LOS ANGELES -- Taking attendance for big movies you're looking forward to this fall? You're going to be marking a lot of hotly-expected films "absent" and handing out tardy slips.
From "World War Z" to "The Great Gatsby," to Sandra Bullock's sci-fi epic "Gravity" to the renegade cops period piece "Gangster Squad," you could have built a seriously buzzed-about cinema season over the films yanked for more work or for greener pastures among 2013's release dates.
But enough bad news. We'll make do with "The Hobbit" and "The Master," "Les Miserables" and Liam Neeson ("Taken 2").
It's the serious cinema season, when comic-book adaptations like "Judge Dredd" open opposite Oscar's beloved Judge Clint (Eastwood, in "Trouble With the Curve").
More than anything else, this fall is a movie mystery. Which films will break out, which will earn awards buzz and become Oscar contenders?
Will "The Hobbit" (Dec. 14) give us Peter Jackson at his hairy-footed best, right at home in his New Zealand "Middle Earth"? Or will we get the Jackson of "King Kong" and "The Lovely Bones," a technocrat a bit off his game?
Can Tyler Perry take over for Morgan Freeman as "Alex Cross" (Oct. 19) and score a hit without wearing a dress?
Daniel Day-Lewis may be the spitting image of Honest Abe, but will Spielberg's epic "Lincoln" (Nov. 21) be the Oscar bait everybody expects?
Will "Les Miserables" (Dec 14) be as moving as its trailer, and will the original "1 percent vs. 99 percent" story surf the zeitgeist to become a blockbuster?
Can Tom Cruise overcome a tabloid divorce and fan backlash over his casting as the tall and tough detective fiction icon "Jack Reacher" (Dec. 21)?
Will Scientology overcome the bad press swirling around Cruise and John Travolta, and "The Master" (Sept. 21), a veiled version of the founding of L. Ron Hubbard's religion? Should Ben Affleck's latest high-tone thriller, "Argo," about smuggling Americans out of Iran (Oct. 12), officially make him Warner Brothers' new Clint Eastwood?
Could Russell Crowe's gamble on a martial arts spatter picture ("The Man With the Iron Fists," Nov. 2), directed by a rapper and "presented" by Quentin Tarantino, pay off? Or will "Les Miz" be his best shot at a comeback? Is Christmas Day really the right time to release a Tarantino slave-revenge "South-Western" ("Django Unchained")?
Might "Zero Dark 30" take us as far inside the years-long hunt for Osama bin Laden as we'd expect from the people who gave us "The Hurt Locker?"
And will the video-game inspired comedy "Wreck it Ralph" (Nov.2) or the Easter Bunny-Santa-Tooth Fairy action-adventure "Rise of the Guardians" (Nov. 21) rule the animated roost this holiday season?
What dark horse contenders (Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," for instance) will be added to the mix? Or will this fall and winter have us begging for January, when all these delayed movies start trickling out as the (possibly) "best of 2013?"
All those movie mysteries and more will be solved between now and New Year's Eve. Unless, of course, more studios lose their nerve, more films earn tardy slips and the Oscar cupboard looks even more bare than it seems now.