This promises to be the most confounding month of the entire Fall season. There are literally dozens of movies opening, and for everyone that sounds entertaining.

Must See:

This promises to be the most confounding month of the entire Fall season. There are literally dozens of movies opening, and for everyone that sounds entertaining (Will Farrell's Charlie Kaufman-like Stranger than Fiction) there's an aspect (umm... Will Farrell) that keeps the title from truly connecting with one's curiosity. Therefore, the five films selected as Must Sees by PopMatters rely on both reputation and past track record to garner their filmic favor. All could end up as major disappointments. A few could end up vying for awards when all is said and done. For fans of two of Hollywood's most machismo creations -- the fictional James Bond and the infamous Russell Crowe -- the makeover is in. In Casino Royale (17 Nov), Daniel Craig steps into the shoes of the world's most famous spy and turns back the clock to a time when 007 was a womanizing wild man. While the faithful have been flummoxed by this less than sophisticated approach (and the decision to turn Craig's Bond into a dirty blonde), this could be the stylistic kick in the teeth the series needs -- or its apocryphal elegy. As a matter of fact, Australia's other Oscar winning troublemaker -- the one not named Mel -- is in more desperate need of a revamp than Britain's badass secret agent. Crowe's trek through the tabloids after showing a hotel concierge the business end of a phone probably cost him some Cinderella Man recognition. In A Good Year (10 Nov), Ridley Scott returns to guide his Gladiator through a charming story of one man's rediscovery of self. How absolutely apropos.

A Good Year — Trailer

November also marks the arrival of Christopher Guest's latest mockumentary, the masterwork in the making For Your Consideration (22 Nov). Avoiding the eccentrics associated with regional theater, dog shows and folk music, the gifted improvisational genius may have finally found the perfect subject matter for his satire -- actors and the always anarchic award season. Centering on a group of entertainment outsiders and the buzz created by their unlikely effort (a set in the South drama called Home for Purim) the faux film promises to follow the hype, hysteria, and heartbreak that accompanies every trip through trophy season. Interestingly, the reality-based approach is one of the ways that Slacker savant Richard Linklater could have used to realize Fast Food Nation (17 Nov), his adaptation of Eric Shlosser's tell all tome about the food service industry. Instead, a far more fictionalized narrative was created, the better to incorporate more of Schlosser's scandalous reveals. But Linklater hopes that this is more than just some Gen-X Kitchen Confidential. He wants to take on the broader subject of how fast food and its vicious cycle of convenience has destroyed the connections between people, their priorities and their passion for life. That's some pretty lofty goals for a film focusing on the amount of e. coli in a cheeseburger.

Fast Food Nation — Trailer

It's both the little within the big and the massive within the delicate that sits at the center of Darren Aronofsky's time traveling love story, The Fountain (22 Nov). Recently booed by those attending the Venice Film Festival (though the 'Net buzz has been nothing if not ecstatic) this long form labor of love by the Requiem for a Dream (2000) helmer wants to be a 2001 for the post-millennial age. Originally proposed as a starring vehicle for Brad Pitt, said star's eventually drop out stranded the project. Aronofsky redrafted the script to lower costs, managed to land the far more humane Hugh Jackman, and placed his Oscar winning fiancé, Rachel Weisz, in the role of the story's object of desire. In what could be a clear case of generational disconnect, critics familiar with past specious speculations like Zardoz seem to hate this confounding cosmic trip. But those born outside of Kubrick's serious perspective of the fiction of science have loved this look at passion playing out among the ages and the stars. It will either be a misunderstood masterpiece, or a full blown flop. In either case, it promises to be unlike anything we've seen in cinema in a very long time.

The Fountain — Trailer

Must Wait:

As stated before, there are a great many films coming out this Fall that threaten to under-perform based on the motion picture equivalent of the tragic hero's fatal flaw. In the case of Happy Feet (17 Nov), there are several such potential pitfalls. George Miller's CGI animal comedy boasts photo-realistic penguins, the same stale stunt casting (Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman) that poisons most animated efforts, and a pop song driven plot. While the Mad Max maestro proved his penchant for such material when he produced Babe (1995), and helmed its equally entertaining sequel, there's a lot that can go wrong with this snowbound scenario, so don't be surprised when cuteness is unable to save a clearly suspect film. The same goes for Borat (3 Nov), which boasts Sacha Baron Cohen, fresh off his audience-approving turn as the French racecar driver in Talladega Nights (2005). Returning to his classic Kazakhstanian talk show host character, here's a film that creates a long form narrative out of what typically works as a one off sketch idea. Combining the formulaic fish out of water weirdness of the completely clueless title character with the same kind of ambush comedy that Jackass and its ilk made famous, some have said that this is not only the funniest film of the year, but may be the most humorous movie of the last decade. To quote Vincent Vega of Pulp Fiction, that's a bold statement.

