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This fall movie season has a lot of ground to make up after a pretty mediocre summer

Fall features 

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A few stellar family films aside, this was a largely disappointing summer at the movies, filled with one ho-hum blockbuster release after another. So this fall movie season has a lot of ground to make up.

For better or worse, autumn is traditionally the time when studios release their tastiest Oscar bait, chumming the water in the hopes of attracting that all-important award-season glory. But that means the next few months will be bringing us most of the year's "best" films, so there's plenty for moviegoers to look forward to. I've attempted to sort through some of the most promising titles.

(Just a note: Michael Keaton's "The Founder," made it into my summer movie preview, but was later shifted to a more Oscar-friendly December slot, though it might not make its way to Rochester theaters until January.)

As always, remember that movie release dates are subject to change, so be sure to check local listings before you go gallivanting off to the theater. Click the links for trailers.

"Blair Witch": Until two months ago, this was just an unassuming little horror flick called "The Woods," from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (behind excellent genre films "You're Next" and "The Guest"). But a screening at this year's San Diego Comic-Con revealed the film to be a stealth sequel to influential 1999 found-footage horror flick, "The Blair Witch Project." I love Wingard and Barrett's work, and the original "Blair Witch" remains one of my favorite horror films, so yeah, I'm there. (9/16)

"Snowden": Polarizing director Oliver Stone tackles the even more divisive story of Edward Snowden. Based on trailers, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has done a disconcertingly good job capturing the NSA whistleblower's voice and mannerisms, but it remains to be seen whether the film will feel redundant in the wake of Laura Poitras' great Oscar-winning doc "Citizenfour." (9/16)

"The Magnificent Seven": Antoine Fuqua's remake of the classic John Sturges western (which was in turn an American remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai") about a band of outlaws hired to protect a town against a gang of malicious bandits. The cast is killer: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, and Byung-hun Lee ("I Saw the Devil"). But I'm just hoping for some good ol' fashioned, gunslingin' fun. (9/23)

"American Honey": Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, this road-trip drama from director Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank") tells the story of a group of teenagers who form a makeshift family as they travel across the country, selling magazines, partying, and getting into some criminal mischief. (9/30)

"Queen of Katwe": Based on the true story of young Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, this film's trailers have ladled the "inspirational Disney family film" tone on a little thick for my tastes, but with Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding") directing and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o (in her first non-motion capture role in years) and David Oyelowo starring, there's plenty of reason to be intrigued. (9/30)

"Cameraperson": Coming to Rochester for a single screening as part of the Little's One Take documentary series, cinematographer Kirsten Johnson uses footage she's shot for other filmmaker's documentaries (including "Citizenfour," "Fahrenheit 9/11," and "The Invisible War") to craft a unique, first-person memoir that chronicles her life and career. (10/4)

"The Girl on the Train": Clearly aiming for the slot of "this year's 'Gone Girl,'" here's another tangled thriller about the search for a missing woman, based on a buzzy best-selling novel. Emily Blunt stars as a divorcée who forms an obsession with the seemingly happy married couple who live near the home she once shared with her ex-husband. But when the wife mysteriously disappears, Blunt becomes the prime suspect. And hey, I loved "Gone Girl." (10/7)

"The Handmaiden": Based on the novel "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters (with the story transplanted from Victorian-era Britain to 1930's Korea), a young woman is hired as a handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese heiress, though she's secretly in league with a con man plotting to steal the heiress's fortune. Director Chan-Wook Park ("Oldboy") is no stranger to brutal tales of revenge, and by all accounts the latest — nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes — is his most twisted one yet. (10/14)

"Moonlight": This ambitious coming-of-age story spans a young African-American man's life – from childhood through adulthood – picking up during three different periods as he navigates the temptations of violence and drugs in Miami's inner city while coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his best friend. (10/21)

"Loving": With this civil rights drama, director Jeff Nichols shifts 180 degrees from his moody sci-fi fable "Midnight Special," released this past spring. Oscar buzz has swirled around the performances of Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who star as Mildred and Richard Loving, the mixed-race couple whose 1958 arrest for the crime of interracial marriage led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. (11/4)

"Arrival": Amy Adams plays a linguist tasked with determining whether a fleet of alien spacecrafts that have landed on Earth mean us harm. Co-starring Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg, director Denis Villeneuve's alien invasion tale looks to strike a more cerebral tone than the average sci-fi blockbuster. (11/11)

"Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk": Ang Lee directs this big-budget adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel about the inner turmoil of an Iraq War hero being honored during halftime of the 2004 Super Bowl. In a first, Lee shot his film at 120 frames per second, a technique that supposedly offers the clearest — and ostensibly the most authentic — picture ever delivered by a film. For comparison, Peter Jackson shot "The Hobbit" at 48fps, to mixed reaction from audiences. (11/11)

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them": Director David Yates stumbled with this summer's "The Legend of Tarzan," but with this prequel set in the wizarding world of "Harry Potter," he has a chance to redeem himself. Me? I'm just excited for the gorgeous, magical 1920's New York City production design. (11/18)

"Manchester By the Sea": Blindsided by the unexpected death of his brother, a man (Casey Affleck) returns home to care for his nephew in Kenneth Lonergan's widely acclaimed examination of grief and loss. Since its rapturously received Sundance premiere, Oscar talk has already started swirling around both Affleck and Michelle Williams, for her portrayal of Affleck's estranged ex-wife. (11/18)

"Nocturnal Animals": In fashion designer Tom Ford's second feature since 2009's "A Single Man," Amy Adams plays the ex-wife of a novelist who suspects that his latest murderous literary work is actually doubling as a threat. The rest of the cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and with Ford at the helm, you know that at the very least the movie's going to look gorgeous. (12/9)

"La La Land": My most eagerly anticipated film of the year is director Damien Chazelle's follow-up to his phenomenal jazz thriller, "Whiplash." Hopefully less anxiety-inducing than that film, this swooning romance features Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who fall in love against the backdrop of modern-day Los Angeles. (12/16)

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story": The first spin-off story of the "Star Wars" film franchise follows a team assigned to steal plans for the Death Star. With "The Force" Awakens," J.J. Abrams got this new batch of Star Wars films off to a great start, and hopefully "Godzilla" director Gareth Edwards can keep that momentum going. (12/16)

"Passengers": A luxury spacecraft making a 120-year trek to a far-off interstellar colony suffers a malfunction to its sleep chamber, causing two of its 5,000 passengers to be woken up 90 years early. Powered by the charisma supernova that is Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and directed by Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game"), this sci-fi love story from comes piled high with expectations. (12/21)

"Fences": Denzel Washington directs Viola Davis, as they each reprise their Tony-winning roles from the acclaimed 2010 stage production of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a working-class family struggling against the heightened racial climate of 1950's Pittsburgh. (12/25)

"Toni Erdmann": The general consensus for the title of most well-reviewed film at this year's Cannes, this German film focuses on the complicated relationship between a prankster father and his adult daughter. (12/25)

"Silence": Martin Scorsese directs this story set in the 17th century, where two Jesuit priests face persecution after traveling to Japan, where they attempt to spread the teachings of Christianity. There's been some debate over whether the film will be finished in time for a 2016 release, but with a living legend like Scorsese and a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver, as long as it makes the deadline, it seems a safe bet that Oscar will take note. (TBD)

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