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Fall movie season always brings with it a plethora of great performances from actors you probably know (Meryl Streep) and actors you probably don't (Daniel Brühl). It's the time of the year to watch actors display their honed craft with material that both inspires and challenges. Here are some of the performances we're most looking forward to seeing. 

The Cumberbatch Quadruple Threat

If you're not obsessed with British Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch yet—and there are many who are (see: Cumberbitches)—this fall might convert you. Cumberbatch appears (in one form or another) in no fewer than four films due out this fall and he plays a wide variety of roles to boot. His biggest part comes in The Fifth Estate (Oct. 18), Bill Condon's WikiLeaks drama, in which Cumberbatch will have to capture the creepy intelligence of Julian Assange. In addition to his star turn as Assange, Cumberbatch also has roles in 12 Years a Slave (Oct. 18), based on a true story of a free man sold into slavery in the antebellum south, and August: Osage County (Dec. 25), an adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning play. We're interested to see what he does in the latter considering he will be playing against his usual hyper-intelligent type: "Little" Charles Aiken is a simple man who has an affair with someone he's really not supposed to have an affair with. (When we say "really" in this context we mean "really.") And, of course, if that's not enough Cumberbatch for you, you can hear his voice—if not his corporeal form—as the titular dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13). 

The Breakouts 

Oscar Isaac and Daniel Brühl have had smaller parts in movies you've likely already seen like Drive and Inglourious Basterds, but their performances in upcoming films should shoot them into the spotlight. Isaac, a Julliard grad and musician, plays the titular role in the Coen brothers' sure to be great Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec. 20) and Brühl has major supporting parts in both Ron Howard's Rush (Sept. 20), where he plays Formula One racer Niki Lauda, and The Fifth Estate, where he plays WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg. 

The August Ladies 

This fall, depressingly, is not a very good one for breakout performances for women, but August: Osage County should be packed with powerhouse ladies. First off, there's Meryl playing the pill-addicted, sharp tongued matriarch of the family which serves as the focal point of this epic drama. The always-welcome Margo Martindale is her sister.Her daughters are played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson. Meanwhile, Abigail Breslin is stepping into a more mature role as Roberts' pot-smoking daughter. All hell breaks loose in this Oklahoma home and the women will be unleashing the fury. We can't wait. 

The Surprising Turns

Three comedians will take on rare dramatic (or sort of dramatic) parts. Steve Carell dons prosthetics to play a murderer Foxcatcher (Dec. 20), Will Forte is a son helping his ailing father in Alexander Payne's Nebraska (Nov. 22), and Ben Stiller plays a dreaming office worker in his directorial effort The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec. 25). Carell should be creepy, Forte should be poignant, and Stiller should be wistful. They could all be great. 

The Competing Winnie Mandelas

Both Naomie Harris—Bond's Moneypenny—and Jennifer Hudson are tasked with playing Mandela's wife in two different movies. Harris' is the more prestigious project. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Nov. 29) stars Idris Elba and is backed by Harvey Weinstein. Hudson's biopic has the unfortunate label of "long-delayed." But! Hudson, despite the fact that she has never really risen to the heights Dreamgirls may have foretold, looks pretty good in the trailer, and the movie is hers. After all, it's called Winnie Mandela (Sept. 6).

The Long-Awaited McConaughey 

Matthew McConaughey's I'm a real actor not just a back of abs tour continues in The Dallas Buyers Club (Dec. 6), a drama about a hetero-sexual, homophobic man diagnosed with AIDS, who begins helping other patients by smuggling drugs. As Steven Zeitchik writes in the Los Angeles Times, the project has been notoriously hard to get produced with Woody Harrelson and Brad Pitt at times attached. McConaughey lost a scary amount of weight for the role and his recent turns in films like Mud have been nothing short of revelatory. This could be his performance and his year. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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