The summer movie seasons is pretty much wrapped up, with the Venice Film Festival kicking off this week, and Telluride and Toronto just around the corner. And as ever, the fall festival season sees us move away from superheroes and the like for a few blessed months, in favor of some fare that's a little more adult, and geared with an eye towards awards.
So with the autumnal months approaching, we thought we'd highlight a few of the gems that we are on the way. Excluding the films we've already seen at festivals and the like (hence no "The Master," "Killing Them Softly," "Amour" etc), we've picked out ten fall films that we're particularly looking forward, along with an extra five that may not necessarily tickle the brain in the same way, but look like they could be exciting genre fare all the same. Read on for more, and let us know what you're most looking forward to this season in the comments section.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatched a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need to Know: Not only is Affleck starring in this, but — perhaps more importantly — he’s directing it. Following up the one-two punch of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” won’t be an easy feat, but Affleck’s proven himself to be an assured craftsman behind the camera with both outings, so a period-set mission movie with political stakes and filmmaking itself as part of the plot seems like a sound, intriguing next step for his directorial career. And in keeping with tradition, he has assembled a considerable ensemble, including Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver (something of a good luck charm after roles in both 'Town' and 'Gone'), Clea DuVall and Adrienne Barbeau. Warner Bros. sure seems confident in the project, pinning many of their awards hopes on the project, and with a confident trailer that seems to walk the tightrope nicely between high drama and lighter moments, we can see why they might be feeling bullish.
Release Date: October 12th.
Synopsis: Based on a terrific novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” tells six interlocking tales tackling everything from a transpacific voyage in 1850 to a 1970s-set conspiracy thriller to a sci-fi parable set deep in the future (there’s also a bit about self-aware Korean clones and a dusty European period melodrama). Heady stuff indeed.
What You Need to Know: The word "unfilmable" is bandied about a lot when discussing difficult, knotty literary source material, so we'll just say that it's very hard to picture anyone being able to wrangle David Mitchell's sprawling novel. But if anyone can pull it off, it just might be the directorial tag team of the Wachowskis (directing for the first time since “Speed Racer”) and director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess in multiple roles that cross race and gender, with some eyebrow-raising new looks for the A-list cast (Hanks as an East End gangster! Grant as a face-painted cannibal!), the film was under the radar for many until a spectacular six-minute trailer bowed a few weeks back, suggesting a film of heady visuals and big ideas. It's still a hugely risky prospect, and lord knows if it'll work as a whole, but we can't wait to find out.
Release Date: Oct 26th.
Synopsis: A freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to track down his wife (Kerry Washington) and liberate her from her plantation owners led by the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
What You Need To Know: Jamie Foxx leads the ridiculously stacked cast — which includes Waltz, Washington, DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, James Remar, Walton Goggins, RZA and many, many more (with Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell and Anthony LaPaglia among those exiting the film along the way) in what may be the Tarantino-esque movie of his career. After drifting close to self-parody with his indulgent, referential grindhouse entry "Death Proof," Tarantino came roaring back with "Inglourious Basterds" like he had something to prove, which of course, he did. We have to admit we're a little concerned about Tarantino returning to the revenge narrative yet again ("Kill Bill," "Death Proof," 'Basterds'), but with its racially charged and sure-to-be-controversial subject matter, 'Django' has the potential to be an epic unlike anything we've seen from the filmmaker before.
Release Date: December 25th
Synopsis: An English couple and their children on holiday in the Indian Ocean are torn apart by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and set out on desperate quests to find each other again.
What You Need To Know: Under the radar of many until fairly recently, "The Impossible" marks the long awaited return of Juan Antonio Bayona, who made a strong debut with 2007 ghost story "The Orphanage," and this charged, emotional drama (which seems to include some impressive effects) looks like a fine comeback. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts topline the film, along with three young British actors, and it looks like they had quite the tough shoot, with astonishing scenes of devestation. The US trailer is a little sentimental, but we hope that the film is a little more restrained, and if so, this could be an Oscar player.
Release Date: December 21st
Synopsis: The big screen version of the hit stage musical, following a convict unable to escape his past as France simmers on the edge of revolution.
