For the past couple weeks, even television coverage of the Olympics and political party conventions has been more interesting than the dull crop of new releases rolling out to theaters.
In a short time, though, the fall movie season will begin, and with it will come a roster of major awards season releases and studio prestige films.
Some big ones - like the stage play adaptation "Doubt," Baz Luhrmann's epic "Australia," Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" and the Sean Penn biopic "Milk" - fail to excite me, but there are at least 20 films on the horizon that should be worth seeing for one reason or another. (It may have been 21, had "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" not been pushed back to next summer.)
1) "Body of Lies" (Oct. 10) - I recently wrote that Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are two of the only actors whom I still completely respect as performers. So naturally, I can't wait to see the two go head-to-head in Ridley Scott's CIA counter-terrorism thriller, with DiCaprio as an undercover field agent and Crowe as his shady handler. Crowe has done well with Scott in the past (see: "Gladiator"), and DiCaprio has proven he can produce good work even when he's not working with Scorsese. It'll be an interesting combination of talents, at the very least.
2) "Quantum of Solace" (Nov. 7) - Questionable title notwithstanding, this is shaping up to be a suitable follow-up to "Casino Royale." With that film, the entire James Bond world got turned on its head - a shake-up that resulted in the best Bond movie ever. This one picks up hours after the first film ended, with rookie agent 007 tracking down the people responsible for Vesper Lynd's death. An angry, vengeful, rogue James Bond is a daunting a prospect, so I'm fully prepared for some butt-kicking of previously unattainable levels.
3) "Burn After Reading" (Sept. 12) - A year after taking the critical community (and, later, the Oscars) by storm with "No Country for Old Men," the Coen Brothers return with the season's first promising title. It's being advertised as a return to their silly "Raising Arizona" days, which I'm not too psyched about. However, the sight of John Malkovich as a hammer-wielding CIA killer is sufficiently crazy to get me on board with this star-studded outing also starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand.
4) "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Dec. 25) - In David Fincher's latest, Brad Pitt stars as a man who was born with a defect that causes him to age backwards. Now, I haven't read the original story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but does that mean we'll be treated to the sight of a full-grown, 80-year-old Brad Pitt emerging from the womb, sorta like in that one "Saturday Night Live" skit with Will Ferrell? I don't know, but I'm willing to trust the always reliable Fincher ("Fight Club," "Se7en") to make the best of a bizarre premise.
5) "Revolutionary Road" (Dec. 26) - Leonardo DiCaprio makes another appearance, this time as he re-teams with his "Titanic" co-star, Kate Winslet. In this troubled-marriage drama from director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty," "Jarhead"), they play a young couple coping with the confines of a 1960s suburban lifestyle. Here's hoping it's not too dreary and melodramatic, but if anyone can attempt '60s suburban angst and make it look good, it's these guys.
6) "The Spirit" (Dec. 25) - The trailer makes it look like a retread of "Sin City" (not that there's anything wrong with that), but reportedly this new film from writer/director Frank Miller has a style all its own. I think a non-DC/Marvel superhero flick could do the genre some good, and who isn't always up for some crazy Samuel L. Jackson action?
7) "Appaloosa" (Sept. 17) - For the first time since 2000's "Pollack," Ed Harris returns to the director's chair for this western about a lawman (Harris) trying to clean up a dangerous town. Viggo Mortensen plays his partner, and if they can replicate some of the tension they helped create in "A History of Violence," this could be the rare western that appeals to those who, like me, usually avoid the genre.
8) "The Road" (Nov. 14) - Based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this post-apocalyptic drama stars Viggo Mortensen as a father trying to protect his son in a desolate world plagued by nuclear winter and mass starvation. It'll be a downer, sure, but after "No Country for Old Men," I'm looking forward to a three-year Cormac McCarthy kick that culminates in the release of "Blood Meridian" in 2009.
9) "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (Oct. 31) - You've gotta love Kevin Smith, but even his admirers must concede that he has failed to demonstrate that he can generate laughs outside the View Askewniverse. This promisingly raunchy (but sweet!) comedy stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as friends who decide to make a little money peddling smut, and it may be Smith's ticket to a wider fan base.
10) ""RocknRolla" (Oct. 08) - Guy Ritchie makes a return to the familiar gangland territory he previously explored in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch." And it'd better be good, or the struggling filmmaker could be persona non grata for the foreseeable future.
10 more films I'm looking forward to:
• "Righteous Kill" (Sept. 12) - Much like Guy Ritchie, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino could redeem themselves in one bold stroke with this police thriller.
• "Lakeview Terrace" (Sept. 19) - Remember what I said about crazy Samuel L. Jackson? In Neil LaBute's latest, he plays a power-mad cop. And it doesn't get much more terrifyingly crazy than that.
• "Blindness" (Sept. 26) - Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardener") directs Julianne Moore, who plays the last remaining sighted person on Earth in this apocalyptic drama.
• "Happy-Go-Lucky" (Oct. 10) - Following 2004's "Vera Drake," Mike Leigh director returns with a light-hearted comedy about a schoolteacher. A switch-up, to be sure, but a welcome one.
• "W." (Oct. 17) - Hey, I'm curious.
• "The Brothers Bloom" (Oct. 24) - Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody star as brothers who also operate as con men in this new film from "Brick" director Rian Johnson. What can I say? I'm a fan of the genre.
• "Pride and Glory" (Oct. 24) - If De Niro and Pacino can't deliver the goods with their gritty cop drama, then hopefully Edward Norton and Colin Farrell can with theirs.
• "Synecdoche, New York" (Oct. 24) - You can always count on Charlie Kaufman (the writer of "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") to deliver something intriguing, and this comedy about a man creating a life-size replica of New York should be no exception.
• "Frost/Nixon" (Dec. 5) - Michael Sheen didn't get enough credit for his amazing turn as Tony Blair in "The Queen," but perhaps that mistake will be rectified when critics see his highly touted turn in Ron Howard's film about David Frost's notable 1977 interview with disgraced former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, reprising his stage role along with Sheen).
• "Defiance" (Dec. 12) - In Edward Zwick's latest period piece, Daniel Craig plays a Polish resistance fighter in World War II who joins his two brothers in their campaign against the Nazis. I've always wished James Bond could somehow go back in time and fight the Nazis, and this is close enough for me.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.