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After summer of flops, a season of quality?

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Hail, hail, the "Gang"'s finally here.

That would be "Gangs of New York", Martin Scorsese's long-awaited latest, an epic tale of love and loyalties, played out among the rival immigrant groups of 19th-century New York City. Not since "Titanic" has a film been so widely anticipated, and so steadily delayed.

How long has "Gangs" been delayed? When Scorsese first announced the project, in a two-page ad in "Variety", Jimmy Carter was president. In the time since filming was completed, star Leonardo DiCaprio has made another film, for another huge-name director ("Catch Me If You Can", for Steven Spielberg).

The folks responsible for May's Cannes Film Festival, so anxious to see what all the fuss is about, were willing to settle for just a few scenes of "Gangs" -- and went ga-ga over them.

So yeah, "Gangs of New York "is getting all the ink. But it's far from the only prestige film opening between now and Christmas, which is always the time of Hollywood's biggest opening days.

Keep in mind that studios are famous for shoehorning all their Oscar-worthy films into the last three months of the year. And after a summer when just about every major-studio release failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations ("Spider-Man" being one of the few exceptions), American movie audiences could sure use some quality to choose from.

Among the most anticipated releases are "The Four Feathers", an attempted return to the sweeping historical epics of yore, with Heath Ledger as a 19th-century British soldier attempting to prove his bravery on the battlefields of colonial Africa; "Moonlight Mile", a rumination on how to deal with grief, starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon; and "Red Dragon", Anthony Hopkins' third turn as Hollywood's favorite man-eater, Hannibal Lecter.

Also on this list are Cannes favorites "About Schmidt" (Jack Nicholson as an emotionally devastated retiree), "Punch-Drunk Love" (Adam Sandler as a repressed romantic); "The Pianist" (director Roman Polanski's contribution to the canon of Holocaust-themed films); and the latest chapters in the Harry Potter, James Bond, "Star Trek" franchises.

And then there are the independent releases, the smaller, less-trumpeted films that often turn into the critical darlings -- and frequently dominate both the best-of lists and the Oscar nominations. Among the likely suspects: "Frida", with Selma Hayek as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; "Bloody Sunday", director Paul Greengrass' take on recent Irish history; "Antwone Fisher", Denzel Washington's directorial debut;" "and the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown".

Best guess as to the big winner over the next four months? DiCaprio, because both "Gangs of New York" and "Catch Me If You Can" are scheduled to open the same day (Dec. 25).

The following list of coming movies is presented with the usual caveat: Movie release dates are notoriously fluid, so don't take the dates listed here as gospel. Between the time this was written and the time you are reading it, some have most likely already changed. But at least the list will give you something to look forward to -- and unlike those "Variety" readers who have been waiting since 1977 for "Gangs of New York", you'll only have a few months' anticipation.

September

Barbershop: Ice Cube and Sean Patrick Thomas star in the story of a man who impulsively sells his father's barbershop, then realizes that he wants it back. The problem? He doesn't have the cash. Sept. 13.

Mostly Martha: An obsessive German chef finds herself playing mother to her orphaned niece. Sept. 13.

Stealing Harvard: The uncle of a Harvard-bound student, desperate to find a way to pay for his niece's tuition, turns to a life of crime. The comedy stars Jason Lee and Tom Green. Sept. 13.

24 Hour Party People: A film based on the story of Tony Wilson, whose record label brought the world such bands as Joy Division. Sept. 20.

Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever: A newly widowed former FBI agent (Antonio Banderas) plays a game of cat-and-mouse with a tough woman (Lucy Liu) in this tale of revenge. Sept. 20.

The Banger Sisters: Two former headbanger-band groupies reunite after decades, and struggle to find contentment in their current lives. Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush star. Sept. 20.

The Four Feathers: A 19th-century English solider (Heath Ledger) resigns on the eve of a battle, then changes his mind about refusing to fight and goes undercover to help his regiment. Sept. 20.

Happy Times: From Chinese director Zhang Yimou, this film watches as an unlikely bond develops between a poor, aging bachelor and the blind stepdaughter of his intended wife. Sept. 20.

Igby Goes Down: A teen steals his mother's credit card and enjoys a shopping spree in Manhattan. Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe and Claire Danes star. Sept. 20.

Joshua: Christ's second coming happens in a small American town. Sept. 20.

The Last Kiss: An Italian teen-ager and his buddies struggle with the realization that his girlfriend is pregnant. Sept. 20.

Slap Her, She's French: Piper Perabo is a French exchange student whose arrival in a Texas town sets off all sorts of mayhem. Sept. 20.

Snipes: Sam Jones III, Nelly and Zoe Saldana star in this thriller centering on a kidnapping and murder. Sept. 20.

Trapped: Two kidnappers capture a suburban couple's asthmatic daughter and collect ransom. Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love star. Sept. 20.

Sweet Home Alabama: Just as she's about to marry a New York hotshot, Reese Witherspoon discovers she's still married to the hick she thought she'd left behind in Alabama. Sept. 27.

The Tuxedo: Jackie Chan plays a bumbling New York chauffeur who pairs with water expert Jennifer Love Hewitt to bring down an executive attempting to sabotage a vast water reserve. Sept. 27.

