In "50/50," Joseph-Gordon Levitt, left, plays Adam, who’s suddenly hit with cancer; Seth Rogen plays his best friend.

Fall can be a tough time for movies, particularly after a strong summer like this one. Autumn offerings tend to be the unloved orphans of the movie-marketing machine — the films that studios think are too cerebral to be July blockbusters but not good enough for the winter awards race. But this season brings some films that are stronger than the usual crop — and these five are our most anticipated.

50/50
Apparently, the phrase “Oscar nominee Seth Rogen” isn’t as nuts as it sounds. Early word has “50/50″ headed for top-10 lists everywhere. Joseph-Gordon Levitt (far left, with Rogen) plays Adam, who’s suddenly hit with cancer; Rogen plays his best friend. Opens Sept. 30

Higher Ground
Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with “Higher Ground”; she also stars as Corinne, who joins an evangelical Christian sect in the 1970s but eventually stops fitting in. For added fun, play Spot the Bump: Farmiga was in her second trimester of pregnancy during filming. Opens Sept. 16

Drive
First off, “Drive” is not a car movie a la “The Fast and the Furious.” Second, Ryan Gosling does not take his shirt off in it. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this noir-ish film about a getaway driver (Gosling) trying to do right by his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) when a job goes wrong. Opens Sept. 16

The Ides of March
Ryan Gosling, left, also graces the screen in “The Ides of March,” based on the play “Farragut North.” He’s an idealistic campaign worker trying to get George Clooney elected president. Idealism: What could go wrong? Opens Oct. 7

A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas
Kicking off the holiday season is the latest in this cherished franchise; if you liked the first two films (AND YOU SHOULD), you’ll probably enjoy the third. This time, Harold (John Cho, above left) and Kumar (Kal Penn, above right) destroy Harold’s father-in-law’s Christmas tree and must replace it. Neil Patrick Harris, center, returns as himself, even though he was killed in the last one. Opens Nov. 4