Every cinematic fall brings talk of "awards season," and the titles almost certain to draw either critical praise or Oscar voters' love, if not both. I find myself perversely fascinated by the titles that have a chance of being really good, but could also crash in a pile of flaming suckitude wreckage.
David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wasn't particularly impressive, yet his stellar overall track record suggests there's still a chance he could score with adapting another pop-phenomenon novel, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck as the husband suspected of killing his missing wife. Walt Disney Animation has emerged from the shadow of Pixar after Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and the Frozen phenomenon, and they may have another winner with the Marvel Comics property Big Hero 6, about a Japanese superhero team. And despite the many (perhaps justified) gripes of fans about what director Rob Marshall did to Chicago and Nine, my Sondheim jones keeps hope alive that Marshall's Into the Woods could retain the stage musical's dark magic.
I'd be excited about a political drama starring Gael García Bernal and Shohreh Aghdashloo under any circumstances, but Rosewater gives me extra nerd tingle: it's the film which Jon Stewart took summer 2013 off from The Daily Show to write and direct. Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was tortured in an Iranian prison after appearing in a parody segment of the news show, which prompted Stewart to dramatize a true story he inadvertently became a part of. Stewart has never made a narrative film before, but his passion is undeniable, and should be palpable.
A new film from Norwegian director Morten Tyldum — who made the hilarious black comedy Headhunters — is a thing devoutly to be wished for. And here it is: The Imitation Game is a long overdue biopic of wartime codebuster and geek hero Alan Turing — portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cinematic heaven? I'm certainly hoping so.
I adore the gritty reality of David Ayer's films, and his first foray into historical drama as director couldn't be grittier than Fury: an inglourious basterd played by Brad Pitt leads an Allied tank crew on an impossible mission during the last days of war in Europe in 1945. Expect much manliness.
Rare is a film like Birdman in the 24/7 movie news era where every tidbit of released information (Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor who once played a superhero? Shot in what appears to be a single take? That publicity photo of Edward Norton in a Speedo?) makes it seem like more of a mystery. While director Alejandro González Iñárritu has battled increasing waves of pretension as a filmmaker, this thing sounds daffy enough to absolutely demand your eyeballs.
Daniel Radcliffe goes dark in Horns, an adaptation of Joe Hill's almost-great book about a grieving man who wakes up with supernatural forehead extensions. Director Alexandre Aja's past work has drifted between ambitious gross-outs (High Tension) and knowingly guilty pleasures (Piranha 3D), but his movies have never, ever been boring.
Liam Neeson steps into the gumshoes of alcoholic P.I. Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, a long-gestating take on Lawrence Block's melancholy crime novel. While Neeson in annual ass-kicker mode has yet to wear out his welcome, the main draw here may be the presence of screenwriter/director Scott Frank, whose directorial debut The Lookout remains one of the great underappreciated modern noirs.
Regardless of one's feelings for Christopher Nolan — mine are guardedly positive, for the most part — Interstellar seems to be something of a departure. Nolan's previous big-budget outings have seen him tip his cap to the likes of Michael Mann and Stanley Kubrick, but all indications are that his latest is firmly in Steven Spielberg territory. Not only did the project originate with Spielberg, but the trailers speak to an emotionalism that Nolan has often been critiqued — and even teased — for abjuring. Whether or not he'll pull it off has me eagerly awaiting the Nov. 7 release date.
My most anticipated movie of the fall unambiguously is Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. PTA's past two outings (The Master, There Will be Blood) have been astonishing accomplishments, on the level, in cinema, of Pynchon's major novels. The meeting of one of America's greatest living filmmakers and one of America's greatest living novelists — especially on an adaptation of the latter's most fun work — is enough to have me counting the days until release. ♦