Fall Movie Preview 2011: Drama

Fall brings one thing I don’t often cover on Movie Muse and that’s the festival circuit. With the festival circuit comes awards buzz and with awards buzz comes a few fall releases that are highly acclaimed that you’ll want to check out. Sometimes there are flat-out surprises, such as “The Social Network” last October. What will make waves on this list in 2011? We’ll all just have to wait and see …


Restless (Limited, Sep. 16)

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Jason Lew
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase

Summary: A young man who attends strangers’ funerals in his free time and talks with an imaginary Kamikazee pilot named Hiroshi befriends a terminally ill girl.

The Word: Van Sant’s follow-up to “Milk” goes in a distinctly more indie direction in this cinematic dissertation on life and death. Wasikowska continues to choose intriguing mature roles and Hopper looks to make a splash in his second ever film, and the first since he was six. “Restless” was supposed to come out very early this year but opted to debut at Cannes.

My Thoughts: Buzz from Cannes and Toronto has been wishy-washy, so nothing to suggest a must-see in theaters this month. Still, there are definitely some talents that will keep “Restless” on many people’s radars, including my own.


Moneyball (Sep. 23)

Directed by Bennett Miller
Written by Steve Zaillan, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, Michael Lewis (book)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Summary: Based on the true story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane who in the early 2000s co-pioneered a sabermetric approach to team managing that defied the norm and nearly turned baseball upside-down.

The Word: When Steven Soderbergh left the project, “Moneyball” still kept its all-star talent. In addition to Pitt, Miller directs his second film after the acclaimed “Capote” and “The Social Network” writer and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin co-wrote with Oscar winner Steve Zaillan, who had been on a bit of a hiatus since churning out “American Gangster” in 2007. Only Jonah Hill appears to be out of place here.

My Thoughts: The film premiered at Toronto (TIFF) this past weekend and early response has been good. It’s drawn its only negative response so far from the sports community, who’s a bit more in touch with what Beane actually did. Provided you don’t know a ton about the Moneyball concept already, you should enjoy this one.


Margaret (Limited, Sep. 30)

Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo

Summary: A high school student unintentionally plays a role in an accident that results in a bus running over a woman. When she blames herself and hides the truth, it starts to take a toll on all those involved.

The Word: It took 11 years, but Lonergan returns with his sophomore directorial effort. And it looks like few forgot the quality of 2000’s “You Can Count on Me,” because he managed to get Paquin and Damon on board as well as some of the stars from that film (Matthew Broderick, Mark Ruffalo) to join him for “Margaret.” Lonergan’s other writing credits include “Analyze This” and “Gangs of New York.”

My Thoughts: I’m a bit hung up on the fact that Paquin is still playing high school students more than 10 years after she played one in “X-Men,” but otherwise this looks to be an intriguing piece of drama. Strangely, this is not a film riding the festival circuit, so time will tell if it should make any waves amidst so many similar films this season.



Take Shelter (Limited, Sep. 30)

Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Shea Wigham

Summary: A construction worker and family man starts to receive prophetic visions of a massive storm and decides to invest in a shelter, but his family and friends try to convince him he’s delusional.

The Word: Michael Shannon and writer/director Jeff Nichols re-team with a bit more buzz behind their second film after a premiere at Sundance and a showing at Cannes. Chastain stars in yet another film this year, continuing to push her to stardom. We could well see much more of her and Shannon down the road if the buzz holds.

My Thoughts: I confess that I love this story and am convinced that it will be a suspenseful small-time story where you just don’t know what to believe until it finally comes to an end. Whether it has enough weight to break through to the general public, however, I’m a bit skeptical. If the reviews keep coming in strong, however, who knows.



The Ides of March (Oct. 7)

Directed by George Clooney
Written by George Clooney, Grant Haslov, Beau Willimon (also play, “Farragut North”)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood

Summary: A talented staffer on a political campaign for a popular candidate learns a few dirty secrets about the process and must make a moral decision regarding where his allegiances lie.

The Word: This rather popular play has become the latest fodder for George Clooney’s directorial chops, which could use some adjusting after the disappointment that was “Leatherheads.” Gosling continues to ride the hot had to fame surrounded by a knockout ensemble including Clooney himself, Giamatti, Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright (“Source Code”) and Max Minghella (“The Social Network”).

My Thoughts: This was one of the fall’s most anticipated until its premiere at Venice cooled it off fast with all the mixed/underwhelming reviews. Nevertheless, Clooney’s directing record is strong otherwise and the cast is terrific. With the 2012 campaign heating up, this should draw a lot of interest from the public — it certainly has mine.



Footloose (Oct. 14)

Directed by Craig Brewer
Written by Dean Pitchford and Craig Brewer
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell

Summary: A city boy moves to a small Texas town where he finds dancing has been banned thanks to an accident that the local pastor and the rest of the town’s citizens can’t get over. His arrival shakes things up.

The Word: This remake of the ’80s classic starring Kevin Bacon has and will draw its fair share of ire from the original’s fans, but in the world of “Step-Up” and the like, this should come as no surprise. The film’s creator, Dean Pitchford, also had a hand in the new screenplay. Most interesting, however, Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan”) would not be a traditional choice for a studio-driven remake.

My Thoughts: It’s easy to be agitated by the idea of this film, but I’m willing to see what reviews say Brewer has done with it given his track record. I’m very familiar with the 2000s musical version, but I’ve never seen the film, so I’ve no close ties to the original. Who knows if that’s a good or bad thing.


The Skin I Live In (Ltd, Oct. 14)

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Written by Pedro Almodóvar, Thierry Jonquet(novel)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet

Summary: A brilliant plastic surgeon is haunted by the fact that his wife burned to death in a car accident, so he creates a synthetic skin that can withstand any damage. He runs his trials on a mysterious woman with whom there is a romantic connection.

