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Worth Falling For 

Autumn film season offers choice titles

Summer's over, the holidays are still in the distance, and we have only the fall movies to give us cinematic comfort. But don't lose hope yet. While Hollywood tends to save its big guns for year-end accolades and dollars, the upcoming season looks fairly decent, with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Benton behind the camera and Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman and Halle Berry in front of it. Here, then, is a snapshot of the 40 titles scheduled to hit town over the next couple of months.

SEPTEMBER 5: Screen irritant David Spade stars as DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR, a has-been who hopes to revive his career with the starring role in a new TV sit-com. . . An illegal Nigerian immigrant (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living in London discovers a human heart in a hotel room in Stephen Frears' DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, co-starring Amelie's Audrey Tautou. . . Long on the shelf and now being released without advance critics' screenings, THE ORDER (previously known under the title The Sin Eater) reunites many of the principal players from A Knight's Tale -- writer-director Brian Helgeland and stars Heath Ledger, Mark Addy and Shannyn Sossamon -- for a decidedly darker tale about a maverick priest (Ledger) who investigates a series of murders that might be linked to a secret cabal operating within the Church.

SEPTEMBER 12: In what sounds like a direct rip-off of The Evil Dead (with perhaps a measure of The Blair Witch Project thrown in for good measure), CABIN FEVER finds five college kids stranded at a cabin in the woods, whereupon a flesh-eating virus spoils their merriment. . . Held from a summer berth, MATCHSTICK MEN, from acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator), stars Nicolas Cage as a neurotic con artist whose life becomes even more complicated when he meets the daughter (White Oleander's Alison Lohman) he never even knew he had. . . The third and (presumably) final chapter in writer-director Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" trilogy, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO finds our hero (Antonio Banderas), who's equally adept with a gun or a guitar, getting roped into an assassination plot by a corrupt CIA agent (Johnny Depp). Desperado co-star Salma Hayek returns, as do two actors whose characters had apparently been killed in that previous picture, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo.

SEPTEMBER 19: In Woody Allen's ANYTHING ELSE, the 67-year-old writer-director-star (who desperately needs a hit) plays a nebbish who ends up dating 9-year-old Dakota Fanning (Uptown Girls). Well, OK, it hasn't gotten that bad. . . yet. Actually, he ends up getting involved with 23-year-old Christina Ricci. The cast also includes Jason Biggs (American Wedding), Stockard Channing and Danny DeVito. . . In the "haunted house" tradition of The Innocents and The Haunting, COLD CREEK MANOR stars Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone as a big-city couple who move to a country estate seemingly inhabited by malevolent spirits. Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) directs. . . In THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS, a New York advertising executive (Cuba Gooding Jr.) finds himself in the Deep South, where he ends up leading a gospel choir and falling for a local beauty (Beyonce Knowles). . . Back in 1966, Bruce Brown created the classic surfing documentary The Endless Summer; now, here's his son Dana Brown with STEP INTO LIQUID, a modern take on the same subject. . . Catherine Hardwicke won a directing award at Sundance for THIRTEEN, a hard-hitting drama about a teenage girl (Raleigh native Evan Rachel Wood) who rebels against her mother (Holly Hunter) and, under the bad influence of her close friend (newcomer Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the script with Hardwicke), gets involved with drugs and sex. . . Visually, the preview suggests a cross between The Matrix and The Crow; narratively, UNDERWORLD concerns itself with the long-running battle between sophisticated vampires and street-smart werewolves. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman star as, respectively, the bloodsucker and the lycanthrope who fall in love, Capulet/Montague-style.

SEPTEMBER 26: Almost certain to become one of the season's top grossers, the dark comedy DUPLEX stars Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore as a yuppie couple whose lives are turned into living hells by the little old lady (Eileen Essel) who lives in the same building. Directed by Danny DeVito, who's no stranger to prickly projects (Throw Momma From the Train, Death to Smoochy). . . After earning fairly positive notices for The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola is back behind the camera as writer-director for LOST IN TRANSLATION, about an unlikely friendship between two Americans (Bill Murray and Ghost World's Scarlett Johansson) in Tokyo. . . A thug-for-hire (The Rock) gets more than he bargained for after he's sent to the Amazon to bring home a troublemaking slacker (Seann William Scott) in THE RUNDOWN, an action flick co-starring Christopher Walken and Rosario Dawson. . . A shy 14-year-old boy (The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment, growing up fast) spends an educational summer with his two grumpy-old-men uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) in the comedy-drama SECONDHAND LIONS. . . With an Oscar nomination now under her belt, Unfaithful star Diane Lane tries her hand at carrying an entire picture with UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, a romantic comedy based on the popular book about an American divorcee who shucks her stateside existence and purchases a dilapidated villa in Italy.

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