They could have played it safe, but maybe there’s nothing to lose. With Hollywood coming out of its weakest box-office summer in two decades, the annual fall serious season is loaded with high-stakes gambles and unsure things. It’s as if the entire film industry had decided to lead with its chin and dare audiences to accept the unexpected. If ever a slate of movies had “PROVE IT” stamped on its forehead, this is it.
Are we ready for FDR as interpreted by Bill Murray in the lighthearted but essentially serious “Hyde Park on Hudson”? Can Tom Cruise convince us he’s “Jack Reacher,” the stoic action hero of Lee Childs’s best-selling thrillers? Can Tyler Perry convince us he’s “Alex Cross,” the dead-serious detective of James Patterson’s books? And will we buy Emma Watson (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) as anyone other than Hermione Granger?
And those are just the actors. If anything, the directors have even more to prove this fall. Peter Jackson has to get us to sign up for Middle Earth all over again with the first of his three “Hobbit” epics, while Ang Lee needs to show that an $80 million budget and state-of-the-art 3-D can bring the previously unfilmable “Life of Pi” to the screen. With the Iran hostage-crisis drama “Argo,” Ben Affleck is betting he can handle more than Boston crime flicks, and with the Denzel Washington plane-crash thriller “Flight,” Robert Zemeckis hopes to show he can still do live-action after 12 years of 3-D motion-capture.
Then there are the filmmakers aching to prove they’re not flukes: Lee Daniels (“Precious”) with “The Paperboy,” based on the much-admired 1995 Pete Dexter novel; playwright Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) with the dark crime comedy “Seven Psychopaths”; Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) with her controversial Osama-hunt drama “Zero Dark Thirty.” The Wachowskis, Andy and Lana (formerly Larry), are back to show they’re more than “The Matrix” with the brain-busting “Cloud Atlas,” in which Tom Hanks plays several different characters across various continents and time periods. (It’s so complex, the Wachowskis had to get Tom Tykwer of “Run Lola Run” to co-direct.)
Other examples of risky Hollywood business? “Les Miserables” at last comes to the screen in all its full-throated glory; sounds like a natural until you recall the paltry grosses for 2004’s “Phantom of the Opera.” Rapper RZA wants to convince you of his directing chops with “The Man With the Iron Fist,” and Judd Apatow really hopes we’ll be interested in the “Knocked Up” spinoff “This is 40,” starring his wife, Leslie Mann, and Paul Rudd.
Admittedly, there are a few certainties, Academy Award bait from directors and stars who no longer have to prove anything. The big dog of the season is probably Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” with a script by Tony Kushner and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as that man on the penny. The mercurial Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood”) is back with “The Master,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Quentin Tarantino weighs in with the sure-to-be-uncontroversial “Django Unchained,” featuring Jamie Foxx as one ticked-off ex-slave. “Anna Karenina” reunites actress Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement”), and “Skyfall” puts Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the capable hands of director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”). And there’s “Trouble With the Curve,” starring Clint Eastwood and directed by his longtime producer Robert Lorenz — an Eastwood movie in all but name.
Oh, and one other sure thing: With “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2,” the most overwrought movie franchise of the last half-decade finally comes to a close — and a nation of post-adolescent moviegoers can breathe a sigh of relief.
Planet of Snail From South Korea, a documentary that’s also a love story between a deaf and blind poet and his wife, whose spinal deformity has severely limited her height. It’s not a bummer. Honest. It’s about passion and nature and people who have better sensory perception than you.
Switch A documentary that needs – needs – you to know we have to change our approach to cleaner energy.
Arbitrage As a hedge fund executive in deep trouble, it’s being said that Richard Gere gives the performance of his life. You don’t hear that often. So maybe it’s true. With Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, and Tim Roth. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki.
Beloved Are we running out of movie titles or what? Toni Morrison has nothing to do with this indifferently translated title of Christophe Honoré’s latest all-star musical dramedy that spans 43 years and two love stories, the second of which is set in the era of AIDS. With Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel, and Deneuve’s daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.
Finding Nemo 3D We’re just as into recycling as everybody else, but Pixar’s new aversion to waste (remixes! non-“Toy Story” sequels!) is beginning to wrack the nerves. Of course, a little perspective might be useful. For Pete’s sake, it’s “Finding Nemo” not “The Aristocats”!
