Ah, the fall season has finally arrived. I make no secret of nor apology for my disdain of the summer season. Even when it’s a strong lineup of blockbusters, it’s a deafening, dumbing few months. And this was a horrible summer season. There’s nowhere to go but up for the fall season. Here’s a rundown of the more promising films coming our way.
Sept. 20: How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His 6-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that was parked on their street earlier. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts and knowing his child’s life is at stake, the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. The trailer seems to give away the whole story, but audiences at the Telluride Film Festival loved it.
Oct. 4: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth … and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. The scenario is gimmicky and limited, but director Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Children of Men") delivers something memorable with each film, and this was also a hit at Telluride.
Oct. 11: "Captain Phillips" examines the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), and his Somali counterpart, Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Set on an incontrovertible collision course off the coast of Somalia, both men find themselves paying the human toll for economic forces outside of their control. Talk about a cinematic dream team. Billy Ray ("Breach," "State of Play," "The Hunger Games") adapted the screenplay from Richard Phillips’ autobiographical account. Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy," "United 93," "The Bourne Ultimatum") directs, and Hanks is supported by Catherine Keener. Plenty here to get excited about.
"Twelve Years A Slave"
Oct. 18: This film is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the 12th year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life. Director Steve McQueen ("Shame") has one of the most distinct, controlled styles in the world. He works with a bigger scope this time, and it’s hard to believe how highly the earliest reviews are praising this one. This has "best picture" written all over it.
"Dallas Buyer’s Club"
Nov. 1: In the fact-based drama, Matthew McConaughey portrays real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, an ordinary man who found himself in a life-or-death battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. In 1986, Ron was blindsided by being diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. With the U.S. still internally divided over how to combat the virus and restricting medications, Ron grabs hold of non-toxic alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Seeking to avoid government sanctions against selling non-approved medicines and supplements, he establishes a "buyer’s club," which fellow HIV-positive people can join for access to his supplies. McConaughey is at the peak of his craft and is supported by Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner, a highly underrated actor. This should continue the incredible wave of strong roles McConaughey is currently riding.
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
Nov. 15: Martin Scorsese directs the true story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Having started a morally conventional career in the late ’80s, Belfort quickly rises from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption. Excess success and affluence in his early 20s, as founder of the brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, warrants Belfort the title — The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese directs a movie set in New York City with a cast led by DiCaprio, supported by Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner and Jean Dujardin. If that doesn’t get you excited, you probably don’t like movies.
Nov. 27: In a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ celebrated play, this holiday musical drama follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother, as he journeys to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives, Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Unwilling to live by the imposing Reverend’s rules, a frustrated Langston is determined to return home to his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson). Langston embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey and discovers the true meaning of faith, healing and family. Underrated director Kasi Lemmons ("Eve’s Bayou") works with strong material and a great cast.
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
Nov. 29: Based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, the film chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming president and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society. Idris Elba ("Prometheus," "The Wire") stars as Mandela, Naomie Harris ("Skyfall") stars as Winnie Mandela. Elba stole many an episode of "The Wire" and leads the TV detective drama "Luther," but he has yet to get his breakout film role. This could be it.
"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2"
Sept. 27: Inventor Flint Lockwood thought he saved the world when he destroyed his most infamous invention—a machine that turned water into food, causing cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes. But Flint soon learns his invention survived and is now creating food-animals — "foodimals!" Flint and his friends embark on a dangerously delicious mission to battle hungry tacodiles, shrimpanzees, hippotatomuses and cheespiders to save the world — again! Forecast calls for recycled plot points and jokes, but here’s hoping this one is better than expected.
Nov. 1: Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history — and get turkey off the holiday menu for good. Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson voice turkeys. Insert your own joke here.
Nov. 27: Fearless optimist Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey — teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven — to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom. Directed by Chris Buck ("Surf’s Up") and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter of "Wreck-It Ralph").
Sept. 27: A New Jersey guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love (Scarlett Johannson). Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut promises to be funny, sexy and overturn much of what we expect from a romantic comedy.
Sept. 20: A divorced and single parent, Eva (Julia Louis Dreyfus) spends her days enjoying work as a masseuse but dreading her daughter’s impending departure for college. She meets Albert (James Gandolfini), a sweet, funny and like-minded man also facing an empty nest. As their romance quickly blossoms, Eva befriends Marianne (Catherine Keener), her new massage client. Marianne seems "almost perfect" except for one prominent quality: she rags on her ex-husband way too much. Eva finds herself doubting her own relationship with Albert as she learns the truth about Marianne’s ex. Director Nicole Holofcener has quietly built an impressive career, making indie comedies with a unique sense of humor ("Walking and Talking") and standout episodes of respected TV shows ("Six Feet Under"). Plus this will be one of Gandolfini’s last roles.
Nov. 22: After receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, a cantankerous father (Bruce Dern) thinks he’s struck it rich, and wrangles his son (Will Forte) into taking a road trip to claim the fortune. Shot in black and white across four states, Nebraska tells the stories of family life in the heartland of America. Director Alexander Payne’s movies straddle the line between drama and comedy, and he has yet to make a bad movie. It will be great to see Bruce Dern working with good material again.
Sept. 27: Director Ron Howard’s action-drama stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as the charismatic Englishman James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl ("Inglourious Basterds") as the disciplined Austrian perfectionist Niki Lauda, whose clashes on the Grand Prix racetrack epitomized the contrast between these two extraordinary characters, a distinction reflected in their private lives. Set against the golden age of Formula 1 racing, "Rush" follows the two drivers as they push themselves to the breaking point, where there is no shortcut to victory and no margin for error. Howard stretches himself into yet another genre and apparently takes cues from classic Formula 1 movies.
Oct. 4: Set in the billion-dollar online gambling world, which offers a heady mix of wish fulfillment and danger. Ben Affleck is Ivan Block, a legendary corporate titan who mixes charm and ruthlessness to maintain an iron grip on his growing empire. Justin Timberlake portrays Richie Furst, a young man who finds himself seduced into Block’s world, before learning there is no such thing as easy money. Brad Furman’s "The Lincoln Lawyer" was a lot of fun and a good mix of smarts and schmaltz. Expect more of the same here.
Oct. 25: Director Ridley Scott and author Cormac McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men"), making his screenwriting debut, interweave McCarthy’s characteristic wit and dark humor with a nightmarish scenario, in which a respected lawyer’s dalliance with the drug business spirals out of control. Scott and McCarthy are enough to sell it, but the cast is headlined by Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. Wow. Just, wow.
"Thor: The Dark World"
Nov. 8: In the aftermath of "Thor" and "The Avengers," Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fights to restore order across the cosmos, but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all. We’re apparently required to have one Marvel release each season.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Nov. 22: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has returned home safely after winning the 74th annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Winning means they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor’s Tour" of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) prepares The Quarter Quell, a competition that could change Panem forever. I’m assuming you don’t need me to sell this one.
Nov. 29: Obsessed with vengeance, a man (Josh Brolin) sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked up into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason. Anyone who has seen the original "Oldboy" by brilliant South Korean director Park Chan-wook is wondering why anyone would attempt to remake it. Spike Lee directs, Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, and Elizabeth Olsen star, and oh boy do they have their work cut out.
Obligatory October horror movie
Oct. 18: It’s a re-imagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother (Julianne Moore), who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom. The curiosity over this one is of the morbid variety, but that fits for a horror movie. We know Moretz will be at least solid, and I’m interested to see what Moore does with the mother character. Also intriguing is the presence of comedic actress Judy Greer.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.