All in all, this has been a pretty strange summer at the movies. Two of the biggest hits are "Top Gun," starring Tom Cruise, who looks like an altar boy dressed up in his uncle's pilot uniform, and "Back to School," starring Rodney Dangerfield, a Borscht Belt refugee doing rock 'n' roll.
Jim Henson and George Lucas, two of the most dependable names in family entertainment, sullied their reputations with "Labyrinth" and "Howard the Duck," while Rob Lowe, of all people, got good reviews for his performance in "About Last Night . . ."
There was a movie directed by Stephen King ("Maximum Overdrive") but none by Steven Spielberg. Robert Redford danced (in "Legal Eagles") but Gregory Hines didn't (in "Running Scared"). Among the little people, Danny De Vito was hot and Prince was not.
So, now we get serious. Fall is nearly upon us. Heavy-breathing season. Time for adult-oriented movies with big ambitions. After Labor Day, be prepared for an onslaught of Academy Awards publicity. Critics around the country are stretching their adjectives, energizing their verbs and cleaning up their clauses for the annual planting of smart quotes in newspaper movie ads.
What will they be raving about this year? Which fall movies will generate Oscar talk, or box-office business, or both? Following, in no particular order, are 20 movies that are scheduled to open between Labor Day and Dec. 1 and which figure to draw the most heat or praise from critics.
". . . night, Mother" (Universal) opens Sept. 12. Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft team in this two-woman drama about a mother and daughter who talk out a lifetime of misunderstandings during one evening after the daughter announces she is going to kill herself. Tom Moore, who directed Marsha Norman's Pulitzer Prize-winning play on stage, makes his film directorial debut.
"Shanghai Surprise" (MGM/UA) opens Sept. 17. Sean Penn and wife Madonna Ciccone co-star in this Far East adventure about an American fortune hunter and an American missionary who become testy partners in a treasure hunt for a cache of stolen opium.
"Where the River Runs Black" (MGM/UA) opens Sept. 19. A mythological adventure about a young boy, raised among freshwater dolphins in the Amazon, who is taken from his home and introduced to the harsher realities of civilization. Adapted from the novel "Lazaro."
"Blue Velvet" (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group) opens Sept. 19. Director David Lynch has done the good ("The Elephant Man"), the bad ("Dune") and the ugly ("Eraserhead"). Now, he turns to what one person has already described as "bizarre Americana," with a rural tale about a young man (Kyle MacLachlan) who returns home because of a family crisis and gets caught up in his town's secret life. (Early Oscar talk here for Dean Stockwell, in a kinky supporting role.)
"Crocodile Dundee" (Paramount) opens Sept. 26. Paul Hogan, whose performance in those Australian TV commercials ("I'll throw a shrimp on the barbie for you") rerouted record numbers of American tourists, stars in this adventure spoof as a rowdy crocodile hunter who ends up in Manhattan facing creatures with real sharp teeth.
"The Name of the Rose" (Fox) opens Sept. 26. "Quest for Fire's" Jean-Jacques Annaud takes a giant step out of the primordial ooze in directing this Dark Ages drama set in a 14th-Century cloister. It stars Sean Connery as a sleuthing British monk and F. Murray Abraham (Salieri from "Amadeus") as the Inquisitor.
"That's Life" (Columbia) opens Sept. 26. Blake Edwards, supposedly working from a script that was seven pages long, directed this spontaneous story about the crises of members of a Malibu family. Nepotism reigns. Cast includes Jack Lemmon and his wife and son and Edwards' wife Julie Andrews and his son and her daughter.
"Down by Law" (Island) opens Sept. 26. James Jarmusch's follow-up to "Stranger Than Paradise," a slight black-and-white comedy that had critics foaming with praise, is about three low-lifes (Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and John Lurie) who become friends while sharing a New Orleans jail cell and escape together in the nearby bayou.
"Children of a Lesser God" (Paramount) opens Oct. 3. Defending Academy Award best actor champion William Hurt stars in this adaptation of a Tony Award-winning play about an unorthodox teacher who, in fighting through the anger of a beautiful deaf woman (Marlee Matlin), falls in love with her. Randa Haines, who did the TV movie "Something About Amelia," directs a cast that includes several deaf actors (among them: Matlin).
"Tough Guys" (Touchstone) opens Oct. 3. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, together again, as a pair of former train robbers who drop back into society after 30 years in prison and decide, given the way old people and old trains are treated, to stage one last rail job.