Little White Lies Guillaume Canet’s first writing-directing job since the 2006 hit thriller, “Tell No One,” is an all-star ensemble dramedy about people, their hormones, and a summer cottage. With, among others, Francois Cluzet, Jean Dujardin, Benoit Magimel, and Marion Cotillard as a stoner.
Resident Evil: Retribution in 3D Presumably in which we watch Milla Jovovich count $100 bills with one hand and shoot stampeding digital effects with the other.
Shut Up and Play the Hits There aren’t many musical acts as determined to monumentalize their termination as James Murphy, the face and brain of the dance outfit LCD Soundsystem. This documentary devotes itself to Murphy’s final show, which took place April 2011 at Madison Square Garden. You think people are going to be upset about “Twilight” movies coming to an end? Get a load of Murphy’s fans.
Stolen Did you honestly believe you could go an entire seven months without watching Nicolas Cage shoot at something or blow it up? You did? Well, we envy your optimism. This time, he looks more than ever like a game avatar in pursuit of the former pal (Josh Lucas) who’s kidnapped Cage’s daughter and locked her in the trunk of his cab. Seriously. Directed by Simon West (“Con Air”).
Knuckleball A documentary about the nuttiest pitch in baseball, featuring knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, whose last movie was the 2010 hit, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.”
Detropia An impressionistic documentary about blight and renewal in the Motor City by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (“Jesus Camp”).
China Heavyweight “The Fighter” by way of Sichuan? This documentary directed by Yung Chang looks at the life of Qi Moxiang, a former boxing champion, in and out of the ring.
10 Years A high-school reunion comedy with Channing Tatum, his equal in beauty, Rosario Dawson, and other folks (Ari Graynor, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie). Written and directed by Jamie Linden.
The Ambassador A Danish docu-thriller in which the journalist Mads Brugger goes undercover as a diplomat to expose the blood diamond trade. It might be Sacha Baron Cohen with a straight face.
Chicken With Plums For their follow-up to animated hit “Persepolis,” Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud move into live-action magic-realism with the tale of a depressed Iranian (Mathieu Amalric). Like “Persepolis,” the new film is based on one of Satrapi’s graphic novels.
Dredd 3D Missing the entire point of his appeal, Karl Urban slips on the famed visored helmet to become the apocalypse’s favorite “judge, jury, and executioner.” Still, his version might be more fun than Sylvester Stallone’s, and the script by the novelist Alex Garland.
End of Watch Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play LAPD cops in a movie written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote “Training Day,” a thriller he’s managed to remix half a dozen times so far.
For Ellen A musician (Paul Dano) drives across the country for a custody battle with his wife over a child he barely knows. The third feature by the patience-oriented independent writer and director So Yong Kim (“In Between Days,” “Treeless Mountain”).
The House at the End of the Street A thriller with Jennifer Lawrence as a teen who dates a boy who survived a family massacre. Elisabeth Shue plays her divorced mother, who’s all like “Don’t date him. He’s dangerous.” And Lawrence is all, like, “What do you know? You’re divorced. Be quiet. I’m the new you, Shue!”
Liberal Arts Boy, “How I Met Your Mother” must pay really well because Josh Radnor keeps getting to write and direct independent-ish romantic comedies. In this one, he casts himself as a grown man attracted to a college student (Elizabeth Olsen).
The Master Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie since 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” is rumored to be an allegory about Scientology and its mysterious founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the leader of a new religion that draws in an increasingly skeptical young naval officer (Joaquin Phoenix). With Laura Dern. Amy Adams plays the leader’s wife.
Step Up to the Plate Shouldn’t this really be the baseball edition of the popular dance-movie franchise? (Fine. It’s not called “Step Up 2 the Plate.”) Anyway, the plate in this culinary documentary – about the food wizard Michel Bras – is the one you eat off of. The French title is better: “Entre Les Bras.”
Toys in the Attic Down, Aerosmith fans. This is an animated political parable from the Czech Republic. Forest Whitaker and Joan Cusack provide some of the voices in English.
