This summer movie season. Yeesh.
Between high-profile disasters ("Suicide Squad"), predictable pratfalls ("Ben-Hur") and sequels that no asked for (anyone remember "Alice Through the Looking Glass"?), there was something for everybody – if that something you were looking for was grating disappointment. Even the few highlights ("The Nice Guys," "Popstar") were dimmed by the fact that nobody saw them.
But hey, you know what they about hope and eternal springing, so we turn our eyes toward the fall and Serious Movie Season. From sci-fi thrillers and wizarding returns to the latest projects from Clint, Ang Lee, Zemeckis, Gibson and Beatty (wait, really?! Gibson and Beatty!?), the fall actually has something for everything – if that something is promising material.
Here are the movies that’ll get you out of the chill and into a bucket of popcorn this fall.
The law of averages says that, one of these days, the Marvel winning streak is doomed to finally end. But I’m not convinced "Doctor Strange" is where it happens, however, even though it’s one of the riskier properties it’s brought to life, what with its mystical craziness. That mystical craziness looks pretty great – the kaleidoscoping downtown worlds, twisting and bending into one another, is a mesmerizing image – and the cast is unsurprisingly strong, from Chiwetel Ejiofor to Mads Mikkelson as the villain and Tilda Swinton as Strange’s master. We’ll see if the story finds some new, interesting beats in what could play like a pretty typical origin story, but otherwise, Marvel appears to have another winner on their hands. Again. As seemingly always.
Are you ready for the return of Mel Gibson? True, his last movie, "Blood Father," was mostly condemned to video-on-demand services, and the trailer for "Hacksaw Ridge" can’t steel itself to actually say his name – he’s just referenced as "the director of ‘Braveheart’" – but Mel appears to be in the early midst of making a comeback (again). Will "Hacksaw Ridge" win audiences back over? Time will tell, but the military drama, about a WWII soldier (Andrew Garfield) who chooses to drag wounded soldiers to safety rather than fire a gun against his beliefs, looks to be a strong start. Though is that Vince Vaughn as a drill instructor? And Andrew Garfield … is that really the Southern accent we’re going with? And did WWII have this many people flipping around in the air?
What hell hath "The LEGO Movie" wrought? Now, every toy company thinks it too has the right stuff to be made into a feature length advertisement movie. And that would apparently include Troll dolls. On the movie’s side, the animation looks pretty delightful, looking like a world created out of candy and Fuzzy Felt. On the other hand, my ears refuse to hear that Justin Timberlake song that's been playing since the early summer anymore. Also, the cast list is heavy on pop stars – from Justin Timberlake to Gwen Stefani and Icona Pop (?) – which might be fine for musical numbers (and this is definitely a secret musical) but is less fine for, you know, acting and characters.
Jeff Nichols is one of the best filmmakers we have working today. Between "Take Shelter," "Mud" and this year's "Midnight Special," the man has yet to make a misstep. He’s also unfortunately yet to really be recognized for his work. I expect that changes with "Loving," the true story of an interracial marriage in Virginia during the ’60s.
True, it’s probably his most Oscar bait-like movie thus far, but sometimes Oscar bait earns nominations and awards because it actually deserves them. And "Loving" appears to fall in that category with strong performances (Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving is already gathering awards talk) and an emotional trailer that already has my cold, unfeeling heart welling up a bit. I also trust Nichols not to push too hard; his movies are typically beautifully low-key and natural. Plus, on the awards side of things, now that "Birth of a Nation" is dead to many folks, "Loving" could be the movie the Academy rallies around to bring some much needed and earned diversity to its nominations after last year’s whitewash controversy.
"This is what the greatest comeback in sports history looks like," claims the poster for "Bleed for This," the new boxing drama starring Miles Teller and a bald Aaron Eckhart. I suppose when your movie has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, you’re allowed a little swagger. And when your comeback story is actually an incredible true comeback story: Vinny Pazienza, a championship boxer whose career seemed lost after a car accident left him with critical spinal injuries. We’ve had more than enough boxing movies – heck, "Hands of Stone" just came out in theaters in September – but "Bleed for This" has enough attitude, star power and incredible real-life basis to be a contender.
