With Labor Day weekend upon us and the first film festival of the fall underway in Venice, the summer movie-going season is coming to a close. The comic book movies and young adult fiction adaptations will linger at the box office, and the next Hunger Games sequel is on the horizon, but for the most part, we are approaching the prestige season.
It is that time of year when studios set their sights on the Oscars and break out the kind of high-minded, star-studded films they hope will strike a chord with critics and audiences alike. In other words, it is my favorite time of the year to go to the movies. With that in mind, I put together a list of my 10 most anticipated films set to screen over the next few months. Feel free to chime in with yours in the comments section.
10. Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan (release date: Nov.7)
Nolan is a filmmaker I admire more than love. I appreciate that there is a director of his stature taking the risks he does on the budgets he is given. While I am often lukewarm on the films he makes, I am in awe of his tenacity in getting them made. A new movie from Nolan is reason enough to be excited, but one that deals with space exploration, the fate of mankind and this planet, and the kinds of deep connections that make us human? Count me in.
9. While We’re Young, directed by Noah Baumbach (release date: to be determined)
Baumbach has a tendency to be hit or miss, occasionally climbing too deep into his particular milieu. Those who saw Margot at the Wedding know what I mean. But The Squid and the Whale is among my favorite films, and last year’s Frances Ha was a genuinely surprising delight. Here, he reteams with Greenberg’s Ben Stiller and adds Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, and the wonderful Charles Grodin, about whom it is impossible to write enough nice things. The cast alone is enough to spark my interest in this admittedly clichéd logline: A middle-aged married couple loosens up after meeting a younger couple.
8. 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani (release date: to be determined)
One of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite young directors, Bahrani specializes in stories of the American Dream and how that dream is pursued and perverted. As such, the story of a man forced to work for the real estate broker who cost his family its home would seem to be right in his wheelhouse. Add to that Michael Shannon, whom I would watch paint a fence, and Andrew Garfield ditching the Spider-man suit, and the recipe is there for a searing portrait of life in the U.S. after the economic collapse.
7. Fury, directed by David Ayer (release date: Oct. 17)
Truth be told, I am a sucker for a good war picture. Any era, any war, plop me down in front of a band of brothers on a mission, and I am yours. Fresh off an Oscar win for producing 12 Years a Slave, Brad Pitt executive produces and stars in this actioner about a tank crew in the last days of World War II. Ayer, perhaps best known as the writer of Training Day and the original The Fast and the Furious, is behind the camera for this one. In his previous directorial efforts, he has displayed an eye for unique visuals and a capacity for intensely claustrophobic action sequences.
6. Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher (release date: Oct. 3)
I am unfamiliar with the source material, other than its status as a megahit bestseller. Fincher is at his best with pulpy thrillers like Seven, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and this one should line up nicely alongside those titles. Rosamund Pike stars alongside Ben Affleck, who having proved himself behind the camera will hopefully have a chance to flex his acting muscles before focusing on his real muscles as Batman.
5. Leviathan, directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev (release date: to be determined)
All I have to go by on this one is reputation, but that reputation includes a win for its screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year and near-universal praise for this far-reaching tale of human insecurity and weakness. This may be a bit more under the radar than some of the other films on this list, but everything I read about this film suggests it is pure cinema at its best.
4. Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie (release date: Dec. 25)
When people talk about “Oscar bait,” this is the kind of movie they mean: an inspiring true story about an Olympic athlete who also was an honest-to-goodness war hero (Louis Zamperini, who died in July at the age of 97). The film is practically dripping in prestige, but I firmly believe Jolie is not chasing an Academy Award or anything of the sort – after all, she has an acting Oscar for Girl Interrupted – rather the story itself is so compelling that she simply had to tell it. That alone is worth celebrating.
3. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (release date: Dec. 12)
Anderson is incapable of directing a boring film. I was head over heels for his last effort, The Master, and find myself more intrigued with each new movie he releases. Joaquin Phoenix delivered a performance of stunning power and control the last time these two worked together, and it is intriguing to think what they might pull off this time – with source material from Thomas Pynchon, no less. While Anderson has shown a penchant for strict formalism of late, this film is shaping up to be a return to the pulsing rhythms and gonzo energy of earlier works like Boogie Nights.
2. Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller (release date: Nov. 14)
The notices were stellar coming out of Cannes, where Miller picked up a Best Director prize for his work on this picture, and the buzz around it has only grown louder. Miller made his name with the true crime/biographical film Capote and looks to be returning to that fertile ground once more. Steve Carell looks downright terrifying in the trailer, and this may prove to be the perfect vehicle for Channing Tatum, a wonderfully talented comedic performer, to announce his presence as an actor ready to tackle more serious fare.
1. Birdman, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (release date: Oct. 17)
This sits at the top for a host of reasons, not least among them the reviews trickling out of Venice, which could not be more laudatory. Inarritu’s “Communication Trilogy” (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel) stands among the towering achievements in cinema over the last 15 years. If you have not seen any or all of those films, I urge you to make a special trip to the video store – or more likely get your Netflix queue in order – and block out some time. You will be glad you did. For Birdman, it seems as though Inarritu has narrowed his focus to the mind of one man without sacrificing any of the scale of his previous efforts. Michael Keaton looks to be doing career-best work in the leading role, and I am equally excited by the prospect of supporting turns from Edward Norton and Emma Stone. This is all not to mention the technical prowess of the filmmaking, which I understand is considerable. These films will all have my full and undivided attention, but I will be first in line on opening day for Birdman.