We did it. They said this summer movie season would kill us. They said that "Grown Ups 2" would be the end of civilization as we know it. But we clung to those "Gravity" teasers like they were the only beacon of hope in an infinite universe of Ryan Reynolds films, and now Labor Day is almost within our reach. It's finally time to get something in return for the several billion dollars that we spent at the box office over the last few months, it's finally time to see what all that money bought us: four months of movies that at least try to be worth your time. Four months of movies that, for the most part, present themselves as cinema first and product second. For better or worse (mostly better), these are the films that we're going to be talking about for the next six months, and most likely the films that will represent the cinema of 2013 for the next six decades.
Our preview is designed to be comprehensive rather than tightly curated, but if a certain film was omitted don't worry, it was only because I couldn't possibly be bothered to write a blurb for it (or, in the case of something like Jia Zhangke's "A Touch of Sin", I couldn't pin down an accurate release date). Please keep in mind that with awards season invariably comes awards season gamesmanship, and so these release dates are subject to change, especially those for the films currently slated to bow in November and December.
So sit back, peek into the future, and get excited for that wonderful time of year when Hollywood gives back. You've certainly earned it.
“RIDDICK” (David Twohy)
“Pitch Black” was a delightfully severe slice of sci-fi, a taut and stylish movie that played to the strengths of a then-unknown Vin Diesel in order to marry a rich horror atmosphere with gritty alien gunplay. Unfortunately, like all moderately successful genre films in today’s Hollywood, the modest film was targeted for franchise potential, leading to 2004’s mega-sized and thoroughly useless “The Chronicles of Riddick.” For the third installment of this unlikely series, Diesel and director David Twohy attempt a happy medium between the two previous outings, scaling back from “Chronicles” while also taking advantage of Diesel’s star power to add some muscle to this tale of everyone’s favorite escaped convict fending off alien predators on a distant planet.
“ADORE” (Anne Fontaine)
Thoroughly drubbed when it premiered at Sundance under the less VOD friendly title of “Two Mothers”, this sun-dappled erotic drama stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as old friends who begin to lust after each other’s teenage sons. “Adore” is unlikely to cause much of a stir, but anything with Naomi Watts is worth a look.
“SALINGER” (Shane Salerno)
The inevitable documentary about the 20th century’s most notoriously hermitic author, Shane Salerno’s film – half tribute and half biography – features interviews with over 150 subjects, including Salinger’s friends (apparently he had some) and intellectual celebrities like Edward Norton and Robert Towne. Harvey Weinstein has acted aggressively to ensure that critics don’t reveal the information exposed in the film, as though it were guarding some tremendous secret, but Salinger’s reputation should prove to be enough of a draw in and of itself. Of course, the decision to release the film during the height of the Toronto International Film Festival, when most critics will be otherwise preoccupied, may not bode well for the strength of the movie.
“TOUCHY FEELY” (Lynn Shelton)
Lynn Shelton is currently one of the most adored directors on the indie scene, a one-woman cottage industry of low-key charmers like “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” that are winsome if somewhat forgettable. “Touchy Feely” is perhaps her most inconsequential film yet, following the non-adventures of a laconic Seattle dentist, his unraveling sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), and his curious assistant / daughter (Ellen Page). It’s pleasant enough but it’s barely there, perhaps better suited to VOD (where it’s currently available) than theaters.
“99%: THE OCCUPY WALL ST. COLLABORATIVE FILM (Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, and many more)
A kaleidoscopic portrait of the movement that captured the world’s attention, this documentary – spearheaded by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, who black metal fans might know from their extraordinary “Until the Light Takes Us” – eschews any attempt at a balanced perspective in favor of a democratic one, cobbling together footage received from untold numbers of the 99%. Less of an evaluation of the Occupy movement than it is a tribute / testament to their efforts, the film is a galvanizing social document and an increasingly valuable capsule of recent history.
“THE FAMILY” (Luc Besson)
Luc Besson, the spirited French director who flirted with retirement a few years ago only to bounce back with a string of animated films that proved lucrative across the pond, is making another bid for American audiences with this dark action comedy about an aging mafia boss (Robert De Niro, natch) who’s relocated to rural France after snitching on the mob. The smirkingly violent tone should play to Besson’s strengths, but it may be best to keep expectations low and hope for a pleasant surprise.
