''Wreck-It Ralph,'' ''Skyfall,'' and November's other featured films

By EW Staff
August 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Wreck-It Ralph
What happens when a longtime villain decides to go rogue? He turns good, naturally. That’s the premise of Wreck-It Ralph, about a 1980s videogame baddie (voiced by John C. Reilly) who, after 30-odd years of causing trouble, rebels against his programming and leaps into other arcade games to prove he’s really a hero. ”In the world of videogames, characters are so rigidly black-and-white,” says director Rich Moore, a veteran of The Simpsons and Futurama. ”Ralph is kind of a gray thinker, wondering, ‘Is there a better way? Why can’t I have love and acceptance?’ ”

When Ralph goes off the reservation, he’s pursued by the goody-two-shoes protagonist of his original game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer), and befriends Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) from a dessert-themed racing game. He also crosses paths with Sergeant Calhoun (Glee‘s Jane Lynch), a sci-fi-shooter heroine with a surprising soft side. ”She’s a tough-as-nails drill sergeant with unquestioned authority, and has her recruits quaking under her every order,” says Lynch. ”But then she falls in love and has to fight against that vulnerability.” Keep a lookout for cameos from videogame mainstays like Clyde the Ghost from Pac-Man and a down-on-his-luck Q*bert. —Anthony Breznican Nov. 2

Anna Karenina
Keira Knightley first read Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel Anna Karenina in her late teens. ”I remember thinking it was the most romantic thing ever,” says the actress, now 27. But when she reread the classic last summer before filming began on director Joe Wright’s big-screen adaptation, she was surprised at how differently she felt about the story of Anna, who’s married to an aristocrat (Jude Law) but drawn into an all-consuming affair with a cavalry officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). ”She’s actually kind of an antihero,” says Knightley, noting that while she doesn’t personally agree with many of Anna’s actions, she couldn’t judge her character too harshly. ”The only thing that’s required is empathy.”

Knightley knew she’d be in good hands with Wright; the duo had worked together on 2005’s Pride & Prejudice and 2007’s Atonement. However, she admits she was still taken aback by Wright’s plan to set most of the action inside a theater. ”I was like, ‘What?’ ” Knightley says. Wright’s approach made sense creatively — the Russian aristocracy lived very public lives, as if on a stage — and also financially, since a more conventional telling would have cost at least twice the film’s nearly $30 million budget. That’s a lot of rubles. —Sara Vilkomerson Nov. 16

Silver Linings Playbook
Life’s a bummer for Pat (Bradley Cooper), a former high school history teacher recently sprung from a mental institution. In director David O. Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s acclaimed 2008 novel, Pat still pines for his estranged wife (Brea Bee) and bristles after moving back home with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), who think the answer to any existential crisis is a Philadelphia Eagles win. Feigning football fever proved a challenge for Weaver, an Australian who earned an Oscar nom for 2010’s Animal Kingdom. ”I’ve been watching Australian-rules football all my life and I still don’t understand it,” she says. ”I never had a chance with [the American] gridiron.”

The one bright spot on Pat’s horizon is the odd allegiance he forms with a young widow played by Jennifer Lawrence. The Hunger Games star says she was drawn to the prickly, uncompromising nature of her role. ”There’s always these characters overcoming something by doing therapy, or somebody goes through a great deal and comes out on the other side,” she says. ”I thought it was cool for somebody to be like, ‘This is who I am, take it or leave it.’ ” Bonus: She and Cooper got on so well that they decided to reunite for the period love story Serena, due next year. —Karen Valby Nov. 21

Penny for your thoughts? For Steven Spielberg, this first image of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln captures not just the star’s uncanny resemblance to the 16th U.S. president but also the pensive quality that made him a great leader. ”Lincoln had a very complicated — and at the same time extremely clear — inner life,” says the director. ”He thought things out. He argued both sides of every issue. And he was very careful in making any decision. As a matter of fact, his opponents criticized him often for being impossibly slow to a decision.”

Lincoln has taken a similarly slow journey to the screen, though Spielberg initially pounced on the film rights to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals — before she’d even written that 2005 best-seller about Lincoln and his cabinet. The screenplay, by playwright Tony Kushner (husband of EW columnist Mark Harris), excerpts only a portion of Goodwin’s book, focusing on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and the political strategizing that helped push the Union to victory in the Civil War. ”Our movie is really about a working leader who must make tough decisions and get things done in the face of overwhelming opposition,” Spielberg says.

The filmmaker dismisses reports that Day-Lewis dug so deeply into character that he didn’t acknowledge the modern world. ”Daniel was always conscious of his contemporary surroundings,” says Spielberg, though he did refer to the actor as ”Mr. President.” ”I was calling [all] the actors by their character names.”

Years ago, Spielberg had his own transcendent Lincoln moment when he toured an archive in Springfield, Ill., and got hold of one of the president’s signature stovepipe hats. What was he thinking as he held that iconic object? Spielberg pauses, then says with a laugh: ”That I would never be as tall as him.” —Anthony Breznican Nov. 9

The Man With the Iron Fists
Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA raised $20 million for his directorial debut, a martial-arts epic set in 19th-century China starring Lucy Liu as a brothel madam and Oscar winner Russell Crowe as a mercenary. The hip-hop giant himself plays the titular role of a blacksmith who gets caught in the middle of chopsocky mayhem when a much-sought-after shipment of gold travels through his village. So, what’s a black blacksmith doing in 19th-century China? RZA admits he’s taken some liberties with history. ”It’s like my own little f—ing Star Wars universe,” he says.

