Don't believe the hype when it comes to fall movies.
The ones shoved down our throats in TV ads, cross-promotions and talk show chit-chat aren't the only movies deserving attention. Blockbusters are ceding screens to award contenders not based on comic books, toys or star turns. Those are the titles highlighted in our annual Fall Movie Guide.
But first, since some viewers prefer summer movies all year long, here's a short list of seasonal facsimiles:
Kids gets the The Lego Ninjago Movie on Sept. 22, same day that grownups get the action sequel Kingsmen: The Golden Circle.
Remember that Michael Keaton is an American Assassin (came out Sept. 15) while Tom Cruise is American Made (Sept. 29). It'll be impossible to ignore Thor: Ragnarok on Nov. 3, or Justice League two weeks later. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will carry their summer spirit all the way to Christmas.
Now back to those fall movies with better chances of mattering through awards season. As always, dates are subject to change and studio release strategies.
Battle of the Sexes: The ballyhooed 1973 tennis match between hustler Bobby Riggs and champion Billie Jean King was no love match. It became a flash point in gender politics through Riggs' sexist taunts and later King's closeted homosexuality. Oscar winner Emma Stone and Steve Carell portray the combatants.
Stronger: Did you notice that Mark Wahlberg's Boston Marathon bombing movie paid little attention to injured bystander Jeff Bauman's heroic survival? That's because Bauman's book has its own movie with Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman. Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) co-stars.
Lucky: At age 91, Harry Dean Stanton gets the role of a storied Hollywood lifetime, an atheist on a spiritual journey in a desert landscape of eccentrics. Lucky is directed by another invaluable character actor, John Carroll Lynch (Twisty the clown on American Horror Story).
Blade Runner 2049: Harrison Ford's mission is reprising each signature role before retiring. First Indy, then Han and now Rick Deckerd, the replicant hunter missing since 1982's sci-fi classic Blade Runner. A younger hunter (Ryan Gosling) needs Deckerd's help to save humanity. Ford needs someone to make Air Force Two.
The Florida Project: Filmed on Disney World's economic fringe, the movie spends a summer with an 8-year-old girl (Brooklynn Prince) and her neglectful mother. Willem Dafoe plays nice for a change as a motel clerk keeping an eye on the kid. Directed by Sean Baker with real cameras after shooting his breakout Tangerine on cellphones.
Marshall: Chadwick Boseman is building a nice career in biopics of famous African-Americans: Jackie Robinson (42), James Brown (Get on Up), now Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Boseman's next role is another black hero overdue in movies: the Marvel superhero Black Panther (Feb. 16).
The Snowman: A serial killer strikes when it snows, so a detective keeps an eye on the Weather Channel. Sounds like a skippable genre flick except the detective is played by Michael Fassbender, right, and the director is Tomas Alfredson, who can handle both macabre (Let the Right One In) and moody (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).
The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Another mindbender from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). Colin Farrell , right, stars as a surgeon whose life and wife (Nicole Kidman) are unhinged by a curious friend (Barry Keoghan) of their children. Cannes Film Festival audiences were wildly divided, as usual for Lanthimos' disturbing absurdities.
Suburbicon: Matt Damon stars in a dark comedy directed by George Clooney from his screenplay co-written with Joel and Ethan Coen, whose influence is unmistakable. A home invasion leaves a 1950s family man (Damon) widowed; then an insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) gets suspicious.
Last Flag Flying: A spiritual sequel to 1973's The Last Detail, both based on Daryl Ponicsan novels. Bryan Cranston takes the Nicholson-ish role of a Vietnam veteran road tripping to a funeral with another Marine (Steve Carell) whose son was killed in action in Iraq. Directed by Richard Linklater.
Murder on the Orient Express: Kenneth Branagh has the mustache to play Agatha Christie's sleuth Hercule Poirot and the chops to direct another adaptation of her passenger train mystery. The suspect list includes Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, above right, and Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr. All aboard.
Three Billboards Out Outside Ebbing, Missouri: An unsolved murder leads the victim's mother (Frances McDormand) to launch a billboard feud with the sheriff (Woody Harrelson). The movie's written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) with a cast including Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage.
Darkest Hour: While British troops were stranded at Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied support at home. Gary Oldman appears poised for an awards run as Churchill, in what should be another classy production from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice) with Lily James stepping in for Keira Knightley.
Molly's Game: Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, who operated mega-stakes Hollywood poker games for the likes of Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, who could be a real jerk according to her autobiography. I'm guessing that's who Michael Cera is playing.
The Current War: No, not Afghanistan. This war is between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) below, and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to see who can build a better light bulb, channeling electricity into American homes. Doesn't matter who wins; you'll still have an inconvenient four-hour window to wait for a service technician.
The Disaster Artist: James Franco directs and stars as "filmmaker" Tommy Wiseau, the Ed Wood of his generation who wrote, directed and starred in 2003's The Room, hailed by many as the worst movie ever made. Dave Franco co-stars as co-star Greg Sestaro, whose memoir of mediocrity informs the screenplay.
Wonder Wheel: Woody Allen again, this time in 1950s Coney Island where a bored housewife (Kate Winslet) falls for a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake, who wouldn't?). James Belushi is getting Oscar buzz as her husband while the Emmys should note his work in Twin Peaks: The Return. That's closer to EGOT territory than anyone expects from a second-team Blues Brother.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro's Cold War fairytale stars Sally Hawkins as a mute custodian at a top secret laboratory where an amphibious man is held captive. The trailer looks gorgeous and inexplicably romantic. A tantalizing cast includes Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon and creature ace Doug Jones (Pan's Labryinth, Hellboy).
All the Money in the World: Ridley Scott re-enacts the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, teenage grandson of the world's then-richest man. Kevin Spacey plays the oil tycoon, who sweated down his ransom donation to a tax-deductible amount, then loaned his son the rest, with interest. Mark Wahlberg is a private eye on the case.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Yes, this is the Death Star of hype but it's STAR WARS, for Yoda's sake. We left off with Rey (Daisy Ridley) returning a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Is he the last Jedi? Is she? How will Carrie Fisher's death alter Leia Organa's course? Tell, will time.
Downsizing: Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig co-star as a financially strapped couple shrunk to 4-inch height and moved into a cheaper, extremely compact home. Directed by ever-sly Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska), featuring Laura Dern, Christoph Waltz and Neil Patrick Harris.
The Post: The perfect Oscars cocktail is something like this: Steven Spielberg directing Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a true story of Washington Post journalists exposing abuses of government power by printing classified information. Formerly titled The Papers, this one limited to major markets, then nationwide on Jan. 12, 2018.
The Greatest Showman: Hugh Jackman stars as circus showman P.T. Barnum in a musical biopic delayed a year to avoid competing with La La Land. Zac Efron and Zendaya co-star as three-ring lovers amid Baz Luhrman-esque fantasy. There's a sucker for this stuff born every minute.
Phantom Thread: At least that's the rumored title. Paul Thomas Anderson directs three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role before retirement: a 1950s fashion designer to British high society. Tying Katherine Hepburn's record with four acting Oscars would be a fitting sendoff.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.