Do movies take the temperature of the times we live in? It hardly seems likely given the average production lead of most films — two years or more — and the unlikelihood of any project to get green-lit in the first place. Yet some movie seasons seem to ennoble and soothe, while others bedevil us with angsts that seem to leak in from outside the screen. Fall 2013 is one of the latter. With the world order in disarray and our path forward — as individuals, a nation, a species — frustratingly unclear, our filmed entertainments hold up a mirror to the turmoil.
This is the season of Big Trouble — an autumn of our discontents. One of the most hyped arrivals, "Gravity," from the prodigiously gifted Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men"), could serve as a metaphor for our larger predicament: two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) adrift in space with no way of getting home.
The studio lineup represents an uneasy balance between Hollywood heroism and real-world conundrums. Paul Greengrass's "Captain Phillips" re-creates a 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of a US cargo ship — with Tom Hanks in the title role. "The Fifth Estate" dramatizes the Wikileaks scandal with Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio re-team for "The Wolf of Wall Street," with the star cast as a swaggering financial antihero. Even the season's requisite British-royal biopic — "Diana," starring Naomi Watts — is about the turbulence (and turbulent romances) of the late princess's final years.
The strife is reflected on the domestic scale: December brings an adaptation of Tracy Letts's cauterizing stage play "August: Osage County," with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan MacGregor as members of the battling Weston clan. "Her," from director Spike Jonze, is a love story between a man (Joaquin Phoenix) and the voice of his computer's operating system (Scarlett Johansson). The talented Kimberly Peirce ("Boy's Don't Cry") tackles a remake of "Carrie" — that mash-up of adolescent agita and telekinetic horror — with Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the leads.
There are, to be sure, the expected sequels and blockbuster entertainments, but even they have an air of doom about them: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" — that title makes it sound like a climate-change documentary — and a hoped-for franchise starter in the sci-fi apocalypse adaptation "Ender's Game." And there are new films from such moviemaking reliables as the Coen brothers ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle," with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro), and Jason Reitman ("Labor Day," with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin).
Expect plenty of dramatic provocations and unanswered questions, in other words — a welcome development after this past summer's season of silly. Still, even hard-nosed realists may find themselves clinging with relief to the fall's rare example of counter-programming: Will Ferrell in the proudly idiotic "Anchorman: The Legend Continues."
THE FAMILY A Mafioso and his wife and kids relocate to France, becoming — how you say in French? — zhee classic poissons out of water. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones star. Luc Besson — yes, Luc Besson — directed.
AFTERNOON DELIGHT Jill Soloway, who won the best director award at Sundance this year for this comedy-drama, takes a look at female archetypes, and stereotypes. A housewife and mother (Kathryn Hahn) tries to reform a stripper (Juno Temple).
DRINKING BUDDIES Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde work in a Chicago brewery and get along great. They'd be the perfect couple — except that she's with Ron Livingston and he's with Anna Kendrick. Then they all spend a weekend together. Joe Swanberg directed.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 When bad things happen to good people — all over again. Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, and Ty Simpkins return as the much-put-upon Lambert family.
POPULAIRE It's 1958 in this French comedy, and a boss (Romain Duris) decides his secretary (Déborah François) should become the fastest typist in the world. Bérénice Bejo also stars.
SALINGER Notoriously averse to publicity, J.D. Salinger, the author of "The Catcher in the Rye," died in 2010. So he's had plenty of time to settle in before turning in his grave, as he now must be, over this up-close-and-very-personal documentary.
THINGS NEVER SAID Writer-director Charles Murray makes his feature debut with this story of a poet (Shanola Hampton) who has a new man come into her life (Omari Hardwick), a life in which she has, ahem, a husband (Elimu Nelson).
THE WALL In this Austrian drama, an invisible yet impermeable barrier cuts off a woman from human society. Her only companion is her dog. Directed by Julian Pölsler.
PRISONERS A father turns vigilante when his daughter disappears. Hugh Jackman, as the father, heads a very strong cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, and Terrence Howard.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR So there's this annual international dance competition. The United States hasn't won in 15 years! Josh Holloway ("Lost"), Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, Cathy Lotz, and Chris Brown want to take back the title.
