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It's all about names this season — not the actors' but the directors'. 

Hot Shots

This fall Hollywood turns serious with a vengeance. Every director worth his name above the title has a movie slated for release. Scorsese, Soderbergh, Jarmusch, Lynch and Levinson all have pix coming your way. So do Kasdan, Beresford, Rudolph, Pollack and Burton. Even Milos Forman returns with the season's most intriguing biopic, a look at the not-so-funny world of comedian Andy Kaufman.

Why so much big-name direction? Well, pop culture pundits and contemporary sociologists would point to the impending new millennium. Me? I think it's the haunting call of the elusive Oscar.

But the season's not just about who's behind the camera, fall also offers plenty of chances to do some serious stargazing. There's Brad and Harrison, Michelle and Meryl, De Niro and Denzel. Read on, gentle moviegoer. (Release dates are subject to change.)

Director's Cut

Stepping up to the plate first is Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi's "For Love of the Game" (Sept. 17). Set to open just in time to dovetail with The World Series, this tale of America's game features Kevin Costner as an aging pitcher who sees his life flash before his eyes as he finds himself in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime perfect game.

Ending a five-year absence from the big screen, Lawrence "Big Chill" Kasdan returns with an ensemble comedy about a small-town controversy called "Mumford" (Sept. 24). The arrival of a young psychiatrist to Mumford's midst has everyone in a dither, especially the town's well-established shrink who suspects his competition may not be what he says he is. The townsfolk are played by Ted Danson, Alfre Woodard, Jason Lee, Hope Davis and Martin Short. Supporting actor Loren Dean gets his first crack at a starring role as the head doc with a secret.

Bruce Beresford directs Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones in the thriller "Double Jeopardy" (Sept. 24). Judd plays a woman wrongfully convicted of murder. When she's done serving her time, she discovers the victim is still alive. Judd believes justice is long overdue. Jones, her probation officer, tries to stop her.

On a similar note, Terence Stamp is a British ex-con who travels to Los Angeles in Steven Soderbergh's "The Limey" (Oct. 8). He's out to avenge his daughter's death.

Untimely and tragic death plays a part in Sydney Pollack's "Random Hearts" (Oct. 8). Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott-Thomas star as two people who lose their better halves in a tragic plane crash. He's a tough cop; she's a high-profile congresswoman. If they confront the truth of the accident, it could destroy them.

"Twin Peaks'" David Lynch presents "The Straight Story," (Oct. 22) which is the true story of Alvin Straight, the 73-year-old Iowa man who rode his lawn tractor more than 300 miles to see his ailing brother.

Dealing with the death of strangers lies at the heart of Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead" (Oct. 22). Nicolas Cage stars as an ambulance paramedic who suffers a nervous breakdown after a grueling 48 hours in New York's Hell's Kitchen. During the breakdown, he's plagued by the ghosts of those whose lives he could not save.

Speaking of ghastly horrors, slashermeister Wes Craven has followed Sam Raimi by crossing over into higher-brow fare. Meryl Streep stars in Craven's "Music of My Heart" (Oct. 29), as a violin teacher in Harlem. Originally titled "50 Violins" and slated for release this summer, Miramax pushed it back to avoid confusion with "The Red Violin." Plus, when it comes to Oscar nominations, fall movies fare better than summer releases.

Kurt Vonnegut's classic "Breakfast of Champions" (October) finds its way onto the big screen thanks to director Alan Rudolph and actor Bruce Willis. In fact, Willis forked over most of the $12 million financing needed to make the film. He also stars.

Former indie darling Jim Jarmusch ("Down By Law," "Stranger than Paradise") also restakes his claim in the director's circle. His entry is called "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (October) and stars Forest Whitaker as a mysterious assassin who proceeds to strike back at his former mob bosses.

"Miami Vice" creator/director Michael Mann also ends his hiatus from the movies this fall. Tackling a formidable subject, in "The Insider" (November), Mann presents the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), the tobacco industry exec who went to "60 Minutes" to blow the whistle on his bosses about their intention to cover up the health risks of smoking.

French director Luc "La Femme Nikita" Besson tackles an even more formidable subject with "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (Nov. 5). Interestingly, or maybe not, the movie stars his wife, Milla Jovovich.

Ron "Bull Durham" Shelton puts his game face on for another sports-related tale. Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas star in "Playing it to the Bone" (November), as best friends and struggling boxers who get their big chance at a championship bout. Only catch, before the big fight in Vegas, the two must box each other. An even odder pairing this season is famed British documentarist-turned-filmmaker Michael Apted stepping behind the camera for the 19th installment in the James Bond franchise. Pierce Brosnan returns as Bond in "The World Is Not Enough" (Nov. 19).

For his fourth foray back to the Baltimore of his youth, Barry "Rain Man" Levinson presents "Liberty Heights" (Nov. 27), a tale about high school circa 1954, the Cold War and civil rights. On the other hand, the amazing Tim Burton returns to a favored book of his youth as the inspiration for "Sleepy Hollow" (Nov. 19). Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci star in this tale inspired by Washington Irving's classic.

Rounding out the director's season is "Man on the Moon" (Nov. 5). The very talented Forman directs Jim Carrey in this heartfelt look at the too-short life of gifted comedian Andy Kaufman. Next to Mann's "The Insider," this Carrey vehicle has the most pre-release Oscar buzz going.

Creep Show

Autumn also means Halloween and Hollywood does so love those things that go bump in the night. Looking for chills and thrills? Try one of these:

Gabriel Byrne and Patricia Arquette star in "Stigmata," a graphic tale of demonic possession (Sept. 10). Kevin Bacon stars in "Stir of Echoes" as a blue-collar Chicago dad who starts seeing horrific visions after being hypnotized at a party (Sept. 10).

In "Lost Souls," Winona Ryder belongs to a group of exorcists who discover a conspiracy to bring Satan back to Earth (Oct. 8). And Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie co-star in "The Bone Collector" (Oct. 1). He's a paralyzed police investigator who needs Jolie to be his arms and legs in the hunt for a serial killer.

The Name Game

Hollywood's newest, brightest and biggest box office stars are also on the fall release schedule: Robert De Niro plays a retired security guard who suffers a stroke when coming to the aid of a neighbor in "Flawless" (Nov. 24). Refusing to leave his apartment for therapy, he agrees to a rehab program that includes singing lessons with the street-tough drag queen upstairs (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Manic funnyman Martin Lawrence plays a talented jewel thief who's out to reclaims his buried loot in "Blue Streak" (Sept. 17). The only problem is his hiding place is now an L.A.P.D. precinct house.

Then Brad Pitt and Edward Norton share the screen in the tough-minded psychological drama "Fight Club" (Oct. 15). The secret club gives yuppies the chance to beat the living daylights out of each other — and then the story gets really weird.

In "Jakob the Liar" (Sept. 24), Robin Williams lives in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw where he pretends he has secret news reports of Allied victories over the Nazis. While he hopes his lies give his fellow victims hope, they bring him more trouble as the Nazis believe there is a secret radio in the ghetto.

Then Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis star as husband and wife in the drama "The Story of Us" (Oct. 15). Anointed with a high schmaltz factor, the movie follows the Pfeiffer/Willis couple as they assay the ups and downs of love, marriage, parenthood and divorce. On a much lighter marital note, Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellweger star in "The Bachelor" (Nov.12). In a contemporary remake of a classic Buster Keaton comedy, O'Donnell plays a confirmed bachelor who has just 24 hours to find a bride and get married if he wants to collect his $100 million inheritance. Zellweger is the unsuspecting girl.

Finally, while the name Molly Shannon may not ring a bell with anyone but a dedicated "Saturday Night Live" fan, the comedian moves beyond playing the best-friend-of-the-lead roles. In "Superstar" (Oct. 8), Shannon brings her geeky "SNL" alter-ego Mary Katherine Gallagher to the big screen. A Catholic high school misfit, Mary Katherine dreams of only two things: becoming a superstar and finally being
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