Movie stars are always in season, and this fall's films offer a variety of ways to showcase them.
The offerings range from movies with everyone in them (the trailer for The Counselor is practically a list of members of the Screen Actors Guild) to movies with almost nobody in them (billed alphabetically, Robert Redford is both first and last in All Is Lost).
We'll say hello to a few performers (12 Years a Slave should finally make versatile Chiwetel Ejiofor a star) and goodbye to others (R.I.P., James Gandolfini).
Here's what I'm looking forward to seeing the most.
COMING THIS FALL
Salinger: It's rare for a documentary to get as much buzz as this one, but the bombshells have already started falling. For starters, the film (and a similarly titled book, just out) reveals that reclusive writer J.D. Salinger, who didn't publish a word from 1965 until his death in 2010, left behind explicit instructions to unveil five new or partially new works. Word is the film also will reveal a fair amount about the troubled history of the Catcher in the Rye author, who reportedly never recovered from what he saw during World War II. Opens in limited release Sept. 6.
Short Term 12 : This one's a cheat because I've seen it already. But I was crying so much of the time, I might have missed a few good parts. Beautiful, funny and truthful, it might sound like a movie you wouldn't want to see, but it emphatically is a movie you would want to see. Brie Larson plays a woman who supervises a group home for troubled teenagers and who might be good at her job because she has issues of her own. I loved it so much I have a hard time imagining it not making my year-end top 10. Now open in limited release, it opens wider Sept. 13.
Enough Said : Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays an empty-nester who falls for a guy (the late James Gandolfini), only to learn that he's the much-hated ex-husband of her buddy. The buddy is played by Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all of writer/director Nicole Holofcener's films (Lovely and Amazing, Please Give), and the cast includes many other swell, funny women, including Toni Collette and Saturday Night Live alum Michaela Watkins. Opens in limited release Sept. 20.
Prisoners : I am skeptical about director Denis Villeneuve, who made the wildly overrated Incendies. But there's no quibbling with the cast: Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard and Maria Bello all appear in the story of families that resort to desperate measures when a pair of girls are kidnapped. Opens Sept. 20.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 : The first Cloudy was a warm, witty adventure triggered by an invention that made it rain delicious foods. The sequel ups the ante: Now, it's raining freakish mutations that are part delicious foods, part menacing creatures. So maybe it should really be called Night of the Living Meatballs. Opens Sept. 27.
Don Jon : As an actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is riding a string of great movies (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper). Can he extend the streak with his acting/directing debut, a comedy/drama about a man who acts out his relationship problems by trying to have sex with every female he meets? Opens Sept. 27.
Rush : Ron Howard is not known for movies with a lot of personality or sex appeal, but the word is that this Formula One racing movie has both. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl star as '70s drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who were rivals on and off the track. Now open in limited release, it opens wider Sept. 27.
Gravity : In a season of large ensemble casts, Gravity goes in the opposite direction. It's really just Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who become separated from their craft in space and must struggle to survive, unsure whether they'll ever get back to civilization. The great Alfonso Cuarón has never made a bad movie (A Little Princess, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Y Tu Mamá También are all on his varied résumé), and this is his first directing gig since the masterful Children of Men in 2006. Opens Oct. 4.
Captain Phillips : Not to be outdone by Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender, Tom Hanks also has multiple movies hitting theaters before the end of year. His portrayal of Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks will have to wait for the holidays. In the meantime, he is the heroic commander of a boat hijacked by Somali pirates. Based on a true story, Captain Phillips was directed by Paul Greengrass (United 93). Opens Oct. 11.
All Is Lost : It was a sensation at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where the talk was that Robert Redford, 77, gives the performance of his career, a role that could shoot him past Henry Fonda (age 76) as the oldest winner of the best-actor Oscar. No one in the film competes with him for screen time: It's just Redford trying to navigate toward shipping lanes while his ailing yacht slowly sinks. All Is Lost was directed by J.C. Chandor, who made the tense Margin Call. Opens in limited release Oct. 18.
The Fifth Estate : Cumberbatch launches an all-out assault on late-2013 movie screens with this biopic. He's also in 12 Years a Slave and December's August: Osage County and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In The Fifth Estate, he plays Julian Assange, the mastermind behind Wikileaks who is maybe a hero, maybe a villain or probably both. Bill Condon, who made Dreamgirls and Kinsey, directs, and future Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi, plays a supporting role. Opens in limited release Oct. 18.
12 Years a Slave : Director Steve McQueen's previous films, Hunger and Shame, were both tough-minded gems, and 12 Years, based on a novel of the same name, looks as if it could be another. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free man who is duped into slavery and who fights to free himself. The distinguished cast includes Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Fassbender and Cumberbatch. Opens in limited release Oct. 18.
Blue Is the Warmest Color : Controversy is a good way to make a splash at Cannes, and this explicit French lesbian romance snagged plenty of it. Opens in limited release Oct. 25.
The Counselor : There are so many reasons to be excited about this one: It's the first original screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men). It's a twisty caper, filled with nasty humor and menacing drug lords. The material seems perfect for stylish director Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus). And check out this cast: Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Fassbender, Penélope Cruz and Rosie Perez. Opens Oct. 25.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire : Jennifer Lawrence returns as the young woman with the fate of civilization on her shoulders. She has a new villain to deal with in the second film of four: Philip Seymour Hoffman's nasty Plutarch Heavensbee. Opens Nov. 22.