Your Complete Fall Film Guide
by Devin D. O'Leary
This fall's movie schedule seems unusually heavy on the literary adaptations. At least 17 films that reach the movie screen this season originated as best-selling novels. Maybe Hollywood is hedging its bets -- maybe it's just running out of ideas. Hollywood has also trotted out a huge parade of foreign directors. Again, Hollywood could be hedging its award-winning odds by lending a little European class to its productions -- or it could just have lost confidence in all the Southern California hacks who gave us such un-Oscar-worthy efforts as Wild Wild West. Tinseltown has included the tiniest scattering of family films (Stuart Little) and teen horror entries (Scream 3), but the vast majority of films are classy, adult attention-grabbers fighting to get onto movie screens before the December Oscar deadline arrives.
Here, then, is your guide to the "who, what, where, when, why" of fall filmgoing.
What's it about? A cop and a Congresswoman meet after their respective spouses are killed in an airline crash -- and discover that the deceased were having an illicit affair.
Who's in it? Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas
Who directed it? Sydney Pollack?
What's his deal? Pollack's lengthy Hollywood résumé includes Tootsie, Out of Africa, Absence of Malice and The Firm.
What's it about? "Saturday Night Live's" sexually obsessed Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher tries to capture the attention of the campus hunk.
Who's in it? Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell
Who directed it? Bruce McCulloch
What's his deal? McCulloch was a member of the cutting edge Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall.
What's it about? A bunch of rowdy teens try to reconstruct what happened during a wild night of drinking and sex in Mexico.
Who's in it? Tara Reid, Jerry O'Connell
Who directed it? Michael Christofer
What's his deal? He's written several movies (Witches of Eastwick, Bonfire of the Vanities), but is best known for writing and directing the Emmy-winning TV biopic Gia.
What's it about? A bored office stooge is recruited by a charismatic anarchist into an underground world of ultraviolent street fighting.
Who's in it? Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf
Who directed it? David Fincher
What's his deal? The last time director David Fincher got together with Brad Pitt, they made a little movie called Seven.
What's it about? A writer and a crossword editor attempt a trial separation after 15 years of marriage.
Who's in it? Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer
Who directed it? Rob Reiner
What's his deal? No longer known as simply "Meathead," the actor-turned-director has had a string of hits with The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and others.
Anywhere But Here
What's it about? A flighty, dysfunctional mom drags her stable daughter off to Hollywood to start a new life.
Who's in it? Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman
Who directed it? Wayne Wang
What's his deal? After a couple arthouse hits (Chan Is Missing, Eat a Bowl of Tea), Wang went mainstream with his adaptation of The Joy Luck Club.
What's it about? Seven old college friends get together for a wedding, but soon squabble after it's revealed that a "fiction" book written by one of them uncovers all their intimate secrets.
Who's in it? Taye Diggs, Nia Long
Who directed it? Malcolm Lee
What's his deal? Lee's cousin is director Spike Lee.
What's it about? A burned-out ambulance driver in Hell's Kitchen is tormented by visions of victims he couldn't save.
Who's in it? Nicolas Cage, John Goodman, Patricia Arquette
Who directed it? Martin Scorsese
What's his deal? Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas: Ring any bells?
What's it about? A free-spirited Southern housewife kills her husband and heads out to Hollywood to become a star, inspiring her young nephew who remains behind during the height of the Civil Rights movement.
Who's in it? Melanie Griffith, Lucas Black
Who directed it? Antonio Banderas
What's it about? A cult deprogrammer engages in a physical, mental and sexual battle of wills with a young woman rescued from the clutches of an Indian cult.
Who's in it? Harvey Keitel, Kate Winslet
Who directed it? Jane Campion
What's her deal? The Australian director hit it big with The Piano.
What's it about? A young boy must deal with your basic dysfunctional family situation -- abusive father, crazy mother, all that fun stuff.
Who's in it? Noah Fleiss, Ethan Hawke
Who directed it? Frank Whaley
What's his deal? Another actor trying his hand at directing, Frank (The Doors, Swimming With Sharks) Whaley's debut nabbed an award or two at Sundance.
