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Updated: September 24, 2013 10:23AM



We all say Oscar season begins after Labor Day. In 2013, that’s a bit of an insult to Cate Blanchett’s work in “Blue Jasmine,” Forest Whitaker’s performance in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the wonderfulness of “The Spectacular Now” and the visual and sound splendors of various superhero movies, to mention just a few legit contenders.

Still. With autumn comes the cinematic equivalent of the postseason, with far more contenders and most likely the eventual overall champion still approaching the runway at your local theater.

Going through the list of films arriving in theaters through Thanksgiving, at least 80 percent look promising. In chronological order, the 10 I’m most looking forward to screening:

‘The Family’ (Sept. 13)

The trailer for “The Family” kicks off with a Rolling Stones riff and a Robert De Niro voiceover: “There was a time when I had it all.” We see snippets of De Niro in a “Goodfellas”-type tableau. Yes! A movie called “The Family,” starring De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer, directed by Luc Besson (“The Professional,” “The Fifth Element”). This looks badass.

One thing that might cause concern: This looks mostly like a comedy. De Niro plays a mobster turned informant living with his family under witness protection. In France.

Still looks badass.

‘Enough Said’ (Sept. 20)

Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Peter Finch in “Network.” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” Whitney Houston in “Sparkle.” Just a few examples of actors whose work was released posthumously.

“Enough Said” was James Gandolfini’s last film, and he was in great company. Gandolfini plays a divorced dad who strikes up a romance with Julia-Louis Dreyfus. Written and directed by the sublimely talented Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends With Money,” “Lovely and Amazing”), the film also features a quartet of our best character actresses: Catherine Keener, Amy Landecker, Michaela Watkins and Toni Collette.

‘Rush’ (Sept. 27)

The list of great movies about auto racing is woefully short: “Le Mans,” “The Last American Hero,” a handful of others. (Please don’t say, “What about ‘Days of Thunder,’ with Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle?” Thank you.) With Ron Howard directing and Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl starring as 1970s Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, respectively, this one looks promising.

‘Gravity’ (Oct. 4)

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are astronauts stuck in space, and Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mamba Tambien,” “Children of Men”) put them there. Let’s go.

‘Runner Runner’ (Oct. 4)

Remember what we said about auto racing movies? The same could be said for movies about poker. Professional players almost always cite “Rounders” as the best poker ever made, and rightly so. “Rounders” scribe Brian Koppelman is the co-writer of “Runner, Runner,” which stars Justin Timberlake as a Princeton savant and noted poker aficionado Ben Affleck as the operator of an online poker site in a remote offshore location.

For those of you playing at home, “runner runner” is when the last two cards turned by the dealer turn your hand from “squadoosh” to winner-winner chicken dinner.

‘The Fifth Estate’ (Oct. 18)

Well, that didn’t take long. Bill Condon (“Kinsey,” a couple of “Twilight” movies) directs the fictionalized story of notorious Wiki­leaker Julian Assange, who is played by the fantastically named Benedict Cumberbatch, who was a hoot as the villain in the most recent “Star Trek” movie.

‘The Counselor’ (Oct. 25)

Director: Ridley Scott. Screenwriter: Cormac McCarthy. Cast: Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz — and even Dean Norris, who’s killing it as Hank in the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.” The story is about a lawyer who gets mixed up in drug trafficking, but with that director, that writer and that cast, there’s almost no plot summary that could have knocked “The Counselor” off this list.

‘Last Vegas’ (Nov. 1)

Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline star in this comedy about four lifelong friends who head to Vegas for the bachelor party of the one guy who swore he’d never get married.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (Nov. 15)

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up again, this time for an adaptation of the story of Jordan Belfort, a securities hotshot who made $49 million when he was 26, “which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” Was it all legal? What do you think? Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin and Jon Favreau co-star.

‘Nebraska’ (Nov. 22)

Now here’s a pairing I never would have imagined: Bruce Dern and Will Forte play father and son on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to pick up a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Directed by Alexander Payne (“The Descendants,” “Sideways,” “Election”), who hit the ground running with “Citizen Ruth” in 1996 and has delivered pure quality ever since.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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