After looking through the trailers for most of the fall 2011 movies, it's hard not to feel a little cynical.
"Twilight" is readying for its not-quite-final final chapter (release date Nov. 18), including what appears to be a werewolf/vampire update of the wedding scene in "The Graduate." A new "The Three Musketeers" movie (Oct. 21) seems to be going for a cross between "Wild Wild West" and "Cutthroat Island" -- no doubt the first adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel to feature flying pirate ships. And actor Adam Sandler finally gives in to the inevitable, taking on a Klump-ian role where he plays sister and brother in the same film.
But there's hope for discriminating moviegoers, who won't have to look hard to find Oscar contenders, interesting new films by visionary directors and a few obvious crowd-pleasers. In the words of Hugh Jackman in the fighting-robot movie "Real Steel," we say, "Bring it!"
Here are 10 movies we're looking forward to, based on the trailers and track record of the filmmakers and actors involved.
"Warrior" (Sept. 9)
The setup: Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are estranged brothers Tom and Brendan Conlon -- one a war hero and the other a teacher -- who are both desperate to win a mixed-martial-arts tournament. Nick Nolte is looking especially grizzled as their dad. Gavin O'Connor, director of the excellent sports movie "Miracle," is behind the camera.
Will be awesome if ... there's a surprise or two that's not in the trailer, which appears to give away everything except the last two minutes of the film.
"Contagion" (Sept. 9)
The setup: A virus is spreading around the world, leading to a quick death for those who contract it and panic for the survivors. Steven Soderbergh directs his first big-budget film since "Ocean's Thirteen" in 2007, with a strong cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard.
Will be awesome if ... Gwyneth Paltrow's character makes an infection-aided exit in the first 10 minutes; Soderbergh is able to avoid "Outbreak"-style melodrama and maintain a realistic tone.
"Drive" (Sept. 16)
The setup: Ryan Gosling, on a wonderful streak with "Blue Valentine" and "Crazy Stupid Love," is a stunt driver by day and criminal wheelman by night, who falls in love with a parolee's wife (Cary Mulligan). Based on James Sallis' 2005 book.
Will be awesome if ... Nicolas Winding Refn, who won a directing award for the film at Cannes, gives us the greatest car-stunt film since "Ronin." The cast looks excellent, including a menacing Albert Brooks as a mob boss and Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman in supporting roles.
"Moneyball" (Sept. 23)
The setup: Based on the Michael Lewis book, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) goes against the old-school traditions of baseball scouting and uses statistical analysis to build a competitive team of has-beens, cast-offs and other cheap talent.
Will be awesome if ... the rest of the movie is as good as the trailer. The task of turning this book into a film seemed impossible during preproduction, but screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian appear to have set an entertaining and engaging tone.
"Killer Elite" (Sept. 23)
The setup: Jason Statham is a badass, who beats up his torturer while still strapped to a chair, escapes through a window and must save a mentor played by Robert De Niro. Based on the 1991 book "The Feather Men," which apparently featured a lot of people getting kicked in the face.
Will be awesome if ... the other 100 minutes of the movie are as action-packed and testosterone-driven as the two-minute trailer. (As far as we can tell, there isn't a single woman in this film.)
"50/50" (Sept. 30)
The setup: A cancer comedy that was inspired by screenwriter Will Reiser's real-life experiences. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a 27-year-old who gets thrust into chemotherapy. His friends and family adjust in wildly different ways, and a young therapist (Anna Kendrick) enters his life. Director Jonathan Levine seems to have found a nice balance between comedy and drama.
Will be awesome if ... we see more of the wonderful supporting actors (including Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) than we did in the trailer; Gordon-Levitt can carry a movie in a comic leading role.
"Real Steel" (Oct. 7)
The setup: Hugh Jackman stars as a boxer whose chance at a title shot ends when the sport is taken over by robots. He must team up with his son to create a fighting robot and win against overwhelming odds. The plot sounds just like Sylvester Stallone's arm-wrestling movie, "Over the Top." This is a good thing.
Will be awesome if ... the boxing scenes are anywhere near as compelling and memorable as my childhood bouts with the game "Rock'em Sock'em Robots"; if there's at least one Kenny Loggins song on the soundtrack.
"Footloose" (Oct. 14)
The setup: "Hustle & Flow" director Craig Brewer remakes the 1980s classic, with nods to the original but also a sweatier, hip-hop-infused vibe. Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough are the leads, with Dennis Quaid as the dancing-averse Rev. Shaw Moore.
Will be awesome if ... Wormald is strong in the Ren McCormack role. The dancer with limited acting experience doesn't need to make us forget Kevin Bacon, but he has to bring something new to the role.
