Just as surely as summer leads to fall, the movie season changes from frivolous to slightly more serious, as the list below demonstrates. As always, opening dates are subject to change.
By PHILIP WUNTCH
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Now starts the Oscar season. Those who feel that 2005 has yet to give birth to an Oscar winner should peruse the following candidates. We've got such Oscar winners as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jamie Foxx, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Ben Kingsley and a plethora of others all returning in prestige movies. For the fall season, you won't have to check your brain at the concessions stand.
"North Country" (Oct. 14) Some cynical critics are bound to call this "a 21st century 'Norma Rae.'" But its credentials are golden, with three Oscar-winning actresses (Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Sissy Spacek) playing the leads. Charlize is a single mother who toils in a mining company and rousts her female co-workers to stand up and be counted. Directed by "Whale Rider's" Niki Caro. But would you want to be represented in a court of law by Woody Harrelson?
"Prime" (Oct. 28). How about telling Meryl Streep your most intimate secrets? Actually, Madame Meryl might make a good psychiatrist, and that's what she plays in "Prime." Uma Thurman plays a patient who falls in love with her shrink's son. Any movie with Uma on Meryl's couch sounds promising.
"Jarhead" (Nov. 4). Director Sam Mendes won an Oscar for his first film, "American Beauty," and got solid respect for his second, "Road to Perdition." He now guides Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal through their paces in this much-anticipated version of Anthony Swofford's bestseller about his Desert Storm experiences. Gyllenhaal plays enlistee Swofford and the Ray Oscar-winner plays his sergeant, a Marine lifer.
Also with a high pedigree:
"Oliver Twist" (Sept. 30), Roman Polanski's first film since "The Pianist." Sir Ben Kingsley should make a Fagin to remember in this Dickens adaptation.
"Proof" (Sept. 16), with Gwyneth Paltrow returning under the direction of "Shakespeare in Love"s' John Madden. Besides Gwyneth, there's Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis and Jake Gyllenhaal in a tale of possible inherited insanity.
"Shopgirl" (Nov. 4) is the long-awaited version of Steve Martin's praised novella, which he adapted for the screen. He and Jason Schwartzman play rivals for the attentions of Saks Fifth Avenue salesperson Claire Danes.
"Two for the Money" (Oct. 7), with slick Al Pacino playing mentor to onetime football star Matthew McConaughey in a tale of high dramatic stakes in the global world of sports betting. Rene Russo and Jeremy Piven are also involved.
"Capote" (Oct. 21), with Philip Seymour Hoffman as scribe Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as "To Kill a Mockingbird" author and Capote pal Harper Lee. The movie follows Mr. Capote's relationship with the homicidal duo of "In Cold Blood."
"Rent" (Nov. 11), from the acclaimed stage musical about one year in the lives of New York's East Village dwellers faced with crises ranging from career problems to AIDS.
"Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" (Sept. 23). Risk-taking Burton uses the stop-motion puppetry technique of his memorable "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The plot is both shivery and whimsical, as it relates the misadventures of a clumsy soon-to-be bridegroom who's haunted by a dead woman just as he's about to wed a living one. With Burton, the stranger the premise, the better the movie. So this looks promising, with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney and Christopher Lee providing voices and features for the animated figures.
"Wallace & amp; Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (Oct. 7) brings the claymation man and dog to the realm of feature films. The lovable duo started off as cult favorites, with their fan base growing each year. The Were-Rabbit saga affectionately echoes old horror movies, which Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" did to riotous results. Wallace and Gromit ponder who is sabotaging the harvest just days before the Giant Vegetable Competition. Wouldn't you know it, it's a mutant rabbit.
"Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D" (Sept. 23) has "Apollo 13" star Tom Hanks narrating an IMAX 3D lunar trek.
"Thumbsucker" (Sept. 30), with Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Keanu Reeves and Benjamin Bratt fretting over a teen with a strange habit.
