Show me the monkey!
Before going ape, take a selective look at your fall movie options.

 

By Cheryl Eddy

THERE ARE PLENTY of wannabe Oscar-grubbers lining up this fall, but there's also a pretty decent array of escapism, what with boy wizards and animated chickens easing us into the holidays. And truth be told, filmgoers could use an escape; a few choice indies and a Caped Crusader aside, this summer was one of the more disappointing in recent memory. Most of the following films lack chain-saw-loud buzz (if your movie isn't about a giant ape, chances are nobody's heard of it yet), but for anyone who suffered through Fantastic Four, up is the only direction. All opening dates are subject to change.

Sept. 2 If Taiwanese siren Shu Qi was the only reason to see the first Transporter, what's the point of a Transporter 2 without her? Jason Statham returns as the titular tough guy – and oozy writer-producer Luc Besson is back as well. "Sci-fi violence" is promised by A Sound of Thunder, based on a Ray Bradbury short story about a time-travel travel agency. Plus: dinosaurs! MTV darling Nick Cannon goes all 21 Jump Street in the comedy Underclassman. Comedian Margaret Cho riffs on politics in her latest, Margaret Cho: Assassin. A man confronts his shopaholic wife in Tony Takitani, based on Haruki Murakami's novel. And documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) focuses on a family who spreads cinemania during a yearlong visit to Fiji, in Reel Paradise.

Sept. 9 Lasse Hallström's long-delayed An Unfinished Life scuttles into theaters; Morgan Freeman's already got his Oscar, and J.Lo's part was apparently cut way down, but maybe Robert Redford can still get some jollies off this one. The power of Christ compels you to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose, even if it's mostly a courtroom drama. Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy buddy up for The Man. And Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast) unleashes El Crimen Perfecto, a black (-mail) comedy.

Sept. 16 Prep schoolers invent a serial killer who may or may not actually be real, in Cry_Wolf. Note to anyone else who holds the "New Jersey" tour as a cherished junior high memory: Jon Bon Jovi pops up as a teacher. This is a huge week, actually, with Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, and our very own San Francisco starring in Just Like Heaven; Nicolas Cage dealing arms in Lord of War; Gwyneth Paltrow and other Actors Acting in Proof; Bijou Phillips (yay!) in the swamp thrilla Venom; and cool comedian Michael Showalter (forever the "I'm outta heeere" guy on The State, but also notable in Wet Hot American Summer and Comedy Central's Stella) writes, directs, and stars in The Baxter.

Sept. 23 In Dear Wendy, Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell learns about gun violence in America the Lars von Trier (who scripted) way. Elijah Wood plays yet another inquisitive traveler, this one without hairy feet, in Everything is Illuminated. The early word on coming-of-age indie Thumbsucker: It doesn't suck. Jodie Foster takes to the air in Flightplan. There's no way Bow Wow's Roll Bounce will best the Linda Blair classic Roller Boogie, but the four-wheeled flick gets retro-cool points nonetheless. And while I'm still guzzling haterade for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the stop-motion goth-stravaganza Tim Burton's Corpse Bride may help the healing begin.

Sept. 30 "Like the crack baby of Alice in Wonderland and Labyrinth" is how one Internet spy describes MirrorMask, sprung from the fantastical minds of Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman. Roman Polanski follows up his Oscar-winning Pianist with Oliver Twist (sadly, there's no Jack Wild cameo). Blue Crush director John Stockwell goes aquatic again with Into the Blue, starring It Babe Jessica Alba. Viggo Mortensen smolders in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Joss Whedon's sci-fi epic Serenity blossoms from the seeds of his canceled (but cult-beloved) TV show Firefly. And Julianne Moore revisits her 1950s rebellious-housewife persona in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.

Oct. 7 Philip Seymour Hoffman channels In Cold Blood's scribe in Capote. Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine star in Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes, based on Jennifer Weiner's don't-call-it-chick-lit novel (I'll admit it: I read it, and I liked it). And not just for kids is Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, courtesy of goofy genius Nick Park (Chicken Run).

Oct. 14 George Clooney follows up Confessions of a Dangerous Mind with another ambitious directorial project, the black-and-white Edward R. Murrow drama Good Night, and Good Luck. Darren E. Burrows – so crush-worthy as Ed on Northern Exposure – plays the angry son of Rip Torn in 40 Shades of Blue. Cameron Crowe may or may not make Orlando Bloom utter the phrase "I am a golden god!" in Elizabethtown (probably not). John Carpenter's classic spooker The Fog gets the remake treatment. Keira Knightley bounty-hunts crooks in Domino (check www.imdb.com – the supporting cast is amazing). And Charlize Theron taps her antiglam resources again for North Country, the latest from Whale Rider director Niko Caro.

Oct. 21 Atom Egoyan's latest, Where the Truth Lies, stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as an entertainment duo who get caught up in dirty business. Dakota Fanning will no doubt out-act costars both human and equine in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. The Rock blows shit up in Doom. And Noah Baumbach (Wes Anderson's coscripter on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) delves into his own family drama with The Squid and the Whale.

Oct. 28 Japanese import Kamikaze Girls is awesome. Go see it! Also: Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan, and Park Chan-wook divvy up the run time of creepfest Three ... Extremes; Nicolas Cage faces clouds, kids, and career changes in The Weather Man; Antonio Banderas, last seen parodying himself in Shrek 2, dares to wear the mask again in The Legend of Zorro; and Steve Martin and Claire Danes star in Shopgirl, based on Martin's novella (I'll admit it: I read it, and I liked it). And just in time for Halloween: Saw II.

Nov. 4 Disney's computer-animated Chicken Little features Zach Braff as the doomsayin' fowl. American Beauty's Sam Mendes directs Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, and several other lookers in the military drama Jarhead. Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing) reteams with frequent star Catherine Keener for Friends with Money, while Sarah Jessica Parker heads a huge ensemble in Family Stone. On the doc front is Marc Levin's excellent, chilling look at contemporary anti-Semitism, Protocols of Zion.

Nov. 9 Here's a thankless choice: reclusive genius Terrence Malick's latest, The New World, or the 50 Cent biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin'? Two words, folks: double feature!

Nov. 11 Jon Favreau stays on his family-friendly Elf path with the intergalactic adventure Zathura. Bee Season stars Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, and two cute kids, one of whom plays a kick-ass speller. Former 1980s screenwriting god Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) directs the insane-sounding Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Nov. 18 Steel-cage matches this week: literary adaptations (Pride and Prejudice vs. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – I love Jane Austen, but she's toast) and international horror (from Japan, the sinister-technology yarn Pulse; from Australia, the based-on-truth backpacker-slaughter tale Wolf Creek). Fighting unopposed: the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, potentially Joaquin Phoenix's Ray.

Nov. 23 Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo have a combined total of 18 kids in Yours, Mine, and Ours, and Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson are along for Rent's big-screen ride.

Among numerous December releases are Brokeback Mountain, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Memoirs of a Geisha (Dec. 9) – but you know all you care about is the biggest banana of them all: Peter Jackson's King Kong (Dec. 14).