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The Fall Film Preview: 35 Must-See Films To Watch

The Fall Film Preview: 35 Must-See Films To Watch

We’re past Labor Day, and that can only mean one thing: you need to stop wearing white. But if it means two things, it’s that we’re now in the fall, and accompanying it is the fall movie season. The summer blockbuster season is dormant, the festivals are underway, and it’s going to get a little classier in the multiplexes. 

Well, just a little —we still have Vin Diesel in “The Last Witch Hunter,” obviously. But fall is when it’s deemed that adults are more willing to go to the movies, and so the lineup even with respect to commercial cinema is a little more exciting as a result. We’ve already previewed Venice, Telluride and TIFF, but even aside from those, there’s plenty more to come between now and Christmas, so below is our 2015 Fall Movie Preview, excluding stuff we’ve already talked about in our festival previews, or seen earlier in the year at Sundance, SXSW or Cannes. Take a look below, and let us know what you’re most looking forward to. 

“Black Mass”

Like every other movie lover over the age of 20 with a semi-functioning memory, we want our Johnny Depp back. And in “Black Mass,” Scott Cooper‘s take on the story of notorious Boston-ganglord Whitey Bulger, he may have his best role in years. A near-unrecognizable Depp plays Bulger, while Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, Juno Temple, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson join him in a killer ensemble. It’s only Cooper’s third feature after “Crazy Heart” and “Out of the Furnace,” and per our Venice review, he’s done a solid job —the film “skates so close to the kind of dizzy dark pleasure that Martin Scorsese’s gangster movies exude,” though it doesn’t quite get there. But that’s close enough for us.

When? September 18th

“Sicario”

With the double-header of “Prisoners” and “Enemy” behind him and “Blade Runner 2” ahead, Denis Villeneuve is one of the most interesting helmers around, so that he calls “Sicario” his “best film yet… the most ambitious in terms of scope [and] also my most accessible film” is something to pay attention to. We haven’t had a satisfying fictional look at the world of Mexican cartels since “Traffic,” but Villeneuve’s assembled a terrific cast, including a much-deserved leading role for the great Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro’s best performance since “Che” as a cold-hearted killer. The film received warm notices at Cannes, though some had reservations: our review called it “a very solid procedural that eschews bigger drama in favor of a continual slow build… to nowhere in particular.” But it’s worth seeing just for the performances, the gorgeous direction and typically outstanding work from DP Roger Deakins.

When? September 18th in limited, expanding from there.

“The Martian”

Currently hoping to surf the same wave of success that “Gravity” previously found at the fall festivals, “The Martian,” adapted from Andy Weir’s novel by “Cabin In The Woods”’ Drew Goddard, sees Matt Damon as an astronaut who is believed dead, is abandoned by his crewmates and has to find a way to survive on a planet that can’t sustain life. The book is beloved (particularly due to an unexpected veil of humor), the cast —Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Donald Glover and Mackenzie Davis— might be the year’s best, and the trailers have been splendid. The biggest question mark here is probably Ridley Scott —the veteran director’s been off his game for a while, and if he can mess up Cormac McCarthy, he can probably do the same here. But our hopes are still high that he’s got a great one in him still.

When? October 2nd

The Walk” 
Seven years after the excellent “Man On Wire” won the Best Documentary prize at the Oscars, Robert Zemeckis is attempting to go for the gold with another take on the story of Philippe Petit’s wire-walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It’s the director’s second live-action film after his decade spent, mostly fruitlessly, working with mo-cap animation. Opening the New York Film Festival, this film promises to be a meticulous recreation of Petit’s daring escapade (though seemingly with the edges taken off: it won’t show him celebrating the feat by… cheating on his girlfriend, as “Man On Wire” did), with Zemeckis’ usual technical boundary-pushing in play, with IMAX 3D likely to give acrophobes nightmare. Less of a sure thing is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an odd wig and French accent as Petit, but so long as this is less dim-witted than “Flight,” we’re keen to check it out. 
When? September 30th in IMAX, then wider on October 9th. 

