LOS ANGELES Fall brings colder weather across the northern hemisphere and with it, Hollywood's major studios usher into theaters cool action thrillers, chilly horror movies and some dramatic Oscar hopefuls looking for a head start on awards season.
From new James Bond flick "Skyfall" to another scary "Paranormal" installment and the long-awaited Paul Thomas Anderson Scientology drama, "The Master," there is plenty for cinephiles to dissect in the season, which begins after this weekend's U.S. Labor Day holiday and runs roughly to Thanksgiving.
The pace of movies is slower than the U.S. summer when the studios bring out blockbusters like "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises," weekly. But don't let the pace fool you; fall 2012 is neither short on quality nor quantity, experts say.
"Early fall can often be a little bit of a lull at the movies, but it can also be a time when real quality films can take advantage of a quiet marketplace and really stand out," Entertainment Weekly writer Dave Karger said.
The season kicks into high gear on September 21, with Jack Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena playing Los Angeles police battling a ruthless drug cartel in "End of Watch," from writer/director David Ayer.
Ayer, whose previous LA cop flick, "Training Day," earned Denzel Washington a best actor Oscar, said the film shows "what it's like to work the streets in a way very few films have ever shown," pulling back the curtain on the cops' lives, personal and professional.
"It's not your typical Hollywood movie. It's very grounded, very real - almost a pseudo documentary. You'll walk out of this movie wanting to hug a cop," he said.
Guns continue to blaze on September 28 when Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play the same person - only 30-years apart - in the time-travel flick "Looper" about assassins killing targets sent back from the future.
Liam Neeson is back as the CIA-trained, overly protective father in "Taken 2" (October 5) when the kidnappers who swiped his daughter in the first "Taken" movie return for revenge.
The best-selling Alex Cross crime novels get a reboot with Tyler Perry taking the lead role previously inhabited by Morgan Freeman in "Alex Cross" (Oct 19). This time, the detective psychologist takes on a hit man played by Matthew Fox.
On October 12, crime takes a comedic edge in "Seven Psychopaths," about a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who gets involved in the Los Angeles underworld when his dog-snatching friend (Sam Rockwell) makes the mistake of kidnapping a Shih Tzu belonging to a crime boss (Woody Harrelson).
The season ends with a bang as the highly anticipated "Skyfall" comes out on November 9, amid a celebration of 50 years of Bond movies. This time around, Daniel Craig takes his third turn as 007 with Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes at the helm of the movie and Javier Bardem as the villain, Silva.
HALLOWEEN HAUNTS & OSCAR BAIT
Fall is long on horror as the studios play to fears ahead of Halloween. On September 21, Jennifer Lawrence finds herself haunted in "The House at the End of the Street." On October 5, an ghostly entity threatens Ethan Hawke and his family in "Sinister."
If that's not enough haunted house-themed flicks, the hugely popular franchise "Paranormal Activity 4" returns on October 19.
For family frights, animated "Hotel Transylvania" (September 28) stars Adam Sandler as a hotelier to non-humans whose world turns upside down when an over-excited human shows up. And Tim Burton brings his usual ghoulish charm to the screen with the stop-motion animated "Frankenweenie" (October 5) about a young boy who resurrects his late dog, Sparky. Arf!
Then, there is the Oscar race. In recent years, as Academy Award organizers moved their top film honors up by a month, to February from late March, the studios have been bringing more award hopefuls to theaters in September and October.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is creating Oscar buzz prior to its September 14 release. Set in the 1950s, the movie tells of a damaged alcoholic (Joaquin Phoenix) who is taken under wing by a charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of a spiritual movement not unlike the controversial Church of Scientology.
Also getting attention is "Argo" (October 12), directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Based on real events, the movie shows a CIA specialist's mission to free six U.S. diplomats in 1979 Iran by posing as a filmmaker and putting them among his bogus crew.
Actor John Hawkes gives a tour-de-force performance in "The Sessions" (October 26) playing a 38-year-old man who, having spent most of his life in an iron lung, decides to hire a therapeutic sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to lose his virginity.
But Hawkes will see Oscar competition from Daniel Day Lewis starring as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's biopic, "Lincoln," (November 9).
Fans of the filmmaking Wachoswki siblings (Lana and Andy of "The Matrix" movies) will try to wrap their heads around "Cloud Atlas" (October 26), starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in different roles throughout six interwoven tales.
"'Cloud Atlas' is the complete wild card," said Entertainment Weekly's Karger. "A two and a half-plus hour movie by the Wachowskis that looks so bizarre. It's probably going to be one of the most polarizing movies of the season."
Finally, in a film aimed more at adults than teens, there is sport-themed documentary "The Other Dream Team" (October 28), chronicling members of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team as they go from life behind the Iron Curtain to newfound independence - with financial assistance from the Grateful Dead. (Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
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