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2011 Fall Movie Preview

As alluded to in last week's review of "Our Idiot Brother," if you don't count the mostly inferior sequels and 3-D abominations (which sadly were about half of everything), the summer 2011 roster of movies was the best in quite a long time.

An indicator that the early fall could be just as rewarding: Close to 10 of the titles being released between now and the middle of November have already been screened for the press. When studios do that, it's a very good sign of things to come.

The following are thumbnails of most of the higher-profile mainstream titles and a number of the more interesting-looking art-house productions that are due for release in the next three months. As always, all release dates are subject to change.

Sept. 9

BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR -- Not starring but co-written and produced by Adam Sandler, this comedy is about a going-nowhere man (Nick Swardson) who learns his conservative parents once starred in a porn flick and decides to follow in their footsteps.

CONTAGION -- Steven Soderbergh directs an all-star cast in this paranoia-laden disaster adventure where a deadly virus swiftly spreads across the U.S. A great deal of the filming took place in and around Atlanta.

Sept. 16

BELLFLOWER -- Writer/director/leading man Evan Glodell's debut feature mixes elements of "Mad Max," "Fight Club" and "Natural Born Killers" and is one of the year's weirdest yet most riveting efforts.

DRIVE -- Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as the wheelman for a gang of thieves and soon finds himself the target of a massive manhunt. Carrie Mulligan ("An Education") plays the love interest.

HIGHER GROUND -- Vera Farminga ("Up in the Air," "The Departed") makes her directorial debut while also playing an ex-hippie who finds religion and maybe loses it in this strained and uneven comedy/drama.

I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT -- This romantic comedy stars Sarah Jessica Parker as an urban wife and mother who has far too much on her plate and gets stretched too thin. Greg Kinnear tags along as her husband.

MR. NICE -- In this fact-based bio-drama Rhys Ifans plays the title character, an Oxford professor who during the early '70s was one of the world's highest volume marijuana and hashish dealers.

RESTLESS -- Director Gus Van Zant returns to his off-kilter roots in this oddball comedy/drama about a terminally ill girl (Mia Wasikowska) who falls for a boy who passes his time crashing funerals and talking to an Asian ghost.

STRAW DOGS -- This probably-not-needed remake of the 1971 original directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman changes the setting from England to the conservative US South. A controversial screenwriter (James Marsden) and his wife (Kate Bosworth) become the targets of some very angry good ol' boys with guns.

Sept. 23 ABDUCTION -- Taylor Lautner (the main werewolf in the "Twilight" franchise) takes the lead in this action/thriller about a man who goes ballistic after seeing a picture of himself as a baby on a missing person's website.

DOLPHIN TALE -- "Flipper" meets "Free Willy" in this 3-D family adventure starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH For the 35th anniversary of his trippy, sci-fi drama starring rocker David Bowie, director Nicholas Roeg tacks on 20 minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes and turns what was just an OK movie into something you'll probably want to avoid.

MONEYBALL -- Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the non-fictional general manager of the Oakland A's baseball team who, in an effort to be efficient and contrary, relied on computer algorithms to determine his draft choices.

THUNDER SOUL -- This documentary -- produced by Jamie Foxx -- tells the story of a '70s-era high school band leader who ditched stodgy and staid staples and replaced them with current (now classic) funk and R&B hits.

Sept. 30

50/50 -- This dark comedy could be either very heartwarming or a bad-taste disaster. Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play best friends who must come to terms with one of them being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

COURAGEOUS -- This faith-based drama with a mostly no-name cast focuses on the lives of four friends (all police officers) that on the surface looks like something that usually debuts on cable or goes direct to video.

DREAM HOUSE -- Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts star in a horror/thriller that recalls "The Amityville Horror." A mother, father and two daughters move into what looks like their dream house, only to be severely disappointed.

MARGARET -- Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo are the leads in a drama about a woman who second guesses herself in the aftermath of a traffic accident that may or may not have been intentional.

TAKE SHELTER -- Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play a married couple with children that come under the threat of an unknown force that may or may not be real.

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? -- This could be real good or very bad. Anna Faris and Chris Evans star in a comedy about a woman with a ticking clock that looks back at her romantic past and wonders if she can re-ignite a dormant flame.

Oct. 7 IDES OF MARCH -- George Clooney directs and stars as a U.S. presidential candidate alongside Ryan Gosling as his eager-to-please aide. Based on the play by Beau Willimon, it looks like a mix of "The Candidate" and "Primary Colors."