Trouble With the Curve Clint Eastwood could paint his face blue and bang on a drum for two hours, and it wouldn’t be as embarrassingly weird as what he did at the Republican convention last month. Here he just plays a crusty old baseball scout in a drama that also stars Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and Amy Adams. Directed by Robert Lorentz, one of Eastwood’s protégés.
You’ve Been Trumped This docu-takedown of Donald Trump focuses on the billionaire property baron’s attempt to build a new $1.5 billion atrocity in Scotland. The director is Anthony Baxter, who really loves to hate his subject.
Backwards After she fails to make the Olympic rowing team (twice), a young woman decides to coach. A drama written by and starring Sarah Megan Thomas, and featuring James Van Der Beek as someone nice to look at.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel A documentary about the late legendary magazine editor and fashion industry icon. The director is Lisa Immordino Vreeland, a fashion consultant who married one of Vreeland’s grandsons and never met her famous subject.
Hotel Transylvania Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, and Andy Samberg are some of the voices in this animated 3-D comedy that imagines Dracula as the manager of a haunted hotel. That was more fun to type than you’d think, partially because you can already hear Sandler hamming up the voice.
How to Survive a Plague A documentary that looks at the ways in which activism and medical breakthroughs transformed the scourge of AIDS.
Looper In this time-travel action-thriller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit man whose latest target appears to be himself. With Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and a soupçon of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who’s still trying to make good on the promise of his first feature, a no-budget film-noir, with Levitt, called “Brick.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower That old MTV book (it’s from 1999 and written by Stephen Chbosky), about a mopey high-school freshman and his druggy awakening, is finally a movie. With Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, and probably not so many drugs (its original R rating has been reduced to PG-13).
Stars in Shorts What sounds like an OMG Us Weekly picture page is really a collection of short films starring famous actors, including Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Jason Alexander, Keira Knightley, Lily Tomlin, Kenneth Branagh, and Julia Stiles. In other words: NoMG.
Won’t Back Down Another movie with a rock ’n’ roll title. The one for this film – a school-system drama – is the worst because it appears to be the most literal. Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal play mothers who take on inner-city bureaucracy in the form of Holly Hunter. What’s wrong with “Lean on This”?
Butter An ensemble comedy and possible American-politics satire about a town beset with nastiness during its annual butter-sculpture competition. With Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Ashley Greene, Olivia Wilde, and Hugh Jackman.
Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare Yeah, we’re back in that time when partisan political documentaries drop in claiming to make sense of everything that’s wrong with the other party. This film says it can explain a plan whose architects can’t seem to put it across to the average voter.
Frankenweenie One upside of all this 3-D-overhaul mania is that sometimes a director has a good idea for it. In 1984, Tim Burton made a live-action short version of the Mary Shelley novel involving a boy, some electricity, and his dog. Now, you can only hope that the charm, ingenuity, and innocence of the original can withstand whatever Burton and the stop-motion animation team are inclined to do to them.
The Oranges A suburban ensemble comedy with Leighton Meester as a young woman who falls for her parents’ married best friend (Hugh Laurie). With Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Alia Shawkat, and Adam Brody.
The Paperboy If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the director of “Precious” (Lee Daniels) would do with a sexed-up movie set in Florida starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, and Nicole Kidman, your answer is this lurid-looking morsel of pulp.
Pitch Perfect A comedy in which Anna Kendrick finds herself in an all-female college a cappella singing group that wants to compete against the boys. Was “Sing It On” taken? With Brittany Snow, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Rebel Wilson, who steals the trailer.
Sinister A sequel to the paranormal horror film “Insidious.” Future editions include whatever similar words the producers can find in the thesaurus.
Taken 2 Liam Neeson returns to the role that made him famous to boys likely to date the daughter he rescued from European kidnappers three years ago.
V/H/S Another found-footage horror film. Coming next fall: “B/E/T/A/,” a prequel.
Argo Ben Affleck directed and stars in this dramatic thriller about the time, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, that the CIA assembled a fake film crew to rescue six wily US diplomats who hid out at the Canadian ambassador’s place in Tehran. The fake movie is called “Argo,” which was the name of the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed to capture the Golden Fleece. Do you smell an Oscar allegory?
