The days are getting shorter, there's a new hint of crispness in the air, and kids the nation over are getting wild-eyed and desperate. Summer is almost over, which is sad in many ways. We'll miss the weather, the sunlight, the feeling that we're on vacation even if we have work every day. But there is at least one thing to make us excited for fall: Movies! From September to December, studios and indie distributors will unveil their quality fare. Goodbye superhero nonsense (well, except you, Thor) and hello screenplays by Cormac McCarthy, casts fully stocked with the best of the best, and auteur directors unveiling their latest. There's much to look forward to, so here's a preview of what's to come.
What It Is: Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play two close friends living in tropical Australia who end up sleeping with each other's sons. Yeah, it's that movie, the one with the giggle-inducing trailer and the high hunk factor. See it with your girlfriends, with your gay friends, with your work friends, with no friends, with strangers, whatever. Just don't see it with your mom.
Will It Work: A movie with a European-ish sensibility (its director, Anne Fontaine, is a Luxembourger who works in France), and yet set in the wilds of Australia and starring American and Australian movie stars, Adore could be a good hybrid of artsy and accessible, a titillation that's also, y'know, good. Or it could be slow and dreary the way a lot of European-ish sexual dramas can be. Still, everyone involved is lookin' good and, c'mon, what a premise!
What It Is: Robert De Niro plays a mob guy for like the billionth time in this Luc Besson-directed comedy about a family that can't keep a low profile while in witness protection, mostly because they're all kinda crazy. Michelle Pfeiffer is De Niro's supermarket-bombing wife, Dianna Agron his ball-busting daughter, and John D'Leo his petty crook son. They live in a small French town and clearly don't make the locals happy, much to the chagrin of a weary FBI agent, played by professional weary law enforcement agent, Tommy Lee Jones. Of course, eventually the mobsters they're hiding from show up and lots of violent comedy ensues.
Will It Work: Well, Besson has proven himself adept at action comedy before, with the marvelous cult classic bizarrathon The Fifth Element. But that was 16 years ago and he really hasn't made a good movie since. The trailer is amusing enough, mostly for Michelle Pfeiffer's accent, a throwback to her Married to the Mob days. This could be a fun older people action comedy like Red, or a hokey misfire like, well, Red 2.
What It Is: Mark Ruffalo stars in this dramedy as a man struggling with sex addiction who has a meet-cute with Paltrow's character and tries to navigate the relationship while staying on the straight-and-narrow. Josh Gad, Tim Robbins, and Alecia "Pink" Moore play fellow addicts, adding more "medy" to the dramedy than "dra." (Sorry.) It looks that way from the trailer, anyway. The film seems relatively feel-good, but it's a pretty dark topic, so expect to see plenty of "dra," too. (Again, sorry.)
Will It Work: The film's writer/director, Stuart Blumberg, wrote the surprisingly clever and winning The Girl Next Door and has a co-writing credit on the smart, snappy The Kids Are All Right, so there's reason to hope that Thanks For Sharing is a thoughtful, but still funny, autumn entertainment. That said, there is maybe something a little off about mining Gad's character's problems, which involve actual sexual assault, for comedy? It's entirely possible that the movie will handle all these tricky topics with the right amount of sensitivity, but it's a fine line. The film could easily topple over into disaster.
What It Is: Another September movie about sex addiction. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and stars in this comedy about a New Jerseyite guido-type who is struggling with a porn addiction and has a meet-cute with Scarlett Johansson's character and tries to navigate the relationship while, well, not trying to stay on the straight and narrow. See, he doesn't think his rabid porn viewing is a problem. Jon's dad is, somewhat thrillingly, played by Tony Danza, while Julianne Moore plays a woman Jon meets at night school who gives him sex lessons or something. Sounds intriguing!
Will It Work: The movie got a few nice notes at Sundance, and some not so nice ones. The trailer is entertaining, and, like Pfeiffer in The Family, it's always fun to see Johansson doing Jersey tawk. She may not be selling marble columns, but it's something. Between the two sex addiction comedies this month (woof), this seems like the sturdier bet.
