Fall Preview: Movies; Summer's over, School Is Back, but the Consolation of Fall Was Always That the Best Films, Shows, CDs and Books Were Ripe for Picking. Now There's Too Much Competition, Too Much Stuff. How to Figure out What's Worthy? Here Is a Warts-and-All Preview, Arranged from Sublime to Subprime
'No Country for Old Men,' 11/9: The mighty Coen brothers have been in a rut. Their last two films, "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers," both big-studio comedies, flopped. But they're back on familiar ground with this eye-popping adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's brutal thriller about a Texas man who finds a case of drug money, then goes on the run from a sheriff and a killer. Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin costar, but the film belongs to Javier Bardem, whose insanely terrifying killer turn is an instant classic.
'Lust, Caution,' 9/28: Once Ang Lee became the first nonwhite filmmaker to win an Oscar for best director, the sensible career move would've been to sell out and do a "Harry Potter" movie. Instead, his "Brokeback Mountain" follow-up is this period spy thriller filmed entirely in Chinese and featuring an all-Asian cast. Lee pulled off this trick before with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Then again, that movie had kung fu. "Lust, Caution" is a World War II melodrama about a young woman who volunteers to seduce, and kill, a dissident Shanghai politician, played by Tony Leung ("Hero"). Consider us excited, nervous.
'There Will Be Blood,' 12/26: Five years after his last film, Paul Thomas Anderson abandons the San Fernando Valley, the setting of "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," for the oilfields of California in the early 20th century. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as an ambitious prospector who runs roughshod over everyone in his rise as an oil baron. Partly based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!," it's a change of pace for the director, but as usual he's tackling big issues: oil, religion, family, capitalism. And, apparently, spilling plenty of blood.
'The Golden Compass,' 12/7: If you're not familiar with author Philip Pullman's mesmerizing young-adult trilogy "His Dark Materials," this adaptation of the first book might seem like a bid to recapture some "Lord of the Rings" box-office magic. But this isn't some two-bit knockoff. Literary critics around the world consider Pullman to be a modern-day Tolkien, and "His Dark Materials," the tale of an irascible girl named Lyra who investigates why children are disappearing all over England, is Pullman's masterpiece. Written and directed by Chris Weitz ("About a Boy"), the film stars Nicole Kidman as Lyra's mother, the villainous Miss Coulter, and Daniel Craig as her globe-trotting father.
'Margot at the Wedding,' 11/16: If you liked "The Squid and the Whale," you won't want to miss Noah Baumbach's latest seriocomedy about smart, neurotic people messing with each other's heads. This one stars Nicole Kidman (again) as the title character, a high-strung New York novelist off to the wedding of her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, the director's wife). Kidman doesn't approve of the prospective groom (uber -slacker Jack Black), and she isn't shy about saying so. Family relations go from gnarly to gnarlier. Baumbach's movie has been selected for the New York Film Festival, and those folks are picky .
'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly,' 12/19: Artist Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls" showed he was as formidable with a camera as a canvas. To judge from its reception at the Cannes film festival, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is another out-of-the-ordinary experience. The superb French actor Mathieu Almaric stars as the womanizing editor of Elle magazine who suffers a stroke that paralyzes his entire body. But he can communicate by blinking his one good eye, and with that eye he wrote the acclaimed memoir that's the basis for this movie. If that sounds grim--well, at least the cast is filled with beautiful women.
'Lions For Lambs,' 11/9: The Iraq War began in 2003. By 2004, it was a mess. Given that movies take about three years to make, start to finish, we should expect Hollywood to begin delivering Iraq War movies by the bushel right about ... now. And here they come. 'RENDITION,', 10/19, starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal; 'THE KINGDOM,'9/28, with Jamie Foxx, and Paul Haggis's 'In The Valley of Elah,' 9/14, are all scheduled to arrive in theaters before "Lions for Lambs," but only "Lions" can boast this triple threat: Tom Cruise. …