Fall is for film lovers. Summer brims with high-octane action and CGI-spectacle, but fall is where we find adroit storytelling, earnest drama, and identifiable characters. From now until mid-November, the cineplex will get quieter, more thoughtful, and that's always a welcome relief. Certainly, there will be bellicose sequels and sci-fi tent-poles, but these become the exception and not the rule for the next three months. Fall is the time for bountiful cinematic harvests, and this year's crop looks especially promising. Here are 11 films (listed chronologically) set for release between now and the end of November that are guaranteed to nourish you and leave you wanting more.
1. 'Enough Said' (9/20)
Director: Nicole Holofcener
In Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, Enough Said features two performers who oscillate effortlessly between vulgar and vulnerable. These two might be the perfect duo to keep a dramedy about life after marriage from feeling cheap or saccharine. Though Enough Said is one of Gandolfini's last performances — reason enough to see it — the film will likely give audiences more than just a fitting tribute to the late actor.
2. 'Prisoners' (9/20)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Prisoners seems like the kind of movie I'd dismiss for being out of its element: a brainless summer thriller arriving a few week too late. However, there's a ferocity in Hugh Jackman's performance that's both harrowing and enthralling; it simultaneously draws me to the theater and makes me wonder why his Wolverine lacks the same intensity. Bolstered by a talented cast and intriguing concept, Prisoners may be that rare September film that breaks the $100 million box office mark.
3. 'Gravity' (10/4)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
If we believe the buzz out of the Telluride and Venice film festivals, this year's Academy Awards belong to Cuarón and his gripping film, Gravity. I'm not one to buy into the hype, but I certainly buy into the film's first trailer. I only needed a peek at the bravura visual effects, the desperation in Sandra Bullock's voice, and the haunting image of Bullock's tiny, white figure receding into the vastness of space to know that Gravity will be among 2013's most talked-about movies.
4. 'Captain Phillips' (10/11)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Normally, the combined pedigree of Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass would be enough to sell this movie to me, but the first trailer left me uneasy. Any movie that takes on modern piracy runs the same risk of films that tackle terrorism: oversimplifying the conflict as victimized whites against hordes of savage foreigners. However, the film's second trailer (included above) suggests a more nuanced approach. The pirate's reply, "Maybe in America," indicates a film that might be equally sympathetic to hostage and hostage-taker, and I'm intrigued.
5. '12 Years a Slave' (10/18)
Director: Steve McQueen
Last year's Django Unchained dove into America's sordid history with violence and sensationalism, and while it may have suggested some hard truths, those truth were sometimes undermined by Tarantino's stylization. In contrast, British director Steve McQueen delivers an unflinching film focused on American slavery, but sees no need to soften the punches with pithy dialogue or cartoon-ish villains. Instead, McQueen, will likely challenge his audience in ways that make most American directors squeamish, and we, along with the Academy, will likely thank him for it.
6. 'The Fifth Estate' (10/18)
Director: Bill Condon
Here, Benedict Cumberbatch continues his already impressive career, this time as controversial WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. It's the kind of role that screams Oscar, and the film itself is sure to dive into topics just as relevant today as when WikiLeaks and Assange became household names in 2010. The power of information is not a new theme in Hollywood, but few films are as well positioned as The Fifth Estate to examine how deep that power runs.
7. 'The Counselor' (10/25)
Director: Ridley Scott
What do you get when you mix a film directed by Ridley Scott, an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, and a weird haircut on Javier Bardem? A film that practically mints its own Academy Awards. No one transforms lowlifes into high art like McCarthy, and when Ridley Scott remains earthbound, his cinematography can make a film seem otherworldly — in the best possible way. I can't sell this movie any better than its trailer, so watch it again, and mark October 25th on your calendar.
8. 'All is Lost' (10/25)
Director: J.C. Chandor
A film with almost no dialogue may not appeal to many, but audiences avoid All is Lost at their own peril. J.C. Chandor's story of a lone man (Robert Redford) attempting to survive at sea may be light on speech, but it is ripe with thematic content. This may be the rare film that delivers a quiet yet exciting meditation on survival, solitude, and aging. I always welcome a little heart-pounding with my soul-searching.
9. 'Dallas Buyers Club' (11/1)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Has any other actor reversed his fading fortunes as quickly and effectively as Matthew McConaughey? Once dismissed as a pretty face and empty head, the last two years have seen McConaughey accept one smart, challenging role after another; he plays each with charisma, thoughtfulness, and of course, that Texas twang. He's become one of the most sought after actors for films with both heart and brain, and Dallas Buyers Club looks like it continues the McConaughey renaissance.
10. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (11/15)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Whenever Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio join forces, we pay attention. Add in a trailer featuring Kanye West's "Black Skinhead," and we're already reserving tickets. Scorsese is always at his finest when plumbing America's darker recesses for insights and truths. His movies might focus on a mobster, a crooked cop, or a washed up boxer, but he's really holding up a mirror to us, revealing the blemishes most of society ignores. So what happens when he turns his lens on the most crooked gangsters of all, those wolves of Wall Street? My guess is that we'll love — and loathe — what we see.
11. 'Nebraska' (11/22)
Director: Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne returns with a monochrome tale of family, regret, and growing old. Although Nebraska features all the trademarks of a Payne movie (generational tension, suffering protagonist, strained masculinity), by all accounts it is a more restrained film than 2011's The Descendants — and that's a compliment. Featuring a welcome dramatic turn from comedian Will Forte and a Cannes Best Actor-winning performance from veteran actor Bruce Dern, Nebraska may be the perfect alternative for those wishing to avoid The Hunger Games crowd that weekend. I'd certainly rather be in Nebraska than Panem.