Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Summer movie roundup / Fall 2017 movie preview

At various points this summer I caught myself thinking it was a weak – or at least languid – movie season. And yet, as it drew to a close and I did the tally, I realized that it actually ended up being quite a good summer in terms of movie quality, if not movie box office. The latter only underscores that the Hollywood summer blockbuster formula is, if not on life support, in dire need of rethinking. While WONDER WOMAN was a delight and justly rewarded for it, none of the other studio tentpoles really achieved comparable success; even the ones that did respectable business seemed to fade quickly from the cultural zeitgeist.

However, looking past the would-be blockbusters, there were plenty of gems of the indie/arthouse variety, whether it was Kumail Nanjiani’s all-American, 21st-century version, rom com THE BIG SICK, Kathryn Bigelow’s searing and underappreciated racial drama DETROIT, Taylor Sheridan’s latest taut modern-day Western WIND RIVER, the subversive post-feminist one-two punch of Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED and William Oldroyd’s LADY MACBETH, or the emergence of two very different strains of a burgeoning Korean American new wave in Kogonada’s “Museum Hours meets Lost in Translation” architectural romance COLUMBUS and the less polished but more viscerally affecting GOOK, Justin Chon’s “Do the Right Thing meets Clerks” callback to the 1992 L.A. riots. (On the other hand, the widely acclaimed DUNKIRK, for all its technical skill, left me cold, though it’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly why.)

Still, fall remains where it’s at for movie lovers, and this fall looks jam-packed with cinematic goodies for all tastes. And I mean packed—normally, I’m able to select a “top ten” most anticipated films without too much difficulty, but this year my original draft list ran closer to twenty. So I’ve compromised and narrowed it down to fifteen. ;) Accordingly, here are the ten fifteen movies I’m most looking forward to this fall, listed in order of release date:


Emma Stone as Billie Jean King. Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. Not completely sold on that casting, but I love Emma Stone and generally like Carell. Plus I’m a tennis fan. Plus the movie’s directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Ruby Sparks”) and written by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty,” “Closer,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and the underrated “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”), which gives me confidence that the film will bring the right balance to the story’s comedic and serious elements.

BLADE RUNNER 2047 (Oct. 6)

It’s a fair question whether “Blade Runner,” which has single-handedly done more than any other movie to shape sci-fi cinema of the last quarter-century, really needed a sequel, and the most recent trailer suggests something more conventionally action-driven and less of the noir-ish mood piece-punctuated-with-bursts-of-violence that the original was. But it also looks visually spectacular (as it should, with the great Roger Deakins as DP) and appears to be in capable hands with director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario,” “Prisoners,” “Incendies”) and Ryan Gosling, whose signature blend of cool insouciance and bruised romanticism makes him a worthy heir to the mantle of Harrison Ford. (Speaking of whom, let’s hope Deckard comes to a better end than Han Solo, though I wouldn’t bet on it.) Robin Wright and Jared Leto co-star.


Did you see “Tangerine”? If not, do so stat; it was one of the funniest and most unexpectedly heartwarming movies to come out of 2015. Director Sean Baker’s follow-up spotlights a group of residents in a cheap Florida motel, including one brassy, sassy little girl and Willem Dafoe as the crusty-but-goodhearted motel manager. This one’s shot on regular film, not an iPhone, but appears to embrace the same vivid, compassionate (yet never condescending) attitude towards folks on the margins of society who still forge a genuine community amongst themselves.


Todd Haynes (“Carol,” “I’m Not There,” “Far From Heaven”) directs Brian Selznick’s adaptation of his own YA novel about two children in separate time periods (1927 and 1977) who both run away from home and, I assume, eventually meet somehow. The 1927 parts are silent and in black & white; the 1977 parts with color and sound. The film was warmly received at Cannes, even if it didn't win anything. My one reservation is that in outline it reminds me a little of “Hugo” (also based on a Selznick book), which I didn’t much care for even though I wanted to love it. Still, something about Haynes’ coolness and restraint may actually be a better fit than Scorsese for material that could otherwise be made overly precious or sentimental.


Love him or hate him, Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “Dogtooth”) has a knack for making films that stick in your gut. They may be disturbing, unpleasant, even downright horrific at times – the more so for Lanthimos’ characteristically deadpan, absurdist presentation – but they’ll stay with you long after other films have faded. His latest is a psychological thriller about a seemingly idyllic household, headed by Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, that’s threatened by a possibly (probably?) psychopathic teenager (Barry Keoghan, the kid in the vest in “Dunkirk”) whom Farrell’s character befriends. Expect it to be dark, utterly disquieting, and utterly memorable.

