The weather may not have gotten any cooler around here, but the summer season is indeed drawing to a close. With it go all the $300M blockbusters, the superhero movies, and basically anything directed by Peter Berg or starring Taylor Kitsch. But with their departure come the movies many people have been eagerly waiting on pins and needles all year for. The arrival of fall leads us right into the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, where many of the films that will be vying for attention this coming awards season will take their first bows.
As crowded as summer is, the fall is even more so, which makes this a good time to highlight just a handful of my most anticipated movies that you’re likely to find at the local multiplex, leaving out the ones that have already been seen such as Bradley Cooper’s The Words, Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve, The Sessions (formerly The Surrogate) with John Hawkes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Emma Watson, and End of Watch with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Release Date: October 12th
Director: Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck hasn’t made it easy on himself, following-up his two excellent directorial features, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Argo sees him leaving behind the gritty Boston streets for a historical piece set during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, in which the CIA launches a hair-brained scheme to use a fake movie production to free some American diplomats. Affleck again is pulling double duty as the film’s star, while also assembling a typically strong ensemble including Kyle Chandler, Scoot McNairy, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, John Goodman, Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Philip Baker Hall, and Chris Messina. The recently released trailer highlights the film’s vintage look, while also maintaining a slightly offbeat tone perfect for one of the oddest events in this country’s history.
Release Date: November 9th
Director: Sam Mendes
Daniel Craig may have helped revived the long-running James Bond franchise with Casino Royale, but the bad taste left in our collective mouths after Quantum of Solace have placed Skyfall in an awkward position. If it fails, then we may be looking at another reboot not too far in the future. So far, the film appears to be a perfect mix of nostalgia and progression as Bond battles an old enemy from MI6’s past with mysterious ties to M(Judi Dench). Javier Bardem puts his villain hat back on as Silva, while Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, and Albert Finney co-star, with Ben Whishaw taking over as Q. Sam Mendes takes over as director, with John Logan(Gladiator) scripting.
13. This is 40
Release Date: December 21st
Director: Judd Apatow
This is 40 may not be the sequel to Knocked Up some were hoping for, but the chance to revisit Debbie(Leslie Mann) and Pete(Paul Rudd) and their comically troubled marriage is more than enough reason to get excited. Perhaps more than any other filmmaker, we’ve had a chance to see Judd Apatow evolve as a filmmaker and incorporate many of his personal hang-ups into his movies to hysterical effect. As the title suggests, the mostly unhappy couple is dealing with the end of their 30s and the onset of middle age. There won’t be any Seth Rogen appearances(at least none publicized), but Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi reprise their Knocked Up roles, with Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd, John Lithgow, and Rob Smigel in supporting turns.
12. The Impossible
Release Date: December 21st
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Three months ago almost nobody had heard of The Impossible, but a powerful, emotionally charged trailer has many thinking this film could be a player in the Oscar race. Set during the terrible 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play two parents desperate to reunite their family in the aftermath of the devastation. The special effects look incredible, Watts and McGregor look like they were put through the wringer, and there’s always room for one more crowd pleasing triumph this time of year.
11. On the Road
Release Date: December 21st
Director: Walter Salles
It’s always a big deal when a cherished novel is brought to the big screen, but when that novel is On the Road by legendary Beat Generation scribe, Jack Kerouac, it’s more like a cultural event. Francis Ford Coppola was the first to take a stab at adapting Kerouac’s seminal road trip novel, but he now slips into the producer chair, handing the reins over to Walter Salles(The Motorcycle Diaries). Sam Riley takes over the lead role as Kerouac analogue, Sal Paradise, with Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, and a stellar supporting cast hoping to capture the book’s robust spirit.
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Release Date: December 14th
Director: Peter Jackson
It’s Peter Jackson back in the land J.RR. Tolkien built, what else do you need to know? The first chapter of what is now a trilogy, The Hobbit is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, following a young Bilbo Baggins’ quest to destroy the dragon, Smaug. He’ll be joined by a bunch of rambunctious warrior dwarves, and along the way he’ll get his first encounter with that troublesome Gollum. Jackson could probably make this movie in his sleep, and considering he only took on the job once Guillermo Del Toro dropped out, there’s always the concern that he’s phoning it in. Then again, he did push the boundaries by filming it in 48fps, and was jazzed enough by the material to lobby for the third installment. So maybe there’s no reason to worry?
9. Pitch Perfect
Release Date: October 5th
Director: Jason Moore
Already an Oscar nominee and a supporting player in the hit Twilight franchise, Anna Kendrick gets her first genuine shot at proving her box office mettle in the musical comedy, Pitch Perfect. While the story of a rebellious college student lighting a fire under an all-girl a capella band may not sound like heady stuff, none of Emma Stone’s movies looked all that great on paper, and look how they turned out for her.
8. Wreck-It Ralph
Release Date: November 2nd
Director: Rich Moore
Resident Evil: Retribution and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D may have the video game market cornered, but only Wreck-It Ralph can boast Q-Bert’s feature film debut. Looking like one of Disney’s more ambitious efforts, the film follows a bored Donkey Kong-esque villain from a vintage arcade game who aspires to become a hero. A nostalgic romp through the last twenty years of video game evolution follows, from the racing kart era to the violent 1st person shooters of today. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer make up just a fraction of the extensive voice cast.