What It Is: Director Alfonso Cuarón's first feature film since his 2006 masterpiece Children of Men, Gravity is the story of two astronauts stranded in space after a terrible accident. Well, it's mostly one astronaut. During the lengthy casting process, involving offers to Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman (and rumors of Scarlett Johansson and, shudder, Blake Lively), reports seemed to indicate that the lady astronaut will be alone for a lot of the movie. So this is some heavy lifting for the film's star, Sandra Bullock. She's not only completely carrying a lot of the movie, she's doing so in a genre that isn't really familiar to her. George Clooney (in a role that originally belonged to Robert Downey Jr.) is given equal billing, but we have a sneaking suspicion that he might not last too long.
Will It Work: Cuarón is pretty much a genius. His filmmaking is swift and inventive but always clean and efficient, there's nothing wasted, there's no clutter. And he's not just a technical wizard; he's thoughtful and sensitive and wise. So there's no reason to think that Gravity won't work as beautifully as all his other work. (Yes, even Great Expectations has its moments.) Or, well, hm, there is one reason. Isn't the trailer just a little goofy? Maybe it's the slightly fake-y special effects, but something's off. It will likely be a very different, and more affecting, sequence when it's on the big screen, but as is we're wary. There. It's out there. It's been said. Sorry.
What It Is: Based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave tells the harrowing story of a free black man living a prosperous life in the North who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Northrup is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, finally getting a big, front-and-center role to sink his teeth into. He's joined by a whole host of notable names, among them Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Paul Dano, and everyone's favorite little hush puppy, Quvenzhané Wallis. Between the subject matter, the director, and the cast, this is one of the prestige-iest movies in this prestige movie season.
Will It Work: McQueen's Hunger, about Irish hunger-striker Bobby Sands, showed us that he can do well with a true story of struggle. And Shame, about sex addiction, was visually arresting, if maybe a little overwrought. But this is his first film with any real budget and expansiveness of time and place. The trailer suggests an earnest, straightforward picture with lots of righteous speechifying, which is all well and good, but let's hope that McQueen shows us something new, too. If nothing else, this is worth checking out just to see Ejiofor get his big star turn, something we've been wanting to see again since Dirty Pretty Things ten years ago
What It Is: This is the Julian Assange movie, Bill Condon's take on the fair-haired hacktivist (are we still saying that word?) who sent governments into a frenzy with his secret document-exposing website WikiLeaks. It's unclear how much of the film is an origin story exactly, but it does seem to be set in the early days of the site. Assange, a strange and decidedly controversial figure, is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is uncontroversially adored at the moment. He's in several big movies this fall — 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, The Hobbit — but this is his true standout role. Might his legions of loyal fans have reason to celebrate come awards season?
Will It Work: A film this politically charged is tricky, especially in the wake of the backlash against Zero Dark Thirty. Condon says that the film isn't issuing any value judgments on WikiLeaks or Assange, but the movie has to have some sort of opinion, doesn't it? At least an angle of approach? Assange got his hands on an early copy of the screenplay (if Julian Assange wants a document, Julian Assange gets the document) and publicly criticized it, saying the film is condemning of WikiLeaks and is even cheerleading a war with Iran. In response, producers said that Assange was not looking at the updated script. So, depending on what convictions you bring into the theater, The Fifth Estate could either be a fascinating look at a polarizing cause or a biased smear campaign.
What It Is: Ridley Scott's latest, The Counselor is a crime drama written by Cormac McCarthy, the author's first-ever screenplay not based on previous work. The film concerns a lawyer, played by Michael Fassbender, who gets into drug-running to make some extra cash. Of course things go horribly awry when a shipment is stolen and he's held responsible. Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem play two drug world types who are in cahoots with our hero, while Cameron Diaz creeps around like a dangerous cat and Penelope Cruz runs for her life
Will It Work: The McCarthy factor is certainly interesting, but his terse, sometimes oddly inflected style is not everyone's cup of tea. Ridley Scott is more reliably populist, but he's had an uneven few years. Still, that's an enticing cast and the trailers pulse with a sinister glamor. Fall is a good time for dark, “grownup” pictures, and this is certainly a well-pedigreed example of the form.
