Seems like just yesterday we were buying tickets to Iron Man 2 and gearing up for what looked to be a very promising summer movie season. Alas, the promise quickly dried up. But even if summer delivered more than its fair share of duds (we speak of you, A-Team, Salt and Dinner for Schmucks), brainier fare is on the horizon. Here's my own personal hot list, the 10 movies I'm most excited to watch (or, in some cases, watch again) between now and Thanksgiving. The order is vaguely preferential; the dates are all subject to change.
1. The Social Network (Oct. 1)
A movie about the founding of Facebook -- sounds like a snooze, right? But early word on the latest from acclaimed director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) has been ecstatic, and the cast -- including Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Rooney Mara (recently cast as Lisbeth Salander in the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, also to be directed by Fincher) -- looks very intriguing. Friend request accepted.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Nov. 19)
The final book in J.K. Rowling's epic series has been cleaved into two films (the second one opens in July 2011); seriously, how much more blood can they squeeze from this sorcerer's stone? Still, I'm especially hopeful for this latest film version, if only because the first half of Rowling's novel -- which featured Potter and friends being chased across a rural, wintry landscape, betrayed at every turn by seemingly kind strangers -- reminded me so much of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The 39 Steps. If you're going to steal, might as well steal from the best.
3. Fair Game (Nov. 19)
The story of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown after her retired ambassador husband started publicly criticizing the Bush administration, sounded like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel. It perhaps follows that Doug Liman, who resurrected Ludlum's most famous franchise with The Bourne Identity, directs what promises to be something we don't see much of anymore: a special effects-free thriller for grown-ups.
4. Easy A (Sept. 17)
A reimagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter set at a modern-day high school. OMG, as someone who counts the Shakespeare-for-teens rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You among his all-time favorites, I'm all over this one. Zombieland's Emma Stone stars.
5. The Town (Sept. 17)
Gotta be honest, I didn't love Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, but he showed impressive command over the Boston setting and a nice touch with the actors, which leaves me curious to see his latest Beantown-centered effort. This bank-robbery thriller features Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm.
6. The Company Men (Nov. 5)
Affleck also turns up in this poignant, timely drama about a group of executives who are unexpectedly laid off from their high-paying jobs. One of my favorites from this year's Sundance Film Festival, this modest, beautifully acted effort -- co-starring Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Maria Bello -- deserves to find a big audience.
7. Catfish (Sept. 24)
And speaking of Sundance, this was the 2010 festival's most buzzed-about title, a bizarre documentary about a young man who develops an online relationship with a beautiful 20-something who may or may not be real. Like a sort of real-life version of The Blair Witch Project, you can't always tell if what you're watching is an elaborate hoax -- but afterward you won't be able to stop talking about it.
8. Paranormal Activity 2 (Oct. 22)
The wittiest horror movie of 2009 gets its instant, inevitable sequel. Sure it's probably going to be a disappointment, but the trailer is spookily effective.
9. Love and Other Drugs (Nov. 24)
In the tradition of Terms of Endearment, you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll watch one of the main characters die of terminal illness. Schmaltzy as it might look, early word has it that the lead performances by Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are bound for Oscar nominations. Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory) directed.
10. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Sept. 24)
At last week's screening, the crowd seemed mixed on Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 drama, again starring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. But despite some Stone-ian flourishes, I found it to be a gripping portrait of our current financial calamities.