Borat — Trailer

Audacity is definitely what Jack Black and Kyle Gass have going for them. As the self-proclaimed "world's greatest band" Tenacious D, the duo have created a considerable cult following for their Spinal Tap on cyclamates satire. Whether or not an audience outside their geek freak fanbase will queue up to travel along on their rock and roll road trip in search of the Pick of Destiny (17 Nov) remains to be seen. Similarly, Pedro Almodovar continues to be a commercially ignored critical darling. His last few films -- Bad Education (2004), Talk to Her (2002), All About My Mother (1999) -- have all garnered amazing notices, but few impressive box office receipts. While final gross is never an indicator of a movie's onscreen majesty, it appears that the days of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are over and done with. Still, advanced word on Volver (3 Nov) is good, meaning the arthouse crowd will definitely enjoy this latest offering from Spain's most accomplished filmmaker. That just leaves Stranger Than Fiction (10 Nov) as the final Must Wait wonder. Considering that Will Farrell is perhaps the most hit and miss comic actor of his generation (look at his IMDb resume for further proof) this could be the film that saves him from a future of sequels to his more successful efforts. Employing one of those trick scripts that someone like Spike Jonz would jump at, Ferrell plays an IRS agent named Harold Crick who suddenly hears his life being narrated. Turns out, he is somehow linked to author Kay Eiffel, and she's planning to kill off her most famous character…an IRS agent named Harold Crick. Sounds like a story with a lot of possibilities... including the potential for an unfunny Ferrell to totally screw it up.

Stranger Than Fiction — Trailer

Must Rent:

It's time for more animated madness as Aardman (responsible for the brilliant Wallace and Gromit) dumps -- at least for the moment -- their artistically satisfying stop motion work to have a computer do all their creating. Teaming up with Dreamworks, the company responsible for the staid CGI formula thanks to its mega monster hit Shrek (2001), we get Flushed Away (3 Nov), which is basically Trading Places played out by cartoony British rats. It will either transcend its bitmap trappings, or sink under the weight of expectations dashed and imagination maxed out. Next up there's some spooky shenanigans for TV's Buffy as Sarah Michelle Gellar bails on the Grudge sequel to star in the formulaic fright flick The Return (10 Nov). Murders, memories and the lure of an old farmhouse guarantee that this will be one horror movie that stays strictly within the considered clichés of the genre. Though he hasn't helmed a theatrical film since 1996's The War at Home, Emelio Estevez believes he has the moviemaking chops to take on the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Bobby (17 Nov) promises to be as much about the murder as the people on the periphery of the events of that hot June day in '68. While his casting is quite extraordinary (with the sole exception of one Lindsay Lohan), it will be interesting to see if Estevez has the maturity to muse on circumstances that occurred while he was still in short pants. Last but not least, Denzel Washington and Tony Scott team up once again for Déjà Vu (22 Nov), a rumored sci-fi take on the standard crime drama. While the set-up sounds promising, one needs to be reminded that the stellar actor and flights of fancy (Virtuosity, Fallen) aren't actually a concrete commercial pairing.

Déjà Vu — Trailer

Must Avoid:

Apparently, Christmas has pissed off plenty of people in Tinsel Town. Even with the seasonally appropriate nickname, Santa and his staff can't seem to catch a break when it comes to Noel novelty. Want proof? Tim Allen is back for another installment of the insipid Santa Clause series -- subtitled The Escape Clause (3 Nov), as if we could get so lucky -- and he's brought along box office poison Martin Short to guarantee the end of the franchise. And if Matthew Broderick weren't already smarting from a broken collarbone (the result of a recent horseback riding accident), he'd be in pain over starring in Deck the Halls (22 Nov), another crass comment on the commercialization of the holidays. Bah ho Humbug.

The Santa Clause: The Escape Clause — Trailer

Director Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock helped to create the modern horror genre, the modern thriller, and the modern black comedy. He changed film, even as he was inventing new ways to approach it. Stay tuned through October as we present our collection of essays on the Master of Suspense.


'Psycho': The Mother of All Horrors

Psycho stands out not only for being one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, it is also one of his most influential. It has been a template and source material for an almost endless succession of later horror films, making it appropriate to identify it as the mother of all horror films.

Francesc Quilis

The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti (By the Book)

With discussions of characters like Leon Ray Livingston (a.k.a. "A-No. 1"), credited with consolidating the entire system of hobo communication in the 1910s, and Kathy Zuckerman, better known as the surf icon "Gidget", Susan A. Phillips' lavishly illustrated The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti, excerpted here from Yale University Press, tells stories of small moments that collectively build into broad statements about power, memory, landscape, and history itself.

Susan A. Phillips

The 10 Best Indie Pop Albums of 2009

Indie pop in 2009 was about all young energy and autumnal melancholy, about the rush you feel when you first hear an exciting new band, and the bittersweet feeling you get when your favorite band calls it quits.

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