THE SQUARE (Oct. 27)

I didn’t like Ruben Östlund’s last film, the much-heralded “Force Majeure,” anywhere near as much as I wanted to. Still, I’m eager to see his latest send-up of privileged, seemingly enlightened liberal white folks (European variety) who discover just how thin their veneer of moral and artistic superiority is. This one centers on a contemporary art curator whose latest exhibition goes badly awry when his mobile phone is stolen, leading to a series of comic disasters. Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.


Could it be terrible? Oh sure. The trailers and Kenneth Branagh’s over-the-top mustache (yes, I know Hercule Poirot is supposed to have a ridiculous mustache) suggest that Branagh may be playing up the camp, à la “Clue,” with his take on the classic Agatha Christie whodunnit. But by the same token it could also be very fun, and, like its 1974 predecessor, features an impressively star-studded cast. In addition to Branagh, we’ve got Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr., and the redoubtable Dame Judi Dench. That makes it must-see for curiosity value alone, unless the reviews are dreadful. (And maybe even then…)

MUDBOUND (Nov. 17)

Dee Rees ("Pariah") adapts Hillary Jordan's novel about two families in post-WWII Mississippi - one white (Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund and Jonathan Banks, aka Mike E from "Breaking Bad") and one black (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, and Jason Mitchell, aka Eazy E from "Straight Outta Compton") - whose relationship is, shall we say, complex and fraught with racism. Tensions rise and climax in tragedy when Hedlund's and Mitchell's characters return from serving in the war and strike up an unlikely friendship. Netflix scooped up this one at Sundance, and is releasing it simultaneously on theaters and video - a trend I hope does NOT take, but I do hope this movie does if it's as good as billed.

MOLLY’S GAME (Nov. 22)

Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with this drama based on the memoir of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), queen of a billionaire underground poker club. We’ll see if Sorkin has any directorial chops, but at the very least, we can expect some snappy dialogue and class-A acting. Idris Elba and Kevin Costner play Molly’s lawyer and father, respectively.


Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “Hanna,” “Anna Karenina”) returns to the WWII era, focusing on everyone’s favorite British war horse, Winston Churchill, played here by a heavily made-up Gary Oldman. Could this be Oldman’s chance for an Oscar? He’s only been nominated once before (for his fantastic turn in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) and has never won. Here’s hoping the incomparable Kristin Scott Thomas gets something interesting to do as Mrs. Churchill. Also look for Ben Mendelsohn as George VI.


Italian director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash”) does lush, sensuous films about lush, sensuous lovers. James Ivory does – or did, at his peak, with Ismail Merchant as his producer – exquisitely delicate yet heartfelt romances about socially repressed people (“A Room With a View,” “Maurice,” “Howards End,” “The Remains of the Day”). Here, Guadagnino directs Ivory’s adaptation of André Aciman’s critically acclaimed 2007 novel about a love affair between an expat youth in Italy and his parents’ guest boarder, a charming and handsome graduate student (Armie Hammer). This seems like a promising match-up on all sides.


Self-explanatory, unless you’re living under a rock.

THE POST (Dec. 22)

Steven Spielberg directs this drama, co-written by one of the screenwriters of "Spotlight," about the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. Meryl Streep plays publisher Katharine Graham. Tom Hanks plays editor Ben Bradlee. The cast also includes Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg, and a host of fantastic actors better known for their TV work: Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, and Zach Woods. Sign me up, please; I’m already drooling and trying to tamp down my expectations.


It’s a little ironic that Hugh Jackman became globally famous for playing the ultimate surly loner, Wolverine, considering that he’s at his best channeling his boundless natural charisma, extroverted charm, and performer’s flair. He may finally have found his ideal lead role in this movie-musical about the life of P.T. Barnum, founder of the recently-shuttered Barnum & Bailey. Features Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife, Zac Efron as his protégé, and songs written by red-hot duo Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, who won an Oscar for their work in “La La Land” and a Tony for Dear Evan Hansen. Can Pasek-Paul make lightning strike again? Early buzz is…unfortunately not very good. But my hopes remain high.


No one seems to know much about this film other than that it’s about a high-society tailor (Daniel Day-Lewis) in 1950s London. But here’s all you need to know: Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis’s last collaboration was “There Will Be Blood.” SOLD, lock stock and fuckin’ barrel.

Ten more to look out for: Mother!; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO; Lady Bird; Justice League; The Current War; The Disaster Artist; Wonder Wheel; The Shape of Water; Downsizing; Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.