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Our ten best bets for fall movies

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, plus new movies from Steve James, David O. Russell, and more

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How can no one have turned this true espionage story into a big-screen thriller already? In 1980 the CIA and the Canadian government conspired to rescue six American diplomats hidden in private homes after the student takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Their cover was a movie production unit shooting Iranian locations for a sci-fi epic called "Argo," the fictitious office for which was assembled in LA by makeup legend John Chambers (the original Planet of the Apes), who had a clandestine career helping the Agency with disguises. The new movie is Ben Affleck's third directorial effort, after the gripping Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010); he plays Tony Mendez, who masterminded the effort, and the cast includes Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall, Chris Messina, and John Goodman (as Chambers). The story has plenty of action, and the weird meta-movie element is inherently rich; according to Mendez, before the fake production company was shut down in 1980, it received 25 scripts, including one from Steven Spielberg. Opens October 12. J.R. Jones

Head Games

When Taylor Branch published his muckraking "The Shame of College Sports" in the Atlantic a year ago, it raised the issue of exploiting young athletes to a level of public consciousness unknown since 1994, when Steve James's classic documentary Hoop Dreams told the story of two Chicago basketball hopefuls. James has moved on since then, making movies about poverty (Stevie), capital punishment (At the Death House Door), and epidemic street violence (The Interrupters), but with Head Games he returns to the arena. His protagonist this time is Chris Nowinski, a Harvard grad and former WWE wrestler (there's a resume you don't see too often), whose 2006 book of the same name exposes the crisis of brain trauma in pro football. The growing number of players diagnosed pre- and post-mortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy—degeneration of brain tissue following concussion—is a nightmare for the NFL, not to mention college football. The fact that CTE may also play a role in the epidemic of suicide among U.S. war veterans only heightens the urgency of this upcoming investigation. A week-long engagement at Gene Siskel Film Center opens September 28. J.R. Jones

Holy Motors

Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge, Pola X) is one of France's true visionary filmmakers, having developed a unique form of cinematic poetry from elements of silent comedy, fantasy epics, and his own life. This digitally shot drama marks his first feature in 13 years, and I'll be interested to see how Carax, who's long displayed an affinity for early cinema, will engage with 21st-century moviemaking (he first tried his hand at digital cinema with his contribution to the 2008 omnibus film Tokyo). The loose narrative, reportedly his most abstract yet, follows an actor named Monsieur Oscar (played by the acrobatic Denis Lavant, Carax's perennial alter ego) as he drifts from one identity to another over the course of a single night; the eclectic supporting cast includes Michel Piccoli, Eva Mendes, and pop star Kylie Minogue. If the movie's Cannes premiere is any indication, Holy Motors is sure to polarize viewers. Opens November 9 at Music Box. Ben Sachs

The House I Live In

No one can accuse Eugene Jarecki of thinking small: his masterful 2005 documentary Why We Fight took on no less than the military-industrial complex, and his new one plunges into the 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, focusing on the prison-industrial complex that's become its primary reason for being. Jarecki's narrative strategy in Why We Fight was to collect smart talking heads from across the political spectrum but also to interpolate the stories of common individuals affected by the larger system. The House I Live In appears to follow suit: Jarecki rode with dealers and with cops, questioned judges and prison workers, but chose as his narrative linchpin Nannie Jeter, a former employee of his family's, whose own household was ravaged by her son's drug addiction. As Jarecki recently told journalist Amy Goodman, "My mission, which started with her feelings about the people she loved, who I loved through her, became a study of why it hasn't been more morally and decently and honorably approached as a public concern." Opens October 5. J.R. Jones

Killing Them Softly Andrew Dominik Cogan's Trade

Killing Them Softly

With only two films—Chopper (2000), a pitch-black comedy about a career criminal, and the slick western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)—Australian director Andrew Dominik has built quite a reputation for himself. He returns to theaters this fall with Killing Them Softly, a throwback to the gritty crime dramas of John Flynn (The Outfit, Rolling Thunder) and Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick). Adapted from the George V. Higgins novel Cogan's Trade (1974), the new movie stars Brad Pitt as a professional enforcer investigating a heist that's occurred during a high-stakes, mob-affiliated poker game. Dominik sets his film in 2008, smack dab in the middle of election season and on the eve of the financial crisis, and though the contemporary setting may provide a familiar milieu, the character archetypes are all vintage 70s: Ray Liotta is a maniacal mob figure, Richard Jenkins a crooked attorney, and James Gandolfini an aging, boozy assassin. Genre enthusiasts are sure to line up for this one. Opens October 19. Drew Hunt

This write-up has been amended to correctly reflect the roles of Liotta, Jenkins, and Gandolfini.


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