No, November 11 does not count as almost Christmas, "Almost Christmas." Not even the most overeager child or department store marketing team would buy that. But Hollywood releases these movies well in advance of their big days in the hopes they can beat the holiday market and then hold on just long enough for an extra big box office payday when the actual day arrives (this is why "Independence Day: Resurgence" came out a week before July 4 and most horror movies arrive weeks before Halloween).
Enough about release dates, though. You can probably predict what "Almost Christmas" is: a holiday comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering together for the season, with all of the hijinks and heartwarmth one would imagine. It’s not exactly a new formula, but it is a strong cast, featuring Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Mo’Nique (that’s Oscar winner Mo’Nique), Romany Malco and more. Perhaps this will be a cozy Christmas comedy, released just in time for Thanksgiving.
After last year’s "Sicario," I’ll follow director Denis Villenueve pretty much anywhere. Luckily, "anywhere" includes one of the most buzzed about movies of the fall: "Arrival," a sci-fi film about a linguist (Amy Adams) attempting to communicate with newly arrived aliens before they blow us up – or we blow ourselves up in a panic.
Villenueve is a master of both pinpoint-precise tension and gorgeous, evocative cinematography, and from just our first looks, "Arrival" would seem to have both in full effect. The buzz is this is one of the best screenplays – or perhaps one of the most controversial – to come around in a while. Between the talented cast and crew assembled here, one imagines it didn’t get lost in translation.
Buzz is surprisingly low on "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" – the story of a young Iraq veteran whose post-return celebrations don’t match the brutal realities he left behind – but I don’t imagine things will stay that way for long. The cast is strong, featuring Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Tim Blake Nelson, and the story has a lot of potential – especially in the hands of two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, who chose to film portions of "Billy Lynn" in 120 frames per second (the typical movie is shot in 24 fps) in order to create a sense of unease. The last time somebody tried tinkering with frame rate, it was "The Hobbit" … and it failed miserably. But in Lee’s thoughtful vision, we might have a breakthrough on our hands.
Remember Jacob Tremblay, the adorable child actor who won your heart in "Room" and became president of your heart during the Oscar campaign season? Well, now he’s a creepy demon orphan. Thanks a lot, Hollywood.
Anyways, in "Shut In," Naomi Watts is the widowed mother of a paraplegic boy who, in her solitude, takes in a troubled young orphan boy (Tremblay) … who goes off and disappears. OR DOES HE? Realistically speaking, though, "Shut In" could have Tremblay’s character Double Dutch in some sad victim’s intestines, and I still think most of the audience would find him just precious. Maybe there’s some smart scares in this long-delayed (was supposed to be a February release) psychological horror flick.
It’s easy to name iconic coming-of-age stories starring and for boys: "Super 8," "The Goonies," "The Sandlot," "Stand By Me," "Superbad," the list goes on. The list is unfortunately much shorter for girls, as apparently Hollywood doesn’t find the common everyday struggles of growing up a girl anywhere near as interesting.
Hopefully "The Edge of Seventeen" can somewhat change that showbiz narrative. Starring Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson as her put-upon teacher, the dramedy follows a teen girl as she tries to deal with the usual stresses of high school: friends, popularity, boys, parents who just don’t get it. The preview is a genuine delight – I could watch Woody Harrelson deliver sarcastic advice all day – and it comes with a stamp of approval from James L. Brooks, who between "The Simpsons," "Broadcast News" and "As Good As It Gets," knows his way around good things. The timing of the movie – big holiday in the middle of award season – also seems like the studio believes in it too. Call me a believer too.
When is a Harry Potter movie not a Harry Potter movie? When it’s "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them," an adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s side novel about wizarding life on the other side of the Atlantic and the beast-toting Brit (Eddie Redmayne) that’s newly arrived there.
Warner Bros. is doing its best to connect this to Harry Potter for the sake of the average moviegoer; the director is David Yates, who filmed the last four Potter entries, and the screenplay is from Rowling herself – a first for the author. Even the trailer for the movie features Rowling oddly just talking for two minutes about the plot and the characters. I’m not sure they’ve sold me on this being a valuable or even intriguing entry into the Potter-verse. But I suppose any excuse for us Muggles to revisit the wizarding world is fine enough – and the cast (Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman) reads like a bit of magic in its own right.
