Attention! The following article has been brought to you by the letters N through Z, and is a production of the Children’s Television Workshop.
Since it’s a little too late to “preview” the fall movie season, which kicked off about two weeks ago (the day after Labor Day), I figured… why not take on the season in a slightly different way? I mean, it’s not like any of the movies noted below have opened as yet. Since the actual parameters of the fall movie season isn’t set in stone like its summer counterpart, this list will encompass all films that will open in North American cinemas between the period that began on September 1st and will end on January 1st, 2015. View Part 1 of this piece here.
N is for Nightcrawler
Two months ago, Nightcrawler wasn’t even on my radar. But then a creepy viral video featuring a very gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal popped up on Craig’s List, advertising his services—services for what exactly? I couldn’t fathom, but I was intrigued. Then came the film’s trailer! While it resembled a rather conventional crime thriller, the Network meets TMZ premise fascinated me. And Gyllenhaal, who has quietly been putting out stirring performances in Prisoners, Enemy, Source Code and End of Watch of late, looks like a man possessed. Possessed by what? Ambition? Greed? Success? We’ll see. Word from Toronto has been uniformly strong, with many comparing the character to Travis Bickle. That’s high praise—even if I don’t exactly get that vibe from the previews. But again, we’ll see.
O is for Oscar bait
Oh, Oscar… how I love and hate thee! Well, I guess I love you more than I despise you. I wouldn’t be posting so much about award season if I weren’t at least obsessed with the game. Yes, I’m fully aware it’s a “game” and that the actual best movies don’t usually win. Sometimes, we’re lucky and we get a 12 Years a Slave or a No Country for Old Men as Best Picture winners. More often than not, we have to settle with an Argo or a Slumdog Millionaire or The King’s Speech i.e. technically proficient and generally agreeable feel-good dramas as Best Picture winners. To be fair, I’d take those over middlebrow trash like Crash and A Beautiful Mind. Frankly, it’s what you get when 6,000 extremely busy people with vastly differing tastes vote on movies with the best award marketing campaigns. This year, we’re guaranteed to see the same old outfits (Weinstein, Fox Searchlight, Warner Brothers) duke it out with painfully formulaic biopics (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, American Sniper), rousing World War 2 dramas (Fury, Unbroken, The Imitation Game), “harrowing” character studies about the mentally ill (Still Alice, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game), feel-good comedic dramas starring old coots (The Judge, St. Vincent), a desperate musical or two (Into the Woods), and of course, a couple of genuinely terrific films that’ll likely have no shot at all (Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel). Welcome to Oscar season… it’s going to be another five months of bloggers bitching at each other over what will win Best Picture, and in the end, they’ll all cry when The Imitation Game wins it all.
P is for Paul Thomas Anderson & Phoenix, Joaquin
And now, for two filmmakers who aren’t very likely to be playing major roles in the upcoming Oscar “rat race”—not because they’re not worthy, but because they don’t allow their work to be defined by convention. After three critically acclaimed performances in Spike Jonze’s Her, James Gray’s The Immigrant and The Master, Joaquin Phoenix is slowly rising up the ranks to steal that “best living character actor” tag from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sean Penn. The last time Phoenix collaborated with Anderson (The Master), the result was a career-best turn. The character of drug-addled detective Doc Sportello in Anderson’s upcoming comedic mystery Inherent Vice may not be on the same tortured level of Freddy Quell but it’s nevertheless something I’m excited for. As for Anderson… after two intense dramas, I’m really curious to see how he tackles a Raymond Chandler-esque comedic mystery. That’s a genre he hasn’t really taken on as yet so who knows whether the film will be closer to The Big Lebowski or Chinatown. Anderson has long cited Robert Altman as a major influence so I wouldn’t be surprised if he leans heavily on Altman’s The Long Goodbye instead. Whatever the result, I can’t wait!
Q is for Question Marks
Three films… three question marks. Why? I have no idea what to make of them. Dumb and Dumber To is hitting cinemas exactly 20 years after the original became a smash hit and helped launch Jim Carrey into the comedic superstar of the decade. The original is a guilty pleasure, and this was high up on my list at the beginning of the year, but when I watched the recent trailer, my expectations were tapered significantly. It looked dumb… but maybe that’s the point? I’ll find out in November. I just hope it’s not another Anchorman 2.
The Gambler is a remake of James Toback’s 1974 drama starring James Caan as a professor with a destructive gambling habit. It has a solid supporting cast in Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, John Goodman and Michael K. Williams, a strong director in Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and an Oscar-winning screenwriter in William Monahan. But the big question here is, “Can Mark Wahlberg convincingly pull off a serious dramatic performance?” On one hand, the last time Wahlberg and Monahan collaborated (The Departed), the result was an Oscar for the later and a nomination for the former. But on the other, Wahlberg is an actor highly dependent on his director. Scorsese made that happen with The Departed but can Wyatt pull off that same trick? Paramount seems to think so with that late December limited release date. We’ll see, but I’m not yet convinced Wahlberg is the man to pull off this role, even with the drastic weight-loss and all.
