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Jason Wallis Summer was a bore, but fall movie season offers hope with Clooney, Paltrow and Pitt

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:26 am

I had intended to tackle “30 Minutes or Less” this week, but horrible reviews and the film’s highly questionable subject matter have tilted me toward using this column as an opportunity to take a quick look back on the summer movie season as it winds down, and preview some promising fall/winter releases.

Admittedly, I did miss some key movies this season (“Midnight in Paris,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Captain America” The First Avenger” are honestly the only ones I’m fretting over), but I caught most of the major releases — certainly enough to fairly label 2011 as one of the strangest, most lackluster movie seasons in recent memory.

We’ve seen some strong wide-release films these past couple weeks, but for the most part this summer was a brutal, dreary affair, filled with by-the-numbers sequels and superhero flicks that seemed even more myopic and listless than usual. I didn’t even attempt to survive the likes of “The Green Lantern” or (gulp) “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” as early-summer titles like “Fast Five,” “Thor” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” were more than enough to make me gun-shy for the remainder of the season. (Thankfully, “X-Men: First Class” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” eventually came along to restore the faint glimmer of faith I have in the studio system.) 

This summer, comedy was king. There was your usual assortment of random stinkers (Tom Hanks’ “Larry Crowne” being the worst offender I encountered), but the sleeper hit “Bridesmaids,” the box-office juggernaut “The Hangover, Part II” and the brilliant but less widely seen “Horrible Bosses” made everything worth it in the end. (The latter recently left theaters, but will be on DVD soon enough. Believe it or not, it’s quite possibly the best wide-release film so far this year.)

But the fall movie season looms, so it’s time to get serious. Here are 10 films that should make the season worthwhile for discriminating movie-goers, all set for full runs and listed in order of release date, with accompanying glib remarks. (I’ll follow up with another 10, paired with a review, as we get closer to the November/December blitz.) Most will get reviews, except for the handful that will inevitably be dragged through the mud by critics and earn my bitter prejudice.

“Apollo 18” (Sept. 2) — The latest in the “found footage” horror subgenre that saw recent success with “Paranormal Activity,” this chronicle of an ill-fated secret voyage to the moon looks mighty creepy. If it delivers as promised, let’s just pray there’s no sequel.

“Shark Night 3D” (Sept. 2) — I don’t know much about it, and I don’t particularly care. Provided there’s some cool 3D shark effects and plenty of annoying teenagers served up for gory slaughter, I’m in.

“Contagion” (Sept. 9) — A potboiler if there ever was one, this bio-apocalypse thriller will be bolstered by an all-star cast (Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, etc.) and the steady hand of Oscar-winning auteur Steven Soderbergh. 

“Drive” (Sept. 16) — The crazed Dane Nicolas Winding Refn (best known for “Pusher,” “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising”) makes his Hollywood debut with this hard-boiled character drama set in the underbelly of the L.A. crime world. It picked up the best director award at Cannes, and it’s bar-none my most anticipated movie of the season that doesn’t involve Muppets.

“Straw Dogs” (Sept. 16) — This remake of Sam Peckinpah’s probing, nihilistic classic (itself one of my all-time favorites) will probably be terrible. I’ve come to terms with this. Question is, will it still deliver as a standard home-invasion thriller? Actually, probably not. So maybe we’ll forget about this one after all.

“Moneyball” (Sept. 23) — I have zero interest in playing or watching baseball, much less seeing a movie about the financial workings of the Oakland A’s. Still, after seeing the trailer, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill won me over. Could be cute.

“Red State” (Sept. 23) — With this old-school horror flick about crazed religious/political zealots in America’s Biblebelt, writer/director Kevin Smith is branching waaaay out. And considering his recent output, that can only be a good thing.

“The Ides of March” (Oct. 7) — As a director, George Clooney has always left me a little cold. But he’s adept in a technical sense, so I’ll give him another shot with this heavy-handed political parable. Still waiting to see the passion.

“Wanderlust” (Oct. 7) — Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in an R-rated David Wain comedy about suburbanites who shack up in a counter-culture commune. A lot could go wrong here, but so, so much could go right.

“The Big Year” (Oct. 14) — Steve Martin has been dead to me these past 12 or so years, and I keep waiting for his triumphant return. It probably won’t be this presumably family-oriented farce about a contest to find rare birds, but I’m optimistic given the supporting cast (including Owen Wilson, Dianne Weist and Joel McHale).

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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