David Ehrlich August 26, 2013
We did it. They said this summer movie season would kill us. They said that “Grown Ups 2″ would be the end of civilization as we know it. But we clung to those “Gravity” teasers like they were the only beacon of hope in an infinite universe of Ryan Reynolds films, and now Labor Day is almost within our reach. It’s finally time to get something in return for the several billion dollars that we spent at the box office over the last few months, it’s finally time to see what all that money bought us: four months of movies that at least try to be worth your time. Four months of movies that, for the most part, present themselves as cinema first and product second. For better or worse (mostly better), these are the films that we’re going to be talking about for the next six months, and most likely the films that will represent the cinema of 2013 for the next six decades.
Our preview is designed to be comprehensive rather than tightly curated, but if a certain film was omitted don’t worry, it was only because I couldn’t possibly be bothered to write a blurb for it (or, in the case of something like Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin”, I couldn’t pin down an accurate release date). Please keep in mind that with awards season invariably comes awards season gamesmanship, and so these release dates are subject to change, especially those for the films currently slated to bow in November and December.
So sit back, peek into the future, and get excited for that wonderful time of year when Hollywood gives back. You’ve certainly earned it.
“RIDDICK” (David Twohy)
“Pitch Black” was a delightfully severe slice of sci-fi, a taut and stylish movie that played to the strengths of a then-unknown Vin Diesel in order to marry a rich horror atmosphere with gritty alien gunplay. Unfortunately, like all moderately successful genre films in today’s Hollywood, the modest film was targeted for franchise potential, leading to 2004’s mega-sized and thoroughly useless “The Chronicles of Riddick.” For the third installment of this unlikely series, Diesel and director David Twohy attempt a happy medium between the two previous outings, scaling back from “Chronicles” while also taking advantage of Diesel’s star power to add some muscle to this tale of everyone’s favorite escaped convict fending off alien predators on a distant planet.
“ADORE” (Anne Fontaine)
Thoroughly drubbed when it premiered at Sundance under the less VOD friendly title of “Two Mothers”, this sun-dappled erotic drama stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as old friends who begin to lust after each other’s teenage sons. “Adore” is unlikely to cause much of a stir, but anything with Naomi Watts is worth a look.
“SALINGER” (Shane Salerno)
The inevitable documentary about the 20th century’s most notoriously hermitic author, Shane Salerno’s film – half tribute and half biography – features interviews with over 150 subjects, including Salinger’s friends (apparently he had some) and intellectual celebrities like Edward Norton and Robert Towne. Harvey Weinstein has acted aggressively to ensure that critics don’t reveal the information exposed in the film, as though it were guarding some tremendous secret, but Salinger’s reputation should prove to be enough of a draw in and of itself. Of course, the decision to release the film during the height of the Toronto International Film Festival, when most critics will be otherwise preoccupied, may not bode well for the strength of the movie.
“TOUCHY FEELY” (Lynn Shelton)
Lynn Shelton is currently one of the most adored directors on the indie scene, a one-woman cottage industry of low-key charmers like “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” that are winsome if somewhat forgettable. “Touchy Feely” is perhaps her most inconsequential film yet, following the non-adventures of a laconic Seattle dentist, his unraveling sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), and his curious assistant / daughter (Ellen Page). It’s pleasant enough but it’s barely there, perhaps better suited to VOD (where it’s currently available) than theaters.
“99%: THE OCCUPY WALL ST. COLLABORATIVE FILM (Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, and many more)
A kaleidoscopic portrait of the movement that captured the world’s attention, this documentary – spearheaded by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, who black metal fans might know from their extraordinary “Until the Light Takes Us” – eschews any attempt at a balanced perspective in favor of a democratic one, cobbling together footage received from untold numbers of the 99%. Less of an evaluation of the Occupy movement than it is a tribute / testament to their efforts, the film is a galvanizing social document and an increasingly valuable capsule of recent history.
“THE FAMILY” (Luc Besson)
Luc Besson, the spirited French director who flirted with retirement a few years ago only to bounce back with a string of animated films that proved lucrative across the pond, is making another bid for American audiences with this dark action comedy about an aging mafia boss (Robert De Niro, natch) who’s relocated to rural France after snitching on the mob. The smirkingly violent tone should play to Besson’s strengths, but it may be best to keep expectations low and hope for a pleasant surprise.