...Ken Marino has a monster living in his butt in Bad Milo (10/4) ... Former Newsies dance captain Ryan Steele stars in the dancer-in-the-big-city indie Five Dances (10/4) ... AJ Michalka, Mike from Desperate Housewives, and Kevin Pollak go the Christian movie route, because those pay too, in Grace Unplugged (10/4) ... Please let Runner Runner, a gambling thriller with Ben Affleck, signal the end of Justin Timberlake's ill-advised movie career (10/4) ... Seven years after it was made, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, the horror film that put Amber Heard on the map, gets an American release (10/11) ... Tom Hanks is besieged by Somali pirates in Paul Greengrass's based-on-a-true-story drama Captain Phillips (10/11) ... Someone had the audacity to make a movie about legendary New York rock club CBGB and film most of it in Savannah (10/11) ... The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete was a Sundance hit, about two young brothers caring for each other after their mother, played by Jennifer Hudson, is locked up (10/11) ... Robert Rodriguez is acting like everyone isn't sick of the joke with Machete Kills (10/11) ... Hailee Steinfeld returns to the big screen for the first time since True Grit in Romeo & Juliet, falling in love with the positively ghastly Douglas Booth (10/11) ... Daniel Radcliffe is Allen Ginsberg and Michael C. Hall is David Kammerer (uh oh...) in the Beat era drama Kill Your Darlings (10/16) ... Robert Redford is alone at sea in J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost (10/18) ... For some reason they decided to remake Carrie with Chloe Grace Moretz (and Julianne Moore), so that's great (10/18) ... The coming-of-age lesbian drama Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year (10/25) ... There is another Jackass movie on its way, this one called Jackass: Bad Grampa, so enjoy that (10/25)
What It Is: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in his best friend Martin Scorsese's based-on-a-true-story (a book, even) comedy? drama? thriller? about a crooked boiler room-runner in the go-go '90s. There's a lot of throwing cash around and doing wild 'n' crazy things and slinky, sexy women, but of course with a hint of darkness always gnawing at the edges. DiCaprio is joined by a big, star-studded supporting cast, including Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, and Jean Dujardin. Essentially this is a men behaving badly tale that's likely peppered with some timely allusions to the recent financial shenanigans that sunk this country into a recession.
Will It Work: It all depends on tone. If DiCaprio's character is painted as a villain and not lionized, as Scorsese tends to do for violent, murderous gangsters, then, yes, it could be an interesting look at excess and greed and white collar thievery. But let's remind ourselves that this exact story was already the basis of a popular movie, 2000's Boiler Room, that became an object of worship for a certain subset of bro culture. Might that happen with Wolf of Wall Street too? And if it does, isn't that a little irresponsible and even cruel, as victims of these types of crooks are currently struggling to rebuild their lives? We don't need a return to celebrating the antics of morally deficient Wall Street alpha jerks. Not yet. And maybe not ever.
What It Is: The second film in the adaptation of Suzanne Collins's young adult series about a nightmare future where children are made to fight to the death for the entertainment of the elite, Catching Fire finds our hero Katniss on a victory tour with her co-winner Peeta but pretty quickly thrown right back into danger. The whole gang from the first film is back for this one (except the ones who died, of course, which was a lot of them), along with some unlikely newcomers like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, and Lynn Cohen. Yes, Magda gets in on the action. (And her character's name is Mags!) Oh, and we get the debut of Finnick, the hunkiest tribute that ever hunked.
