It always happens too quickly. One moment we’re munching on popcorn and sucking noisily on sodas while CG humanoid turtles fight onscreen. The next moment half of us are donning our top hats and monocles and swanning off to film festivals to harrumph about the latest obscure Euro arthouse sensation, while the other half settle in for a long few months of sorting out obvious Oscar bait from the films that may actually bait Oscar. The gear change from Summer Tentpole period to Fall Festival/Awards Season is a pretty dramatic one, so we’ve prepared a little survival kit.
Of the many releases between now and the end of the year, the following twenty are our hot tips. In some cases we really know what we’re talking about, because we’ve already seen the film in question at an earlier festival, but in most we’re going on a combination of gut instinct, advance buzz, prior form of the key players and scientific criteria like "how much we like the trailers" and "whether the poster sucks."
Just to clarify, the following are all films that have general, non-festival U.S. release dates between now and December 31st, so you won’t see any Venice, Telluride or TIFF titles here unless they also have a firm 2014 release date. And we’re roughly starting the count from September, so a quick shout out again to the great, great "Starred Up," review here, which comes out in a pretty fallow time next week—be sure and catch that one if you can. For now though, here, in order of release date, are our 20 most anticipated films of the fall.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”
Synopsis: Director Ned Benson’s feature debut is the story of the dissolution of a relationship in the aftermath of tragedy, but told from the sometimes competing, sometimes complementary points of view of the two participants (James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain).
What You Need to Know: Here goes: there actually exist three films with this title, subtitled ‘Him,’ ‘Her’ and ‘Them.’ ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ tell the story from McAvoy’s and Chastain’s perspectives respectively, and those were the versions we reviewed glowingly out of TIFF 2013. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the meantime a third, less impressive version was edited together. ‘Them,’ which we saw in Cannes, will get a wide release, with ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ relegated to limited arthouse distribution. But no matter the version you see, there’s a treat in store in terms of the those performances, and in watching the arrival of a new talent in the shape of Ned Benson.
Release Date: September 12th
Synopsis: The latest film from "Zodiac" director David Fincher follows a husband (played by Ben Affleck) who is accused of murder after his wife (Rosamund Pike) mysteriously vanishes. Tyler Perry plays the high profile lawyer hired to defend Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris is Pike’s ex-boyfriend, On The Rise 2014 pick Carrie Coon is his sister and Emily Ratajkowski, best known for her scantily clad role in the "Blurred Lines" video, plays the younger woman Affleck is involved with. Based on the runaway bestseller by Gillian Flynn, who also provided the film’s screenplay.
What You Need to Know: It’s interesting that, after his indifferently received version of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Fincher would once again be wooed by another adaptation of a best-selling novel. Although it’s just as easy to see why he would pursue the material – the knotty narrative is surprising and deeply fucked-up, complete with themes of abandonment and entrapment (two of his favorites). It’ll be interesting to how the unique structure of the book translates to film, and what exactly Flynn and Fincher changed about the ending.
Release Date: October 3rd (plays New York Film Festival)
Synopsis: A talented and ambitious young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) at a prestigious music academy is pushed to the limits of endurance and beyond by the hard-driving and brutal tactics of a ruthless teacher (JK Simmons) in the sophomore feature from Damien Chazelle, expanded from his 2013 short of the same name.
What You Need to Know: Turning heads at Sundance, which is where we caught up with it, “Whiplash”’s buzz has grown steadily throughout the year, making it one of the few Sundance movies to cause ripples at Cannes and beyond. An unusual take on the obsessive desire for artistic perfection and achievement, it poses serious questions about how far we should be willing to go to exploit our talents and those of others. And it also features another fine performance from Teller who is fast establishing himself as one of the best actors of his generation, and from the great veteran JK Simmons, here closer to his chilling “Oz” form than the cuddly dad of “Juno,” or the comically irascible J Jonah Jameson in the “Spider-man” movies.
Release Date: October 10th
Synopsis: Brad Pitt plays a soldier named Wardaddy who commands a tank called "Fury" during the final days of World War II. Predictably, he and his men (including Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena and Jon Berenthal, run into remaining Nazi forces, in the new film written and directed by "Training Day" scribe David Ayer.
