COLUMN: What's good coming out this fall and winter?

     People have been asking me lately, "Don, what the hell is worth seeing this winter?  I haven't seen any good previews."

    Well, you're probably right to ask, because chatter has been pretty light.  Other than a few movies that have had a year's worth (or more) of buzz riding on them (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Tron: Legacy, and Due Date), the fall and winter movie seasons aren't like summer.  They tend to be the seasons where the smaller movies and award contenders come out.  Then again, if they were such worthy contenders, where's the advance buzz?  Who's going to take on Inception

    According to the Oscar rules, as long as a movie is released at least somewhere in a theater before December 31st (typically some single showing in NY or LA), it qualifies for that year's Academy Awards.  Those rules normally mean everything of merit comes out around Christmas in a limited release, where they then spread through January.  Take Gran Torino in 2008.  It came out just barely in December and didn't open wide for everyone else until mid-January, where it went on to gross more than $100 million (and, surprisingly zero Oscar nominations).   

    Ever since 2006, when The Departed made an early October splash on its way to winning Best Picture the following February, award contenders of that caliber are starting to put themselves out there earlier than Christmas.  This year's version of that is The Social Network (see my previous review), which opened October 1st.  It will enjoy a month-and-a-half of narrow competition before Thanksgiving and a big head start for hype over the usual December releases.  Still, the old trend to slowly release and build word-of-mouth the old-fashioned way works.  Take Waiting for Superman going on right now, and that's just for a documentary.

    Well, I'm here in a column to try to give everyone a little heads-up, buzz starter, calendar, and checklist for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.  Like I mentioned before, the three automatics are Due Date, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and Tron: Legacy.  You either live under a rock or don't have a pulse if you haven't heard about those three and don't want to see them.  After those three, I'm going to drop the ten movies that I'm most excited to see between now and January.  After that, I'm going to post a calendar (and, for me, a checklist) of everything coming out between now and the end of January.  Enjoy!

    • 10.  The Fighter-- Real-life Irish boxing drama with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale playing brothers at odds.  Sold!  (Dec. 10- limited)
    • 9.  The Company Men-- From the creator of ER, here's rooting for a small-scale movie that relates to the current economic times.  Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Christ Cooper (all Oscar winners) go through interconnected stories of corporate downsizing from different points of view.  Look up the very good trailer. (Dec. 10)
    • 8.  Hereafter--  If there's a trend you'll see on this list, it's filmmakers that I trust.  Clint Eastwood is the best in the business and a filmmaker I trust to get incredible performances from his actors.  Re-teaming with Matt Damon on a strange afterlife psychic topic intrigues me.  (Oct. 22) 
    • 7.  Morning Glory-- Produced by J.J. Abrams and from the director of Notting Hill, this comedic look into the hectic world of a Today-style morning show looks great from its preview (another to look up), starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, and Diane Keaton.  (Nov. 12)
    • 6.  The Next Three Days-- To keep the trend going, I trust the writing of Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah, Quantum of Solace, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby).  Seeing him take Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson through their prison rescue paces around Pittsburgh sounds good to me.  (Nov. 19)
    • 5.  Country Strong-- Alright, the redneck and country music fan in me is showing through, but the resurrection story of a faded country star with Gwenyth Paltrow and Tim McGraw looks like this year's Ray, Walk the Line, and Crazy Heart.  (Dec. 22- limited)
    • 4.  Love and Other Drugs-- One romantic comedy has to make the list, and this one has some pedigree with director Ed Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond, Courage Under Fire, Legends of the Fall, and The Last Samurai) returning to his Thirtysomething roots.  Jake Gyllenhaal is a young pharmaceutical salesman taking advantage of the new release of Viagra in circa-1998 with his on-again/off-again free spirit lover Anne Hathaway along for the ride.  (Nov. 24)
    • 3.  True Grit-- The reputation of Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski) goes without saying, but I have to see them prove their ballsy idea of remaking a John Wayne movie with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.  (Dec. 25)
    • 2.  Skyline-- Sure, it may be part-Independence Day and part-Cloverfield, but this movie has the best trailer I've seen this fall outside of Tron: Legacy.  It looks big, unique, and epic despite it's small budget and small names.  It could be a District 9 kind of brainy sci-fi hit.
    • 1.  127 Hours--  If there's a movie that might give The Social Network and Inception a run for their hype and money, it could be the newest from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle and the lead performance from James Franco.  This could be the word-of-mouth wave maker.  The movie chronicles the true story of the nearly five days a mountain climber was trapped by his arm by boulders after a fall.

    Outside of that list, there's some you couldn't pay me to see (Gulliver's Travels, Yogi Bear, Paranormal Activity 2, Saw, etc.) and some that are honorable mentions (Unstoppable, Red, Little Fockers, The Green Hornet, The Dilemma, Faster, The Tourist, Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, etc.).  For the full calendar, see the previous post below this one.  For any information on any of the titles, look them up at the Internet Movie Database:

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