“MOTHER OF GEORGE” (Andrew Dosunmu)
The story of a Nigerian couple (Danai Gurira and Isaach De Bankolé) living in Brooklyn whose relationship is strained by their inability to conceive a child, “Mother of George” premiered to nearly universal acclaim at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and was quickly snapped up by Oscilloscope Laboratories for a prime fall release date. Bankolé’s involvement is by now a near guarantee of quality.
“WADJDA” (Haifaa Al-Mansour)
“Wadjda” will naturally be celebrated as the first feature-length film ever directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia, but Haifaa Al-Mansour’s winning (but never precious) portrait of a spirited 11-year-old girl determined to buy herself a bicycle would be worth celebrating in any context. Gently but courageously defiant, “Wadjda” is a complex look at the quotidian struggles faced by women in a society that sets very strict parameters on their potential, but – thanks in part to Waad Mohammed’s vivacious performance in the title role – it’s also much more than that.
“INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2” (James Wan)
Just a few short months since the mega-success of “The Conjuring”, James Wan returns with a direct sequel to 2011’s über-profitable piece of jump-scare theater. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that it will be quiet and then VERY LOUD (repeat until nerves are completely frayed) and make a ridiculous sum of money.
“AFTER TILLER” (Martha Shane & Lana Wilson)
Dr. George Tiller was one of the few doctors in America who performed third-trimester abortions, until he was shot through the eye at close range and killed by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder in 2009. “After Tiller” is a harrowing look at how the discourse has changed in the wake of Tiller’s murder, focusing on the last four individuals who continue to provide third-trimester abortions in this country.
“ENOUGH SAID” (Nicole Holofcener)
Nicole Holofcener is one of the most consistent filmmakers there is, each of her fiercely (and often hilariously) perceptive stories of women contending with money, motherhood and each other wiser and more satisfying than the last. Tragically, however, the focus on her latest work will inevitably be reserved for its male lead, as “Enough Said” will serve as the late James Gandolfini’s penultimate film role. Sure to be haunted by Gandolfini’s death, hopefully this humanistic romance between two single parents facing empty nests (Julia Louis Dreyfus co-stars) is both a fitting tribute, and a worthwhile movie by its own right.
“PRISONERS” (Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve refused to pull any punches with his stunning (if overly neat) “Incendies”, and it stands to reason that his English-language debut – an 140-minute drama about a man compelled to lead the search for his abducted teenage – will be similarly wrenching and complex. Starring Hugh Jackman as the beleaguered father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the cocky young detective who refuses to tolerate any impassioned vigilantism, “Prisoners” is sure to be one of the year’s darkest dramas, and perhaps one of its best.
“THANKS FOR SHARING” (Stuart Blumberg)
The directorial debut of “The Kids Are All Right” screenwriter Stuart Blumberg, “Thanks for Sharing” is a comic drama about sex addicts who are desperately trying to settle down. Featuring a strong cast lead by Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and pop star Pink (or “Alecia Moore”, as she’s credited here) the film – which debuted to decent if unexceptional notices at last year’s TIFF – looks to undercut its drama by shying away from the more unfortunate aspects of nymphomania as it exists in the real world. But we already have “Shame”, and so long as it doesn’t titillate viewers in a way that seems antithetical to the concerns of its characters, “Thanks for Sharing” could be an affably humanistic portrait of people caught in the grip of their worst vices.
“BAGGAGE CLAIM” (David E. Talbert)
A broad comedy starring Paula Patton as a flight attendant determined to get engaged in the 30 days left before her younger sister’s wedding, “Baggage Claim” seems like a fun return to the gimmicky romantic comedies of the 1990s. Featuring a cast rounded out by Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott and Djimon Hounsou, “Baggage Claim” could be a sleeper hit in a season dominated by more somber fare.
“DON JON” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is being sold as a romantic comedy that skewers the excesses of the Jersey Shore crowd, but reports out of Sundance and SXSW suggest that “Don Jon” (previously titled “Don Jon’s Addiction”) is actually a rather sobering affair about a beefed out bro whose life is being consumed by his raging addiction to online porn. Flashily directed and replete with familiar faces (Scarlett Johansson shows up as a buxom love interest, while the legendary Tony Danza gets thrown a Tarantino-esque lifeline), “Don Jon” has rolls into theaters having already inspired both rave reviews and impassioned accusations of misogyny, and might prove to be one of the fall’s most unexpectedly divisive releases.
