The fall movie season used to be considered a throw away, between summer blockbusters and the winter Oscar race. Not anymore. As school starts up, Hollywood prepares to roll out early Academy Award contenders, Halloween screamfests and enough comedy to get you through the rough spots.

Sept. 17

Appaloosa (New Line)

Ed Harris wrote, directed and stars alongside Viggo Mortensen in a film about two friends hired to police a small town being terrorized by a rancher (Jeremy Irons), but find their job – and their friendship – complicated by the arrival of a young widow (squishy faced Renée Zellweger). This is Harris’ first directorial effort since 2000’s Oscar nominated Pollock. It may be too early in the season, but Appaloosa’s Academy Award pedigree is impeccable.

Sept. 19

The Duchess (Paramount Vantage)

Before there was Princess Di, the original royal “It Girl” was the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer. Based on Amanda Foreman’s best selling book, Keira Knightley and the consistently brilliant Ralph Fiennes headline the story of a woman who ushered in a new era in England by leading the forward thinking Whig Party, but paid a heavy price for her passion in a world of social constraint, expectations and wildfire gossip.

Ghost Town (Paramount)
Dr. Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais, who almost guarantees comic gold) is the ultimate misanthrope. When he dies during a colonoscopy (it’s getting funnier) and is then miraculously revived after seven minutes, he discovers he now has the annoying ability to see ghosts. And they all want something from him, particularly Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who pesters him into breaking up the impending marriage of his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni).

Igor (MGM)

In a land ruled by mad scientists, each with a loyal assistant whose job can be summed up in two words, “Yes, Master,” one talented hunchback, Igor (voiced by John Cusack), dreams of becoming an inventor himself and winning the annual Evil Science Fair.

Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems)

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson and directed by In the Company of Men’s Neil LaBute, Lakeview Terrace is about an interracial couple who moves next door to a disapproving sociopathic cop, Samuel L. Jackson (doing his best Al Pacino impression). How can they fight back when he is “The Law?”

My Best Friend’s Girl (Lionsgate)

When Dustin (Jason Biggs) gets dumped by dream girl Alexis (Kate Hudson), he turns to his abrasive best friend Tank (Dane Cook … typecasting much?), a master of seducing – and offending – women. Tank gets hired by freshly dumped guys to take their ex-girlfriends on the worst date of their lives, an experience so horrible it sends them running gratefully back to their beaus. But Alexis and Tank hit it off unexpectedly and hopefully, sing the Cars song, “She used to me mine … she’s sooo fine.”

Sept. 26

Battle in Seattle (Redwood Palms)

In 1999, thousands of demonstrators descended on Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization. What began as a peaceful protest quickly escalated into a full-scale riot. Written and directed by Stuart Townsend (longtime boyfriend of Charlize Theron), the film intertwines the stories of protestors, delegates and police. The cast includes Theron, Ray Liotta, Woody Harrelson and Channing Tatum.

Blindness (Miramax)

Based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, an epidemic of mysterious instant blindness grips a town, leaving only a doctor (Julianne Moore) able to see as society crumbles, the strong prey on the weak and chaos rules.

Choke (Fox Searchlight) A sex-addicted con man (Sam Rockwell) is forced to support his hospitalized mother (Anjelica Huston) by working as a re-enactor of Colonial Times during the day and intentionally choking on food to entice wealthy patrons to rescue him at night. Based on the book by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk.

Eagle Eye (Paramount)

Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan star as two unsuspecting civilians whose lives are suddenly at the mercy of a mysterious woman neither has ever met, but who seems to know their every move. Realizing they have become pawns in her plot for a political assassination, they work together to outwit the woman before she has them killed.

Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn)

Kirk Cameron brings his hyper Christianity to the big screen as Lt. Caleb Holt, a firefighter who will risk everything for his job, but is letting his marriage burn around him. Instead of filing for divorce, Caleb’s dad asks him to try an experiment: the Love Dare. While reigniting the love in his marriage, he discovers his love for Jesus.