8 Women: The only man in a mansion full of women is killed in this murder-mystery musical. The women include Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve. Sept. 27.

October

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A documentary on the life of producer Robert Evans, based on his autobiography. Oct. 4.

Moonlight Mile: Director Brad Silberling based this story of a man's relationship with the parents of his murdered girlfriend on his own life. His girlfriend was the actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Jake Gyllenhaal star. Oct. 4.

Red Dragon: Anthony Hopkins returns as Hannibal Lecter in this prequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Former FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), who was nearly killed by Lecter, has to go to him for help in the capture of another serial killer. Oct. 4.

Brown Sugar: A record executive (Taye Diggs) and a music critic (Sanaa Lathan) who were there for the birth of hip-hop try to recapture the magic. Oct. 11.

Just a Kiss: Ron Eldard, Kyra Sedgwick, Patrick Breen and Marisa Tomei star in this tale of a group of friends given the ability to travel back in time and fix their love lives. Oct. 11.

Knockaround Guys: Four sons of Brooklyn mobsters try to retrieve a bag of cash left in a small Nevada town. Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel and Seth Green star. Oct. 11.

Pokemon 4Ever: Yet another animated adventure about every kid's favorite Japanese import. Oct. 11.

The Rules of Attraction: James Van Der Beek plays a drug-dealing, thrill-seeking college kid who falls for the innocent Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who in turns pines for another man. Oct. 11.

Secret Ballot: A soldier and an elections official are attracted to each other over the course of Election Day in this film from Iranian director Babak Payami. Oct. 11.

The Transporter: An American mercenary is hired to kidnap the daughter of a Chinese crime lord. Oct. 11.

Tuck Everlasting: A 15-year-old girl falls in love with an immortal. Filmed in Maryland. Oct. 11.

White Oleander: Michelle Pfeiffer and Renee Zellweger are the marquee stars in this story of a teen-ager thrown into a series of foster homes after her mother goes to prison for a crime of passion. Oct. 11.

Who's Your Daddy: A dorky teen-ager inherits a men's magazine and all the trappings. Oct. 11.

Abandon: A police officer investigates the disappearance of a teen's boyfriend. Katie Holmes and Benjamin Bratt star. Oct. 18.

Formula 51: An American chemist heads to England to introduce a new designer drug to the European club scene. The comedy stars Samuel L. Jackson. Oct. 18.

jackass: the movie: MTV's merry and crude pranksters hit the big screen. Oct. 18.

Jonah -- A Veggie Tales Movie: Tomatoes, peas, cucumbers and other animated vegetables musically re-enact the biblical tale of Jonah. Oct. 18.

Punch-Drunk Love: Paul Thomas Anderson won the best-director prize at Cannes for this comedic tale of an emotionally awkward small-business owner (Adam Sandler) who figures out not only how to get millions of frequent-flier miles for very little money, but also how to get a girl (Emily Watson) to like him. Oct. 18.

The Ring: A journalist discovers a cursed videotape -- everyone who has watched it has died within a week. Oct. 18.

Secretary: Maggie Gyllenhaal is a former mental patient trying to get a job in the office of lawyer James Spader in this comedy. Oct. 18.

Bloody Sunday: Paul Greengrass wrote and directed this controversial take on the events of Jan. 30, 1972, when British soldiers opened fire on a group of civilians during a civil-rights march, killing 27. Oct. 25.

Ghost Ship: A salvage crew is hired to investigate a mysterious ship floating off the Alaska coast. Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies star. Oct. 25.

Mad Love: The 15th-century political turmoil between Flemish and Castilian nobility is reflected in the arranged marriage of Princess Joan and Philip the Handsome. Oct. 25.

Paid in Full: A kid from Harlem builds an illegal drug empire, then suffers a crisis of conscience. Oct. 25.

The Truth About Charlie: A young woman is about to divorce her husband when she discovers that he is dead and that all of their savings are gone. Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton and Tim Robbins star. Oct. 25.

November

Auto Focus: Greg Kinnear is Bob Crane, the "Hogan's Heroes" star who ended up murdered in an Arizona motel room. Nov. 1.

The Core: A geophysicist discovers that the Earth's inner core has stopped rotating, and that the effects could have apocalyptic results. Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank star. Nov. 1.

I Spy: A boxer and a government agent (Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson) team up to stop the U.S. government's top stealth fighter from being stolen. Nov. 1.

Roger Dodger: Campbell Scott plays a master at the art of manipulating women, whose style is crimped by a visit from his teen-age nephew. Nov. 1.

The Santa Clause 2: Tim Allen returns as Santa, and he's having a bad year. His son has made this year's "naughty list," and he discovers that if he doesn't marry by Christmas Eve, he'll stop being Santa forever. Nov. 1.

8 Mile: Eminem plays a talented amateur street rapper who attempts stardom. Nov. 8.

Femme Fatale: A former con-artist (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) attempts to straighten out her life in this tale containing loads of twists and turns. Antonio Banderas also stars. Nov. 8.