What You Need to Know: While "Fury" does, ostensibly, seem exciting—it’s been an age since we had a decent tank movie—and it’s a chance for Pitt to return to World War II in gung-ho mode, without the wacky irreverence of "Inglourious Basterds," it’s probably good to keep expectations slightly in check. The film was bumped away from its more awards-friendly November release date to a comparatively stark October slot, seemingly without the benefit of a particularly high-profile festival berth either (sorry London Film Festival, no offense meant). Also, the last movie Ayer wrote and directed was the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led Agatha Christie adaptation "Sabotage," which was, in a word, terrible. Still Pitt, tanks and WWII—we are hoping for the best, and you can judge the trailer here.
Release Date: October 17th
Synopsis: In a brilliantly metatextual bit of casting, Michael Keaton plays an actor previously known for playing a superhero, who tries to mount a comeback as a serious actor (via a Broadway play). The film, co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, was loosely based on Raymond Carver‘s "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," and co-stars Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts.
What You Need to Know: Keaton has had a number of high-profile supporting roles this year, including in the underrated "Robocop" remake and the equally underrated car chase movie "Need for Speed," but this should put the actor back on top. It will also be nice to see Inarritu handle lighter material, considering SPOILER his last movie, "Biutiful," climaxed with Javier Bardem accidentally exterminating a basement full of illegal Chinese immigrants. SPOILER ENDS. The teasers, trailers and artwork have all looked fab so far, plus, hugely intriguing: cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has said the film has been edited together to resemble a single, unbroken take.
Release Date: October 17th (Premieres at the Venice Film Festival)
“Listen Up Philip”
Synopsis: An egotistical writer (Jason Schwartzmann), rendered suddenly insecure when he hears the New York Times is going to give his sophomore novel a poor review, retreats from his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) and goes to spend some time with his would-be mentor in his summer house upstate, in director Alex Ross Perry’s third feature.
What You Need to Know: In amongst the bombast and For Your Consideration banners and 2-page spreads of the fall awards season, if you want to make a little room for a small, genuine indie, “Listen Up Philip” is a gem, and was one of our very favorite films of the Sundance Film Festival. A hilarious, caustic and insightful look at the narcissism and egotism of the artistic temperament, marked by bullseye brilliant performances from Schwartzmann and Moss, and an acidic, biting script, it’s the perfect counterprogramming to the sprawling epics and heavy-hitting auteur efforts that define the season otherwise.
Release Date: October 17th
Synopsis: Jake Gyllenhaal, looking all skinny and strung-out, plays a freelance crime journalist in Los Angeles who gets in over his head (a character one could very much describe as a "Nightcrawler"). Rene Russo costars as a primetime news anchor whom Gyllenhaal is trying to con, with the cast rounded out by Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed. Judging by the teaser trailer, it’s going to be intense.
What You Need to Know: The film was written and directed by Dan Gilroy, who is not only married to Russo but is also the brother of "Bourne Legacy" writer/director Tony Gilroy and film editor John Gilroy (his twin). Gyllenhaal has had success recently with a string of powerful roles in things like "Prisoners" and "Enemy," although the whole "crime reporter" angle can sometimes make for questionable drama (remember that Joe Pesci movie "The Private Eye?" Nope, didn’t think so.) Still, with a special presentation at Toronto, that creepy trailer and a closing night slot at Fantastic Fest, we’re pretty optimistic, even if skinny Gyllenhaal’s bug-eyed stare is officially giving us nightmares.
Release date: October 31st
Synopsis: Set in a desolate future not too far off from now, Matthew McConaughey plays an engineer who is recruited to lead a scientific expedition that will involve travel through both space and time. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and John Lithgow co-star.
What You Need to Know: If that jaw-dropping trailer weren’t enough, we were in Hall H at San Diego Comic Con when both McConaughey and Christopher Nolan (directing his first film since capping off his explosive "Dark Knight" trilogy) spoke lovingly about the age of scientific exploration where whole nations would mount costly expeditions just because they wanted to find out what would happen. That spirit seems to course through the film. "Interstellar," which is based on a project that was once earmarked for Steven Spielberg, seems like it could be the rare studio blockbuster capable of delivering spectacle and brains. What will be interesting is to see if all of that awe and wonder can generate Oscar nominations as well (this is the first non-summer Nolan release since "The Prestige" in the fall of 2006).
Release date: November 7th
Synopsis: A drama based on the real-life experiences of Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), a British journalist who was detained in Iran for more than 100 days following a piece he wrote on the country’s presidential election. The title of the movie comes from the only discernible detail that Bahari remembers about his interrogators (since he was normally blindfolded): they smelled like rosewater. Gloriously-voiced Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, Danish actor Kim Bodnia and rising Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani round out this intriguing international cast.