MONEY FOR NOTHING: INSIDE THE FEDERAL RESERVE A.k.a. "Ben Bernanke, Superstar." Jim Bruce directed this documentary about the Fed. Liev Schreiber narrates.
THE PATIENCE STONE Golshifteh Farahani ("Chicken With Plums") plays an Afghan woman who cares for her much older invalid husband. When she starts to speak to him of her true feelings, a young soldier comes on the scene.
THANKS FOR SHARING The first romantic comedy about sex-addiction therapy. Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Pink, and Tim Robbins star.
WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL A documentary look at the Borscht Belt roots of modern stand-up comedy.
THE WIZARD OF OZ What does the Yellow Brick Road look like in Imax 3-D? This is your chance to find out.
YOU WILL BE MY SON Father (Niels Arestrup) and son (Lorant Deutsch) clash over the French vineyard their family owns.
JERUSALEM This IMAX documentary looks at the city and its 5,000-year history through the eyes of three families, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim.
THE LEGEND OF COOL "DISCO" DAN A documentary about a street artist whose graffiti seemed to be everywhere in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s.
DON JON Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his feature debut as writer-director, playing a very Jersey guy who tries to square his passion for porn with his ideas about true love. It's a comedy. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore also star.
RUSH Ron Howard directed this biopic about Formula One driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and his rivalry with James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in 1976.
ENOUGH SAID The late James Gandolfini stars with Toni Collette, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Catherine Keener in this comedy from writer-director Nicole Holofcener about a woman who discovers her new beau is her new friend's ex.
+1 You're on campus. There's this huge party that everyone wants to go to, including you and two of your pals. Unfortunately, a "mysterious phenomenon" shows up too.
BAGGAGE CLAIM A flight attendant (Paula Patton) gives herself a month, and 30,000 travel miles, to get engaged. Along for the ride are Taye Diggs, Jill Scott, Adam Brody, and Djimon Hounsou.
BLUE CAPRICE A crime drama inspired by the 2002 Beltway Sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area. Joey Lauren Adams, Isaiah Washington, and Tim Blake Nelson star.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 A sequel to the 2009 animated feature based on the popular children's book.
GOOD OL' FREDA A documentary about Freda Kelly, a teenager from Liverpool who back in 1961 became the secretary of a local rock band's fan club. The band was, of course, the Beatles.
HAUTE CUISINE A movie that gives new meaning to the term "kitchen confidential." Catherine Frot plays the personal chef to French President Francois Mitterrand (Jean d'Ormesson) in this based-on-fact story.
INEQUALITY FOR ALL This advocacy documentary seeks to do for economic inequality what "An Inconvenient Truth" did for global warming. Former US labor secretary Robert Reich is the Al Gore counterpart.
METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER A roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is assigned a sensitive task during one of the band's concerts. Things start to get complicated, and surreal.
MUSCLE SHOALS A British documentary about the legendary studio in northern Alabama where so many classic rock, soul, and R&B recordings were made in the '60s and '70s.
THERESE Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, and Jessica Lange head the cast in this film adaptation of Émile Zola's classic novel of family intrigue in 1860s Paris, "Thérèse Raquin."
WADJDA Waad Mohammed plays the 10-year-old title character, a Saudi girl who enters a Koran-recitation contest. If she wins, the prize money will let her buy the bicycle she has her heart set on.
GRAVITY Alfonso Cuarón's first feature since "Children of Men" has a two-person cast — but what a cast. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as astronauts adrift in space, trying to save themselves before their oxygen runs out.
PARKLAND What happened at the Dallas hospital where President Kennedy was brought on Nov. 22, 1963. The intriguing cast includes Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Ron Livingston, Jackie Earle Haley, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, and Paul Giamatti (as Abraham Zapruder).
RUNNER RUNNER Justin Timberlake plays a college student who runs afoul of online poker. He goes in search of the tycoon who did him in, as played by that well-known real-life poker player Ben Affleck. Gemma Arterton costars.