Frida: The true story of Mexican painter and 20th-century figure Frida Kahlo (Selma Hayek), who survived a failed marriage, drug problems and a near-fatal bus crash. Nov. 8.

Quitting: Jia Hongsheng stars as himself in this film of his life. He was a rapidly rising movie star in China whose fragile mental state caused him to abandon his career. Nov. 8.

Blue Car: A teen-age poet has an unhealthy relationship with her teacher. Nov. 15.

Half Past Dead: Steven Seagal is a secret agent up against a gangsta (Morris Chestnut) trying to break into prison and recover his lost loot. Nov. 15.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: Harry and company fight to discover who has opened Hogwarts' Chamber of Secrets. Nov. 15.

Phone Booth: A man is trapped in a phone booth while being watched by a sniper perched on a rooftop. Nov. 15.

Die Another Day: Pierce Brosnan returns as James Bond (accompanied by Halle Berry). In this outing, the master spy must travel the world to prevent a catastrophic war. Nov. 22.

The Emperor's Club: Kevin Kline is the teacher who, over the course of three decades, serves as a father figure to one of his students. Nov. 22.

The Friday After Next: Ice Cube stars in another chapter in the Friday franchise, this one with a Christmas theme. Nov. 22.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown: A documentary on the Funk Brothers, one of Motown's secret weapons during the label's glory days. Nov. 22.

Adam Sandler's Crazy Nights: Sandler's animated self is sentenced to community service as a youth basketball referee. Nov. 27.

Solaris: In this sci-fi flick, George Clooney is a widowed psychologist who arrives at a space station orbiting Solaris, only to discover that the commander has died mysteriously. Nov. 27.

Treasure Planet: In this animated Disney film, 15-year-old Jim Hawkins accidentally finds a map to the greatest pirate treasure in the universe. Nov. 27.

December

Adaptation: Nicolas Cage plays a struggling screenwriter from L.A. trying to adapt a nonfiction book into a screenplay. He's overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, and by the sudden screenwriting ambitions of his slacker twin brother, also played by Cage. Dec. 6.

Analyze That: In this sequel to Analyze This, a psychologist (Billy Crystal) must deal with his father's death while helping his mobster client (Robert De Niro), whose life is being threatened. Dec 6.

Maid in Manhattan: Through a twist of fate and mistaken identity, a maid (Jennifer Lopez) and the debonair heir to an American political dynasty (Ralph Fiennes) meet. Dec. 13.

Star Trek: Nemesis: In what should be the final installment of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" movie series, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and company face another threat from the Romulans. Dec. 13.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: The ring has begun to take its toll on Frodo (Elijah Wood). Dec. 18.

Antwone Fisher: A troublemaker turned security guard decides to turn his life around, by searching for the family that abandoned him as a baby. Denzel Washington is the Navy psychologist helping him. Dec. 20.

Two Weeks Notice: A real-estate billionaire (Hugh Grant) causes his overworked lawyer (Sandra Bullock) to quit. Then they realize that they are in love. Dec. 20.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie: The Nickelodeon cartoon comes to the big screen, as the family takes a trip to Africa. Dec. 20.

Catch Me If You Can: FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is determined to bring to justice Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), the most successful con artist in the United States, but Abagnale is always one step ahead of him. Steven Spielberg directs. Dec. 25.

Evelyn: Pierce Brosnan is a Dubliner claiming custody of his children after his wife leaves Ireland. Dec. 25.

Gangs of New York: Martin Scorsese's oft-delayed project stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz in a story of warring immigrant gangs in 19th-century New York. Dec. 25.

The Lion King: The IMAX version of Disney's 1994 classic. Dec. 25.

Pinocchio: Roberto Benigni stars in a live-action version of the classic fairy tale. Dec. 25.

Major films set for a December or early January release, but without a firm date:

The 25th Hour: Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this story about the last 24 hours of freedom of a drug dealer who's about to go to prison for seven years. Directed by Spike Lee.

About Schmidt: Jack Nicholson is a man whose life is in turmoil afterhis retirement and the death of his wife.

Chicago: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere star in the long-awaited film version of the Broadway hit.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: George Clooney directed this film about the secret life of "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris (played by Sam Rockwell). Barris claimed in his "unauthorized autobiography" that he spent time as a CIA assassin.

A Few Good Years: The Grombergs are a highly successful New York family. The members all live very different lives and have trouble getting along. Still, they manage to come together despite their differences when it counts. The film pairs Michael Douglas with his father, Kirk, for the first time on-screen.

The Hours: Based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the film tells the stories of three women: a poet in New York (Meryl Streep), a young mother in California (Julianne Moore) and the suicidal author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman).

The Life of David Gale: A father, professor and respected death-penalty opponent finds himself on death row for the murder of a fellow activist. Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet star.

Max: A Jewish gallery owner named Max (John Cusack) talks modern art with a frustrated painter named Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor).

Nicholas Nickleby: Charles Hunnam, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott), Nathan Lane, Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) and Jim Broadbent star in this adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic.

The Pianist: Roman Polanski won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival for this story of a Jewish pianist (Adrien Brody) languishing in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

Sun staff writer Faith Hayden assisted in compiling these film capsules.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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