If you’re already stressed about catching up on the 2012 films you haven’t yet seen, scrambling to find an art house theater that’s still projecting Moonrise Kingdom and Oslo, August 31st, prepare to hit the panic button. Fall movie season is upon us, and come September, the annual flood of see-them-or-be-left-out titles will pummel your poor movie-buff planning like a surging tsunami. But, hey, look at the bright side: the months of September, October, November, and December almost always feature better fare than any other stretch of the year, and 2012, like clockwork, seems primed to do the same. Unable to keep our preview list to the customary total of 15, we bumped the roster to 20, and there’s still a handful we’re curious about. Can Sam Mendes bring anything more than a fresh martini to the Bond brand with Skyfall? Is Cloud Atlas every bit the fabulous mess it looks to be in its trailer? Is RZA’s martial arts actioner The Man with the Iron Fists in fact the C.R.E.A.M. of the season’s genre crop? We’re not sure, but we feel pretty confident that your fall filmgoing won’t be complete without the following 20 selections. And nobody needs any more holes to fill.
Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs, September 7)
Reaching enamored audiences well beyond the gay community, Ira Sachs’s Keep the Lights On, a somewhat chilly, yet genuinely poignant, semi-autobiographical tale, charts a romance through its buoyant and wrenching stages, offering moments too painfully real to forget. In the lead role, Danish actor Thure Lindhart gives one of 2012’s best male performances.
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, September 14)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to There Will Be Blood just enjoyed some positive early ink following an outdoor Chicago screening—the first glimpse at what many have surmised to be a Scientology allegory. Whatever its motives, Anderson’s looks to be as handsome as his last effort, and Joaquin Phoenix seems madly effective as a postwar, soul-searching drifter.
How to Survive a Plague (David France, September 21)
A deeply emotional documentary teeming with priceless archival footage, David France’s How to Survive a Plague may just be the definitive filmic snapshot of the Reagan-era AIDS crisis, its real-life drama not recreated by actors, but played out by the very people who, neglected by their government, had to find a way to fight for their own lives. Epic in scope, the film comprehensively illustrates the rise of ACT UP, and how, for many people, it changed the world.
Looper (Rian Johnson, September 28)
The last time Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Rian Johnson teamed up, the result was Brick, a convoluted high school-set noir that gave cult-loving millennials a latter-day slice of Bogart. Upping the ante, the director and star are back with Looper, a far more ambitious sci-fi saga wherein Gordon-Levitt’s assassin is tasked to kill his future self (Bruce Willis). In a business not exactly known for vocalized favoritism, there’s something to be said for the fact that Gordon-Levitt, Willis, and co-star Emily Blunt have all publicly announced that Looper is the best film they’ve ever made.
Paperboy (Lee Daniels, October 5)
Is Lee Daniels an urban auteur with a knack for seedy texture? Or simply his own brand of potboiling provocateur, prone to sensationalism and headline-grabbing plot points? The questions may be definitively answered with the release of The Paperboy, Daniels’s follow-up to his Oscar-baity, city-squalor horrorhouse, Precious. Otherwise known as the movie in which Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, The Paperboy reportedly boasts a feral turn from the oft-classy actress, who also shares the screen with John Cusack and 2012 MVP Matthew McConaughey.