What You Need To Know: After taking home the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for “The King’s Speech,” helmer Tom Hooper is raising the stakes for his followup that is aiming to get him back in the Kodak Theater in 2013. The big splashy musical teams up Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne for an epic, sweeping tale that spans decades, and includes all the hits ("I Dreamed A Dream" etc). The trailer indicates that Hooper's gamble of recording all the vocals live on set may have paid off, and that it'll be visually bold stuff, but we still wonder if the director's trademark fish-eye lens style may prove distracting and constraining. We should see a full promo before too long, but if nothing else, we're looking forward to seeing that cast unleashed on material like this.
Release Date: December 7th“Lincoln”
Synopsis: Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," the Steven Spielberg film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the martyred president and follows the last several months of Lincoln's life as he faced violent opposition, on the battlefield and in the White House, as the Civil War gasped to a close, concluding with that fateful visit to Ford's Theatre.
What You Need to Know: This has been a passion project of Spielberg's for almost a decade (he acquired the rights to the book in 2001), initially tapping Liam Neeson for the role until, in Neeson's words, he got "too old." John Logan and Tony Kushner (among others) have worked on the script and the cast is bursting with talented performers playing historical figures, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward (who was also targeted the night Lincoln visited Ford's Theatre), Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. (There are a bunch of awesome people like Walton Goggins and John Hawkes in smaller roles as well.) We still wonder what shape the film will take, given the expansive nature of the source material, and it's still the only major fall release without a trailer, but we are itching for a decent Lincoln movie, especially after the lacklustre “The Conspirator" and this summer's dismal "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
Release Date: November 9th
“Life of Pi”
Synopsis: After a harrowing shipwreck, young Pi Patel finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat in shark-infested waters with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
What You Need To Know: In the works for years, with a variety of different directors all kicking it around at various points — Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuarón and M. Night Shyamalan among them — the best-selling “Life of Pi” is finally on its way to the big screen, in 3D no less. The big hurdle Fox will have to vault on this one (at least domestically) is the international, mostly star-free cast, that features newcomer Suraj Sharma, Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain and Tabu. Early footage wowed reporters at CinemaCon, and many have been impressed by the trailer, but the material is much tougher than the ads are making it seem, so it'll be interesting to see how it's received, and how Lee sustains the tension of a film that's mostly set on a single raft, with only one human character. But we certainly have faith that it'll at least see Lee back on form after the misfire of "Taking Woodstock."
Release Date: November 21st
“Silver Linings Playbook”
Synopsis: Based on the book by Matthew Quick, the story centers a former high school teacher who, after being released from a four-year stint in a mental institution, moves back in with his mother, then seeks to reinvent himself, finding the titular silver linings in his life.
What You Need To Know: Rumored to be the cause of a rift between David O. Russell and his longtime collaborator Mark Wahlberg, the film has been one the director has been trying to get off the ground for a few years. Wahlberg was originally slated in the lead role, but when Anne Hathaway dropped out, Marky Mark bailed too, forcing the filmmakers to go with Bradley Cooper. But the real reason to pay attention is that the movie marks Russell’s followup to “The Fighter,” a film which finally brought him industry recognition via an invitation to the Kodak Theater as a Best Director nominee. And with a fall release date, The Weinstein Company are hoping for some of that same magic (and some Oscar buzz, one suspects). Add to that a cast which includes rising star Jennifer Lawrence, the return of Chris Tucker in a non-”Rush Hour” movie, “Animal Kingdom” Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver and goddamn Robert De Niro and you can see why we’re eager for this. The trailer was a little offputting and sort of quirky comedy-by-numbers, but we're confident that Russell has something more interesting up his sleeve.
Release Date: November 21st.