If you’re a betting person and you’re looking for a place to wager on the upcoming Oscar race, "Manchester By the Sea" is where the smart money is going. Ever since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter, "Manchester By the Sea" has been on the tips of critics’ tongues, praising writer-director Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret"), his tale of grief and especially star Casey Affleck. Amazon Studios paid $10 million for the drama back when it premiered, a sum that sounds a lot like the studio thinks it has a chance for its first true sniff at an Oscar.
Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford made his debut in 2009 with "A Single Man," which just happens to be one of the best movies this side of the century. An impressive start – but the follow-up has been fashionably late to arrive. Until now, as this year, we're finally getting a look at his sophomore effort, "Nocturnal Animals."
Little is out about the project thus far, but the cast list is dynamite (Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney) and the story, a thriller about an art gallery owner concerned about her ex-husband’s violent and threatening new novel, sounds rich with potential. And considering who’s behind the camera, one imagines "Nocturnal Animals" will be dressed to kill.
Robert Zemeckis knows his way around CGI spectacle; that’s what his legendary career has mostly become, between stuff like "A Christmas Carol," "Beowulf" and most recently "The Walk." But does he know … love? We’ll find out in the star-studded Thanksgiving release "Allied," a WWII Casablanca-set love story about two spies (Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) who fall in love in the middle of an assassination mission.
Hold on a second: WWII love story? Casablanca? I feel like I’ve heard this one before. Even if it might pale in comparison to its seemingly obvious inspirations, I trust screenwriter Steven Knight – the guy behind great little indie gems like "Eastern Promises," "Dirty Pretty Things" and "Locke" – to bring something special to the proceedings. And who better to direct an epic wartime love story than the guy whose most famous movie involves a teenager fighting off his mom’s romantic pursuits?
The first "Bad Santa" movie was a crude delight … but it was also back in 2003, several grumpy Billy Bob Thornton roles, multiple iterations of "Bad (enter noun here)" knock-offs and a whole world of profanity ago (this was prior to the Apatow dirty comedy boom that made raunchy laughfests the growing norm). Can a sequel really capture the first movie’s delightful dirtiness after more than a decade out of the suit? We shall see. Billy Bob, co-star Tony Cox and even the kid are back, but the original director and writers are nowhere to be found, and the trailer plays like it’s trying a little too hard to prove its still got the filth. Maybe it’s the Christmas spirit, but I’ll be generous and say I’m sure there will still be laughs to be unwrapped.
I know it’s sunny and warm now, but November will soon be just around the corner, and it’ll be 50 degrees and cloudy and probably threatening to snow once or twice. And when it’s that time, "Moana" will be there, Disney’s new animated movie about an adventure with a young girl and a demi-god (voiced by human demi-god Dwayne Johnson) through the sunny, beautiful world of the Pacific. And in case you’re concerned a bright animated oceanic adventure in late chilly fall starring one of the best movie stars currently working won’t make a truckload of money, it’s also got original songs from "Hamilton" mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda and a voice role for one of the show’s stars Phillipa Soo. And it’s got an adorable pig! So yes, this is going to make all the money.
It’s been 15 years since Warren Beatty’s been on screen and slightly longer since his last directorial effort ("Bulworth"). So yeah, a new movie from the one of the former biggest stars on the planet is kind of a big deal – and the fact that it stars Alden Ehrenreich, more popularly known as the new Han Solo, only makes it more of a must-see.
Far from the vein of "Reds," "Rules Don’t Apply" sounds like a star-studded screwball comedy about a young romance overseen by the eccentric billionaire to end all eccentric billionaires, Howard Hughes (Beatty). It’s quite the crowd Beatty’s drawn for his return as well, from old comfortable faces (Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin) to impressive newcomers (Taissa Farmiga, Lily Collins and Haley Bennett, who’s in three movies on this list). Word is light on the movie right now, but once it – and awards season – gets closer, you can imagine the current light buzz turning into a roar.