“MOTHER OF GEORGE” (Andrew Dosunmu)
The story of a Nigerian couple (Danai Gurira and Isaach De Bankolé) living in Brooklyn whose relationship is strained by their inability to conceive a child, “Mother of George” premiered to nearly universal acclaim at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and was quickly snapped up by Oscilloscope Laboratories for a prime fall release date. Bankolé’s involvement is by now a near guarantee of quality.
“WADJDA” (Haifaa Al-Mansour)
“Wadjda” will naturally be celebrated as the first feature-length film ever directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia, but Haifaa Al-Mansour’s winning (but never precious) portrait of a spirited 11-year-old girl determined to buy herself a bicycle would be worth celebrating in any context. Gently but courageously defiant, “Wadjda” is a complex look at the quotidian struggles faced by women in a society that sets very strict parameters on their potential, but – thanks in part to Waad Mohammed’s vivacious performance in the title role – it’s also much more than that.
“INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2” (James Wan)
Just a few short months since the mega-success of “The Conjuring”, James Wan returns with a direct sequel to 2011's über-profitable piece of jump-scare theater. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that it will be quiet and then VERY LOUD (repeat until nerves are completely frayed) and make a ridiculous sum of money.
“AFTER TILLER” (Martha Shane & Lana Wilson)
Dr. George Tiller was one of the few doctors in America who performed third-trimester abortions, until he was shot through the eye at close range and killed by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder in 2009. “After Tiller” is a harrowing look at how the discourse has changed in the wake of Tiller’s murder, focusing on the last four individuals who continue to provide third-trimester abortions in this country.
“ENOUGH SAID” (Nicole Holofcener)
Nicole Holofcener is one of the most consistent filmmakers there is, each of her fiercely (and often hilariously) perceptive stories of women contending with money, motherhood and each other wiser and more satisfying than the last. Tragically, however, the focus on her latest work will inevitably be reserved for its male lead, as “Enough Said” will serve as the late James Gandolfini’s penultimate film role. Sure to be haunted by Gandolfini’s death, hopefully this humanistic romance between two single parents facing empty nests (Julia Louis Dreyfus co-stars) is both a fitting tribute, and a worthwhile movie by its own right.
“PRISONERS” (Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve refused to pull any punches with his stunning (if overly neat) “Incendies”, and it stands to reason that his English-language debut – an 140-minute drama about a man compelled to lead the search for his abducted teenage – will be similarly wrenching and complex. Starring Hugh Jackman as the beleaguered father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the cocky young detective who refuses to tolerate any impassioned vigilantism, “Prisoners” is sure to be one of the year’s darkest dramas, and perhaps one of its best.
“THANKS FOR SHARING” (Stuart Blumberg)
The directorial debut of “The Kids Are All Right” screenwriter Stuart Blumberg, “Thanks for Sharing” is a comic drama about sex addicts who are desperately trying to settle down. Featuring a strong cast lead by Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and pop star Pink (or “Alecia Moore”, as she’s credited here) the film – which debuted to decent if unexceptional notices at last year’s TIFF – looks to undercut its drama by shying away from the more unfortunate aspects of nymphomania as it exists in the real world. But we already have “Shame”, and so long as it doesn’t titillate viewers in a way that seems antithetical to the concerns of its characters, “Thanks for Sharing” could be an affably humanistic portrait of people caught in the grip of their worst vices.
“BAGGAGE CLAIM” (David E. Talbert)
A broad comedy starring Paula Patton as a flight attendant determined to get engaged in the 30 days left before her younger sister’s wedding, “Baggage Claim” seems like a fun return to the gimmicky romantic comedies of the 1990s. Featuring a cast rounded out by Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott and Djimon Hounsou, “Baggage Claim” could be a sleeper hit in a season dominated by more somber fare.
