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Oscar contenders, sci-fi epics, and hip films for kids: Get ready for the seasonal surge.

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Wesley Morris on film | Ty Burr on film | FALL ARTS PREVIEW 2009
By Ty Burr and Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / September 13, 2009

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You may have heard that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the folks who hand out Oscars, will double to 10 the number of best picture nominees this year. Right now, the Academy would have a tough time finding five. But that, of course, is what fall is for: promotion and positioning.

Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart sounds like a no-brainer. So does a movie with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela directed by Clint Eastwood, and an adaptation of “The Lovely Bones’’ directed by Peter Jackson. One of the upcoming George Clooney pictures (there are three) has to be Oscar-worthy. The Coen brothers have even made a dramatic comedy whose title captures, more or less, the mood of the season. It’s called “A Serious Man.’’

But if Hollywood-centric Oscar speculation seems crass (and it is), the margins this fall aren’t completely barren. Lars von Trier returns with a new provocation (“Antichrist’’). So do Pedro Almodóvar (“Broken Embraces’’), the great Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum’’), and Michael Moore, with his docu-ballad for the Great Recession (“Capitalism: A Love Story’’).

Interestingly, the American movie that seemed farthest from Hollywood - “Precious’’ -has been thrust into the Oscar fray with the ecstatic backing of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. So you’ve been warned, James Cameron, director of the $200 million-plus “Avatar.’’ You too, makers of the glitzy, star-studded musical extravaganza “Nine’’ (Day-Lewis! Kidman! Cruz! Dench! Loren! Fergie!). This low-budget, mostly black, independent melodrama about an overweight teenage Harlem mother of two is looking to blow you out of the water.

In other news, “Twilight: New Moon’’ continues the saga of young vampires in heat. “Alvin and the Chipmunks’’ will continue to induce migraines with “The Squeakquel.’’ (Kids and their parents may get a reprieve, though as hipster directors Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson each adapt beloved kids’ books for the screen.) And Meryl Streep continues her streak of smart-looking choices, teaming with director Nancy Meyers to play a divorcée caught in a romantic-comic love triangle with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. That movie is called “It’s Complicated.’’ Not when it comes to her stardom.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the fall and winter you’ll be having at the movies.

SEPTEMBER 18

Beeswax From Andrew Bujalski, the father of the accursed mumblecore genre, comes a new movie about twin sisters in Austin, Texas, played by Tilly and Maggie Hatcher, who face a possible lawsuit. One sister’s ex-boyfriend (Alex Karpovsky), looking for something to do, agrees to help them out.

Big Fan Robert D. Siegel wrote and directed this comic drama about a lifetime New York Giants fan (Patton Oswalt) whose favorite player beats him up. Siegel also wrote “The Wrestler,’’ so apparently there is more sports-world misery where that film came from.

The Burning Plain After writing the acclaimed split-level scripts for “Amores Perros,’’ “21 Grams,’’ and “Babel,’’ Mexico’s Guillermo Arriaga finally gets to sit in the director’s chair. Not surprisingly, his debut is a multi-stranded affair that separately follows Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger as two tormented women. What’s the connection between the two? You’ll have to see the movie to find out. Even then, it might be dicey.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs The much-loved 1982 children’s book was mostly an illustrated appreciation of food magically raining from the sky. The movie adaptation has to cook up characters, a plot - the works. It’ll be hitting IMAX screens in 3-D, so you’ll have to dodge the flying flapjacks. The voice cast has promise, at least: Anna Faris, Mr. T, “SNL’’-ers Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, and Will Forte - and Neil Patrick Harris as “Steve the Monkey.’’

The Informant! Matt Damon gets a whole Steven Soderbergh movie to himself. It’s about time. In this true-ish story, he plays a corporate suit who agrees to spy on his corrupt company for the FBI. He thinks it’ll make him a hero. There’s a problem though: He’s an idiot. Presumably, the exclamation point is for Damon’s mustache, which looks like he found it in a box of Cracker Jack.