“PARKLAND” (Peter Landesman)
Great news if your favorite movie is “Bobby”, here’s another star-studded, mosaic-like approach to the assassination of a Kennedy (bad news if your favorite movie is “Bobby”: your favorite movie is “Bobby”). Revisiting the fateful afternoon of November 22, 1963, “Parkland” recounts the day from a number of different vantage points, including that of Abraham Zapruder. Populated by the likes of Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver and a dozen other people you’ll recognize for their supporting work in other films, “Parkland” has the feel of failed Oscar bait, and one wonders what a movie could possibly have to offer on the assassination of President Kennedy that wasn’t more compellingly explored in Bruce Conner’s “Report” or the Zapruder tapes, themselves.
“RUSH” (Ron Howard)
The kind of sturdily crafted, mid-level studio movie that they just don’t make anymore, “Rush” is a thoroughly entertaining biopic about the real-life rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (an outstanding Daniel Brühl) that dominated Grand Prix racing in the 1970s. Arguably Ron Howard’s best film since “Ransom”, “Rush” is fun and surprisingly involving stuff, anchored by rich characterizations and spectacular racing sequences. It may not have the heft required for a deep Oscar run, but this story of an awards-obsessed driver is sure to be remembered long after the season’s crop of awards-obsessed movies have exhausted their self-importance.
“CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2” (Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn)
The first “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was an unexpected delight, a relentlessly clever and colorful adaptation of the beloved children’s book. While directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have moved on to other properties (“21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”), it appears as though they’ve left Flint Lockwood and his pals in capable hands, as the trailers suggest that this sequel is every bit as tireless and pun-obsessed as the original.
“GRAVITY” (Alfonso Cuarón)
Certainly one of the most anticipated films of the fall (at least so far as critics are concerned), Alfonso Cuarón’s follow-up to “Children of Men” promises to be a technically dazzling suspense thriller unlike anything before it. Forever in the making but cut to a terse 88 minutes, “Gravity” is the space-bound story of a medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) on her first spacewalk, during which she’s assisted by a veteran colleague played by George Clooney. Needless to say, something goes horribly wrong, and the two astronauts are stranded in the infinite silence of space, relying on each other and their dwindling reserves of oxygen to somehow unscrew themselves. While Cuarón’s epic long-takes will surely prove dazzling, it has yet to be seen if the story can match the remarkable craft with which it’s told.
“RUNNER RUNNER” (Brad Furman)
Justin Timberlake stars as a Princeton grad student who… wait, sorry, I need a minute here. Okay, let’s just skip over that and jump to the next part of the premise… something something something Ben Affleck as a gambling tycoon named Ivan. Okay, I tried. The truth of the matter is that Brian Koppelman (“Rounders”, “Ocean’s Thirteen”) is a talented screenwriter, and director Brad Furman has positively upended expectations before (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), so it may be wise to give “Runner Runner” the benefit of the doubt, though such a feat becomes considerably more difficult with every view of the trailer.
“ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE” (Jonathan Levine)
After originally premiering at TIFF all the way back in 2006, Jonathan Levine’s debut feature is finally poised to enjoy a limited theatrical release (though I won’t believe it until the closing credits roll). An enjoyable if unremarkable slasher that benefits from a palpable lack of corporate interests, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” should appeal to horror junkies who ate up this year’s other long-delayed festival hit, “You’re Next.”
“MACHETE KILLS” (Robert Rodriguez)
I can’t even feign a professional interest in this (and I’m not entirely convinced that Robert Rodriguez can, either), though it’ll certainly be something to see Lady Gaga share the screen with William Sadler.
“CAPTAIN PHILLIPS” (Paul Greengrass)
I still wrestle with my feelings about the need for / value of “United 93”, but its sheer efficacy has never been in doubt. No one does contained, real-world action quite like Paul Greengrass (whose “Bloody Sunday” may still represent the pinnacle of his craft), and “Captain Phillips” certainly ought to play to the director’s strengths. A recreation of a 2009 incident in which Somali pirates violently seized an American cargo ship, “Captain Phillips” stars Tom Hanks in the title role, and boasts a screenplay from the criminally undervalued Billy Ray. Be that as it may, we’re only months removed from Tobias Lindholm’s similar and enormously effective “A Hijacking”, and I’m somewhat concerned that the Hollywood scale might distract from the human narratives at the heart of this story.
