Fall is the best season. Fact. It wins on comfortable weather, cool style and, most importantly, movies with an IQ. Herein, we present 13 films for the upcoming season ripe for contemplation. Plus, we offer a little color commentary on the side. Just to make you think.
Black Mass (9/18)
Exactly like The Departed, but real. Depp, a vet at playing charismatic criminals (Donnie Brasco, Blow, Public Enemies) channels Boston gangster “Whitey” Bulger, a sociopath who’s also an FBI informant on the side.
The Johnny Depp Career Saving Meter: Like Ed Wood and Hunter S. Thompson, Depp fully inhabits the role. And as a movie … well, he set a low bar with Mortdecai. He clears it.
Your children are freaky and want to kill you. Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson are two teachers trapped in an elementary school under siege by zombified kids. We saw a preview last month. It’s funny. And pitch black: co-written by Saw’s Leigh Whannell, the flick spares no one, be it helicopter moms, suburban schools, Brooklyn hipsters, gym bullies or, well, bratty kids.
The Saw Scare Meter: Admittedly low on tension, but high on laughs. Just like the Saw sequels — but intentional this time.
Mississippi Grind (9/25)
“Aces are good, right?” A nice mix of great American movie tropes: road trip, buddy film, poker tournament, loan sharks, doomed romance, grifters … a Sundance hit from the co-writers of Half Nelson and starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds.
The Ryan Reynolds Deserves a Chance! Meter: Considering that Reynolds may be the most likeable person to not ever make a great film (excepting Harold & Kumar), this might be his best work — at least until Deadpool comes out.
The Walk (9/30)
True story of a French street performer who attempts to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Castaway) turns what could have become an exploitative post-9/11 “tribute” (in IMAX 3-D, no less) into something harrowing and overwrought … even if the breaking-into-the-Towers caper elements leave you a little uneasy.
The Unnecessary Remake Meter: The brilliant doc this is based on, Man on Wire, won an Oscar. Don’t be surprised if this one does too, at least for cinematography. Call it unnecessary but dazzling.
The Martian (10/2)
Andy Weir’s self-published novel made Mars travel seem both terrifying and unbelievably close to reality. Whether the tale of one man mistakenly stranded on the Red Planet — with only a month’s worth of supplies — makes for suspense depends entirely on star Matt Damon … who seems perfectly cast as smart-ass castaway Mark Watney.
The Ridley Scott Set-the-Bar-Low Meter: Visually, not worried. And if this even hits the middle-ground pleasures of Black Hawk Down or Hannibal, it’ll be Scott’s best film in 15 years.
True-life crime is a big deal this fall. Here, Tom Hardy plays both of the Kray twins — two vastly different emotional characters who oversee a crime empire in 1960s London.
The Tom Hardy Under/Overacting Meter: Too restrained in Mad Max and memorable (for good and bad) in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy gets to play with all his emotions here. And fight himself.
Steve Jobs (10/9)
Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin attempt to turn three Apple product launches into a three-act referendum of the late Apple co-founder’s life … where Jobs’s genius often collided with some rather hideous personal flaws. But hey, Woz already gave it a big thumbs up.
The Real-Person-as-Title Meter: Below Gandhi. Above Prefontaine.
Beasts of No Nation (10/16)
Although it’s making headlines as “A Netflix Original Film” (meaning it’ll be in theaters and on the streaming service the same day … a possible gamechanger in the distribution game), this heartbreaking story of child soldiers in Africa deserves to be seen wherever and however. With Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, a 15-year-old with remarkably no prior acting experience. (10/16)
The Cary Fukunaga Meter of Great: The director from Season One of True Detective really has no genre boundaries, having done everything from Jane Eyre to (almost) Stephen King’s It. He might add “Oscar nominee” to his résumé here.
Bridge of Spies (10/16)
An American lawyer must negotiate the release of a pilot captured on Soviet soil during the height of the Cold War. The pedigree is here: Spielberg + Tom Hanks + Coen Bros (as co-writers). The solemn “Constitution is what makes us Americans” speeches and lack of buzz, however, make this a wait-and-see proposition.
The Spielberg-and-Hanks-Together Meter: More thrilling than The Terminal. Less fun than Catch Me If You Can. Not in the same league as Saving Private Ryan.
At this point, James Bond is more about the process. Sam Smith is doing the song! Here’s the Aston Martin Bond will drive/hawk! Belvedere is Bond’s vodka of choice! Oh, and there’s a film, too: a mysterious figure from Bond’s past is “the author of [his] pain.” We dig director Sam Mendes digging into spy’s psyche … shame about all the accoutrement.
The Bond Villain Meter: Christoph Waltz is Oberhauser … who is no Jaws. Or Blofeld. But certainly a memorable antagonist in his own, more refined way.
The Night Before (11/25)
Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie star in this holiday Hangover that substitutes Manhattan for Las Vegas and mushrooms for roofies. With its stacked cast (crazy-eyed Michael Shannon and Workaholics scene-stealer Jillian Bell co-star) and 50/50’s Jonathan Levine at the helm, this one has the potential to be funnier (and less controversial) than Rogen’s Interview debacle last Christmas.
The Yuletide Debauchery Meter: Dirtier than National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but no competition for Billy Bob Thornton’s degeneracy in Bad Santa.
The seventh Rocky movie takes things in a different direction, focusing on Apollo Creed’s son rather than ol’ Balboa yet again (here, Sly takes a supporting role as star Michael B. Jordan’s trainer). This reboot from Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler returns the series to its gritty Philly roots.
The Rocky Goofiness Meter: More like the realist, Oscar-winning original than the over-the-top spectacle of Rocky IV.
I Saw the Light (11/27)
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The troubled rise and fall of country music legend Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston), who lived hard and died young. With Elizabeth Olsen.
The Music Biopic Meter: Good performances aside, Light hopefully won’t whitewash its protagonist’s flaws in the same manner as recent music bios Get On Up and Walk the Line.
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