Fall is that time of year when even a mediocre year for movies can transform into a stellar one, when established auteurs deliver instant classics as good as everyone anticipated them to be, when oddball indies turn into sure-fire prestige pictures and when under-the-radar studio movies become word of mouth smashes.
It’s a much more consistent time of year than the slowly eroding Summer movie season, in which good to great movies are drowned out by the louder ones and the biggest money makers are non-starters that aren’t remembered a month later.
2014’s lineup of movies features titles from David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Bennett Miller and Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as the third chapter to today’s truly great monster franchise. Below is my list of my most anticipated and a few more that may prove to be some of the season’s favorites.
Top 15 Most Anticipated Movies of the Fall
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – September 12
Ned Benson is a first time feature director, but “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” is actually his third film. The film is quite simply a romance between Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, but Benson cut the film into three versions. The first two, “Him” and “Her”, played at Toronto 2013 and gave the perspectives of each member of the relationship. The third, “Them”, is a more conventional narrative and played to raves at Cannes 2014. Harvey Weinstein is releasing “Them” in September and both of the other versions six weeks later as part of an awards season push for its two stars. The jury is still out on why Benson named his leading lady after a Beatles song.
Gone Girl – October 3
Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel “Gone Girl” has a brilliant tone as it alternates between Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) perspective and his search for his missing wife Amy Elliott Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) diary entries chronicling their troubled marriage. If anyone can figure out how to adapt that into a film, it’s Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, paired with David Fincher turning in a chilling, digitally photographed caper.
Whiplash – October 10
This year’s winner for both the Sundance Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize is a story about a young musician (Miles Teller) trying to succeed as a jazz drummer while battling the ferocious wrath and berating of his teacher, played by a fiery J.K. Simmons.
Birdman – October 17
“Birdman” has oddball masterpiece written all over it. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is making his first foray into dark comedy with a story about a washed up superhero movie star trying to make a comeback in theater. That former “Batman” star Michael Keaton is aiming for his own comeback is no coincidence, and early reviews have already pegged him as a Best Actor contender. What’s more, “Gravity” cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski has worked to make the film look as though it is done in just one complete shot.
Nightcrawler – October 31
“Nightcrawler” is a seedy neo-noir featuring an expertly cast Jake Gyllenhaal as an L.A. freelance crime journalist. The film comes from Dan Gilroy, making his debut as a director following scripts for “The Fall,” “Real Steel” and “The Bourne Legacy” with his brother Tony Gilroy.
Interstellar – November 7
Even if “The Dark Knight Rises” hasn’t aged well and I’ve grown to seriously dislike “Inception,” Christopher Nolan still has a lot of cache to make an event movie. He’s assembled an unbelievable cast with Matthew McConaughey (a guy with serious cache right now) at the helm. In the future, crops have stopped growing on Earth and McConaughey must lead a mission through a wormhole in space to locate habitable planets.
Foxcatcher – November 14
Easily one of my most anticipated movies of 2013, the pushed back “Foxcatcher” is the story of an Olympic wrestler (Channing Tatum) led astray by his disturbing trainer (Steve Carell). Carell is giving the transformative performance, but early reviews from this year’s Cannes and the recent Telluride say Channing Tatum is likewise a powerhouse.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – November 21
No new trailer for the next “Hunger Games” film just yet, but the previous film “Catching Fire” was truly an event that made this a serious franchise as good as any active one today. Early teasers have featured President Snow addressing Panem alongside the previous film’s heroes. Let’s hope breaking this last book into two chapters doesn’t hurt it.
Clouds of Sils Maria – December 1
Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Moretz star in an “All About Eve”-like story involving an aging star, her assistant and the young actress reviving the star’s old iconic role. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is director Olivier Assayas’ follow-up to the charming French teen drama “Something in the Air” and premiered at this year’s Cannes but came home empty handed.
Wild – December 5
“Dallas Buyers Club’s” Jean-Marc Vallee is about to propel another performer into comeback mode, none other than Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who took a 1,100 mile hike through the wilderness to recoup from a tragedy. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay based on Strayed’s memoirs.
Inherent Vice – December 12
Any Paul Thomas Anderson movie deserves immediate placement at the top of any cinephiles must-watch list, and when PTA is now adapting the hypnotically weird world of Thomas Pynchon’s pulpy crime novel into his own hypnotically weird vision, that’s a sure-fire recipe for success. Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Michael K. Williams and Martin Short are all on hand for something sure to be amazing. No trailer or images yet, but we’ll get our first look at the upcoming New York Film Festival.
Winter Sleep – December 19
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is the king of slow cinema, and his latest won the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes. The film is a tense family drama between a man, his rocky relationship with his wife, his distraught sister, a troublesome boy and a rough Anatolia winter.
Unbroken – December 25
Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” looks like the brilliant, sweeping and inspirational Oscar bait we need following the seedy, creepy contenders like “Gone Girl,” “Foxcatcher,” “Inherent Vice”, “Birdman” and “Nightcrawler”. Louis Zamperini, who passed away just this year, was an Olympic track runner held captive in a Japanese internment camp during the war. With a partial script by the Coen Brothers adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s acclaimed story, “Unbroken” could just be magnificent.