Synopsis: A frustrated screenwriter finds himself in trouble when two of his friends kidnap a dog belonging to a psychotic mobster
What You Need To Know: Martin McDonagh reunites his “A Behanding In Spokane” stars Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken for this crime comedy, which alone should be cause for celebration. Really, if you’re going to have a duo of dog-nappers in your movie, and you can afford Sam Rockwell (as a struggling actor) and Chris Walken (as Chris Walken, more or less), you spring for it. McDonagh, who previously wrote and directed the hysterical “In Bruges,” also brought back his 'Bruges' star Colin Farrell in the lead role, suggesting there may be some connective tissue between that acidic gut-buster and this go-round, with Farrell playing the author attempting to pen his opus “Seven Psychopaths.” Though Mickey Rourke was due to play the dog-loving gangster (pretty accurate typecasting), he told the producers to to “go play with yourself” when they wouldn’t meet his probably-too-generous fee, Woody Harrelson is a more than adequate replacement. Olga Kurylenko, Abbie Cornish and the always-interesting Tom Waits are the other three psychopaths in a cast that actually manages to improve upon the electric Farrell-Brendan Gleeson-Ralph Fiennes trio at the heart of “In Bruges.” Whether it has the same soulful quality that made "In Bruges" so special remains to be seen, but it looks like an awful lot of fun.
Release Date: October 12th.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
Synopsis: Based-in-fact story centering on the Seal Team 6 who hunted down and killed Osama Bin Laden, and the CIA agents who helped them find him.
What You Need To Know: Thanks in part to real-life intervention when its subject was finally killed over the summer in 2011, Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her Oscar winner "The Hurt Locker," which sees her working again with scribe Mark Boal, has been a while coming. But it finally got underway with a truly exciting cast including Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler and Mark Duplass as the guys and gals trying to bring the Al-Qaeda leader down. Expectations will be riding high on the film, with folks expecting one of the biggest events in the last few years to be captured authentically, with no bias, while also being a few notches dramatically above something like “Act of Valor.” Add into that a compressed production schedule, and Bigelow has some major weight on her shoulders, but if her last film was anything to go by, she should be able to pull it off with aplomb. The trailer, while not revealing much, suggests that things are coming along nicely, anyway.
Release: December 19thAnd 5 Escapist Movies We're Also Looking Forward To…
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Synopsis: In the first of a three-part prequel to “The Lord of the Rings,” Bilbo Baggins relates an early journey with Gandalf and a pack of unruly dwarves to steal a horde of treasure from the dragon Smaug.
What You Need To Know: Given that the original trilogy was near-universally beloved, a giant box-office hit (taking close to $3 billion worldwide) and even managed to be win a record haul of Oscars with its last installment, getting "The Hobbit" made proved surprisingly tricky, with rights issues and studio bankruptcy holding the project up for years, even before original director Guillermo del Toro bailed. But Peter Jackson's finally returned to Middle Earth, and if the atmospheric teaser is anything to go by, he hasn't forgotten what he's doing. Settling back into the world feels like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes, and the filmmaker looks to have the perfect Bilbo in "The Office" star Martin Freeman, who leads a group of new arrivals to the franchise including Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly, along with many returning favorites. We have our reservations, however. Is Jackson's heart really in it, after spending so long saying he didn't want to direct the film? Will the (now) three-part structure feel padded and indulgent for a book that only runs to 285 pages? Will having a baker's dozen of dwarves mean that they blend into one? And what's up with the 48fps thing, anyway? But despite all of that, if anyone can pull it off, it's the hirsute New Zealander.
Release Date: December 14
Synopsis: A former military policeman-turned-drifter becomes involved in the investigation centering around a sniper who seems to have randomly killed five victims.
What You Need To Know: Having had the biggest hit of the season last year with "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," Paramount hope that another Tom Cruise actioner can pull off the same trick this Christmas. But "One Shot" should be a very different affair. It's more of a hard-boiled thriller vibe, with "The Way Of The Gun" director Christopher McQuarrie helming the first of what's hoped to be a franchise starring Cruise as author Lee Child's iconic hero in an adaptation of the 9th novel, "One Shot." McQuarrie, working from his own script, has assembled a pretty strong cast, with Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, David Oyelowo and, most excitingly, Werner Herzog as villain The Zec. The trailer wasn't wildly impressive, but we're hopeful this might be a nice, tough alternative to the rest of the Christmas fare.
Release Date: December 21st
Synopsis: In a future where time travel exists, but is outlawed, hitmen are enlisted to eliminate mob targets sent back from even further in the future, so as to leave no bodies. However, the system falls apart when Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to pull the trigger on his older self (played by Bruce Willis).
