By now you know how Hollywood works, saving its finest films for year's end, with a couple of non-prestige (read: fun) offerings counterprogrammed against all that Oscar bait. You've probably also noticed that the studios tend to cluster their most promising submissions around a holiday. This means that you might find yourself stuck with some unpleasant downtime, weekends that you'll no doubt be expected to participate in social events or rake something.
Not on my watch! This 2011 Fall Movie Preview is designed to keep you busy through the end of the year, highlighting one newly released film per week so that you will remain entertained through the autumn. Because you can't clean the gutters if you're at a movie theater.
"Drive": After wowing the arthouse world with 2009's heart-pounding "Bronson," Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn makes the leap to the multiplex with this action noir about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) whose side job as a wheel man goes quite well! Wait; I mean badly. Co-starring Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and the luscious Christina Hendricks. (9/16)
"Moneyball": Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, and Jonah Hill star for "Capote" director Bennett Miller in this Aaron Sorkin/Steven Zaillian-scripted adaptation of Michael Lewis' nonfiction bestseller that tells how Oakland A's manager Billy Beane fielded a team via sabermetrics, which uses statistical analysis to evaluate the performances of individual players. (9/23)
"50/50": Cancer, which is rarely funny, takes center stage in this candid buddy comedy by director Jonathan Levine (2008's "The Wackness") and writer/survivor Will Reiser about a recently diagnosed young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his efforts to conquer the disease. With Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, and Anjelica Huston. (9/30)
"The Ides of March": Talk about a dream team: Ryan Gosling and George Clooney lead a top-tier cast -- including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei -- in this Clooney-directed drama about a young political strategist in possession of a secret that could derail his candidate's presidential campaign. (10/7)
"The Big Year": It's that competitive-birdwatching movie you've been waiting for, with Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin starring for "Marley and Me" director David Frankel in this comedy about three avid birders who compete in a year-long contest across North America to spot the rarest fowl. (10/14)
"The Three Musketeers": My all-time favorite novel gets its zillionth re-working, this time in 3-freaking-D with Matthew McFadyen, Ray Stevenson, and Luke Evans as the titular swashbucklers, MillaJovovich as the double-dealing Milady de Winter, and "InglouriousBasterds" Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the evil Cardinal Richelieu. Admittedly, this liberally steampunk interpretation could suck, but I can't wait. (10/21)
"Anonymous": German action auteur Roland Emmerich ("2012") directs this historical thriller about a power struggle in the Elizabethan court that addresses the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of Shakespeare's works. Starring Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, and Vanessa Redgrave as the Virgin Queen. (10/28)
"A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas": After his stint in the Obama administration, Kal Penn returns to actual important work, reuniting with John Cho for another go-round as two of our favorite stoners, this time trying to save the holiday after burning down Harold's father-in-law's prized Christmas tree. Featuring, of course, Neil Patrick Harris. (11/4)
"Immortals"/"Take Shelter": Decisions, decisions. On the one hand you've got Tarsem Singh's follow-up to 2008's spectacular "The Fall"; this violent 3D adventure-fantasy pits the peasant Theseus (future Superman Henry Cavill) against Greek god Hyperion (Mickey Rourke!). But then there's the second film from talented "Shotgun Stories" director Jeff Nichols, reteaming with Michael Shannon as an unsettled husband and father wondering whether he should protect his family from a looming storm or from himself. (11/11)
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy": Gary Oldman stars for Swedish director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") as John le Carré's timeless hero George Smiley, here on the trail of an MI6 mole who could be Tom Hardy ("Inception"), Irish treasure Ciarán Hinds, or Oscar winner Colin Firth. (11/18)
"A Dangerous Method": This pre-WWI period piece finds Canadian director David Cronenberg exploring the friendship between psychiatrist Carl Jung (X-Man Michael Fassbender) and his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), which complicates following Jung's affair with a troubled Russian woman (Keira Knightley). (11/23)
"Coriolanus": The great Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this revamp of the Shakespeare tragedy, which retains the play's dialogue but modernizes the setting for the story of an exiled Roman general (Fiennes) who aligns himself with an old enemy (Gerard Butler) for a little revenge. With Brian Cox and the suddenly everywhere Jessica Chastain. (12/2)
"The Sitter": Let's give David Gordon Green a mulligan on "Your Highness" and keep our hopes up for his next raunchy comedy, which stars Jonah Hill as a suspended college student coerced into watching the kids next door, only to find him and his charges on an odyssey through nighttime New York City. Co-starring Sam Rockwell and "Nick and Norah" scene-stealer Ari Graynor. (12/9)
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows": We finally lay eyes on Holmes' nemesis Moriarty (Jared Harris, "Mad Men") in Guy Ritchie's sequel, naturally featuring Robert Downey Jr. as the title sleuth and Jude Law as the long-suffering Dr. Watson. Now they're helping a fortune teller ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" herself, NoomiRapace) being menaced by the malevolent professor. (12/16)
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close": Jonathan SafranFoer's acclaimed 2005 novel hits the screen in the hands of Stephen Daldry ("The Reader"), directing Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and newcomer Thomas Horn in the tale of a young boy searching for the lock to match the strange key left him by his father, who died on 9/11. (12/25)
Remember: release dates are never etched in stone.