RZA created that universe in Shanghai, where he admits shooting was not always easy. ”At some points we had about 400 people on set and maybe a dozen spoke English,” recalls the man born Robert Diggs. ”But I’m a guy who takes on big challenges.” Another big challenge: getting Crowe to sign on to the movie in the first place. ”We became friends over the years, but he was like, ‘I’m not doing a f—ing kung fu film. I’m a f—ing thespian, Bobby!’ ” laughs RZA. ”I was like, ‘Trust me, Russ, I’m an artist.’ And he trusted me.” —Clark Collis Nov. 9

Rise of the Guardians
Santa Claus is now a tattooed, tough-talking chap (voiced by Alec Baldwin) who teams up with warrior versions of the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) as well as young Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to keep Jude Law’s villainous bogeyman, Pitch, from taking over the world. ”This is kind of the Justice League of childhood,” Baldwin says of DreamWorks Animation’s offbeat take on the beloved mythological figures. ”They might not be fit, toned, gleaming action heroes, but they all have a bit of an edge to them. They’re not all sweet or syrupy.”

Author and illustrator William Joyce (who won an Oscar this year for the animated short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) coadapted the film from his own book series that reimagines these familiar icons. ”In my mind, Santa was always bigger than life and had an element of James Bond to him,” says Joyce, who also served as exec producer. ”He can do amazing stuff, and he has all sorts of cool gadgets.” But evildoers, beware. He can shake you like a bowl full of jelly. —Anthony Breznican Nov. 21

Although British director Sam Mendes says the James Bond movies are ”in his DNA,” he did rewatch some vintage 007 adventures before making Skyfall, the 23rd official entry in the series. ”I was surprised at how well the early films hold up,” says the Oscar-winning filmmaker (American Beauty). ”And I was shocked at how un-PC Live and Let Die was.” Fear not, 007 fans. Despite Mendes’ raised eyebrow at the excesses of ’70s-era Bond, Skyfall is no politically correct chatfest. The director promises plenty of action (including hand-to-hand combat atop a moving train) and sexy times (notably between Daniel Craig and French actress Bérénice Marlohe) — plus a memorable adversary in Javier Bardem’s Silva, who seems bent on an elaborate plot to take down MI6 and its chief, M (Judi Dench).

One sign that the onscreen MI6 is changing with the times: a gun-toting new agent played by 28 Days Later star Naomie Harris. ”She’s very ambitious and hardworking,” says the actress of her character. ”Her aim is to become as good a field agent as Bond.” In the most recent trailer, the two find themselves in a close shave — literally. ”It took me several lessons to learn how to do that,” she says of her barbering skills. ”I did get to the point where I was able to use a real razor, but I didn’t subject Daniel to that.” After all, Craig’s face may be the Bond franchise’s most valuable asset these days. ”It’s definitely worth more than a few quid, that’s for sure!” —Clark Collis Nov. 9

Red Dawn
This remake of 1984’s Soviets-in-Colorado war film — about a group of high schoolers fighting a commie invasion — was shot almost three years ago but got held up due to MGM’s financial woes. In the meantime, its then-unknown stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) got famous. In addition, the bad guy, China, was changed in postproduction to one that’s less of a threat to a potential filmgoing market: North Korea. But that doesn’t mean the film lost any of its rah-rah-USA spirit. ”It’s my chance to be Captain America,” jokes Hemsworth, an Aussie. ”I get to be patriotic here.” —Keith Staskiewicz Nov. 21

After a 12-year affair with motion-capture animation (Beowulf, The Polar Express), director Robert Zemeckis is rebooting his live-action career with a smaller-scale drama about a pilot (Denzel Washington) who lands a failing plane and becomes a media hero — until his alcoholism comes to light. Zemeckis agreed to make the film for a mere $30 million, a far cry from his usual $150 million-plus budgets. ”Look, if you’re going to make a movie about something that isn’t just a comic book nowadays,” he says, ”you have to make it economically.”

Still, Zemeckis didn’t cut corners on his cast, which includes John Goodman as a ponytailed drug dealer, Don Cheadle as a no-nonsense attorney, and Melissa Leo as a federal investigator. Then there’s two-time Oscar winner Washington, tackling his most awards-friendly role since 2007’s American Gangster. ”He’s able to play all the different levels this character has, from vulnerability to strength,” says Zemeckis. Goodman also credits the star with keeping the set lighthearted. ”When you work with somebody that good, it’s not like working,” says Goodman. ”You just hang out and play.” Consider us on board. —Adam Markovitz Nov. 2

Also Playing
French romance Caféde Flore features Vanessa Paradis as a 1960s mom (11/2)…. A married couple (Elizabeth Banks and Tobey Maguire) fixate on lawn-ruining raccoons in The Details (11/2)…. Two lovers (Riley Keough and Juno Temple) named Jack & Diane may or may not have heard of John Mellencamp (11/2)…. Sean Penn plays a washed-up rock star in This Must Be the Place (11/2)…. Alicia Silverstone Vamps it up as a bloodsucker in Clueless auteur Amy Heckerling’s comedy (11/2)…. A documentarian is Chasing Ice as he surveys melting glaciers (11/9)…. Common is an ex–drug dealer who would Luv a fresh start (11/9)….Patton Oswalt leads TV-obsessed scouts on a hiking trip in Nature Calls (11/9)…. Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen pursues A Royal Affair with Denmark’s queen (11/9)…. Marion Cotillard loses her legs to a killer whale in Rust and Bone (11/16)…. A psychopath traps a partygoer in a maze in The Collection (11/30)…. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren flex in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (11/30). —Grady Smith