Fall is typically that time of year when people start asking, When did the movies get so godawful? Blame summer. (Not to mention Spring and a good chunk of Winter, if we’re being honest.) We can also blame Peak TV for making sure that larger numbers of viewers stay glued to their Hulu and Netflix accounts for much of the year. This convinces the studios that they have to produce ever bigger and ever badder blockbusters, all the better to bring in the suckers. But when those blockbusters tend to be things like yet another Michael Bay Transformers Wrestlemania event or Guy Ritchie’s nonsense take on King Arthur, then everybody stays home. You never know, they might be doing scones again on The Great British Baking Show.
August turns to September and October, and suddenly it’s like the movie industry snorts and awakens from sleep like a teenager remembering they’re late for a test. The release slate is then slammed full of every picture that the studios think has a shot of winning Oscar gold, with the result that so many movies come out around Christmas that nobody can even get to see all of them until January. There’s no absolute formula here, as award-friendly movies like Detroit and A Ghost Story are released in the depths of summer and schlocky-looking effluvia like Geostorm and Jigsaw landed prize Fall berths. Still, moviegoers looking for pictures that will hold their attention more than five minutes after the credits roll know that when the air turns cool, it’s time to go to the movies. It was ever thus.
So, in anticipation of the (we hope) cinematic treats awaiting us, here’s a look at what’s coming down the pike this fall. Note that the fall release calendar is notoriously fickle and the dates listed below can very likely shift by weeks, months, or even into 2018, depending on the whim of the distributor and what the competition looks like.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer
Returning to the universe of stylized psychosexual chillers like 2010’s Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky looks to be riffing on Rosemary’s Baby this time. Jennifer Lawrence plays the bewildered young wife who doesn’t understand why husband Javier Bardem is so blasé about allowing witchy couple Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris into their conveniently creaky and isolated home. What you can hear of Johann Johannsson’s strings-heavy soundtrack in the trailer appears to be the perfect kind of Bernard Hermann sonic backwash for this cultish freakout.
Director: Peter Nicks
Peter Nicks’ last documentary was 2012’s eye-opener The Waiting Room, about an Oakland hospital straining under the constant inflow of desperately poor and uninsured patients. His latest is another urgent study of a public institution in extremis: the Oakland police department. Reeling from bad press and soured community relations, the department cracks down with a top-down reform process while simultaneously dealing with residents furious about police shootings. Nicks follows a class of new recruits through their training and onto the streets, showing the cracks that appear when theory meets practice.
Battle of the Sexes
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue
As climactic moments in modern gender relations go, the circus-like 1973 tennis match between aging pro Bobby Riggs and then-reigning champ Billie Jean King wasn’t a high point. But as the raw material for a lightly satirical and FM radio hit-powered comedy goof starring Steve Carell as the fatuous hustler Riggs (“I’ve got a great idea: Male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist!”) and ever-earnest Emma Stone as the initially reluctant but ultimately heroic King, it has potential.
Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Barkhad Abdi
Forget J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars relaunch, this decades-later sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece is the biggest sci-fi cinema event in recent memory. No matter how deftly Denis Villeneuve delivers crack thrillers (Sicario) and thoughtful sci-fi (Arrival), there are infinitely more ways to get this wrong than get it right. Putting much of the band back together (original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, plus Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos) except for Scott (who, as a director, hasn’t shown the necessary brand of visionary spark in decades) is a good start. The properly clouded and wistful aesthetic viewed in the teasing trailers is even better. The timing provides an extra shiver of relevance as well, given that the quickening pace of artificial intelligence and robotics makes Philip K. Dick’s ’60s-era conceptualization of replicant people (“‘More human than Human’ is our motto”) more like tomorrow’s news than sci-fi.
Director: Benedict Andrews
Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed
In David Harrower’s adaptation of his Broadway play Blackbird (a far better title, if you ask us) about a woman confronting an older married man years after the relationship they had when she was just 13, Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara take the roles originated by Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams. The reviews of the play highlighted its hyperbolic energy, time will tell if the suddenly ubiquitous but usually reserved Mara is up to the task.
Intensity and Determination
The Mountain Between Us
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Dermot Mulroney
Sure, the concept seems like the sort of extreme survival story with romantic overtones you might see advertised on a Wednesday night on USA or Lifetime show: Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are strangers who meet on a single-engine prop plane flying over the mountains. He’s a doctor trying to get to a conference and she’s on her way to get married. They end up fighting for their lives when the plane goes down. However, Elba has a long streak of enlivening even tired material (see The Dark Tower) with gripping gravitas and director Hany Abu-Assad (Omar) is an ace at tightly-wound thrillers.