Hello I Must Be Going The name of both Phil Collins’s second solo album and the first movie the wonderful Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures,” “Two and a Half Men”) has had mostly to herself. She plays a divorcee who moves in with her parents. Sounds like a sitcom and might actually be. But Lynskey can do a whole lot with a little bit.
Here Comes the Boom Kevin James cannot be stopped, even when he should be. His latest indulgence has him playing a teacher who becomes a mixed-martial artist to raise money to keep an extracurricular program alive at his school. With Salma Hayek.
Keep the Lights On A drama focused on the fraught romantic-sexual relationship between two men (Zachary Boothe and Thure Lindhardt), written and directed by Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”), whose personal life was apparently the basis for this story.
Nobody Walks The director and actress Ry Russo-Young teamed with Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture,” HBO’s “Girls”) to write this drama about an artist-filmmaker (Olivia Thirlby) who disturbs the calm of a Hollywood household after she and her libido move in. With Rosemarie DeWitt and John Krasinski. Why do couples always let these women live with them? Even when Dunham’s involved, it never ends well.
Seven Psychopaths The playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s first movie since 2008’s “In Bruges” features a generous helping of mounting violence, much of which revolves around a flailing screenwriter (Colin Farrell), a jobless actor (Sam Rockwell), a gangster (Woody Harrelson), and a stolen dog. The rest of the cast includes Christopher Walken, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, and Abbie Cornish.
Somewhere Between Linda Goldstein Knowlton made this documentary about American girls who’ve been adopted from China.
Special Forces Elite French soldiers on a rescue mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An action-adventure with Benoit Magimel, Diane Kruger, and Djimon Hounsou, who’s in fewer of these sort of modern war pictures than you’d expect.
Alex Cross Tyler Perry makes his debut as the star of a franchise he didn’t invent. He’s taking over the even-tempered detective made famous at the bookstore by James Patterson and at the movies by Morgan Freeman. Cross’s latest case involves a guy named Michael “The Butcher” Sullivan a.k.a. “Picasso” (Matthew Fox). For real.
Beauty Is Embarrassing A documentary by Neil Berkeley about the artist Wayne White, one of the men responsible for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
Killing Them Softly The great film-titling crisis of 2012 continues with the name of this shoot-’em-up by Andrew Dominik, the writer and director of “Chopper” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (now those are titles!). This new film is based on George V. Higgins’s 1974 heist novel, “Cogan’s Trade”; features Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, and Scoot McNairy; and stars Brad Pitt, sporting a long shotgun and a lot of hair gel for a pompadour.
Paranormal Activity 4 What can you say? The so-so, housing-debacle-era horror series refuses to stop repeating itself.
Sister The promising Ursula Meier (2008’s “Home”) keeps her second feature on the Franco-Swiss border with the story of a family whose children are in various states of distress. The first half, set in the vicinity of a resort in the Swiss Alps, seems lighthearted enough, then Something Happens. With Kacey Mottet Klein and Léa Seydoux, recently seen cleaning clocks in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”
The Big Picture Douglas Kennedy’s mystery-thriller novel is now a French vehicle for the young star Romain Duris. He plays a lawyer assuming a new identity and living on the run.
Chasing Mavericks The directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson have teamed up for this film about the American surfer Jay Moriarity, who drowned in 2001 in a diving accident. The movie stars Jonny Weston as Moriarity, Elisabeth Shue as mom, and Gerard Butler as a grizzled surfer guru.
Cloud Atlas Andy and Lana Wachowski return from their “Speed Racer” fiasco with a wild-looking adaptation of David Mitchell’s time-space jigsaw puzzle of a novel. The book spans centuries, so the Wachowskis sound like the right team for the job, along with the great Tom Tykwer, who shares the directing credit. They’ve hired, among others, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon to play multiple roles. What will it mean? What will it say? How will it look? And after we’ve seen him bald, tanned, and goateed, will we ever again see Hanks with the same eyes?
Fun Size See, you thought having a child would be this wonderful, fun, soul-deepening experience, but you never accounted for the possibility that your little bundle of joy might grow into the sort of person who develops a fascination with the elfin Nickelodeon starlet Victoria Justice and says something like, “Mom, I want to see Victoria in a teen-party movie that opens on October 26th! Now!” Nobody ever prepares for that, for life’s Victoria Justices. Should they, though?