Jennifer’s Body In the role sure to win her an Osc. . . - uh, MTV Movie Award - “Transformers’’ hood ornament Megan Fox plays a cheerleader possessed by a monster that turns her into a man-eater. Amanda Seyfried is her nerdy pal. The movie’s Oscar-winning writer, Diablo Cody (“Juno’’), claims it’s a work of feminism. That’s unlikely to stop members of America’s fraternities from storming the box office. Directed by Karyn Kusama.

Love Happens Or: “When The Haircut Met The Chin.’’ Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart star in a romantic drama about a widowed self-help author (him) whose new relationship (with her) helps him get over his dead wife. At what point in the healing process does he make peace with that title?

Still Walking Director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Nobody Knows’’) channels the spirit of the late Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu in this meditative tale of a family reuniting on the anniversary of a relative’s death.

Also opening: A Wink and a Smile (Sept. 17)

SEPTEMBER 25

Amreeka Fresh from Sundance and the opening berth at New York’s New Directors/New Films series, this drama follows a Palestinian woman (Nisreen Faour) trying to make a new home for herself in a strange and foreign land called Illinois. While she copes with flipping burgers at White Castle, her teenage son (Melkar Muallem) deals with being an Arab kid in a post-9/11 American high school. Hiam Abbass (“The Visitor’’) costars.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men A year after the suicide of writer David Foster Wallace - the worst blow to American letters in a generation - a film of one of his unfilmable books arrives onscreen. Directed by actor and “The Office’’ star John Krasinski, “Interviews’’ arranges Wallace’s meditations on misogyny into a string of monologues delivered to researcher Julianne Nicholson. Timothy Hutton, Chris Messina, Will Arnett, and Krasinski himself play some of the hideous men.

Bright Star For her first film since 2003’s erotic thriller “In the Cut,’’ Jane Campion has made a costume drama about the 19th-century English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and the budding fashion designer Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who becomes a fan, a critic, and his muse. Paul Schneider plays Keats’s belligerent Scottish friend Charles Armitage Brown.

Disgrace J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel is now a film about a South African literature professor (John Malkovich) who, after an affair with a student, leaves his university in post-apartheid Cape Town to live on his daughter’s farm. Grisliness ensues..

Fame They’re gonna live forever - or longer than Irene Cara’s career, hopefully. The 1980 neo-musical about students at New York’s School of Performing Arts gets a big-budget remake 29 years later. The grown-ups are played by the likes of Kelsey Grammer and Debbie Allen; in keeping with the original, the kids are unknowns. Not in keeping with the original is the PG rating. Don’t expect a reprise of the abortion clinic scene.

Five Minutes of Heaven A thriller with Liam Neeson as a former member of the Irish terrorist outfit the Ulster Volunteer Force who is reunited with the brother (James Nesbitt) of one of the men he killed in his youth. We should have been specific earlier. It’s a revenge thriller.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell Someone has agreed to turn Tucker Max’s obnoxious book about womanizing, drinking, and womanizing into a movie. Bring a condom.

The Other Man Liam Neeson plays a husband and father who tracks down the man (Antonio Banderas) he believes his wife is sleeping with. Laura Linney plays the wife, and all there is to say to her is, “You go.’’ Meanwhile, Neeson needs himself a big old comedy - “Love Actually 2’’ or something.

Pandorum The makers of those “Resident Evil’’ movies have put Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid in outer space and told them to run from monsters. Fitness clubs will be doing “Pandorum’’ workouts all winter.

Paris Writer-director Cédric Klapisch (“L’Auberge Espagnole’’) could have called his supremely starry romantic comedy anything. He chose this. Things can only look up from there. Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, and Mélanie (“Inglourious Basterds’’) Laurent are among the lovelorn people who haunt cafes and patisseries.

Surrogates A sci-fi thriller set in the future with Bruce Willis as an FBI agent solving a murder involving a kind of fake human species. Based on a comic book series and shot in and around Boston.

OCTOBER 2
The Beaches of Agnès The ebullient French director Agnès Varda turns the digital-video camera on herself, exploring her life and movies, which include “Cléo From 5 to 7’’ and “Vagabond.’’ It’s a self-retrospective.