“DON JON” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is being sold as a romantic comedy that skewers the excesses of the Jersey Shore crowd, but reports out of Sundance and SXSW suggest that “Don Jon” (previously titled “Don Jon’s Addiction”) is actually a rather sobering affair about a beefed out bro whose life is being consumed by his raging addiction to online porn. Flashily directed and replete with familiar faces (Scarlett Johansson shows up as a buxom love interest, while the legendary Tony Danza gets thrown a Tarantino-esque lifeline), “Don Jon” has rolls into theaters having already inspired both rave reviews and impassioned accusations of misogyny, and might prove to be one of the fall’s most unexpectedly divisive releases.
“PARKLAND” (Peter Landesman)
Great news if your favorite movie is “Bobby”, here’s another star-studded, mosaic-like approach to the assassination of a Kennedy (bad news if your favorite movie is “Bobby”: your favorite movie is “Bobby”). Revisiting the fateful afternoon of November 22, 1963, “Parkland” recounts the day from a number of different vantage points, including that of Abraham Zapruder. Populated by the likes of Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver and a dozen other people you’ll recognize for their supporting work in other films, “Parkland” has the feel of failed Oscar bait, and one wonders what a movie could possibly have to offer on the assassination of President Kennedy that wasn’t more compellingly explored in Bruce Conner’s “Report” or the Zapruder tapes, themselves.
“RUSH” (Ron Howard)
The kind of sturdily crafted, mid-level studio movie that they just don’t make anymore, “Rush” is a thoroughly entertaining biopic about the real-life rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (an outstanding Daniel Brühl) that dominated Grand Prix racing in the 1970s. Arguably Ron Howard’s best film since “Ransom”, “Rush” is fun and surprisingly involving stuff, anchored by rich characterizations and spectacular racing sequences. It may not have the heft required for a deep Oscar run, but this story of an awards-obsessed driver is sure to be remembered long after the season’s crop of awards-obsessed movies have exhausted their self-importance.
“CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2” (Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn)
The first “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was an unexpected delight, a relentlessly clever and colorful adaptation of the beloved children’s book. While directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have moved on to other properties (“21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”), it appears as though they’ve left Flint Lockwood and his pals in capable hands, as the trailers suggest that this sequel is every bit as tireless and pun-obsessed as the original.
“GRAVITY” (Alfonso Cuarón)
Certainly one of the most anticipated films of the fall (at least so far as critics are concerned), Alfonso Cuarón’s follow-up to “Children of Men” promises to be a technically dazzling suspense thriller unlike anything before it. Forever in the making but cut to a terse 88 minutes, “Gravity” is the space-bound story of a medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) on her first spacewalk, during which she’s assisted by a veteran colleague played by George Clooney. Needless to say, something goes horribly wrong, and the two astronauts are stranded in the infinite silence of space, relying on each other and their dwindling reserves of oxygen to somehow unscrew themselves. While Cuarón’s epic long-takes will surely prove dazzling, it has yet to be seen if the story can match the remarkable craft with which it's told.
“RUNNER RUNNER” (Brad Furman)
Justin Timberlake stars as a Princeton grad student who... wait, sorry, I need a minute here. Okay, let’s just skip over that and jump to the next part of the premise... something something something Ben Affleck as a gambling tycoon named Ivan. Okay, I tried. The truth of the matter is that Brian Koppelman (“Rounders”, “Ocean’s Thirteen”) is a talented screenwriter, and director Brad Furman has positively upended expectations before (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), so it may be wise to give “Runner Runner” the benefit of the doubt, though such a feat becomes considerably more difficult with every view of the trailer.
“ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE” (Jonathan Levine)
After originally premiering at TIFF all the way back in 2006, Jonathan Levine’s debut feature is finally poised to enjoy a limited theatrical release (though I won’t believe it until the closing credits roll). An enjoyable if unremarkable slasher that benefits from a palpable lack of corporate interests, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” should appeal to horror junkies who ate up this year’s other long-delayed festival hit, “You’re Next.”
“MACHETE KILLS” (Robert Rodriguez)
I can’t even feign a professional interest in this (and I’m not entirely convinced that Robert Rodriguez can, either), though it’ll certainly be something to see Lady Gaga share the screen with William Sadler.
