NEW YORK — Tom Hanks didn't know where the cameras were.
"Captain Phillips," a based-on-a-true-story tale about a cargo ship taken by Somali pirates, was Hanks' first time working with Paul Greengrass, the "United 93" and "The Bourne Supremacy" director known for his visceral, documentary-like filmmaking. Hanks, who plays the titular captain in a performance sure to be hailed as one of his best, had been warned by Matt Damon about the chaos of Greengrass's unblocked, naturalistic approach.
But Hanks, after one particularly chaotic take, asked his director: "Are you going to get that little session over by the maps?"
"They'd say: `No, we got that,'" recalls a still perplexed Hanks. "When? When did you get that?"
"Captain Phillips" (out Oct. 11) is only one way moviegoers this fall will be fully, often staggeringly immersed in worlds as varied as slavery-era Louisiana ("12 Years a Slave"), 1970s Massachusetts conmen ("American Hustle") and outer space, among the detritus of a space station torn apart by a storm of debris ("Gravity").
The movies, perhaps more than any other art form, have the ability to transport – a capacity to carry away – that's on full display this fall.
"We shot this in the real world: the real engine rooms, the real decks," says Hanks. "They'll say: How did you make that movie where that ship was out in the middle of the ocean? Well, we got on a ship and we went out to the middle of the ocean and we shot it there. Extraordinary how that happens."
Soon, the fall movie season will unofficially commence, the superheroes (mostly) falling from theaters like autumn leaves. After a summer of blockbuster gluttony, Hollywood will, as if penance for its binging, trot out its more serious and ambitious fare. George Clooney – this fall directing ("The Monuments Men"), producing ("August: Osage County") and acting ("Gravity") – will put down stakes.
There's some hope that after a knock-about summer heavy with city-destroying tumult and some spectacular flops, that a degree of levity will return to the multiplexes. (That is, until the ever-expanding Oscar horse race commences in earnest.)
Last fall, after all, showed that good, adult-oriented movies could still draw crowds. A varied best-picture field, from "Lincoln" to "Life of Pi," made more than $2 billion at the box office worldwide even before the Academy Awards.
This autumn promises no less a mix of both aspirational filmmaking and mainstream attractions. As if her fans needed notice, Jennifer Lawrence will return not just with "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell in "American Hustle," but also as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Nov. 22).
A quite different fervor will greet Will Ferrell's "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" (Dec. 20), the long-in-coming sequel. There will be other sequels, too, including Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: the Dark World" (Nov. 8) and Peter Jackson's high-frame rate "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Dec. 13). As the CIA analyst of the best-selling Tom Clancy books, Chris Pine will try to jumpstart a new franchise in "Jack Ryan" (Dec. 25).
But other types of powerhouses will compete with action spectacle. John Wells' adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "August: Osage County," features an ensemble cast topped by the tantalizing duo of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as mother and daughter.
"As a moviegoer, I would much prefer that films were spread more evenly over the year," Wells says. "But realistically, we've now programmed everyone to expect this when these kind of films are going to be there. Not unlike a certain fruit or vegetable that's in season at certain times of the year, you kind of anticipate it and look forward to it."
It's picking time.
For "12 Years a Slave" (Oct. 18), director Steve McQueen drew from Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography about his horrifying odyssey as a free black man with a family in upstate New York kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. With undiminished dignity, Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Dirty Pretty Things," `'Kinky Boots") plays Northup as he's led from plantation to plantation.
McQueen tells the story straightforwardly, often in long takes, submerging the audience in the world of slavery. Ejiofor says McQueen aimed to tell Northop's story literally, without embellishment. "In doing that, it creates its own intensity," says the actor.
"I remember having conversations about if one can capture – even for a moment for an audience – what any of these things might have felt like, might have tasted like, might have really been like, then I think it's a really powerful piece of filmmaking," says Ejiofor.
Even for a season known for prestigious biopics, there's a plethora of films based on true stories: Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly ("Grace of Monaco," Nov. 27); Benedict Cumberbatch plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ("The Fifth Estate," Oct. 18); Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela ("Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Nov. 29); and Matthew McConaughey plays an industrious HIV-infected man ("Dallas Buyers Club," Nov. 1).
There's also Hanks as Walt Disney ("Saving Mr. Banks," Dec. 20); Naomi Watts as Princess Diana ("Diana," Nov. 1); Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens ("The Invisible Woman," Dec. 25); Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsburg ("Kill Your Darlings," Oct. 18); Hemsworth as Formula One driver James Hunt (Ron Howard's "Rush," Sept. 27); and Channing Tatum as Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz (Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," Dec. 20).
Like McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men," `'Y Tu Mama Tambien") is known for his predilection for uninterrupted takes. He opens "Gravity" (Oct. 4) with an unbroken 17-minute shot, the kind that bravura craftsmanship cinephiles will drool over.
In the film, Sandra Bullock and Clooney play astronauts tethered together after they're left stranded in space. The film is, in part, a chamber piece between two characters, floating in the black abyss. It's also a playground for Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to experiment with 3-D effects and zero-gravity camera movement that isn't beholden to up or down.
To keep the audience adrift in space, Cuaron resisted cutting.