BAD MILO! There's heartburn — and there's heartburn. That's the premise of this comic horror film — or maybe that should be horror comedy — in which a young man (Ken Marino) finds out that his stomach problems are being caused by a demon in his digestive system.
CONCUSSION After getting hit in the head, a young woman (Robin Weigert) resolves to change her identity.
DARK TOUCH In a small Irish town, an 11-year-old is the only member of her family to survive a rampage. The police think a gang did it. She knows better: It was the house.
HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION David Lynch pays tribute to the one-of-a-kind character actor in this one-of-a-kind documentary.
HERB & DOROTHY A documentary about a middle-class married couple who, through persistence and excellent taste, acquired a remarkable contemporary art collection.
MOTHER OF GEORGE Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu offers this story of an African couple in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Isaach de Bankolé and Danai Gurira), running a restaurant while dealing with marital issues.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Having been the saver, in "Saving Private Ryan," Tom Hanks gets to play the saved. Based-on-fact story of Richard Phillips (Hanks) whose ship was taken by Somali pirates in 2009.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE Amber Heard is Mandy, who heads up to a party in a secluded setting with a bunch of her fellow high school students, the boys of the title. Then they start to disappear . . .
DRACULA Dario Argento sinks his teeth into everyone's favorite vampire tale. Thomas Kretschmann is the count, and (thank you, casting director) Rutger Hauer is Van Helsing.
MACHETE KILLS Director Robert
Rodriguez brings back his much-loved menacing antihero, played by the great Danny Trejo. This time he's working for the US government. Look for appearances by Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and . . . the list goes on.
ROMEO AND JULIET In this modern-day version, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld play Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. Julian Fellowes did the adaptation. Carlo Carlei directed.
FREE THE MIND A documentary about a leading neuroscientist's investigation into the mind's healing powers.
THE SUMMIT The Himalayan peak K2 is reputed to be the most dangerous mountain in the world. How dangerous? An August 2008 ascent left nearly a dozen climbers dead. This British documentary looks at what happened.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE A remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name (well, the same name in Spanish) about a family of cannibals. Kelly McGillis stars.
WHERE THE DEVIL HIDES When young female members in a religious cult start to disappear, older members suspect it's the coming to pass of a prophecy. The younger generation suspect it's the older ones taking age discrimination too far.
THE FIFTH ESTATE If the press is the fourth estate, then Wikileaks is the fifth. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange in this topical drama-biopic ripped, as the saying goes, from the headlines. Bill Condon directed.
12 YEARS A SLAVE Director Steve McQueen has a very strong cast — Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Chiwetel Ejiofor — for this based-on-fact account of a freed man kidnapped back into slavery in 1841.
ALL IS LOST Robert Redford plays a yachtsman sailing solo in the Indian Ocean who has to deal with the consequences of a collision that leaves him without radio or navigation equipment. And there's this big storm brewing . . .
CARRIE Kimberly Peirce remakes Brian De Palma's 1976 horror classic, based on the Stephen King novel. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the telekinetic teen title character. Julianne Moore is Mom.
ESCAPE PLAN Sylvester Stallone plays an engineer who, convicted of a crime he didn't commit, ends up in a prison he helped design. Fellow con Arnold Schwarzenegger helps him try to break out to clear his name.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS A based-on-fact story about a 1944 murder that helped start the Beat movement. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg, Ben Foster as William Burroughs, and Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac.
THE COUNSELOR A lawyer gets involved with drug trafficking. Not a good idea. Ridley Scott directed, Cormac McCarthy wrote, Brad Pitt, Goran Visnjic, and Michael Fassbender star. All good ideas.
HAUNTER A dead teen appears as a ghost to save a living teen from the fate that befell her. Abigail Breslin stars.
JACKASS PRESENTS BAD GRANDPA Johnny Knoxville plays his 86-year-old character, Irving Zisman, who embarks on a cross-country tour with his 8-year-old grandson. Consider the possibilities. Or not.
ENDER'S GAME Orson Scott Card's celebrated sci-fi novel finally comes to the screen. Asa Butterfield, as Ender, heads a cast that includes Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, and Hailee Steinfeld.
