Hard to believe that summer's just about over—early Labor Day and all—but if you're down about going back to school or about the economy or the mounting avalanche of campaign ads, remember that fall has its own rewards. New television series. Movies made for thinking adults. Books you can sink your teeth into rather than forget the minute you brush the sand from your flip-flops. Here are some of the autumn pleasures that await—a new Coen brothers film, another from Spike Lee and the return of the cool Daniel Craig as James Bond; Daniel Radcliffe, now graduated from Hogwarts and soaring onto the Broadway stage; some soothing tunes from blue-eyed soul singer Robin Thicke and the long-awaited return of hip-hop artist Q-Tip; another first draft of history from Bob Woodward, who's still haunting the halls of the Bush White House.
Because we believe in democracy as much as the president does, our preview is strictly egalitarian: we've mixed up our critics' top choices in all the arts, the better for you to browse in our bazaar of film and TV, music and literature, art and theater. And because we're not total saps, we've copped to the possible disappointments that anticipation may produce. But for now, let's look on the bright side of the darkening days ahead.
Burn After Reading
MOVIE: After "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers return with this wickedly dark comedy. SEPT. 12
PRO: With the star-studded cast—including Brad Pitt and George Clooney—the movie could've been called "Ocean's 14."
CON: If "No Country" 's open-ended ending drove you crazy, this will make you really nuts.
Rachel Getting Married
MOVIE: Jonathan Demme's best movie since "Silence of the Lambs." OCT. 3
PRO: Anne Hathaway should get an Oscar nomination for playing a recovering drug addict sprung from rehab in time for her sister's wedding.
CON: Isn't there something predictable about a wide-eyed beauty showing off her acting chops by going into deep grunge?
MOVIE: Clint Eastwood directs Angelina Jolie as a mom whose son is kidnapped. OCT. 24
PRO: Jolie wore grief beautifully in "A Mighty Heart," and the buzz at Cannes was that Jolie is even better here.
CON: Critics at the festival were split on the movie overall.
Body of Lies
MOVIE: Ridley Scott takes on terrorism— or at least a terrorist thriller. OCT. 10
PRO: Scott had a dream cast of Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in "American Gangster," and this is even dreamier. It stars Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.
CON: Leo's scraggly beard qualifies as the worst facial hair in cinematic history.
Quantum of Solace
MOVIE: The latest James Bond. NOV. 7
PRO: Daniel Craig, the best Bond since Sean Connery—need we say more?
CON: New to the Bond franchise, director Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner") may not inject this one with the dependable zing of "Casino Royale."
Miracle at St. Anna
MOVIE: Spike Lee directs this story of black World War II soldiers in Italy. SEPT. 26
PRO: It starts out a little like "Life Is Beautiful."
CON: Forget simplicity—it's crammed with subplots that make the point that war is hell.
MOVIE: De Niro and Pacino are united at last, playing—surprise!—detectives. SEPT. 12
PRO: An unmissable thespian dream duo.
CON: Too little, too late; the trailer looks like "NYPD Blue: The Retirement Years."
MOVIE: It's like "Gone With the Wind," but set Down Under. NOV. 14
PRO: Baz Luhrmann hit a high note with "Moulin Rouge," and he returns with this epic World War II love story starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.
CON: After box-office missteps "The Golden Compass" and "The Invasion" (hers) and "The Fountain" (his), can either of these Aussie stars deliver a hit?
MOVIE: Oliver Stone directs the life story of everyone's favorite POTUS, Bush 43. OCT. 17
PRO: The trailer is so silly, it's hard to tell if this is supposed to be a drama or a comedy, but Josh Brolin seems to nail Dubya.
CON: If you think the past eight years have been disastrous, do you really want to shell out $10 to relive it?