It's not just the weather that changes when autumn arrives. So, too, does the quality of films.
If May through August is about sating mainstream appetites, the next few months are as much about prestige as they are box office, starting with Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, a brilliant and confounding film driven by Oscar-worthy performances which opened locally Sept. 21. The Master is the first fall breakthrough in the struggle of art vs. commercial moviemaking in what appears to be a strong slate of films to escort us through the end of the year.
Here are 14 movies to look forward to in the coming weeks:
Oct. 12 -- Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars as a CIA operative who leads a crazy rescue operation of U.S. citizens in hiding at the Canadian ambassador's home in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis by pretending to be a Hollywood film crew. It also stars Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. Argo earned strong enthusiasm and critical buzz emerging from the Toronto International Film Festival in mid-September, and it lives up to the hype.
Oct. 19 -- The Sessions: Another film enjoying a surge of post-Toronto adulation is The Sessions, the true story of Mark O'Brien, a man mostly confined to an iron lung who seeks love and the loss of his virginity. John Hawkes as O'Brien excels in a difficult role that's not so much about physicality as it is conveying the indomitable spirit of a broken body without being trite. Helen Hunt delivers her strongest, most-effective performance yet as the kindly sex therapist who also is in need of healing.
Oct. 26 -- Cloud Atlas: This adaptation of the genre-bending novel by David Mitchell left critics in Toronto alternately praising and damning this drama of cause-and-effect linking the fate of people through the centuries. It stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Hugo Weaving, with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy) as co-writers and co-directors. Even if this highly ambitious film is flawed, as some contend, it would appear the whole is better than its parts.
Nov. 2 -- Flight: Denzel Washington stars as an airline pilot who saves a flight from crashing, and whose life is subsequently turned upside down by the intense media scrutiny that follows. Robert Zemeckis retires from his creepy performance-capture animation work and returns to live-action films. The trailers promise an intense drama with a great cast -- John Goodman, Don Cheadle, and Oscar winner Melissa Leo -- and a message that offers relevant commentary about the state of media.
Wreck-It Ralph: I acknowledge my bias for a film that celebrates the days of 8-bit video gaming, but more than my love of arcades of yore I'm excited to see what the film's talented voice cast led by John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch makes of the whimsical story of a video game villain (Reilly), weary of being the bad guy, who leaves the Donkey Kong-esque game in search of employment as a hero elsewhere in the arcade. McBrayer plays Wreck-It Ralph's hero, Fix-It Felix, who goes in search of his former nemesis, with Silverman cast as one of several quirky video game characters Ralph encounters as he hops from game to game.
Nov. 9 -- Skyfall: Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) takes the directorial reins of the latest 007 feature and Daniel Craig returns as the British super spy. While Skyfall ignores the unfinished plot threads of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, it continues the Bourne-inspired gritty realism of the Craig-as-Bond films. Javier Bardem, who won an Oscar as the unrepentant and unstoppable killer in No Country for Old Men, is perfectly cast as Bond's new nemesis, Raoul Silva.
Nov. 16 -- Lincoln: The so-so trailer didn't convince me this is the historical epic of which Steven Spielberg is capable, but knowing the all-star cast is punctuated by Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States provides hope there's much more guts and grit to this drama than the trailer suggests. Also worth noting: Tony Kushner, who won a Pulitzer for his play Angels in America, wrote Lincoln. He also was nominated for a screenplay Oscar for 2005's tale of retribution and its price, Munich, which Spielberg also directed.
Nov. 21 -- Life of Pi: Ang Lee stays in his art-house comfort zone for this anticipated adaptation of Yann Martel's best-selling 2001 fantasy adventure novel of an Indian teenager adrift on the Pacific Ocean in a life boat with an adult Bengal tiger. Early word on this 3-D film is strong.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper continues his dramatic bent as a former teacher who, after being institutionalized, moves in with his parents and works to make amends with his ex-wife. Then another woman with problems of her own (Jennifer Lawrence) enters his life. Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker also star, with David O. Russell, riding high off the acclaimed The Fighter, writing and directing. Russell has a history of films with damaged characters, and Silver Linings Playbook, which took top honors this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, might be his best work yet.
Nov. 23 -- Rust and Bone: Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) and Matthias Schoenaerts star in this French drama about a single father who moves in with his sister, a killer whale trainer who experiences a horrific accident that ultimately brings the siblings closer together. The drama is winning raves; expect an Oscar nomination for Cotillard.
Dec. 7 -- Hyde Park on the Hudson: National treasure Bill Murray is receiving critical accolades for his take on Franklin D. Roosevelt in this quirky drama about the former president and his love affair with distant cousin Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney). The film takes place in upstate New York with Queen Elizabeth and King George VI visiting FDR for a weekend. Olivia Williams plays Eleanor Roosevelt.
Dec. 14: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson shepherds this long-in-gestation project to the screen, as well as directs and co-writes the screenplay, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved work. In addition to featuring familiar actors from Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey also stars Martin Freeman (Tim from the British version of The Office) as Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who joins a team of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim treasure stolen by the terrifying dragon Smaug. Jackson recently announced his film adaptation of The Hobbit will be split into three movies.
Dec. 21 -- The Impossible: This gripping drama is the true story of a family's fight to survive the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Southeast Asia and its horrific aftermath. The film stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as a husband and wife, along with Tom Holland as the eldest of their sons.
Dec. 25 -- Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino writes and directs this sure-to-be bloody-violent western of freed slave-turned-bounty hunter Django (Jamie Foxx) who, with help from his German mentor (Christoph Waltz), sets out to kill a gang of killers and then to rescue his wife from a ruthless Mississippi plantation owner. The film also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, Kerry Washington, RZA, and Don Johnson. There's high anticipation and expectations for Tarantino films for good reason, and Django Unchained, at least based on its trailer, doesn't look to disappoint.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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