The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate)

Three soldiers on leave from Iraq (Rachel McAdams, Michael Peña and Tim Robbins) try to make sense of their lives by taking an unexpected road trip across the United States.

Miracle at St. Anna (Buena Vista)

Set in 1944 Italy, four African-American soldiers get trapped in a Tuscan village during WWII. Directed by Spike Lee, it’s a major departure from his typical urban, set-in-Manhattan films.

Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.)
Diane Lane and Richard Gere re-team for the third time (Cotton Club, Unfaithful) as two unhappy people who have a life-changing romance. Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), expect a lot of weepy women and their dragged-along significant others in the audience.

Oct. 3

An American Carol (Vivendi Entertainment)

Directed by David Zucker (Airplane!, Scary Movie 3 and 4), An American Carol follows a cynical, anti-American Hollywood filmmaker who sets out on a crusade to abolish the Fourth of July, until he’s visited by three ghosts who show him the true meaning of America.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Buena Vista)

Beverly Hills’ most pampered pooch gets lost while on vacation in Mexico and needs help getting home. Voiced by Drew Barrymore, Salma Hayek, Luis Guzmán, George Lopez and Edward James Olmos, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Piper Perabo providing the live action.

Flash of Genius (Universal)

Greg Kinnear portrays real-life college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns in his long battle with the automotive industry.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM)

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is a smalltime, bumbling, British celebrity journalist who is hired by an upscale magazine in New York City. After infiltrating high society, he burns bridges with bosses, peers and superstars. The film is based on Toby Young’s memoir of the same name and also stars Kirsten Dunst, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Megan Fox, Max Minghella and Jeff Bridges.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Columbia)

Michael Cera and Kat Dennings star as two people thrust together for one long, sleepless night of musical adventure through New York City as they hunt to find a legendary band’s secret show.

Rachel Getting Married (Sony Pictures Classics)

After 10 years in and out of rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home for her sister’s wedding, bringing a history of personal crisis and family conflict along with her. Directed by Jonathan Demme.

Religulous (Lionsgate)

This documentary follows political satirist Bill Maher as he investigates religions around the world.

Sex Drive (Summit Entertainment)

Eighteen-year-old Ian sets out on a cross-country road trip with his best pals on a quest to lose his virginity to a hot babe he met on the Internet.

What Just Happened (Magnolia Pictures)

Two weeks in the life of a fading Hollywood producer (Robert De Niro), whose personal and professional lives are completely unmanageable. Directed by Barry Levinson.

Oct. 8

RocknRolla (Warner Bros.)

Guns, gangsters and Guy Ritchie – sold! Starring Gerard Butler, Ludacris, Jeremy Piven, Thandie Newton and Tom Wilkinson.

Oct. 10

Ashes of Time Redux (Sony Pictures Classics)

Ashes of Time, about a brokenhearted hit man who moves to the desert where he finds skilled swordsmen to carry out his contract killings, is one of the most polarizing films of visionary auteur director Wong Kar Wai (2046). Re-edited, reshaped and restored by the notoriously revisionist director, the Redux is closer to the film WKW originally envisioned.

Body of Lies (Warner Bros.)
Based on David Ignatius’ novel, Ridley Scott directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe as CIA operatives in Jordan hunting a high-ranking terrorist.

Breakfast with Scot (Regent Releasing)

Eric, a hockey player turned sportscaster, and his boyfriend of four years, Sam, are made guardians of 11-year-old Scot, who arrives with one pink musical hairbrush, a pink poodle belt and four pairs of white sock-ettes with lacy fringe at the top. Rather than embrace him, they push him toward playing hockey, forcing them all to examine the idea of “acceptable.”

City of Ember (20th Century Fox)

Two children living in the City of Ember search for clues that will unlock ancient mysteries when their city’s power source begins to fail.