Will It Work: If director Francis Lawrence, replacing Gary Ross, can get a handle on the world of the story, then this could be a scary, unnerving adventure. But the trouble is, the more complicated Collins's world gets, the more it strains any sense of credibility. There's one major set-piece in Catching Fire that seems like it would be awfully hard to film without stumbling into hokey territory. If Lawrence can wrangle Collins's alternately vague and clunky description into something that makes sense, then we're fine. If he succumbs to it, all is lost. If Catching Fire ultimately can't work as a movie, that may prove our suspicions that the next and final book in the series, Mockingjay, is utterly unfilmable.
What It Is: Encouraged by the success of Tangled, Disney has made another animated fairy tale musical. This one is based, sorta, on The Snow Queen. Kristen Bell voices a plucky young princess who sets out (with a cute boy, natch) to find her sister (Idina Menzel), who has banished herself as punishment for accidentally plunging her kingdom into perpetual winter. Alan Tudyk voices the villain, and Josh Gad provides comic relief as a goofy, um, snowman. The music was written by Avenue Q and Book of Mormon composer Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who has worked with Disney on several other projects.
Will It Work: Hopefully! As much as some grumpy purists (ahem) may still be hoping in vain that Disney will return to the hand-drawn animation of the musicals of yesteryear, this is probably a fair compromise. The annoying one-word titles aside, it's exciting to think that a new generation of kids could soon have their own stable of beloved movies like this, complete with songs that will be stuck in their heads for decades. The creative team involved in this is promising, though the first early teaser is less so. Let's hope that Disney can rekindle some of that old magic, even if it has to be done on a computer.
What It Is: The second Mandela-related biopic of the year (after Jennifer Hudson's Winnie Mandela), this one stars Idris Elba, the dashing Brit actor who is poised on the brink of the really big leagues. This just might be the movie that gives him that last push. Elba is joined by another Brit who deserves to be a bigger star, Naomie Harris, playing Winnie. Mandela looks to be a rough and tumble look at the South African civil rights struggle, with as much action as speechmaking. Given the state of Mandela's health, this could also prove an accidentally timely film.
Will It Work: The trailer is certainly encouraging, gritty and exciting instead of bathed in stately, saintly light. Biopics are a tricky genre, often dull and episodic and uninsightful in their efforts to hit all the big notes. Let's hope that Mandela avoids corniness or cliche and tells the story with honesty and complexity. Regardless of the larger movie, the chance to watch Elba ascend to the valhalla of Hollywood is probably worth the price of admission. (Naomie too.)
What It Is: The latest from the Coen Brothers explores the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene through the eyes of the titular fictional folksinger, a talented neurotic played by Oscar Isaac. He sleeps on couches, plays music, and interacts with all the other scruffy dreamers on the scene. John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, and, ugh, Justin Timberlake join him on the journey.
Will It Work: Well, the film was rapturously received at Cannes, so that's a good indication that it will be something special. And how could it not be? The Coens have been on a hot streak since No Country for Old Men (yes, even Burn After Reading), and this is fascinating subject matter. Plus the music will be nice. This is one of the more promising films of the season.
What It Is: This film, director Bennett Miller's followup to the excellent Moneyball, chronicles the real-life tragedy of David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), an Olympic wrestler who was murdered by his longtime friend John du Pont, a mentally unstable heir who had a fascination with wrestling. Well, the movie is actually more about Schultz's brother Mark, played by Channing Tatum. Most intriguingly, du Pont is played by Steve Carell, trying his hand at the tricky but tantalizing comedy-to-drama conversion. Can he pull it off?
Will It Work: Miller, who also directed Capote, is good at real-life stories, telling them with nuance and compassion and an eye for the gray areas. The casting here is certainly interesting, but there's always the chance it could read more like a stunt than anything else. But we're choosing to be optimistic about this, a grim and peculiar story told by a talented cast and crew. Foxcatcher is a dark horse to keep an eye on once awards discussion starts. (Oh, who are we kidding, it's already started.)
