Season Preview 2015: A guide to movies

True stories, epic adventures and showy performances fill the movie bill as 2015 ends. The final months feature probable Oscar contenders, but the most closely watched entry, the next "Star Wars," will be judged by how it pleases fans. Keep in mind that opening dates can change, even at the last minute.

'Black Mass'

Release date: Sept. 18

Premise: The film explores the "unholy alliance" between the FBI and gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), who worked as an informant.

What to expect: Depp seems to have the old razzle-dazzle in a flashy role. Director Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart") guides a strong cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson. But it's Depp's show, and he could use a hit -- a box-office hit.

'Freeheld'

Release date: Oct. 2, limited

Premise: The true story of a dying New Jersey police lieutenant (Julianne Moore) who fought that her benefits would go to her partner (Ellen Page).

What to expect: Reigning Oscar winner Moore could be a contender again for her wrenching performance. Michael Shannon, Steve Carell and Josh Charles offer support. Writer Ron Nyswaner ("Philadelphia") knows how to deliver tear-jerkers with messages.

'The Martian'

Release date: Oct. 2

Premise: An astronaut, left for dead, struggles to survive on Mars as his crew rushes back to rescue him. The trailer hints at an imaginative, rousing adventure.

What to expect: With director Ridley Scott ("Alien") at the controls, this space saga could live up to expectations. The resourceful Matt Damon plays many scenes solo as the abandoned hero. Supplying support are Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig.

'Steve Jobs'

Release date: Oct. 9

Premise: A profile of the computer visionary (played by Michael Fassbender) based on Walter Isaacson's book.

What to expect: A screen bio packed with assets. Oscar winner Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") directs. Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network") wrote the script. Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels have crucial roles. Fassbender has emerged as a striking, risk-taking actor.

'The Walk'

Release date: Oct. 9

Premise: A dramatic version of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's incredible story. He crossed the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in 1974.

What to expect: Director Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") transforms a story told in the documentary "Man on Wire" into a 3-D experience. Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes the lead role. But this is the director's chance to show his high-wire skills.

'Bridge of Spies'

Release date: Oct. 16

Premise: A fact-based thriller about a lawyer who negotiates the release of Francis Gary Powers, a U.S. pilot shot down over the Soviet Union.

What to expect: When Steven Spielberg directs, the results usually command attention at awards time. Other hopeful signs include Tom Hanks as the lawyer, a script by the Coen brothers and a supporting cast featuring Mark Rylance, Alan Alda and Amy Ryan.

'Spectre'

Release date: Nov. 6

Premise: The new James Bond movie. This time around, 007 must learn about an evil group and vanquish it while the British secret service struggles to survive.

What to expect: With "Skyfall" director Sam Mendes reunited with Bond star Daniel Craig, this could be another thrilling blockbuster. "Skyfall" was one of the most entertaining films in the series' long history. Christoph Waltz (as the villain) and Ralph Fiennes (as M) lend starry support.

'Carol'

Release date: Nov. 20, limited

Premise: Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, the 1950s drama charts the lesbian love story of a married woman and a young department store clerk.

What to expect: At Cannes, Cate Blanchett won raves for playing the wife Carol, but Rooney Mara won the best actress prize for portraying the clerk. Director Todd Haynes excelled with the 1950s drama "Far From Heaven." Kyle Chandler plays Carol's husband.

'The Danish Girl'

Release date: Nov. 27

Premise: The dramatic true story about the marriage of artist Gerda Wegener and husband Einar, who became transgender pioneer Lili Elbe.

What to expect: A first-rate cast directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"). Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne takes on the Einar and Lili roles. He is supported by Alicia Vikander (as Gerda) and Matthias Schoenaerts. Transgender issues in the news should boost the film.

'Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens'

Release date: Dec. 18

Premise: The most eagerly awaited movie of the year, a story that unfolds 30 years after "Return of the Jedi," which came out in 1983.

What to expect: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill return to their roles, which made them public favorites with the first "Star Wars" in 1977. The best sign, however, is that J.J. Abrams directs the Disney release, and he pulled off rebooting the "Star Trek" franchise. The trailers look terrific.

'Sisters'

Release date: Dec. 18

Premise: A set-in-Orlando – but not-filmed-in-Orlando – comedy about two sisters who travel home to clean their room when their parents sell the home.

What to expect: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play the sisters. "Saturday Night Live" writer Paula Pell, who grew up in Central Florida, based the story loosely on her relationship with her sister. Jason Moore ("Pitch Perfect") directs a cast that includes Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon.

'Joy'

Release date: Dec. 25

Premise: The true story of Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano inspires this decade-spanning family drama about the determined businesswoman.

What to expect: Jennifer Lawrence takes the title role under the direction of David O. Russell, who guided her to an Oscar for "Silver Linings Playbook." She is reunited with "Playbook" co-stars Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The Russell touch could mop up critical acclaim.

Worth a look

Sicario, Sept. 18: A drug-war drama with Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Jon Bernthal.

Everest, Sept. 25: A climbing expedition with Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley and Josh Brolin.

The Intern, Sept 25: Robert De Niro takes the title role assisting a fashion exec (Anne Hathaway).

Stonewall, Sept. 25: A look at the start of the gay-rights movement, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Legend, Oct. 2: Tom Hardy plays twins, British gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray.

Pan, Oct. 9: A new take on Peter Pan with Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard.

•Beasts of No Nation, Oct. 16: Idris Elba in a drama about a child soldier in Africa.

Crimson Peak, Oct. 16: Guillermo del Toro directs Jessica Chastain in a haunted-house thriller.

Truth, Oct. 16: Robert Redford plays Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett is a CBS producer in the drama.

Burnt, Oct. 23: Bradley Cooper portrays a chef seeking redemption. Sienna Miller co-stars.

Rock the Kasbah, Oct. 23: Bill Murray and Bruce Willis star for director Barry Levinson.

Suffragette, Oct. 23: Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan explore the early fight for women's rights.

Our Brand Is Crisis, Oct. 30: Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton are political strategists in the drama.

The Peanuts Movie, Nov. 6: The Charles M. Schulz strip comes to life through computer animation.

Trumbo, Nov. 6: Bryan Cranston plays blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Helen Mirren co-stars.

Spotlight, Nov. 6: Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo portray Boston Globe journalists. A true story.

By the Sea, Nov. 13: Angelina Jolie directs a romantic drama starring herself and Brad Pitt.

Love the Coopers, Nov. 13: Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Alan Arkin in a family comedy.

The 33, Nov. 13: Antonio Banderas stars in the true story of the Chilean miners' rescue in 2010.

Secret in Their Eyes, Nov. 20: Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman in a remake of the Argentine thriller.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, Nov. 20: Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen.

•The Good Dinosaur, Nov. 25: Human child and sweet dino become friends in Disney/Pixar fantasy.

Victor Frankenstein, Nov. 25: James McAvoy tackles the title role, and Daniel Radcliffe is Igor.

I Saw the Light, Nov. 27: Tom Hiddleston plays troubled legend Hank Williams.

•In the Heart of the Sea, Dec. 11: Ron Howard directs a sea adventure starring Chris Hemsworth.

The Hateful Eight, Jan. 8: A Quentin Tarantino western with Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Revenant, January: Alejandro G. Inarritu ("Birdman") directs Leonardo DiCaprio in a grueling adventure.

The Program, date TBA: Stephen Frears directs a drama about Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster).

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