What's it about? A crusty British ex-con comes to America to hunt down the man responsible for his estranged daughter's death.
Who's in it? Terrence Stamp, Peter Fonda
Who directed it? Steven Soderbergh
What's his deal? Soderbergh kicked off the indie film revolution back in 1989 with his sex, lies and videotape.
Being John Malkovich
What's it about? A disgruntled office worker finds a mysterious passage into John Malkovich's brain that allows anyone to take over the actor's body for a brief period of time. No, I'm not making this up.
Who's in it? John Malkovich (of course), John Cusack, Cameron Diaz
Who directed it? Spike Jonze
What's his deal? Jonze is best known as an innovative music video director (and as the leader of the Torrence Community Dance Troupe in Fatboy Slim's video for "Praise You").
What's it about? An Englishman is critically injured while on vacation in Italy and finds himself on the receiving end of a confused woman's romantic fantasy.
Who's in it? Rupert Graves, Samantha Morton
Who directed it? Eric Styles
What's his deal? The Brit director is making his debut with this one.
What's it about? A rich nutcase offers a million dollars to anyone who will agree to spend the entire night in his ghostly mansion.
Who's in it? Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen
Who directed it? William Malone
What's his deal? A director of TV horror anthologies like "Freddy's Nightmares," "W.E.I.R.D. World" and "Perversions of Science," Malone is now stepping into the shoes of classic schlockmeister William Castle, who created the original 1958 version of House on Haunted Hill.
What's it about? True story of a Manhattan school teacher who brought the gift of music to her class of inner-city children.
Who's in it? Meryl Streep, Angela Bassett, Gloria Estefan
Who directed it? Wes Craven
What's his deal? Craven, best known for horror hits like Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, contributes a non-scary film for a change.
What's it about? This animated film, the biggest domestic hit ever in Japan, tells the legend of a young girl raised by wolves who defends her forest home from intruders.
Who's in it? Voices of Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson
Who directed it? Hayao Miyazaki
What's his deal? Called "The Walt Disney of Japan," Miyazaki's past hits have included Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. This film is described as his most "adult" feature to date.
The Bone Collector
What's it about? A paralyzed cop teams up with a female rookie to hunt down a serial killer.
Who's in it? Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie
Who directed it? Phillip Noyce
What's his deal? Aussie Phillip Noyce is most noted for directing adaptations of Tom Clancy's Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger (although he also directed The Saint, so ...).
What's it about? The story recounts the true-life tale of a tobacco company insider who blew the whistle on his industry on "60 Minutes."
Who directed it? Michael Mann
What's his deal? Mann created "Miami Vice," went on to helm some stylish crime films (Manhunter, Heat) and is now expanding his oeuvre with this newsworthy drama.
What's it about? For reasons unstated, the Earth has exactly six hours left before assured destruction. An ensemble cast of characters deals with the brief timeframe in various ways.
Who's in it? Don McKellar, Sarah Polly, David Cronenberg
Who directed it? Don McKellar
What's his deal? McKellar, who scored arthouse hits by writing 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin for director François Girard, now gets a chance to direct his own screenplay. He also stars in it, so he must think pretty highly of himself.
What's it about? A group of high school students takes an injured security guard hostage after their favorite teacher is fired.
Who's in it? Usher, Sara Gilbert, Forest Whitaker, Judd Nelson
Who directed it? Craig Bolotin
What's his deal? Writer/director Bolotin directed an episode of "Miami Vice" and wrote Straight Talk, that radio movie with Dolly Parton and James Woods.
What's it about? This revisionist version of Jane Austen's novel about money, class and sex (aren't they all) incorporates many of Austen's own personal letters for added realism.
Who's in it? Harold Pinter
Who directed it? Patricia Romeza What's her deal? Canadian filmmaker Romeza is best known for her lesbian romance flicks (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and When Night Is Falling)
What's it about? The short but spectacular career of Joan of Arc.
Who's in it? Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman.
Who directed it? Luc Besson
What's his deal? Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) is married to Jovovich, so naturally she came out on top of the casting process.
What's it about? It's a remake of the old Buster Keaton film in which a millionaire must find a bride within 24 hours or risk losing his entire fortune.