Pan

One of the big rolls of the dice of the fall, this film could either be a bold, colorful and inventive new take on the fairy tale reboot sub-genre, or a disastrous misfire that makes “Hook” look like “Pan’s Labyrinth.” A prequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the first blockbuster foray from “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina” director Joe Wright sees orphan Peter (newcomer Levi Miller) kidnapped by fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) and taken on a flying pirate ship to Neverland, where he befriends adventurer James Hook (Garret Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), among others. Trailers so far suggest that Wright’s swinging for the fences here: it’s unfashionably lacking in grit, which is pleasing, but it’s also clearly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Or perhaps anyone’s —Warner Bros. delayed the film from opening in the summer, which is either a canny move to get out of a crowded summer, or a “Jupiter Ascending”-style signal that they don’t have much faith in the film. 
When? October 9th

“Steve Jobs”

Five years on from “The Social Network,” Aaron Sorkin is back in the tech world and in the awards game for this long-gestating biopic of the Apple founder. Originally planned to team David Fincher and Christian Bale, the film went through some very public ups and downs thanks to the Sony hack (it eventually switched studios and ended up at Universal), but got into production late last year with Danny Boyle at the helm and Michael Fassbender starring. And the results, if our review from Telluride is anything to go by, are cracking: “a deliriously quick-footed and orchestrally pitched character study… an ambitious, deeply captivating portrait of the high cost of genius.” The cast, which includes Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Katherine Waterston, are superb, but it’s Fassbender who dominates, his “commitment to Jobs’ unflinching intolerance and speed of mind is just sensational.” It’s heading for a big NYFF premiere, and then, it seems likely, the Oscars.
When? October 9th

“Beasts of No Nation”

A long-gestating, dearly held passion project from a director who has brought a marked degree of passion to everything he’s done thus far, we’ve been anticipating Cary Joji Fukunaga‘s “Beasts of No Nation” since we first heard about it —and that was long before his triumphant take on season 1 of “True Detective.” Starring Idris Elba, the only name actor in a cast of mostly unknowns, and based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, the film tells the story of Agu (newcomer Abraham Attah) a child soldier in thrall to the charismatic commandant of a rebel militia (Elba) caught up in his country’s civil war after his parents are murdered. Netflix’s first big foray into movies seems to have paid off, per our Venice review, which called it “immersive and profoundly moving… matching Fukunaga’s proven storytelling grace with a story truly worth the telling.”

When? In select theaters on October 16th, the same day it becomes available on Netflix worldwide.

“Room”

Though he’s been hotly tipped in Ireland for a while now, Lenny Abrahamson has turned the heads of cinephiles more widely in the last couple of years, first with searing drama “What Richard Did,” and then with the hilarious, sad about-turn of “Frank.” His latest “Room” should bring his widest audience yet —based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, it’s the story of a child raised by his mother in a single room until they’re freed from captivity. Starring Brie Larson as the mother, young breakout Jacob Tremblay as her son, and Joan Allen and William H. Macy as her parents, the film’s “a deeply moving and suspenseful drama,” according to our Telluride review, with “astonishing and revelatory turns” from Tremblay and from Larson, who looks like she could get the Oscar nod that she deserved for “Short Term 12” a few years back.

When? October 16th

“Truth”

Robert Redford’s late-career renaissance —he’s done everything from carry a movie solo with “All Is Lost” to playing a Marvel villain in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and given up directing faintly dull movies in the process— has been something to watch, and he’s going onwards and upwards with his latest, “Truth.” The star plays legendary newsman Dan Rather in the story of how Rather and his producer (Cate Blanchett) investigated reports of George W. Bush’s questionable military record, only to see their careers unravel as a result. The film marks the directorial debut of “Zodiac” screenwriter James Vanderbilt, and though it co-stars Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss, the big draw here is definitely whether Redford can earn the awards run that he should have had for “All Is Lost.” With a prime fall release and big TIFF premiere, Sony Pictures Classics certainly seem to hope so.

When? October 16th

Crimson Peak
Guillermo Del Toro never seems to have subscribed much to the ‘one for them, one for me’ philosophy: the Mexican helmer invests as much passion and personality in his superhero movies as in his smaller movies. But even by those standards, “Crimson Peak” seems like it’ll be the most ‘for him’ that we’ve seen as far as his big-budget studio movies go, and that’s undoubtedly something to be excited about. A sexed up Gothic horror about an American writer who is whisked off her feet by a British aristocrat only to find trouble in both her new husband’s creepy old house and his demented sister, the film’s got a top-drawer cast, with Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston leading (along with Charlie Hunnam, who presumably won a competition… or something), and what looks to be some astonishing production value in the house of the title, which appears to be as much a character as anything else. Could this be Del Toro reclaiming the mantle of “Pan’s Labyrinth?” 
When? October 16th

