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September 12, 2012

Popcorn bucket list: 10 must-see fall movies

By Kristen Page-Kirby
The Washington Post

— Fall was my favorite season long before I started writing about film. I hate heat, I rarely see daylight in the winter, and spring is me and my Zyrtec battling against nature. Now that I make part of my living sitting in dark screening rooms, autumn is extra-special: The end-of-summer movie slump is over — "August" might as well be a synonym for "awful" — and the December crush of Oscar wannabes has yet to begin. This fall brings nine movies I can't wait to see (starting with the most anticipated) and one I can't wait to forget.

1. "Pitch Perfect" (Oct. 5)

Covering the world of competitive a cappella singing, "Pitch Perfect" looks to be the spiritual heir of "Bring it On." That means it could not only be a hilarious theatergoing experience but also become one of those films that captures our attention every time it comes on TV. Anna Kendrick leads the cast, and if you've seen the teenage version of her in 2003's "Camp," you know she can bring it.

2. "Argo" (Oct. 12)

Ben Affleck is well on his way to being known as an excellent director who acts when he feels like it. His follow-up to "The Town" is "Argo," based on the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie (titled "Argo") to extract six Americans from Tehran after the U.S. embassy takeover in 1979. The trailer suggests a nail-biter all the more engaging because the story really happened. Also, it promises impressive '70s hairdos.

3. "The Master" (Sept. 21)

I will read anything — anything! — about Scientology, and I think Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors who has never missed a step. After months of dodging the issue, Anderson finally admitted this week that "The Master" was inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Throw in Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and this movie could only be better with a dance-off.

4. "Lincoln" (Nov. 16)

The trailer for "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's latest film, hasn't hit the Internet yet, but the poster alone is causing a stir (as are reports that everyone on set referred to Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Abe, as "Mr. President"). Spielberg often overreaches, especially with such historical dramas as "Amistad." He swings big, though, and when he connects, it's something special.

5. "Butter" (Oct. 5)

"Butter" is one of those "it's about WHAT?" films. In this case, the "WHAT?" is competitive butter-sculpting and what happens when a red-white-and-blue-bleeding Jennifer Garner goes up against a child prodigy. Garner is eminently likable and underrated when it comes to comedy, and a supporting cast that includes Hugh Jackman and "Modern Family's" Ty Burrell suggests a strong showing for this little indie.

6. "Anna Karenina" (Nov. 16)

"Anna Karenina" was adapted by Tom Stoppard and helmed by Joe Wright, who also directed Keira Knightley in 2007's "Atonement." Knightley's performance in 2008's little-seen "The Duchess" tells me she's best in roles that require her to wear corsets and great hats. This adaptation of the Russian novel has both.

7. "The Waiting Room" (Nov. 30)

Filmmaker Peter Nicks captured the goings-on at the ER in Oakland, Calif.'s Highland Hospital, a public facility that is the community's safety net when it comes to medical care. Highland's staff struggles to balance emergencies with those patients who go to the ER because they have no other means of seeing a doctor.

8. "Life of Pi" (Nov. 21)

Full disclosure: I cannot get through "Life of Pi," the 2001 Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel. I've tried three times and have always been out before page 80. No matter: Director Ang Lee's films are some of the most visually interesting out there, and he shot the "Pi" adaptation in 3-D. Moving 3-D from the multiplex to the art house is an admirable challenge to accept.

9. "End of Watch" (Sept. 21)

I already consider this — the one film on this list I've actually seen — one of fall's best movies. David Ayer, who wrote 2001's "Training Day," directs "End of Watch," which hinges on a conceit with major cheese potential: Jake Gyllenhaal's character, a Los Angeles police officer, films everything he and his partner (Michael Pena) do, ostensibly for a filmmaking class. Ayer makes it work, bringing the full scope of a cop's life, from hours of boredom to seconds of terror, to the audience in an experience that's more intense than anything in recent memory.

10 "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" (Nov. 16)

You know what the best thing about "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" is? After this, there won't be any more "Twilight" films.

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Page-Kirby in an entertainment editor for Express, The Washington Post's weekday tabloid.