“CAPTAIN PHILLIPS” (Paul Greengrass)
I still wrestle with my feelings about the need for / value of “United 93”, but its sheer efficacy has never been in doubt. No one does contained, real-world action quite like Paul Greengrass (whose “Bloody Sunday” may still represent the pinnacle of his craft), and “Captain Phillips” certainly ought to play to the director’s strengths. A recreation of a 2009 incident in which Somali pirates violently seized an American cargo ship, “Captain Phillips” stars Tom Hanks in the title role, and boasts a screenplay from the criminally undervalued Billy Ray. Be that as it may, we’re only months removed from Tobias Lindholm’s similar and enormously effective “A Hijacking”, and I’m somewhat concerned that the Hollywood scale might distract from the human narratives at the heart of this story.
“ROMEO AND JULIET” (Carlo Carlei)
Despite the fact this take on the greatest romance ever told boasts a screenplay from “Downton Abbey” mastermind Julian Fellowes, its unclear how much the film deviates from Shakespeare’s original text. The trailers suggest that “Romeo and Juliet” is an unnervingly straight adaptation, and absolutely nothing has been done to address the biggest question looming over the project: Why? Having said that, points must be awarded for the age-appropriate casting of “True Grit” star Hailee Steinfeld as the female lead.
“ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW” (Randy Moore)
Certainly the most bizarre film to debut at Sundance this year, Randy Moore’s “Escape from Tomorrow” is a micro-budget Lynchian freakout about a man who learns that he’s lost his job on the day before he’s scheduled to embark on a Disney World vacation with his family. Covertly shot on the grounds of The Happiest Place on Earth, right under the nose of the notoriously sue-happy corporation, it was (ostensibly) unclear if “Escape From Tomorrow” would ever see the light of a projector outside of the festival circuit. Now that its release is certain, Moore’s film will have the opportunity to prove itself as more than a curiosity.
“ALL IS LOST” (J.C. Chandor)
J.C. Chandor made a bit of a splash with his confined Wall Street drama “Margin Call”, but his second feature is poised to obliterate his perceived directorial skill set. “All is Lost” is a soaking wet chamber piece, a harrowing drama with such a small cast that it makes “Gravity” look like a Robert Altman film in comparison. Starring Robert Redford (and only Robert Redford) as a man whose 39-foot yacht begins to sink halfway through his solo voyage across the Indian Ocean, “All is Lost” made a tremendous splash (sorry) when it debuted out of competition at Cannes, and looks to be one of the fall’s most visceral cinematic experiences.
“ESCAPE PLAN” (Mikael Hafstrom)
Phase Two of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-governator renaissance, “Escape Plan” pairs the legendary action star with Sylvester Stallone in a gnarly 80s throwback about two muscle-bound men attempting to break out of a futuristic prison called “The Tomb.” Everything about this seems incredibly important, but the buzz from early screenings at Comic-Con was deafeningly quiet.
“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (Bill Condon)
Bill Condon closes the book on the “Twilight” chapter of his career by returning to the type of character-driven dramas that he does best. It remains to be seen if he’ll ever make another biopic that can compare to “Kinsey”, and a film about WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) seems a tad premature at this point, but the attempt will be a welcome one if Condon is able to eke thematic significance from this slice of immediate history.
“CARRIE” (Kimberly Peirce)
Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) is too interesting a filmmaker to spend her time on a straight-up remake of a Brian De Palma classic, right? There has to be something about this interpretation of the Stephen King novel that justifies its existence, something that was not hinted at in the incredibly unpromising trailers ... right? The stakes are high with this one, because if a director as talented as Peirce is incapable of adding dimension to the story of modern horror’s most famous fire-starter, then it might be time to dig some trenches and prepare for all-out war against remake culture.
“BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR” (Abdellatif Kechiche)
Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour lesbian romance may have been the most-discussed film at Cannes even without its supposedly explicit showstopper of a sex scene (the film was tagged with an NC-17 by the notoriously skittish and homophobic MPAA). Starring the compulsively watchable Léa Seydoux, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is sure to be the object of much further discussion as it dominates the fall festival circuit, especially if Julie Maroh – author of the graphic novel on which the film is based – continues her campaign against the allegedly problematic gaze of Kechiche’s camera.
