Hot films on cold nights: Autumn's unmissable movies

From vampires to Voldemort, Facebook to family crisis and Wall Street to Welsh drug smugglers, Ben Walsh previews a great season of cinema
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The Independent Culture

A heady blend of financial skulduggery, drug dealing, family dysfunction, neck biters and assassination are the order of the day for the rest of this year's films.

Michael Douglas, who is currently being treated for throat cancer, returns as the monstrous financier Gordon Gekko – his finest creation – in the dubiously titled Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but a lot of eyes will be on An Education's Carey Mulligan, as his estranged daughter. Rhys Ifans, after his impressive performance in Greenberg, takes the lead as the charismatic Howard Marks, the former hashish smuggler, in Mr Nice, while pop heart-throb Justin Timberlake finds his inner geek as the Facebook president Sean Parker in The Social Network, and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a contented lesbian couple in Lisa Cholodenko's much-lauded comedy The Kids Are All Right.

For those seeking a more experimental, arthouse experience, there is the Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul's eerie, poetic Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Clio Barnard's fiercely ambitious The Arbor, a docu-drama about the British playwright Andrea Dunbar. For children there's the "consistently loopy" animation Despicable Me, featuring the voices of Steve Carell and Russell Brand.

For thrills, there is George Clooney's genteel assassin in Anton Corbijn's The American, Matt Reeves's Let Me In (a remake of Tomas Alfredson's masterful vampire flick Let the Right One In) and the relentless Harry Potter saga, which rolls on with The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. But, as Gekko once maintained, "It's all about bucks, kid. The rest is conversation..."

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (12A)

Director: Oliver Stone

"Lunch is for wimps", "Greed is good" and so forth. Gordon Gekko, the megalomaniacal, brutally hair-gelled stockbroker is back, 23 years after wreaking havoc on Charlie Sheen's furrowed brow. Has Gekko's spell in the clink made him regretful – Jonathan Aitken-style – or is he still a sucker for unsavoury business practices? What do you think? Gekko has a cunning new plan to make bundles of dough and wreck a few lives into the bargain, and, once again, he manipulates a young Wall Street trader to assist him. This time it's Shia LaBeouf, inexplicably Hollywood's most bankable star (due, mainly, to the Transformers turkeys), who plays the impressionable young buck, and he just happens to be dating Gekko's environmentalist daughter (the ubiquitous Carey Mulligan, riveting in An Education). Gekko desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged daughter and here, no doubt, lies the "tragedy".

Back in 1987, there was still something rather comical and preposterous about Douglas's finance villain; now, after the recent credit crunch meltdown, the whole subject has lost a bit of its jauntiness. If Gekko isn't hanging from his costly necktie by the end there may be an outcry (or heavy sigh) in the nation's multiplexes.

Released Wednesday 6 October

Mr Nice (18)

Director: Bernard Rose

Could this be Rhys Ifans's breakthrough lead role, the moment he distances himself from Notting Hill's Spike, the lanky layabout in grotty undies? Here, the 42-year-old Welshman plays Howard Marks, the eccentric former teacher who achieved notoriety as an international hashish smuggler, as well as for his connections with the IRA and the Mafia. Ifans's messy exposure in the tabloids – mainly due to his relationship with Sienna Miller – has distracted from the fact that he's an often compelling actor (when he's not hamming it up) who excelled in Greenberg, Enduring Love and as Peter Cook in Not Only But Always. Chloë Sevigny plays Marks's wife, Judy, and David Thewlis is Jim McCann, an IRA revolutionary. Advanced reviews have suggested that Rose's film has a manic energy and is very amusing. Ifans is due a big break.

