Fall Movie Preview 2010: The Dramas

Our fall preview begins with the dramas. The fall is a peculiar time for drama. Most major/buzzworthy dramas debut at festivals in the fall and get released to the general public during the holiday season, but many Oscar gems have come from October and early November.

And then there are the stinkers. Not every film appearing in October or November that’s a drama is a real threat in the Oscar race, some not even close. So, which are which? I’ve ranked these films based on potential quality and overall buzz. Check out these eight dramas, watch the trailers and then you be the judge.

8. Secretariat (Oct. 8)

Directed by Randall Wallace
Written by Mike Rich, William Nack (book)
Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, James Cromwell

The Word: Thought Seabiscuit was cool? Now comes the story of Secretariat from Disney, the horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973 despite the impossible odds against him and his owner, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane). It’s an unlikely combination of sports underdog story and feminism. Written by Mike Rich (“The Rookie,” “Finding Forrester”) and directed by Randall Wallace (“We Were Soldiers,” “The Man in the Iron Mask”).

My Thoughts: If this were 2003, I would say enough with the horse movies, but it’s been awhile and Disney is very selective with its sports underdog movies. “The Rookie” and “Miracle” are two of the best modern examples. At the same time, this isn’t very original and Diane Lane and John Malkovich aren’y the types who can ride a film to box office success.

7. The Company Men (Oct. 22, limited)

Written and directed by John Wells
Starring: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner

The Word: When the economy turned, Hollywood’s eyes turned to some potential projects involving the emotions of unemployment and job loss, the biggest and most recent film being last year’s Oscar-nominated George Clooney vehicle “Up in the Air.” Now, major television drama producer/writer/director John Wells (“The West Wing,” “E.R.” and most recently “Southland”) tackles the subject in his film “The Company Men,” which follows three employees after a corporate downsizing and their consequent struggles in their personal and professional lives.

My Thoughts: The talents are pretty top-notch for this film despite it seeming like an ordinary every-man uplifting drama. It’s not often that guys like Jones and Costner take roles these days, so that should say something about Wells’ script. I’m not sure if “Company” will be full of any surprises, but at least it’s about realistic people and realistic problems, two items not usually on Hollywood’s menu. The film opens in limited release Oct. 22 and wide on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5

6. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sept. 22)

Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto

The Word: Woody Allen looks to continue his mini-revival after earning back some acclaim for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and the more neo-Woody comedy last summer in “Whatever Works.” This time, he’s in London for “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” which has a similar feel to “Manhattan” or “Hannah and Her Sisters.” The film focuses on an older married couple and their daughter and her husband and the new people that come into their lives and mess things up.

My Thoughts: There was a time this past decade when you just sort of made a mental note about Woody Allen’s latest film and didn’t actually take it seriously, but he’s been on a role the last couple years. At first, “Match Point” seemed to be the only highlight in 2005, but “Barcelona” was easily his best film of the last 10 years. Now, he’s getting to work with a mix of veterans (Hopkins, Antonio Banderas), stars in their prime (Watts, Brolin) and emerging talents (Freida Pinto). The success is likely rooted in his exploration of unlikely romances and the multi-generational feel of “Stranger” should continue that trend. The film got a decent but not rave reception at Cannes.

5. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Sept. 24)

Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff and Stanley Weiser, Oliver Stone (characters)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin

The Word: Initially scheduled for April, the sequel to the 1987 film sneaks onto the fall schedule where it feels a bit more appropriate. Also appropriate is waiting 23 years for this sequel, where “greed is good” isn’t exactly the fashionable phrase these days around Wall Street. Oliver Stone takes a break from political filmmaking to bring Gordon Gekko back to the screen along with some up-and-comers in LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan. Mulligan plays Gekko’s daughter and LaBeouf her fiance who gets tangled up in “the family business.”

My Thoughts: Fox has to feel somewhat good about this to move it to September, a much better time for dramas, but word at its debut at Cannes was a bit mixed as it was for all American-made films at Cannes this year. Bottom line is that this sequel is mostly there for those who loved the business suave and treacherous nature of the original.

4. Fair Game (Sept. 24)

Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, Joseph Wilson (book), Valerie Plame (book)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn

The Word: “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman brings us this thriller/drama based on the true story of CIA operative Valerie Plame whose identity was leaked to the press and seriously threatened her life and career. Allegedly, the government leaked it as revenge for her husband’s (Penn) editorial in the New York Times questioning the government’s intel about Niger selling uranium to other countries (namely Iraq).

My Thoughts: Watts and Penn have proven themselves in thrillers and dramas alike and Liman is as seasoned as they come in the thriller department. Being based on a true story, it will be particularly interesting to see what the critics have to say about “Fair Game” — but like other films on this list, it was not raved about when it premiered at Cannes.

3. Never Let Me Go (Sept. 17, limited)

Directed by Mark Romanek
Written by Alex Garland, Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling

The Word: Based on the acclaimed novel by “Remains of the Day” author Kazuo Ishiguro, Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo” and numerous music videos for major artists) directs a trio of some of the best young talents out there in a story about young adults who’ve spent their entire lives provided for in a boarding school only to find they’ve been bred to essentially do nothing with their lives as they try and go out on their own at 18 years old. The script comes from usual Danny Boyle collaborator Alex Garland (“Sunshine,” “28 Days Later …”).

My Thoughts: I’m loving the talents in here (Mulligan especially and future Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield) and the story seems like it has a twinge of science fiction which could be interesting, but Romanek wouldn’t seem like the ideal director choice. Currently set for a limited September release, critical reception at the Toronto International Film Festival in a couple weeks and at London in October could determine whether Fox Searchlight — the company responsible for independent underdogs at the Oscars such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Wrestler” and “Crazy Heart” — pushes this film for consideration or one of the other two anticipated releases under its banner due out this fall/winter.

2. 127 Hours (Nov. 5, limited)

Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, Aron Ralston (book)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Lizzy Caplan, Amber Tamblyn

The Word: So you know how I just mentioned Fox Searchlight usually having one significant film in the Oscar race? If it’s not “Never Let Me Go,” it could be Boyle’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning project (that would be “Slumdog Millionaire”), a film based on the true story of rock climber/nature guide Aron Ralston whose arm was trapped under a boulder in a crevice for guess-how-many hours in the Moab Desert.

My Thoughts: Everyone’s eyes are going to be glued to this film as with any film from a recent Oscar winner. It certainly won’t have the scope of “Slumdog,” but if Boyle does well, this could be an intense film experience. This is a big stage for James Franco, who’s come a long way from his Harry Osborn days, doing everything from comedy (“Pineapple Express”) to drama (“Milk”). Based on Ralston’s character in the trailer, it appears that this performance will offer a great balance for the actor. Even if “127 Hours” doesn’t have what it takes to appeal to the masses, it should be well-received as almost all of Boyle’s work has been.

1. The Social Network (Oct. 1)

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin, Ben Mezrich (book)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rashida Jones

The Word: Isn’t it about time a movie about the ever-growing titan that is facebook.com got made? Not only that, but the talents behind it are special. David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) directs with famed “The West Wing” writer Aaron Sorkin on script duty. Emerging talent Jesse Eisenberg stars as facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student who in 2003 launched the instantly popular social networking site and became a billionaire — but not without burning some bridges.

My Thoughts: I’ve been high on “Network” since the beginning. There isn’t a more socially relevant topic right now and it’s being done by two of the best names out there. The trailer has been labeled one of the best of the year so far and the tone seems absolutely juicy. Ideally you’d want a later release date to know confidently that the film will live up to its excellent promotion, but either way, interest is high and so is talent.


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