“THE COUNSELOR” (Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott, for all of his ups and downs, is one of the few directors that I’d trust with an original screenplay by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy, particularly if said screenplay was intended for mainstream appeal. Boasting a ridiculous cast (Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Brad Pitt, etc...), “The Counselor” is poised to be among the most agreeably blunt pleasures of the year’s remaining months.
OUR FALL PREVIEW CONTINUES WITH A LOOK AHEAD AT NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER ON PAGE 2.
“ENDER’S GAME” (Gavin Hood)
A big-budget adaptation of the beloved YA novel by the decidedly not beloved Orson Scott Card, “Ender’s Game” stars Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) as a talented young cadet who excels at war games designed to prepare humanity for the next attack from an evil alien race known as Formics. Co-starring Ben Kingsley (who’s rocking some serious Queequeg facial tats) and Harrison Ford, the hopeful franchise-starter is directed by Gavin Hood, whose only previous popcorn entertainment (the first Wolverine movie) should inspire fans to keep their expectations in check. The film will have to be very strong to drown out the inevitable chatter about Card’s outspoken homophobia.
“FREE BIRDS” (Jimmy Hayward)
From the man who brought you the film version of “Horton Hears a Who!” comes this seasonally approrpiate animated comedy about time-traveling turkeys who are determined to go back to the Pilgrim era and remove their species from the Thanksgiving menu. Inspired stuff. Thanks to the vocal contributions of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler, don’t be surprised if “Free Birds” has a good deal of fun with its ridiculous premise.
“LAST VEGAS” (Jon Turtletaub)
Sort of like a geriatric “Hangover” (but with more heart, I’d imagine), “Last Vegas” follows childhood friends into their twilight years a they spend a weekend in Vegas in the hopes of reliving their glory days. Starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, “Last Vegas” looks like it’ll be a cut above the usual schtick. The trailer promises that the film isn’t above easy laughs (oh, how hilarious it is to be feeble and nearing the end of your time on this mortal coil!), but at least the laughs are there, and positive early word suggests that this is more than just another paycheck gig.
“LE WEEK-END” (Roger Michell)
Roger Michell tries to rebound from last year’s disastrous “Hyde Park on Hudson” with this sweet, decidedly British romance about a long-married couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) who take a trip to Paris in order to revitalize their love for one another. But what sounds like a stop-gap between “Before Midnight” and “Amour” is soon turned upside down when the couple runs into the ultimate X factor: Jeff Motherf**king Goldblum. Hopes for “Le Week-End” were bolstered by its inclusion in the hyper-selective New York Film Festival, but “Hyde Park on Hudson” played there last year, so who knows.
“ABOUT TIME” (Richard Curtis)
But “Le Week-End” isn’t the only romantic Brit-directed NYFF selection opening on November 1st. Richard Curtis’ follow-up to the epoch-defining mega-masterpiece “Love, Actually” is yet another love story, but in this one the men can travel back in time and change how their lives unfold. I’m a bit fuzzy on the mechanics, but Curtis’ romances tend to go down easy, and Domhnall Gleeson deserves every opportunity to break out as a leading man (obviously the female lead is played by Rachel McAdams).
“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (Alan Taylor)
It’s “Thor”, but the sequel.
“HOW I LIVE NOW” (Kevin Macdonald)
Based on the novel by Meg Rosoff, “How I Live Now” is the latest apocalyptic romance to exploit the end of the world as a neat analog for a young girl’s imminent maturation. If you felt that “Ginger and Rosa” could have used a sci-fi twist, “How I Live Now” should be right up your alley. At the very least, the film looks far more promising than Ronan’s last YA love story (“The Host”).
“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese. Leo. That incredible trailer. This looks like absolute heaven, my only concern is that it will too closely follow the too-familiar rise and fall narrative that seems unavoidable in tales of greed and corruption.