What You Need to Know: For all the director’s own jocular reports of not knowing what he was doing, getting help from Ron Howard and JJ Abrams and the various language barriers the production had to contend with, someone (perhaps power producer Scott Rudin) clearly has a lot of faith in “Rosewater,” securing a prime awards-friendly November release slot. And of course, Stewart has long been one of our most astute and scathing cultural commentators, so it will truly be fascinating to see how much of his trademark insight he can bring to such a serious, loaded and potentially hot-button story.
Release Date: November 7th
Synopsis: Based on the weird true story, Steve Carell stars in Bennett Miller’s film as millionaire John DuPont who sets up an Olympic wrestling training facility and becomes embroiled in an obsessive relationship with a young aspiring wrestler (Channing Tatum) and his champion brother (Mark Ruffalo) with dark, ultimately tragic consequences.
What You Need to Know: A film we’d been anticipating long before it even premiered in Cannes, for those Playlisters lucky enough to see it there “Foxcatcher” exceeded even our high expectations. Bennett Miller richly deserved the Cannes Best Director award (in fact the film should have picked up a couple more gongs, according to us) and in its meticulous, detailed, emotionally bruising slow-burn way, this elegiac dissection of Americana is perhaps the perfect Fall release. Brainy, impeccably acted and chilling to the bone, it has to be a major awards contender for Miller and Tatum, but most of all for Carell who is in one fell swoop reborn as one of the most promising dramatic actors at work today. No joke.
Release Date: November 14th
"The Imitation Game"
Synopsis: A biographical film based on the tragic life of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a tortured mathematician and cryptologist who cracked the Enigma code during World War II and was later persecuted for his homosexuality. The film’s screenplay is based on "Alan Turing: The Enigma," a nonfiction book by Andrew Hodges, and co-stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Charles Dance.
What You Need to Know: The screenplay, written by novelist Graham Moore, ignited a bidding war when it first went to market, but then seemed to have trouble finding a director, ultimately gaining Morten Tyldum, who was responsible for the kicky Norwegian thriller "Headhunters." Based on the riveting trailer for the film, they have settled on the right filmmaker. And with the Weinstein Company handling distribution in the United States, Cumberbatch could get the Oscar nomination he was promised for last year’s subpar (although weirdly similar, thematically) Julian Assange biopic "The Fifth Estate."
Release Date: November 21st
Synopsis: Based on the best-selling, Oprah-approved memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed, this big screen adaptation stars Reese Witherspoon (who also produced) as Strayed, a woman who in response to personal crises, walked over 1,000 miles and found herself along the way.
What You Need to Know: The film is practically gilded in prestige: it’s director Jean-Marc Vallee‘s follow-up to last year’s awards-laden "Dallas Buyers Club," it’s based on a book that everybody has read, it’s adapted by "About A Boy" author Nick Hornby, and it’s angling to put a lump in your throat one way or another. The supporting cast is also terrific, with Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin and Brian Van Holt all offering up smaller roles. While the trailer is somewhat gooey, we’re hoping it doesn’t tip over into schmaltz and can maintain the rugged appeal of its title and give Witherspoon another chance to show off her acting chops.
Release Date: December 5th
Synopsis: Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the polyester-clad world of "Boogie Nights" for this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel "Inherent Vice," re-teaming with his "The Master" star Joaquin Phoenix for what is sure to be a very different movie. Joaquin plays a shaggy dog detective named Doc who is tasked with investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend. Things, predictably, get weird. The stacked cast also includes Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Martin Short and Anderson’s longtime partner Maya Rudolph.
What You Need to Know: Despite being, and remaining since January, our no. 1 most anticipated film of 2014, this movie is anybody’s guess – while it brings together some of Anderson’s most trusted collaborators (cinematographer Robert Elswit, composer Johnny Greenwood, Phoenix), it also seems to be totally insane, with early reports referencing everything from Robert Altman‘s "The Long Goodbye" to the slapstick films of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who did "Hot Shots!" and "The Naked Gun." This is going to be wild, and we can’t wait.
Release Date: December 12th (plays New York Film Festival)
"Exodus: Gods and Kings"
Synopsis: It’s the biblical tale (recounted in the Old Testament) of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, except big and epic and directed with perfume commercial flair by Ridley Scott. Christian Bale is Moses and Joel Edgerton is the orangey Pharaoh Rameses, while Aaron Paul is Joshua and Sigourney Weaver is Egyptian queen Tuya. John Turturro and Ben Kingsley are in there somewhere too, also orangey.
