BEE SEASON (Fox Searchlight, opening in November)
Lowdown: Two of cinema's most beautiful actors, Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, come together in this broken-family drama based on Myra Goldberg's novel. When young Eliza Naumann (newcomer Flora Cross) begins a streak of spelling bee victories, her troubled family discovers a chance to heal emotional wounds.
Cool Factor: Gere finds the perfect match to his persnickety persona. The film's dazzle belongs to co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who bring Eliza's spelling alive with artistry.
CAPOTE (Sony Classics, October)
Lowdown: Philip Seymour Hoffman cements his status as one of American film's great actors with his portrayal of iconic author Truman Capote during the creation of his landmark book, In Cold Blood. Catherine Keener brings the film a dramatic one-two punch as Harper Lee, Capote's friend and research companion.
Cool Factor: Hoffman displays Capote's pudgy, squeaky-clean look and squeakier voice with copycat perfection. But if anyone can capture the artist behind the larger-than-life figure, it's him.
ELIZABETHTOWN (Warner Bros., October)
Lowdown: Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is having a bad day — following a disastrous product presentation at work, he learns of his father's unexpected death. While en route to the memorial service in Elizabethtown, Ky., Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a tart-tongued flight attendant who helps him deal with his shitty luck and longstanding family issues.
Cool Factor: Writer/director Cameron Crowe, whose own father hailed from Elizabethtown, is the rare Hollywood filmmaker who can pull off detailed, personally rendered stories on canvasses both large (Jerry Maguire) and small (Say Anything).
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (Warner Independent, November)
Lowdown: George Clooney's sophomore directorial effort takes us back to a time when our government was less than honorable (pause for guffaw) — iconic TV journalist Edward R. Murrow's 1954 tussle with Commie-baiting Senate thug Joe McCarthy. In an inspired move, Clooney allows McCarthy to play himself via vintage news footage.
Cool Factor: Given our current political climate, there's little doubt about Clooney's intentions (he co-wrote the screenplay), but it's the stellar David Straithairn as Morrow who should leave the lasting impression.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (New Line, September)
Lowdown: Based on John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel, director David Cronenberg's latest centers on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a small-town Indiana family man whose life is turned upside-down after he foils a robbery attempt at his diner. Ed Harris, who sports a wince-inducing facial scar, is the antagonist who questions Stall's possibly cloudy past.
Cool Factor: Expect the visionary Cronenberg, auteur of such mind-fuck fare as Videodrome and Crash, to deliver another psychologically complex, sensory-stimulating experience.
JARHEAD (New Line, November)
Lowdown: Anthony Swofford's incisive memoir provides the basis for director Sam Mendes' Gulf War-set story of Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) and buddy Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and their life-altering experiences from basic training to the battlefields of Iraq. Unlike his aesthetically studied Road to Perdition, look for Mendes' war film to be an appropriately chaotic experience.
Cool Factor: Ace character actor Sarsgaard enriches any film in which he appears. Jarhead, which also boasts Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx in supporting roles, should be no different.
KING KONG (Universal, December)
Lowdown: Filmmaker Peter Jackson follows his Lord of the Rings phenomenon with a period remake of the classic beauty-and-the-beast movie, King Kong. Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts and funny man Jack Black are the young and eclectic cast members surrounding the amazing ape and the rest of the beastly inhabitants on Kong's uncharted island.
Cool Factor: Unlike many of his fantasy genre peers, Jackson understands that storytelling and character development are essential for making special effects matter. Kong provides Jackson with timeless material to do his magic.
MATCH POINT (DreamWorks, December)
Lowdown: Word out of Cannes is that Woody Allen's 37th directorial effort is his best in nearly two decades. Which begs the question: Why didn't he get out of New York sooner? The London-set Match Point stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a semi-successful former tennis pro and current coach whose marriage is threatened by the arrival of a sexy American actress (Scarlett Johansson).
Cool Factor: Scarlett Johansson. Enough said.