“THE BOOK THIEF” (Brian Percival)
Nothing says the holiday season like a kids movie about the Holocaust! The trailer (which features pull-quotes about the book on which the film is based) makes “The Book Thief” look like a YA redux of “The Reader”, but Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson make a hell of a team, and I’m sure you barely even notice the bad accents after the first or second or third act.
“THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE” (Francis Lawrence)
Can Katniss survive the Quarter Quell?? Given the fact that there are two (!?) more "Hunger Games" movies to come, I'm gonna go with "yes." Francis Lawrence, whose last big-budget film was "I Am Legend", replaces Gary Ross in the the director's chair. At the very least, expect less shaky-cam and more Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“NEBRASKA” (Alexander Payne)
Simply put, an Alexander Payne movie is cause for celebration. “The Descendants” had its fair share of detractors, but it nevertheless retains the ineffably human quality with which the filmmaker imbues all of his work, and so I’m trying not to be too disheartened by the rather dull thunk that “Nebraska” made upon its Cannes debut. Shot in black and white and starring Will Forte as Payne’s most unlikely leading man thus far, “Nebraska” follows the story of a crotchety old man (Bruce Dern, in a supposedly brilliant performance) who thinks he’s won the lottery, and enlists his son (SNL alum Will Forte) to drive him across the eponymous state to claim his prize.
“BLACK NATIVITY” (Kasi Lemmons)
Langston Hughes to the screen! In Kasi Lemmons musical adaptation of Hughes' treasured play "Black Nativity", an unruly kid from Baltimore heads to Harlem to spend the holiday season with a distant relative who happens to be a strict reverend (Forest Whitaker is Reverend Cobbs, while Angela Bassett plays his wife). The new domestic tension results in the expected tensions, but this is sure to be one of those stories that boils down to the telling, and Lemmons is certainly taking a different approach to the material, and vocal contributions from Jennifer Hudson – as the protagonist's single mother – ensure that the nativity has never sounded better.
“GRACE OF MONACO” (Olivier Dahan)
"La Vie in Rose" director Olivier Dahan helms this Grace Kelly biopic that begins with the legendary screen icon's retirement from acting and focuses on her life as a princess, when she represented Monaco's best interests during a squabble over the country's tax status. Nicole Kidman is a natural fit to play Kelly, and I suspect that the film will leave and die on the strength of her star turn.
“OLDBOY” (Spike Lee)
Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s modern classic appears to cleave incredibly close to the original movie – if the trailer is any indication (and it may not be), this seems like more of a cover than it does a reinvention.
The most pressing questions for die-hard fans will be technical ones: Did Spike Lee shoot the hallway sequence in one long shot? Did he do anything to address the film’s somewhat muddled coda? Was the villain’s ultimate revelation tweaked for American audiences? It’s the little things that have me so cautiously excited for November, to see what happened when one master filmmaker with a very particular POV did with the material originally generated by another. I can see the think pieces already.
“FROZEN” (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
From the studio that brought you the wonderful "Tangled" and the much less wonderful but still kind of okay "Wreck-It Ralph" comes "Frozen", an imaginative animated fable that seems far too complicated to quickly synopsize here. Something about Kristen Bell, an ancient kingdom trapped in eternal winter and a "comedic snowman named Olaf." Perhaps it's simply the nostalgia factor doing its thing, but the fact that the film is a musical gives me hope that "Frozen" will be a cut above the lackluster animated films that have dominated the landscape so far this year.
“MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM” (Justin Chadwick)
Justin Chadwick delivers a biopic about the other, other Boleyn girl... by whom of course I mean Nelson Mandela. An 150-minute kitchen sink approach to the former South African president's remarkable life that was adapted directly from Mandela's autobiography of the same name, "Long Walk to Freedom" stars Idris Elba in the title role, following Mandela from childhood through his 27 years in prison and ultimately his time in office, delivering the country from Apartheid. Chadwick hasn't necessarily proven that he has the chops for this sort of thing, but a portrait of this significance will surely provide him with ample room to prove himself.