Good Dick (Present Pictures/Morning Knight)

Good Dick is an idiosyncratic romance about a video store clerk (Jason Ritter) and a female customer (Marianna Palka) who rents erotic DVDs from him.

The Express (Universal)

Based on the life of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, The Express is a football film with a backdrop of racial injustice. Stars Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown.

Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax)

Director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies) and his signature improvisational style return with Happy-Go-Lucky, a film about a free spirit with an unsinkable sense of optimism who meets her polar opposite – a fuming, uptight cynic who takes himself way too seriously.

Quarantine (Screen Gems)

A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped in a building quarantined by the CDC after a resident is infected with a mysterious illness. When the quarantine is finally lifted, the grisly evidence of what took place is the news crew’s videotape.

Oct. 17

Filth and Wisdom (IFC)

Mega pop star Madonna tries her hand at directing with this tale of three unlikely friends sharing a flat in London.

Max Payne (Fox)

Based on the wildly popular 2001 video game, Max Payne (played by Mark Wahlberg) is a cop whose family and partner are brutally murdered. Out for justice, he embarks on a maverick path, venturing into the underworld to find those responsible for the murders with the help of an assassin (Mila Kunis), who seeks vengeance for her sister’s death.

Morning Light (Disney)

Fifteen young men and women were selected to race a high-performance 52-foot sloop in the TRANSPAC, the most revered of open ocean sailing competitions. Competing against top professionals, the crew of Morning Light embarks on a dramatic 2,300 mile showdown. Followed from their earliest training sessions in Hawaii conducted by world-class teachers through their test of endurance on the high seas, this young team forms an unbreakable bond and proves it’s about more than age and experience.

The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight)

Based on the insanely popular best selling book, Dakota Fanning, Hilarie Burton, Alicia Keys, Tristan Wilds, Paul Bettany, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah star in the story of Lily Owens (Fanning), whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.

W. (Lionsgate)

W. is Oliver Stone’s darkly comedic chronicling of the life of President George W. Bush, from his early struggles through the critical days leading up to his decision to invade Iraq. The film’s star studded cast is lead off by Josh Brolin as “Dubyah,” Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush, James Cromwell as Bush Sr., Thandie Newton as a much hotter Condoleezza Rice, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell and Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. W. is one to watch in the early Oscar race.

Oct. 24

Changeling (Universal)

A mother’s son returns home after being kidnapped, but it doesn’t take long for her to suspect this boy is not hers.

Crossing Over (MGM)

Crossing Over is like Crash for 2008, weaving a multi-character canvas about immigrants of different nationalities struggling to achieve legal status in Los Angeles. Sean Penn, Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd star.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Buena Vista)

Disney’s juggernaut leaps to the big screen for the original cast’s last outing. Now seniors in high school, Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) must confront the prospect of separation for college, but first, they lead the rest of the Wildcats in a spring musical to express their hopes and fears about the future.

I’ve Loved You So Long (Sony Classics)

After serving 15 years in prison, Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) finds herself cast adrift in society until her younger sister, Léa (Elsa Zylberstein), takes her into the home she shares with her husband, his father and their little girls.

Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing)

Let the Right One In follows Oskar, a fragile, shy, bullied boy who finds love and revenge through Eli, the beautiful but peculiar girl-next-door who turns out to have a powerful secret.

Passengers (Columbia)

After a plane crash, a young therapist, Claire (Anne Hathaway) is assigned to counsel the flight’s five survivors. As they share their disjointed recollections of the incident, new questions come to light. Claire’s attraction to Eric (Patrick Wilson), the most secretive of the passengers, blossoms into a romance. Just as she starts to trust him, one by one, Eric’s fellow survivors begin to disappear mysteriously.

Pride and Glory (New Line)

A saga centered on a multi-generational family of New York City police officers including brothers-in-law, Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. When an incendiary police corruption scandal opens a Pandora’s box that threatens to upend the entire NYPD, their loyalty and honor are tested.

