Fall Movie Preview 2014

Fall Movie Preview-2014

The dash to awards season has begun, signified by the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival this past weekend, which served as the debut of many of the films on my fall watch list. So it’s time to leave those summer blockbusters behind, because you won’t find many of them in this year’s fall slate (well, minus the film that tops my most anticipated list).

Given the way the box office has shifted even more toward huge tentpole films and franchises, the fall has turned into a mix between a January-esque dumping ground and a sneak preview at awards contenders. More and more often some of the year’s best and most surprising films arrive in the weeks between Labor Day and the Friday before Thanksgiving, and lately the season’s genre to watch has become the thriller. Think of fall movies such as “The Town” and “Argo” (there’s another Ben Affleck thriller on this year’s list) and last year’s “Prisoners.” Undoubtedly some of these small movies will be on your radar in due time.


15 Most-Anticipated Films of the Fall


drop15.  The Drop (Sept. 12, limited)

It’s hard to think of great fall films and not think of good dramatic crime thrillers, and that’s in large part thanks to writer Dennis Lehane, whose novels became “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island.” That’s a pretty great track record. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have Eastwood, Affleck and Scorsese (respectively) envisioning your material. “The Drop” was actually adapted by Lehane from his own short story and comes to life with Michael R. Roskam (recent Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee “Bullhead”) at the helm. But it’s the talent on screen that lands “The Drop” on this anticipated list: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and the late James Gandolfini. Early reviews are strong and respectable.

14. St. Vincent (Oct. 24)

Don’t let the vaguely Catholic title fool you. “St. Vincent” stars Bill Murray as a curmudgeonly war vet who befriends his young neighbor. That’s the selling point, to be sure — think the indie comedy version of “Gran Torino.” The film also stars Melissa McCarthy as the boys mother and Naomi Watts as a stripper (shock of all shocks). It is the feature film debut of Theodore Melfi (no, it’s not Joaquin Phoenix’s character in “Her”). Reviews from TIFF have been mixed but this one smells like a crowd-pleaser.

nightcrawler13. Nightcrawler (Oct. 31)

The award for most avante garde movie on this list goes easily to Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler.” Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an aspiring broadcast journalist who gets a little too close to the crimes he covers, reviews from TIFF have called it a hybrid of the classic “Network” and an L.A. crime thriller. The film serves as Gilroy’s (brother of Tony Gilroy of the “Bourne” franchise) directorial debut and co-stars his wife, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton.

zero_theorem_ver412. The Zero Theorem (Sept. 19, limited) 

The always divisive Terry Gilliam’s latest film hit the festival circuit last fall, actually, and opened all over the world this past year before hitting digital download in August ahead of it’s U.S. theatrical release. Christoph Waltz stars as a computer programmer working on a project assigned by Management (Matt Damon) aimed at discovering the meaning of life, except he’s constantly interrupted by a host of strange visitors. Those who love Gilliam will surely want to check this out and decide for themselves where it ranks among his catalogue.

dear_white_people11. Dear White People (Oct. 17, limited)

Premiering at “Sundance” and winning the Special Jury prize for Breakthrough Talent, “Dear White People” looks like a razor sharp racial satire of the status of race in the 21st century that follows African-American students at a predominantly white Ivy League school. Filmmaker Justin Simien has turned a number of heads as the film played across the country this year.

whiplash10. Whiplash (Oct. 10, limited)

Another Sundance film and a Cannes selection, “Whiplash” tells the story of an aspiring jazz drummer (the fast-rising Miles Teller) and his grueling teacher (J.K. Simmons). Doesn’t get more niche than that. Writer/director Damien Chazelle (writer of the little-known music-themed thriller “Grand Piano”) won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the Dramatic category for this feature-film version of his 2013 short. Reviews have been understandably astounding and the trailer alone suggests why.

skeleton_twins9. The Skeleton Twins (Sept. 12, limited)

Indie films — heck, all films — could use more Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. The former “Saturday Night Live” stars take to a bit of family drama for director Craig Johnson, who co-wrote with Mark Heyman (“Black Swan”) in this story of twins who suddenly reconnect and begin to help each other with their respective problems. With Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson co-starring, perhaps Johnson has discovered the formula for turning comedians into dramatic talents.

this_is_where_i_leave_you8. This is Where I Leave You (Sept. 19)

A typical premise: family member dies and his/her loved ones are forced to come together in spite of their differences or dislike of each other. Throw in the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva, or spending seven days together in mourning while being visited by family and friends and you have quite the situational dark comedy. Jonathan Tropper adapted his novel for the big screen and scored comedy aficionado Shawn Levy as director and a knock-out cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver (“Girls”), Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) and Kathryn Hahn.