Bridge Of Spies” 

He was there in spirit this summer with “Jurassic World,” but Steven Spielberg returns in earnest next month, albeit in more serious, dinosaur-free mode with “Bridge Of Spies.” Marking the director’s first collaboration with the Coen Brothers (they rewrote a script by newcomer Matt Charman), this film tells the true story of attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who defended a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) before being tasked with swapping him for a captured U.S. pilot at the height of the Cold War. It looks to be Spielberg back in “Lincoln” mode, using historical events to comment on the contemporary milieu, but he could be making a feature-length “My Little Pony” movie and we’d be turning up to watch it. Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson, Sebastian Koch, Domenick Lombardozzi and Austin Stowell co-star, and the film will turn up at the New York Film Festival before it goes on wide release. 
When? October 16th

“Our Brand Is Crisis”

Three years ago, “Argo” emerged on the festival circuit and became an instant Oscar front-runner. Could another star-powered, quirky political thriller manage the trick this year? Based on a documentary from 2005, “Our Brand Is Crisis,” written by “Frank” scribe Peter Straughan and directed in his first serious awards season prospect by David Gordon Green, tells the based-in-fact story of U.S. political consultants competing over a Bolivian presidential election, with Sandra Bullock (in a performance that’s already getting Oscar buzz), Billy Bob Thornton, Ann Dowd, Zoe Kazan, Scoot McNairy, Anthony Mackie and Joaquim De Almeida all along for the ride. Once tipped as a directorial effort for George Clooney (he’s still producing), this could turn out to be more “Ides of March” than “Argo,” but we’re fascinated to see what Gordon Green can do with material like this, and the recent trailer looks strong.

When? October 30th

“Brooklyn”

Irish director John Crowley made an impressive debut with the sprawling, snarling “Intermission,” but fell off the radar subsequently as his next three features culminating in 2013’s “Closed Circuit” all underperformed (rather undeservedly, especially in the case of “Boy A“). “Brooklyn” finds him with a bigger canvas in the source material of Colm Toibin‘s book of the same name, and his cast is impeccable, showcasing three of the most exciting younger talents around in Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen, with a sweeping period backdrop. Ever since its Sundance premiere, the film’s been gathering fans and awards buzz: it might be Oscar bait, but it’s Oscar bait done right, with our review calling it “gorgeously rendered and impeccably crafted,” and that “not enough good things” can be said about Ronan’s central performance. Probably your mom’s favorite film of the season, but possibly yours too.
When? November 6th

“Spotlight”

If our enthusiasm for all things Tom McCarthy, including his first three directorial features “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win,” couldn’t survive last year’s “The Cobbler,” he’s firmly back on top with his fifth feature, which became an instant hit with our Venice and Telluride correspondents and an instant Oscar contender. Part expose and part newsroom story, it traces the Boston Globe‘s groundbreaking investigation into the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church, and stars Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup. It’s the kind of story that could easily become salacious or hyperbolic, but our Venice review says that it steers well clear of being all of those things —instead it’s a “scintillating, superb [and] maybe the best film about inspirational investigative journalism since “All The President’s Men.” Welcome back, Mr. McCarthy.

When? November 6th

The Peanuts Movie
They’re some of the most beloved icons of childhood for generations, so it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Charlie Brown & gang to reach the big-screen. Based on Charles Schultz’s comic striop, this new CGI animation from “Ice Age” creators Blue Sky, “Horton Hears A Who” director Steve Martino and unstoppable producer Paul Feig takes Charlie, Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, PIgpen, Peppermint Patty et al into a third dimension, though footage so far suggests that the transition hasn’t been too painful, aesthetically speaking. The trailer’s use of DJ Khaled had some worrying indications of a transient, pop-culture gag-filled version, but on the whole this seems to be sticking fairly faithfully to the strips everyone loves so much, with a slight “Freaks & Geeks”-ish tinge from Feig. All being well, no childhoods will have been ruined, and a few more younger ones will have been improved. 
When? November 6th

Spectre” 
Following the billion-dollar success of “Skyfall,” the most successful Bond movie by a country mile, won’t be an easy task. But keeping the film’s creative team, most notably director Sam Mendes and writer John Logan, seems to be a good start for a film that continues the trend of the Daniel Craig era and takes a more serialized approach that delves into 007’s background. As the title suggests, this film reintroduces the organization that has often been Bond’s greatest nemeses, with Christoph Waltz as the top guy (who all involved insist isn’t Ernst Stavro Blofeld, though we suspect we’re being John Harrison-ed here). Dave Bautista (as an Oddjob-style henchman), Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux and Andrew Scott are the newcomers, with Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear back for more, and the action looks typically spectacular. But are there surprises still to come? 
When? October 26th in much of the world, 6 November in the U.S. 