“ROMEO AND JULIET” (Carlo Carlei)
Despite the fact this take on the greatest romance ever told boasts a screenplay from “Downton Abbey” mastermind Julian Fellowes, its unclear how much the film deviates from Shakespeare’s original text. The trailers suggest that “Romeo and Juliet” is an unnervingly straight adaptation, and absolutely nothing has been done to address the biggest question looming over the project: Why? Having said that, points must be awarded for the age-appropriate casting of “True Grit” star Hailee Steinfeld as the female lead.
“ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW” (Randy Moore)
Certainly the most bizarre film to debut at Sundance this year, Randy Moore’s “Escape from Tomorrow” is a micro-budget Lynchian freakout about a man who learns that he’s lost his job on the day before he’s scheduled to embark on a Disney World vacation with his family. Covertly shot on the grounds of The Happiest Place on Earth, right under the nose of the notoriously sue-happy corporation, it was (ostensibly) unclear if “Escape From Tomorrow” would ever see the light of a projector outside of the festival circuit. Now that its release is certain, Moore’s film will have the opportunity to prove itself as more than a curiosity.
“ALL IS LOST” (J.C. Chandor)
J.C. Chandor made a bit of a splash with his confined Wall Street drama “Margin Call”, but his second feature is poised to obliterate his perceived directorial skill set. “All is Lost” is a soaking wet chamber piece, a harrowing drama with such a small cast that it makes “Gravity” look like a Robert Altman film in comparison. Starring Robert Redford (and only Robert Redford) as a man whose 39-foot yacht begins to sink halfway through his solo voyage across the Indian Ocean, “All is Lost” made a tremendous splash (sorry) when it debuted out of competition at Cannes, and looks to be one of the fall’s most visceral cinematic experiences.
“ESCAPE PLAN” (Mikael Hafstrom)
Phase Two of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-governator renaissance, “Escape Plan” pairs the legendary action star with Sylvester Stallone in a gnarly 80s throwback about two muscle-bound men attempting to break out of a futuristic prison called “The Tomb.” Everything about this seems incredibly important, but the buzz from early screenings at Comic-Con was deafeningly quiet.
“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (Bill Condon)
Bill Condon closes the book on the “Twilight” chapter of his career by returning to the type of character-driven dramas that he does best. It remains to be seen if he’ll ever make another biopic that can compare to “Kinsey”, and a film about WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) seems a tad premature at this point, but the attempt will be a welcome one if Condon is able to eke thematic significance from this slice of immediate history.
“CARRIE” (Kimberly Peirce)
Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) is too interesting a filmmaker to spend her time on a straight-up remake of a Brian De Palma classic, right? There has to be something about this interpretation of the Stephen King novel that justifies its existence, something that was not hinted at in the incredibly unpromising trailers … right? The stakes are high with this one, because if a director as talented as Peirce is incapable of adding dimension to the story of modern horror’s most famous fire-starter, then it might be time to dig some trenches and prepare for all-out war against remake culture.
“BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR” (Abdellatif Kechiche)
Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour lesbian romance may have been the most-discussed film at Cannes even without its supposedly explicit showstopper of a sex scene (the film was tagged with an NC-17 by the notoriously skittish and homophobic MPAA). Starring the compulsively watchable Léa Seydoux, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is sure to be the object of much further discussion as it dominates the fall festival circuit, especially if Julie Maroh – author of the graphic novel on which the film is based – continues her campaign against the allegedly problematic gaze of Kechiche’s camera.
“THE COUNSELOR” (Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott, for all of his ups and downs, is one of the few directors that I’d trust with an original screenplay by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy, particularly if said screenplay was intended for mainstream appeal. Boasting a ridiculous cast (Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Brad Pitt, etc…), “The Counselor” is poised to be among the most agreeably blunt pleasures of the year’s remaining months.
OUR FALL PREVIEW CONTINUES WITH A LOOK AHEAD AT NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER ON PAGE 2.
Categories: FeaturesTags: After Tiller, American Hustle, Don Jon, Fall movie preview, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Insidious: chapter 2, Oscars, Parkland, Prisoners, Runner Runner, Rush, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Monuments Men, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Thor: The Dark World