20 Movies I’m Most Excited to See this Fall

fall-movie-preview

Good riddance summer! Hello fall and movies for adults! There was a time when the summer used to be my most anticipated movie-going season of the year. I used to sit up late, compiling stupid lists of my most anticipated movies of the summer. I used to run out and buy all the summer movie preview magazine issues. I even played box office games with friends. Eventually, when I started writing for film, I tried to ensure that my summer movie preview stories were the ones that received the most hits because, you know, it’ the biggest movie season of the year.

But as I’ve gotten older, things have gradually changed. I find myself more interested in seeking out the serious, dark, and prestige pictures instead of the fluffy explosion-fest crowd-pleasers. I find myself more excited for a three hour mood piece made by a Danish director starring the fourth lead in The Dark Knight instead of the latest J.J. Abrams blockbuster. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or maybe it’s just that my tastes are maturing. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve grown weary of watching the same narrative play itself out over and over and over again. I mean, there’s only so many times one can watch two robots blow each other to smithereens.

Anyway… with that out of the way, this fall offers a dazzling array of films to choose from. Along with the usual crop of Oscar contenders, there are also flashy genre pictures from some of the most respected art house auteurs in the world. So, goodbye Michael Bay, Marvel and J.J. Abrams, and hello Scorsese, Ridley Scott and the Coen brothers! Without ado, here are the 20 movies I can’t wait to this fall at the movies!

#20.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

dallas-buyers-club

In 1986, Ron Woodruff, a hard partying, womanizing homophobe, was diagnosed with HIV and given only 30 days to live. Determined to beat the odds, Ron began illegally smuggling alternative medicine from all around the world to help his and the cause of other HIV-positive patients around the country. Dallas Buyers Club is his story. If you’re like me and obsessively keep up with movie news, you may have heard about the near-40 pounds Matthew McConaughey lost to play Ron. While it screams Oscar-bait (and it probably is), McConaughey is in the midst of a career resurgence (he calls it the McConaisance) that has seen him put out stellar performances in acclaimed films like Mud, Killer Joe, Bernie, The Lincoln Lawyer and Magic Mike. With The Wolf of Wall Street and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar also on the way, all signs (including this promising trailer) lead me to believe this is going to be another fantastic performance from the man once arrested for playing bongo drums in the nude. Dallas Buyers Club is directed by acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Jan-Marc Valle (Café De Flore, The Young Victoria) and co-stars a near-unrecognizable scene-stealing Jared Leto as Ron’s HIV-positive transgender business partner. (November 1)

#19.

THE MONUMENTS MEN

monuments-men

UPDATE: As per this L.A. Times story, Sony Pictures has pushed The Monuments Men to early 2014. Cue sad face

Let’s face it… anything that George Clooney touches is awards-bait. Whether he’s a producer (Argo), writer (The Ides of March), director (Good Night, and Good Luck) or star (The Descendants, Up in the Air, Michael Clayton), the man is a walking tag of quality. That is, if you’re not a pretentious snob. The Monuments Men, Clooney’s directorial follow-up to The Ides of March, tells an intriguing and little known story of the Allied soldiers who were tasked with recovering priceless works of art that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II. If Clooney and a World War 2 setting weren’t enough to get me stoked, the film’s star-loaded cast which also includes the ever-dependable Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and John Goodman sealed the deal.  This looks like a blast! 

#18.

PRISONERS

prisoners

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s script was one of the most loved scripts in Hollywood – attracting the interest of a galaxy of stars from Leonardo DiCaprio to Mark Wahlberg to Christian Bale. Eventually Hugh Jackman was the man cast in the lead as a distraught and desperate father who takes the law into his own hands after his 9-year-old daughter and her friend go missing the weekend of Thanksgiving. Early word on the film at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals has been very strong, earning glowing notices for the performances of Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the detective assigned to the case. (September 20)

#17.