“DALLAS BUYERS CLUB” (Jean-Marc Vallée)
This is why Matthew McConaughey looked so gaunt on the red carpet earlier this year. A densely concentrate biopic about Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, a seemingly unexceptional man whose 1986 H.I.V. diagnosis illuminated the American health care system's confusion as to how it would contend with (and pay for) the epidemic that would define the last part of the twentieth century. McConaughey has enjoyed a remarkable career renaissance, and I can only hope this transformative lead performance deepens the respect he's earned for his recent work. Jean-Marc Vallée is a prodigiously talented French director (whose most recent film is the compelling but unstable "Café de Flor") who's still looking for the right vehicle for his strengths. "Dallas Buyers Club" bows at TIFF next week, so stay tuned for early reactions in the very near future.
“INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS” (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
The Coen bros' first film since "True Grit" follows a (fictional) aspiring folk singer as he navigates the East Village music scene circa 1960. Starring Oscar Isaac in the title role and featuring period-appropriate music from the likes of Justin Timberlake and "Girls" star Adam Driver (hmm), this is a Coen bros movie about the East Village in the 1960s, it is the reason cinema was invented. Reviews out of Cannes were ecstatic, and my hope isn't just that I enjoy the film, but that "Inside Llewyn Davis" proves to be one of those Coen bros films that I live with and return to time and again over the years. It's a high bar, but they can clear it.
“OUT OF THE FURNACE” (Scott Cooper)
Scott "Crazy Heart" Cooper turns his camera towards life after war in this gritty story about a steel mill worker (Christian Bale) whose brother (Casey Affleck) returns from a tour of duty in Iraq with no sense of how to function as a civilian. Emotionally and financially vulnerable in equal measure, Affleck's character is soon roped into some shady business run by some even shadier characters. The trailer suggests that "Out of the Furnace" will toe the line between severe contemporary drama and realistic action, perhaps in much the same spirit as Affleck's summer hit, "Ain't them Bodies Saints" (though it'll certainly be less lyrical than David Lowery's meditative and mythical romance).
“SAVING MR. BANKS” (John Lee Hancock)
Perhaps the most unabashed Oscar bait of the fall season (and a heavy counterweight to "Escape from Tomorrow"), this surely watchable pro-Disney propaganda chronicles the process by which "Mary Poppins" leapt from the page to the screen, beginning with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, duh) promising his children to adapt "Mary Poppins", and then chronicling his rocky (but always charming!) relationship with the novel's author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson, also duh). The trailer promises a warm and magically pleasant experience, but with John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") behind the camera, you might be unwise to expect anything more.
“AMERICAN HUSTLE” (David O. Russell)
Only a year removed from the smash success of "Silver Linings Playbook", David O. Russell returns with the key players from that film in addition to those from "The Fighter" for this smooth Hollywood riff on the FBI Abscam operation that lead to the conviction of six US senators in the early 1980s. The trailer shamelessly steals from Orson Welles' "F For Fake" to present the film's central theme, but I suppose that's appropriate for a story about con artists and the people who desperately want to believe them. Expect all the awards.
“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (Peter Jackson)
It's the next few chapters of "The Hobbit." If the title is any indication, someone (or some thing) named Smaug is going to be very sad.
“THE MONUMENTS MEN” (George Clooney)
George Clooney directs a George Clooney production starring George Clooney in a film where he's essentially playing himself circa World War II. Part "Ocean's Eleven" and part "Indiana Jones" (I'm vamping here), there is no way that this historical anti-caper about an army platoon tasked with retrieving priceless works of art from Nazi-occupied Germany is anything less than a terrific time at the movies. With a cast that includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett and a trailer that gives them all a moment to shine, "The Monuments Men" is all but guaranteed to be one of the fall's greatest treasures.
“HER” (Spike Jonze) Opens on December 18
Spike Jonze is back, and not a minute too soon. In this original love story, conceived and written by the director himself, a man cursed with the precious name of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, making a sharp about face from last year's "The Master") begins to fall in love with the Siri-like operating system on his new phone (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Boasting an original score by The Arcade Fire and a tweet rave from Darren Aronofsky, hopefully Jonze's take on modern romance doesn't miss Charlie Kaufman's magic touch. "Her" will close the New York Film Festival in early October, so look for early word about the film then.
“ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES” (Adam McKay)
Ron Burgundy and his beautiful mustache move into the 1980s, where San Diego's top-rated news team tries to anchor the country's first 24-hour news network. Early reports suggest that the movie devotes an uncomfortable percentage of jokes to racial humor, but anyone who's seen "Wake Up, Ron Burgundy" knows how much McKay's films are trimmed and refined in the months leading up to their release.
“THE PAST” (Asghar Farhadi)
Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to "A Separation" finds the director following the recent example of countryman Abbas Kiarostami and shooting his new movie outside of his native Iran. Set in the outskirts of Paris, "The Past" begins with an Iranian man returning to France in order to finalize his divorce to a local mother ("The Artist" star Bérénice Bejo), but quickly reduces the traveler to a witness in a gentle soap opera that revolves around a woman in a coma. Farhadi seduces wonderful performances from his actors, and his script is rich with wise insights, but in "The Past" he struggles to wrangle them into a dramatically compelling narrative.
“FOXCATCHER” (Bennett Miller)
The synopsis of Bennett Miller's "Moneyball" follow-up sounds like a wrestling (the Olympic variety) riff on "Pain & Gain", but I suspect that the non-fiction story of two brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) who meet the eccentric heir to a chemical fortune (Steve Carrell, rocking the most serious fake nose this side of "The Hours") who eventually leads them to murder. Expect this acting showcase to be every bit as smart and sophisticated as Miller's previous work.
“47 RONIN” (Carl Erik Rinsch)
The spiritual sequel to "John Carter", this over-schedule and massively over-budget fantasy riff on the Japanese legend of the Chushingura stars Keanu Reeves as the leader of a band of samurai determined to avenge the death of their master. Or at least that's how things would play out in a direct adaptation, but Carl Erik Rinsch – for whom this will be his first feature-length film – has apparently supplemented his version with dragons, so who knows. "47 Ronin" is definitely one of the season's biggest question marks, but the insanity of its mere existence should prove at least moderately rewarding.
“AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY” (John Wells)
An adaptation of Tracy Letts' brilliant (and epic) Broadway play of the same name, John Wells' star-studded adaptation shears this dysfunctional family drama down from three hours to a more manageable 130 minutes, hopefully not losing too much in the process. The darkly comic story of an extended family converging upon their Midwest home in the midst of a domestic crisis, the film version of "August Osage County" certainly upstages the Broadway cast so far as star power is concerned, anchored by Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepherd and Chris Cooper. Wells' only previous feature was 2010 non-event "The Company Men", and he certainly has his work cut out for him here, but Letts' fierce words should prove to be a strong guide.
“LABOR DAY” (Jason Reitman)
Jason Reitman's follow-up to "Young Adult" focuses on someone even younger, a 13-year-old kid whose life in the suburbs with his reclusive single mother (Kate Winslet) is turned upside down when they take in a drifter (Josh Brolin) who is soon revealed to be an escaped convict. Expect another tight, wonderfully acted seriocomedy that leaves no doubt as to its story's intended purpose.
“THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY” (Ben Stiller)
Suddenly one of the most buzzed about movies of the year thanks in part to a teaser trailer that actually bothered to be elegant and elusive rather than coarse and overstuffed, Ben Stiller's adaptation of the famous Jason Thurber story puts a contemporary spin on the life of Walter Mitty, a corporate drone who harbors dreams of a more fantastical existence. While it's hard to deny the delicate "Garden State" for middle-age men vibe, Stiller's passion project will be visually sumptuous at the very least, and if its sentiments are overly familiar perhaps the way it sells them will have audiences checking their cynicism at the door.
“LONE SURVIVOR” (Peter Berg)
Back in the saddle after the mild embarrassment of last summer's "Battleship", Peter Berg takes a sharp turn from the silly to the deadly serious, delivering this tense true story about four Navy SEALS (lead by Mark Wahlberg) who are ambushed during a mission to execute a Taliban operative. Test screening buzz should almost never be trusted, but word is that an early cut of "Lone Survivor" absolutely rattled the audiences who saw it. Perhaps every war needs its "Black Hawk Down."
Also Check Out: Fall Preview 2013 on MTV.com