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Fall Movie Preview

Fall films find happy medium

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Movie distribution companies are emotionally manipulative jerks. Sure, it's fine and dandy to have light-hearted comedies and action-packed thrill-rides all summer, but what about wintertime? As the days grow shorter and colder, the films released seem to get subsequently darker and more heart-wrenching, just when we most need some sunshiny levity. Give us balance! Fortunately, the fall film season seems to achieve Goldilocks' ratio of just right, ranging from the war comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, featuring Ewan McGregor, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey, which opens Friday, Nov. 6; to the Fellini-inspired musical Nine with Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman; to the bleak post-apocalyptic The Road, starring Viggo Mortenson and Charlize Theron. The last two both go into wide release on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Here are four others that will leave us neither stupefied by their inanity nor sobbing alone in a dark corner.

Where the Wild Things Are: Friday, Oct. 16

Expanding the beloved children's classic by Maurice Sendak into a full feature has taken nearly two decades, but after multiple studio halts, a massive casting search for the role of young Max (played by Max Records) and the author's July Comic-Con confession of approval, it's finally here. Like the 10-sentence book on which it's based, the film tells the story of an angry, emotionally neglected child who imaginatively creates a fantasy island where he rules as king of the beasts. With notable voice talents by James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) and Catherine O'Hara (Waiting for Guffman) and co-scripted by Dave Eggers (Away We Go) and director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), the film looks to flesh out the visionary fable into a PG-rated--but no less compelling--tale of adventure.

Amelia: Friday, Oct. 23

Seventy-two years after her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean, Amelia Earhart remains a vivid figure in American history and a source of multiple urban legends. She has, in time, been rumored to have been a Roosevelt-commissioned spy, an infamous Tokyo Rose or alive and well, living in New Jersey under an assumed name. Although most of these claims have proved groundless, her accomplishments and lifetime fame are legendary enough to warrant this new biopic, which stars Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) in the title role, and co-stars Richard Gere (Chicago) and Ewan McGregor (this is his fourth film this year). Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) directs this story of the iconic woman who helped break the glass ceiling in the male-dominated world of aviation.

A Serious Man: Friday, Oct. 30

Joel and Ethan Coen are somewhat untouchable. Even their rare bad films (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) can only be called missteps in relation to their best work (Fargo, Miller's Crossing). And even then, those are better than most everything else in their particular genres. With A Serious Man, the Coens return to the darkly comic territory for which they're best known. Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) is at a spiritual crossroads. His wife (Sari Wagner Lennick) might be leaving him, his two children are stealing from him and his deadbeat brother is living on his couch. In order to grow into a devout and balanced man, he seeks the advice of three different rabbis. The film is loosely based on the Coen brothers' remembrances of their middle-class Jewish upbringing, and looks to be one of their most mature, personal films to date.

Coco Before Chanel: Friday, Nov. 6

After the cinematic mess that was Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code (2006), Gallic gamine Audrey Tautou (Amelie) made a dignified retreat back to her native France, where she won the role of famed clothing designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel before a script was even finished. Chronicling the fashion icon's early years in a monastic orphanage through her cabaret aspirations to the creation of her gender-bending early designs, the film gives a glimpse of the humble beginnings of a woman famous for inventing her own history. American Alessandro Nivola (Junebug) also appears as the wealthy Englishman Arthur Capel, who financed Chanel's first Parisian storefront. Using vintage outfits from the design house's own archives and a musical score from Oscar-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat (The Queen), Coco Before Chanel is sure to be an autumnal balm to any bundled-up fashionista's soul.