Who's in it? Chris O'Donnell, Renée Zellweger
Who directed it? Gary Sinyor
What's his deal? Sinyor is a little known British director (Stiff Upper Lips), but he's got plenty of confidence, apparently, for tackling a classic like The Bachelor and replacing its legendary star with the kid who played Robin.
What's it about? A pregnant Irish gal heads to England in search of her missing lover and falls into the arms of a dangerous sociopath.
Who's in it? Elaine Cassidy, Bob Hoskins
Who directed it? Atom Egoyan
What's his deal? Canadian director Egoyan made a big name for himself with his last masterpiece, The Sweet Hereafter.
What's it about? Two washed-up boxers try to resurrect their career with a glitzy Vegas bout.
Who's in it? Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson
Who directed it? Ron Shelton
What's his deal? Shelton knows a thing or two about sports -- he wrote Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, The Great White Hype and Tin Cup?
What's it about? Two recent episodes of the Japanese cartoon are strung together in an attempt to convince Pokémon-crazed American kids that they are watching an actual movie.
Who's in it? What the hell kind of question is that?
Who directed it? Are you on drugs?
What's it about? Two childhood pals end up on opposite sides in the Civil War. ... Hey, isn't that the same plot as that cheesy "North and South" miniseries with Patrick Swayze?
Who's in it? Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel
Who directed it? Ang Lee
What's his deal? The Vietnamese auteur is best known for his last stateside hit ,The Ice Storm?
What's it about? A jealous tycoon asks a gay pal to watch over his fiancée -- only problem is, the pal isn't gay.
Who directed it? Damon Santostefano
What's his deal? He was a production assistant on Abel Ferrara's exploitation classic Ms. 45, and he once cast Something Weird Video's resident movie host Johnny Legend in a horror movie about evil hands.
All About My Mother
What's it about? In this kitschy, tragicomic melodrama, a single mother loses her son and seeks comfort in a bizarre collection of acquaintances including a transvestite, a lesbian actress and a nun.
Who's in it? Cecilia Roth
Who directed it? Pedro Almodóvar
What's his deal? Spanish director Almodóvar is best known for his strange characters and colorful screen stories (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Labyrinth of Passions).
What's it about? Two renegade angels are willing to destroy the Earth in order to get back into heaven. It's up to the chosen prophets (drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob of Clerks and Mallrats fame) to save the day in this oddball religious parody.
Who's in it? Who isn't? Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Alanis Morissette, Jason Lee, George Carlin
Who directed it? Kevin Smith
What's his deal? Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy) pissed off enough religious types with this one that Miramax dumped the film. It will now be distributed by rival indie Lion's Gate.
What's it about? The classic ghost story about the Headless Horseman gets a surreal tweak courtesy of Tim Burton
Who's in it? Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken
Who directed it? Tim Burton
What's his deal? Your guess is as good as mine, but with quirky hits like Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Mars Attacks, we can only hope Burton keeps it up.
What's it about? A Southern mom tries to break her bad-relationship cycle by hitting the road with her 12-year-old daughter
Who's in it? Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown
Who directed it? Gavin McConnor
What's his deal? McConnor is an unknown factor, but this debut wowed 'em on the film fest circuit and landed a $5 million deal at Sundance.
What's it about? Brit superspy James Bond goes toe-to-toe with a Bosnian bad guy bent on stealing the world's oil supply.
Who's in it? Pierce Brosnan, Denise Richards, Robert Carlyle
Who directed it? Michael Apted
What's his deal? The respected British director has directed award-winning dramas (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, Nell) and an ongoing series of legendary TV documentaries (Seven Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up). Now he's tackling Bond.
Anna and the King
What's it about? A non-musical version of the King and I tale.
Who's in it? Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat
Who directed it? Andy Tennant
What's his deal? Tennant directed the classic Olsen twins opus It Takes Two and that Cinderella thing with Drew Barrymore.
What's It About? An alcoholic cop goes toe-to-toe with Satan, who shows up on Earth looking for a bride.