Capitalism: A Love Story Michael Moore responds to the recession by widening his sights just a wee bit, taking on the entire free enterprise system that, according to Mike, has resulted in corporate rapaciousness and out-of-control greed-mongering. Expect bitter laughs, healthy outrage, and the usual howls of dismay from the right.

The Boys Are Back In a heart-tugging change of pace from his usual grim charisma, Clive Owen plays Australian sportswriter Joe Warr, a widower dad to two unruly sons. Scott Hicks (“Shine’’) directs this adaptation of the Simon Carr memoir, but are audiences really ready for a sensitive Owen?

Coco Before Chanel Academy voters, start your engines. That’s what the producers are hoping, at least: If Marion Cotillard can win gold for playing Edith Piaf, why can’t Audrey Tautou - “Amelie’’ herself - score by playing the young couturier Gabrielle “Coco’’ Chanel? Leading women from the bondage of corsets to the freedom of the Little Black Dress, Coco’s a feminist pioneer. With a lousy love life, of course.

The Invention of Lying In a world in which people tell only the truth, Ricky Gervais plays a man who accidentally discovers that fibbing will get him what he wants, which seems to be Jennifer Garner in his bed. With Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, and Tina Fey. Gervais wrote and directed the movie with Matthew Robinson.

A Serious Man After squandering their newfound Oscar credibility with the strident silliness of “Burn After Reading,’’ the Coen brothers return with a dark moral tale set during the Summer of Love. New York stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays the unraveling hero, a Midwestern physics professor with a wayward wife (Sari Lennick), a Hebrew school drop-out son (Aaron Wolff), and deadbeat brother (Richard Kind) living on the couch. News is the hero’s modeled after the Coens’ late father - could the bros be getting personal at last?

St. Trinian’s The bad girls at this anarchic English private school band together to stave off foreclosure and keep their bucktoothed headmistress in charge. Rupert Everett plays said headmistress, and while we all know he’s a beautiful man, he makes an unsightly middle-aged woman. With Colin Firth and Mischa Barton.

Whip It More than one person on this project has something to prove. Star Ellen Page, playing a teenage roller derby queen, hopes to convince us there’s life after “Juno.’’ Drew Barrymore just wants to show us she can direct a major feature film. The stars certainly seem aligned, from a smart source (screenwriter Shauna Cross’ original novel “Derby Girl’’) to a rogues’ gallery of supporting actresses: Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, and stuntwoman Zoe Bell. Game on, girls.

Zombieland Our latest zombie movie (or zom-com) gives us Woody Harrelson as one of a small handful of humans trying to survive in a world infested with the living dead.

Also opening: Act of God; No Impact Man; Toy Story/Toy Story 2 in 3-D

OCTOBER 9
Bronson Nicolas Winding Refn’s highly stylized drama tells the story of one of England’s most notorious and charismatic criminals, Michael Gordon Peterson, whose fight promoter renamed him Charles Bronson before he spent his life in the slammer. Tom Hardy, bald and beefed up, plays the title part.

Couples Retreat In this ensemble comedy, four heterosexual couples show up at a resort and discover they have to attend therapy sessions. With Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Faizon Love, and Kristin Davis. Directed by Peter Billingsley, known forever as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.’’

Earth Days A documentary history of four decades of the modern environmental movement, from one who should know: long-established activist-filmmaker Robert Stone (“Radio Bikini’’).

More Than a Game Kristopher Belman’s documentary follows a quintet of grade school basketball players over the years into adulthood, and - surprise - one of them turns out to be NBA superstar LeBron James. What started as a 10-minute school project is now a feature-length examination of friendship, loyalty, and the pressures of sudden fame.

OCTOBER 16
Chelsea on the Rocks Abel Ferrara takes a break from bad-mouthing Werner Herzog for remaking his “Bad Lieutenant’’ to show us how the Duane Reades, strollers, and yuppies who push them have turned Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood from one ghetto into another. It’s a social documentary.

The Damned United How do you sell a biopic about a legendary British football coach to American audiences? (First stumbling block: by “football,’’ I mean soccer.) We know actor Michael Sheen as David Frost (“Frost/Nixon’’) and Tony Blair (“The Queen’’); now he plays Brian Clough, a cantankerous and controversial stadium icon of the 1960s and ’70s. Think Billy Martin in tweeds.