What You Need to Know: After last year’s low-budget Cormac McCarthy adaptation "The Counselor," Scott is back to the kind of large-scale event filmmaking that has defined his later career. And even by Scott’s standards this thing is huge, with thousands of extras, complex visual effects (the parting of the Red Sea should have a little more pizzazz since back when Charlton Heston did it) and a $150 million + budget. Hopefully the screenplay, by Steve Zaillian, will still be visible underneath all that sand and saltwater.
Release Date: December 12th
Synopsis: Mike Leigh’s period biopic of a last 25 years in the life of eccentric British painter JMW Turner (Timothy Spall) includes his sexual adventures, artistic struggles and personal challenges and his tempestuous relationship with the artistic establishment of the time.
What You Need to Know: Leigh is known as the preeminent master of improvisational kitchen sink realism, but this film sees him in atypical form, to possibly the best effect of his whole illustrious career. Pivoting around a massive central performance by Cannes Best Actor Spall, the film is as much a reflection on Leigh’s own stage in life and his attitude toward his contemporaries as it is a standard biography. And in its cinematography (appropriately painterly) and attention to period detail, it is visually by far Leigh’s most polished film ever. To give you some idea: our rave A- grade review from Cannes was maybe one of the least glowing accorded this late-period work from one of the most revered and distinctive directors working today.
Release Date: December 19th
Synopsis: The biographical tale of Walter and Margaret Keane (played by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and future shoo-in Amy Adams) who popularized paintings of willowy, large-eyed waifs. When Walter claimed that he was responsible for the paintings, his then-ex-wife took him to court, and was awarded damages after the judge forced them to have a "paint off." The truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.
What You Need to Know: "Big Eyes" marks the return of Tim Burton to a more modestly budgeted film (take a peek here) after a string of giant, visual effects-embellished, dramatically inert studio movies. What makes this even more exciting is that he’s re-teaming with his "Ed Wood" writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski (they also produce). And with a primo Christmas Day release date and the considerable power of the Weinsteins, this could be a major Oscar contender as well. Hopefully Burton hasn’t lost his mojo while making all of that fluff.
Release Date: December 25th
Synopsis: The true life story of inspirational figure Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete who, during World War II, survives a plane crash, spends more than a month adrift in the ocean ("Life of Pi" style, except without the tiger) and then is picked up by the Japanese and forced into various POW camps for the next two years. Zamperini passed away recently, but not before he’d given director Angelina Jolie, and the whole production, his blessing.
What You Need to Know: Based on the best-selling nonfiction book of the same name (by "Seabiscuit" author Laura Hillenbrand), the film, directed by Jolie, features a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, a score by Alexandre Desplat, cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins, was partially bankrolled by Legendary Pictures and is edited by longtime Ang Lee confederate Tim Squyres. Oh and it stars anointed next big thing Jack O’Connell, who we’ve been told will be getting a Best Actor push. It’s big. It’s powerful. It’s inspirational. So, yes, this looks like it’s aiming to win every Academy Award they’ve got.
Release Date: December 25th
Synopsis: A historical drama centered around the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr (played, in the film, by David Oyelowo), partially as a protest against the murder of Voting Rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. The 54-mile stretch is currently memorialized as a U.S. National Historical trail.
What You Need to Know: This was one of those movies that was perpetually on the verge of getting made, most famously by "Lee Daniels’ The Butler" director Lee Daniels, who intended it as his follow-up to that film. Ultimately, Ava DuVernay, whose film "Middle of Nowhere" won her the Best Director prize at Sundance a few years ago, took over the film, co-writing it with Paul Webb and retaining Oyelowo, who was cast during development of the Daniels version. DuVernay was joined by some heavyweights behind the camera, as well, when Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt signed on as producers (Oprah also has a supporting role in the cast). With a starry cast playing historical figures like Tom Wilkinson (as LBJ), Tim Roth (as George Wallace), Common (as civil rights leader James Bevel) and Dylan Baker (as J. Edgar Hoover) and distribution by prestige label Paramount Vantage, and "Selma" truly is a potential awards season behemoth.
Release Date: December 25th
Synopsis: Based on the life of Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), a US Navy SEAL who was supposedly the most lethal sniper in the history of the American military. After racking up nearly 300 kills, Kyle was murdered on a shooting range in Texas two years before his 40th birthday.