Who's In It? Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne
Who Directed It? Peter Hyams
What's His Deal? Hyams is the guy they call in when the real director quits over "artistic differences" -- which was, in fact, the case with this movie. Hollywood's most prolific hack has ground out such fun, forgettable films as The Relic, Sudden Death, Timecop, Running Scared, 2010 and Outland?
What's it about? A stroke-injured cop turns to his transvestite neighbor for singing lessons as part of his vocal therapy.
Who's in it? Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Who directed it? Joel Schumacher
What's his deal? After years of trying to be macho (Batman & Robin, 8mm), Schumacher finally surrenders to the macho man within for a film that could be fab-ulous.
What's it about? It's up to spaceman Buzz Lightyear to rescue Woody when the classic toy is stolen by an evil toy collector.
Who's in it? The voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack
Who directed it? John Lasseter with Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich
What's it about? Frank McCourt's universally lauded memoir comes to the big screen to tell the depressing but lyrical tale of a struggling Irish family.
Who's in it? Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle
Who directed it? Alan Parker
What's his deal? This intriguing and frequently talented Brit is best known for his musical films (Fame, Pink Floyd's The Wall, The Commitments, Evita), but has also directed dark dramas like Midnight Express and Angel Heart? November 27
What's it about? A group of Baltimore youths come of age while hanging out at their local diner.
Who's in it? Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth
Who directed it? Barry Levinson
What's his deal? The Baltimore director seems more obsessed with his own childhood than most. This is the fourth of his semi-autobiographical films (after Diner, Tin Men and Avalon). Astute fans of Diner should recognize this film's primary setting.
What's it about? Over the course of 200 years, a domestic robot grows closer to humanity thanks to the family he serves.
Who's in it? Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Hallie Eisenberg
Who directed it? Chris Columbus
What's his deal? He directed the first two Home Alone films -- a crime for which he'll spend at least a few decades in Purgatory. Here, Columbus is reuniting with the star of his 1993 smash Mrs. Doubtfire and hoping like hell lightning strikes twice.
What's it about? A fish tank cleaner in desperate need of money fills in for a male escort who's out of town.
Who's in it? Rob Schneider
Who directed it? Mike Mitchell
What's his deal? His 1999 short Herd played at the Birmingham Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Alabama earlier this year.
What's it about? A woman cheating on her husband during World War II makes a deal with God after her lover is injured during the London Blitz.
Who's in it? Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea
Who directed it? Neil Jordan
What's his deal? After the mainstream success of Interview With the Vampire, Brit director Jordan seems to have settled back into his early arthouse career (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game).
What's it about? A jazz musician juggles gals during the 1930s.
Who's in it? Sean Penn, Uma Thurman, Samantha Morton
Who directed it? Woody Allen
What's his deal? Well, he married his stepdaughter.
What's it about? An Irish widow becomes a nanny to seven children in this translation of Brendan O'Carrol's 1999 novel The Mammy.
Who's in it? Angelica Huston
Who directed it? Angelica Huston
What's her deal? Her father was legendary director John Huston (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, African Queen, The Maltese Falcon), so the noted actress has probably absorbed a thing or two about directing.
The Cider House Rules
What's it about? A parentless boy returns to the orphanage that raised him in this adaptation of John Irving's best-selling novel.
Who's in it? Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron
Who directed it? Lasse Hallstrom
What's his deal? Swedish-born Hallstrom has already done such affecting and offbeat family dramas as My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, so there's every reason to believe one of Irving's novels will finally see justice on the big screen.
What's it about? This unusual drama focuses on the events that surrounded the controversial opening of the titular 1937 musical directed by Orson Welles. When the political play was shut down by government injunction, Welles performed the piece guerilla-style in a borrowed theater.
Who's in it? Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Watson, John Cusack
Who directed it? Tim Robbins
What's it about? The cast of a cancelled sci-fi series are mistakenly recruited by extraterrestrials to fight off an evil alien warlord.
Who's in it? Tim Allan, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Who directed it? Dean Parisot
What's his deal? Directed Home Fries with Drew Barrymore. Did some TV before that. He's young yet.
What's it about? 90 minutes.