By The Sea
“Well meaning but dull” is the best description for Angelina Jolie Pitt’s directorial efforts so far, “In the Land Of Blood And Honey” and last year’s Oscar under-performer “Unbroken,” but she has another chance to prove she can helm as well as she can act this year with “By The Sea.” Something of a throwback to classical European cinema, the film pairs Jolie Pitt with husband Brad Pitt as an ex-dancer and an author whose long marriage is tested during a vacation in France. Melanie Laurent and Niels Arestrup are among the locals joining the A-list duo, while Michael Haneke’s regular DoP Christian Berger is shooting the film. Early footage suggests something more promising and less worthy than the director’s earlier outings, but there’s a risk that it may become a “Gigli” or “Eyes Wide Shut,” seeing its virtues, or lack of them, overshadowed by the chance to gawp at a world-famous coupling. 
When? November 13th, after premiering at AFI Fest. 

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2” 
Only three-and-a-half years on, and the last installment of the biggest and certainly best YA franchise of recent times arrives in a few short months. The first part of “Mockingjay” was a bit of a step down from “Catching Fire,” being crippled slightly by the decision to split the third book into two and feeling thin as a result, but as with the final ‘Harry Potter‘ film, expect the second part to make up for that, with all-out warfare as Katniss’ rebels take on President Snow and the Capital. “Game Of Thrones”’ Gwendoline Christie is the only new addition of real note for this film, but pretty much everyone living will be back, and fans of the book will know not to expect an entirely happy ending —more than one beloved character will be in a box by the end of the movie. And as much as anything, it’ll mark a last chance to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman onscreen, nearly two years after his passing. 
When? November 20th

“Secret In Their Eyes”
12 Years A Slave” finally made Chiwetel Ejiofor bankable as a leading man, and his first big move after that film’s success was to star in this remake of the 2011 Argentinean Oscar-winner, written and directed by Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “Breach”). The setting has moved to the U.S. and sees Ejiofor as an FBI agent who’s trying to solve the murder thirteen years earlier of the daughter of his former partner (Julia Roberts). Nicole Kidman lends some A-list support, while cable drama favorites Dean Norris and Michael Kelly are also involved. We like Ray a lot as a writer and filmmaker, the cast are brilliant, and STX had success with this kind of grown-up thriller in the summer with “The Gift,” but we’re yet to see any evidence that this makes sense as an American movie stripped of the political context that made its source material so powerful. We’re willing to be convinced, though. 
When? November 20th

“Carol”

After picking up a heap of Emmys for miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” Todd Haynes returns to the big screen for the first time in nearly eight years with material that seems pretty much perfect for him. We’re in Sirkian melodrama territory with this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price Of Salt,” though likely without the same kind of stylistic aping as the great “Far From Heaven.” As usual, Haynes has rustled up a killer cast: after their last collaboration on “I’m Not There” won her an Oscar nomination, Cate Blanchett returns to work with the director, while Rooney Mara has her best material since “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (also in the support cast: “Portlandia” and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, awesomely). Word from Cannes was golden, with our review saying that the film “shimmers and bewitches,” with Blanchett being “stunning” and Mara a “revelation.” Looks like a major Oscar contender to us.

When? November 20th

Creed
Adriaaaaaan! Six movies in and nearly a decade after his last comeback, Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning creation Rocky Balboa is back, but the twist is that he’s not the star of his own movie. As the title suggests, “Creed” focuses on Adonis Creed, the troubled son of Rocky’s adversary turned pal Apollo, with a cancer-stricken Rocky stepping into the Burgess Meredith role as his trainer. The film comes from Ryan Coogler, the director behind the much-praised “Fruitvale Station,” with Michael B. Jordan playing the title role (Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashād and “Dear White People” breakout Tessa Thompson are in support), and response to the trailer has been enormously positive, with some suggesting this could mark a return to the awards game for the first time since the original “Rocky.” But can Coogler do what “Southpaw” couldn’t and find a new spin on the tired boxing movie genre? 
When? November 25th