big_hero_six_ver77.  Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7)

Disney’s first animated take on a Marvel property, “Big Hero 6” will attempt to reach the market that was smitten with its last November animated feature, “Wreck-It Ralph.” The film centers on tech wiz-kid Hiro Hamada and his jumbo-sized inflatable A.I. Baymax, who together, when evil befalls their city of San Fransokyo, join up with other tech geniuses to form the Big Hero 6. Longtime Disney animation writer/director Don Hall (“Meet the Robinsons”) co-directs with Chris Williams (“Bolt”), so expect a result somewhere at least as good as those decent movies though probably not quite as brilliant as “Ralph.”

maze_runner_ver26. The Maze Runner (Sept. 19)

Although one of few blockbusters on the fall slate, “The Maze Runner” would normally receive my dismissal as another run-of-the-mill young adult sci-fi adaptation in the wake of the wild success of “The Hunger Games.” Yet having read James Dashner’s books and knowing a thing or two about director Wes Ball, I have optimism this one could surprise. Ball makes his feature debut after wowing movie geeks all over the Internet a few years back with his short film “Ruin,” a digitally animated post-apocalyptic action sequence. No doubt that “Ruin” landed Ball this gig, as the “Maze Runner” tells the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who wakes up to find himself in a place filled with other young men called the Glade. None of them know what they’re doing there, only that every day the walls of the Glade open to reveal a giant, unsolvable maze, and that someone is watching them.

birdman5. Birdman (Oct. 17, limited)

Oscar nominee Alejandro González Iñárritu is known best for dark dramas that weave multiple story lines together, including “21 Grams,” “Amores Perros” and “Babel.” So the fact that “Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as an old actor who once played a famous superhero battling himself and coming to grips with reality tells you the kind of creative leap Iñárritu has taken. And many are leaping with him, when you look at the supporting cast of Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis and more. The film premiered to overwhelmingly positive reviews at the Venice Film Festival and the trailer is all kinds of intriguing.

men_women_and_children4. Men, Women & Children (Oct. 10, limited)

I’ve always considered Jason Reitman a can’t-miss director. “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and even “Young Adult” were absolutely snarky comedic gems with real, honest, emotional cores. Then he released “Labor Day,” a noticeably more dramatic film, and it was slammed by critics to the point that I never even bothered to watch it. “Men, Women & Children” looks to stay dark, but it looks to boldly tackle how the digital world has changed our lives and that, along with the captivating trailer, have me hoping for at least a slight rebound (it got mixed reviews at TIFF). Reitman adapts Chad Kultgen’s novel, which weaves multiple storylines of teenagers and parents, confronting the host of issues that have come with social media, smartphones and the Internet on the whole, including the impact on self-image, relationships, romance and more. The film stars Adam Sandler, Judy Greer, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Reitman regular J.K. Simmons, Emma Thompson’s voice and rising star Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) among others.

fury3. Fury (Oct. 17)

Police and crime thriller expert David Ayer (“Training Day”) took everyone by surprise with 2012’s “End of Watch,” and given everything we’ve seen from “Fury,” so far, this could be one of the better war films in years. An original screenplay by Ayer, “Fury” is set among a tank crew during the final act of World War II. Brad Pitt stars as the crew’s leader, an army sergeant named Wardaddy, who leads his men against a total Nazi onslaught behind enemy lines. Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman also star. Expect better-than-average, grittier action compared to most war movies (and tank fighting is not something we’ve seen much of) and hopefully a script that delivers the emotional artillery as well. And of course, we’re all wondering how many Nazi scalps they’ll have collected by the film’s end.

gone_girl_ver22. Gone Girl (Oct. 3)

Acclaimed director David Fincher is understandably at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to making thrillers, so no surprise that he follows up “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” with another wildly popular novel adaptation,  Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” But maybe the more interesting fact about this film is that Flynn adapted her own novel with no outside help. That can either be a really good or really bad sign, but with Fincher known for asserting his creative control, this one should be in good hands. Ben Affleck stars as a man who sees the lens of scrutiny turned around on him when the disappearance of his wife becomes a national story.


interstellar1. Interstellar (Nov. 7)

The fact that a Christopher Nolan film comes out closer to the winter months as opposed to his usual prime summer slot has me hoping that “Interstellar” won’t just be another impressively intelligent action film, but that there could be some serious awards season potential, maybe even beyond the technical categories. Although the film by and large remains a mystery as Nolan is so good at doing, it looks to explore the notion of inter-dimensional travel with the notion that Earth is soon to be no longer fit to maintain human life. Matthew McConaughey stars along with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace and of course, Nolan’s muse, Michael Caine.