Leviathan – December 31
Yet another Cannes favorite, “Leviathan” digs deep into modern day Russia with a spiritual story of the human condition. Early reviews have pegged Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (“Elena”) film as something that speaks to Russia’s complicated political situation under Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Two Days, One Night – TBA
While “Two Days, One Night” does not have American distribution yet, I’ll be lucky enough to see it at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. Marion Cotillard plays a woman returning from a leave of absence for a case of depression, only to find her job gone. Over two days and one night she must convince her coworkers not to accept a bonus such that she can get her job back. The Dardenne Brothers (“The Son,” “The Kid With a Bike”) are consistent geniuses, despite coming home empty handed from Cannes.
30 Others I’m Excited For
The Drop – September 12
James Gandolfini’s last role pairs him with Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and “Bullhead” director Michael Roskam in a grim crime drama.
The Skeleton Twins – September 19
“SNL” alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are estranged siblings reuniting after close calls with death in a Sundance dramedy also starring Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson.
This is Where I Leave You – September 19
Director Shawn Levy’s is severely less than stellar, but he’s formed a strong cast in Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne and Corey Stoll for a sweet family comedy.
Tracks – September 19
Pushed back from the summer, Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver star in an adventurous romance across Australian deserts.
The Zero Theorem – September 19
“The Zero Theorem” is Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” 2.0, starring Christoph Waltz in a film getting mixed reviews worthy of an emerging cult classic.
The Boxtrolls – September 26
“The Boxtrolls” is said to be a charming stop-motion animated adventure from the people behind “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”
Pride – September 26
Bill Nighy stars in a British comedy pairing gay activists with mining town protesters in 1984 England.
Jimi: All is By My Side – September 26
Andre Benjamin stars as the legendary guitar player during his pre-fame years in John Ridley’s (“12 Years a Slave”) biopic.
The Good Lie – October 3
Reese Witherspoon stars in the English language debut from the Oscar nominated director Philippe Falardeau (“Monsier Lazhar”).
The Judge – October 10
Robert Downey Jr. plays son to Robert Duvall in this family courtroom drama.
Men, Women & Children – October 10
Jason Reitman’s second film this year and hopefully a return to form in a teenage drama starring “The Fault in Our Stars’” Ansel Elgort and Adam Sandler.
Fury – October 17
Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf anchor this World War II drama about a platoon of tank drivers.
Dear White People – October 17
This racially charged satire follows a group of Ivy League African American students leading a revolt against this white institution.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya – October 17
Isao Takahata’s (“Grave of the Fireflies”) latest and possibly Studio Ghibli’s last, this fantasy has a wonderfully animated, scrappy, hand-drawn scrawl.
Laggies – October 24
Keira Knightley continues her ordinary person run in Lynn Shelton’s (“Your Sister’s Sister”) romantic comedy also starring Sam Rockwell and Chloe Moretz.
St. Vincent – October 24
Although having nothing to do with the indie rock band of the same name, Bill Murray stars as a grumpy mentor to Melissa McCarthy’s young son.
White Bird in a Blizzard – October 24
Shailene Woodley stars in this ‘80s period piece about a teenage girl and her missing mother (Eva Green).
Maps to the Stars – TBA October
David Cronenberg’s polarizing latest out of Cannes stars Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and the Cannes Best Actress winning Julianne Moore.
Rosewater – November 7
Jon Stewart’s debut film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Maziar Bahari, a journalist taken captive in the Middle East and the story he lived to tell.
The Theory of Everything – November 7
Eddie Redmayne stars as a young Stephen Hawking during his courtship with his wife and his diagnosis of his ALS disease.
Big Hero 6 – November 7
“Big Hero 6” is Disney’s charming foray into Marvel and comic book movie territory and a spiritual successor to “Wreck-It Ralph”.
The Imitation Game – November 21
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a World War II code breaker designing an algorithm that will help win the war.
Exodus: Gods and Kings – December 12
Ridley Scott is back to epics and action with the Biblical story starring Christian Bale as Moses.
Annie – December 19
Quvenzhane Wallis’ turn as the iconic redhead is just the shake-up this old musical needs. Having Will Gluck (“Easy A”, “Friends With Benefits”) helming should help as well.
Mr. Turner – December 19
Timothy Spall received raves for his portrayal of a famed British painter in Mike Leigh’s latest.
Song of the Sea – December 19
The latest release from the creator of “The Secret of Kells” Tomm Moore also features the voice acting of Brendan Gleeson.
American Sniper – December 25
Clint Eastwood’s late entry to the year tells the story of the decorated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his military career racking up 150 kills.
Big Eyes – December 25
Amy Adams stars in Tim Burton’s first original story in years, a biopic about a painter battling with her husband (Christoph Waltz) who took credit for her work.
The Interview – December 25
Already controversial in North Korea, James Franco, Seth Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg reunite for a monumentally silly story of two CIA operatives’ attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un.
Selma – December 25
Ava DuVernay’s historical drama stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King during his famed civil rights march.
10 More that Might Be Good
The Maze Runner – September 19
Tusk – September 19
The Equalizer – September 26
The Two Faces of January – September 26
Kill the Messenger – October 10
The Book of Life – October 17
Horns – October 31
Dumb and Dumber To – November 14
Horrible Bosses 2 – November 26
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – December 25