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Fall Arts Movie Preview

Fall brings ambitious, smart films without the bombast of winter blockbusters
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: Brie Larson stars as Grace, a supervisor at a group home for at-risk teens who has her own issues to sort out, in 'Short Term 12.'

Frost is the on the pumpkin, geese are on the wing, the autumn cliches are in the newspaper and the cornucopia of cinema belches out some of its best offerings of the year—not the prestige three-hour, backbone-killers of winter awards seasons, but the kind of ambitious work that needs a bit of a head start to find its audience.

After the underwhelment of Europa Report, Gravity (Oct. 4) looks like it'll have significant punch. Once upon a time, critic Pauline Kael declared the deadly Gemini-kidnapping pre-titles of You Only Live Twice (1967) more exciting than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Alfonso Cuaron seems to agree there was something going on in that pre-title. Gravity is a technically startling, artistically excruciating version of the astronaut's dilemma—stuck in a space walk from which he can't return. The previews are unbearably tense, and Cuar'n has already made some of the best movies of the past few years (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien). George Clooney and Sandra Bullock co-star.

Destin Cretton's Short Term 12 (fall) is already one of the most applauded films of the coming season. Brie Larson plays a young counselor at a home for volatile foster kids. Cretton worked at such a home for a couple of years, and he won an award at Sundance '09 for the short version of this feature film.

Unlikelier, but maybe more therapeutic, is a pair of comedies addressing sex addiction: Thanks for Sharing (Sep. 20) and Don Jon (Sep. 27).

Highly anticipated: Museum Hours (Sep. 20), Jem Cohen's story of a friendship that carried out in Kuntshistorisches Museum, the 120-year-old Vienna gallery where the Hapsburgs put their treasures; the centuries of art are the backdrop to a tale of two lonely people at loose ends in that city.

I adore writing about Adore (Sep. 6) which, under its original title, Two Mothers, got used as a punching bag at Sundance this year. There are a few reasons to tune out the adverse buzz. The director, Anne Fontaine, has shown wit and a gift for the erotic in the past. Two first-rate actresses are in the lead, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright: the latter, the glamorous highlight of Netflix's union-bashing serial House of Cards. Adore has a Doris Lessing novella as its source and a Christopher Hampton script, and was apparently filmed with prime 35mm photography on the coast of New South Wales. At last, the subject matter: old female friends commence affairs with each other's sons … at which someone needle-drops The Lonely Planet's "Mother Lover" and then the earworm eats your brain. "'Cause every Mother's day needs a mother's night/If doing it is wrong, I don't want to be right…"

Strange how something more ghastly would feel less ooky. Machete Kills (Oct. 11) brings back ol' rockface, Danny Trejo, and no more Mr. Politenessman this time.

Remakes of Oldboy (Oct. 25) and Carrie (Oct. 18) may, in the bigger scheme of things, only function as necessary in the sense that some producer's son really needed ermine mudflaps for his Escalade. But I am interested in what aspects of race Spike Lee will bring to retelling Park Chan-wook's captivity thriller, just as I'm curious to see what a female director (Kimberley Peirce) will bring to a new version of Carrie. And the superb Chloe Grace Moretz has the role of the hellbound Carrie White.

The documentary Inequality for All (Sep. 27) has Robert Reich, a familiar figure on the Sunday talk shows, delivering worrisome news about growing gap between the hyper-rich and the working poor. Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate (Oct. 11) likely won't help Julian Assange's hurt feelings after We Steal Secrets, particularly since he's being played by Benedict Cumberbatch—not the man to warm up one's image.

Just some of the film festivals in the next few months: the Morgan Hill short film fest Poppy Jasper (Nov. 8-10), Silicon Valley Jewish Film Fest (Oct. 19-Nov. 17) and one of the best here (or anywhere) the United Nations Association Film Festival, Oct. 17-27.


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