Contrary to the opinions of some, the beginning of fall offers little reason for enthusiasm. The weather gets colder, the days are shorter and the days of endlessly scrapping ice off your car’s windshield are coming fast.
One positive though is we’re entering the point on the calendar where if you’re a film fan, this is the time of year to get excited. For nearly as long as the film industry has existed, the fall and winter months have been when studios role out the best they have to offer, mostly in the hopes of staying fresh in the minds of award voters.
There are of course instances of films being released earlier in the year and still gaining Academy Award attention, but it’s very difficult for a film to stay fresh in people’s minds when it’s released in May and nominations aren’t released until January. Since 2005, only 14 of 67 films nominated for Best Picture were released before September and only two of those films (2005’s “Crash” and 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”) went on to win the big prize.
2014 doesn’t appear to be the year that will alter that trend. The only films that have garnered widespread acclaim and have already been released are Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” (which I discussed here) and Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been good films released so far in 2014. Among the other films I would guess would still be among my best of the year in December would be “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Begin Again,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Those are all well-made and entertaining films, but a step below the ones that usually rate as the best of a given year.
There are a number of films that will likely gain recognition and end up creating a lot of buzz before the year is out. Here are five I’m looking forward to:
A number of intriguing films on the horizon are literary adaptations and arguably at the top of that list is David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” which stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and will be released nationally Oct. 3. Based on a New York Times bestseller by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, “Gone Girl” is a thriller that starts off about a woman named Amy (Pike) who goes missing and the barrage of attention from the media and police as her husband Nick Dunne (Affleck) increasingly becomes a suspect. I read “Gone Girl” over three days when it came out a few years ago and it’s a lot of fun and also SERIOUSLY twisted. It’s told from a first-person perspective by Amy and Nick, both unreliable narrators, and there’s a surprising turn midway through that completely changes the novel’s trajectory.
It’s reassuring to hear Flynn is adapting her own novel, but it will be very interesting to see how it translates to the screen. The novel’s structure will need to be seriously altered to work for the film and while entertaining, I could very easily see the story come off as a ridiculous melodrama on film. That said, Fincher, who in recent years has directed “The Curious Case Benjamin Button,” “The Social Network” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” carries credentials that allow for giving the benefit of the doubt. He also directed “Seven,” so he knows something about making a great film that also delves into some big time unpleasantness.
If any film this year should garner interest based solely on credentials it will be “Interstellar”, set to hit theaters Nov. 6. Directed by Christopher Nolan (the most recent “Batman” trilogy, “Inception”) and starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, “Interstellar” is shrouded in quite a bit of mystery. Based on the trailers and some vague plot descriptions online, the narrative deals with a future in which Earth has becoming nearly uninhabitable and the exploration of a wormhole that will eliminate the limits on human space travel.
That’s not a lot to go on, but Nolan nearly always hits it out of the park (“Inception” loses some credibility on rewatch, but whatever) and the cast is packed with all-stars, headed by McConaughey, who is on a nearly unprecedented hot streak with his Oscar-winning work in “Dallas Buyers Club” and on HBO’s “True Detective.”
Probably the most well-known film festival takes place every May on the French Riviera at Cannes and at this year’s event, one of the biggest hits was “Foxcatcher,” directed by Bennett Miller and starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. The true story involves Olympic wrestling champion siblings Mark and Dave Schultz (Tatum and Ruffalo) and their involvement with millionaire John Eleuthere DuPont (Carell), a wealthy philanthrophist and wrestling sponsor who also suffered from schizophrenia and eventually murdered Dave Schultz.
The story itself makes this an intriguing film, but what puts it over the top is the prospect of seeing Tatum and Carell play against type and, if the buzz from Cannes is accurate, excel in career-best roles. Anyone who watched “The Office” or has seen the “Jump Street” films knows Carell and Tatum have serious comedic chops, but this could be a film that alters the course of their futures. Miller has also boasted a limited but outstanding track record, having previously directed “Capote” and “Moneyball.” “Foxcatcher” opens wide Nov. 14.
Christmas Day is traditionally prime real estate for high-profile releases and this year the holiday will be highlighted by the premiere of “Unbroken.” Directed by Angelina Jolie, in just her second effort behind the camera, and starring a cast of unknowns, “Unbroken” tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in World War II, spent 47 days floating on a raft in the Pacific Ocean after his plane crashed and then endured torture in a Japanese POW camp for two and a half years before finally returning home.
On paper, “Unbroken” has everything working in its favor: it’s based on a wildly popular book by Laura Hillenbrand and offers a feel-good story of overcoming terrible adversity. The question is whether Jolie and her unproven cast have the ability to craft the material into a great film. One reassurance is the screenplay is co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, who are responsible for writing and directing some of the best films of the past 20 years.
One of the other top filmmakers of the past 20 years is director Paul Thomas Anderson, who emerged on the Hollywood scene when “Boogie Nights” premiered in 1997. He has only made four films since then (“Magnolia”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master”), but all were well received, giving belief that the upcoming “Inherent Vice,” premiering in a limited run on Dec. 12 and wide Jan. 9, will be another standout.
Anderson’s films often times seem like the type that are more apt to be admired for their filmmaking craft than actually enjoyed. You’re almost always wowed by the talent on display, but I don’t know many people with the desire to sit through “The Master” more than once.
Still it will be interesting to see how he approaches “Inherent Vice,” an adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro, among others. The story, set in 1970 Los Angeles with the aftermath of the Manson Murders looming in the background, involves a pot-smoking private detective (Phoenix) who is tasked with exploring the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and her wealthy current boyfriend before uncovering a much wider criminal plot.
I read “Inherent Vice” over the summer and it’s frequently hilarious, but probably one of the most impenetrable novels I’ve ever read, so Anderson has his work cut out for him crafting this into a coherent piece. The best way I could sum up the novel would be to describe it as “Chinatown” meets “Dazed and Confused” so we’ll see where it goes from there.
OK, so those are five films that could prove to be among the year’s best come January, but not all the most anticipated films are ones that fall into the category of great filmmaking. Some just need to be entertaining. There’s one film I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and may be more excited for than any other:
I’m throwing it down: “Dumb and Dumber” is the funniest movie ever and I will fight anyone who disputes that fact (not really). It’s been 20 (!) years since its release and to celebrate that anniversary, writer/directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly got Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels to reunite for “Dumb and Dumber To.”
The original is one I can rewatch multiple times and laugh throughout the entire thing. It’s one of those films you know isn’t actually good, but for whatever reason, it simply clicks with you. “Find a Happy Place” and “We Landed on the Moon!” will never not be hilarious.
My biggest concern after seeing the trailer is the sequel will be unoriginal and basically a rehash of the same comedic beats from the first film. If it turns out to be an awful brand of sequel in the vein of something like “The Hangover Part II,” it will be hugely disappointing. I’m optimistic though, if only because Carrey and Daniels have great comedic chemistry together and I hear that Sea Bass is returning for a cameo (rewatch the first film and see if you can make out what his trucker hat says. Trust me.)
So those are some of the films to look forward to this fall. Usually it’s a fool’s errand trying to predict what will and won’t work, but it’s safe to bet there will be some great films premiering over the next few months.