Monday, September 10, 2012

Fall Movie Preview

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round Hollywood run...

With apologies to Mr. Keats - that really is how autumn appears to movie addicts like me. As the remnants of summer start to feel increasingly picked over, our attention inevitably turns to September and beyond. For fall brings the return of the auteurs, Serious Filmmaking, and prestige projects burnished to a high gloss; high-profile film festivals, first whispers of Oscar buzz, and, like clockwork, the Weinstein brothers. What does it say, though, that I’m looking forward to the a cappella smackdown “Pitch Perfect” as much as any other movie this fall? Two words: No diggity.

From Keats to Blackstreet, now that’s a feat. Anyway, here are the top ten eleven movies I’m most eagerly awaiting to this fall, in order of release date.

THE MASTER (Sept. 21)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

I was never really a “PTA” fan until “There Will Be Blood” blew my mind. His new film, “The Master,” seems cut from similar cloth: a very particular and peculiar slice of Americana (circa 1950) that hones in on the shifting dynamics and tensions between two strong-willed men, one of whom (Philip Seymour Hoffman) bears more than a passing resemblance to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. PTA evidently has an abiding fascination with charismatic charlatans and violent, self-destructive men—and so far it’s worked for him.

LOOPER (Sept. 28)

Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

The plot of this futuristic mind-bender doesn’t sound all that promising: an assassin played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is tasked with killing an older version of himself, played by Bruce Willis, who’s sent back from the future. Time travel plots never really make sense, and the idea of Willis as an older JGL makes even less sense. Still, I like both those actors, the film’s been getting pretty positive early buzz, and I loved the last collaborative effort of director Rian Johnson and JGL—the deliciously original high school noir “Brick.”


Directed by Jason Moore
Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson

I’d squirreled this away in my mind as my “guilty pleasure” for the fall until I realized I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I may have long since given up on “Glee,” but I haven’t lost my love of movie musicals, show choirs, and high school comedies that don’t take themselves too seriously. Besides, I like Anna Kendrick (though not enough to watch the “Twilight” movies), and the director, Jason Moore, also helmed the fantastic Avenue Q on Broadway.

LINCOLN (Nov. 9)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, David Strathairn, Sally Field, John Hawkes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Jared Harris, Jackie Lee Haley

Even without Daniel Day-Lewis this movie is pedigreed up the wazoo, and then you have Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln. Assuming Spielberg is in top form (which he admittedly hasn’t been in recent years), this could be irresistible Oscar bait.

LIFE OF PI (Nov. 21)

Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan

I haven’t read the book, and I’m still a little skeptical that it’s the kind of book that can be adapted into a movie. (Apparently, I’m not the only one; the project got passed around for years.) But I have extraordinary faith in Ang Lee, who’s easily one of my favorite directors working today.


Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver

Based on another novel I haven’t read, this dramedy stars Bradley Cooper (in non-douche mode) as a man trying to adjust to living with his parents (De Niro and Australian actress Jacki Weaver) and build a friendship (and perhaps something more) with a neighbor (Jennifer Lawrence) after he’s released from a mental institution. If there’s anyone who can depict the prickly dynamics of dysfunctional families with the right balance of humor and emotion, it’s David O. Russell (see, e.g., “The Fighter,” “Flirting With Disaster”).


Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried

As I said above, I’m a sucker for movie musicals, and like most women who came of age listening obsessively to the Les Mis soundtrack, I’m almost contractually obligated to watch this. Besides, Hugh Jackman has got to be the hunkiest Jean Valjean ever.


Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis

My enthusiasm for this movie has been dimmed ever so slightly by the news that it’s apparently ballooned into a trilogy. I love The Hobbit, but there is no earthly reason it needs to be made into more than one movie, even if it’s importing material from other Tolkien lore. Still, after the brilliance of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I trust Peter Jackson (and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, his LOTR collaborators, who are on board this one, too).


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, others

There’s already been a fair amount of speculation, much of it politically charged, about this film, which traces the long drawn-out hunt for Osama bin Laden culminating in (you guessed it) his assassination. But I seriously doubt that it will be a “political” film in any overt way, any more than “The Hurt Locker” was. I have little doubt, however, that it will be a thoughtful, well crafted and well acted one.

ON THE ROAD (Dec. 21)

Directed by Walter Salles
Starring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, others

I’ll be frank: I’ve never really understood the adulation inspired by On the Road. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I suspect it’s rooted in a specifically male nostalgia—for the restlessness and wanderlust of youth—that I simply don’t share. That said, I’m definitely curious to see whether director Walter Salles, who tackled another mother-of-all-road-trips in the very fine “The Motorcycle Diaries,” can give Kerouac’s meanderings the power and poetry in film that I didn’t find on the printed page. Lots of talent in the cast, though the main players are Sam Riley (so good as Ian Curtis in “Control”) as Sal Paradise (the Kerouac stand-in), Garrett Hedlund as charismatic wild man Dean Moriarty, and Kristen Stewart as Dean’s free-spirited (and frequently naked) girlfriend/wife Marylou.


Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington

Tarantino as revisionist historian strikes again, this time in the antebellum South. I’m not sure I approve of this new genre he’s created, which seems to me to be pretty thinly disguised wish-fulfillment revenge fantasy-porn. But I have to admit I did enjoy “Inglourious Basterds,” and there are few filmmakers who are more fun to watch, unhinged, than QT when he’s on top of his game.

Other movies on my radar this fall:

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (Sept. 21), in which Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout who navigates a bumpy relationship with his daughter (Amy Adams) and presumably doesn’t harangue any chairs (though he may throw one); ARGO (Oct. 12), Ben Affleck’s first directorial effort not set in Boston, based on the true story of how six American hostages in Iran in the 1970s were rescued by a ruse involving a fake movie shoot; CLOUD ATLAS (Oct . 26), another time-jumping movie, in which Tom Hanks and Halle Berry play six different characters in six different time periods and the Wachowskis try to recover some of their “Matrix” magic; WRECK-IT RALPH (Nov. 2), a clever-looking Pixaresque (but it’s not) animated feature in which a video-game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly, perfect) gets tired of playing villain and goes rogue; SKYFALL (Nov. 9), the latest .007 outing, directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition,” “Revolutionary Road”); and ANNA KARENINA (Nov. 16), in which director Joe Wright tries to convince me that Keira Knightley isn’t the worst casting ever for the iconic Russian heroine (or anti-heroine, depending on your POV). Hey, he did it before with Pride and Prejudice, though this one seems like a bigger stretch.


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