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (Sony, December)
Lowdown: Ziyi Zhang, fresh from her standout role in Wong Kar Wai's hypnotic love story 2046, puts her beauty and charisma to the test to play a famous Japanese geisha trying to survive World War II. Rob Marshall directs this anticipated Hollywood adaptation of the best-selling novel as a followup to his musical hit, Chicago.
Cool Factor: If anyone can claim being the new face of movie heartbreak, it's Zhang. Her delicate features, dancer's agility and cat's eyes are enough to win over any man.
THE NEW WORLD (Universal, November)
Lowdown: Reclusive and revered filmmaker Terrence Malick comes out of hiding to tell his version of the love story between 17th-century English explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Powhatan princess Pocahontas (newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher) set amid the historically accurate backdrop of America's first colony, Jamestown, Va.
Cool Factor: Malick, as close to a cinematic poet as we have, is sure to deliver anything but the typical historical biopic.
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Samuel Goldwyn Films, November)
Lowdown: Largely based on writer/director Noah Baumbach's own eccentric childhood, this Sundance-approved tale stars Jeff Daniels as an English professor who attempts to keep his fractured family together following the breakup of his marriage in 1980s Brooklyn.
Cool Factor: Baumbach, the man behind the hilarious cult comedy Kicking and Screaming, possess a deadpan wit akin to that of his filmmaking buddy Wes Anderson, with whom he co-authored the script for last year's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
THREE ... EXTREMES (Lions Gate, sometime this fall)
Lowdown: A Twilight Zone-like triptych of horror stories offers separate scares. In one story, a female novelist accepts an invitation to go to the site of her sister's demise. In another, a retired actress regains her beauty by eating "special" dumplings. In the finale, a vengeful fan kidnaps a film director.
Cool Factor: South Korean filmmaker Park Chanwook (Old Boy) joins his colleagues Fruit Chan and Takashi Miike to show Western moviegoers that Asian filmmakers are experts at creepy tales of suspense.
THUMBSUCKER (Sony Classics, October)
Lowdown: Young actor Lou Pucci won a Sundance Jury prize for his dead-on performance as awkward teen Justin Cobb, the hero of Walter Kirn's book of the same name. Coming-of-age stories are nothing new, but Pucci makes Justin's struggles with medication addiction — he's trying to stop his thumb-sucking habit — rich, surprising and unforgettable.
Cool Factor: Acclaimed graphic artist and music-video director Mike Mills makes his feature filmmaking debut. As smart as its Ritalin-popping protagonist, Mills delivers a visually dazzling, surprisingly funny and emotionally rich tale.
TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY (Picturehouse, November)
Lowdown: Prolific British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom updates the classic 18th-century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, a psychologically inscrutable meta-narrative with Jeremy Northam as the "director" and Steve Coogan as his perplexed star.
Cool Factor: Count on the fearless Winterbottom and the hilarious Coogan, who ably propelled the director's 24 Hour Party People, to buck expectations with their film version of a book many called unadaptable.
WALK THE LINE (Fox, November)
Lowdown: Excitable actor Joaquin Phoenix dons the black duds of Johnny Cash for director James Mangold's warts-and-all biopic. Phoenix also performs Cash's songs with deep-voiced believability. Co-star Reese Witherspoon boosts the film's realism with her singing performance as Cash's long suffering wife, June Carter Cash.
Cool Factor: Cash has the edgy credibility and up-and-down life history perfect for a filmmaker willing to depart from the cliché-ridden, shiny bio films typical of Hollywood.
YES (Sony Classics, opening Friday)
Lowdown: Veteran filmmaker Sally Potter's latest politically-charged love story stars Joan Allen as an Irish-American scientist who's unhappy with her marriage as well as her affair with a former Lebanese surgeon (Simon Abkarian) who's come to London to work as a prep cook.
Cool Factor: Every frequent filmgoer craves a distinct cinematic experience, and that's exactly what Potter brings to all of her movies. The beautifully executed Yes is no exception. ©