd (Dec. 22)
Not to be confused with The Good German, this historic CIA tale stars Clooney's Ocean's 11 co-star Matt Damon as a CIA agent whose fateful career spans 20 years of "the company's" history. Directed by and co-starring Robert De Niro.
11 Babel (Oct. 27)
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu ups the ante of his wrenching, chronologically scrambled 21 Grams with this even more sprawling drama that features Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Morocco, as well as tentatively related dramas in Mexico, Tokyo and elsewhere in Africa.
12 The Prestige (Oct. 20)
The seemingly ubiquitous Hugh Jackman first turns up when Christopher Nolan (director of Batman Begins) presents this tale of rival stage magicians, played by Jackman and Christian Bale, in the early 20th century. The film has great talent, but Christopher Priest's original novel contains such weird twists that I can't imagine how it'll play on film.
13 The Fountain (Nov. 22)
Jackman plays three characters in different historical periods -- or are they the same guy? -- in this trippy time-travel tale written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, the head-spinning director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream.
14 Flushed Away (Nov. 3)
Jackman also voices the lead character of this cartoon feature about an upper-class rat who accidentally rides the porcelain bus to a rodent-run underworld in the sewers. Wallace & Gromit creator Aardman Animation retains its toothy signature style for this first computer-animated movie. And the filmmakers beat Pixar to the punch: The Cars creators have their own rat-and-class-struggle film, Ratatouille, due for release next summer.
15 Volver (Dec. 22)
One of the most acclaimed films in Pedro Almodóvar's already storied career won Best Actresses prizes for its cast, led by Penelope Cruz. To prime the pump, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema presents a festival of Almodóvar's films, from Live Flesh to Bad Education (Sept. 22-Oct. 5).
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