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"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Warner Bros.
Brad Pitt saddles up to play Jesse James in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
By Movies editor
msnbc.com
updated 8/22/2007 7:40:28 PM ET 2007-08-22T23:40:28

There are some movies that feel like they were made just to win an Oscar. There’s a whiff about them — a hyper seriousness that cannot be denied. Much as the award season presents its own set of annoyances (like all the darn statues that are handed out) at least there’s a chance that a really good, and yes, important film will be heading your way. Beware of the pretentious and overwrought, but embrace the inspired. Let’s hope this year’s potential Oscar contenders raise the bar for filmmaking.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
Starring:
Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel
Director: Andrew Dominik
Story: Based on the acclaimed novel by Ron Hansen, this film tells the story of the James gang’s internal struggles when Jesse James (Pitt) gains notoriety. Little does Jesse realize that one of his own men, Robert Ford (Affleck), has grown increasingly resentful. The James gang consists of James, Ford, Frank James (Shepard), Charley Ford (Rockwell) and Wood Hite (Renner).
Buzz: Director Dominik (“Chopper”) has assembled a stellar cast for this one, but there has been some controversy. According to the Los Angeles Times, the studio wasn’t happy with a three-plus-hour run time and the film’s rather somber tone. Dominik reportedly wanted a Terrence Malick-style (“The Thin Red Line”) film, while the studio was looking for more action. A couple more versions of the film were reportedly produced with Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) overseeing the new cuts. It’s unclear which version will be released to the public. But don’t discount this one yet; contemplative Westerns have broken through at Oscar time before (“Unforgiven”).
Web site:http://jessejamesmovie.warnerbros.com/
Release date: Sept. 21

“In the Valley of Elah”

Warner Independent Pictures

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, James Franco, Frances Fisher, Tim McGraw, Mehcad Brooks, Wes Chatham
Director: Paul Haggis
Story: Shortly after returning to the states from Iraq, a model soldier, Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker), goes mysteriously AWOL. His career-officer father Hank (Jones) searches to find out what happened to him, enlisting the help of police detective Emily Saunders (Theron). But the case may be murkier than anyone in the military establishment is willing to admit. Sarandon co-stars as Hank’s wife.
Buzz: Director Haggis is best known for helming the Oscar-winning “Crash.” Those who saw that film know the director can be thematically heavy-handed. However, in his Hollywood Elsewhere blog, critic Jeffrey Wells threw down the gauntlet: “I would like to challenge any film critic or blogger who strongly disagrees with me about the excellence of ‘In the Valley of Elah’ to a bare-knuckles, John L. Sullivan-styled fist fight.” Jones is a real threat in that best actor category (he’s been nominated twice, and won once for “The Fugitive.”)
Web site:http://wip.warnerbros.com/inthevalleyofelah/
Release date: Sept. 14

“Reservation Road”

Focus Features

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Elle Fanning
Director: Terry George
Story: When a car accident takes the life of his son, Ethan (Phoenix), devastated by the loss, goes searching for answers. His life intertwines with that of another father Dwight (Mark Ruffalo), who may have been involved in the accident. Connelly co-stars as Ethan’s wife, while Sorvino plays Ruffalo’s wife.
Buzz: Director George (“Hotel Rwanda”) should definitely join the Oscar race with this film. He has former winners in Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) and Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”), and a former nominee in Phoenix (“Walk the Line,” “Gladiator”). Ruffalo (“Zodiac,” “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”) is one of the most talented actors around and is overdue for a nomination of his own. The only question: Will the somber subject matter turn off audiences?  
Web site: NA
Release date: Oct. 19

“Things We Lost in the Fire”

DreamWorks

Starring: Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alison Lohman
Director: Susanne Bier
Story: Audrey Burke (Berry) loses her husband (Duchovny) in a random act of violence. She invites his best friend Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro), a heroin user who is trying to get clean, to come stay with her and her kids for a while. The two discover they need each other’s support in order to survive.
Buzz: It’s about time Berry (Oscar winner for “Monster’s Ball”) got back on track; she’ll be suffering for that Oscar nomination once again. Director Bier is known for her Danish films, including last year’s Oscar-nominated foreign film, “After the Wedding.” Del Toro has a lot on his plate right now, he is playing Ernesto “Che” Guevara in two upcoming Steven Soderbergh-directed films (“Argentine” takes place in 1956, “Guerilla” in 1964).
Web site:http://www.thingswelostinthefire.com/
Release date: Oct. 26

“Grace is Gone”

The Weinstein Company

Starring: John Cusack, Alessandro Nivola, Shelan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk
Director: James C. Strouse
Story: When Stanley Philips (Cusack) learns that his wife was killed fighting in Iraq, he doesn’t want to tell his two daughters (O'Keefe, Bednarczyk). Instead, he decides to take them on a spontaneous road trip to the Enchanted Gardens Theme Park.
Buzz: This film won the audience award for drama at the Sundance Film Festival. Harvey Weinstein used to have real mojo when it came to getting his films nominated for Oscar. Let’s see if he can do it with this one. Film Threat’s Jeremy Mathews calls Cusack’s performance “a revelation.” Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells called the film “a family film about a very American, very here-and-now tragedy.” Clint Eastwood was reportedly so taken with the movie when he saw it at Sundance that he decided to write an all-new score for it.
Web site: NA
Release date: Oct. 5

“Eastern Promises”

Focus Features

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinead Cusack, Donald Sumpter, Jerzy Skolimowski
Director: David Cronenberg
Story: Anna Khitrova (Watts) is a midwife who is looking into the mystery of a Russian teenager who died during childbirth. The search leads her to the ruthless Nikolai (Mortensen), who is tied to one of London’s most notorious crime families. Anna discovers something about the family that puts her life in danger.
Buzz: Cronenberg directed Mortensen to his best performance yet in “A History of Violence,” which bodes well for this film. Cronenberg’s movies demand to be seen in the theater with an audience. He’s a director who never forgets there’s an audience watching and your reaction, along with those around you, is part of the experience. There are may Oscar possibilities here including Mortensen, Mueller-Stahl (“Avalon,” “Shine”), Watts and Cassel (“Ocean’s Twelve”).
Web site: NA
Release date: Sept. 14

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Universal Pictures

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Story: Nine years after “Elizabeth,” Blanchett and director Kapur reunite to continue the story of Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen’s rule is challenged by Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla), who is determined to bring Catholicism back to England. Elizabeth’s trusted adviser Sir Francis Walsingham (Rush) discovers that there’s an assassination plot in the works with the Queen’s own cousin Mary Stuart (Morton) waiting to take her place. In the meantime, Elizabeth also finds herself drawn to Sir Walter Raleigh (Owen), and encourages her lady-in-waiting Bess (Cornish) to befriend him, so she can keep him close.
Buzz: Blanchett was nominated for an Oscar for 1998’s “Elizabeth” (Gwyneth Paltrow took home the statuette for “Shakespeare in Love”). There’s little doubt she’ll be nominated again for this film. Don’t be surprised if Cornish makes her way into the supporting category. This star on the rise proved she had the acting talent in last year’s “Candy.” Screenwriter Michael Hirst not only wrote “Elizabeth,” he’s also one of the creators and writers of Showtime’s “The Tudors.”
Web site:http://www.elizabeththegoldenage.net/
Release date: Oct. 12

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