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Films geared to adults back in driver's seat

From Ryan Gosling's stuntman in 'Drive' to Clooney's widower in 'The Descendant,' the fall film season features mature releases

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Summer might feel like it will never end. But with Labor Day right around the calendar's corner, fall is upon us. At least according to the movie studios.

Kids have returned to school and taken the comic-book superheroes with them on their notebooks and lunchboxes, leaving the movie theaters to the adults. For the most part.

The "Twilight Saga" returns with the first of its two-part finale and the biggest fictional (no, it's not really real) wedding since Luke and Laura. (You know you watched "General Hospital.")

By and large, however, fall is reserved for more mature films and Oscar-bait. Legendary directors known only by their last names — Eastwood ("J. Edgar"), Scorsese ("Hugo") and Spielberg ("The Legend of Tintin" and "War Horse") — are all back with grand ambitions.

Biopics, quickly becoming as much a part of fall as pumpkin pie, will arrive from both sides of the pond. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays FBI head J. Edgar Hoover; Michelle Williams wraps her enormous talent around the delicate Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn"; and Meryl Streep has likely already begun prepping her Oscar speech for her work as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."

Ryan Gosling continues his emergence as one of Hollywood's top leading men with the thrilling "Drive." His "The Ides of March" co-star and fellow heartthrob George Clooney gives a moving performance in "The Descendants," marking director Alexander Payne's first feature since "Sideways."

Those who can't imagine nine dark months without the flash and sizzle of summer staples remakes and sequels, fear not. "Sherlock Holmes" and "Mission Impossible" continue their franchises, and, for reasons that escape comprehension, "Footloose" finally gets that remake nobody has been demanding.

Below we take a look at 25 of the biggest films coming to a theater near you this fall. All dates are subject to change.

‘Contagion'

Sept. 9

Often the things that terrify us the most are those we cannot see. Steven Soderbergh assembles an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, etc.) for this thriller about a deadly airborne virus that contaminates exponentially with no sign of slowing. Everyone will likely leave the theater with their shirt collars pulled up over their noses and no desire to ever again share their popcorn in the theater.

‘Drive'

Sept. 9

Ryan Gosling takes some time off from breaking up street fights and breaking ladies' hearts to get behind the wheel of this high-octane vehicle as a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a criminal. Carey Mulligan co-stars, along with two of TV's hottest stars, Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men") and Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), in the film that earned Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn the best director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

‘Moneyball'

Sept. 23

Oakland As general manager Billy Beane ushered in the sabermetric movement in Major League Baseball using statistical analysis to evaluate players. How does one turn that into a compelling feature film? No telling. But Brad Pitt, who stars as Beane, would not rest until he brought Michael Lewis' nonfiction best-seller to the big screen.

‘50/50'

Sept. 30

Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt bring levity to the serious subject of cancer in this R-rated comedy. Rogen's close friend Will Reiser wrote the autobiographical script based on his own battle with the disease and Rogen's role in helping him come to terms with his diagnosis.

‘The Ides of March'

Oct. 7

People have long wondered whether George Clooney would run for office. Finally we have a definitive answer. At least, in pretend-world. Clooney stars as a presidential candidate who must hide a dark secret in order to get elected. Gosling plays Clooney's young, conflicted media manager, and character actors extraordinaire Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti add to the acting firepower as competing campaign managers.

‘The Big Year'

Oct. 14

If anyone can make the world of competitive bird watching (yes, that's a thing) intentionally funny, it's probably the trio of Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. The film is helmed by "Marley & Me" director David Frankel, so here's hoping that the silliness outweighs the sap.

‘Footloose'

Oct. 14

Director Craig Brewer's last two films, "Hustle and Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," make him a very odd choice for this remake that arguably has no need to exist. With unproven Kenny Wormland and "Dancing With the Stars" hoofer Julianne Hough taking on the lead roles, the recipe for disaster seems to be coming together quite nicely. At least Blake Shelton is covering Kenny Loggins' classic theme. Oh, that's not a good thing?

‘My Week With Marilyn'

Nov. 4

A docudrama about Marilyn Monroe seems like one of those ideas that's destined to fail. That is, it would be were it not for the casting of the incredibly talented Michelle Williams as the blond legend. The vulnerability of both actress and subject make for a perfect match in this film based on Colin Clark's book about the time he spent with Monroe during the making of "The Prince and the Showgirl," which co-starred Laurence Olivier, played here by Kenneth Branagh.

‘Tower Heist'

Nov. 4

The biggest comedy star of the '80s (Eddie Murphy) and one of the biggest names in comedy of the past decade (Ben Stiller) pair up for some forced camaraderie in this action comedy from "Rush Hour" franchise director Brett Ratner. Expect a lot of panoramic helicopter shots, smash cuts and hyper self-awareness in the story of a group of employees who team together to steal $20 million from a billionaire mogul who defrauded them of their pensions. A little wish-fulfillment with yucks in the age of Bernie Madoff.

‘J. Edgar'

Nov. 9

Clint Eastwood has to be the hardest-working octogenarian alive. Or at least the busiest. With his 11th movie in as many years, the director teams with Leonardo DiCaprio for a character study of one of America's most legendary lawmen, J. Edgar Hoover. The ambitious film follows Hoover's life from birth to death, and the script by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") does not sidestep the speculation about Hoover's sexuality.

‘Jack and Jill'

Nov. 11

Is Adam Sandler entering Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence territory? The comedian plays both a suburban family man and his obnoxious sister in the family comedy set around the holidays. Also, some cute kids saying the darndest things. Basically, a "Saturday Night Live" sketch extended to 95 minutes. If Sandler screaming as a woman is not enough for your Dolby-blasted eardrums, Al Pacino (as Al Pacino) is along for the ride, as well. Oh boy!

