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Fall movie preview: Bond, Bilbo and a final dose of those pesky vampires

A curious Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.

Goodnight Dark Knight, sayonara Spider-Man and adios Avengers. Put away your form-fitting pyjamas for another summer sequel: You've proved your point.

Hollywood's major contribution to contemporary global popular culture is apocalyptic fantasies based on comic books, a genre that is keeping afloat a business (down 4 per cent in North American revenues in 2011) in a sea of piracy, competition from video on demand and wall-sized home televisions. Yet, quaintly, when autumn comes, those same studios produce an entirely different kind of product, with little in common beyond being projected on screens in movie theatres for about two hours.

Through the final third of 2012, Hollywood studios are turning an old page, from comic-book panels to the printed word. Even the fall's blockbusters – Skyfall (the 23rd Bond film), Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – have their origins in books. We have everything from contemporaries novelists – Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) – back to Jack Kerouac (On the Road), Charles Dickens (Great Expectations) and Victor Hugo (the musical version of Les Misérables).

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The welcome miscellany of the offerings may be divided into three groups: the Bestseller List, which are the movies you can't avoid knowing about, even if you don't see them; the Literary Lights, movies that primarily exist as spinoffs from popular novels, old and new; and the Remainder Bin, focusing on some of the more promising and provocative art-house and indie films of the year.


The Master (Oct. 12)

Paul Thomas Anderson should continue his roll as the most fascinating American director of the past 15 years (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) with this drama about the rise of a post-Second World War Scientology-like religious cult, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

Skyfall (Nov. 9)

The culmination of a campaign celebrating 50 years of Bond movies. Daniel Craig, who revived the series with Casino Royale (2006), promises that it will better than Quantum of Solace, which even he says did not work. Other points of interest: Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) as director, with Roger Deakins as cinematographer and Javier Bardem, in another funny haircut, as the arch-villain.

Lincoln (Nov. 9)

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Opening on the Friday following the Nov. 6 U.S. elections, Steven Spielberg's drama about the Republican president whom Barack Obama takes as his role model can't help but resonate with modern American ideological riffs. Tony Kushner (Angels in America) adapts Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 book Team of Rivals, with the great Daniel Day-Lewis as the president.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Nov. 16)

Earning an unexpected extra bump by the summer breakup of its young stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the blockbuster teen horror-romance series finally comes to a close. The last episode focuses on the fate of Bella and Edward's oddly named baby, Renesmee, with more trouble promised from those sneery Volturi.

Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21)

This black comedy from David O'Russell (Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings) is based on Matthew Quick's hit 2008 novel and has the Weinstein Company's push behind it for possible Oscar contention. Bradley Cooper plays a high-school teacher, fresh out of a psychiatric hospital and forced to live with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). His life is improved when he meets a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence), who seems just as eccentric as he is.

Hyde Park on Hudson (Dec. 7)

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Another portrait of a beloved president, this time a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with Bill Murray going Oscar fishing as FDR and Laura Linney as his cousin and confidante, Margaret Suckley. Based on a BBC play, the film takes place over a weekend when King George VI (Samuel West) met with the President to get the Americans onside in the Second World War. Roger Michell (Notting Hill) directs.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14)

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.


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.


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)

Tim Burton's new black-and-white stop-motion film develops a feature from his student short about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life.

Rebelle (Sept. 21)

Montreal director Kim Nguyen's award-winning drama follows the experiences of an adolescent girl as a child soldier, and subsequent mother, in an unnamed African country.

Argo (Oct. 12)

There's an apparent Oscar push for this espionage comedy set against the background of the Iranian revolution, when six American diplomats were protected by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), with the aid of a cover story about a science-fiction film. The ensemble cast includes Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin.

Seven Psychopaths (Oct. 12)

Acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) makes his sophomore black comedy about a screenwriter who becomes involved in the Los Angeles underworld when his friends kidnap a gangster's dog. With Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

Stories We Tell (Oct. 12)

Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley's documentary turns the camera on her her own family to explore how we use stories to explain the past.

The Sessions (Oct. 26)

John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) and Helen Hunt star in this Sundance Film Festival hit about a man in an iron lung determined to lose his virginity.

The Details (Nov. 2)

Tobey Maguire plays a suburban doctor in this Sundance favourite about a raccoon problem, adultery and murder, co-starring Elizabeth Banks and Laura Linney.

A Late Quartet (November, TBA)

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken play long-time musical collaborators riven by competitiveness, lust and illness in this drama that may do for string music what Black Swan did for ballet.

Holy Motors (November, TBA)

Leos Carax's Cannes Film Festival favourite is a wildly eccentric black comedy that follows a chameleon actor (Denis Lavant) playing numerous roles, connected by limousine rides through Paris at night.

Rust & Bone (Nov. 30)

Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) adapts Canadian writer Craig Davidson's stories into a drama about a street fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a disabled marina employee (Marion Cotillard).

Amour (Dec. 28)

Michael Haneke's unblinking examination of an elderly Parisian couple (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) struggling to cope with age and illness won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

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