Who's in it? Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Who directed it? Wes Craven
What's his deal? After a brief dramatic detour with October's Music of the Heart, Craven returns to the safety of the horror genre.
What's it about? A childless couple adopt a small mouse. It's based on the long-running children's book series.
Who's in it? Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie
Who directed it? Rob Minkoff
What's his deal? As long as this former Disney animator (and co-director of The Lion King) doesn't get in the way of John (Star Wars) Dykstra's special effects, none of the kids in the audience is gonna care.
The Green Mile
What's it about? A Southern prison guard discovers that a death row inmate has the power to heal.
Who's in it? Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt
Who directed it? Frank Darabont
What's his deal? Darabont's last stab at writing and directing a movie version of a Stephen King novel turned out pretty well -- it was The Shawshank Redemption.
What's it about? Three characters mired in the world of professional horse racing engage in a noirish love triangle. Based on the play by Sam Shepard.
Who's in it? Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone
Who directed it? Matthew Warchus
What's his deal? Theatrical director Warchus staged Shepard's play once in London.
What's it about? A young woman enters a mental hospital in this adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's 1993 memoir.
Who's in it? Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg
Who directed it? James Mangold
What's his deal? Mangold tried to do the "indie film with big stars" in the unsuccessful Cop Land. Here, he gives it another shot.
Snow Falling on Cedars
What's it about? Based on yet another best-selling novel, this icy drama tells of an interracial love affair and a contentious murder trial in the frigid Northwest.
Who's in it? Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh, Sam Shepard
Who directed it? Scott Hicks
What's his deal? Last time we heard from Hicks, he was racking up seven Oscar nominations for the film Shine?
Daddy and Them
What's it about? In this self-described "white trash romantic comedy," a poor married couple come to the aid of their jailed uncle.
Who's in it? Billy Bob Thornton, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Ben Affleck
Who directed it? Billy Bob Thornton
What's his deal? Thornton won an Oscar for his work on Slingblade. Not too shabby for a country boy.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
What's it about? A seemingly button-down young American is sent to Italy to retrieve an old school chum -- instead, our unethical antihero decides to bump off his pal and assume the rich fellow's identity.
Who's in it? Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett
Who directed it? Anthony Minghella
What's his deal? Minghella did pretty well with his last flick, The English Patient.
Any Given Sunday
What's it about? An aging pro football coach faces what could be his last season on the turf.
Who's in it? Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Charlton Heston, Cameron Diaz, James Woods
Who directed it? Oliver Stone
What's his deal? Before getting busted for driving around with a bunch of hash, Stone directed a couple movies (JFK, The Doors, Platoon).
What's it about? Three squabbling sibs are forced to work out their relationship when daddy falls ill.
Who's in it? Lisa Kudrow, Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan
Who directed it? Diane Keaton
What's her deal? The Oscar-winning actress (Annie Hall) picked up a thing or two from longtime collaborator Woody Allen and has found herself bitten by the directing bug lately (Heaven, Unstrung Heroes).
What's it about? A massive ensemble cast navigates the highways and byways of Southern California's San Fernando Valley over one 24-hour period.
Who's in it? William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, Tom Cruise
Who directed it? Paul Thomas Anderson
What's his deal? He's the guy who showed off Marky Mark's gigantic dipstick in Boogie Nights. What better résumé do you need?
What's it about? A dramatic biopic covering the short, tumultuous life of misunderstood comedian Andy Kaufman.
Who's in it? Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito
Who directed it? Milos Foreman
What's his deal? Foreman's last dramatic biopic, The People vs. Larry Flynt, fell just shy of Oscar success; this one could bring home the gold.
What's it about? A follow-up to the surprise 1995 hit, Friday, about some East Los Angeles residents who hang out on their porch all day and smoke dope.
Who's in it? Ice Cube, Tiny Lister
Who directed it? Steve Carr
What's his deal? No idea. He's probably pals with Cube.
What's it about? An ex-con is lured into robbing a casino on Christmas Eve.
Who's in it? Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, Charlize Theron
Who directed it? John Frankenheimer
What's his deal? Back in the day, Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, The French Connection II) was king of the cinematic thriller.