Released 8 October

The Social Network (12A)

Director: David Fincher

His thriller Zodiac (2007) was one of the most underrated films of the past decade, so David Fincher's latest is eagerly anticipated. It's a biopic centring on the founders of Facebook, based on Ben Mezrich's bestseller The Accidental Billionaires. It features rising stars Rooney Mara (about to play Lisbeth Salander in Hollywood's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Andrew Garfield (the next Spider-Man) and Joseph Mazzello (who starred in Spielberg's epic The Pacific). Justin Timberlake plays the Facebook president Sean Parker and Jesse Eisenberg (who shone in the exquisite 1980s whimsy Adventureland) stars as Mark Zuckerberg, the computer programming genius who is apparently now even wealthier than Apple's Steve Jobs. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and Mezrich, the drama charts the giddy success of the social networking site from an idea in a Harvard undergraduate's dorm room to a website of 500 million "friends". In Fincher, we trust...

Released 15 October

Despicable Me (U)

Directors: Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

Encouragingly, this non-Pixar animation has been described by one US reviewer as "consistently loopy", and it centres on a Russian-accented ogre, Gru (voiced by the ubiquitous comic Steve Carell, of the US Office and 40 Year Old Virgin fame), a super-villain hell-bent on pulling off the biggest heist of all time. He's going to pinch the moon. Armed with his array of dastardly Minions and toys – freeze rays, shrink rays, battle-ready vehicles – Gru intends to vanquish all those who stand in his way. Until, that is, he encounters three cute, saucer-eyed orphan girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes, who see the rogue as a potential father figure. Other voices featured here include the ham Russell Brand (as Dr Nefario, a genius inventor), Julie Andrews as Gru's demanding mother and Jason Segel as Gru's arch-rival Vector. Universal Pictures will be praying that this playful and slightly sentimental picture has the Shrek effect.

Released 15 October

The Arbor (15)

Director: Clio Barnard

"There's no way I'm workin' all week for £27.30 on some bleedin' trainin' scheme," maintained Sue in Alan Clarke's underrated "Thatcher's Britain" film Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986). The brash drama, about a middle-aged man's trysts with two teenagers, was adapted from a series of plays by Andrea Dunbar and based on the young writer's experiences of growing up on the Buttershaw council estate in Bradford. The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard, who grew up on the outskirts of Bradford, is a docu-drama focusing on the decaying Buttershaw estate and Dunbar's short life.

Dunbar wrote The Arbor, her first play, when she was 15 – as a CSE English assignment. Three years later, in 1980, the largely autobiographical play, about a pregnant teenager, was directed at the Royal Court Theatre by Max Stafford-Clark. However, in 1990, this precociously talented playwright collapsed and died, at the age of 29, from a brain haemorrhage. Barnard's ambitious, experimental debut film has her largely unknown cast lip-synch to interviews with Dunbar's family. It promises to be a unique, unflinching experience, which celebrates Dunbar's triumphs and dissects her legacy.

Released 22 October

The Kids Are All Right (15)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

"Just about everyone who has been a parent, child or partner will find resonance in its bittersweet depiction of the joys and trials of lifelong intimacy," eulogised The Washington Post. Lisa Cholodenko's new comedy has garnered rave reviews in the States and was a sensation at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as a cosy, married lesbian couple, with teenage children, who find themselves in a pickle when their son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), tries to track down his biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a slightly feckless, but endearing individual who runs an organic restaurant with grub from his own garden. The Kids Are All Right has huge potential, with a cracking cast who are, by all accounts, on top of their game. A relief for the likes of Julianne Moore, after dismal fare such as Chloe, Shelter and Next, and the perennially wasted Ruffalo, who had too little screen time in Where the Wild Things Are, Shutter Island and Date Night. Bening is good whatever she's in.

Released 29 October

Another Year (12A)

Director: Mike Leigh

"An acutely well-observed study of needy and unhappy people desperately trying to make sense of their lives," is how The Independent's Geoffrey Macnab described Mike Leigh's latest slice of family dysfunction, following its premiere at Cannes. Set in London suburbia, it stars Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent as Tom and Gerri, a kind, contented couple on the cusp of old age who observe and worry about the struggles of their friends and relatives. So, it's familiar territory, then, with the Leigh regular Lesley Manville (playing a bereft alcoholic), Imelda Staunton (sensational in Leigh's Vera Drake) and David Bradley (Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films) on board for the not-so-jolly ride.