10 Fall Films to be Skeptical About


walk_among_the_tombstonesA Walk Among the Tombstones (Sept. 19)

At some point, watching Liam Neeson kick ass has to get old, right? Although it’s not his loved one who has been kidnapped and murdered, but somebody else’s, no doubt Neeson has a special set of skills as ex-NYPD cop turned PI, Matt Scudder, in Scott Frank’s second feature directing effort. “Tombstone” looks like nothing more than another producer trying to make a buck of Neeson’s reliable appeal in these roles. I will give it some credit, however, as this has legitimate source material in Lawrence Block’s series of novels.

tuskTusk (Sept. 19)

“Tusk” is far and away Kevin Smith’s strangest cinematic effort to date. He keeps with the tone of “Red State” in this horror satire about a podcaster (Justin Long) kidnapped in Canada by his latest interview subject and tortured into believing he is a walrus. Clearly, this one is targeted at the same cult audience that Smith’s other films have appealed to in the past, and will likely weird many people out while impressing others with its B-movie craziness.

boxtrolls_ver14The Boxtrolls (Sept. 26)

As a fan of “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” studio Laika’s work, it’s hard to put “Boxtrolls” into the skeptical column, but its premiere at Venice garnered mixed reviews at best, and in the animated genre, that’s not a good sign. The story about a boy who grew up among trolls wearing cardboard boxes has a Nick Park (“Wallace & Gromit”) feel to it given its British setting. It will surely be filled with visual splendor, but the story could leave something to be desired.

equalizer_ver9The Equalizer (Sept. 26)

The only person besides Liam Neeson who is more fun to watch acting like a total badass is Denzel Washington. It’s sad to think about the tragic loss of Tony Scott and all he and Washington did together to light up the big screen. “The Equalizer” wants badly to be in that tradition and it might just get its wish, with a good chunk of reviews from TIFF deeming it mindless entertainment. Sounds like a total crowd-pleaser, but one that would be more worthy of a to-see list in January or February.

annabelleAnnabelle (Oct. 3)

I was a fan of James Wan’s “The Conjuring” and was intrigued at the questions that lingered over the history of the doll Annabelle, but this spin-off carries only that film’s reputation and little of its talent. The director, John R. Leonetti, was the D.P. on “Conjuring” and “Insidious: Chapter 2,” so he knows the aesthetic of a solid horror movie, but Gary Dauberman is a B-movie writer. Don’t expect the same critical praise as the films Wan himself has helmed.

alexander_and_the_terrible_horrible_no_good_very_bad_day_ver3Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Oct. 10)

At first glance, I had this film in my anticipated column, but upon further review, this looks like a silly family Disney movie masquerading as an indie-style family dramedy. Based on the children’s book classic, “Alexander” centers on a family whose runt, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), never has much good happen to him. Then one day, his whole family seems cursed, and it’s up to Alexander to help them put everything in perspective.

dracula_untold_ver2Dracula Untold (Oct. 10)

The “little-known story behind the legend”  always intrigues me, and painting Dracula as a man who would curse himself in order to protect his people is a pretty sharp idea. That said, these films always seem to suck (no pun intended). The only thing one can hope is that rookie director Gary Shore and the rookie writers have some talent. With these movies, sometimes no experience is good experience. I love the star potential of Luke Evans, so fingers crossed, and we’ll see what the reviews look like come October.


judgeThe Judge (Oct. 10)

If “The Judge” came out in December you’d say awards material for sure. Even October isn’t such bad timing for the story of a sleazy attorney (Robert Downey Jr.) who returns home and ends up taking up his toughest case yet: defending his father (Robert Duvall). Comedy expert David Dobkin directs a script that includes a writer of “Gran Torino.” Given RDJ’s popularity and this nature of the story line, this one could surely be more beloved by audiences than critics. It makes my skeptical list since reviews from TIFF were mixed.


horns_ver3Horns (Oct. 31)

“Piranha 3D” director Alexander Aja imagines this Joe Hill novel about a young man (Daniel Radcliffe) believed to be the prime suspect in his girlfriend’s rape and murder who wakes up one morning with a powerful set of horns. Radcliffe with an American accent might be worth the price of admission alone, but this supernatural dark comedy, which debuted at last year’s TIFF, appears to lean too much toward silly despite the potential of its concept.


dumb_and_dumber_to_ver3Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14)

Considering this sequel was on-again off-again, it’s exciting that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are finally reuniting as Harry and Lloyd, two impeccably stupid best friends who charmed audiences in the ’90s. Set exactly that much time later, the duo hit the road in search of the daughter Harry never knew he had. I would have more optimism if the Farrelly brothers hadn’t churned out nothing but absolute crap (and crap jokes) recently. “The Three Stooges” and “Hall Pass” were both huge disappointments.


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