After a bunch of satisfying blockbusters (Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy) that didn't make as much money as Hollywood might have hoped, and a bleak month of leftover crap (most of August), the Fall movie season is almost upon us. It always starts a little slow in September, with a mix of indies and mid-budget Hollywood movies, before ramping up for awards season with the hoped-for prestige films. This year is no different; here's some of the most-exciting movies coming up in September, October and November.
The Skeleton Twins
This dark Kristen Wiig/Bill Hader comedy is aiming for that Little Miss Sunshine sweet spot: it looks heartwarming but sad, filled with recognizable actors but no one overwhelmingly famous. Wiig and Hader play estranged twins who reunite to assess their disappointing lives; the pair obviously have terrific screen chemistry from their years together on SNL, and it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. That trophy can be as much of a blessing (Winter's Bone, The Squid and the Whale) as a curse (Paper Heart, Grace is Gone), but the trailer sure makes it look like an involving laugh-and-cry experience. (9/12)
The Maze Runner
Young! Adults! In! A dystopian future! Please, stop me when you've heard it all before! This is based on a best-selling book (of course), stars a bunch of handsome ladies and gentlemen you've barely heard of (the lead is in Teen Wolf, and there's Thomas Brodie-Sangster from Game of Thrones and Will Poulter of the Narnia movies). The plot is that ideal YA mix of sci-fi, mystery, and action: a kid wakes up in a giant maze filled with monsters, for reasons he cannot remember or explain. Don't worry, there's two sequels already published for 20th Century Fox to adapt if this one's a hit. And it probably will be. (9/19)
This Is Where I Leave You
Who knows if this movie will be good? Who knows if it'll even be serviceable? It's got such a big cast to throw at you, such a broadly-pitched plot (a patriarch dies and his wacky family gathers to mourn him), and it's based on a well-received novel (by Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the script). Warner Brothers is hoping the multi-generational combo-punch of Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Connie Britton, and Adam Driver (among others) is enough to draw audiences. Director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, the Night at the Museum movies) gives me serious pause, but the idea of watching that cast bounce off each other is pretty alluring. (9/19)
The stop-motion animation studio Laika is two for two so far (Coraline, Paranorman) so don't sleep on The Boxtrolls, another children's fantasy adventure based on a kid's book (Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow). The trailers are a little light on plot but you get it: there's a cute old-timey town, a bunch of adorable monsters, and a lot of misunderstandings ready to ensue. It also has that steam-punky feel of so many stop-motion films, with lots of gears-n'-inventions. But don't try to put The Boxtrolls in, uh, a box. The early buzz is strong, and it's opening in a perfect lull period to try and build up some word of mouth. (9/26)
Also: Found-footage horror in the Paris catacombs in As Above/So Below (8/29), Pierce Brosnan kills Russians, Liam Neeson-style, in The November Man (8/29), Ed Harris and Michael Peña wrestle with a misunderstood murder in border-town drama Frontera (9/5), Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch gives us an adorable Glasgow pop musical with God Help the Girl (9/5), Nicole Kidman has her memory erased and tries to solve the mystery with Colin Firth in Before I Go to Sleep (9/12), James McAvoy and Jessica Chastian are a married couple wrestling with life-changing events in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (9/12), Kevin Smith's Tusk sees Michael Parks try to turn Justin Long into, uh, a walrus (9/19), Liam Neeson is in another gun-toting quest for revenge, this time in New York, in A Walk Among the Tombstones (9/19), Mia Wasikowska tries to hike the Australian desert and Adam Driver shows up in Tracks (9/19), Terry Gilliam gives us his latest injection of bonkers with The Zero Theorem starring Christoph Waltz (9/19), Denzel Washington shoots people as a good-guy vigilante in The Equalizer (9/26), Viggo Mortensen is a con-man and Kirsten Dunst is his wife in 1960s-set The Two Faces of January (9/26).