DIANA As in Princess of Wales. Naomi Watts plays her. The film focuses on the final two years of Diana's life and, more specifically, her secret affair with a Pakistani heart surgeon (Naveen Andrews).
LAST VEGAS Hangover, shmangover: Three guys in their 60s go to Sin City to host a bachelor party for a friend who's finally getting hitched. Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline play the gentlemen in question.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Matthew McConaughey stars in this based-on-fact story about a Texas electrician who fought the big pharmaceutical companies after being diagnosed with HIV, in 1986. Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, and Steve Zahn costar.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos play young women who become a same-sex couple (emphasis on the sex). Controversial winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.
BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD The horror genre has never been quite the same since "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). Rob Kuhns's documentary looks at how George A. Romero came to make the movie.
FREE BIRDS Thanksgiving comes early this year. In this animated feature, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson provide the voices for a pair of turkeys who do not intend to end up on anyone's holiday table.
HOW I LIVE NOW If you're an American teen on vacation with your family there are worse places to be than England when World War III breaks out. Or are there? Saoirse Ronan stars.
MAN OF TAI CHI Keanu Reeves directed and stars in this story of a martial artist whose considerable abilities bring him to the attention of proprietors of a criminal fight club.
MR. NOBODY Jared Leto plays an 118-year-old man at the end of the 21st century who recounts his life story — quite confusingly, thank you very much — to a journalist. Sarah Polley plays his wife, and Diane Kruger his stepsister.
BEST MAN DOWN You're newlyweds on your honeymoon. You learn that your best man died. What do you do? If you're played by Justin Long and Jess Weixler, you fly home to handle the funeral arrangements.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD The Norse god superhero gives "getting hammered" a whole new meaning. Chris Hemsworth, as Thor, and Natalie Portman, as his lady love, pick up where they left off in 2011. So do Tom Hiddleston, as Loki (hiss!), and Anthony Hopkins, as Odin.
ABOUT TIME A romantic comedy in which Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan's son) plays a young man who learns he can travel through time. Pretty cool, except that it complicates his courting of Rachel McAdams.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Martin Scorsese's first directorial effort since 2011's "Hugo." Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this based-on-fact story of the rise and fall of a high-flying stockbroker. Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Spike Jonze, and Kyle Chandler costar.
THE BOOK THIEF An adaptation of Markus Zusak's popular novel about a girl (Sophie Nélisse) growing up in Nazi Germany whose passion for books leads her to steal them. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play her foster parents.
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY College pals Terrence Howard and Morris Chestnut reunite after 15 years. Comedy ensues. Tyler Perry's wondering, "How did Malcolm D. Lee get to this first?"
A CASE OF YOU Love online gets a lot more complicated when it becomes love beyond the computer screen. A very solid cast includes Peter Dinklage, Evan Rachel Wood, Sam Rockwell, Brendan Fraser, Sienna Miller, and Vince Vaughn.
CONTRACTED A sexually transmitted disease picked up from a one-night stand is bad enough. When it's picked up from a one-night stand in a horror movie, like this, and is something other than an STD, it's much worse.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE Once upon a time, there was a girl named Katniss. Maybe you've heard of her? If not, here's another chance (with two more to follow).
NEBRASKA In Alexander Payne's first directorial outing since "The Descendants" (2011), Bruce Dern plays a cranky old guy who goes on a road trip with his estranged son (Will Forte) to claim a sweepstakes prize.
DELIVERY MAN Vince Vaughn plays an anonymous sperm donor whose efforts have produced 533 offspring. Now that they're grown, 142 of them want to find out who he is. A remake of the French-Canadian comedy "Starbuck."
BLACK NATIVITY The Langston Hughes classic has been updated and turned into a musical by writer-director Kasi Lemmons. Heading the cast are Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Mary J. Blige.
FROZEN In this latest animated feature from Disney, the kingdom of Arendelle has been condemned to perpetual winter by the evil Elsa. Can her brave sister Anna save the day with the help of her friend Kristoff?
HOMEFRONT Retired drug agent Jason Statham moves to a nice quiet town. Or not-so-quiet: James Franco is the local druglord. Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, and Vincent D'Onofrio costar. Sylvester Stallone wrote the script, based on Chuck Logan's novel.
