Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

The season of the popcorn blockbuster is coming to an end, which is pretty okay when you remember that things like 'Battleship,' 'What to Expect When You’re Expecting' (give us some credit, Hollywood) and 'Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection Program' are getting booted from theaters to make room for some gritty, innovative cinema from directors like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, and -- yup -- RZA.

Sucks to say bye to 'Dark Night Rises,' 'Moonrise Kingdom,' and 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,' but they had their time in the sun. As far as what's coming to replace them, it’s tough to pick just five to recommend. 'Jack Reacher,' 'The Hobbit,' 'Argo' and 'Lincoln' all seem worth the price of a ticket but… five is five. Here goes.

The Master

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Date: September 14

'There Will Be Blood' proved that Anderson is up there with the greats: Kurosawa, David Lean, Scorsese. He’s got a knack for showing the slow and painful downfall of men who were at the top of their game and then let their ego get the best of them ('Boogie Nights,' the phony self-help guru played by Tom Cruise in 'Magnolia,' greedy oil tycoon Daniel Plainview).

'The Master' looks like it’s taking that theme to a 10. Hoffman plays a charismatic cult leader who lures an alcoholic drifter (Phoenix) into his weird, manipulative world. It’s been a long time since Phoenix has been on screen (not counting his bonkers journey into hip-hop and that train wreck 'I’m Not Here'), and no matter how nuts he acts in real life, he’s sick to watch on screen.

Anderson screened the flick for his buddy Tom Cruise because, yep, it’s inspired by Scientology. Word is Cruise didn’t exactly give it a standing ovation. Pretty sure this one will be a mind bender.


Directed by Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Date: September 28

This high-concept action thriller has Gordon-Leavitt playing a time-traveling mafia hitman from 2047 who gets paid to kill people sent back from 2077. What? Whatever -- it looks awesome. The story takes a twist when one of his targets turns out to be an older version of himself, played by Willis. The visuals look awesome, Willis can’t seem to be anything but cool on screen, and Johnson’s first film, 'Brick,' was a modern-day noir that rocked.

Killing Them Softly

Directed by Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard
Date: November 30

Pitt is at his best when he’s playing dark dudes ('Kalifornia,' 'Fight Club,' 'Twelve Monkeys'), and here he’s a professional enforcer who’s hired (along with Gandolfini) to investigate a heist gone wrong during a mob poker game.

The slick 1970s style, the cast, and the fact that Pitt’s character Jackie Cogan growls lines like, “I like to kill them softly, from a distance,” are all promising signs, right? Plus it’s directed by Dominik, who did 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' and 'Chopper' (with a beefed-up, tatted Eric Bana). Word on the street is strong.

Zero Dark Thirty

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton
Date: December 19

Bigelow is the perfect person to helm the story of the hunt for bin Laden and his eventual death at the hands of the Navy SEAL team in 2011. Coming off The Hurt Locker it’ll be cool to see how she makes the SEAL mission cinematic and visceral as hell -- which is a given.

She directed 'Point Break' -- if you look past the corny lines and remember that long foot chase, you know she’s a badass behind the lens who’s been honing her craft for a very long time.

Django Unchained

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Date: December 25



Okay, technically, this comes out in the winter -- but only by three days. Besides, it’s Tarantino. It’s also Tarantino doing a Spaghetti Western, so you know it’s gonna be good.

Jamie Foxx is a slave who’s “freed” by a bounty hunter (Waltz) and goes on a bloody, gory quest to save his wife from a psycho plantation owner (DiCaprio). Don Johnson plays another sadistic plantation owner and if you saw him as Kenny Powers’ lowlife dad on 'Eastbound and Down' or Von Jackson in 'Machete,' you know he’s come a long way since Nash Bridges.

If you can't wait till Christmas to get a taste of 'Django,' check out the Red Bull 'Django Unchained' Emerging Artist Contest entries, including the winning short film, 'The Writer,' from Edson Oda.

Epiloque: A few more flicks that are coming up in the next few months that look worth the time include RZA’s 'The Man With the Iron Fists.' RZA wrote it with Eli Roth and RZA also directs and acts in this one with Russell Crowe, Lucy Lui and Pam Grier -- plus, it takes place in feudal China. There’s also the horror flick 'Sinister' with Ethan Hawke, 'Cloud Atlas,' 'Silver Linings Playbook' and the next Bond movie 'Skyfall' … Who needs summer blockbusters? It’s on.

Follow Dina Gachman on Twitter for more news and updates.




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