The Word: Almodóvar has a reputation for the obscure, uncomfortable and fetishistic, but he’s also quite brilliant. The trailer for “The Skin I Live In” feels like an obsessive thriller of sorts, but my guess is no matter what it will be incredibly dark. The film debuted at Cannes to decent reviews and has picked up steam on the festival circuit with Banderas getting a lot of attention for returning to a more sophisticated role (than say Puss in Boots).

My Thoughts: I’m big fan of “Talk to Her” and enjoyed “Volver,” so I’m open to this film given the buzz. However, it takes a certain mindset to watch an Almodóvar film, so a DVD viewing when I’m ready seems the most likely option. I would say the same for others, especially if you’ve never seen his films before.


Martha Marcy May Marlene

(Ltd, Oct. 21)

Written and Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

Summary: A young woman fights paranoia and painful memories as she tries to live a normal life with her family after fleeing an abusive brainwashing cult.

The Word: “MMMM” was one of the more buzzed about entries at Sundance back in January which got it picked up by Fox Searchlight. Durkin won the Best Director prize for this completely mysterious film that looks like the less you know about it, the better off you’ll be, at least if the trailer’s any indication. Elizabeth Olsen (yes, she’s the younger sister of the Olsen twins) looks to break into the spotlight with her titular role.

My Thoughts: I’ve had my eye on this one as one of the two films that every year manage to make it from Sundance all the way to the Oscars. We saw something similar in a young woman-led drama co-starring John Hawkes last year with “Winter’s Bone,” so why not this film? It definitely looks different.


Anonymous (Oct. 28)

Directed by Rolland Emmerich
Written by John Orloff
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Rafe Spall

Summary: This dramatic thriller takes up the theory that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was in fact the man who penned the works for William Shakespeare.

The Word: Rolland Emmerich has taken a break from blowing up the world (“2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”) to give us a passion project of his, one of the more prominent theories as to the truth of Shakespeare’s work. The trailer oozes with a style that says “Zack Snyder directed this movie.” Definitely not the expected take for this story. Writer John Orloff also penned “A Mighty Heart.”

My Thoughts: I think just about everyone will have trouble going into this film and taking it seriously given Emmerich’s track record, but as a fan of Shakespeare I can’t say his picked a bad subject matter. Ifans is also a versatile actor on the rise, so it will be interesting to see what kind of performance he gives here as he’s rather quiet in the trailer.



Like Crazy (Limited, Oct. 28)

Directed by Drake Doremus
Written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Starring: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley

Summary: A British college student in America and a local student fall in love only to be pulled apart when she’s sent back to the U.K. after being caught with an expired visa.

The Word: By far the most popular film to come out of Sundance, “Like Crazy” tells a long-distance relationship story, which might seem straightforward, but it obviously pulls the right strings. Doremus has developed a name as an indie director and his film won for Best Dramatic entry. Felicity Jones won for Best Actress.

My Thoughts: Love stories — pure romances — are a tough task. Undoubtedly Doremus has done something right, but will it find its way into the mainstream? I think it would have a better chance if it weren’t being released amidst all the hardcore dramatic Oscar contenders, but who knows, maybe this is one of them in a few categories.



My Week with Marilyn (Ltd, Nov. 4)

Directed by Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond

Summary: An assistant to the great Sir Laurence Olivier documents the actor’s tense relationship with American star Marilyn Monroe during their week of filming “The Prince and the Showgirl” in the summer of 1956.

The Word: Michelle Williams wouldn’t seem the obvious choice for the part, but man she looks like she pulled it off. Without a trailer yet it’s hard to gauge the film, but we’ll find out just how serious of an awards contender it is when it premieres at the New York Film Festival in early October.

My Thoughts: Normally this material would be more likely to arrive in the form of a TV mini-series, but apparently there’s just the right amount of material for it to be a single film. I do like the the more concise moment-in-time biopics rather than entire life-spanning ones, at least in the sense that they’re less predictable. From what I’ve read about all that happened during the filming of this movie, there will be plenty of drama packed in.

J. Edgar (Nov. 11)

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas

Summary: The story of longtime FBI chief and compelling figure J. Edgar Hoover, the face of crime-fighting in America, whose personal life contained some secrets that threatened to destroy his reputation.

The Word: Hard not to see the word “Oscar” written all over Eastwood’s latest project and Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black’s second ever script, another from-scratch biopic after gaining notoriety for “Milk.” Then again, we all said that about his last film, “Invictus,” which was a good film but not on par with the best of 2009. DiCaprio also gets to work with another renowned director. His time will come.

My Thoughts: Here’s a rare contender confident enough in its drawing power to avoid a premier up until a week before its release, so we won’t know until November’s AFI Film Festival what kind of an Eastwood film we have. Either way, his films always manage to get a couple nods, so expect this one to be worth a watch. Hopefully the trailer will arrive soon.


Melancholia (Ltd, Nov. 11)

Written and Directed by Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling

Summary: A woman’s wedding reignites tension between her and her sister as well as her family, but it’s all rudely interrupted by a planet that threatens to collide into Earth.

The Word: The end of the world is a popular subject these days, even for auteurs such as Lars von Trier, who has made a huge name for himself dwelling in controversial territory and fetishism. Many of you may recall his insensitive mildly pro-Nazi remarks at Cannes when this film premiered, which seemed to drown out the high level of praise it received. Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes, so perhaps behind her, LVT’s work will gain some recognition from American audiences.

My Thoughts: I’ve yet to daringly step up and watch a von Trier film. I first heard of him when reading about his 2010 film “Antichrist,” which was labeled a horrifying and sadistic among other adjectives. The “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville” filmmaker has generally received great acclaim, so at some point I will have to take the plunge.

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