7. Life of Pi
Release Date: November 21st
Director: Ang Lee
Another one of those books deemed impossible to adapt, Ang Lee took on the challenge after numerous other directors tried and failed. Based on Yann Martel’s best-selling fantasy/parable about a young man (newcomer Suraj Sharma) stranded in the middle of the ocean with a ferocious Bengal tiger after a shipwreck. The earliest images and trailer have absolutely floored audiences thus far, but it remains to be seen if the film can overcome a decided lack of recognizable talent to be a box office success.
6. Zero Dark Thirty
Release Date: December 19th
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Already one of the most talked about films due to a Congressional inquiry accusing the government of leaking top secret info to Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty has faced an uphill climb (including rioting protestors) the whole way. Bumped to December to avoid influencing the Presidential election, Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker details the behind-the-scenes maneuverings that led to Navy SEAL Team 6’s take down of Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Duplass, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler lead an incredible ensemble as the men and women who led the operation. So far the extremely brief footage we’ve seen gives the impression of it being a tense, military procedural without the political motivations some have tried to saddle it with. The Hurt Locker came out of nowhere to win Best Picture a few years ago, nobody’s going to be surprised if Zero Dark Thirty earns some of the same acclaim.
5. Seven Psychopaths
Release Date: October 12th
Colin Farrell’s had a tough go of it lately, but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. His greatest success in recent years came as part of Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black hit man comedy, In Bruges, and now he’s back for the writer/director’s equally acerbic follow-up, Seven Psychopaths. Farrell plays a struggling writer looking for inspiration, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as his two lunatic buddies who drag him into a dognapping scheme involving the beloved Shih Tzu of a psychotic mobster. Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, and Olga Kurylenko make up the other four psychopaths in the promising ensemble. Farrell won a Golden Globe for his In Bruges performance, while McDonagh was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, and judging by the hilarious trailers it won’t come as a shock if Seven Psychopaths gets some of the same attention.
Release Date: September 28th
Director: Rian Johnson
Already having changed the game with his groundbreaking debut features, Brick and The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson looks to do the same for the sci-fi genre with Looper. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in heavy prosthetics in order to resemble a young Bruce Willis, he plays a hit man who is sent his targets from the future, only to have everything fall apart when his latest victim turns out to be an older version of himself. The footage has been excellent so far; full of big action and bigger ideas, plus the supporting cast is top notch with Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels.
3. Django Unchained
Release Date: December 25th
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s racially charged revenge flick has lost some luster due to an exodus of big name stars(Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell, Anthony LaPaglia), but there’s more than enough left over to make this one of the director’s most stacked casts yet. After once courting Will Smith for the title role, Tarantino chose Oscar winner Jamie Foxx to play the freed slave who hooks up with a German bounty hunter to rescue his wife. Tarantino’s back in the vengeance genre he’s been most comfortable with throughout his career, and with Leonardo DiCaprio chewing up scenery as the evil plantation owner, Calvin Candie, Django Unchained could be the hammiest great film we see all year, it just remains to be seen if it can match the creative heights of Inglourious Basterds. Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, RZA, and Kerry Washington co-star.
2. The Man with the Iron Fists
Release Date: November 2nd
The Wu-Tang Clan founder and maestro of all things Kung Fu has dug deep into his Rolodex to bring his hyper violent martial arts homage to the silver screen. Reuniting with past colleagues Quentin Tarantino, Russell Crowe, and Lucy Liu, RZA stars as a renowned blacksmith in ancient China forced to defend his village from an invading force. Crowe has never met a Western role he didn’t love (3:10 to Yuma, The Quick and the Dead), playing a mysterious gunslinger and potential rival.
1. The Master
Release Date: September 14th(limited), September 21st(wide)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Unbelievably, it’s been five years since Paul Thomas Anderson drank our milkshakes with There Will Be Blood, and while it’s been an excruciating wait for the auteur’s fans, the positive buzz surrounding his controversial new film is worth getting excited over. Shot in glorious 70mm, The Master has already torqued off the Scientology community (Tom Cruise reportedly hates it) for possibly insinuating that L. Ron Hubbard pulled the religion out of thin air. The general consensus from the festival circuit has been that it’s more of an examination on all organized religion and an indictment of none, so it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction is once a wider audience sets their sights on it. Oscar buzz is already starting to swirl around Joaquin Phoenix (heck of a way to make a comeback!) and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and you can probably pencil in Anderson’s name as well.
Honorable Mentions: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, and Matthew McConaughey deliver hardcore pulp thrills in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy(October 5th); The Wachowskis attempt to adapt David Mitchell’s confounding sci-fi novel with Cloud Atlas(October 26th); Tom Hooper brings an all-star cast for his adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables(December 7th); Daniel Day-Lewis embodies our 16th President in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic(November 9th); Bradley Cooper plays a troubled man hoping to turn his life around in David O. Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook(November 21st); Denzel Washington plays a drunken version of Sully Sullenberger in Flight(November 2nd); Tom Cruise embodies Lee Child’s popular hero in the action-thriller, Jack Reacher(December 21st); Bill Murray shoots for a long-deserved Oscar win as Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson(December 7th); Brad Pitt slays ’em in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly(October 19th).