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto
Tangerine director Sean Baker seems to be sticking with a kind of street-level naturalism, only this time his subject isn’t transvestite sex workers in Oakland but a gaggle of young kids at loose ends in the parking lots, fields, and hotel rooms of a scrabbly transient Florida town. What with the early buzz and an anchoring lead from an unnaturally calm Willem Dafoe, there’s chance that The Florida Project could be this year’s Boyhood.
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson
While conservatives seem determined to haul the country back into a pre-civil rights era, filmmakers are increasingly deciding that race in America is a topic worth tackling on screen. Better yet, they’ve figured out that civil rights stories don’t need to be told through the eyes of white characters (e.g., 12 Years a Slave). Against that backdrop, Reginald Hudlin’s Thurgood Marshall biopic looks appropriately heroic and unapologetically combative. Instead of tracking Marshall’s life up to his becoming the first black Supreme Court Justice, it’s a real-life origin story focusing on a sensational case where he defended a black chauffeur accused of raping a white Greenwich socialite. It remains to be seen how Josh Gad will fare as Marshall’s white co-counsel, but the under-appreciated Chadwick Boseman (whose James Brown in Get on Up is one of the great unsung performances of the modern era) has all the righteous, intellectual swagger one could ask for.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Sandler, Grace Van Patten, Dustin Hoffman
Since we’re unlikely to ever see Noah Baumbach’s shelved HBO adaptation of The Corrections, those with a yen for more densely argued and bitingly comic tales of familial dysfunction will have to compensate with this original piece about an estranged family reuniting and grousing. Adam Sandler is in the cast (singing and playing the piano, no less), as well as Ben Stiller, so expect a very loud and uncoordinated fight at some point.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Martin Scorsese was originally supposed to helm this thriller from Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo, but directing duties were later handed over to Tomas Alfredson, who, if Let the Right One In is any indication, is possibly the better filmmaker for the job. The story, in which a serial killer with a unique signature is killing women and taunting investigator Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) about it, is old hat. But Fassbender can generate burning intensity out of a nothing role and few are better than Alfredson at this kind of icy post-Fincher clockwork malevolence.
Satire and Superheroes
Directors: Gethin Aldous, Jairus McLeary
Inside Folsom Prison, a trio of outsiders take a group of convicts on a four-day group therapy retreat that all takes place inside a single room. The Work has been accumulating positive reviews on the festival circuit for its emotional portrait of prisoners, whose entire lives are built around codes of conduct and tribal affiliations, break down the barriers that keep them apart.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams
The trailer for this Todd Haynes adaptation of a graphic novel by Brian Selznick — whose The Invention of Hugo Cabret gave Scorsese inspiration for his first children’s movie — doesn’t give much away. Two stories about children, one apparently set in the past (that’s the one in black and white) and the other in the ’70s (that’s Oakes Fegley from Pete’s Dragon), which excuses “Space Oddity” on the soundtrack. Bifurcated storylines can bedevil even the best directors, somebody always likes one more than the other, but mysterious connections and yearning are a Haynes specialty.
Director: George Clooney
Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin
There’s a reason that this George Clooney-directed black comedy about dark goings-on in suburbia seems like he’s trying to ape the Coen brothers (deadpan heavies, schlemiels getting socked in the face), and that’s because Joel and Ethan co-wrote the thing with him and his producing pal Grant Heslov. The trailer isn’t heavy on detail, focusing mostly on Matt Damon in his dorky persona from The Informant! and the incongruous sight of suburban office workers in white shirtsleeves rioting and tossing Molotov cocktails. That’s good enough for us, even with Clooney’s spotty directorial resume.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone
Somehow Colin Farrell is undergoing a late-career renaissance in the strangest of places. The one-time star of S.W.A.T. and a hundred other forgettable flicks is now using his restive anxiousness to topline headscratchers by the coyly surreal director Yorgos Lanthimos. There isn’t much to go on from the description of their latest collaboration, and all the trailer points to is a doctor-patient interaction that goes from awkward to frightening in under two minutes. But there’s a lot that can be packed into that scenario, and even if it doesn’t ultimately make sense, Lanthimos knows how to make every moment absolutely arresting.
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West
The goings-on at a modern art museum are used as the jumping-off point for some high-flying art-world satire in this manic-looking farce that was enthusiastically received at Cannes this year, winning the Palme d’Or. Plus, there’s a man dressed up as an ape, which generally livens up things.
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett
Taking a cue from what’s been working for comic book movies of late, the third Thor movie looks to be amping up the self-aware gags and spaceship battles from Guardians of the Galaxy, assembling its own mini-team of heroes, Avengers-style, and installing an indie director at the top of the whole enterprise like Spider-man: Homecoming (for this one, they hired What We Do in the Shadows’ Taika Waititi). The trailer is all over the place, from the ’80s arcade-game typography to the antlers growing out of Cate “I’m the Queen of Death!” Blanchett’s head. But as enjoyable messes go, this one looks on the money.
