Attention! The following article has been brought to you by the letters A through M, 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.
Without further ado, here’s your A to Z Guide to Fall 2014! Please make good use of it. You’re only going to get it once. Oh, and enjoy!
A is for Adams, Amy.
Last January, Amy Adams netted her fifth Oscar nomination, her fourth in the last six years! This December, she’ll have the chance to take that number to six. In Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, Adams plays painter Margaret Keane, who suffered for many years while her manipulative husband (Christoph Waltz) took all the credit for her iconic work. Margaret eventually found the courage to fight back, and a lengthy and increasingly strange legal battle ensued. Yes, Burton has been on a rough patch for a good decade but Big Eyes was written by the same guys who wrote Ed Wood—Burton’s best film to date. Best of all, no Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter! Just good ol’ Adams!
B is for Big Hero 6
Six months ago, Walt Disney Animation Studios was a distant third in the animation world behind Pixar and Dreamworks. But after the ridiculous success of Frozen, they’re the king of the pack (at least for now). For their follow-up, they’re collaborating with fellow zeitgeist-courting subsidiary Marvel for an action-adventure set in the dazzling world of San Fransokyo. Big Hero 6 looks to combine the kid-friendly imagination of Disney with the thrills of Marvel’s tentpoles. If it lives up to that hyperbolic sentence, then the bar will truly be set for Pixar and Dreamworks.
C is for Chastain, Jessica
a.k.a Hollywood hardest-working actress. After storming the scene in 2011 with an incredible seven movies, and then scoring back-to-back Oscar nominations, Chastain is back with four movies set for release over the next three months. First up is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which follows a crumbling relationship from both perspectives. She’ll follow that with the title role in Miss Julie opposite Colin Farrell. She’ll also play a key role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.* Finally, she plays a major part in J. C. Chandor’s third feature A Most Violent Year—a slow-burn thriller set in New York City during the winter of 1981, one of the most violent years in history. Considering Chandor’s track-record and the fact that it also stars Miami homeboy, and future Star Wars badass Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), I’m keeping my eyes peeled.
* also see I
D is for DuVernay, Ava
You may have not heard about DuVernay as yet but start getting used to it. She’s one of the most exciting up-and-coming filmmakers in Hollywood right now, and that status has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a female African American director in a White Male dominated Hollywood. DuVernay’s previous feature, the fantastic Middle of Nowhere netted her a deserving Best Director prize at Sundance but it’s her upcoming drama Selma, which centers on Martin Luther King’s march from Selma, Alabama to Washington D.C. in 1965 that has movie insiders buzzing. Further proof that she’s got the goods: Both Oprah and Brad Pitt are producers on the picture. Her frequent collaborator and scene-stealer David Oyelowo stars as MLK.
E is for Eastwood, Clint
After a glorious run in the 2000s starting with Mystic River in 2003 and concluding with Gran Torino in 2008, the film icon has fallen into a deep rut. Although I found much to admire in his 2011 effort Hereafter, neither J. Edgar nor this summer’s Jersey Boys curried favor. But Eastwood has a habit of sneaking up on people and surprising them. And he’s primed to do so again this December with American Sniper, the adaptation of Chris Kyle’s autobiography starring a very, very bulked up Bradley Cooper. Cooper plays Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American military history, who served four tours in Iraq and was involved in six IED attacks. It’s an interesting story about a unique character played by an actor at the top of his game. It’s also the type of narrative that plays to Eastwood’s strengths.
F is for Fury
As a screenwriter, David Ayer is responsible for Training Day, The Fast and the Furious and Dark Blue. As a director, he’s made the nutty Harsh Times, the mediocre Street Kings, the terrific End of Watch, and the embarrassing Sabotage. It’s not a filmography that gives me much confidence. But his latest film, the World War II tanker drama Fury, has the added advantage of Brad Pitt leading the charge. Whether he’s playing a starring role or playing producer, anything Brad Pitt attaches his name to these days is worth something (yes, even World War Z). We haven’t seen a damn good American World War II drama since 2010 but with Fury and Unbroken,* Angelina Jolie’s World War II epic, both hitting screens in the next few months, I think that’s about to change.
*Also see J
G is for Gone Girl
There’s a reason why Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her best-selling phenomenon is arguably the most hotly anticipated movie of the fall among mature moviegoers and cinephiles. Two words: David Fincher. From Seven to Zodiac to The Social Network, Fincher has proved time and time again that when it comes to delivering A-grade Hollywood dramas aimed at adults, there’s no one quite like him. Initially, I was skeptical about Fincher taking on this project since the last couple of times he’s adapted best-selling works of fiction, the results were the mediocre The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’d rather see Fincher concentrate on original pieces and true-crime sagas (Seven, Zodiac) or dramas like The Social Network. Then again, he can do whatever he wants. However, after reading a little about the source material (I’ve deliberately avoided reading the novel) and watching early previews, my opinion has drastically changed. Like another filmmaker on this list,* I subscribe to the philosophy of “In Fincher We Trust.”
