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Fall culture guide: film

<p>Another good Hobbit</p>

Another good Hobbit

How to Survive a Plague

Judging by its powerful trailer, documentarian David France’s How to Survive a Plague not only details the terror the gay community felt when AIDS emerged, it also details the terror engendered by right-leaning politicians in the straight community — and the subsequent civil rights movement, led by the ACT UP organization, designed to combat it. (Fall TBA)

Looper

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s 2005 debut feature, Brick, was the most satisfying American mystery film since 1997’s L.A. Confidential. With Looper, Johnson reteams with his Brick star Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, who plays a time-traveling hitman in a life-and-death struggle with his future self (Bruce Willis). This is high-concept (read: summer) stuff, but Johnson is adept at creating alternative worlds that mirror our own. (Sept. 28)

Middle of Nowhere

Outside the latest Tyler Perry romp, you don’t often see films about African-Americans. Even rarer are dramas that treat middle-class African-American life. And movies about African-American women? Yeah, not so much. Sundance darling Middle of Nowhere may combines all three. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, it’s about a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) compelled to put her dreams on hold for her incarcerated husband (Omari Hardwick). (Oct. 12)

Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik, whose The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of the best films of the aughts, returns with another high-minded tale of low-lifes. He relocates famed crime writer George V. Higgins’ Boston mob yarn to post-Katrina New Orleans. There, a couple of knuckleheads (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) rob the wrong card game, putting a hellhound (Brad Pitt) on their trail. (Oct. 19)

Fun Size

What happens when a Colbert Report writer’s script gets interpreted by the creators of Gossip Girl? We’re hoping something good. Josh Schwartz directs Victoria Justice, Johnny Knoxville and Chelsea Handler in this screwball story of a girl desperate to attend her high school hunk’s Halloween party, only to end up babysitting her wild-child brother, who goes missing. Fun Size looks like a fun little comedy that knows better than to take itself seriously. (Oct. 26)

Lincoln

Whenever Steven Spielberg wants to be taken seriously, he makes a history film. Generally, they’re pretty good, and given the cast and playwright Tony Kushner’s help with the script, Lincoln could be among the best of the bunch. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field plays Mary Todd, and other notable actors round out the notable figures in the 16th president’s administration. With hope, Spielberg will humanize — and maybe even demystify — Honest Abe. (Nov. 9)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A writer with IMDb.com asked whether The Hobbit is “the most anticipated prequel since … The Phantom Menace.” Uh, you think? Peter Jackson returns to J.R.R. Tolkien, adapting his novel about furry woodland hillperson Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who teams up with a bunch of loopy Dwarves to go adventurin’. This first installment in a proposed trilogy also sees the return of Elijah Wood (Frodo), Cate Blanchet (Galadriel) and Ian McKellan (Gandalf). (Dec. 14)

Zero Dark Thirty

Will this movie about the hunt for Bin Laden be another training film for the Pentagon a la Black Hawk Down? Or will it dig deeper? Director Kathryn Bigelow has shown herself capable of the latter with The Hurt Locker. So here’s hoping all the hubbub about the access she allegedly had to classified documents leads to a more reportorial, as opposed to propagandistic, effort. (Dec. 21)

Django Unchained

While Spielberg busies himself with historical accuracy in Lincoln, Quentin Tarantino goes out of his way to ignore it in this revenge flick, about a slave (Jamie Foxx) freed by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to hunt down a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Expect Django Unchained to treat the horrors of slavery much the same way Inglorious Basterds treats the horrors of World War II: with a bloody tongue firmly in cheek. (Dec. 28) KEVIN CAPP

ALSO …

Arbitrage (Sept. 14) Juicy role for Richard Gere as a troubled hedge-fund manager.

Argo (Oct. 12) Director Ben Affleck (hooray!) teams with actor Ben Affleck (oof!) in a tale of Middle East espionage.

Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26) The Wachowskis team with … aw, hell, just watch the dream-like trailer and ignore the presence of Tom Hanks.

Dredd (Sept. 21) Kidding! Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Frankenweenie (Oct. 5) Tim Burton, stop-motion animation, gothic ambiance … how can this not be good?

Life of Pi (Nov. 21) From the much-loved novel about a boy and a tiger stranded on a boat.

The Paperboy (Oct. 5) Don’t know or care what it’s about, but we hear Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, which makes it worth at least this sentence.

Red Dawn (Nov. 21) Because we’re curious about 1.) how it plays as a remake of a movie that didn’t need remaking; and 2.) how it plays in the nation’s current mood of political polarization and paranoia.

The Sessions (Oct. 26) Guy in an iron lung tries to lose his virginity? We’ve all been there!

Seven Psychopaths (Oct. 12) Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, a dognapped Shih-tzu … how can this not be good?

Skyfall (Nov. 9) Bond is back, and not a moment too soon. SCOTT DICKENSHEETS

Our critic on the film he’s most looking forward to

Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the greatest living writer-directors, has only made one bad movie: Punch-Drunk Love. After establishing himself with two honking big ensemble pieces, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson went small with that goofy little exercise in romantic farce. Thankfully, he roared back to life with another epic, There Will Be Blood, about the clash between America’s two great religions: Christianity and capitalism. It was an instant classic.

While movie industry politics are likely to blame for Anderson’s silence about the inspiration for his latest magnum opus, The Master, the scuttlebutt is that he relates another peculiarly American tale: the founding of Scientology. Set in the 1950s, it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the L. Ron Hubbard-like Lancaster Dodd, and Joaquin Phoenix as his disturbed protégé, Freddie Sutton.

The haunting trailers hint at a psychic battle between Lancaster and Freddie — a subtle yet electric duel between the manipulator and the manipulated, between the illusion of freedom and the pressure of doctrine. It sounds like the conflict between Daniel Day-Lewis’s atavistic oil magnate and Paul Dano’s firebrand preacher in There Will Be Blood. If that’s the case, then we may even thank God that Anderson went big once again. (Out Sept. 14) KEVIN CAPP