Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fall 2015 Movie Preview

The end of summer snuck up on me in a big way, mainly because I’ve been completely swamped at work. The only movie I saw in a theater in the entire month of August was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” which proved to be a breezy and pleasant surprise - worth catching if you’re in the mood for Bond lite. Not that there was much I regret missing: August is usually something of a doldrums period, as Hollywood catches its breath from blockbuster season before launching into prime time for more cerebral films, prestige projects, and Oscar contenders. This August proved to be the rule rather than the exception, the only notable movie event being the huge success of “Straight Outta Compton.” (Between that and the juggernaut of “Jurassic World,” this summer seems to have been the summer where ’90s nostalgia ruled supreme.)

But it’s past Labor Day now, and the Telluride and Toronto film festivals have come and gone, meaning the fall movie season has officially begun. Here are the ten films I’m most looking forward to this fall, in order of release date:

1. SICARIO (already in limited release)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve; starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin

Blunt plays an FBI agent who joins an anti-drug cartel operation only to discover that the motives of her new cohorts may not be all they seem. I smell corruption, betrayal, and despair! But seriously, you gotta at least admit the talent is suited to the material: Villeneuve (“Incendies,” “Prisoners”) knows his way around dark, morally twisted films, and we’ve seen how well Blunt can play tough without sacrificing a whit of femininity (“Edge of Tomorrow”). And who better to play dudes of shifty moral sensibilities than del Toro and Brolin?

2. THE MARTIAN (Oct. 2)
Directed by Ridley Scott; starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig

Although it’s based on a bestselling sci-fi novel about an astronaut who’s mistakenly left for dead on Mars, the premise of “The Martian” can’t help feeling a little like a retooling of Matt Damon’s character arc on “Interstellar”—one in which he presumably doesn’t go crazy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and Damon can do stoic and resourceful as well as, if not better than, he can do crazy. The real draw here, though, is Ridley Scott. Has he finally brought us the riveting space adventure we’ve been waiting for since, well, “Alien,” and that he failed to deliver in “Prometheus”? Glowing early reviews suggest he has, and then some.

3. STEVE JOBS (Oct. 9)
Directed by Danny Boyle; starring Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook

Yes, this story’s been told before in multiple iterations (most recently, the documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”). No, Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs. But he’s really good at playing compelling assholes, and Aaron Sorkin is almost as good at writing them. I’m sold.

4. BRIDGE OF SPIES (Oct. 16)
Directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda

The Cold War is hot right now, both on the world stage (thanks, Putin!) and in entertainment (if you aren’t watching FX’s “The Americans,” get it on Amazon Prime stat). So it’s as good a time as any for this film about a historical 1960s incident in which a U.S. spy plane was shot down by the Soviet Union and the pilot released as part of a prisoner exchange for a Soviet spy. If anything, I’m surprised the film is so under the radar right now, given the involvement of Spielberg and Hanks – hope it’s not a sign of quality issues. Hanks plays the lawyer who negotiates the exchange; Rylance plays the Soviet spy.

5. ROOM (Oct. 16)
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson; starring Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy; based on the novel by Emma Donoghue

I liked the book a lot more than I expected – an initially harrowing, ultimately thought-provoking read about a boy who’s spent his entire life imprisoned in a tiny shed with his young mother, until the latter begins to plot their escape. While I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to film, I’m encouraged by positive early reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, including a rave from a highly trusted source. By all accounts, and to the surprise of no one who’s seen “Short Term 12” (a woefully smaller number than it should be – definitely see it if you haven’t!), Larson – one of the best actresses 25 & under working today – knocks a difficult role out of the park. The rest of the casting is a plus too, and I quite enjoyed the director Abrahamson’s previous feature, the quirky but unexpectedly poignant “Frank.”

6. SUFFRAGETTE (Oct. 23)
Directed by Sarah Gavron; starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Romola Garai, Meryl Streep

If you share my peculiarities, you may be tempted to break into a chorus of “Sister Suffragette” from “Mary Poppins” every time this movie is mentioned. But this is a very different, much more earnest treatment of the women’s suffrage movement in turn of the century Britain. Possibly too earnest, if early reviews are any indicator. Still, as a woman and a fan of Carey Mulligan (reportedly excellent as the chief protagonist), I can’t not see a film about the history of women’s rights that’s directed, produced, and written by women. There are sadly too few of those to let this one pass by.

7. CAROL (Nov. 20)
Directed by Todd Haynes; starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler

Based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (of Ripley and Strangers on a Train fame) about a lesbian romance in 1950s New York, this film won raves for both Blanchett and Mara at Cannes, with the latter nabbing a surprise best actress win. Performances aside, the themes of gender and sexuality, class, and 1950s social mores are totally in Haynes’ wheelhouse (“Far From Heaven,” “I’m Not Here,” “Velvet Goldmine”), and I fully expect him to have made the most of them.

8. MACBETH (Dec. 4)
Directed by Justin Kurzel; starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis

Generally well received but not rapturously acclaimed at Cannes, the film got picked up by the Weinsteins, which isn’t good news for any film’s distribution unless it turns out to be one they deem worthy of a massive Oscar push. This doesn’t seem to be one of them, alas; it looks like it may get the “Coriolanus” treatment (limited release, minimal marketing). However, with that source material and that cast, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who likes Shakespeare on screen.

Directed by Ron Howard; starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson; based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick

The inspiration for Moby Dick! Ok, one of them, anyway; Melville drew from various sources besides his own imagination, including this true story of a 19th century whaling ship that was sunk by a whale, forcing its crew to desperate measures (read: cannibalism) to survive. It should be a gripping yarn, and adventures at sea naturally lend themselves well to the big screen. Some may question whether Ron Howard, the director film snobs love to hate, is up to the material; but a recent rewatch of “Apollo 13” reminded me how good he is at white-knuckle survival scenes and conveying the unspoken language of male bonding in tense situations. Plus I’m not going to miss a film that has Thor, Cillian Murphy, and Ben Whishaw in it.


Do I really have to explain this one?

Other fall releases of note:
“99 Homes” (drama set against the 2008 housing meltdown, starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern); “Spotlight” (about the Boston Globe’s unraveling of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal); Guillermo del Toro’s gothic fest “Crimson Peak” (starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska); “Spectre” (007’s latest outing); “Brooklyn” (lush period romance starring all-grown-up Saoirse Ronan as a mid-century Irish immigrant to NY): “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II”; “The Danish Girl,” true story of the first known transgendered woman ever, starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (I’d be more excited if it weren’t directed by Tom Hooper, who has yet to do anything but severely underwhelm me – though he does get good performances out of his actors); “Son of Saul” (highly acclaimed Holocaust drama); “Joy” (David O. Russell’s latest outing with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the inventor of the Miracle Mop); “The Revenant” (more Oscar bait from last year’s big winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Leo Di Caprio); “The Hateful Eight” (Quentin Tarantino’s latest bloody Western).


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