NEW YORK — Unable to find her second directing project, Angelina Jolie took to sifting through "generals."
Looking for a diamond in the rough, the actress-turned-director searched the movies that studios owned but weren't making.
"So I scanned through these generals and landed on 'Unbroken,' a story of resilience and strength and the human spirit, of faith and survival at sea," says Jolie. "It was about three sentences and I came home and I said to Brad, 'What about this one?' And he said, 'Oh, honey, that one's been around forever.' It had a reputation for being one that never gets done."
But "Unbroken" — the true tale of Louis Zamperini, a track star who was lost in the Pacific for 47 days after his plane was shot down during World War II — stuck with Jolie, even though it had been kicking around Hollywood for decades.
"So I fought for it and I fought for it and I fought for it," says Jolie. "It took me months of fighting to get the job."
Unconventional: Even for the world's most famous stars, determination is a necessary ingredient for the fall movie season. Few of the fall's films haven't had to claw their way to theaters. It's a season for the movies' most unconventional thinkers, the ones dedicated to making a tragic Olympic wrestler drama or finding humor in North Korea.
Led by "Unbroken" (Dec. 25), this year's fall is a battlefield of war stories, including Jolie's (new) husband Brad Pitt on the Western Front in "Fury" (Oct. 17), a WWII drama about a tank of American soldiers. Clint Eastwood also returns for his second film this year with "American Sniper" (Dec. 25), starring Bradley Cooper as an elite Navy SEAL marksman.
American tales, both triumphant and warped, will be numerous. In the based-on-a-true-story "Foxcatcher" (Nov. 14) from Bennett Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball"), an Olympic wrestler (Channing Tatum) is taken in by a rich but demented benefactor (Steve Carell). A year after David Oyelowo and Oprah Winfrey co-starred in "The Butler," they reteam for "Selma" (Dec. 25), in which Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King.
In "The Interview" (also Dec. 25) from Seth Rogen and his directing partner Evan Goldberg, Rogen and James Franco play journalists asked by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un. It's distinguished as the only autumn film a country has asked President Obama to block.
An almost as unlikely international pairing comes in "Rosewater," Jon Stewart's adaptation of a Maziar Bahari memoir about being imprisoned for 118 days for reporting for Newsweek on the 2009 Iranian elections. Stewart, who hadn't directed before, jumped in as a writer and director only because he and Bahari were unable to find someone else.
"We were four months into it and nothing was done," says Stewart. "For me, who's used to topical comedy on TV — the single most ephemeral thing you can produce — you have an idea at 9 in the morning and by 6 o'clock, it's done. In some ways, it was impatience with the process. So I just told Maziar, let me just write this thing."
Festival circuit: Many of the upcoming films — like Alejandro Inarritu's "Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" (Oct. 17) with Michael Keaton, and the Reese Witherspoon drama "Wild" (Dec. 5) — will drum up anticipation on the festival circuit and hope to be drafted into the awards season industrial complex, an increasingly all-consuming annual rite of hype-soaked frenzy.
"Absolutely where I connected to Andrew was his drive and his ambition," says Miles Teller, the 27-year-old actor whose 2013 breakout with "The Spectacular Now" will continue with "Whiplash." "You can look at this movie and say, 'It's destroying him. It's killing him. He's giving away his humanity for his art.' But a lot of people go through life not caring about anything remotely as much as Andrew cares about drumming."
Whereas Teller is a fresh face to the gauntlet of awards season, David Fincher is a seasoned veteran — one who has consistently avoided the season's trappings. He directs one of the fall's most anticipated movies, "Gone Girl" (Oct. 3), an adaptation of the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, starring Ben Affleck. Though the story's twists are famous, Fincher says he was drawn by the murder mystery's portrait of narcissism, the 24-hour news cycle and "the notion of tragedy vampirism."
More debuts: Other heavyweight filmmakers, of course, will be debuting films this fall, including Paul Thomas Anderson's Thomas Pynchon adaptation, "Inherent Vice" (Dec. 12), starring Joaquin Phoenix. But no film is more eagerly awaited than Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" (Nov. 7), a philosophical science fiction thriller starring Matthew McConaughey. A year after his Oscar win for "Dallas Buyers Club," the McConaissance is going to space.
Biopics: On tap are biopics on Jimi Hendrix ("Jimi: All Is by my Side," Sept. 26), Stephen Hawking ("The Theory of Everything," Nov. 7) and British painter J.M.W. Turner ("Mr. Turner," Oct. 31); revenge dramas with Liam Neeson ("A Walk Among the Tombstones," Sept. 19) and Denzel Washington ("The Equalizer," Sept. 26); and posthumous releases from Robin Williams ("A Merry Friggin' Christmas," Nov. 7), James Gandolfini (the Brooklyn crime film "The Drop," Sept. 12) and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1," Nov. 21).
After a weak overall summer box office, movies like "Mockingjay," the Will Smith-produced musical "Annie" (Dec. 19), Ridley Scott's Moses epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings" (Dec. 12) and Peter Jackson's final Tolkien film, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (Dec. 17) will try to bring the crowds back.
No movie will offer more pronounced cross-programming to the prestige pictures of autumn than "Dumb and Dumber To" (Nov.14), the long-in-the-works sequel to the 1994 Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy of extreme idiocy. But even the resurrection of fools required serious conviction.
"There was the battle of 'that was then, this is now,' and, 'It's not going to work.' All those guys keep their job by saying no," says Daniels. "But we kept going, 'How can this miss?' Jim and I would look at each other and say, 'This is a no-brainer' — so to speak."