Fall film line up full of potential

With classes back in session and summer fast becoming a memory, the fall movie season is rapidly approaching. As always, this year’s crop of releases is brimming with potential Oscar co’tenders (Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, a star-studded remake of 1949 ‘s Oscar-winning All the King’s Men) and family friendly fare (a live-action Charlotte’s Web and computer-animated Flushed Away). Although the season features far too many films to mention, here are some of the most noteworthy:

Jet Li ‘s Fearless (Sept. 22):

Billed as Li’s “final martial arts epic,” Fearless has fans pondering the implications of this claim. Could one of the world’s most beloved action stars really be calling it quits? Regardless, with renowned fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix trilogy, Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2) on hand, the film is likely to deliver the kinetic and graceful action Li fans have come to expect. The story of nineteenth-century martial artist Huo Yuanjia, Fearless should be a worthy addition to Li’s canon of period action films, even if it is his last.

The Departed (Oct. 6):Legendary director Martin Scorsese vies for Oscar gold once again, returning to crime dramas with this tale of two undercover police officers who find themselves at odds. Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a corrupt cop under the employ of crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), while Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Billy Costigan, an officer who has gone undercover to infiltrate Costello’s organization. While Costello orders Sullivan to locate the mole within his syndicate, Costigan is charged with exposing the crooked colleague in his midst. As both men try to reveal the other ‘s deception, they find themselves losing their identities the longer they remain undercover. With such an acclaimed cast and a master storyteller at the helm, The Departed should be one of the season’s standout thrillers. The Prestige (Oct. 20):

Although he earned blockbuster status with last year’s Batman Begins, writer/director Christopher Nolan (Memento) gives a rest to his superhero series (before 2008’s The Dark Knight, that is) with this tale of dueling magicians. Starring Christian Bale (Batman Begins) and Hugh Jackman (the X-men films) as former colleagues turned rivals in magic, The Prestige looks to be a thrilling and intelligent ride about secrets, obsession and murder. Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie round out the cast.

Flags of Our Fathers (Oct. 20):

Clint Eastwood has been a Hollywood legend for over four decades, yet his career continues to flourish. After winning Oscars for directing Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, he aims to win again with this detailed look at the lives of the famous soldiers who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Starring Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper and many others, the film is virtually a lock for the Academy Awards, but its fate at the box office remains a mystery.

Saw III (Oct. 27):

After the overwhelming success of last year’s Saw II, it is unsurprising that the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) returns for a third round of deadly games. As always, expect the film to feature elaborate and gruesome predicaments that test victims’ survival instincts. With three films in just three years, the Saw series is quickly becoming one of the most popular ongoing horror franchises. Although it faces stiff competition from The Grudge 2 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Saw III is likely to maintain the series’ momentum and become the box office champ this Halloween.

Stranger than Fiction (Nov. 10):

After such hit comedies as Old School, Anchorman and Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell stretches his acting muscles in this high-concept comedy/drama from the director of Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. Emma Thompson stars as a frustrated writer who can’t decide how to kill the main character of her latest novel. Meanwhile, she remains oblivious to the fact that her protagonist is an actual person (played by Ferrell) whose life she has been narrating. Although usual Ferrell fare is deemed too over-the-top to merit serious accolades, this film could be his first major step to a future in dramatic roles.

Casino Royale (Nov. 17):

With a brand new 007 in tow, the James Bond franchise’s re-launched with Casino Royale. Based on the very first Bond novel by creator Ian Fleming, Royale is the 21st official Bond film. After the disappointing results of 2002’s Die Another Day, the series’ producers opted to drop Pierce Brosnan and replace him with the younger Daniel Craig (Layer Cake), potentially re-energizing the ailing franchise. It remains to be seen if this change will drastically affect the fate of the Bond films, but Craig has already signed on for a second film in the long-running series.

Dreamgirls (Dec. 29):

Directed by Bill Condon, the Academy-Award nominated writer of 2002’s Chicago, Dreamgirls hopes to recapture its critical and box office success. Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy lead the cast in this adaptation of the hit musical, which chronicles the rise and fall of an all-girl singing group. Although movie musicals have been dwindling in popularity with the poor box-office performances of Rent, The Producers and The Phantom of the Opera, the anticipation is heightened for Dreamgirls and it is sure to be one of the most talked-about films of the season.