*Also see I
H is for Horns
As the Harry Potter franchise neared its conclusion, there was lot of talk about whether or not the franchise’s three leads would have careers after the series ended. While most (correctly) pegged that Emma Watson would become the most successful of the lot, there was a lot of doubt about Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe. Grint has more-or-less disappeared but Radcliffe has kept busy working in theater, television and making some smart choices on film. He starred in the admirable Kill Your Darlings playing a young Allen Ginsberg, the amiable rom-com What If, and a host of theater work. In the upcoming horror comedy Horns from B-movie horror specialist Alexandre Aja, Radcliffe plays a young man who wakes up one morning after a drunken stupor to find that he’s been accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. If things weren’t bad enough, horns start growing from his head, giving him the power to read people’s darkest thoughts. It sounds stupid but the outrageous trailer featuring an unhinged Radcliffe seems like the perfect vehicle for the actor to simultaneously stretch his talents and shed that family-friendly visage.
I is for Interstellar (or In Nolan We Trust)
There’s a reason why “In Nolan We Trust” has become a mantra many of Christopher Nolan’s most diehard fans subscribe to. The man is like the postman—he always delivers! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Yes, The Dark Knight Rises had monumental plot holes and didn’t compare to the previous two installments in his landmark Batman trilogy but for all its flaws, it still was a terrific piece of showmanship. Based on early footage we’ve seen, Interstellar seems to be taking that level of showmanship to even greater heights. Originally commissioned by Steven Spielberg (and based on concepts by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne), Nolan has stated that the project was greatly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The last time the names Spielberg and Kubrick were mentioned in the same sentence, the result was the stunning A.I. Even if Interstellar ends up being closer to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact (another Matthew McConaughey vehicle) than 2001, if he’s able to mesh the heart of Spielberg with the brain of Kubrick, we’re bound to be in for something absolutely show-stopping.
J is for Jolie, Angelina
For being one of the most beloved movie stars in the world, it’s astounding how anemic Angelina Jolie’s acting filmography is. Though there have been some commendable efforts (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Changeling and A Mighty Heart come to mind), the majority of her career is built on crap like The Tourist, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Gone in 60 Seconds and Original Sin. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when she turned her talents to directing in 2011 with the romantic war-drama In the Land of Blood and Honey. For her follow-up, Jolie is taking on a far more ambitious story: the life of Olympic track star and World War II hero Louis Zamperini, who survived 45 days drifting on a raft in the Pacific after his plane was shot down, and then two-and-half years in Japanese POW camps. If that inspirational story and Jolie’s directorial skills don’t instill confidence in you, then this should do the trick: Unbroken was written by Joel and Ethan Coen, shot by Roger Deakins and scored by Alexandre Desplat. That’s four of the most consistent individuals in the biz.
K is for Keaton, Michael
From Robert Downey Jr. to Ben Affleck to Mickey Rourke, there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a comeback story. And for Michael Keaton, a beloved star who quit the Batman franchise (and a $15 million paycheck for Batman Forever) in 1994 to make small character-centric movies, there’s no bigger opportunity for a comeback than Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Birdman. Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up Hollywood actor who was once famous for playing an iconic superhero, now trying to re-launch his career with a play. Talk about meta! Early notices at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals have been nothing short of dazzling, with much of the praise being heaped upon Keaton for delivering career-best work. While there’s a lot of buzz around Iñárritu’s direction and in particular, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography—the film is structured to look like it was all shot in one take—Keaton’s performance is the biggest draw.
L is for Laika
The relatively short life of stop-motion animation house Laika has been a rather tumultuous one. Since founding in 2005, the studio has gone through two cycles of down-sizing, decreasing its staff from more than 300 to little under 180 employees. Despite those colossal business setbacks, the studio still managed to put out two of the most inventive and forward-thinking animated films in recent years—Coraline and ParaNorman. The studio’s third film, The Boxtrolls, is set in a small English hamlet plagued by the titular creatures that come out every night to devour the town’s garbage. One night, they accidentally take a human child with them. Not knowing how to return the child, they adopt him as one of their own and name him Eggs. Years later, as the rag-tag group find themselves targeted by an evil exterminator, Eggs and a human girl he befriends takes a stand to save his family. Even if the trailers for the film don’t seem very special, neither did the ones for Coraline or ParaNorman.
M is for Miller, Bennett
To reiterate a statement I made in my fall 2013 preview piece, “Bennett Miller has only made two feature films—Capote and Moneyball—but they’re both absolute knockouts.” Everything I’ve read about Foxcatcher, since its world premiere at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where Miller won the Best Director prize, suggests that he’s gone three-for-three. Foxcatcher chronicles the incredible true story and relationship between Olympic Gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum), his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and the mentally unstable millionaire John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell) whose increasingly unstable and erratic behavior eventually led them on a path to tragedy. Seeing how Miller was able to elicit career-best performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Brad Pitt in their respective movies, I can only imagine what he’s pulled off here with Tatum, Ruffalo and especially Carell who, judging by the film’s haunting trailers, seems to be poised for awards season success.
The conclusion of this piece, featuring the letters N to Z, will be posted in Part 2 of this list.