Mystery and Chance
Last Flag Flying
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
This late-in-coming pseudo sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail from 1973 — in which a couple of sailors escort a younger sailor to naval prison — stars Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne as three veterans on a road trip to bury Carell’s son, who was killed in Iraq. Another off-center and unusually star-heavy project from the continually surprising Richard Linklater, it has already landed the prized opening slot at the New York Film Festival on 28 September.
Murder on the Orient Express
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Kenneth Branagh has been hopscotching genres for so long now, from Shakespeare to DC epics and fairy tales, that it’s no surprise he would take up the task of reintroducing Agatha Christie to a new generation. His lavish attention to period detail in this smartly cast remake of the classic locked-train mystery appears to be in full bloom here, almost as much so as the mustache unfurling over the wry smile of his Hercule Poirot (“I am probably the greatest detective in the world”).
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf
After building a career as indie film’s go-to manic spacey girl, not the least in the movies crafted for her quizzical personality by her partner Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig is branching out into being a filmmaker in her own right. A24, which has been aggressively scouting for new talent, picked up her semi-debut (she co-directed Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanberg back in 2008) movie. It stars Saoirse Ronan as a teenager trying to escape Sacramento for college in New York. Chances are the story will be at least semi-autobiographical, as the Sacramento-born Gerwig also wrote the screenplay.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
It’s not as though Frances McDormand hasn’t been working. But it’s been too long since she had a role that she could dominate so completely that all notions of anybody else playing it quickly seems absurd. That looks to be the case with Martin McDonagh’s small-town corruption black comedy, where McDormand, infuriated by the lack of leads in her daughter’s murder, wages a campaign of embarrassment, humiliation, and non-stop profanity to get the local yokel cops to do something. McDonagh’s been plying his trade on the stage but even the slightest chance that he didn’t lose his cinematic knack in the nine years since In Bruges could make this one worth waiting for.
Director: Dee Rees
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige
Director Dee Rees (Pariah, HBO’s Bessie) picked up a standing ovation and a big Netflix acquisition deal after this historical drama premiered in January at Sundance. The story, adapted from the Hillary Jordan novel, follows a couple of World War II veterans (Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke) who run into trouble trying to adjust to peacetime life in the Jim Crow South and the strains it puts on their once-friendly families.
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Hyperbolic stories about high-flying card sharks have a strong tendency to crash and burn under their own excess. There are warning signs aplenty for this based-on-a-true-story movie about a woman (Jessica Chastain) targeted by the FBI for running a high-stakes poker game favored by movie stars and the Russian mob (over-the-top hardboiled lingo, montages of fluttering cards). But hopefully Aaron Sorkin in his first time behind the camera learned something from watching so many other talents direct his scripts. Also: It stars Idris Elba (see The Mountain Between Us, above).
Director: Lee Unkrich
Voices: Alanna Ubach, Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal
Generally, when children’s movies deal with death, they are either weepies about losing parents or are directed by Tim Burton. So it’s surprising to see this latest confabulation from the wheezing of late Pixar factory tackling the subject head on. A boy guitarist and a trickster (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) journey to the Land of the Dead, where they see wonders aplenty in a riotous Day of the Dead-inspired animated fantasia. Rumor has it that people are choking up a little just watching the trailer, so bring Kleenex.
Monsters and Men
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Lily James
Some might see it as bad luck that Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill biopic, focusing on the dark and Nazi-haunted months leading up to the Battle of Britain, is getting released the same year as Dunkirk. But audiences don’t seem capable of suffering stiff-upper-lip fatigue. Also, Wright’s scope, which encompasses the desperate evacuation from Dunkirk, could help fill in the broader context for viewers of Nolan’s narrow-bore story. There’s also the opportunity to see Gary Oldman, even under prosthetics, dig into his first proper starring role since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
A sun-kissed ex-pat romance between two young Americans (Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet) on an idyll in languid ’80s-era Italy. Few filmmakers do lushly photographed nonchalant sensuality like Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) but it remains to be seen whether he can handle the aching heartbreak that the trailer portends.
The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Dave Franco
For years now, audiences have been laughing themselves sick at midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau’s blindingly awful … drama? … The Room. Whether or not Wiseau’s dreckish catastrophe is hilariously bad or just plain wasting-your-time bad (this critic respectfully argues the latter), James Franco’s meta-comedy about the making of The Room looks to have all the cringing laughs that repeated viewings of the real thing just couldn’t manage.
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple
Another year, another movie from the now 81-year-old Woody Allen. Sticking to his recent tilt back to nostalgia, Wonder Wheel is a drama set in the ’50s on Coney Island, assumedly with some bearing on Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which still creaks through the salty air in one of the old amusement parks there. In a sign that Allen might have a shot at some awards this year, it’s been chosen to close out the New York Film Festival in October.