The Sessions Some of us are prone to wonder, “Whatever happened to Helen Hunt?” Like, she won that Oscar, made the execrable “Pay It Forward,” and that terrible, terribly popular Nancy Meyers movie, then kind of vanished. (We’re not blaming her, mind you.) Anyway, she appears to be back, playing a sex surrogate hired to show a man (John Hawkes) with an iron lung a good time. It’ll be nice to see her again, even if this movie, which was a real crowd-pleaser at the Sundance Film Festival, seems like the reason God invented the Academy Award.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D Worst. Halloween. Weekend. Ever.
War of the Buttons A French occupation drama centered on kids, loosely based on the hundred-year-old novel by Louis Pergaud.
A Late Quartet Neither lovers of classical music nor fans of Christopher Walken have been done right by the movies lately. Improbably, that may change with this drama about a renowned string quartet that undergoes turmoil when its lead player (Walken) announces he’s ill. Rival violinists Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mark Ivanir struggle for power, with Hoffman’s violist wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Imogen Poots) adding discordant harmonies. Good luck keeping score. Directed by Yaron Zilberman (“Watermarks”).
Flight The Captain “Sully” Sullenberger story was just waiting to be turned into a Denzel Washington conspiracy thriller, wasn’t it? The star plays an airline pilot turned emergency landing hero turned national media scapegoat, and sooner or later, you know he’s gonna get mad. Costarring Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, and John Goodman, but the movie’s probably most notable for being director Robert Zemeckis’s first live-action film since 2000’s “Cast Away.” We’ll take five minutes of Denzel over all of “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” and “A Christmas Carol,” thanks.
Jack & Diane Diane (Juno Temple) is a disheveled British teenager on the loose in New York City. Jack (Riley Keough) is a butch skate-punkette who falls hard for her and vice versa. There are oozy dream sequences animated by the brothers Quay, lots of transgressive kink, and maybe some werewolves — let’s just say this probably isn’t what John Mellencamp had in mind when he wrote the title song back in 1982. With his sophomore film, writer-director Bradley Rust Gray (“The Exploding Girl”) tries to prove he’s the real deal.
The Loneliest Planet A couple of trekking yuppies (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Fusternberg) and a guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) head into the gorgeous, rarely-filmed Khevi region of the Caucasus Mountains, where something . . . happens. Not a horror film but a muted drama of shifting allegiances directed by the prodigiously talented Julia Loktev (“Day Night Day Night”).
Love and Other Anxieties Boston’s Lyda Kuth has built a career at the LEF Foundation helping other people get their movies made, but when her daughter left for college and she confronted a back-burnered marriage, she decided to put her own life on film. The result is a documentary made all the more touching by Kuth’s uncertainty over what the future will bring.
The Man With the Iron Fists In which the various obsessions of the Staten Island hip-hop collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan circle back to their source. Rapper RZA stars in and directs (and co-wrote, with horror maestro Eli Roth) this ultra-violent martial arts actioner about warring clans in feudal China. Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and Pam Grier costar, and Quentin Tarantino’s name is on the film as a “presenter,” but don’t expect another “Kill Bill.” More like “Kill Everybody.”
Red Dawn The 1984 John Milius original was about a Russian invasion of small-town USA, but what’s a remake to do when the Cold War is 25 years over? That’s right: North Koreans. No, really. Chris Hemsworth (“The Avengers”), Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”), and Josh Peck (TV’s “Drake & Josh”) are among the red-blooded American youths who form a guerilla underground and fight back with guns and bombs. Because watching teenagers shoot evil Asians is just what this country needs right now.
Wreck-It Ralph Disney really hopes you’ll think of this computer-animated frolic as “Toy Story” for the video-game generation. A hulking baddie from a classic arcade game, the title character (voiced by John C. Reilly) wants to be a hero, so he escapes to a first-person-shooter war game and unleashes comic mayhem. Additional voices provided by Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer.