Released 5 November

Due Date (15)

Director: Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips's much-lauded comedy The Hangover was blessed with a deranged performance from Zach Galifianakis as the socially awkward, non-sequitur-spouting ("Tigers love pepper... they hate cinnamon") Alan. The portly, bearded comic returns in the director's latest broad comedy.

Robert Downey Jr plays Peter, an expectant father whose wife's due date is a few days away. He hurries to the airport to be by her side, but regrettably encounters an aspiring actor and loose cannon, Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), and is forced to hitch a ride with him. Hopefully, this road-trip caper will be more Planes, Trains and Automobiles than Road Trip.

Released 5 November

Let Me In (15)

Director: Matt Reeves

Recommended with a heavy heart, as the chances of Matt Reeves's Hollywood remake being half as good as Tomas Alfredson's beautifully crafted horror romance, Let the Right One In, are slim. But it does have the wonderful Chloe Moretz, the highlight of Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, taking on the Eli role (here, she's called Abby). A difficult task, as Lina Leandersson was excellent as the 12-year-old vamp in the original. Set in suburban New Mexico (the original was set in the bleak Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982), during Ronald Reagan's presidency, the film also stars Kodi-Smit McPhee as Owen, a lonely, bullied 12-year-old who bonds with Abby, his new, blood-craving neighbour. The reliable Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, The Visitor) plays Abby's "father" and Cara Buono is Owen's pious mother. It doesn't stand a neck-biter's chance in hell of bettering the original but it may persuade more people to see Alfredson's masterpiece.

Released 5 November

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (TBC)

Director: David Yates

It's simply unavoidable. The Harry Potter machine marches on and the dismal Quidditch game (no doubt) gets another tedious outing. But we're nearly at Potter's end, before the heroic teenaged trio – Daniel Radcliffe's Harry, Rupert Grint's Ron and Emma Watson's Hermione – start showing their age. This seven-strong (so far: one more after this to go) franchise has made a lot of people, namely its three stars, very wealthy, and provided British acting stalwarts such as Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith with a regular gig. Which is nice. But it's rarely been enthralling, with the exception of Mike Newell's fourth instalment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We're getting close to the endgame as Voldemort's evil (obviously) forces gather for a huge attack on the goodies. Bill Nighy – at last, every other decent British actor of the past 30 years seems to have had a shot – plays Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister of Magic. Worth seeing for Ralph Fiennes's deliciously malevolent Voldemort. The poster promises, "It All Ends Here." It better do.

Released 19 November

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (TBC)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's eerie, beguiling new film scooped the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and has been described as "magical", "visionary" and "sublime" as well as "pointless, obscure and excruciatingly boring". A mixed bag, then. The Thai director Weerasethakul, whose previous films include the surreal and droll Syndromes and a Century and the delirious Tropical Malady, focuses his distinctive gaze on Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), a middle-aged man suffering from acute kidney failure who has chosen to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in a remote forest, an important place from his childhood. Surprisingly, the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him and the spirit of his long lost son returns. Don't expect easy answers but prepare yourself for some arresting images, including a princess having sexual intercourse with a catfish, in this extraordinary, poetic picture.

Released 19 November

The American (15)

Director: Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn (Control) directs George Clooney in his adaptation of the Martin Booth novel A Very Private Gentleman, a psychological thriller about Signor Farfalla, aka Mr Butterfly, a discreet gent who resides in a sleepy southern Italian village and whose business is, supposedly, to travel the world painting butterflies. Of course, he doesn't really do that: Mr Farfalla is in the business of high-level assassination. Early indications suggest that Clooney is trying "something different" here, but in reality he only has three acting settings: 1) Gurn and grin like a hyperactive Cary Grant (Burn after Reading, Intolerable Cruelty); 2) Smile slyly and play cocky (One Fine Day, Ocean's Eleven); 3) Grimace a lot (Michael Clayton, Syriana ). The American appears to be Setting Three, with added grimace, but this is when Clooney does his best work.

Released 26 November