REAL STEEL -- Futuristic sci-fi drama where 2,000-pound humanoid boxing robots provide entertainment for the masses. Starring Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly, it could be refreshingly odd or a catastrophic misfire.

WANDERLUST -- Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd play a well-to-do but bored urban married couple who attempt to shake up their humdrum lives by going counterculture.

Oct. 14

FOOTLOOSE -- With director Craig Brewer ("Black Snake Moan," "Hustle & Flow") at the controls, this remake of the beloved but lightweight 1984 original could be edgier and grittier, but don't count on it.

LOVE CRIME -- "Working Girl" meets "The Devil Wears Prada" in this French thriller starring Kristen Scott-Thomas as a dastardly boss who messes with the mind of a naive but ambitious intern (Ludivine Sagnier).

THE SKIN I LIVE IN -- In this latest from visionary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, Antonio Banderas stars as a haunted plastic surgeon who tries to right past wrongs by inventing an indestructible synthetic skin.

THE THING -- This third adaptation of the short story ("Who Goes There?") by John W. Campbell Jr. stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a grad student based in Antarctica whose discovery of an alien spaceship generates friction between her and a research scientist (Joel Edgerton).

THE THREE MUSKETEERS -- The umpteenth adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel doesn't appear to have anything new to offer besides its eclectic cast (Ray Stevenson, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen and Milla Jovovich).

Oct. 21

MARGIN CALL -- Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek," "Heroes") and Kevin Spacey lead an all-star cast in this dramatic thriller about an investment firm caught off guard during the early stages of the 2008 financial meltdown.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE -- Elizabeth Olsen (Mary-Kate and Ashley's younger sister) plays a girl trying to get back to normal after escaping capture from an abusive cult.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 -- More of the same faux-documentary horror shtick that could benefit from a bigger budget and higher-grade special effects.

Oct. 28 ANONYMOUS -- Now here's an interesting concept. In this period political thriller, Rhys Ifans stars as Edward de Vere, a 16th century English earl many are convinced is the true author of works credited to William Shakespeare.

JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN -- Rowan Atkinson reprises his role from the 2003 original as a bumbling secret agent. Think "The Pink Panther" by way of James Bond. It could possibly benefit from the presence of the sublime Rosamund Pike.

THE RUM DIARY -- Johnny Depp plays a struggling freelance writer who comes to a professional crossroads while working for a third-rate newspaper in the Caribbean. Amber Heard (looking a lot like Scarlett Johansson) plays the love interest.

SAFE -- Jason Statham turns in yet another variation of himself in this action thriller about a secret agent trying to rescue a child from the clutches of evil. Sounds too much like "Taken."

Nov. 4

A VERY MERRY HAROLD & KUMAR 3-D CHRISTMAS -- The third installment in the good-natured stoner comedy franchise arrives with a holiday theme and the return of Neil Patrick Harris co-starring as himself.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN -- Michelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe in this fact-based drama chronicling the stormy production of "The Prince of the Showgirl" and Monroe's testy relationship with leading man/director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).

PUSS IN BOOTS -- After milking the "Shrek" franchise for every last penny it could, DreamWorks issues its first spin-off starring Antonio Banderas as the title character, a swashbuckling feline.

TOWER HEIST -- Eddie Murphy and many near all-stars play the former employees of a guy modeled after Bernie Madoff who intend on exacting revenge by breaking into his plush New York penthouse and robbing him blind.

Nov. 11

IMMORTALS -- Former video director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The Fall") returns with what will surely be a visual feast that acts as a quasi-companion piece to "Clash of the Titans." It stars Henry Cavill (the new Superman) and Mickey Rourke.

J. EDGAR -- Director Clint Eastwood's epic bio-flick about former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was written by Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") and promises to spend a lot of screen time exploring (or exploiting) Hoover's secretive homosexual relationship with fellow agent Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

JACK AND JILL -- Adam Sandler plays Jack, the L.A. based twin brother of New Yorker Jill (Sandler in drag), who comes to visit and then refuses to leave. Expect supreme mediocrity.

LIKE CRAZY -- A British college student (Anton Yelchin) falls for an American girl (Felicity Jones) but overstays his visa and gets kicked out the country.

HAPPY FEET TWO -- The inevitable sequel to the overrated Oscar-winning animated musical adventure features the two original leads (Robin Williams and Elijah Wood) and more singing and dancing penguin hi-jinx.

TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN -- PART 1 -- Following the lead of the last two "Harry Potter" installments, the second to last "Twilight" -- according to many of the diehard "Twilight" faithful -- is based on the weakest book of the lot.