Quick: How many movies have you seen this year?
Conventional wisdom has it that the average filmgoer sees six movies a year. An avid fan sees about one a month. Expressed a bit differently, it could be said that discerning, intelligent and mature audiences deem only around half a dozen movies a year to be worth their time.
For such people of discriminating taste, conventional wisdom advises, summer is a time to avoid the multiplex, overrun as it is with things that blow up, make rude noises or jiggle. Autumn is the season to wait for: With the kids back in school, it's time for the parents to enjoy smart, adult-oriented little movies, literate foreign fare and mainstream pictures of quality.
But it seems, the lines between summer and fall are blurring. So a big, candy-colored surfing movie like "Blue Crush" tanks in August, while an independently produced romance like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- traditionally the kind of movie ideal for fall -- has held its own against bigger budgets and spectacles.
Still, fall 2002 will feature a goodly number of movies by such distinguished filmmakers as Paul Thomas Anderson ("Punch-Drunk Love"), Julie Taymor ("Frida"), Spike Jonze ("Adaptation"), Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt"), Atom Egoyan ("Ararat"), Mike Leigh ("All or Nothing") and Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven").
As usual, Thanksgiving and Christmas form the end points of their own, crowded, movie season, with studios releasing many of their strongest pictures then, the better to gain purchase in the memories of Oscar voters. "The Hours," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "The Life of David Gale," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Chicago" all open between Nov. 22 and the end of the year.
But a surprising number of titles this fall would have seemed right at home during the summer, from franchise sequels and comedies to action thrillers, science fiction and romance.
The line between summer and fall was first smudged in 1986, when "Crocodile Dundee" became the first movie released in September to break $100 million at the domestic box office (it eventually grossed around $175 million). Since then, a handful of movies have broken the blockbuster-free-September mold, among them "Fatal Attraction," "Seven," "Rush Hour, "Double Jeopardy" and "Remember the Titans." Still, September continues to be one of the slowest movie months, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box office tracking firm in Los Angeles. "But it's a chicken-and-egg thing," he adds. "If someone puts a big film in September, it might do well. But who wants to take that chance?"
Most observers agree that this will be a notable movie season, not only for the number of films released -- almost 100 -- but for their enormous variety. (And no, this isn't because Hollywood suddenly thought it would be a good idea to give audiences more and better choices; movies were rushed through production in case there was an actors' strike this summer.)
"I look at this as one of the highest-quality fall seasons I've ever seen," says Dergarabedian. "Not necessarily blockbuster in terms of revenue -- because these aren't all films that are summer-style blockbusters by any stretch -- but in terms of quality, the genres that are being represented, the actors involved and the overall quality (of the films) that I'm looking at on paper."
The holiday season is shaping up to be an unusual one, with Leonardo DiCaprio competing against himself in two Christmas Day movies by major directors -- Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" and Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can." And DiCaprio isn't the only actor we'll be seeing a lot of: Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Adam Sandler and George Clooney -- who makes his directorial debut and stars in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" -- appear in multiple releases over the next few months.
Will Spielberg's movie prove to be prophetically titled, or will Scorsese be the one to beat? Will "The Lord of the Rings" suffer a sophomore slump, or will "Harry Potter" endure a setback? Of more immediate interest, will the historical costume drama "The Four Feathers" prove to be the sleeper of the preholiday season?
The biggest reason to welcome the fall is that it's so full of potential surprises.
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