On the surface, A Walk Among the Tombstones looks like just another “Liam Neeson breaks the faces off a bunch of bad guys” movie. It’s not hard to see why. After all, he’s been making that same movie for the last four years now. But a deeper look will reveal a darker, slower drama, with a literary connection (it’s based on a popular series of novels by Lawrence Block) and a terrific filmmaker in writer-director Scott Frank at the helm. Frank’s previous work includes screenplays for Minority Report, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Malice, and The Lookout, which he also directed. So why the question? Well, it’s a September release and there’s absolutely no buzz on the picture three days before its nationwide release. That’s never a good sign.
Update: My Review
R is for Reese Witherspoon
Winning a Best Actress Oscar is traditionally seen as a gateway to bigger and more exciting opportunities. For Reese Witherspoon who was already among the biggest female stars in Hollywood at the time of her win, the opposite held sway. She followed her Oscar-winning performance in Walk the Line with two average dramas (Rendition, Water for Elephants), one forgettable animated film (Monsters vs. Aliens), and three embarrassing comedies (Four Christmases, This Means War, How Do You Know). While last year’s tremendous Mud marked a return to form, the project didn’t provide her with enough material to stretch her chops. That should change this fall with the release of four diverse projects.
Wild,* which Witherspoon produces and stars in, is just the type of meaty role that screams Oscar.
*Also see V
The Good Lie, French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated drama Monsieur Lazhar, premiered in Toronto to generally warm reception. It opens in October.
Gone Girl,* is one of the year’s most anticipated titles but it wouldn’t have made it to the big screen without Witherspoon, who was instrumental in buying the rights to Gllian Flynn’s novel and bringing director David Fincher on board.
*Also see G
Finally, the actress will also appear as a member of the vast ensemble cast of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice,* opposite Joaquin Phoenix.
*Also see P
S is for Sequels nobody asked for
Horrible Bosses 2: As if the first film wasn’t enough, we have to suffer through another two hours of Jason Bateman trying too little, Jason Sudakis trying too much, and Charlie Day pulling a bitch fit. Who gives a crap if you guys are depressed with your boring jobs as dentists, lawyers and financial analysts?
Penguins of Madagascar: Just as Dreamworks was beginning to redeem themselves with the How to Train Your Dragon movies, they come up with this! Sure, the penguins are funny in short bursts but for a full 90 minutes? Lord!
Hot Tub Time Machine 2: Hot Tub Time Machine was a fun comedy with a novel concept. But who exactly was clamoring for seconds? When John Cusack refuses to do the sequel because it’s too much of a cash-grab, you know there’s trouble in paradise.
T is for the Threequels
- The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part 1
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
- Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Would you be surprised if I told you that these three movies will be the top three grossing movies at the end of the 2014 holiday season? You shouldn’t, because that’s exactly how it’s going to go down. I haven’t seen either of the previous Night of the Museum films so I’ll refrain from commenting on them. All I know is that this one should rake in enough dough to help pay for Zoolander 2 (I wish). More than anything, it’ll give audiences a chance to catch one of the final completed performances of Robin Williams.
Moving on to The Hobbit… I was far from a fan of the first film in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth prequel trilogy (An Unexpected Journey) but was back on board after last December’s thrilling second act (The Desolation of Smaug). Jackson has promised that Battle of the Five Armies will be his last journey to Middle Earth, and seeing how this film directly sets up the events of his monumental Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m convinced he’s more than up to the task of finishing out on top.
Finally, I end with the film that’ll undoubtedly become the year’s top grossing movie: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I. Like The Hobbit trilogy, I wasn’t too thrilled with the way Gary Ross handled the first film in this cash cow franchise. But Francis Lawrence’s sequel, Catching Fire, was a significant improvement in every way. More aggressive, action-packed and urgent than its plodding predecessor, the sequel increased the stakes, broadened the scope and made for a damned good time. Lawrence, along with megastar Jennifer Lawrence (no relation), returns to direct Part I of the final film in the series (Part II is out in November 2015) and I have faith that, like Catching Fire, he’ll stick the landing. An added bonus with these two remaining films is that they’ll be the final two films in the illustrated career of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
U is for Under the Radar:
Every fall, there are hundreds of tiny projects that hit screens and leave them without anyone knowing noticing. That’s bound to happen again this season when more than a 100 releases are crunched into theaters during the last weeks of the year. Although it’s impossible to shed a light on every one of them (including Cannes titles like Leviathan, Winter Sleep, Mr. Turner, Clouds of Sils Maria and independent dramas like Rosewater, Laggies and Dear White People), you can bet that most of these movies will hit at least one of the five art house cinemas in Miami—Bill Cosford Cinema, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema and the Tower Theater—between now and February. Visit their websites (which I have linked to) or just pay them a visit. It’s a much classier alternative to the crowded and over-priced multiplexes. Oh, and the audiences are far less likely to spew profanities at you when you politely ask them to turn their ugly phones off during the movie.