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

anchorman-the-legend-continues

I was one of those people who rushed out to see Anchorman during its opening weekend in the summer of 2003. While the film was a moneymaker, I can see why Paramount was reluctant to greenlight the sequel: those atrocious international numbers. But in the decade since then, the original has become a worldwide instantly-quotable phenomenon and the stars are all become, well, superstars. Now, after what seems like an eternity of negotiating budgets and salaries, the entire team is back for the sequel. Trailers haven’t been fantastic but neither were the ones for the original. Ferrell’s brand of comedy may be hit or miss but when paired with writer-director Adam McKay, his strike rate has been an immaculate 100%. My gut instinct tells me he’s not going to strike out here. (December 18)

#16.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

secret-life-of-walter-mitty

Ben Stiller has built a career as one of the funniest leading men in Hollywood. What he doesn’t get enough credit for is his directing capabilities. Even as a fan of his previous directorial outings (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, Reality Bites), I’ll admit to have been a little puzzled over his choice to take up the reins on this decades-in-development project (Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey were once attached to it in the late 90s). That all changed once the magnificent near-wordless teaser trailer for the film dropped in August. A fancy berth at the AFI and New York film festivals this fall only confirm the early reports from industry insiders that this might be the Life of Pi of 2013. Some of you know how that one fared on my Best Of list last year. (December 25)

#15.

LABOR DAY

labor-day

Jason Reitman can come off arrogant in interviews but he’s an undeniably gifted filmmaker with a distinctive voice. Even if I’ve cooled off on some of his work of late (Juno in particular is incredibly dated), I find that he’s often best when directing his own scripts (Thank You For Smoking, Up in the Air). Labor Day is his latest film as writer-director (and his first film since the box office disappointment of the acidic Young Adult). But what really excites me about this film is his collaboration with the immaculate Kate Winslet – an actress who hasn’t had the chance to stretch her acting chops since her one-two punch of The Reader and Revolutionary Road in 2008. An adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, Labor Day recounts the events that take place over the titular holiday weekend in 1987 when a depressed single mom (Winslet) and her son are taken hostage by an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). (December 27 Limited. January 31 Wide)

#14.

THE PAST

the-past

Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi’s A Separation was a masterful procedural drama that deservedly netted him the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Although his follow-up, The Past, finds the filmmaker moving the action and setting to France, the film is, like its predecessor, a domestic drama centering on marital strife.  Premiering in competition at Cannes, the film received highly favorable reviews and was awarded a Best Actress prize for Berenice Bejo’s (The Artist) performance. The film also co-stars gifted Algerian-French actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet). (December 20)

#13.

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

blue-is-the-warmest-color

The first film to be based on a graphic novel to win the Palm D’Or at Cannes, Blue is the Warmest Color is a coming-of-age romantic drama about the relationship between Adele, a 15-year-old French teen, and Emma, a blue haired college student who changes her life. That’s all I can really say as most of my excitement for the film stems from the universal level of acclaim the international critical community has bestowed upon it. Hell, Steven Spielberg (who chaired the Cannes jury) was so impressed by the film that, in a first for the festival, he awarded the Golden Palm to director Abdellatif Kechiche as well as its two stars Lea Seydoux and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos whose performance has been especially singled-out. The film has also received considerable attention for its graphic sex scenes and received the NC-17 rating here in the U.S. (October 25)

#12.

SAVING MR. BANKS

saving-mr-banks

The prickly relationship between author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney during and prior to the production of Mary Poppins has been well-publicized for years. Without going into details, let’s say she wasn’t too happy with the way the final film turned out. Kelly Marcel’s script, which has been making the rounds among industry insiders and bloggers for a good year now, was, like the script of Prisoners, one of the most loved scripts on the 2011 Black List. Perhaps the most talked about and intriguing aspect of the script however was that it didn’t shy away from criticizing Disney – which is remarkable considering Walt Disney Studios is producing the film. While I couldn’t claim to be a fan of director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie), he’s a decent enough filmmaker when given the right material – which seems to be the case here. Oh, I don’t think there’s much room for error when you have Emma Thompson playing Travers and freaking Tom Hanks starring as Walt Disney! (December 20)

#11.

THE COUNSELOR

the-counselor

Ridley Scott has been off his game of late. Prometheus was a gorgeous-looking dud, Robin Hood was a colossal waste of time, and Body of Lies was a disappointment. I didn’t even care for American Gangster, a grossly overrated film that was apparently loved by many people. To me, the last time Scott really aced it was his 2005 crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven (I’m referring to the vastly superior and longer Director’s Cut rather than the pathetic theatrical cut here). Anyway, for a filmmaker of his legacy and stature, it’s about time he makes something worth watching again. After all (and I don’t want to jinx this), it’s not like he’s kicking 40. The dark and stylish-looking The Counselor, which sees the 75-year-old filmmaker directing the first screenplay from acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road), offers him his best shot yet at redeeming himself, especially with that incredible arsenal of a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. (October 25)

#10.

