The Master (Sep. 21) Of all the ambitious, Oscar-hungry films to be released this season, The Master may be generating the most excitement. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a charismatic writer establishes a new religious organization, with Joaquin Phoenix playing a follower who grows increasingly disillusioned. Any resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard is purely on purpose. Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to There Will Be Blood sounds like another moody, explosively-acted exercise in the all-American will to power.
Looper (Sep. 28) This twisty time-travel thriller stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joseph Simmons, a young hitman tasked to murder organized crime victims sent back 25 years in the past. Simmons reconsiders his career path when his latest target turns out to be his older self, played by Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt reunites with Rian Johnson, director of Brick, who reportedly brings his sharp scripting and stylistic brio to a Philip K. Dick-style sci-fi premise.
Argo (Oct. 12) Inspired by a true story, this espionage thriller looks to combine the 1970s cloak-and-dagger spycraft of Munich with the showbiz sleight-of-hand of Wag the Dog. During the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, six U.S. diplomats find temporary sanctuary in the residence of the Canadian ambassador, and a CIA intelligence officer (Ben Affleck) hits on a scheme to smuggle them out of the country via a fake sci-fi film production. Affleck also directs this film, which may build on the nuts-and-bolts strengths of his previous gritty dramas, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. The cast includes Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall, Philip Baker Hall and Adrienne Barbeau.
Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26) Unquestionably the season's strangest project comes from co-directors Tom Twyker and Andy and Lana Wachowski, who adapt David Mitchell's seemingly unfilmable novel. Tom Hanks plays at least five characters at different points in mankind's past, present and future. It sounds reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, but looks vastly more ambitious and sprawling. Featuring Halle Berry in three roles, Hugo Weaving in four and many others.
Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2) This CGI cartoon feature presents a clever premise in which the title role (voiced by John C. Reilly), a villain in a Donkey Kong-style arcade video game, suffers a career crisis and wants to be a good guy. The trailer suggests that the script offers a loving spoof of vintage and contemporary gaming, offering a welcome alternative to animated family films about talking animals or revisionist fairy tales. The cast include Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and more fun character actors.
Lincoln (Nov. 9) Not to be confused with Abe Lincoln: Vampire Killer, the more fact-based biopic of America's 16th and arguably greatest president focuses on the final months of Lincoln's life. Steven Spielberg directs a script co-written by Tony Kushner (who co-wrote their previous collaboration Munich), which stars Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, Sally Field as his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, with supporting players including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Bruce McGill and Jared Harris as Ulysses Grant. The full trailer debuts on Sep. 13, but here's a teaser:
The Hobbit (Dec. 14) J.R.R. Tolkein's kid-friendly classic tale of a diminutive gentleman's adventures with wizards and dragons gets the full-scale Hollywood epic treatment. The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-Earth (replacing one-time Hobbit director Guillermo del Toro) for a lavish adaptation planned to somehow sprawl across three films. "Sherlock's" Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins, with much of the Lord of the Rings cast returning for roles that may be substantial (ex. Ian McKellan as Gandalf) or may be glorified cameos (Elijah Wood and Ian Holm in a prologue as young Frodo and elderly Bilbo, respectively). Will Peter Jackson's lightning strike again? Three more times?
Zero Dark Thirty (Dec. 19) Did you hear that SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden a few years ago? I think it's been in the news lately. Director Kathryn Bigelow's long-awaited follow up to her Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker dramatizes the bin Laden manhunt, and should have a comparable level of military intensity. Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler and the brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton star in a film purposefully scheduled to open after the presidential election.
Django Unchained (Dec. 25) Having presented a revisionist deconstruction of the Holocaust and World War II with Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino shifts his attention to America's history of slavery for a comparable cocktail of wit and provocation. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a freed slave who teams up with Christoph Waltz's German bounty hunter to track down a gang of killers and slavers, including the plantation owner (Leonardo Dicaprio) holding Django's wife (Kerry Washington) in bondage. The cast predictably includes Samuel L. Jackson, as well as such unexpected performers as RZA, Jonah Hill, Franco Nero and Don Johnson.
Amour (TBA) Cache director Michael Haneke helms this bittersweet, end-of-life romance about retired music teachers, and the crisis faced by the husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) when the wife (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke. Winner of this year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Austria's official Best Foreign Language film entry in this year's Academy Awards. It's probably a downer, but has been receiving a rapturous reception at this year's film fests.
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plain talk is like a really obvious less funny version of simplepete