Saw V (Lionsgate)

As they have every year since 2004, Lionsgate unleashes the latest Saw film just in time for Halloween. Forensics expert Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is left to carry on the Jigsaw legacy. But when his secret is threatened, Hoffman must go on the hunt to eliminate all loose ends.

Synecdoche, New York (Sony Pictures Classics)

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden, a theater director struggling with both his personal and professional lives. While mounting his new play, he discovers that his various autonomic functions are shutting down one at a time. Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams co-star.

Oct. 31

The Other End of the Line (MGM)

You know how annoying technical support can be? Not in The Other End of the Line, when an employee at an Indian call center travels to San Francisco to be with a guy she falls for over the phone. Starring Jesse Metcalfe, Shriya and Anupam Kher.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (MGM)

Best friends, Zack and Miri (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) decide to solve their money problems by making an adult film together. As the cameras roll, their love blossoms. What do you want? It’s a Kevin Smith movie!

The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle Releasing)

Something is lurking beneath the lush facade of a girls’ private school … and it isn’t just Chace Crawford’s hotness! Starring Crawford, Haley Bennett, Shannon Marie Woodward, Shanna Collins and AnnaLynne McCord.

Nov. 7

Lake City (Screen Media Films)

When a young man (Troy Garity) gets into trouble with a local drug dealer, he’s forced to return to the last place he wants to be – his childhood home – where he and his mother (Sissy Spacek) must confront the tragic circumstances that drove them apart years ago.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Paramount)

The sequel to the first Madagascar finds our New York Zoo animal friends, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), still stranded on Madagascar, but ready to return to their Manhattan home … until their plane crash lands in the wilderness of Africa.

Repo! The Genetic Musical (Lionsgate)

Touted as a blend of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Blade Runner, Repo! The Genetic Musical is set in the not-so-distant future where a worldwide epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. One company offers organ transplants, but anyone who misses their payments are scheduled for repossession and hunted down by the Repo Man. Paris Hilton stars.

Nov. 14

Quantum of Solace (Columbia)

Bond. James Bond. The 22nd film in the series stars Daniel Craig as the Blonde Bond back for round two. You know you can’t wait to be shaken and stirred.

Soul Men (Dimension Films)

Bernie Mac’s final film pairs him with Samuel L. Jackson as estranged soul-singing legends who haven’t spoken to one another in 20 years but agree to reunite for a performance at the Apollo Theater to honor their recently deceased bandleader. Isaac Hayes, who passed away two days after Mac, also appears as himself.

Nov. 21

Bolt (Buena Vista)

Bolt is the most famous dog on TV. After living his whole life on the set of his action TV show where he has superpowers (supplied by the crew and special effects department), he gets separated from the studio by accident and shockingly discovers he doesn’t have special abilities, and the show isn’t real. Fighting to make his way home, he gets help from Mr. Mittens (a female cat) and a hamster named Rhino.

Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture)

Flaunting an all star Hispanic cast including Freddy Rodríguez, John Leguizamo, Alfred Molina and Luis Guzmán, Nothing Like the Holidays is about the far flung Rodriguez family that converges on their ancestral Chicago home to celebrate what may be their last Christmas together.

The Soloist (DreamWorks)

The Soloist is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musical prodigy who developed schizophrenia during his second year at Juilliard, eventually becoming homeless on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He continued to play violin and cello, dreaming of performing at the Disney Concert Hall. Robert Downey Jr. plays Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times columnist who discovered Ayers and profiled him in a series of columns and, eventually, a book. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement) and written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), this has the potential to be major Oscar bait.

Nov. 26

Australia (Fox)

Baz Luhrmann leaves behind his Red Curtain Trilogy and returns to his homeland, Australia. Set prior to World War II, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star as an English aristocrat (Kidman) who hires a rough neck stockman (Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country’s most unforgiving land.

Milk (Focus Features) Follow the story of California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated – along with Mayor George Moscone – by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White on Nov. 27, 1978 at City Hall.