The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins
Of all the love stories that might arise in a top-secret American military laboratory at the height of the Cold War, one would assume that at least one of the parties was human. In what looks like a return to Pan’s Labyrinth form for Guillermo del Toro after a detour into blockbusters, Sally Hawkins plays a lonely mute woman who is pulled into a romance with a being who looks an awful lot like the Creature from the Black Lagoon because, well, he seems nice. Michael Shannon glowers in the background of the steampunk-ish sets as the evil scientist who wants to keep the two apart.
All the Money in the World
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams
David Scarpa’s twisty thriller about the bizarre 1973 kidnapping of heir John Paul Getty III by the southern Italian ‘Ndrangheta was a long-time entry on the Black List of unproduced screenplays. Now it’s barreling into theaters under the direction of Ridley Scott just weeks before the premiere of Danny Boyle’s limited-run series Trust, about the very same crime.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver
While it’s good to see a wizened Mark Hamill wielding the Force again, the last two entries in the reboot series haven’t exactly given proof that Disney is interested in adding much of anything new to Lucas’s canon. That said, handing the reins over to a whip-smart filmmaker like Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) has the potential for breathing some life and thought back into this increasingly hoary franchise.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie
Say what you will about Spielberg, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. This impressively cast drama about the Pentagon Papers and the First Amendment battle between the press and the state starring Tom Hanks as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham only started shooting this July. It’s rolling out in the pre-Christmas awards slot with an eye for going wide in January.
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Neil Patrick Harris
No, the title has nothing to do with human resources. Alexander Payne has been working on this story for years, and it sounds like nothing else the Omaha auteur has ever tried before. A social satire set in the future, the story imagines scientists concluding that the only way to save humanity from overpopulation and climate change is to shrink everyone to just a few inches tall. Paramount is making an awards push for this one, opening it at the Venice Film Festival, likely banking that strong critical attention will get at least some part of the audience over their initial “Huh?” reaction.
The Current War
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison, and Michael Shannon is George Westinghouse in this historical drama about the pair of bleeding-edge electricity inventors fighting for primacy at the dawn of the 20th century. Nicholas Hoult appears as Nikola Tesla, the oddball genius without a shred of business acumen trying not to get crushed by the two giants of industry.
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jean-Louis Trintignant
In a year when the narrative movies seem ever more inwardly focused, it’s hard not to be excited about a new drama from Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) set against the backdrop of the refugee crisis in Europe. Expect social critique at the edge of a knife, most likely wielded by the ice-cold Isabelle Huppert.
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Richard Graham
Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis is shot under the name “Phantom Thread” but it doesn’t have an actual title yet as of this writing. All that’s really known is that it will star Day-Lewis as a dressmaker working for the aristocracy in ’50s-era London. Knowing Anderson, who is about as slippery a filmmaker as Wong Kar-Wai, just about everything will be shifting up until the studio rips the final edit from his hands hours before the premiere. All we can say is that this one better live up to its promise because according to Day-Lewis it’s going to be his last movie. Ever.
Unconfirmed Upcoming Releases
The 15:17 to Paris
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Thomas Lennon, Anthony Sadler
The release date isn’t set on Clint Eastwood’s latest ripped-from-the-headlines thriller, which the legendarily efficient filmmaker only announced he was making in April and started shooting this summer. But this dramatization of the 2015 attack by a gunman on a French train that was thwarted by three unarmed Americans looks like a possible late addition to the December awards slate. Expect a quick-moving and no-fuss story about unexpected heroics, more like Eastwood’s Sully than, say, Paul Greengrass’s United 93. This movie will have an extra layer of buzz about it given that Eastwood cast the three soldiers — Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone — to play themselves. It’s risky, but it could pay off handsomely. No date is set, but this will likely land in theaters sometime in December.
Under the Silver Lake
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Dakota Johnson
Details are scarce so far on the third feature from David Robert Mitchell, whose 2015 atmospheric Detroit-set creeper It Follows was instantly anointed one of the best horror movies of the new millennium. This time out, Mitchell (who also scripted) is going for a Los Angeles-set noir about a kidnapping, murder, and obsession. No release date or trailer yet, but it’s likely that A24 is planning for a fall rollout to maximize attention from quality crime-hungry critics and the attraction of Mitchell’s heavy-hitter cast.
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike
Christian Bale reunites with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper for a Western that sounds like a rough piece of work. Bale plays an officer who, while escorting a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal lands meets a woman (Rosamund Pike) whose family has been killed by Comanches. Cooper rarely does anything in half measures, and even though sometimes that can work against him (see Johnny Depp camping it up in Black Mass), it’s never less than arresting.