Lincoln Will audiences want to watch a movie about a great US president the week after the end of a less-than-inspiring campaign season? There’s no disputing the film’s pedigree, probably the year’s finest: Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner (from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and featuring serious thesping and facial hair from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, and many more. Focusing on Lincoln’s last four months in office, it may be an earnest (i.e., dull) civics lesson. Or it may be so good we’ll be too depressed to leave the
A Royal Affair What’s an Oscar season without crowned heads behaving badly? This European import from director Nikolaj Arcel tells the true story of the 18th-century Danish Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander), her arranged marriage to the bonkers King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard), and her steamy, intellectually uplifting relationship with the idealistic court doctor (Mads Mikkelson) who ushered in social reforms. There will not be a quiz.
Skyfall “Welcome to the new MI6,” says the new Q (Ben Whishaw) to the not-so-new Agent 007 (Daniel Craig). The producers hope you’ll agree. James Bond film #23 hopes to shake off the dust of 2008’s meh “Quantum of Solace” and return to the cruel charisma of “Casino Royale,” the 2006 reboot that introduced Craig’s take on the storied spy. Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) directs, and Judi Dench’s M has more to do than usual, but the real danger to Craig and Bond is a scene-stealer named Javier Bardem as arch-villain Raoul Silva. The last time the actor played a bad guy with a weird hairdo, he won an Oscar.
This Must Be the Place The acid test for those who think Sean Penn can play anything. In Paolo Sorrentino’s quixotic drama, the actor dolls up a la the Cure’s Robert Smith as Cheyenne, a retired goth-rock star who crosses America to find the ex-Nazi who tormented his father in Auschwitz. With appearances by Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton, and David Byrne (who also contributed to the score), this has a definite 1980s indie-New York vibe to it.
Anna Karenina According to the Internet Movie Database, there have been 22 earlier film and TV versions of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Now it’s Keira Knightley and Joe Wright’s turn to have a crack at it. The actress and her director — who teamed memorably on “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) and “Atonement” (2007) — are going for Oscar-baiting opulence and high melodrama if the trailers are to be believed, with Jude Law a gruff Karenin and indie dreamboat Aaron Johnson a foppish Count Vronsky. Can Knightley keep pace with the great Annas of the past -— Greta Garbo (twice!), Vivien Leigh, Claire Bloom — or will she get stuck on the tracks?
Chasing Ice James Balog’s groundbreaking Extreme Ice Survey is captured and augmented by documentarian Jeff Orlowski, who followed the photographer-scientist up north and put together this visually stunning time-lapse study of vanishing glaciers. It’s a movie that could silence climate-change deniers once and for all.
Rust and Bone Your basic French romantic melodrama about a down-and-out boxer and a double-amputee trainer of killer whales. Still, there’s talent to burn here: Director Jacques Audiard made an international name for himself with the 2009 jailhouse drama “A Prophet,” Matthias Schoenaerts was the find of last year’s festival favorite “Bullhead,” and if Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”) can’t breathe life into the part of a legless ichthyologist, no one can.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 When we left Bella (Kristen Stewart) at the end of “TTS:BDP1,” our heroine had finally achieved her life goal of becoming a vampire and endured a pregnancy designed to terrify millions of teenage girls into permanent chastity. Fans of the series — both Stephenie Meyer’s atrociously written novels and the increasingly silly movies made from them — will finally find closure. Tabloid junkies obsessed with Stewart’s off-screen affair will salivate. And the rest of us moved on long ago.
Life of Pi Yann Martel’s out-of-nowhere 2000 bestseller about a boy, a lifeboat, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker wouldn’t seem to be a natural for the movies, but Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) obviously isn’t one to shrink from a challenge. Casting newcomer Suraj Sharma as Pi and shooting in 3-D, Lee also employed as a “nautical consultant” Stephen Callahan, who survived 76 days and 1,800 miles in his own lifeboat. There may be a surprising amount of realism — and maybe a few Oscars — in this offbeat inspirational fable.
Rise of the Guardians Another 3-D CGI family adventure based on a young-adult fantasy book series. But wait — this one sounds interestingly bizarre. Lifting off from William Joyce’s novels about the early lives of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, et al, the script was written by noted playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and the voice cast includes Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, and Jude Law. So there’s that.