The Good Dinosaur
We’re being truly spoiled in 2015: for the first time ever, we’re getting two Pixar movies in one calendar year, just six months apart. The first, “Inside Out,” marked the studio’s return to form with one of their best-ever movies, so hopes are high for the second, “The Good Dinosaur” (especially given how hot dinos are right now at the box office). A twist on a boy-and-his-dog story with a talking Apatosaur and his silent, feral human boy companion on an epic journey, the film’s had the typical Pixar troubled gestation (“Up” co-director Bob Peterson was replaced as helmer), but looks to be one of the company’s most beautiful films to date, though we’re not yet sold on the cartoonish characters melding with the photo-realistic backdrops. Still, as a Pixar movie without the word “Cars” in the title, this firmly gets the benefit of the doubt for now. 
When? November 25th

The Night Before
Seth Rogen didn’t have a great Christmas last year: his movie “The Interview” caused an international incident, possibly inspired the Sony hack and was mostly pulled from theaters (and also not being that great). But things look much more promising this holiday season, with the actor getting awards buzz for “Steve Jobs,” and starring in this Xmas-themed comedy, which reteams him with “50/50” director and co-star Jonathan Levine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The duo and Anthony Mackie play a trio of childhood friends on a Christmas Eve bender, and we should be getting the traditional Rogen/Goldberg mix of foul-mouthed, drug-fuelled gags and lots of heart. Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan and Mindy Kaling also turn up, and the trailer delivers some pretty big laughs: hopefully there’ll be many more, and some Christmas spirit, to be found in the finished film. 
When? November 25th

“The Danish Girl”

The potential Oscariness of any movie is an unfair, rather demeaning matrix on which to gauge a film in advance, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Step forth, “The Danish Girl,” from 2011 Best Director Tom Hooper, starring 2014 Best Actor Eddie Redmayne and inevitable future nominee Alicia Vikander, based on David Ebershoff‘s award-winning novel concerning the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery. All that gloss and dazzle aside, the early pictures of Redmayne look remarkable and both he and Vikander are excellent, even if Hooper’s well-meaning but rather vanilla movie “delicately looks away from anything that threatens to steer the narrative away from the single note of Finding The Courage To Be Yourself,” according to our review from Venice. Still, with the cast involved (with Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard and Matthias Schoenaerts in supporting roles), and Hooper’s track record, don’t dismiss this from the Oscar contention yet.

When? November 27th

“I Saw The Light”

This biopic promises to put Tom Hiddleston a little further out of his comfort zone than his other fall festival outing “High-Rise” —the very English actor is starring as country music legend Hank Williams and is singing the songs as such. Written and directed by veteran producer Marc Abraham (“Children Of Men”), it looks to focus on the sweep of Williams’ troubled, alcohol and drug-suffused life, and specifically on his relationship with first wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen). Abraham’s first film, windshield-wiper-inventor biopic “Flash Of Genius” was milquetoast, and it remains to be seen if anyone can take a country biopic seriously after “Walk Hard,” but we’re fascinated to see how Hiddleston does, and a prime awards-season slot from Sony Pictures Classics suggests the studio has faith in him.

When? November 27th

“Macbeth”

It’s close to twenty years since a big-screen Shakespeare adaptation truly kicked our asses, namerly Baz Luhrmann’s take on “Romeo + Juliet” — could another Australian be the man to revitalize the Bard adaptation sub-genre? Justin Kurzel, who was behind the beautifully bleak serial killer tale “The Snowtown Murders,” is at the helm for this period-appropriate, blood-soaked take on one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, one that has been filmed multiple times, notably by Polanski and Welles, to varying effect. Kurzel has got the killer pairing of Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in the lead roles, as well as a host of British character actors in support. Harvey Weinstein seemed to have wanted a less arty version than the one he’s got (he’s ‘Immigrant‘-ing it, skipped the fall festivals, and struck a deal with Amazon to see it on VOD swiftly), but we dug it enormously, calling it “brooding, dense and consistently magnificent.”