"Waiting" (Oct. 7), low-brow comedy about raucous teens. So what's so unique about that? Nothing, except for its title.
"Strangers with Candy" (Oct. 21), in which an ex-junkie tries to start anew by returning to high school.
"Chicken Little" (Nov. 4) retells the fowl legend with computer animation and reportedly just a touch of irreverence.
ROMANCE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT
"Just Like Heaven" (Sept. 16). Industry types will be watching this romantic fantasy closely. Reese Witherspoon's last two movies, "Vanity Fair" and "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," didn't reach expectations. But the combined clout of "Just Like Heaven" and November's "Walk the Line," with Reese as June Carter Cash, could restore her luster. There's also interest in how indie dudes Mark Ruffalo and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") will fare in the mainstream.
"Side Effects" (Friday), a romantic comedy about the pharmaceutical industry. Yes, that's right.
"Separate Lies" (Sept. 16), in which Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, Linda Basset and Tom Wilkinson experience the ups and downs of romance.
"The Baxter" (Sept. 16), which follows the comic mishaps of a young man two weeks before his wedding.
"Roll Bounce" (Sept. 23), with no less than Bow Wow as a 1970s roller skating champ hoping a pretty girl will give him a chance.
"Last Holiday" (Oct. 7) traces the emotional and geographical journey of a reserved young woman, diagnosed with a fatal illness, who decides to take one final vacation.
"Elizabethtown" (Oct. 14). Director Cameron Crowe showed in "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" that he knows how to handle family tensions without resorting to kitchen-sink melodrama. Orlando Bloom plays a yuppie who, after a major career setback, returns to his old Kentucky home for the funeral of the father he hardly knew. Susan Sarandon is his cynical mom and Kirsten Dunst is the smiling flight attendant who helps navigate his journey to self-discovery. Expect a strong musical score.
"The Weather Man" (Oct. 28). Ever wonder what television personalities are like off the tube? According to this comedy-drama, it isn't pretty. Nicolas Cage plays the title character, whose broad smile masks a mile of insecurities. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) wishes he could just get something right for once in his life, and their two children are going through difficult times. And then there's his brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning father (Michael Caine), whose disapproval is unspoken but obvious.
Among other possible heart-tuggers:
"An Unfinished Life" (Friday), in which Robert Redford battles with onetime daughter-in-law Jennifer Lopez, with Morgan Freeman as referee.
"King of the Corner" (Friday), is based on a group of short stories called "Bad Jews and Other Stories." The film's getting good buzz with a strong cast headed by Peter Riegert and Isabella Rossellini.
"Dancing in Twilight" (Sept. 16), which tells the poignant tale of a successful immigrant mourning the death of his beloved wife. Filmed entirely in Houston.
"The Thing About My Folks" (Sept. 16) marks Paul Reiser's feature-film writing debut in a father-and-son reunion tale.
"In Her Shoes" (Oct. 7), in which beautiful, irresponsible Cameron Diaz drives workaholic sister Toni Collette bonkers. Shirley MacLaine plays granny. Based on a popular novel.
"The Gospel" (Oct. 7) charts the journey of a prodigal son, now a successful rhythm and blues singer, who returns home to find his father's church has fallen into evil hands.
"Everything Is Illuminated" (Oct. 7), with Elijah Wood, best-known as Frodo, on another noble quest, this time to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II.
"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" (Oct. 14), in which Julianne Moore plays another '50s housewife but in a lighter vein than in The Hours or Far From Heaven. It's a true story about the mother of 10 kids who keeps winning jingle contests.
"Dreamer (Oct. 21)" boasts Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell as a kid and her pop who nurture an injured racehorse to championship status.
"Fierce People" (Oct. 21), with Diane Lane as a New Yorker, longing to join her son's father, an anthropologist in South America.
"The Family Stone" (Nov. 4), about the insiders and outsiders of a holiday family gathering and featuring an impressive cast of Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney and Claire Danes.
"Zathura" (Nov. 11), in which a children's board game springs to life and gives two young brothers a space adventure.
"Bee Season" (Nov. 11), with Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche as the problem-plagued parents of a young girl who unexpectedly becomes a spelling champion.
"Forty Shades of Blue" (Nov. 11) features Rip Torn as a famous Memphis music producer visited by his long-estranged son.
"The Legend of Zorro" (Oct. 28). Maybe this adventure will prove that sequels aren't always ignominious. Catherine Zeta-Jones practically stole 1998's "Mask of Zorro" from Antonio Banderas, and now they're back in a swashbuckling chapter that begins 10 years later. In this one, Ms. Z-J reportedly proved to onlookers that she has the makings of a dynamic stuntwoman. She dons a mask and swashes alongside Antonio's Zorro in order to ensure California's statehood.
"The Man" (Friday), with Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy as an odd couple of law enforcers.
"Lord of War" (Sept. 16), a thoughtful and thought-provoking action drama with Nicolas Cage as an arms dealer pursued by Ethan Hawke. It points a finger at America's role in arms trafficking.
"Cry Wolf" (Sept. 16), in which inventing the myth of a serial killer is one way to brighten the ennui of private-school students.
"Mirror Mask" (Sept. 30), a fantasy adventure in which a 15-year-old dreams of finding the titular accessory that will save a magical kingdom.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played" (Sept. 30), with Bill Paxton directing the story of the history-making 1913 U.S. Open, in which newcomer golfer Francis Ouimet triumphed.
"Serenity" (Sept. 30) cannot be expected to live up to its title in this adaptation of the TV show "Firefly," set 500 years in the future.
"Into the Blue" (Sept. 30), in which Jessica Alba, Paul Walker, Scott Caan and Josh Brolin search for treasure deep in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean Sea.
"Domino" (Oct. 14), with athletic, photogenic Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey, onetime supermodel turned bounty hunter who died mysteriously this summer.
"Doom" (Oct.21), with The Rock journeying to another planet in this movie derived from a video game.
"Saw II" (Oct. 28), in which the Jigsaw Killer returns and crosses paths with Donnie Wahlberg.
"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" (Nov. 11), with the emphasis on humor as well as mayhem, as gay private eye Val Kilmer trains thief-turned-actor Robert Downey Jr. for his role as a detective.
KNOTS OF SUSPENSE
"Flightplan" (Sept. 23). Can't Jodie Foster ever settle down and have fun in a movie? She's won Oscars as a rape victim in "The Accused" and as a serial killer's nervous confidante in "The Silence of the Lambs." And now she plays a grieving widow whose 6-year-old daughter disappears mid-flight from Berlin to New York. When everyone insists that the child never existed, she doesn't even have "Red Eye's" Rachel McAdams to lend a helping hand.
"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (Friday), which is more psychological drama than horror allegory, with a prestigious cast headed by Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson and Campbell Scott.
"A History of Violence" (Sept. 23), with "Lord of the Rings" alum Viggo Mortensen directed by David Cronenberg in a multilayered tale of revenge and retribution.
"The Fog" (Oct. 14), from John Carpenter's 1980 thriller about a coastal town plagued by foggy ghosts seeking revenge.
"Where the Truth Lies" (Oct. 21), wherein an enterprising journalist investigates a long-ago case in which entertainers Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth found a dead girl in their motel room.
"Stay" (Oct. 21), in which psychiatrist Ewan McGregor has his hands full with suicidal patient Ryan Gosling and his own once-suicidal girlfriend Naomi Watts.
"The Roost" (Oct. 21), with four friends finding all sorts of undead creatures in an isolated farm.
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (Nov. 9), with sensitive director Jim Sheridan ("In America, My Left Foot") tracing Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's crime-filled trek from street thug to gangsta rapper, with Fiddy playing himself.