"It's the idea of trying to create a moment of truthfulness in which the camera happens to be there just to witness, and respecting that moment in real time," says Cuaron. "In this film, we felt it was going to bring the added value of the immersive element."
Many other top-flight filmmakers will be showing their craftsmanship this fall, including Martin Scorsese, who'll release his "The Wolf of Wall Street" (Nov. 15), a story of the decadence of modern finance starring Leonardo DiCaprio that should rival that of the actor's last film, "The Great Gatsby."
The Coen brothers have "Inside Llewyn Davis," (Dec. 20), a film about a folk musician struggling in early 1960s Greenwich Village. Ridley Scott will release "The Counselor" (Oct. 25), a dark Mexican border thriller from a script by Cormac McCarthy. "Nebraska" (Nov. 22) is Alexander Payne's return to his native Midwest, a black-and-white father-son road trip. Spike Lee has his remake of Chan-wook Park's "Oldboy" (Nov. 27).
More fanciful will be Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (Dec. 25), an adaption of James Thurber's short story; and Spike Jonze's "Her" (Dec. 18), a futuristic romance starring Joaquin Phoenix.
To create a realistic impression of the Westons, the Oklahoma family of "August: Osage County," Wells congregated his cast – picked to feel like a family – at an old Osage County home.
"The cast lived in a complex of small town homes together throughout the shoot," says Wells, the producer of "ER" and "Shameless," making his second feature film following 2010's "The Company Men." `'It was a ways from town and from home. People didn't return to the trailers often. We were just in the house, living as a family and rehearsing."
The cast even started adopting similar physical gestures and facial expressions to match their fictional parents, Wells says. Streep's three daughters (Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson) aped her mannerisms to lend a familial truthfulness.
Other tales of family, albeit of very different sorts, this fall include "Prisoners" (Sept. 20) a thriller in which Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard play fathers whose daughters go missing. In "Out of the Furnace," Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as brothers separated when one is lured into a gang while in prison. In Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" (Dec. 25), Kate Winslet plays a mother who, with her 13-year-old son, encounter an escaped convict.
Many of these films will naturally enter the awards circuit and the months-long handicapping leading up to the Oscars. It was only months ago that Russell went through that gauntlet with "Silver Linings Playbook," which received eight Academy Awards nominations, winning one for Lawrence.
An instinctive filmmaker ("There's an immediacy when it comes from the gut," he says), Russell escaped the frenzy by jumping – quicker than he ever had between films – into "American Hustle" (Dec. 25). The film, which stars Bale, Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, is a stylish story about the FBI Abscam operation and a cast of corrupt characters operating in the `70s recession-era Northeast.
"It's about the world of these people who are jaw-dropping to me," says Russell. "You look at them, and you're like: Oh my God. Who are these people? . They're messed up and human, but they're fighting to survive."
Russell can again expect the prestige of a release in the heart of awards season. But the aura of the season, he says, ultimately means little.
"The film has to prove itself," says Russell. "Let the proof be in the pudding."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle
"Adore" (Sept. 6)
Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as two mothers who fall into sexual relationships with each other's sons. (Yep, it's real.)
"Riddick" (Sept. 6)
When Vin Diesel isn't starring in "Fast and Furious" movies, he's playing Riddick.
'Good Ol' Freda' (Sept. 6)
A documentary about The Beatles' famed secretary.
"Salinger" (Sept. 6)
Shane Salerno ("Savages") directs this documentary about the reclusive "Catcher in the Rye" author.
"Winnie Mandela" (Sept. 6)
Jennifer Hudson stars as Nelson Mandela's wife Winnie in this new film, the first of two Mandela features set for release this year.
"The Family" (Sept. 13)
Director Luc Besson's mob comedy stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, because sometimes we're allowed to have nice things.
"Insidious: Chapter 2" (Sept. 13)
"Jayne Mansfield's Car" (Sept. 13)
Billy Bob Thornton's first feature directorial effort since 2001's "Daddy and Them" stars Thornton himself, Kevin Bacon and Robert Duvall.
"Battle Of The Year" (Sept. 20)
Chris Brown made a movie with Sawyer from "Lost." (Real.)
"Prisoners" (Sept. 20)
Hugh Jackman leads an all-star cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo) in this revenge drama from director Denis Villeneuve.
"A Single Shot" (Sept. 20)
Sam Rockwell stars in this thriller, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
"Enough Said" (Sept. 20)
Nicole Holofcener's romantic comedy features James Gandolfini's final role as a leading man. (Gandolfini has a supporting role in the upcoming film "Animal Rescue.") Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Toni Collette and Catherine Keener co-star.
"Thanks For Sharing" (Sept. 20)
Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow star in this dramedy about sex addiction. From Stuart Blumberg, an Oscar nominee for "The Kids Are All Right."
"After Tiller" (Sept. 20)
A controversial documentary about U.S. doctors who still perform third-trimester abortions.
"Parkland" (Sept. 20)
Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Zac Efron star in this drama about the immediate aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"C.O.G." (Sept. 20)
Jonathan Groff stars in this new movie, which is based on a story by David Sedaris.
