by Luke Baumgarten & r & God, that was a rough stretch. Not the summer of blockbusters per se -- there was enough good stuff floating amid the explosions and perfunctory love scenes to keep things interesting. No, it was that last couple weeks or so there, when the studios come down from their summer glut of box office gold to find their houses in disarray and misguided popcorn-flick detritus strewn everywhere.

"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," the executives cry, bodies still aching from the cash-flow overdose. "Who's idea was that?" Then, turning away, they are confronted with other abominations, "What the hell is A Sound of Thunder?" This continues for a while ("Nick Cannon's not even funny") until each executive, in his or her respective tinsel tower, has worried away all the fun they had the last few months. The only thing to do, having hemorrhaged millions on these failed-at-conception films, is to dump them on an unsuspecting public, with no further production costs and no advertising budget. There's a reason, friends, you'd never heard of Underclassman until it showed up at AMC.

But that's over now, more or less. Fall and winter, you see, are run-up time to the Oscars, when even the most craven studios turn their attention from pure money-making to money-making tinged with the desire to court the artsy, character-driven, high-concept crowd. So prepare for an inundation of movies that can be called "good" without adding "for an action flick" or "for the 16th installment in The Ring series."

AMC, REGAL AND IMAX & r & Among those higher-quality studio films, look for Lord of War this week, a satire of the arms trade masquerading as an action/adventure movie. Also this week, Proof stars Gwyneth Paltrow and asks, in psychological mystery style, "Is this brilliant mathematician crazy, or is she so sane that she's blowing our minds?" Tim Burton's Corpse Bride drops on Sept. 23, with a possible sneak preview on the weekend of Sept. 16. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with Julianne Moore, also opens on the 23rd. On Sept. 30, worshippers at the altar of sci-fi arch-geekery will glut themselves on Serenity, based on the short-lived television show Firefly by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Look for Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown on Oct. 14 and Al Pacino on Oct. 7, hoo-hawing his way to another off-kilter performance in Two for the Money. Nov. 18 might be the best release day of the fall, with Harry Potter, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice hitting theaters simultaneously. IMAX will show Harry Potter in the grandeur of its massive format.

Two Broadway hits will make it to the big screen this fall, too -- Rent (Nov. 11) and The Producers (Dec. 21), starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. December also offers The Chronicles of Narnia (Dec. 9) and Peter Jackson's updating of that big, misunderstood ape, King Kong (Dec. 14).

Aside from those solid dates, look for super-indie films like Thumbsucker and The Thing About My Folks to grace us sometime after their limited initial releases (only one will be good; the other stars Paul Rieser). For the bulk of your artsy flick fix, though, you'll have to hit the area's local independent theaters.

THE MET & r & The Met has been, for a few years now, the de facto vanguard of indie cinema in the Spokane area. Sure, the big theaters get an art house flick or two after it has been profitable in larger markets, but no one churns ahead with as many quality films as our beloved Metropolitan under the artful direction of manager Michael Smith. Playing at this moment is Ladies in Lavender, which is a fun little slice of provincial English life. Two aging sisters (Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench) seem blissfully unaware that World War II is looming as they go about pooh-poohing each other's social lives and manners. It's like Remains of the Day without so many butlers, and it runs through Sept 19.

Then come the winter sports films. First up is the Matchstick Movie Tour on Oct. 1, which features the skiing and snowboarding of mountains from B.C. to Russia. TGR Ski and Snowboard Films will then present more films of the same variety on Nov. 13. Finally, to round out the winter outdoor trifecta, the Met will host the 30th Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour from Nov. 18-20. The tour features films, documentaries and animated shorts about climbing mountains, riding mountains and generally, you know, hanging out in the mountains. The tour brings only the highlights of the much larger yearly festival in Banff.

In all, the Met's schedule is pretty thin at this point, but Smith pulls off a lot of 11th-hour deals (and he's open to film suggestions), so keep checking our film pages.

THE GARLAND & r & Those midnight movies are awesome. Little gems of camp, nostalgia and crowd participation, they've pretty much taken the place of vaudeville in our digital age, hearkening back to a time when movies were events and not just diversions. Also, you know, since they happen so late on weekends, it keeps the kids off the streets. The fall lineup includes Back to the Future, Mallrats, Half-Baked, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and more showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show than you have pairs of black latex man-panties. Rounding out the year, on the night before Christmas (and the night before that), they'll show The Nightmare Before Christmas, just about the time we'll be getting tired of our families. I never get to open anything on Christmas Eve anyway.

Also, and this is very exiting, the Garland is beginning its Spokane Movie Night sometime in early November. The first film on the slate will be Smoke Signals and will be presided over by Sherman Alexie, who wrote the original stories and also the screenplay. He'll answer questions afterward and is known for his unbelievable bouts of insomnia, so if you're into the processes of writing and filmmaking, it could be a long, weird, fruitful night.

THE PANIDA & r & You folks in Sandpoint don't know how good you have it. The Panida consistently serves up choice art house fare, often even before Spokane gets it (if Spokane gets it at all). This fall, they've got more selections from their austerely titled Global Cinema Caf & eacute; series, as well as a few ski films, to get you stoked to, you know, go big, or whatever.

Coming up first is You and Me and Everyone We Know, running from Sept. 22-24. Miranda July's feature debut, the film won four awards at Cannes and was given a special jury prize at Sundance for originality of vision. This is going to be the last Global Cinema Caf & eacute; series film for the year and may be the most exciting indie film playing anywhere in the region this fall. If you're in the area, don't miss it.

October brings two ski films, Booter Crunk on Oct. 7 and a Warren Miller film to be named later on Oct. 22. The Festival of the Spirit (Dec. 1-4) will feature a bunch of films as yet unannounced but which can safely be categorized as "spiritual." (Which could mean anything, really.) The Panida's wonderful Global Cinema series begins again, in earnest, on Jan. 5.

THE KENWORTHY & r & The University of Idaho is to independent film what Wazzu is to drinking until you fall off a fire escape: best in the Palouse, several years running. They have a rock-solid lineup this fall as well, including American Values, American Wilderness on Sept. 18 and Rock School on Sept. 23-25.

October brings The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Oct. 1-2), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Oct. 7-9), and Mad Hot Ballroom (Oct. 14-16). Their show times seem to be chosen at random, possibly by robots, so call ahead: (208) 882-4127.

OTHER FILM FESTIVALS & r & There's no clean way to segue between specific theaters and specific events, so I'm just going to do it. The third annual Flicker Film Festival is hitting CenterStage on Sunday, Oct. 9. Flicker celebrates small-gauge filmmaking and will feature experimental independent films from local filmmakers. It's $5 with two screenings, at 2 pm and 6 pm, for your convenience. This is where the really avant-garde kids hang out, so if you like your cinema ultra-weird and super-short, you can't pass it up.

The annual Gay/Lesbian Film Festival is coming Nov. 4-5 to EWU's Riverpoint Auditorium in Spokane. The two-day festival will feature shorts and feature-length films and documentaries from local and national artists, all exploring the lives of gay and lesbian men and women.

CenterStage also has the Pride and Joy Festival, which is really more like a monthly gay and lesbian movie night. Their first showing of the fall will be The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love on Sept. 27, with other films to follow every fourth Tuesday. Ella's Supper Club will be offering drink specials, so maybe you too will find love, at least temporarily.

Thursday Night Live (TNL) @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Third Thursday of every month. Continues through Sept. 16
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