OUT OF THE FURNACE

out-of-the-furnace

Writer-director Scott Cooper’s directorial debut won Jeff Bridges a Best Actor Oscar and the filmmaker a ton of fans in the Hollywood community. It’s no surprise then that his follow-up effort would attract a cast that’s as almost as impressive as the star-studded casts of The Monuments Men and The Counselor. Front-lined by Christian Bale, and also starring Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whittaker, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard, Cooper’s film chronicles the attempts of a recently-released convict (Bale) who goes on the search for his missing younger brother (Affleck) after he gets involved in a crime syndicate. Adding to the film’s credits are Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott who are both listed as producers. (December 6)

#9.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

captain-phillips

When was the last time Tom Hanks truly gave a terrific performance? Go ahead, I’ll wait. To me, it was back in 2002 with Road to Perdition. Since then, every leading role the actor has taken on has either been cash-grabbing garbage (The Da Vinci Code), a vanity project (Larry Crowne) or a noble misfire (The Terminal). Compare this to his output in the decade prior to that (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan, Castaway, Apollo 13) and… frankly it’s embarrassing how much he’s fallen. While the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks promises the return of the Hanks that made him one of my favorite actors growing up in the 90s, it’s his work in Captain Phillips that has my interest peaked. The ordeal of Capt. Richard Phillips during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009 is a story that’s rife for excellent drama, and considering it’s being brought to life courtesy of a kinetic filmmaker like Paul Greengrass who excels at blending action and docudrama filmmaking (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday, United 93), I expect nothing but great things. (October 11)

#8.

NEBRASKA

nebraska

I count Sideways among my favorite movies. About Schmidt is one of the most tragic-comic cinematic depictions of aging I’ve seen. And Election is one of the finest political satires ever made. Yea, it’s fair to say that Alexander Payne is one of my favorite filmmakers. Nebraska, the 52-year-old filmmaker’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Descendants, is perhaps his smallest film to date. Small as in it’s a black and white road trip drama whose leads are screen veteran Bruce Dern and comedian Will Forte. The actors play a father and son who, according to the film’s notes, travel from Montana to Nebraska to collect prize money while meeting up with acquaintances and old friends on the way. That’s not much of a synopsis but knowing Payne’s previous work, expect a lot of aging white male angst, mid-life crisis drama, and dark and absurdist humor. This is also the first film that Payne has directed that he hasn’t also written. Bob Nelson wrote the script. (November 22)

#7.

FOXCATCHER

foxcatcher

UPDATE: In a bizarre and shocking move, Sony Pictures has bumped Foxcatcher from its December date to 2014. [via HitFix] 

Bennett Miller has only made two films – Capote and Moneyball – but they’re both absolute knockouts. The synopsis of Foxcatcher, which is based on the autobiography of Olympic Gold medal winning wrestler Mark Shultz, chronicles the friendship between Shultz’s older brother Dave, also a Olympic Gold winner, and his friend, the mentally unstable multimillionaire John Eleuthère du Pont whose erratic behavior eventually led to tragedy. Seeing how Miller was able to extract career-best performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brad Pitt and even Jonah Hill in their respective movies, I can only imagine what he’ll pull out of an already extraordinary actor like Mark Ruffalo, or even Channing Tatum. The one I’m most intrigued by however is Steve Carrell, cast against-type as the mentally unstable du Pont in a role that is sure to net him a ton of awards heat, that is, if he delivers. Going by Miller’s track record, I’d be shocked if he didn’t. (December 20)

#6.