V is for Vallée, Jean-Marc
Two years ago, Jean-Marc Vallée was a versatile Genie Award-winning Canadian director who specialized in crafting micro-budgeted intimate dramas about messed-up people. Now, after directing two critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) and landing an Oscar nomination, he’s one of the most sought-out filmmakers in the industry. Wild, his third Hollywood drama, is an adventure based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed who hiked more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself in 1995 after a painful divorce, the death of her mom and years of self-destructive behavior. Wild was warmly received at Telluride and Toronto earlier this month, with much of the praise dedicated to Reese Witherspoon’s performance* and Vallée’s bold direction.
*Also see R
W is for Whiplash
Although it’s deemed by most to be the preeminent film festival in the United States, making a trip to Sundance hasn’t been very high on my film bucket list. For the most part, I find the films that premiere there, or at least the award-winners, to be either grossly overrated (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or heavy-handed poverty porn (Precious, Frozen River). But that doesn’t seem to be the case with this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner Whiplash. The film, which was directed by Damien Chazelle, and stars Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) as an aspiring jazz drummer who goes through a vicious training cycle under the tutelage of a violent and profanity-spewing instructor (J.K. Simmons), is among my top five most anticipated titles of the season. Perhaps it’s because it stars two actors who I genuinely admire or perhaps because it seems to capture the pain and frustration of musical ambition in a way that’s rarely seen on-screen. Maybe it’s that supremely terrifying trailer.
X is for Exodus: Gods and Kings
Come on, cut me some slack here! Do you know how annoying and time-consuming putting this list together was? X is for the cumbersomely subtitled Exodus: Gods and Kings and it stays that way!
I’m not going to defend Ridley Scott anymore. He’s fallen off the wagon. His last film, The Counselor, was a pretentious mess (Hint: I’m not one of the small but vocal minority who deem it as some misunderstood masterpiece). His previous film, Prometheus, was an even bigger mess. Robin Hood was a bore, Body of Lies was a misstep, American Gangster was uneven, and A Good Year… does anyone even remember what that was about? You’d have to go all the way back to Kingdom of Heaven to find a movie that Scott didn’t botch up in some way or form. So why am I still so excited for Exodus? Well, for one, the historical epic is a genre Scott pulls off better than any active filmmaker. Secondly, it has a tremendous cast led by Christian Bale as Moses. Third, it’s written by Steve Zaillian who rarely screws up major projects. Finally, the Biblical story of Moses is one teeming with tremendous cinematic potential. The two most famous cinematic versions of this story (The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt) were both game changers. Imagine watching the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea shot through the lens of Dariusz Wolski in IMAX! Yes, the Hollywood white-washing is pathetic and there’s no excuse for it but if there ever was an opportunity for Scott to launch a comeback, it’s this one. Then again, I said the same thing about this time last year about The Counselor. Look what happened there!
Y is for WHY as in Y?
As in why do these movies exist? What’s the point of remaking Annie with hip hop music and hiring the obnoxious Jamie Foxx as a loveable nice guy? Is there any reason anyone would want to see Dracula Untold i.e. the untold “true” story of how and why Dracula became a blood-sucking badass? Who thought it was a good idea to create Annabelle, a bizarre spin-off centered on the creepy doll in last year’s The Conjuring? And why did they position its release date so close to a horror movie named Jessabelle? Are they playing box office Russian Roulette with each other? Also, what’s the point of remaking the 80s TV show The Equalizer when all people want Denzel Washington in is a remake of Man on Fire? Finally, Left Behind. Just why? wy? y?
Z is for The Zero Theorem
Hey everyone, Terry Gilliam is back! Dubbed by the beloved (and outspoken) filmmaker as the final part in his dystopian trilogy, after Brazil and 12 Monkeys, The Zero Theorem is set in a dystopian future world in which a corporate drone (played by two-time Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz) desperately seeks the titular Zero Theorem, a formula that would solve the greatest question of all: What is the meaning of life? At least that’s what Gilliam’s press notes has described it as. Even though I wouldn’t say The Zero Theorem ranks high on my must-see list, Gilliam’s works are always, at the very least, visually sumptuous. The film’s weird trailer bears all the hallmarks of the auteur, from the painstakingly-detailed set design to the acid-trip cinematography to the wacky characters to the incomprehensible storyline. It’s a good thing I expect nothing less than bat-shit insanity from Gilliam.
For a ranked list of the Fall 2014 Movies I’m most looking forward to, check out my list on Letterboxd.
As a friendly reminder, your A-to-Z Guide to Fall 2014 was brought to you by Reuben Pereira. The A-to-Z Guide to Fall 2014 is a production of Film Frontier. Bye bye now, and feel free to click on other pages on this little hole on the web!