Directors old and new in upcoming fall films

1. “Don Jon” – Sept. 27 – Young actors choosing to write and direct for the first time usually spells out pain and misery (I’m still recuperating from “Garden State”), but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut film may fare better. He plays the title character, a porn-addicted New Jersey meathead attempting to pull his love life together. Sound formulaic? Yes, but if the trailer is at all accurate, Gordon-Levitt injects some much-needed energy into his script. He already deserves props for a hilarious Tony Danza appearance.

2. “Gravity” – Oct. 4 – If you enjoyed “Children of Men” and the special effects of “Avatar,” this just might be the film for you. Personally, I enjoyed neither, and based on the trailer I can’t get behind the hype over the special effects. The 3-D trend gets further artistic credibility with a truly frightening premise of two astronauts stranded in outer space. James Cameron has dubbed it “the best space film ever done.” I hope he’s right.

3. “Captain Phillips” – Oct. 11 – Perhaps disappointed by the reaction to “Green Zone,” Paul Greengrass returns with a straightforward, seemingly apolitical treatment of the Somali pirate hostage crisis involving Captain Richard Phillips. Hoping to repeat the critical and commercial success of “United 93,” Greengrass enlists the help of Tom Hanks to draw us in to one man’s nightmare and the global response. With plenty of shaky cam and an Indian Ocean setting, viewers with queasy stomachs beware.

4. “12 Years a Slave” – Oct. 18 – “Shame” may have been so-so, but Steve McQueen is a filmmaker to watch. Recounting the real life horror of a kidnapped freedman from New York in pre- Civil War days (seriously, look it up), McQueen has assembled his best cast yet. Judging from the trailer, the enthusiastic response in Toronto, and Brad Pitt’s remark, “If I never participate in a film again, this is it,” this could just end up being the best film of the year.

5. “The Fifth Estate” – Oct. 18 – Does Julian Assange deserve a film about his actions? That’s for every viewer to decide. The trailer, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, wants you to decide whether he is a hero or threat to national security by revealing secret – but damning – information about the U.S. government. What it really does, however, is paint him as an unabashed, unequivocal martyr. Historically, this direction rarely works in movies when trying to get a point across. Cumberbatch is a talented actor who justly deserves a starring role; let’s hope the film treats him fairly.

6. “The Wolf of Wall Street” – Nov. 15 – Martin Scorsese transitioned from outsider to establishment around the time he made his first costume drama. While I will always miss his more personal projects, he still has the spirit of an outsider. Along with muse Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese’s true life tale of Wall Street corruption may feel a little late, but any new film from the most personal of directors is a welcome addition to the year end.

7. “Nebraska” – Nov. 22 – Bruce Dern won Best Actor at Cannes Film Festival this year for Alexander Payne’s upcoming road trip film. No trailer has been released yet, but a clip featuring Dern, Will Forte and Stacey Keach is making its rounds. Featuring crisp black & white photography, it appears the stripped down family Payne is so fond of. While it’s disappointing he and Jim Taylor haven’t written together since “Sideways” (Payne isn’t even a credited screenwriter this time around), Payne is sure to bring his A-game, as usual.