An Education In which a 16-year-old Londoner in the 1960s (Carey Mulligan) falls in love with an older, more sophisticated man (Peter Sarsgaard). The relationship blows her mind. With Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson. Directed by Danishwoman Lone Scherfig and adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s novel. There are 10 best picture slots this year. This is bound to be one of them.

Law Abiding Citizen After the killers of his family walk free, grieving Gerard Butler takes matters into his own hands and targets the case’s corrupt prosecutor, played by Jamie Foxx. Is this “Death Wish’’ for the new millennium? Depends on who director F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job’’) decides is the hero and who’s the villain. Rumor is it’s a toss-up - now that’s interesting.

New York, I Love You Another urban-omnibus movie, this brings us 10 tales from the Big Apple directed by the likes of Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding’’), Fatih Akin (“Head-On’’), Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour’’ movies), and Natalie Portman (who acts in Nair’s short as well). Like Ray’s Pizza, each one promises to be an original.

The Stepfather It was only a matter of time until they got around to remaking this effective 1987 no-frills thriller in which a young woman discovers her mother’s new husband is a psycho. The young woman is now a young man, Penn Badgley of “Gossip Girl,’’ and Dylan Walsh of “Nip/Tuck’’ assumes the title role.

Where the Wild Things Are Spike Jonze’s live-action version of Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic finally arrives. There’s no computer-generated imagery; the wild things look like giant stuffed animals, but a little scarier. Max Records plays the boy who befriends them, with Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo as his mother and her boyfriend. Dave Eggers wrote the script with Jonze.

OCTOBER 23
Amelia How do you know it’s Oscar season? Hilary Swank’s playing Amelia Earhart. This one drips with prestige, from director Mira Nair to writers Ron Bass (“Rain Man’’) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Gorillas in the Mist’’) to literary sources (two highly regarded Earhart bios). Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor play the aviator’s men, but the movie will soar or crash (sorry, hard to resist) on the strength of Swank’s performance.

Also opening: Motherhood

Antichrist If this preview up to now has seemed a little too comfortably bourgeois for your taste (so tasteful, so Oscar-worthy, so free of genital mutilation), this might be the movie for you. Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves,’’ “Dogville’’) directs Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple who lose a child. Consequently, she loses her mind. Gainsbourg won the best actress prize this year at Cannes. The movie won a mix of cheers and boos.

Astro Boy The popular Japanese cartoon and comic-book series about a chipper robot is now a work of Hollywood computer animation. Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland’’) does the voice.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant HBO’s “True Blood’’ might be on to something. Doesn’t it seem like vampires are everywhere, and that it’s not a big deal? The title of this movie, directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy’’), is self-explanatory. Chris Massoglia is the assistant. John C. Reilly plays the vampire he works for.

Ong Bak 2 If the name Tony Jaa means anything to you - like, “the future of Asian martial-arts movies’’ - you’ll want to see this sequel, directed by the Thai kickboxing star himself. Here’s hoping the elephants return as well.

Saw VI In this one, the crazed killer (whoever it is now that Jigsaw is dead) decides enough is enough, joins Doctors Without Borders, and devotes his life to helping children in Third World countries. Nah, just kidding: It’s the same old baroque dice-and-slice. What do you think sells better?

Also opening: The Hagstone Demon

OCTOBER 28
Michael Jackson’s This Is It Or: “How to Extend a Profitable Entertainment Franchise Beyond the Grave.’’ To be fair, the rehearsal footage of the late singer as he prepared for his 50 London concerts is said to be remarkable, a high-voltage performance that proves how intent Jackson was on recapturing his King of Pop crown. At best, this posthumous “live’’ show could memorialize everything that made MJ one of the greatest of entertainers. At worst, it’ll be a cash-in on a corpse.

OCTOBER 30
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day If you happen to remember the scuzzy 1999 original, about Irish brothers/vigilantes, or the documentary it spawned (“Overnight’’), in which director Troy Duffy came across as the least pleasant, least employable man alive, you’re probably asking, “Are you serious?’’ The short answer is yes: Duffy directs again.

