The Big Dog in the Yard
Obviously this is Alfonso Cuaron's spectacular-looking Gravity (October 4), and the fact that this is so obvious in a month with a LOT of good-looking movies only speaks better for how anticipated this movie is. It's got so much going for it -- the first Cuaron directorial effort since Children of Men; Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock challenging herself in a way she never really has before; when George Clooney is your third-biggest promotional hook? That's pretty good. Plus, as we've observed here on the blog, the trailer/TV campaign for this thing has been dynamite. And that score! Ahhhh, excitement overload. Too much. Too much.

Riskiest Gamble
There's something about a thriller pairing Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake that feels a bit too self-consciously hip, right? Between those two and the plot involving offshore illegal gambling, and Runner Runner (October 4) could be the bro-down of the month.

But I think the riskier gamble is the Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy collaboration The Counselor (October 25), a movie which appears to be actively resisting description via its trailers or marketing materials. It appears to take place in the Southwest, involve criminals and likely drugs, and Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz are your ostensible protagonists. Only Cameron Diaz's slinky femme fatale is making her intentions perfectly clear. There is potential greatness in this combination of talents -- certainly it would be great to see Scott on top of his game once again -- but the risk factor is high.

Performances to Watch Out For
After its screening at the New York Film Festival last weekend, people were abuzz not only for Paul Greengrass's masterfully tense Captain Phillips (October 11), but especially for the performance of America's dad, Tom Hanks. It's a performance that harnesses all of Hanks's A-lister charisma and gravitas and then takes it to a place you never really expect Tom Hanks to go.

Also this month, look for Benedict Cumberbatch delivering his take on Julian Assange in Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate (October 18), as well as Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan going all Beat Generation on us in Kill Your Darlings (October 18).

Docs to Watch Out For
The Tribeca Film Festival entry Let the Fire Burn (October 2) is a powerful look at a 1985 incident in Philadelphia where authorities first detonated explosives and then allowed a building occupied by a radical group to burn. It's an incendiary film for an incendiary event. Also out this month is American Promise (October 18), which follows a pair of African-American families trying to make the American educational dream work for their kids.

Toughest Opening-Weekend Decision The weekend of October 18 is going to be a tough one, especially if you care about critically acclaimed films and performances (and also if you live in a major American city). Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave and J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost butt up against each other, competing for your art-house dollar. 12 Years a Slave has been the subject of much conversation ever since it blazed a trail through the major film festivals in September. It's been anointed by many as the Oscar front-runner for Best Picture, which is a whole conversation in and of itself. What is hopefully not lost is that this is a breakthrough moment for both director McQueen (Hunger; Shame) and star Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots; Children of Men), and by all accounts from those who have seen it, an incredibly powerful film.

Meanwhile, All Is Lost is a one-man show for star Robert Redford, and one which could end up pulling in a lot of Oscar talk for himself as well. He's won for directing, but he's only even been nominated for his acting once before (for The Sting in 1973). Maybe this is his year?

Best Movie to See With Friends
October is usually a friendly time for group-viewing, what with the Halloween-themed offerings and all. This year, the big-ticket horror item is the remake of Carrie (October 18), from director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don't Cry) and starring Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore. See it with your pals and then spend the next several hours comparing it to the original!

Your other group-viewing option is Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills (October 11). Rodriguez's films are always buckets of pulpy, violent fun, and this one has the bonus of a clown-car of notable co-stars lining up alongside Danny Trejo. Jessica Alba! Antonio Banderas! Sofia Vergara! Vanessa Hudgens! Mel Gibson! Lady Gaga! There's basically someone for everyone to enjoy, so invite lots of people.

Best Movie to See Alone
While it might initially seem like a good idea to bring all your geek/gamer friends to see Zero Charisma (October 11 from Tribeca Film), there's a melancholy undercurrent to the film that might actually be more conducive to a quieter, more thoughtful viewing experience. This is a film that's gotten some great word of mouth, and it may well deserve some concentrated attention. Then again, you could always just go see Romeo & Juliet (October 11) and sigh wistfully at the folly of young love.