PopMatters' 2017 Fall Film Preview: At Last, the Film Industry Awakens From Its Slumber

The talented Gary Oldman as the formidable Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (IMDB)

From Gary Oldman in The Darkest Hour to James Franco's meta-experiment Blade Runner: 2049 and Daniel Day-Lewis's final role, here are the movies you'll want to watch ... and a couple you might not.

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.



15 September


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.


22 September

The Force

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.


22 September

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.



6 October

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.


6 October


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.

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