"Rush" (Sept. 20)
Ron Howard's Formula 1 drama casts Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as, respectively, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, two of the sport's greatest competitors. The film, which is also due to bow at the Toronto International Film Festival, opens wide on Sept. 27.
"Baggage Claim" (Sept. 27)
Paula Patton stars in this rom-com about a flight attendant looking for love. Bonus: <strike>Seth Cohen</strike> Adam Brody as her outlandish confidant.
"Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" (Sept. 27)
Tying up all the loose ends from part one.
"Don Jon" (Sept. 27)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut is a funny and poignant look at relationships in the age of instantaneous gratification. (Also, porn.) Tony Danza, Julianne Moore and a scene-stealing Scarlett Johansson all co-star.
"Metallica: Through The Never" (Sept. 27)
Enter sandman: Metallica made a concert movie that's not a just a concert movie. Dane DeHaan stars.
"Gravity" (Oct. 4)
Alfonso Cuaron's first film since 2006's "Children of Men" stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts lost in space. One of the year's must-see events.
"Runner Runner" (Oct. 4)
Justin Timberlake takes on an evil Ben Affleck in this new thriller about online gambling. Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer") directs.
"Captain Phillips" (Oct. 11)
Tom Hanks stars as the title captain in this thriller from Paul Greengrass, which focuses on the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. The film will debut at the New York Film Festival.
"Machete Kills" (Oct. 11)
The best cast of the year? "Machete Kills" stars Danny Trejo, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen (as the President of the United States), because of course it does.
"Romeo And Juliet" (Oct. 11)
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes adapted this version of Shakespeare's tragic romance.
"CBGB" (Oct. 11)
"Harry Potter" pals Alan Rickman and Rupert Grint reunite for this rock drama.
"Kill Your Darlings" (Oct. 16)
Daniel Radcliffe grows up. The erstwhile Harry Potter plays Allen Ginsberg in this Sundance Film Festival fave.
"The Fifth Estate" (Oct. 18)
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange in this new film from Bill Condon ("The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & 2," "Dreamgirls").
"Paradise" (Oct. 18)
Diablo Cody's directorial debut look good, honest to blog.
"Carrie" (Oct. 18)
No one is going to laugh at Chloe Moretz after this remake of Brian DePalma's horror classic debuts.
"Escape Plan" (Oct. 18)
Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Prison break. See you at the theater.
"All Is Lost" (Oct. 18)
Robert Redford stars as a man struggling to survive after a hole is torn into the hull of his ship. J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call") directs the film, which is expected to give the 76-year-old actor a good chance at an Oscar nomination in 2014.
"Twelve Years A Slave" (Oct. 18)
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a New York man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard star in this new drama from "Shame" director Steve McQueen. The film is based on Northup's acclaimed memoir.
"The Counselor" (Oct. 25)
Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz go bad in Ridley Scott's "The Counselor," based on an original script by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, please.
"Jackass: Bad Grandpa" (Oct. 25)
"Ender's Game" (Nov. 1)
An adaptation of the beloved young adult novel (from non-beloved author Orson Scott Card) stars Hailee Steinfeld, Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford.
"Free Birds" (Nov. 1)
An animated movie about turkeys, "from the Academy Award-winning producer of 'Shrek.'"
"Last Vegas" (Nov. 1)
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline star in this comedy, which looks like a mix of "The Hangover" and "Grumpy Old Men." Turtle from "Entourage" co-stars, at least for one scene.
"About Time" (Nov. 1)
Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson star in this romantic comedy-cum-time travel drama from "Love Actually" director Richard Curtis. The trailer will make you cry. (The film opens nationwide on Nov. 8.)
"Diana" (Nov. 1)
Naomi Watts stars as Princess Diana in this new biopic.
"How I Live Now" (Nov. 8)
Think "Children of Men" mixed with "The Host." Kevin Macdonald, of "The Last King of Scotland" fame, directs.
"Thor: The Dark World" (Nov. 8)
The sequel to "Thor" looks better than its predecessor in lots of ways, not the least of which being that Tom Hiddleston's Loki is fully unhinged. Petition for Loki spinoff starts here.
"The Best Man Holiday" (Nov. 15)
A sequel to the 1999 film "The Best Man," which serves as further proof that the statute of limitations on part twos is infinite.
"The Book Thief" (Nov. 15)
Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star in this adaptation of Markus Zusak's acclaimed best-selling novel.
"The Wolf Of Wall Street" (Nov. 15)
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey star in Martin Scorsese's new film, which looks to do for bankers what "Goodfellas" did for mobsters. Expect Oscars and endlessly quotable dialogue.
"Delivery Man" (Nov. 22)
Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt and Cobie Smulders star in this comedy about a man who fathered 533 children after making donations to a sperm bank.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Nov. 22)
"Nebraska" (Nov. 22)
Alexander Payne's latest film casts Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son on a road trip. Expect to read a lot about this between now and the Academy Awards on March 2.
"Black Nativity" (Nov. 27)
Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige star in this new drama, directed by Kasi Lemmons.
"Oldboy" (Nov. 27)
Spike Lee's reinterpretation of Chan-wook Park's classic film stars Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen.