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10 things to look for at this year’s fall movies

Out with the summer, in with the fall movies. Please hurry.

After a bruising three months when moviegoers often had to strain to find something good to see, the fall movies this year like an oasis. It’s about to get better at the multiplex. Here are 10 movies, performances and story lines that AP film writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle are most looking forward to, come autumn:

"Manchester by the Sea"
“Manchester by the Sea”

LONERGAN-MANIA: Little is settled about this fall’s coming awards season except for this: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (Nov. 18) is one of the best films of the year. Already celebrated at its Sundance premiere, it’s the third film from the acclaimed New York playwright following the wonderful You Can Count on Me and the criminally underseen Margaret. Casey Affleck excels as a small-town New Englander haunted by tragedy. Lonergan’s naturalistic touch and deft feel for the rhythms and details of life remain unmatched. — Jake Coyle

ANG LEE, INNOVATOR: Ang Lee is continually pushing cinema to new technological heights, and his adaptation of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11) is no less ambitious than bringing a hyper realistic CG Bengal tiger to the frames of Life of Pi. The first screening will be in 4K, 3D and 120 frames per second — essentially, hyper reality. Oh, and he also manages to meld all that tech talk with some extremely resonant stories. Take us there, Mr. Lee. — Lindsey Bahr

A MORE DIVERSE OSCARS: After two straight years of “OscarsSoWhite” blanketing a dishearteningly homogenous Academy Awards, a richly diverse array of possible nominees is lining up for this season. Though a rape case from the past is clouding the once-bright fortunes of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, a revamped Academy of Motion Pictures may be hard pressed to ignore the likes of Denzel Washington’s Fences (Dec. 16), Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (Oct. 21), Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures (Dec. 25) and Jeff Nichols’ interracial marriage tale Loving (Nov. 4). — Coyle

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in "Fences"
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences”

FEMALE DIRECTORS TO (RE)DISCOVER: While the percentage of female directors remains dismal, there are a number of exciting projects from new and veteran talents this fall, like the feature debuts of Julia Hart (Miss Stevens, Sept. 16) and Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen, Nov. 18). Also coming are fall movies from exciting veterans like Jocelyn Moorehouse (The Dressmaker, Sept. 23), Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Sept. 30) and Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Oct. 14). — Bahr

EMMA STONE GETS A PROPER SHOWCASE: How do you come off of a dud like Aloha? By singing, dancing and romancing your way back into America’s hearts in what could be a career-defining performance in Damien Chazelle’s musical love story La La Land (Dec. 16) of course. Stone stars as Mia, a struggling actress in Los Angeles who falls for a moody musician in the form of Ryan Gosling. Looking like Singing in the Rain meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, La La Land — and Stone’s touching melodies and emotive almond eyes — promises to have audiences swooning and sobbing in no time. — Bahr

SMARTER SPECTACLES: Even the blockbusters among this year’s fall movies look more enticing than the summer’s. There’s Denzel in glorious cowboy-hero mode in The Magnificent Seven (Sept. 23), Peter Berg’s visceral true tale Deepwater Horizon (Sept. 30), the brainy smarts of Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (Nov. 4), the mind-bending sci-fi of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (Nov. 11) and the cozy fantasy of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18). Oh, and another little Star Wars film is coming: Gareth Edwards’ spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16). — Coyle

OLD HOLLYWOOD THROUGH BEATTY’S LENS: The Golden Age of Hollywood holds a not-so-surprising allure for directors of a certain age, but perhaps none has seemed quite as suited to the task as Warren Beatty, coming off of a 15-year hiatus from acting and an 18-year break from directing with his long-time-coming Rules Don’t Apply (Nov. 23), once simply known as the Warren Beatty Howard Hughes pic. Beatty plays Hughes, but it looks to be more of a showcase for a youthful romance between an aspiring actress (Lily Collins) and her driver (young Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich). — Bahr

Shia  LeBeouf in "American Honey"
Shia LeBeouf in “American Honey”

HAILEE STEINFELD GROWS UP: Steinfeld was just 13 when she made her Oscar-nominated breakout in the Coen brothers True Grit in 2010. In Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen (Nov. 18) — a coming-of-age tale in the John Hughes tradition — her maturation is self-evident. As a whip-smart but confidence-lacking high-schooler, Steinfeld navigates embarrassment after embarrassment with wit and spirit. — Coyle

THE UNDERSTATED MIKE MILLS: Director Mike Mills takes his time between projects, but each is a lovely, whispered little cinematic event, from the tender Thumbsucker to the achingly poignant Beginners. His latest, 20th Century Women (Dec. 21), takes him back in time to 1979 Santa Barbara, where three women (Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) explore what love and freedom means in their time. — Bahr

A LEGITIMATELY GOOD SHIA LABEOUF: Performance-art theatrics have overshadowed the transformation Shia LaBeouf has undergone. He’s made it easy to not take him seriously in recent years, and maybe that’s been the point. But in Andrea Arnold’s Midwest teenage odyssey, American Honey (Sept. 30), LaBeouf and breakout star Sasha Lane are exceptional. This year’s fall movies offer your opportunity to 1) See why LaBeouf was sporting a rattail last year; 2) Watch him dance to Rihanna on a Walmart check-out counter; and 3) See the vibrant latest from one of the most interesting directors currently working. — Coyle

 

Perinatal dolphin deaths likely result of oil exposure

The increased number of stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the Gulf of Mexico from 2010 to 2013 were likely caused by chronic illnesses in mothers who were exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

A new paper, published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, is part of an effort to explain the unusual mortality event in the Gulf of Mexico involving bottlenose dolphins between early 2010 and continuing into 2014.

The investigations into both the fetal dolphin and the overall the effects of the Deepwater oil spill are continuing. The long-term effects of the spill on dolphin reproduction are still unknown.

The study found a higher rate of illness in dead fetuses and newborns after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr.Teri Rowles, veterinarian, co-author on the study, and head of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which is charged with determining the causes of these events.

“In contrast to control populations, we found that Gulf of Mexico bottlenose dolphins were particularly susceptible to late-term pregnancy failures, signs of fetal distress and development of in utero infections including brucellosis,” said Dr. Kathleen Colegrove,  the study’s lead author and veterinary pathology professor at the University of Illinois Chicago-based Zoological Pathology Program.

Scientists saw higher numbers of stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins in the spill zone in 2011 than in other years, particularly in Mississippi and Alabama.

“The young dolphins, which died in the womb or shortly after birth, were significantly smaller than those that stranded during previous years and in other geographic locations,” said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, study co-author and veterinary epidemiologist from the National Marine Mammal Foundation.

Bottlenose dolphins are pregnant for about 380 days, so stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the early months of 2011 could have been exposed in the womb to petroleum products released the previous year.

“Pregnant dolphins losing fetuses in 2011 would have been in the earlier stages of pregnancy in 2010 during the oil spill,” said Colegrove.

The researchers report that 88 percent of the stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the spill zone had abnormal lung, including partially or completely collapsed lungs. That and their small size suggest that they died in the womb or very soon after birth – before their lungs had a chance to fully inflate. Only 15 percent of stillborn and juvenile dolphins  found in areas unaffected by the spill had this lung abnormality, the researchers said.

A previous study revealed that non-perinatal bottlenose dolphins that stranded in the spill zone after the spill were much more likely than other stranded dolphins to have severe lung and adrenal gland damage “consistent with petroleum product exposure.”

The study team included researchers from the University of Illinois; National Marine Mammal Foundation; NOAA; the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South Alabama; the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi; the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Animal Health Center in British Columbia; the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida; the University of Georgia; and the University of North Carolina.

This study was conducted in conjunction with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as the investigation into the northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event.

Bottlenose dolphins have been dying in record numbers in their mothers' womb or shortly after birth in areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. — PHOTO: NOAA
Bottlenose dolphins have been dying in record numbers in their mothers’ womb or shortly after birth in areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. — PHOTO: NOAA

The Gulf of Mexico: Resilient but scarred 5 years after Deepwater Horizon spill

Five years after the BP well explosion, there is no single, conclusive answer to how the Gulf of Mexico is doing, but there are many questions. Here are some of them:

WHAT DO SCIENTISTS SAY?

To assess the health of the Gulf of Mexico, The Associated Press surveyed 26 marine scientists about two dozen aspects of the fragile ecosystem to see how this vital waterway has changed since before the April 2010 spill. On average, the researchers graded an 11 percent drop in the overall health of the Gulf.

The surveyed scientists on average said that before the spill, the Gulf was a 73 on a 0 to 100 scale. Now it’s a 65. In the survey, scientists report the biggest drops in rating the current health of oysters, dolphins, sea turtles, marshes, and the seafloor.

WHAT HAPPENED TO DOLPHINS?

Common bottlenose dolphins have been dying at a record rate in northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico since the BP spill, according to NOAA and other scientists who have published studies on the figures. From 2002 to 2009, the Gulf averaged 63 dolphin deaths a year. That rose to 125 in the seven months after the spill in 2010 and 335 in all of 2011, averaging more than 200 a year since April 2010.

That’s the longest and largest dolphin die-off ever recorded in the Gulf. But the number of deaths has started to decline, said Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Marine Mammal Foundation and a lead author of studies on the dolphin mortality.

In its report on the Gulf five years after the spill, BP said necropsies of dolphins and “other information reveal there is no evidence to conclude that the Deepwater Horizon accident had an adverse impact on bottlenose dolphin populations.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO TURTLES?

The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle used to look like a success story for biologists. It was in deep trouble and on the endangered list, but a series of actions, such as the use of turtle excluder devices, had the population soaring and it was looking like the species soon would be upgraded to merely threatened, said Selina Saville Heppell, a professor at Oregon State University.

Then, after the spill, the number of nests dropped 40 percent in one year in 2010. “We had never seen a drop that dramatic in one year before,” Heppell said. The population climbed in 2011 and 2012 but then fell again in 2013 and 2014, down to levels that haven’t been that low in nearly a decade, she said.

There is not enough data or research to blame the oil spill with scientific rigor, “but it’s a remarkable coincidence, isn’t it?” Heppell said. BP in its report said: “The changing nesting trends could be due to many factors including natural variability and record cold temperatures.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO FISH?

University of South Florida marine scientist Steve Murawski sees problems — tumors, lesions and oil traces in internal organs —in key fish such as red snapper, kingsnake eels and especially tilefish. Carcinogenic chemicals associated with oil appear to have gotten through the skin of these bottom-dwelling fish, he said.

“Their livers have fresh Macondo oil in them,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

BP’s report said commercial catches for finfish “continue to exceed immediate pre-spill levels.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO BIRDS?

There have been at least two surveys of bird populations in Barataria Bay, the scene of the heaviest oiling and an important stopping place for numerous migratory bird species. Those surveys of shore birds and migratory birds found no obvious problems. But a recent study of native seaside sparrows in Barataria has found bird counts down.

BP said “analysis and field observations conducted to date indicate any impacts on bird populations and nesting were limited and were followed by a strong recovery.”

HOW ARE THE MARSHES?

Oil hit about 620 miles of Louisiana’s marshland. A lot of science has gone into studying the spill’s effects on the marsh, in particular in the Barataria Bay area. And Barataria is not a pretty picture. Tar balls and mats are routinely found here. Fishing remains closed in parts of the bay.

An entire mangrove island, an important bird colony, has nearly disappeared under the water. Satellite imagery shows that about a foot of marsh has been eaten away along many shorelines here. In the plants and animals scientists have identified oil contamination and they are tracking its progression in fish, birds, mice, dolphins and insects. 

BP said by 2014, “only 0.7 miles remained heavily oiled.”

HOW ARE THE BEACHES?

After an intense focus on cleaning up the Gulf’s beaches, traces of the spill are hard to find along the sugar white sands of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. But there are places, in particular at the extremities of south Louisiana, where large oil mats are resting, getting churned up by waves and engrained with sand deposits and the fragile delta ecosystem already stressed by sea level rise, hurricanes and a host of other man-made harms.

WHERE DID THE OIL GO?

“It’s not all gone,” said former U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt. Her team calculated that most of the oil evaporated, dissolved or dispersed. Two peer-reviewed studies by separate respected teams in 2014 and 2015 found that up to 10 million gallons of oil is left on the seafloor; one of them compared it to a bathtub ring. BP disputed those figures.

WHAT DON’T WE KNOW?

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief scientist Richard Spinrad said the government hopes to finish its five-year assessment on the health of the Gulf by the end of the year, so it is too early to make any real conclusions. Some problems may show up later. It was not until 10 years after 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill that scientists noticed a dramatic crash in the vital herring population.

EPA: BP oil spill affected half-mile of Lake Michigan

Crews for oil giant BP are working to clean up an undetermined amount of crude oil that spilled into Lake Michigan and affected about a half-mile section of shoreline near Chicago following a malfunction at BP’s northwestern Indiana refinery, officials said.

The spill reported Monday afternoon by BP appears to have been contained by company crew members who deployed absorbent booms around the spill site, said Mike Beslow, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said the area affected by the spill was a cove along the Lake Michigan at the company’s sprawling Whiting refinery, which covers about 1,400 acres.

The spill is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago but was not expected to pose any threat to municipal water supplies that draw on the lake’s water, Beslow said.

A Coast Guard flyover of the area Tuesday did not reveal any oil outside the containment booms, Beslow said during a Tuesday afternoon media briefing, “but there is oil on the beach that is being addressed.”

Beslow said BP crews were using vacuum trucks to suck up the corralled oil and were cleaning up oil along 2,700 feet of private shoreline the company owns at the Whiting site, he said.

The EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard were supervising that work, Beslow said.

Beslow said the Coast Guard was working with BP officials to determine how much oil had been discharged into the lake.

Dean, the BP spokesman, said northerly winds were helping contain the oil by pushing it toward the shoreline.

“It’s in the lake, yes, but it’s not moving around freely. It’s been kind of contained because of the weather and of the geography of the lakefront there,” Dean said.

BP said in a statement Tuesday evening that it believes that “an upset at a crude distillation unit may have sent crude oil into the refinery’s cooling water outfall and then into the lake.”

The company said it has taken steps to prevent another discharge and might have an estimate today on how much oil was spilled.

BP initially reported to the EPA that when its workers discovered the spill they observed an oily sheen that covered about 5,000 square yards, said Susan Hedman, the EPA’s regional administrator.

Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said an agency official who was at the scene around 2 a.m. Tuesday had reported “a large sheen on the lake.”

Hedman said the EPA is not aware of any previous oil spills at the site, but the agency is just beginning its assessment of this week’s spill.

“EPA’s lawyers will be looking into this matter and determining whether or not enforcement action is appropriate,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, said in a statement that the incident “underscores the importance of vigilance in protecting our Great Lakes from oil spills.”

“We are fortunate that the spill appears to have been quickly contained, but I will continue to monitor developments to ensure that the cleanup is rapid and complete,” Levin said.

25 years later, Exxon Valdez spill effects linger

Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, there was the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, at the time the largest oil spill in the U.S.

The 987-foot tanker, carrying 53 million gallons of crude, struck Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989. Within hours, it unleashed an estimated 10.8 million gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the water. Storms and currents then smeared it over 1,300 miles of shoreline.

For a generation of people around the world, the spill was seared into their memories by images of fouled coastline in Prince William Sound, of sea otters, herring and birds soaked in oil, of workers painstakingly washing crude off the rugged beaches.

Twenty five years later, most of the species have recovered, said Robert Spies, a chief science adviser to governments on the oil spill restoration program from 1989 to 2002. But some wildlife, as well as the people who live in the region, are still struggling.

Here’s a look at what’s changed since the spill:

FISHERMAN

Bernie Culbertson was preparing to fish cod when the Exxon Valdez ran aground. With oil in the water, fishing came to a standstill and life for he and other fishermen drastically changed.

“The bottom fell out of the price of fish,” he said. Pink salmon that sold for 80 cents per pound fell to 8 cents per pound. Consumers turned to farm fish or tuna out of fear of tainted salmon. His boat caught 2.5 million pounds of pinks one season and lost money.