RUSH

rush

There’s no middle ground for Ron Howard. He either makes very good movies (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, Splash) or very bad ones (Willow, How the Grinch Stole Christmas). No offense to the man but it’s almost as if he’s afflicted with bipolar filmmaking disorder. I mean, how is that one filmmaker can make a movie like Cinderella Man, then follow it up with The Da Vinci Code, then make direct a movie like Frost/Nixon, and then release a turd like Angels and Demons right after? It’s perplexing! Rush, a high-octane drama that follows the bitter rivalry between Formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the boiling with tension 1976 season has the promise to join Howard’s list of good movies. That’s if all the ecstatic reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival – most which dub the film as one of the year’s best action films and the best thing Howard has ever made – are to be believed. Considering the film’s behind-the-screen team, which includes Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan, Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), and composer Hans Zimmer, I’m more than inclined to trust those reviews. Oh, and did I mention I love Formula 1? Yea, I’m so in! (September 27)

#5.

12 YEARS A SLAVE

12-years-a-slave

“Steve McQueen is the real deal.” That’s what my friend and colleague Rene Rodriguez told me after he got out of a screening of the British writer-director’s second feature film Shame in December 2011. I agree with him. Together with his first film Hunger, which also starred Michael Fassbender, McQueen has been quickly rising up the ranks of the most talented young filmmakers in Hollywood. And although he hasn’t been able to break out of the art house scene as yet, something tells me his third feature, 12 Years a Slave, an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical novel about a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, will change that. Reviews out of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals have elicited some of the most frenzied huzzahs of any film this year, with praise being especially bestowed on British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Northup and McQueen’s decision to not shy away from depicting the barbarism of slavery. The film also co-stars McQueen regular Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt who produced the film. Expect this one to be one of the frontrunners in the Oscar race, as well as one of the fall’s most talked-about films. (October 18)

#4.

AMERICAN HUSTLE

american-hustle

David O. Russell is on a roll! His last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, were both critically acclaimed smashes that netted him Best Director Oscar nominations and won actors Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence Oscars. Both actors are back, along with Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper (also Oscar nominees for their work in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook respectively), Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro, Louis C.K. and Michael Pena for the filmmaker’s newest film, American Hustle. With a writer-director on a hot streak and a cast like that, do you really need more? Well fine! The 1970s-set political drama, loosely based on the FBI’s Abscam sting operation, follows a couple of con-artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced by a seedy FBI agent (Cooper) to assist him in uncovering the illegal dealings of a New Jersey mayor played by Jeremy Renner. Lawrence plays Bale’s volatile, unpredictable wife. I can already see the acting fireworks! (December 13)

#3.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

inside-llewyn-davis

Ethan and Joel Coen are American treasures. Here’s proof: No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, A Serious Man, O Brother Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, Burn After Reading, the list goes on. In other words, anything these guys touch is gold. Inside Llewyn Davis is their first film since their $200 million-grossing blockbuster True Grit. The darkly comic musical drama tells the story of a struggling folk musician (played by Oscar Isaac) trying to make it big during the burgeoning folk scene of the 1960s. Winner of the prestigious Grand Prix prize at Cannes, the picture co-stars Coens regular John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and features music by legendary Oscar and Grammy-winning musician and producer T-Bone Burnett. I’m there, guitar in hand! (December 20)

#2.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

wolf-of-wall-street

Speaking of national treasures – here’s another one. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a movie lover over the course of the 17 years I’ve been one is this: When all else fails, always count on Martin Scorsese! Written by Terrence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos) and based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort, the Leo DiCaprio-led drama/dark comedy chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of New York stockbroker Belfort who rose up the ranks in the 80s and early 90s by committing stork market fraud, while also developing an outrageous lifestyle fueled by sex, drugs and alcohol. Combine that with Scorsese’s trademark rock and roll soundtrack, hyper-kinetic style, and a massive cast that also includes Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, and Kyle Chandler, and you’ve got the formula for one of the fall’s most anticipated releases. Did I mention this trailer? (December 25)

#1.

GRAVITY

gravity

“I was stunned, absolutely floored. I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time” – James Cameron.

Anytime a filmmaker like James Cameron says something like that, you do what any sane, movie-loving person should do – pay attention. Children of Men is probably my favorite movie of all time and Alfonso Cuaron is the greatest working filmmaker in the world right now who isn’t a household name. Gravity, the Mexican auteur’s passion project about a pair of astronauts who are stranded in space after a shuttle disaster, isn’t just my most anticipated movie of the fall or my most anticipated film of 2013. It’s the movie I’ve been waiting to see for five years now. Four since Cuaron announced its existence in 2009. Another since it was bumped a year from its original October 2012 release date. And judging by the clips and plethora of unconditional rave reviews streaming out of the three giant fall film festivals – Venice, Telluride and Toronto – my long wait and excitement has been validated. (October 4)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

don-jon

Her, Spike Jonze’s tender cyber-romance starring the always extraordinary Joaquin Phoenix as an introverted man who falls in love with the voice of his artificial intelligence computer. Hey, if Scarlett Johansson voiced my computer, I’d fall in love with her too. December 18.