"Tower Heist" (Nov. 4)
The setup: A group of investors who work in the high-rise of a billionaire Madoff-type (Alan Alda) scheme to steal his secret cache of money to offset their losses. Ben Stiller stars; his bumbling crew includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy.
Will be awesome if ... director Brett Ratner gets out of his own way and doesn't make this the "X-Men 3" of caper comedies; Murphy can channel some of his "Trading Places"-era humor. The trailer looks promising.
"J. Edgar" (Nov. 9)
The setup: Clint Eastwood directs Leonardo DiCaprio in this biopic about the professional and personal life of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") penned the script. Like most Eastwood movies in recent years, there's almost no advance hype.
Will be awesome if ... something catastrophic doesn't happen. Eastwood hasn't made a bad film since "Space Cowboys," and he's rarely surrounded by this much talent.
More in September
If there isn't an excess of carnage in "Shark Night 3-D" (Sept. 2), ask for your money back. There's life on the moon after all, and the astronauts in "Apollo 18" (Sept. 2) discover it has a taste for human flesh. Is there an action-movie director working today with a better name than Olivier Megaton? He directs Zoe Saldana in the assassin drama "Colombiana" (Sept. 2). Two Iranian teens discover sexuality in "Circumstance" (Sept. 9), winner of 2011 Sundance audience award. A supernatural presence haunts a hot young couple in "The Apparition" (Sept. 9). The Disney animation classic "The Lion King" (Sept. 16) returns for a two-week run in 3-D. Rod Lurie remakes the Sam Peckinpah thriller "Straw Dogs" (Sept. 16), with Kate Bosworth and James Marsden in the lead roles. Sarah Jessica Parker is a successful businesswoman who struggles to have it all in the comedy "I Don't Know How She Does It" (Sept. 16). "Twilight" hunk Taylor Lautner is a man who tracks the mystery of his own disappearance in "Abduction" (Sept. 23). A young boy in "Dolphin Tale" (Sept. 23) fights to help a dolphin that lost its tail in a crab trap. Daniel Craig is a man who lives in a haunted "Dream House" (Sept. 30) and must unravel the mystery of a serial killer. Gerard Butler is the "Machine Gun Preacher" (Sept. 30), who defends Sudanese orphans in this Marc Forster-directed action film. A bus accident sets off the drama in "Margaret" (Sept. 30), director Kenneth Lonergan's long-delayed follow-up to "You Can Count on Me."
More in October
Emilio Estevez directs father Martin Sheen in "The Way" (Oct. 7), about a man who walks the spiritual trail where his son died. A rebellious high-schooler (June Temple) goes on a road trip in "Dirty Girl" (Oct. 7). The horror film "The Thing" (Oct. 14) is a prequel to the 1982 film -- this time Joel Edgerton and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are fighting an alien in Antarctica. Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black are bird watchers in the ensemble comedy "The Big Year" (Oct. 14). George Clooney directs Ryan Gosling in the political campaign drama "The Ides of March" (Oct. 14). The latest "The Three Musketeers" (Oct. 21) movie looks to be one of the lighter updates of Alexandre Dumas' work, with an unlimited supply of good-looking stars. "Margin Call" (Oct. 21) stars Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore in an investment-bank drama. "Paranormal Activity 3" (Oct. 21) will try to replicate the success of the second movie, a low-budget ghostly thriller that was even better than the first; Rowan Atkinson returns for more spy-themed high jinks in "Johnny English Reborn" (Oct. 28). The latest Andrew Niccol science-fiction drama, "In Time" (Oct. 28), stars Justin Timberlake in a future where time is a precious commodity controlled by the rich. "Safe" (Oct. 28) stars Jason Statham as a retired agent who rescues a 12-year-old girl and must fight off several waves of foes.
More in November
Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones are star-crossed lovers who fight for their relationship across borders in "Like Crazy" (Nov. 4). The best part of the "Shrek" movies, "Puss in Boots" (Nov. 4), gets his own movie; Antonio Banderas returns as the suave, slightly delusional cat. Brace yourself for "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas" (Nov. 4), where the holiday spirit includes the shooting of Santa Claus. "Immortals" (Nov. 11) stars Henry Cavill as a warrior leading a group against titans, with "The Cell" director Tarsem Singh behind the camera. Adam Sandler plays brother and sister in "Jack and Jill" (Nov. 11), a Thanksgiving dysfunction comedy. George Miller directs "Happy Feet Two" (Nov. 18), the sequel to the Oscar-winning animated musical. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" (Nov. 18) features a wedding, honeymoon, pregnancy and plenty of vampire/werewolf drama; "Chicago" director Bill Condon takes over the franchise, which is a good sign.