Ben Affleck killed his wife (Rosamund Pike). Or…did he? Neil Patrick Harris is playing a creepy guy. Or…is he? You read Gillian Flynn's hit novel while you were on vacation. Or…did you? David Fincher is good at making moody crime thrillers (that one's kinda hard to dispute). Who knows what will happen in Gone Girl (maybe the ending has been changed, maybe it hasn't) but people will almost certainly flock to see it and experience the mystery. The last time a crime thriller got this much box-office hype and Oscar buzz was Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which ended up quite a mixed bag, but this adaptation's gotten to our screens even quicker. (10/3)
Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus), Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall have united to bring us a family drama straight out of the mid-1990s, about a bigshot laywer who returns home to his small town and stern judge dad (Duvall), who is suspected of murder. Will they be able to settle their differences and mount a defense against intense laywer Billy Bob Thornton? If you've ever seen a movie before, you can probably guess the answer to that and many other questions. The Judge also features Vera Farmiga and Vincent D'Onofrio, and is scheduled as the opening film at the Toronto Film Festival this year. (10/10)
Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal on a tank, in World War II. That's what's up here, plain and simple. They're in a tank, they have to take out some Nazis, and there's gonna be a lot of blood, sweat and mud involved. David Ayer, best-known for making gritty crime dramas until now, is graduating to higher ground with based-on-a-true-story war material, but whether it'll be a hit with Oscar remains tougher to guess. Your dad probably wants to see this movie, though. (10/17)
One of the most-anticipated arthouse projects of the year seems like a bit of a departure for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, who usually makes bleak, huge-bummer ensemble pieces like 21 Grams and Babel. This is more of a dark, supernatural comedy, about a washed-up actor famous for his role as a superhero (Michael Keaton, in a very canny piece of casting) who is now working on a Broadway play. And also has crazy visions, and maybe he can levitiate. The cast (Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan) is drool-worthy, and the trailers are eye-catching and funny. Could it be a sleeper Oscar contender, at least for its lead performance? (10/17)
Also: A creepy doll makes people stab other people in The Conjuring spinoff Annabelle (10/3), Mathieu Amalric adapts a Simenon mystery, The Blue Room (10/3), that he directed and stars in, Steve Carrell, Jennifer Garner and family have a lot of wacky mix-ups in a desecration of the classic children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (10/10), Jeremy Renner releases government secrets about Iran-Contra in period conspiracy piece Kill the Messenger (10/10), J.K. Simmons is a bullying music teacher to talented jazz drummer Miles Teller in Sundance winner Whiplash (10/10), Nicholas Sparks vomits another romance on-screen with reunited-after-20-years weepy The Best of Me (10/17), Universal starts rebooting its monsters with Luke Evans in the title role of Dracula Untold (10/17), Jake Gyllenhaal is a creepy L.A. freelance crime journalist in Nightcrawler (10/17), Keira Knightley stars in Lynn Shelton's high-school-reunion dramedy Laggies (10/24), Bill Murray is an adorable grump facing off with Melissa McCarthy and a moppet in St. Vincent (10/24), Daniel Radcliffe is a Satanic charmer in dark horror film Horns (10/31).
No film will come into the fall with more hype, and no film has more potential to deliver on that hype. We've got Matthew McConaughey post-Oscar as the leader of a space mission intent on finding humanity a new planet; Anne Hathaway is along for the ride, and his kid's back home on a disintegrating Earth, maybe aging into Jessica Chastain. There's wormholes, there's Michael Caine reciting poetry, there's director Christopher Nolan's stark, expansive IMAX imagery, and just maybe there's a grown-up sci-fi drama that could be a genuine four-quadrant hit. Or, it could be a super-dull space lecture about humanity and parenthood and black holes. (11/7)
Much-hyped as an Oscar prospect since its debut at Cannes (where Bennett Miller was named Best Director), this so-crazy-it-has-to-be-true tale sees Steve Carell playing a demented millionaire who sets up an Olympic training camp for wrestling, drawing the decorated Schultz brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) into a creepy and ultimately tragic affair. The trailer is the most moody and atmospheric of the year, and Tatum's mature work is attracting as much praise as Carell's physical transformation. (11/14)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
So, the second Hunger Games movie was better than the first. And from the canny promotion, Mockingjay: Part 1 might be better than Catching Fire. But are we really prepared to put up with Hollywood splitting this book into two parts, and the unsatisfying cliffhanger ending that will surely ensue? Whatever. Props to Lionsgate for their excellent advertising and Donald Sutherland for looking as creepy as ever. (11/21)
The Imitation Game
This movie, dealing with the British code-breaking geniuses who helped win World War II from a manor called Bletchley Park, was made back in 2001, it was called Enigma, and it wasn't very good. But that movie skimmed over the fascinating story of Alan Turing, a genius mathematician who was crucial to the code-breakers' efforts but later suffered persecution by his own government over his homosexuality. Done right, it could be a compelling and tragic story, and Benedict Cumberbatch will surely attract Oscar attention in the lead role. But can director Morten "Who?" Tyldum elevate this from the middling bio-pic it looks like in the trailer?
Also: Disney and Marvel collaborate on their first animated epic with the fun-looking Big Hero 6 (11/7), Tommy Lee Jones directs himself and Hilary Swank in shaggy Western The Homesman (11/7), Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with journalist-detained-in-Iran drama Rosewater (11/7), Stephen Hawking gets his own biopic in The Theory of Everything (11/7), Jim Carrey and Jeff Daneils are back for Dumb and Dumber To (11/14), if anyone was asking for that, Kevin Costner plays an inspiring track coach in McFarland (11/21), Horrible Bosses 2 (11/26) is a sequel even fewer people wanted, and The Penguins of Madagascar (11/26) are the best we've got for a dull Thanksgiving.