The Fifth Estate, Oscar-winning writer-director Bill Condon’s drama about the birth of WikiLeaks starring Rush star Daniel Bruhl and rising British sensation Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange. October 11.

Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s R-rated romantic comedy about a porn-addicted New Jersey Guido’s relationship with a feisty and confident woman played by Scarlett Johansson. September 27.

Olboy, Spike Lee’s gritty remake of Korean auteur Park Chan Wook’s ultra-violent, controversial blood-bath of revenge, starring Josh Brolin as an ad executive who goes on a murderous spree after mysteriously being imprisoned for 20 years, and then released without any answers. November 27.

All is Lost, writer-director J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut Margin Call, is an experimental survivalist drama starring 77-year-old screen legend Robert Redford in an allegedly near-silent performance as a man lost at sea. October 18.

BIG BUDGET STUDIO FARE WITH POTENTIAL TO SURPRISE

catching-fire

Thor: The Dark World (November 8)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (September 27)

COULD GO EITHER WAY

runner-runner

Runner Runner. Director Brad Furman’s previous film, the fantastic The Lincoln Lawyer was one of the biggest surprises of 2011 so I have high hopes for his follow-up. But the subpar trailers and generic concept have me concerned. We’ll see which side of the fence it falls on October 4.

Carrie. Does the world really need a remake of Brian De Palma’s horror classic? No, desecrating classics has always been Hollywood’s forte. But with Chloe Moretz and Jullianne Moore vamping it up on screen and Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce at the helm, there’s potential. October 18.

GUILTY PLEASURES

bad-grandpa

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The Jackass movies are the epitome of low-brow cinema but they provide the laughs in spades. The trailer for Bad Grandpa, the group’s latest flick features Johnny Knoxville, under heavy make-up as Irving Zizman, one of his signature characters, taking a road-trip with Billy on an insane hidden camera road-trip across the nation, Borat-style.  (October 25)

Machete Kills. I guess Robert Rodriguez has made peace with the fact that he’ll be making faux-exploitation flicks like this for the rest of his life. And as long as they’re fun and profitable, why not? (October 11)

A BOX OFFICE AND CRITICAL DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN

enders-game

Ender’s Game. From the director of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. ’nuff said. (November 1)

MOVIE THAT’LL MAKE A TON OF MONEY THAT NO ONE WILL ADMIT TO HAVING PAID FOR

last-vegas

Last Vegas. AKA The Hangover for the geriatric pack. Think Wild Hogs meets Grown Ups meets The Bucket List(November 1)

WAIT, WHICH ONE IS THE ONE WITH STALLONE?

escape-plan

Escape Plan. Stallone and Schwarzenegger beat the odds and prove their manliness by escaping the most highly protected prison in the world. (October 18)


Grudge Match. Stallone and De Niro beat the odds and prove their manliness by fighting each other in a boxing match. (December 25)

SHAMELESS OSCAR WHORING

grace-of-monaco

August: Osage County. In which Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and bunch of other heavy-hitters scream at each for two hours hoping to score an Oscar nomination. (December 25)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. In which Idris Elba mimics Nelson Mandela in hopes to score an Oscar nomination. (November 29)

Diana. In which Naomi Watts suffers for two hours in hopes to score an Oscar nomination. (November 1)

The Book Thief. In which Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star as parents of a precocious girl coming-of-age during the Holocaust. (November 15)

OH, I FORGOT THIS IS COMING OUT

hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And there’s still another one slated to come out next December. (December 13)

FALL MOVIES THAT WOULD HAVE MADE MY LIST IF THEY HAD ANY SHOT OF OPENING IN 2013

wind-rises

James Gray’s period epic The Immigrant
Jonathan Glazer’s science fiction mood piece Under the Skin
Miyazaki’s swan song The Wind Rises
Hirokazu Koreeda’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning domestic drama Like Father Like Son

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