September is typically a pretty laidback month for movies. After being bombarded with big budget tentpole films over the summer, it’s the calm before the storm that is awards season. But this year, Hollywood is kicking off the fall movie season in style with big names like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt all starring in films that could make an appearance at the Oscars next year. Throw in a couple of cool genre flicks and you’re looking at one of the most promising Septembers in recent memory.
Who: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell and Nick Kroll
What: A group of 30-year-olds who have been friends since high school attempt to throw an end-of-summer orgy.
When: September 2nd (limited)
Why: Though I’m still not convinced that Jason Sudeikis is the star that Hollywood seems to think he is, this raunchy sex comedy could finally be the film that changes my mind. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by such a funny ensemble cast, including actors like Tyler Labine and Lake Bell, who are always good for a laugh The real test, however, will be whether the film has the balls to go all the way or if it will chicken out at the last minute, because you shouldn’t joke around about an orgy unless you mean it.
Who: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne
What: An action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.
When: September 9th
Why: When Steven Soderbergh puts together a cast this good, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. But even with four Oscar winners, three nominees, and a three-time Emmy winner at his disposal, the real star of “Contagion” may end up being the story itself, which has the potential to scare the living shit out of audiences in ways that most horror films could only dream of. How Soderbergh manages to tap into our inherent fear of disease will be key to its success, but if the movie is anywhere near as good as 1995’s “Outbreak” (which also had an amazing cast), we’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Who: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison and Nick Nolte
What: The youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament – a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother.
When: September 9th
Why: Mixed martial arts may still be in its infancy, but the sport is growing faster than ever at the moment, and “Warrior” could be the thing that finally pushes it into the mainstream – especially since it’s already being called the “Rocky” of MMA films. The comparison isn’t completely unwarranted. With a tale of sibling rivalry clearly influenced by the Old Testament, “Warrior” looks to deliver a nice balance between family drama and sports underdog movie. But unlike “Rocky,” director Gavin O’Connor has the difficult task of making the audience root for two different protagonists, only to then pit them against one another in the ring. It’s the moviegoing equivalent of “Sophie’s Choice.”
Who: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks and Albert Brooks
What: A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
When: September 16th
Why: The Nicolas Winding Refn-directed crime thriller has been on my radar for quite some time now, and that was before I even really knew much about the project. Since then, “Drive” has been slowly building buzz ahead of its theatrical release, most prominently at the Cannes Film Festival where it walked away with the award for Best Director, a nomination for the prestigious Palm D’Or, and the admiration of most film critics. Though that may not necessarily translate into ticket sales, “Drive” still has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the year – an action flick with an art-house twist.
Who: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard and James Woods
What: L.A. screenwriter David Sumner relocates with his wife to her hometown in the deep South where a brewing conflict with locals becomes a threat to them both.
When: September 16th
Why: A lot of people are going to take one look at Rod Lurie’s remake of the 1971 thriller “Straw Dogs” and bemoan the fact that Hollywood has run out of original ideas. But while the Dustin Hoffman film certainly has its share of admirers, the movie isn’t exactly sacred ground, so it’ll be interesting to see what Lurie brings to his version besides the obvious modern updates. James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgard are both solid choices for the male leads, while the trailer ensures that the ultraviolence of the original hasn’t been watered down in exchange for a more audience-friendly rating.
Who: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt and Robin Wright
What: The story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s attempt to put together a baseball team on a budget by using computer-generated analysis to draft his players.
When: September 23rd
Why: Though its subject matter may suggest otherwise, director Bennett Miller is adamant that “Moneyball” is about much more than the game of baseball, which is good news for people like me, who aren’t very big fans of the sport. Based on the bestseller of the same name by Michael Lewis, the film adaptation was written by two of the most dependable screenwriters in the business (Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian) and features a killer cast with some real Oscar heavyweights. Interestingly enough, though, it’s Jonah Hill’s involvement that has me the most intrigued, because I’m curious to see if he has what it takes to successfully transition into more serious roles.
Who: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver
What: A thriller centered on a young man who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website.
When: September 23rd
Why: Say what you will about Taylor Lautner, but the guy has one hell of an agent. While his “Twilight” co-stars are busy starring in obscure indie films that may make them feel better about not selling out but aren’t really helping their careers either, Lautner is being primed to become the next Tom Cruise. He’s already a sex symbol with the “Twilight” crowd, and under the direction of John Singleton, Lautner will take his first big step towards becoming a bona fide action star. “Abduction” looks eerily like a junior version of the Bourne movies, and if Lautner can prove that there’s more to him than rock-hard abs and steely eyes, there’s a good chance it will exceed everyone’s expectations.
Who: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro and Yvonne Strahovski
What: When his mentor is taken captive, a retired member of Britain’s Elite Special Air Service is forced into action. His mission: kill three assassins dispatched by their cunning leader.
When: September 23rd
Why: If Lautner is looking for some quick lessons on how to be a better action star, he’d be wise to check out the oeuvre of Jason Statham, who’s been playing a variation of the same character now for almost a decade. That trend continues in “Killer Elite,” but as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and The Stath has proven time and again why he’s one of the elite action stars of this generation. But lately, even he’s been trying to class up his movies a little bit, and you don’t get much classier than Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, who should help elevate the film beyond the typical Statham beat-‘em-up.
Who: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick
What: A comedic account of a 27-year-old guy’s cancer diagnosis and his subsequent struggle to beat the disease.
When: September 30th
Why: No, you’re not imagining things – Seth Rogen really is starring in another movie about cancer only two short years after the release of “Funny People.” The difference this time around, however, is that it’s much more personal. Based on his friend Will Reiser’s real-life fight with cancer, the pair developed the project together, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the fictionalized version of the disease-stricken pal, Rogen co-starring as his closest confidant, and Reiser penning the script. Though cancer isn’t something that’s easy to take lightly, “50/50” appears to have found a better balance of comedy and drama than the Judd Apatow misfire, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Who: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden and Jesse Moss
What: Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin where they’re mistaken as serial killers by a group of preppy college kids.
When: September 30th (limited)
Why: I had the opportunity to see Eli Craig’s horror comedy back in 2009 while it was making the rounds on the festival circuit, and although it’s not quite the instant cult classic that I was expecting, “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” is still an incredibly fun midnight movie that fans of genre favorites like “Army of Darkness” and “Shaun of the Dead” will enjoy. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine make a great comedic team as the titular hillbillies, while every kill is equally gory and clever. A note of caution to those interested in seeing it, though: Do not watch the trailer, as it ruins just about every funny moment in the film.