What You Need to Know: Writer-director Rian Johnson has already put an inspired spin on both film noir with the high school-set “Brick” and the con-man caper with “The Brothers Bloom.” To see him tackle heady sci-fi action with a cast that includes “Brick” lead Gordon-Levitt (coming right off “The Dark Knight Rises”), Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt is an exciting prospect indeed. While we’d normally be wary of test screening reviews — and still, taken with a grain of salt and such — feedback so far has been very strong, while the trailers look great, and an opening slot at TIFF bodes well. Let’s face it: we could always use an R-rated action flick that’s as brainy as it is bloody, so here’s hoping that this fits the bill as heir apparent to “The Terminator” and Willis’ own “12 Monkeys"
Release Date: September 28th
Synopsis: After an attack on MI6, and the exposure of their double-agents, a left for dead James Bond returns, although the nefarious Silva (Javier Bardem) may make him wish he'd stayed away.
What You Need To Know: Revived in 2006 by the best entry in decade, "Casino Royale," the long-running James Bond series was thwarted only a few years later, not by weak-as-piss 22nd film "Quantum of Solace," but by the financial troubles of long-time home MGM. Finally sorted, "Skyfall" is shaping up to be quite the prestigious return, featuring Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, helming a script by Oscar-nominee John Logan ("Gladiator," "Rango"), with a glittering cast including Javier Bardem as the film's villain, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw (taking up the mantle of gadget-meister Q), Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and newcomer Berenice Marlohe. Footage so far has suggested that Mendes has come up with something that, appropriately for the 50th anniversary of the series, feels closer to classic Bond than previous Daniel Craig entries, while not abandoning the more psychologically realistic approach. The action looks imprssive, the visuals (by Roger Deakins) extraordinary. Fingers crossed, it looks like Bond is back…
Release Date: October 26th internationally, November 9 in the U.S.
“This Is Forty”
Synopsis: Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their “Knocked Up” roles as married couple Debbie and Pete, wrestling with the approaching end of their 30s.
What You Need to Know: Judd Apatow is still producing like a madman these days, although not every film is a smash. The gangbusters performance of last year’s “Bridesmaids” was tainted a little with the flopping of “Wanderlust” and “The Five-Year Engagement” — but he hasn’t written and directed anything himself since 2009’s ungainly but heartfelt “Funny People.” For his return, he's picking up with "Knocked Up" couple Debbie & Paul, who arguably had some of the most memorable moments of that film, for something that seems like it could be his most personal effort so far. And while there's some further continuity, with Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi returning to their characters, we can expect appearances by new folks like Albert Brooks, John Lithgow (as Rudd & Mann's fathers), Megan Fox, Ryan Lee, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd. From the midlife-crisis title on down to the casting of Brooks as Rudd’s father (his own warm, shaggy work as a writer-director has clearly influenced Apatow in creating credible characters and comedy), 'Forty' feels like a logical progression for Apatow’s career, and if that December date is any indication, it might finally earn him and his cast of regulars some much deserved awards attention. Or maybe it’ll just be really, really funny. That works, too.
Release Date: December 21st
Honorable Mentions: Aside from all of the films at festivals and screenings we've seen already ("The Master," "Killing Them Softly," "Anna Karenina" etc), there's a few others that feel like they're worth getting excited about. We're certainly intrigued by Robert Zemeckis' "Flight," (November 2nd) which has a fine premise and an excellent cast, but looks like about six different movies in the trailer. A NYFF slot bodes well, though, as it does for "Not Fade Away" (December 21st), the feature debut of "The Sopranos" creator David Chase, about three Jersey teens with dreams of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s.
All three of the fall's animated offerings — "Frankenweenie" (Oct 5th), "Wreck-It Ralph" (November 2nd) and "Rise Of The Guardians" (November 21st) — look promising to one degree or another, and after a disappointing year for animation, that can only be a good thing. "The Guilt Trip" (December 25th), with Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand, could hopefully be a comedy entertaining enough to unite the generations at Christmastime. And as far as guilty pleasures go, there's two options at very different ends of the spectrum. "The Man With The Iron Fists" (November 2nd) offers stylized kung-fu action, Russell Crowe in villain mode, and director/star RZA punching a guy's head clean off, while "Pitch Perfect" (October 5th) seems like it could be Anna Kendrick's "Easy A" — a more palatable take on "Glee" which seems like it might have a deceptively smart script.