‘Like Crazy'

Nov. 18

Long-distance relationships: one of the most romantic and untenable constructs in the realm of love. They never work. We all know it. Yet people keep trying. Anton Yelchin ("The Beaver") and Brit Felicity Jones, who was honored at the Sundance Film Festival for her performance, star in this tale of two students who try to make love stay despite being separated by an ocean.

‘The Twilight Saga: ?Breaking Dawn, Part I'

Nov. 18

Taking a page from "Harry Potter's" playbook, the vampire-werewolf saga is dishing out its finale in two servings. Director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") takes the reins for both movies, the first of which will see Bella and Edward finally tie the knot and consummate their love on a romantic honeymoon. What shall come of the baby between our heroine and her gothy vampire beau? You'll have to wait till next year to find out.

‘The Artist'

Nov. 23

John Goodman in a French film? John Goodman in a silent film? 'Tis true. The American actor co-stars in this tale of a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) who fades into obscurity with the advent of the "talkies." We'll get an idea of how much American audiences' sensibilities have in common with the Cannes Grand Jury when this film, which garnered Dujardin a best actor nod at Cannes this year, opens stateside.

‘Hugo'

Nov. 23

Martin Scorsese is entering the realm of 3-D filmmaking. Either the end of civilization is near, or maybe this will mark the beginning of a new era of quality for the medium. In this tale set in 1930s Paris, an orphaned boy and his friend, Asa Butterfield ("Nanny McPhee") and Chloe Moretz ("Let Me In"), engage in a fantastic journey to understand the purpose of an art deco automaton. The presence of real-life French filmmaker George Melies (Ben Kingsley) as the inventor of the automaton allows film buff Scorsese to engage in his love for historic cinema.

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

Dec. 21

Director David Fincher returns with his first movie since getting robbed at the Oscars for "The Social Network." The filmmaker responsible for "Se7en" and "Fight Club" should bring a haunting and intense energy to the tale of a journalist (Daniel Craig) and computer hacker (Rooney Mara) who set out to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young woman. The excellent Steven Zaillian ("Gangs of New York") penned the script for the American adaptation of the incredibly popular Stieg Larsson novel.

‘The Iron Lady'

Dec. 16

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Has there been a more sure-thing Oscar casting in recent memory? Maybe Streep as Julia Child. Streep reteams with acclaimed British stage director and "Mamma Mia!" helmer Phyllida Lloyd for the story of the former British prime minister and her ascent to power. British actor Jim Broadbent will play Thatcher's husband, Denis, and possibly have as authentic a British accent as Streep.

‘Sherlock Holmes'

Dec. 16

The charismatic Robert Downey Jr. is back as the paranoid and perspicacious hero of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective series, along with his partner/foil Dr. Watson (Jude Law). Guy Ritchie is once again behind the lens, so expect the same blend of humor, action and elaborate set design that made the 2009 film such a smash.

‘Young Adult'

Dec. 16

After her last screenplay, campy horror flick "Jennifer's Body," flopped, writer Diablo Cody's work is back in the capable hands of director Jason Reitman, the man with whom she teamed for her breakout hit "Juno." Charlize Theron stars in this black comedy about a young-adult novelist who moves home to Minnesota in a desperate attempt to woo her ex-boyfriend, who is happily married and a newly minted father.

‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol'

Dec. 21

Brad Bird has spent years at Pixar giving life to animated characters. Now his mission is to temper the manic vitality of Tom Cruise. In the latest installment, the first in five years, the IMF has been disavowed, a bomb has destroyed the Kremlin and Ethan Hunt (Cruise), as always, is left holding the bag. Cue the throbbing music, daredevil stunts and double crosses.

‘The Adventures of Tintin'

Dec. 23

Steven Spielberg turns to a trio of clever British writers — Steven Moffat ("Doctor Who"), Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") and Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block") — for the cinematic adaptation of the young reporter made famous by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The motion capture 3-D film stars Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot") in the titular role, as he and his friends attempt to locate a sunken treasure. Eventually Spielberg will tell the story of every young boy in the world.

‘We Bought a Zoo'

Dec. 23

Director Cameron Crowe moves the setting of author Benjamin Mee's memoir from London to Southern California in this story of a man (Matt Damon) who buys a foreclosed zoo, to which he moves his family following the death of his wife. Scarlett Johansson co-stars as zookeeper and likely heart-mender.

‘War Horse'

Dec. 28

Steven Spielberg travels back beyond his familiar turf of World War II to revisit the First World War. The hero here, however, wears a saddle and not a helmet. After his horse, Joey, is sold to the British army, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) enlists in an effort to find the animal and bring him home. Spielberg blends epic battle scenes and sweeping vistas of Europe with heaping doses of sentimentality in his tear-jerking take on the story that has already been memorialized in a young-adult novel and stage play. WWI deserves more movies. But movies starring horses? Maybe not.

‘The Descendants'

December indefinite or early January

Writer-director Alexander Payne jumps behind the camera for the first time since his 2004 Oscar-winning "Sideways." Perennial bachelor George Clooney plays a father who, having long stayed near the sidelines as a "back-up parent," must raise his two daughters following his wife's death. All of this while coming to terms with the fact that his wife had been cheating on him. Looks like a welcome return for Payne.

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'

December indefinite or early January

Newcomer Thomas Horn stars as precocious New York child Oskar Schell in this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's popular 2005 novel that plays off the emotional weight surrounding 9/11. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock co-star as parents of the boy who searches New York for the meaning of a key left to him by his father, who dies in the terrorist attacks. Director Stephen Daldry knows about emotional heft and talented young boys, having directed "The Reader" and "Billy Elliot."

modam@statesman.com; 912-5986