Peter Jackson’s return to J.R.R. Tolkien after his colossal Lord of the Rings trilogy stars Martin Freeman as the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who leads a group of dwarves on a mission to reclaim a dragon’s treasure. This is the first film in another trilogy, at a reported $500-million (U.S.). Look for many of the previous cast members, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Cate Blanchett, and all of it in 3-D at 48 frames a second, which either greatly improves clarity and smoothness or, as detractors say, makes the whole thing look like a sportscast.
Les Misérables (Dec. 14)
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directs the best of the eighties stage mega-musicals, in this version with an unexpectedly Aussie twang: The cast including Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing bread, and Russell Crowe as his relentless pursuer, Inspector Javert. The ensemble cast also includes Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.
Zero Dark Thirty (Dec. 19)
Although too late to sway the U.S. election, the new film by Hurt Locker Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow is timely, tracing the hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to his death by a Navy SEAL team last May. Jessica Chastain, Edgar Ramirez (Carlos) and Joel Edgerton star.
Django Unchained (Dec. 25)
Quentin Tarantino’s assuredly controversial antebellum feature may do for the slave trade what Inglourious Basterds did for the Nazis. Jamie Foxx plays the liberated slave out to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of an evil owner (Leonardo DiCaprio), with Christoph Waltz as a bounty-hunting dentist who drives about with a giant tooth atop his coach.
THE LITERARY LIGHTS
Midnight’s Children (Oct. 26)
Canadian director Deepa Mehta (Water) directs, with Salman Rushdie providing the adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel about two children born at the moment of India’s declaration of independence and switched at birth.
Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26)
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant star in this century-hopping series of connected stories from the past to the dystopic future, from British author David Mitchell’s novel. Three directors – Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer – handle the various sections.
Anna Karenina (Nov. 16)
Director Joe Wright teams up with actress Keira Knightley for the third time (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement), with Tom Stoppard providing the adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 tragic romantic novel about a Russian woman married to an aristocrat (Jude Law) but in love with a cavalry officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Sumptuous, though relatively low-budget ($30-million), much of the film is set inside a theatre.
Life of Pi (Nov. 21)
After a number of major directors failed to make Yann Martel’s 2001 novel about a boy at sea for months with a Bengal tiger, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) came through. Shot in 3-D, with extensive CGI work, early footage was enthusiastically received at CinemaCon.
Great Expectations (November-December, TBA)
Charles Dickens’s 1861 novel about an orphan boy, Pip, who becomes a gentleman, thanks to a mysterious benefactor, while carrying a torch for his beloved Estella, has been adapted for the screen more than a dozen times. The current version by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) stars Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, with Jeremy Irvine in the role of Pip.
On the Road (Dec. 21)
The film directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), based on Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical Beat novel, features relatively little-known actors in the main roles. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is an aspiring writer in 1947 Queens, N.Y., who meets free-spirited Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his wife Marylou, triggering a two-year journey of travel, partying and self-discovery.
THE REMAINDER BIN
Looper (Sept. 28)
Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom, Brick) directs this house-of-mirrors sci-fi flick about time-travelling assassinations. It was selected as the opening film for the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.
Frankenweenie (Oct. 5)