OLDBOY Spike Lee directed this remake of a 2003 South Korean thriller based on a Japanese manga. Held captive for 20 years, a businessman (Josh Brolin) seeks to find out why — and get his revenge. Sharlto Copley, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson costar.
GRACE OF MONACO It's the early '60s, and Charles de Gaulle is threatening to invade Monaco. Can Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) save the day? With Tim Roth, as Prince Rainier, and Paz Vega, as Maria Callas.
MANDELA: A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela in this biopic based on the South African leader's autobiography.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS Liev Schreiber is in charge of an Earth mission exploring the red planet — except that the group keeps getting smaller as astronauts disappear one by one.
OUT OF THE FURNACE Rodney Baze (Christian Bale) knows what to do when his kid brother (Casey Affleck) disappears: find him. Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, and Zoe Saldana are on hand too. Scott Cooper directed.
THE PUNK SINGER Kathleen Hanna, leader of the band Bikini Kill and pillar of the riot grrrl movement, is the subject of this documentary.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Peter Jackson's trilogification of J. R. R. Tolkien's beloved children's book continues with this second installment. It's dominated by a dragon, the Smaug of the subtitle.
TYLER PERRY'S A MADEA CHRISTMAS The title is self-explanatory. The presence of Larry the Cable Guy is not.
HER Writer-director Spike Jonze is on the (very) loose again. Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely-guy writer obsessed with the voice of his computer's operating system (Scarlett Johansson). Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara provide more conventional female company.
THE MONUMENTS MEN George Clooney directed and stars in this real-life story of art historians and curators trying to save European artworks during World War II. Costarring Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, and John Goodman.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Forget "A Mighty Wind." The Coen brothers show us a week in the life of the Greenwich Village folk scene, circa 1961. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake head up a typically intriguing Coen cast.
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) returns. He's moving up in the world too. Bye-bye, San Diego, Hello, New York.
THE PAST Writer-director Asghar Farhadi's first film since "A Separation," which won the 2012 best foreign language Oscar. When an Iranian man (Tahar Rahim) returns home, his French wife (Bérénice Bejo) asks for a divorce.
SAVING MR. BANKS The story behind Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) buying the movie rights to "Mary Poppins" from P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). Yes, this is a Disney release.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS 3D The title of this self-proclaimed "ultimate immersive experience" is even more self-explanatory than "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" is, and Larry the Cable Guy is nowhere to be found.
AMERICAN HUSTLE It's like a joint "The Fighter"/"Silver Linings Playbook" reunion. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro appear in this fictionalization of the Abscam scandal, from the late 1970s. Filmed partially in Worcester.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTRY Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a darkly comic family reunion in Oklahoma brings together Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, and Ewan McGregor costar.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW ONE It's been 11 years since Tom Clancy's CIA top op has been onscreen. Then, in "The Sum of All Fears," Ben Affleck played him. Now it's Chris Pine. Also on board are Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Kevin Branagh, as a Russian baddie.
LABOR DAY Jason Reitman adapted Joyce Maynard's novel and directed (filming took place in Massachusetts). Kate Winslet is a single mom who gives a ride to Josh Brolin when she's out driving with her young son. It turns out he's an escaped convict.
GRUDGE MATCH Think of it as "Rocky" meets "Raging Bull," with help from AARP. Boxing rivals Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro agree to face off 50 years after their last bout.
LONE SURVIVOR Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster star in this based-on-fact story of Navy SEALs assigned to kill or capture a Taliban leader.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Ben Stiller stars as the title character and directed this remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye vehicle about a mild-mannered office worker who leads an adventurous fantasy life. Kristen Wiig is his love interest.
THE UNKNOWN KNOWN Having memorably dealt with the longest-serving secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, in the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War," Errol Morris turns to the second-longest-serving, Donald Rumsfeld.
47 RONIN Director Carl Rinsch doesn't exactly play it safe for his feature debut, updating the classic tale of samurai seeking to avenge their master. Keanu Reeves (that's right, Keanu Reeves) stars.