Silver Linings Playbook The suddenly ubiquitous Bradley Cooper and the equally so Jennifer Lawrence play a pair of cautious lovebirds coming back from mental illness. Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, there’s dancing involved, and supporting performances from Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) as Cooper’s parents, not to mention an appearance by the not-at-all ubiquitous Chris Tucker (the “Rush Hour” films). Most promising of all, it’s written and directed by David O. Russell, who’s hopefully still on a roll after “The Fighter.”
The Collection A sequel to “The Collector,” the 2009 “Saw”-influenced cult horror film about a booby-trapped house and the thief (Josh Stewart) who has to survive it. Sounds like more of the bloody same, if that’s your bag.
Hyde Park on Hudson Bill Murray plays Franklin D. Roosevelt (two names that have never previously appeared in the same sentence) in this based-on-fact film that intertwines FDR’s affair with a distant cousin (Laura Linney) and the first visit to the United States by a reigning British monarch, King George VI. “The King’s Speech” was a hit. Why not “The King’s Picnic”? Olivia Williams plays Eleanor Roosevelt.
Playing for Keeps Gerard Butler is a divorced former soccer star who starts coaching a youth soccer team to spend more time with his son. Jessica Biel is his ex-wife. Catherine Zeta-Jones is an ESPN executive with designs on him, professional and otherwise. We know he’s good with his feet. What about the rest of him?
The Sweeney Ray Winstone heads a London police unit that employs, let us say, unconventional methods. Ben Drew and Hayley Atwell work under him. Based on a popular British ’70s TV series.
Monsters, Inc. 3D Pixar whets viewers’ appetites for next summer’s “Monsters University” by adding a dimension to its highly inventive 2001 predecessor.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Could J. R. R. Tolkien have suspected all that would follow from that sentence? Two more “Hobbit” movies, for starters, after this one. Peter Jackson directs. Martin Freeman is Bilbo. Various familiar faces return from the “LotR” movies: Ian McKellen as Gandalf; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo (not that all of them are in the book). Oh, and a crucial familiar voice, too: Andy Serkis as Gollum.
Les Miserables Well, it had to happen soon or later, didn’t it. But directed by . . . Tom Hooper? Yup, the “King’s Speech” guy. That’s like having Richard Attenborough direct “A Chorus Line.” (Uh-oh, he did?) Pretty impressive cast, though: Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean; Anne Hathaway as Fantine; Russell Crowe as Javert; Amanda Seyfried as Cosette; and (truly, a marriage made in not-nice heaven) Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers.
Amour Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant play a happily married couple in their 80s. Isabelle Huppert is their grown daughter. A health crisis for Riva poses a test for all three. Those are three mighty fine actors — and they’re working with a mighty fine director, Michael Haneke.
Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow, in her first film since “The Hurt Locker,” directs this ripped-from-the-headlines account of the decade-lowng hunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, and Joel Edgerton star.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away The Montreal-based extravaganza-creation outfit has collaborated with James Cameron, who’s producer, on an original-story film about . . . well, it’s not clear from the trailer. But expect lots of spectacle -- and in 3-D, no less.
Jack Reacher Tom Cruise plays Reacher, the hero of Lee Childs’s series of crime novels, who’s investigating five sniper killings. Also in the cast are Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, and Werner Herzog (!). Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
This Is 40 Writer-director Judd Apatow offers what’s billed as a “sort of sequel” to “Knocked Up.” That film’s secondary leading characters, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), are the focus here. Watch for Albert Brooks, as Rudd’s father, and Lena Dunham, in her first post-“Girls” performance.
Django Unchained Having given the Nazis what-for in his previous movie, Quentin Tarantino goes after antebellum slave owners. A freed slave (Jamie Foxx) enlists the help of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, and Bruce Dern.
Guilt Trip Seth Rogen is an inventor (OK). Barbra Streisand is his mother (well). He invites her to come along on a cross-country trip to sell his latest invention (really?). It’s a comedy.
Parental Guidance Billy Crystal, who helped write the script, is a grandfather who has to take care of a trio of grandkids when daughter Marisa Tomei returns to work. Bette Midler is Crystal’s wife. This, too, is a comedy.