The Canyon A thriller about two newlyweds who get lost in the Grand Canyon on their honeymoon. It could be “The Blair Witch Project’’ meets a very existential “Out-of-Towners.’’

Gentlemen Broncos Not the story of Denver’s NFL franchise during the Elway years, but a comedy about a lonely young man (Michael Angarano) who signs up for a science-fiction writing course and discovers that his acclaimed instructor (Jemaine Clement, half of Flight of the Conchords) has stolen his manuscript. From the writer-director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite,’’ “Nacho Libre’’).

35 Shots of Rum From France’s Claire Denis (“Beau Travail’’), another cool, insightful drama about the ties that bind families and lovers. This one follows a quartet of working-class Parisians - father (Alex Descas), grown daughter (Mati Diop), neighbor lady (Nicole Dogue), cute guy down the hall (Gregoire Colin) - and explores the pain and pleasure of breaking out of our ruts.

Youth in Revolt Michael Cera might get to cut loose at last in this comedy about a meek kid who develops a louche, mustached French alter ego (Cera again) to seduce a smart girl (Portia Doubleday) who rejected him. Adapted from the very funny C.D. Payne books and directed by Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl’’).

Also opening: House of the Devil

NOVEMBER 6

The Box Remember that old high school ethics class chestnut - the one about getting a million dollars to push a button that would kill someone on the other side of the planet? Director Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko’’) had the bright idea to turn it into a thriller, basing his script on an old “Twilight Zone’’ episode. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play the couple tempted by the arrival into their lives of a mysterious stranger (Frank Langella) bearing a mysterious box. Think there’s a catch?

A Christmas Carol Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express’’) dares to work his motion-capture magic again, this time on Charles Dickens, with Jim Carrey playing several parts in the tale of poor old parsimonious Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox This might be a brutal year to get one of the three slots in the Oscars’ animation category - if you care about that sort of thing. In this version of the Roald Dahl book, Wes Anderson uses stop-motion to tell the story of a family of foxes trying to outsmart farmers miffed that their chickens keep disappearing. George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Bill Murray supply the voices.

The Fourth Kind Why are there more disappearances in Nome, Alaska, than anywhere else? Is it aliens or ancient Sumerians or what? The trailer for this thriller is a hoot: actress Milla Jovovich solemnly warning us that what we’re about to see is based on actual case studies before trotting out fake “real’’ videotape a la “The Blair Witch Project.’’ The title, in case you were wondering, refers to the final stage of extraterrestrial contact: Abduction.

The Horse Boy A documentary about an American couple who take their autistic son to rural Mongolia for shamanic healing. Alternative medicine? New Age quackery? Parental desperation or thinking outside the box? Michel O. Scott’s film considers all the variables.

The Men Who Stare at Goats In this comedy taken from Jon Ronson’s book, a reporter (Ewan McGregor) discovers a covert Army project that trains an elite group of soldiers to fight the war in Iraq using only their minds. It doesn’t appear to be terribly effective. George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, and Stephen Lang play assorted guinea pigs and charlatans. Jeff Bridges plays their guru. Directed by Grant Heslov, an actor who wrote “Good Night, and Good Luck’’ with Clooney.

Also opening: Crude (Nov. 5)

NOVEMBER 13
2012 Disasters, again. Lots of them. With John Cusack, Thandie Newton, and Woody Harrelson, who might need a vacation at this point. Directed by Roland Emmerich, hoping somehow to atone for “10,000 B.C.’’

Pirate Radio Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Kenneth Branagh head Richard Curtis’s ensemble comedy about pirate-radio DJs on UK-bound boats in the 1960s.

Red Cliff What’s legendary Hong Kong action director John Woo been up to since “Paycheck’’ in 2003? Making a humongous epic about a historic battle in third-century China, that’s what. After breaking box office records in its home country, the film arrives in the US re-edited down from a four-hour two-parter into a two and a half hour one-shot. Some subtleties may get lost, but since this is Woo, there may have been none to start with.

