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Fall’s hopes?

Led by Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio, Hollywood optimistic about the upcoming film season

Brad Pitt reinvents baseball, while Kristen Stewart acquires a taste for blood.

George Clooney runs for president, while Meryl Streep impersonates Margaret Thatcher.

Leonardo DiCaprio puts America under surveillance, while Robert Downey Jr. faces a criminal mastermind.

Variety abounds in Hollywood’s fall slate as studios pack the schedule with Oscar hopefuls, action flicks, comedy and music-themed tales – as well as a family lineup that brings the return of the Muppets, dancing penguins, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Puss in Boots.

Downey’s back in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (Dec. 16) as the great detective and his ally Watson (Jude Law) meet archenemy Professor Moriarty.

Clooney directs and stars as a White House aspirant in “The Ides of March” (Oct. 7), with Ryan Gosling as an aide who stumbles onto disturbing campaign secrets.

Stewart reunites with vampire lover Robert Pattinson and werewolf pal Taylor Lautner in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” (Nov. 18), the next-to-last chapter in their supernatural saga.

The season also brings Martin Scorsese’s 3-D family film “Hugo” (Nov. 23), about an orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station; “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (Dec. 21), with Tom Cruise’s elite team going rogue after an attack on the Kremlin; the comedy “Jack and Jill” (Nov. 11), with Adam Sandler in dual roles as a family guy and his pesky sister; and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Dec. 21), an adaptation of the Swedish best-seller starring Daniel Craig as a journalist aided on an investigation by a deeply troubled computer genius (Rooney Mara).

Real people provide intriguing stories as Streep seeks to add to her record 16 Oscar acting nominations, playing the British prime minister in “The Iron Lady” (Dec. 16, limited release); Pitt takes over the Oakland A’s front office as pioneering baseball strategist Billy Beane in “Moneyball” (Sept. 23); and DiCaprio takes on the sweeping life of FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover in “J. Edgar” (Nov. 11), directed by Clint Eastwood.

The film spans decades, covering the bureau’s successes taking down gangsters in the 1930s, Hoover’s paranoia about communists and civil-rights leaders, and questions about his sexual preferences.

“He was surrounded in mystery,” DiCaprio says.

Hollywood is giving a fresh start to familiar titles and characters. Among them: the animated sequel “Happy Feet Two” (Nov. 18), with Elijah Wood’s tap-dancing penguin coping with fatherhood issues; “Puss in Boots” (Nov. 4), an animated “Shrek” spinoff chronicling the early adventures of Antonio Banderas’ gutsy cat; and “The Muppets” (Nov. 23), the first big-screen outing in more than a decade for the beloved puppet gang, with Jason Segel and Amy Adams as a couple helping to reunite Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends for a telethon to save the Muppet theater from the clutches of an evil oilman (Chris Cooper).

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked!” (Dec. 16) has the talking rodents stranded on a remote island; “The Thing” (Oct. 14) is a prequel to the 1982 horror tale about Antarctic researchers terrorized by an organism that replicates human forms; and “Footloose” (Oct. 14) stars newcomer Kenny Wormald as a youth rebelling against a town’s ban on dancing.

“Footloose” director Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”) was 13 when he saw the 1984 original.

“I made it for a new generation, but I’m a filmmaker because of ‘Footloose,’ ” he says. “I think I’m actually a better man because of ‘Footloose.’ ”

Peter Jackson, a producer on the animated “The Adventures of Tintin” (Dec. 23), shares a similar childhood fondness for Belgian writer Herge’s stories of the intrepid young reporter.

But like most Americans, director Steven Spielberg never heard of Tintin until he was in his 30s, after French critics compared the character to Indiana Jones when 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out.

Spielberg also directs the live action “War Horse” (Dec. 28), which follows the travels of a horse that journeys from rural England through the battlefields of Europe during World War I.

Other films for the fall and holidays include “Tower Heist” (Nov. 4), with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy orchestrating a revenge raid on a swindling tycoon; “Arthur Christmas” (Nov. 23), an animated adventure about a youth (voiced by James McAvoy) who delves into Santa’s high-tech operation; “Real Steel” (Oct. 7), starring Hugh Jackman as an ex-fighter training a robot boxer in a world where machines have taken over in the ring.

“In Time” (Oct. 28) features Justin Timberlake on the run in a future where people scramble for time allotments to stay alive; “Immortals” (Nov. 11) stars Henry Cavill and Freida Pinto in a clash of ancient Greek gods and heroes; and “The Big Year” (Oct. 14) casts Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as rivals in a bird-watching competition.

There’s also “Dream House” (Sept. 30), starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz as a couple whose new home holds terrible secrets; “New Year’s Eve” (Dec. 9), an ensemble tale set on the last night of the year that features Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel and Hilary Swank; “The Sitter” (Dec. 9), with Jonah Hill as the world’s worst babysitter; “Young Adult” (Dec. 9, limited release), starring Charlize Theron as a writer reconnecting with hometown classmates; and “Contagion” (Sept. 9), tracing a deadly virus as it sweeps around the globe.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Contagion” has an all-star ensemble led by Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law.

Shunning Hollywood conventions, Soderbergh aimed for a fact-based thriller that would authentically capture how authorities and the general public might respond to a viral threat.

“The more realistic it is, the scarier it is, and we just spent a lot of time not only on the science, but sort of analyzing interpersonal behavior in these kinds of situations,” he says.