What It Is: A star-studded adaptation of Tracy Letts's brilliant, bruising, Pulitzer-winning play, August is about an Oklahoma family that has just lost its patriarch. Thus they are left to be ruled by mama Violet, a pill-popping, truth-telling harridan whose cruelties and instability have had disastrous effects on her adult children's lives. At times riotously funny but decidedly grim throughout, Letts's play was one of the most thrilling things to see on stage in the last decade. The movie adaptation is going the full awards-bait route, stocking the cast with a who's who of beloved, trophy-winning actors: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, et al. This has Oscar victory written all over it.
Will It Work: Well, it might have victory written all over it. There is some cause to worry about the movie. Mostly it's the trailer that makes us nervous. The tone is completely off, full of uplifting music and sweet musings on family. That is not what the play is at all, so let's hope the trailer is just the result of cynical marketing execs wanting to trick people into coming to the movie, which is hopefully as caustic and ferocious as the play. The casting is a bit off — particularly Roberts and, yes we're gonna say it, Streep — but that can be overlooked if the script stays intact. Right now we're giving it a 50/50 shot. Not bad odds, but not great either.
What It Is: Something of a white whale for many producers, stars, and directors over the years, a remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film (based on a story by James Thurber) has finally come to fruition in the unlikely hands of Ben Stiller. He directs and stars in this big, sprawling film, about a lonely photo editor with an elaborate fantasy life who suddenly finds himself on a real adventure. Kristen Wiig plays the object of Walter's unrequited affection, and Sean Penn appears as some sort of spirit guide. (Judging by the trailer, anyway.) A costly and difficult picture to make, Walter Mitty has a lot on the line, chiefly Stiller's future as a director and actor.
Will It Work: Stiller could go on to win awards and acclaim for Mitty, a vaguely Charlie Kaufmann/Spike Jonze-esque film about the wonder and weirdness of life. As an actor, Stiller has tiptoed into serious territory before — successfully in Greenberg, less so in Permanent Midnight — but this looks to be a full-bodied leap. Not that there won't be comedy elements, the trailer is dripping with whimsy, but this is clearly an attempt to Say Something Big in a way that Stiller hasn't really done before. So it could also be a huge mess, be deemed a over-reaching vanity project, and make him a pariah of Hollywood. We're suckers for a story about a funny man who finally gets some respect, so we're hoping for the former outcome.
...Speaking of finally getting some respect, Matthew McConaughey makes his first truly viable attempt at entering the awards race with the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club (12/6) ... Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star in the gritty steel town crime drama Out of the Furnace (12/6) ... The prolific David O. Russell returns a mere year after Silver Linings Playbook with American Hustle, a drama about the Abscam sting starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence (12/13) ... Bilbo and friends return for another CGI traipse through Middle Earth in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12/13) ... Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney while Emma Thompson is the author of Mary Poppins in Disney's love letter to itself, Saving Mr. Banks (12/13) ... Like any good franchise star, Madea gets her requisite Christmas movie with Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (12/13) ... Spike Jonze's latest, Her, stars Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson as the computer voice he falls in love with (12/18) ... George Clooney directs himself and Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and others in The Monuments Men, about a U.S. military mission to recover and preserve precious art in WWII (12/18) ... Get ready to hear "I'm kind of a big deal" jokes for another ten years when Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens (12/20) ... Asghar Farhadi, the celebrated director of A Separation, returns with The Past, a drama about a French woman and her Iranian husband returning to his native country (12/20) ... Keanu Reeves travels Japan doing battle with magical creatures and other foes in the long-delayed 47 Ronin (12/25) ... Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play old boxers who decide to have one last fight in Grudge Match (12/25) ... Chris Pine is the fourth actor to tackle Tom Clancy's iconic action hero in Kenneth Branagh's (yes) Jack Ryan (12/25) ... Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in Jason Reitman's adaptation of the Joyce Maynard coming-of-age novel Labor Day (12/25) ... Peter Berg gets serious again with Lone Survivor, about a doomed Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan (12/27)
TBA: The Princess Diana biopic starring Naomi Watts, Diana