When? December 4th

Krampus
Michael Dougherty’s horror anthology “Trick R Treat” was a huge treat for genre fans  clever, lovingly fashioned, and genuinely scary  but for some baffling reason, was heavily delayed and barely released in theaters. Eight years on, Dougherty is back with another seasonal chiller that should get a lot more support. Following the German mythological creature of the title, a sort of anti-Santa, this sees a young boy unleash the Krampus due to his lack of festive spirit, and promises to be a sort of ’80s throwback horror in the vein of “Gremlins.” The cast has several ringers for this sort of horror-comedy vibe — Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Alison Tolman — and Dougherty proved with “Trick R Treat” that he has real talent. If Universal can sell it right, this could be a welcome holiday season antidote.
When? December 4th

In The Heart Of The Sea
It’s almost strange, in our CGI-happy era, that we’ve never had a big-screen “Moby Dick” adaptation (Timur Bekmambetov, among others, did try), but Ron Howard’s “In The Heart Of The Sea” is the next best thing. Based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, it tells the story of the real-life incident that inspired Mellville’s classic: the ship The Essex was sunk by an enormous whale, leaving its crew shipwrecked and, eventually, resorting to cannibalism. Pushed back from the spring to help its Oscar chances, it reteams Howard with his “Rush” star Chris Hemsworth, while Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Riley, and new Spider-Man Tom Holland sail with him. We’ve had plenty of sea survival tales recently, from “Life Of Pi” to “Unbroken,” and we’re not sure that Howard is necessarily the right person to bring something fresh, but if the story’s extraordinary enough, it could well be worth the voyage. 
When? December 11th

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” 
It’s an impressive feat that we’ve gotten this close to the release of the most anticipated film since, well, the last time that “Star Wars” came back, while knowing so little about it. J.J. Abrams’ mystery box has let out only snippets of information over its hotly-watched production, to the extent that three months from release, we only have the vaguest idea of what the story is, and who the new characters are. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting, in fact, it’s probably more so, in part because everything we’ve seen suggests that Abrams has nailed his mega-revival. For the until-recently-comatose, new stars John Boyega, Oscar Issaac, and Daisy Ridley on the Light Side, and Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, and Domhnall Gleeson on the Dark, with Max Von Sydow and Lupita Nyong’o somewhere in the middle, join the original cast. And whatever happens, you’re seeing this anyway, right? 
When? December 18th

Son Of Saul

A movie’s merit should never be simply reduced to its Oscar chances, but to deviate slightly from our remit, and to impress upon you how valued “Son Of Saul” is, Hungary was essentially the first film to submit ‘Saul’ as their foreign language Oscar contender because it’s a sure fire hit. The feature-length directorial debut of Lazlo Nemes, “Son Of Saul” is formally dazzling and spiritually harrowing. Set during the Holocaust, it centers on Sonderkommando Hungarian Jew, a man forced to place fellow Jews into gas chambers and them help dispose of the remains. The titular Saul then spots his illegitimate child in the trail of bodies and the grim and hellish movie transforms into a kind of visceral thriller where the protagonist relentlessly tries to find a Rabbi in order to give the boy a proper burial. With its super elaborate long takes, it’s like “Birdman” meets Dante’s “Inferno.” It’s an unflinchingly grueling, but tremendous masterwork that’s already got the frontrunner status for Best Foreign Language Oscar [our review].
When? December 18th

“45 Years”

A retired English couple (played by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) reflect on their lives after nearly a half-century together — it doesn’t exactly sound like the most exciting film on earth, but holy hell director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) grows staggering leaps and bounds with this wonderfully nuanced character study that looks into our secrets, lies, and the forlorn ache of the emotions we’re not able to express. Beautifully crafted, sumptuously shot, “45 Years” is delicately made and features two fantastic performances by Rampling and Courtney. With minor apologies to the latter (who is still really terrific), the former is the role of a lifetime, and stunningly devastating work. Andrew Haigh is all of 42-years-old, but this intimately mature work feels like something that might be made by a filmmaker twice his age. If the subject doesn’t interest you much, let us assure you, between the filmmaking, performances, and story, this is emotional disquiet of the finest form. Read our review from Berlin

When? Opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 23.