The Young Victoria British audiences got to see this back in March, but lavish biopics about British monarchs only get released in Oscar season over here. The big news is that the ever-wonderful Emily Blunt (she who stole “The Devil Wears Prada,’’ among other movies) gets her shot at major stardom playing the 19th-century queen back when she was still amused. Rupert Friend plays Prince Albert.

Also opening: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

NOVEMBER 20

The Blind Side This year Sandra Bullock released one of her most successful movies (“The Proposal’’) and one of her all-time worst (“All About Steve’’). This uplifting fact-based drama about a Memphis mom who takes an undereducated African-American football prospect (Quinton Aaron) under her wing, may make it two out of three - but which way? Based on the Michael Lewis book.

How to Train Your Dragon The latest from the folks at DreamWorks Animation, who’ve given us the “Shrek’’ trio and “Kung Fu Panda,’’ among others. This one’s about a teen Viking who has to prove his medieval mojo by taming one of the title beasts. The voice cast includes Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

The Messenger Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma’’) and Woody Harrelson play burned-out Iraq war soldiers, back home and assigned to bring the bad news to next-of-kin. Things get complicated when Foster develops feeling for one of the widows (Samantha Morton) he notifies. Oren Moverman’s muted drama hits theaters after a full lap of the major film festivals.

Planet 51 In this animated comedy, an American space captain lands on a funky planet and discovers a race of green critters already lives there. Don’t these creatures ever come in indigo or carnation or mauve? Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, and Seann William Scott do the voices.

Precious After winning both the Audience and Jury awards for drama at Sundance, Lee Daniels’s inspirational inner-city melodrama underwent a title change (from “Push,’’ the name of the original novel by Sapphire). It arrives in theaters as a test case: Can a movie in which an overweight, pregnant, monosyllabic teenager (Gabourey Sidibe) finds herself find an audience? And will Mo’Nique really get an Oscar nomination as the girl’s nightmare of a mother?

Twilight: New Moon Part two loses a decent director (Catherine Hardwicke, replaced by Chris Weitz) but grows a werewolf (Taylor Lautner). The real question endures: Will Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally, uh, “bite’’ Bella (Kristen Stewart)?

NOVEMBER 25
Nine Director Rob Marshall’s last movie musical was a little thing called “Chicago’’ - perhaps you’ve heard of it? Now he adapts the 1982 Broadway smash (based on Fellini’s 1963 movie classic “8 1/2’’) about a conflicted director struggling to find meaning in art and love. Daniel Day-Lewis steps into the big shoes of previous Guidos Marcello Mastroianni and Raul Julia, and the women include Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman - and Sophia Loren as “Mamma.’’ There are one or two songs, too.

Ninja Assassin The Wachowski brothers return - as producers, with James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta’’) directing - with their version of a martial arts extravaganza. (Wait - didn’t they already do that with the “Matrix’’ series?) The trailer promises crazed action, but it remains to be seen if South Korean pop star Rain’s star quality will translate to US audiences.

Old Dogs John Travolta and Robin Williams are businessmen who find themselves caring for a pair of 7-year-old twins. From the folks who brought you “Wild Hogs’’ So: Hilarity. Must. Ensue.

The Road Why has this long-awaited adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, directed by Australia’s John Hillcoat (“The Proposition’’) and starring Viggo Mortensen, been on ice for over a year? Because it’s a dark, harrowingly realistic vision of post-apocalypse America, and because Hollywood doesn’t know how to sell feel-bad. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the hero’s young son; Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron scrabble around in the ruins.

Also opening: Defamation; Oh My God (Nov. 27)

DECEMBER 4
Armored Gerard Butler, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, and Jean Reno star in this action-thriller in which the new guy (Columbus Short) at an armored truck company is badgered into stealing a vehicle with $42 million. Something goes wrong and the group winds up murderously divided over what to do. Boys, next time try Powerball instead. Directed by Nimród Antal, who made last year’s thriller “Vacancy.’’

Everybody’s Fine Robert De Niro plays a widower crisscrossing the country to reconnect with the grown children he never connected with in the first place. It’s been a good long while since De Niro connected with a role; maybe channeling Marcello Mastroianni in this remake of the 1990 Italian film will re-light his creative fires. Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Drew Barrymore play the kids.

Up in the Air After “Thank You for Smoking’’ and “Juno,’’ director Jason Reitman tries to go three for three with this adaptation of the 2001 Walter Kirn novel. George Clooney plays a corporate “transition expert’’ whose personal spiritual goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles is suddenly and mysteriously jeopardized. Vera Farmiga costars as the fellow traveler who may bring him back to emotional life.

Also opening: Transylmania

DECEMBER 11
Invictus The now-annual December entry from director Clint Eastwood is the story of how President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) shepherded the 1995 rugby World Cup to South Africa. Matt Damon plays the captain of the team that stunned the planet - the rugby planet, anyway - with its victory. The title, by the way, is Latin for “unconquered’’ and refers to the William Ernest Henley poem Mandela cherished during his years in prison.

The Lovely Bones On the surface, it’s a strange match: Peter Jackson filming Alice Sebold’s best-selling weeper. But the book and movie are about a girl (Saoirse Ronan, the “Atonement’’ Oscar nominee) whose spirit hangs around after a serial killer rapes and murders her in 1973. Her limbo resides in a space called the “in-between.’’ It’s easy to think of that space as Middle Earth. Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg are the parents. Susan Sarandon is her grandmother. And Stanley Tucci is a very bad man.

The Princess and the Frog Disney gives us the old fairy tale about a girl, the frog she finds, and the kiss that makes him human. But there are some intriguing renovations. The princess is an African-American named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), the setting is New Orleans, and the animation is hand-drawn, after years of CGI. Songs by Randy Newman.

DECEMBER 18
Avatar Twelve years after “Titanic,’’ director James Cameron returns with a tale of interspecies love and war. A lot of this new film has been done in motion-capture animation so the species of creatures in the film are meant to be incredibly lifelike. The cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, and the Australian actor Sam Worthington as our hero. The budget is allegedly over $230 million, which is a lot of pressure to put on us, James.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? The comic perils of the federal witness protection program are given a run-through when squabbling New York marrieds Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker are sent to Wyoming after seeing a murder. Fish-out-of-Manhattan high jinks ensue.

DECEMBER 25
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel They’re back, and this time they’re bringing The Chippettes.

Broken Embraces The new Pedro Almodóvar is hard to synopsize even by his standards. There’s this blind director (Lluis Homar), see, who lives in the shadow of 14 years earlier, when he made a film starring the mistress (Penélope Cruz) of his producer (José Luis Gómez) . . . oh, never mind. Just expect the usual stew of guilt, passion, humor, and melodrama, with colors that bleed as ripely as the emotions.

Brothers This Hollywood remake of a very good 2004 Danish film has a top-flight cast: Natalie Portman as the widow of a US soldier missing in Afghanistan, Jake Gyllenhaal as the soldier’s brother, who’s drawn to his sister-in-law, and Tobey Maguire as - oops - the soldier, who’s not actually all that missing. Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot’’) directs.

It’s Complicated Not really: Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play a divorced couple who start an affair under his trophy wife’s nose. Will audiences go for a grown-up romance starring actual grown-ups? Can Streep keep up her winning streak? After making “Julie & Julia’’ with Nora Ephron, she hunkers down with writer-director Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give’’) for this comedy about love in the afternoon. Steve Martin turns up as Baldwin’s romantic rival.

Sherlock Holmes Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are Holmes and Watson in what looks like an action comedy very much up the alley of director Guy Ritchie. The plot is a catchall, let’s-save-England affair, with Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, and Rachel McAdams in lingerie. The swashbuckling ads raise a concern: At what 19th-century gym does Detective Holmes attain such a degree of fatlessness?

The Tree of Life The great, enigmatic Terrence Malick returns with a story about a family in the 1950s that stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, although maybe not at the same time. Details are hard to come by. That title implies a quest for spiritual meaning, and various people associated with the production mention themes of disillusionment and amazing special effects. It sounds like the sort of project a director spends decades working on but never realizes. The movie at least has an opening date. So that’s something.

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