There's one surefire way to get the drumbeat rolling for a movie: open it at one of the prestigious late summer and fall film festivals: Venice, Telluride or Toronto. And that's where some of this fall's most anticipated movies based on books will be having their premieres.

The Black Dahlia, based on the James Ellroy novel inspired by the notorious unsolved murder case of a good-time girl in 1940s Los Angeles, had a splashy premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 30. Über-siren Scarlett Johansson is one of the stars in the Brian De Palma movie, which Ellroy has praised in the highbrow pages of the Virginia Quarterly Review, as is her boyfriend, Josh Hartnett. But despite the popping flashbulbs and red-carpet treatment that greeted them in Venice, the film received a lackluster review from Todd McCarthy in Variety. This Dahlia, which opens in the U.S. September 15, could droop before the most serious Oscar contenders are unveiled in November and December.

The film with the greatest "best of the year" buzz going into the film festival season is LittleChildren. Based on Tom Perrotta's 2004 novel about suburban sins (and crimes), the film is directed by Todd Field, whose first feature, In the Bedroom, caused such a fuss back in 2001 and was powered to several Oscar nominations by a relentless promotional campaign by Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. The film will receive a grand reception at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals in September and open for general audiences October 6. Little Children, which stars Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly and Patrick Wilson, has many of the same stylistic touches that Field's earlier film had, evoking the sinister underbelly beneath the apparent serenity of suburbia. Perrotta, whose first novel, Election, was made into a smashing satire in 1999, co-wrote the screenplay with Field.

The authentic rendering of "true" stories, as we have seen with Capote and Walk the Line, has become the only way people—or certainly those people who give out Oscars—can judge if a movie is good anymore, and they will certainly have their chance to see if the movie adaptations of Augusten Burroughs's crazy family memoir, Running with Scissors, and Clint Eastwood's portrait of American heroism at Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, based on the book by James Bradley, measure up to their original sources. Both movies open October 20 and while Flags can be guaranteed a strong showing just on the name of two-time Oscar winner Eastwood, Scissors will succeed only if first-time feature director Ryan Murphy can keep his cast, which includes Annette Bening, Jill Clayburgh, Brian Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow, from overdoing it, something that has eluded Murphy on his plastic surgery soap opera Nip/Tuck on FX.

The most fanciful and complex movie opening on October 20 may be ThePrestige, a story of rival magicians in Victorian London adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest. Each magician has a winning trick the other craves, but they are so difficult to perform that the tricksters, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, are driven to dangerous lengths by their rivalry.

For those accustomed to reading about Russell Crowe's thuglike exploits in the tabloids, his role in A Good Year, based on the innocuously entertaining 2004 novel by Peter Mayle, may come as a surprise. Crowe plays a London banker who inherits a ramshackle vineyard in France, visits it and is soon charmed off his wing-tipped feet by wine and, of course, women. Sounds like a summer movie that was pushed till later in the year so Oscar winner Crowe could have another shot at the prize in his first lighthearted role.

Speaking of Oscars, casting Nicole Kidman as another suicidal artist seems like a shameless plea for one (Kidman won Best Actress in 2003 for playing Virginia Woolf as a melancholy frump, complete with a Jimmy Durante nose, in The Hours). We shall see how she does without the proboscis on November 10, when her portrayal of brilliant-but-depressed Diane Arbus hits the screen. Fur, a title that will seem peculiar to the vast majority of moviegoers, is based on the definitive 1984 Arbus biography by Patricia Bosworth and covers a pivotal point in the photographer's life—when she turned her back on her wealthy family to have an affair with Lionel Sweeney (played by Robert Downey Jr.), who exposed Arbus to the marginalized people who would become the subject of her greatest works.

The trickiest November release is Fast Food Nation, on November 17, based on Eric Schlosser's bestseller about the horrors—environmental and social—of the fast food industry. Its politically correct slant no doubt attracted an ensemble cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson and Patricia Arquette, but the movie will have to succeed as a story to make it outside New York and Los Angeles. Americans eat Big Macs; do they want to see the nitty gritty behind their production?

Fans of Cate Blanchett can rejoice: the versatile Australian actress is showcased in two completely different literary projects this winter. First up is The Good German, a genuine old-fashioned war movie in which Blanchett plays the married lover of a debonair network correspondent (George Clooney) who returns to Berlin following the end of WWII to find her and ends up helping her locate her husband, a missing mathematician wanted by American and Russian intelligence agents. Based on the acclaimed novel by Joseph Kanon, The Good German opens December 8. Later that month, on December 22, Blanchett plays the heroine of Zoe Heller's curious novel What Was She Thinking (Notes on a Scandal), which will appeal to a specialized audience. As a high school teacher who has seduced one of her students, Blanchett finds herself at the center of a controversy and also the object of affection of a strange old spinster—paging Judi Dench.

Naomi Watts, the third Australian actress starring in movies these days, makes her annual appearance in a Hollywood film, but it's a step up from last year's misfire, King Kong. This time, Watts stars in an adaptation of The Painted Veil, the Somerset Maugham novel, opening on December 29. The story follows a young English couple who relocate to Hong Kong, where they betray each other easily and find an unexpected chance at redemption and happiness while on a deadly journey into the heart of ancient China.

Sometimes Hollywood saves the most depressing movies for last; for our Christmas present they're giving us The Children of Men, a futuristic thriller based on a rare 1992 non-mystery novel by P.D. James that opens on Christmas day. Originally scheduled to open in October, Children is a film trying to make the maximum impact for Oscar voters, but it sounds like a hard sell, especially after a holiday dinner. The story takes place in 2027, a dastardly time when humans can no longer procreate. A former activist (Clive Owen) agrees to help transport a mysteriously pregnant black woman to a sanctuary where the birth may help scientists save mankind. Run right out with the family to see this one.

And for the Kids...
Children's books look to be big business this fall, with the release of a number of films based on classic properties and popular bestsellers. The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz has been a smash hit in the U.K. for years and the July 21 release of the film there has made them even more popular. This may be Alex's big break here in the U.S. as well: the Penguin Young Readers Group will release three tie-ins for the film Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, which will hit screens on October 13. The charming actress Alison Lohman plays a teen who gets her life together by learning to ride a mustang in Flicka, based on the classic novel by Mary O'Hara, opening October 20. A more ambitious project is Eragon, adapted from the fantasy bestseller about a boy and a female dragon by Christopher Paolini. The movie, which premieres December 15, has a big-name cast that includes Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and newcomer Edward Speleers. The holiday season also sees the opening of two other high-profile kid flicks—Charlotte's Web, starring Dakota Fanning and featuring the voices of Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey, among others, on December 20; and Miss Potter, a gentle period piece about the life of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter, on December 29. This movie stars Renee Zellweger and was originally conceived as a musical. The novelization of the movie, written by Richard Maltby Jr., will be published at the end of December.