Joy
David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence have become one of the great director/star pairings of modern times, but “Joy,” their third movie together (with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro also coming along for the ride again) looks to start a new phase. Loosely based on the life of the founder of the Miracle Mop, this is a film that Russell has given some high falutin’ comparisons to (“Citizen Kane,” among others), aiming to be nothing less than a portrait of the American Dream. With a story that spans decades, and multiple strong roles for women (Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini as Joy’s grandmother, mother, and stepmother, respectively, all have significant parts to play), this seems to mark the beginning of a new phase for the director, a step away from his ‘Yelling And Dolly Shots’ Trilogy, but there’s every sign that he’ll be as successful at awards time. 
When? Christmas Day

Snowden
It’s been almost twenty years since he last made a great movie, but that hasn’t stopped Oliver Stone from chasing provocative subjects, and he’s got a doozy with his latest, “Snowden,” which, as it might sound, is a biopic of Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who leaked classified information, becoming a hero to some and a traitor to others. Following in the footsteps of last year’s Oscar-winning documentary, “CitizenFour,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his second awards-chasing role of the year, plays Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, and, in a rare appearance in something that could be theoretically decent, Nicolas Cage, in support. Like we said, Stone’s been off his game for a while, but here’s hoping that having material as fiery as this will help him back to form in a way that George W. Bush, Wall Street, and 9/11 couldn’t. 
When? Christmas Day

The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature (assuming you’re counting “Kill Bill” as two) has been causing a fuss since even before it went into production: a script leak almost caused the director to abandon the project, and he’s been causing a stir of late with some controversial interviews. But soon we’ll have more than hype to deal with, we’ll have the movie too, and new Tarantino is always a reason for celebration. Gathering a mix of his faves (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, and obviously Samuel L. Jackson) and newcomers (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demien Bichir, Channing Tatum), this is, for the most part, a claustrophobic single-location piece that Tarantino says is about race in America, which happens to be shot in glorious 70mm (and is getting the widest release on the format in twenty-five years to celebrate). Love him or loathe him, this is what you’ll be talking about over the Christmas break. 
When? Christmas Day

The Revenant
The other A-list Western landing on Christmas Day, “The Revenant,” sees Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, fresh from the Oscar-winning success of “Birdman,” going back in time for the based-in-fact story of Hugh Glass, a trapper in the 1820s who was left to die after being mauled by a bear by his companions, only to survive and set out to find them for vengeance. Previously a project for Park Chan-wook and John Hillcoat, this became Inarritu’s “Birdman” follow-up, and despite a nightmarish production and heavy delays, it looks on course to be a big awards season challenger. Leonardo DiCaprio stars, with Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson in support, but surely the main draw here for many is the chance to see two-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki shoot scenes of old-timey chaos which, if the trailer is anything to go by, promise to be breathtaking.
When? Christmas Day

What Else? Well, aside from the various Venice/TIFF/Telluride premieres we’ve covered elsewhere, there’s M. Night Shyamalan’s return for “The Visit,” Melanie Laurent’s pretty good Breathe,” Richard Gere in excellent form in Time Out Of Mind,” and Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis’ Sleeping With Other People (all September 11th). September 18th welcomes you to the Scorch with “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” the sequel to last year’s surprisingly good YA adaptation; Elle Fanning as a trans teen in “About Ray”; Tobey Maguire playing chess in Pawn Sacrifice; and Amy Berg’s Mormon-doc Prophet’s Prey 

Eli Roth’s long-delayed, not particularly welcome cannibal horror,The Green Inferno,” finally arrives September 25th, along with Adam Sandler animation “Hotel Transylvania 2,” Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in “The Intern,” Andrew Garfield seizing “99 Homeswith Michael Shannon, badass feminist Western The Keeping Room with Brit Marling, and Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds doing the Mississippi Grind.” Sundance opener “The Bronze” hits on October 16th, while October 23rd brings Bradley Cooper chef-com “Burnt,” animation adaptation “Jem And The Holograms,” Vin Diesel as “The Last Witch Hunter,” horror sequel “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” Sarah Silverman in Sundance drama I Smile Back,” and Bill Murray in “Rock The Kasbah.” 

October 30th has horror-comedy “Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse” and Italian Cannes favorite “The Wonders.” Chilean miner drama “The 33” comes November 13th, with horror sequel “Rings” and Christopher Abbott in Sundance-approved James White.” James McAvoy is “Victor Frankenstein” on November 25th, while R-Patz and D-DeHann examine Life,” and Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel find “Youth” on December 4th. Maggie Smith is “The Lady In The Van” on December 11th, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler‘s “Sisters” goes up against “Star Wars” on December 18th. Will Smith gets a “Concussion” on Christmas Day, along with the “Point Break” remake, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in “Daddy’s Home,” and, of course, “Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” 

— Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez

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