We don't need to tell you that a LOT is riding on the last four months of 2010. Why? Well, the first eight months have sucked. Except for a couple of major summer movies about toys and dreams and a few great independent ones, this year has been a brutal slog of unoriginal disasters. Those of us who cover film for a living are increasingly aware that 2010 looks likely to go down as one of the worst calendar years for the art form in its history.
Having said that, the fall looks more promising than average. Will it be good enough to wipe away the memory of May (which gave us Shrek Forever After, Sex and the City 2, and Prince of Persia)? Only time will tell but it was EASY to come up with twenty films (a top ten and ten runner-ups) that could help get the job done. What's so remarkably promising is the amount of A-list directors with product ready to unspool as the high temperatures drop including Danny Boyle, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, David Fincher, and more. We're cheating (or getting technical, depending on how you look at) and only including films releasing from September 1
Runner-ups: Conviction (10/15), Fair Game (11/5), Faster (11/24), It's Kind of a Funny Story (9/24), Jackass 3D (10/15), My Soul to Take (10/29), The Next Three Days (11/19), Unstoppable (11/12), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (9/24), and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (9/22).
Release Date: November 24
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer, Oliver Platt, and Gabriel Macht
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Why: Ed Zwick has been very successful during awards season with loud, action-oriented pieces like The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, and Defiance but what's interesting about Love and Other Drugs is that it's so outside the wheelhouse of Zwick's typical output. The early buzz has been spectacular with Oscar being whispered about Anna Hathaway and the source material (Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman) is well-liked. Love and Other Drugs seems to be the Up in the Air for 2010 with Gyllenhaal already wiping clean the memory of Prince of Persia and Hathaway, well, we'll never forget Bride Wars.
Release Date: November 12
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Diane Keaton, and 50 Cent
Directed by: Roger Michell
Why: It's got a great preview that hints at the first actual, genuine performance from Harrison Ford in a decade along with a script that may have finally found a way to use the often-untapped screen charisma of Rachel McAdams. Could it be cheesy, melodramatic, chick-flick junk? Sure, but don't miss the fact that it's directed by an always-intriguing filmmaker, the man who directed Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Enduring Love, and Venus. This is no hack job and it could easily be more than just a crowd-pleasing diversion in a time of year that's usually loaded with more depressing fare. Written by the woman who penned The Devil Wears Prada, it feels like Morning Glory could be the rare project that transcends the often-derided comedy genre to become a beloved film. It was 22 years ago when Harrison Ford last appeared in a film that feels similar which worked its way all the way to a Best Picture nomination – Working Girl.
Release Date: September 1
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, and Paolo Bonacelli
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Why: Corbijn's Control was the kind of indie debut that made clear that it was only a matter of time before he made waves again and probably with an A-list star. The star turns out to be George Clooney in the title role of an assassin hiding out in Italy while he tries to complete his final assignment. Corbijn has such a unique eye that he promises to turn what could be a generic foundation for an action thriller into something completely original. Clooney's first performance since arguably his best in Up in the Air plus Corbijn's follow-up to Control = we're there.
Release Date: September 15
Starring: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, and Sally Hawkins
Directed by: Mark Romanek
Why: The book by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the most acclaimed of the last several decades and the last time that Keira Knightley was attached to a beloved novel it turned into the highly underrated Atonement. Like The American, Never Let Me Go is directed by a veteran of the music video scene who has shown immense promise on the big screen. Sadly, it's taken Mark Romanek almost a decade to produce a follow-up to One Hour Photo but the wait seems to have been worth it based on the response to the excellent preview. And look at that cast. Andrew Garfield is easily one of the hottest actors on the market right now with the Spider-man casting and the one-two punch of this and The Social Network while the women of this cast are some of the best actresses of the U.K. This could easily be the next 2010 Best Picture nominee to be released in theaters.
Release Date: November 19
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Miranda Richardson, and Rhys Ifans
Directed by: David Yates
Why: The willingness to jump on the 3D bandwagon instead of just finishing out this landmark film series in the same dimension in which it started is a bit disappointing but that shouldn't diminish excitement for what will likely be the biggest moneymaker of the season. David Yates has done a respectable job with the last two films (and will ultimately hold the title of most-films-directed in this franchise with the final four) but we're hoping that Deathly Hallows finds a way to truly elevate the series to a new level. Could this film be the Return of the King of the series? Could it even land the Oscar attention that has long-evaded one of the most beloved franchises of all time? The saga of the boy who lived won't officially end until next summer but we'll know a lot more about how satisfied we'll all be with the conclusion this fall.
Release Date: September 17
Starring: Ben Affleck, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Rebecca Hall, and Chris Cooper
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Why: The preview is ridiculous for a number of reasons (how much it appears to give away, the desperation in the producing connection to The Departed, noting that it's from the director of Gone Baby Gone without clarifying that's also the star of the film, etc.) but there's way more to like about the potential of The Town than reasons to worry. First, Gone Baby Gone is a great movie; one that has actually gotten better with time and now appears to have been a bit underrated despite its initial acclaim. It's not impossible to think that Affleck will be remembered more positively as a director than as an actor. Second, the cast of this project is spectacular with Renner's first role since The Hurt Locker, the always-great Rebecca Hall, and what could be the first film to transfer what works so well about Jon Hamm on the small screen to the big one. Finally, as over-the-top as it may be, the preview for The Town is damn good. It's hard to tell if it will be ridiculous or brilliant but it's the kind of trailer that demands you buy a ticket to find out.
Release Date: October 1
Starring: Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, and Elias Koteas
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Why: Because we're not willing to write this off just because it's a remake of a masterpiece. The sad fact is that Let the Right One In made less than $3 million domestically in its entire theatrical run. The remake will make that by noon on the first day. So, if you love the source material and the strength of its themes and storytelling, why wouldn't you want to bring it to a wider audience? Naturally, the concern is that a crappy remake would damage the reputation of the original film but, as those who have been following the development of this film can attest, that seems very unlikely to be the case. With a fantastic cast, stylish director, and incredible story, Let Me In could be a genre film that transcends the limitations of the horror niche to become something beloved by multiple demographics. Should that have happened with the brilliant original? Of course. But imagine listening to an amazing cover version of a foreign song that you've never heard. Would the knowledge that the foreign one was great diminish your enjoyment or alter the brilliance of the remake? All we're saying is to give this one a chance. Judge it on its own terms and don't write it off because you love Let the Right One In. You might miss out on a great movie.
Release Date: October 22
Starring: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Cecile De France, and Richard Kind
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Why: Eastwood's hit-and-miss career has been decidedly miss in the last several years (Invictus, Changeling, Flags of Our Fathers) but Hereafter has the potential to stand among his best works and he seems due for a real hit again. The fact that this existential drama was chosen to close the New York Film Festival this year bodes extremely well and positive buzz has been steadily building about this supernatural thriller penned by Oscar-winner Peter Morgan and featuring the always-great Matt Damon. The reportedly-crosscutting narrative (a la Babel) makes us nervous and Eastwood better break out of the tedious pace of Invictus and show some directorial life again but the fact is that every time this talented director steps behind the camera, he demands attention, even after a few missteps. He's earned it.
Release Date: November 5
Starring: James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Mara, and Amber Tamblyn
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Why: Boyle's follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire is the true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber who became trapped under a boulder in Utah and had to resort to extreme measures to survive. It sounds like Oscar bait in every way from the fact that Boyle collaborated with writer Simon Beaufoy and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle again to the likelihood that James Franco has finally found the role that will get him a long-deserved Oscar nod (he should have gotten one for Milk or Pineapple Express). Actors kill for juicy parts like this one and the mix of what sounds like a method-heavy central performance along with Boyle's flashier abilities as a director should be one of the more intriguing ones of the season. Think about it – even if 127 Hours falls flat, it's likely to do so in an interesting way. It may not be great, but it won't be boring. We haven't been able to say that a lot this year.
Release Date: October 1
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Brenda Song, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, and Joseph Mazzello
Directed by: David Fincher
Why: One of the best previews of the year has us totally amped for Fincher's follow-up to the most lauded film of his career, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. What's NOT to like here? A fascinating true story adapted by Aaron Sorkin; the skills of one of the most notable directors working today. original music by Trent Reznor; cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club); a cast that's entirely made up of great young actors who seem to have come together at just the right time for this project. Honestly, if The Social Network is not on your list of anticipated fall movies then you're simply not paying attention.