Culbertson turned to other fisheries, traveling as far as California. Fishing 12 months a year, his marriage failed. Friends couldn’t repay loans and lost boats or homes. Exxon compensation checks, minus what fishermen earned on spill work, arrived too late for many.

The fisheries today are not the same. “The shrimp are slowly, slowly coming back. The crab aren’t back. The herring aren’t back. The salmon are back in abundance,” he said.

INDUSTRY

At the time of the spill, complacency among government officials and the oil industry had set in after a dozen years of safe shipments, said Mark Swanson, director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council and a former Coast Guard officer.

When the tanker ran aground, for instance, spill response equipment was buried under snow. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in 1989 had 13 oil skimmers, five miles of boom and storage capacity for 220,000 gallons of spilled oil.

Now, Alyeska has 108 skimmers, 49 miles of boom and on-water storage capacity of almost 38 million gallons. North Slope oil must be transported in double-hull tankers, which must be escorted by two tugs. Radar monitors the vessel’s position as well as that of icebergs.

The company conducts two major spill drills are conducted each year. And nearly 400 local fishing boat owners are trained to deploy and maintain boom.

PACIFIC HERRING

After the spill, the population of herring crashed. It is now listed as “not recovering.” The silvery fish is a key species because it is eaten by salmon, seabirds and marine mammals from otters to whales. Four years after the spill, the estimated herring population based on modeling shrunk from 120 metric tons to less than 30 metric tons.

How that happened remains a question, said Scott Pegau, research program manager for the Oil Spill Recovery Institute in Cordova, Alaska.

Here’s what’s known: Adult herring feed on zooplankton, which crashed for three years after the spill. With less to eat, herring may have been more susceptible to disease normally fended off within a herring population.

Herring populations can stabilize at a low or high number, but something has prevented a rebound. Oil likely is no longer a factor, Pegau said.

SEA OTTERS

Responders estimated that as many as 3,000 sea otters died the first year. Hundreds more died in the years after of exposure to oil that persisted in sediment, where otters dig for clams.

Three factors could have had an impact on the otters’ ability to survive. Oiled fur loses insulating value. Otters ingest oil as they groom, and researchers years after the spill found blood chemistry evidence consistent with liver damage. Grooming takes time away from feeding.

“One of the lessons we can take from this is that the chronic effects of oil in the environment can persist for decades,” said Brenda Ballachey, who moved to Alaska a few months after the spill and spent the next summer dissecting sea otter carcasses collected from beaches and frozen.

The U.S. Geological Survey research biologist is the lead author of a federal study released last month that concludes that sea otters have finally returned to pre-spill numbers.

PIGEON GUILLEMOTS

The pigeon guillemot, which looks like a black pigeon with web feet, is one species that has not recovered. Numbers were declining before the spill. An estimated 2,000 to 6,000 guillemots, or 10 to 15 percent of the population in spill areas, died from acute oiling.

Researchers suspect river otters, mink and other predators targeted guillemot eggs as an alternative to foraging on oiled beaches.

Like sea otters and another bird that took years to recover, harlequin ducks, pigeon guillemot’s forage for invertebrates in sediment and likely were affected by lingering oil, said David Irons, a seabirds expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The decline of its other prey, juvenile herring, didn’t help. Numbers continue to decline in both oiled and non-oiled areas. Irons has proposed reducing mink numbers on the heavily oiled Naked Islands, once prime habitat for guillemots, to restore their numbers.

Oiled up

Proponents for clean energy and a diminished reliance on oil joined in the Hands Across the Sand demonstration June 26. But guys in the Castro showed their opposition to drilling and their support for the environment in another way. In a uniquely San Fran fundraiser, gay men stripped and wrestled in oil – vegetable not petroleum – to raise money to help rescue wildlife threatened in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In deep water

St. Louis physics professor Jonathan Katz recently got yanked from a panel appointed to advise the Obama administration on its response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Katz was one of five scientists appointed to the advisory panel. He was removed after Department of Energy officials learned of some of his non-scientific writings, including Web site posts defending homophobia and questioning the value of racial diversity efforts. A DOE spokesperson said the controversy over Katz’ beliefs had become a distraction.