What You Need to Know: For a while "American Sniper" was slated to be Steven Spielberg‘s follow-up to Oscar-winning history lesson "Lincoln." (Cooper’s frequent collaborator David O. Russell briefly considered taking on the project before that.) But soon after Spielberg dropped out, Clint Eastwood came aboard, making "American Sniper" his second film of 2014 (the other one being "Jersey Boys," so the only way is up). With an Oscar-qualifying late December limited release, it looks like Warner Bros is positioning this as a potential Oscar heavyweight. We’ll see if the grim subject matter and potential controversy (Kyle’s estate was sued by Jesse Ventura, for example) can be overcome by Eastwood’s gravitas and Cooper’s charisma.
Release Date: December 25th
Synopsis: Living with his wife and child in a remote town on the Barents sea, Kolya (Alexei Serebryakov) responds to the attempts of the corrupt local mayor to gain possession of his home and land, by attempting blackmail.
What You Need to Know: As much as we’ve greatly admired previous films from Russian auteur Andrei Zvyagintsev (“The Return,” “Elena”) we weren’t really prepared for just how impressive his Cannes 2014 contender, and eventual Best Screenplay-winner, would be. A devastatingly intelligent parable that invests the small story of a family’s struggle against local corruption with mythic overtones, the film unfolds slowly but invests every frame with such detail and import that it’s simply riveting, and laden with contemporary relevance too. Ironically, considering it was tipped for the Palme but “only” won Best Screenplay, one its most impressive aspects is its cinematography, not just the bleak, stark, dramatic landscapes, but also the clever way the camera moves, what Zvyaginstev chooses to show us and what he choose to exclude. A fascinating, brilliant film, this is one we can’t wait to rewatch and unpack further. What else would you be doing on New Year’s Eve?
Release Date: December 31st
Documentaries & Animations
Purely for space we excluded documentaries, but there are three terrific ones on the way: Baseball pic "No No: A Dockumentary" on September 5th (review); rambly, enjoyable Nick Cave doc "20000 Days on Earth" on Sept 17 (review); and the brilliant "The Overnighters" on Nov 7th (review). And there are three animated films releasing in the next while too: "The Boxtrolls," which plays Venice, releases on September 26th, and we’ll be reviewing very soon; the bonkers-sounding "The Book of Life" (Oct 17th), based on Mexico’s Day of the Dead folklore; and Studio Ghibli‘s delightful "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" (also Oct 17th) which we reviewed and loved in Cannes.
Otherwise, well, it’s going to be a packed few months and if we didn’t have to call a halt somewhere we could easily have padded this list to include another dozen or so films we’re at least keeping a weather eye out for. Biggest among those just missing the cut is probably "The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies," which will be out December 17th, but while Christmas would hardly feel like Christmas without a trip to Middle Earth, we just couldn’t get that lathered up for what is such a known quantity. Also, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall should really have guaranteed "The Judge" a place on the main list too, but the Oscar baity film, which releases on October 10th, just doesn’t get our juices flowing. And Stephen Hawking biopic "The Theory of Everything" which shows at TIFF and comes out November 7th just hasn’t quite grabbed us as yet either, but we are very willing to be proven wrong there.
More anguish-inducing to exclude were some smaller films which we’ve already seen and know to be great: joyous gay rights movie "Pride" will be out on September 19th (review); Mia Wasikowska wowed us in John Curran‘s "Tracks" also out on Sept 17 (review); buzzed Brit indie "Lilting" with Ben Whishaw gets a small release on September 26th; Michael Shannon-starring Sundance favorite "Young Ones" will come out on October 17th (review); and hot Sundance horror "The Babadook" will be in theaters on November 28th (review).
And then there were a whole host of other indies that we liked a great deal, but many of them will get their due in our upcoming monthly list of films to watch: Ari Folman‘s shambolic but energetic sci-fi "The Congress" Aug 29 (review); Tsai Ming-Liang‘s deeply difficult but ultimately rewarding "Stray Dogs" Sept 12 (review); Terry Gilliam‘s partial return to form "The Zero Theorem" Sept 17 (review); Mathieu Amalric’s elegant, composed "The Blue Room" Oct 3 (review); sharp Sundance comedy "Dear White People" Oct 17 (review); and Gregg Araki‘s "White Bird in a Blizzard" with Shailene Woodley Oct 24th (review).
Truly the period between now and Christmas is, well, a lot like Christmas for cinephiles. Tell us what you’re particularly anticipating, or get incensed about no-shows like "Dumb and Dumber To" and "Into the Woods," below.
–Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor