It’s finally really starting to feel like fall in Boston, and with it comes the inevitability of the fall/winter movie season, chock full of prestige award contenders and a few blockbusters to sate those who are less enthused with subtitles. It is a busy season for those of us less interested in Transformers and more interested in the Best Foreign Language Oscar category, but there are plenty of options for the pretentious and the casual filmgoer alike.
Below are the ten films I’m most excited to see between now and the end of the year.
Foxcatcher (November 14, local release date TBD)
This is arguably more about curiosity than anything else. Bennet Miller is a fine director, though I have never been blown away by his other biopics (Capote and Moneyball). The subject matter of Foxcatcher hits a little closer to home, as the story was big news growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania, as I did. The cast is on point, and it will be interesting to see what Carell will be able to do with a role that is very much a departure from his standard and expected comedic performances.
Nightcrawler (Wide release October 31)
There are actors who demand to be seen on screen, consistently putting in mesmerizing performances that own the screen. Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors. Michael Fassbender is one of those actors. And, surprisingly enough, Jake Gyllenhaal has become one of those actors after nearly a decade of excellence dating back to Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead in 2005. Looking gaunt and ghostly, the Gyllenhaal of Nightcrawler seems in line with his recent work with Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners and Enemy), and while those movies had their share of problems, Gyllenhaal’s performances were not among them. A crime thriller about a journalist who films crimes before the police arrive entices, and the trailer entices. This is one of his flashier roles it seems, and it will be interesting to see how he handles it.
Into the Woods (Wide release December 25)
Who knows with this one. James Lapine wrote the screenplay, which is good, but it’s also shoehorning in a new song, which is bad (even if Sondheim wrote it). Considering the track record of new songs added to musicals, which is basically for the express purpose of having something that can be nominated for Original Song at the Oscars, that’s not something I can say I am pleased to see. The cast is stellar, with great choices for the Witch (Meryl Streep), the Baker (James Corden), the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), with plenty of other encouraging casting decisions lower down (Christine Baranski as the wicked stepmother? Yes, please). Still, this is Rob Marshall directing, and his movies tend to be, you know, bad (beyond Chicago he’s got stuff like Nine and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean to his name), so that’s a red flag. This is one of those movies like Les Miserables where as long as they don’t actively screw it up, it should at least be enjoyable. Hopefully.
The Interview (Wide release December 25)
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been involved in some great projects over the years, and putting James Franco in a big, broad comedy like this has usually born good results (Your Highness notwithstanding). There is certainly some bombast to Rogen and Franco playing a duo of journalists invited to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un only to have the CIA co-opt the trip into an assassination, and it has the potential to be a divinely silly experience. I have a soft spot for everyone involved, and this should be the sort of mainstream comedy that can bleach away Dumb and Dumber To when it releases next month.
Big Hero 6 (Wide Release November 7)
Between Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen, Disney Animation Studios has had a pretty good run of November releases this decade. Big Hero 6 is arguably the first major collaboration between Marvel and its overlords, though you would be hard-pressed to even realize it is a Marvel property from the promotional material (presumably they did not want to get mixed up in the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have their audience expect Thor to fly through the background or something). The trailers look cute and fun, and the big, goofy inflatable robot is sure to be an Olaf-like smash hit of a sidekick. This should be one of the better options from the major studio releases.
Force Majeure (Opening November 14 at the Coolidge Corner Theater)
Opening to high praise at Cannes and other film festivals, the Scandinavian comedy concerns a Swedish family on a skiing trip that takes a turn for the worse as an avalanche threatens their vacation. I am purposefully keeping myself in the dark about anything else (barring the Coolidge showing trailers for it in front of my #2 and 3 choices on this list, which is a possibility), but it seems like it’s great.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Wide Release November 21)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was basically the only big budget blockbuster release of 2013 that did not disappoint. It was pretty great, a big, satisfying slice of pop art with a strong script and great directing. The blockbuster slate was definitely stronger this year (thanks to Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy), and there’s a new screenwriter on board (Danny Strong, AKA Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is still weird), so it’s not a definite lock to be good. Additionally, the track record of unnecessarily splitting films into multiple installments has not led to good cinema (see also: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and those terrible, terrible Hobbit movies), so it’s possible this could end up a mess. Hopefully that will not be the case.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence) (Opening October 24 at the Coolidge Corner Theater)
The teaser for this (the one set to the down-tempo version of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley) is one of the all time great teasers, filled with craziness and provocative imagery and wild ideas. That’s basically all we really need to be on board with this one, though the pure weirdness of notable sad sack Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (he of Amores Perros and 21 Grams and Babel) doing a project like this adds to the mystique. The critical reaction has been decidedly mixed (ranging from those who believe it is unquestioningly the best film of the year to Scott Tobias of The Dissolve opening his review by calling Innaritu a pretentious fraud in his 1.5 star review), so I really have no idea what to expect.
Whiplash (Opening October 24 at the Coolidge Corner Theater)
As an amateur drummer, finding out about Whiplash (a drama featuring Miles Teller as a precocious jazz drummer under siege by his drill instructor conductor played by JK Simmons) as the toast of Sundance shot it right up close to the top of my list of must-see films for the year. Teller and Simmons are great, and the teasers have been full of dangerous energy. This is finally the drumming-focused movie that can replace Drumline in the hearts of people who actually like good movies.
Inherent Vice (Opening December 12, local release TBD)
Paul Thomas Anderson releasing a movie is an event, likely one of the more anticipated films of the year in which it is released. Paul Thomas Anderson releasing a comedy for the first time in twelve years is a reason to get excited about going to the theater, especially if Joaquin Phoenix is at the center of that comedy and the trailer is as insane as the one we have. Something about Josh Brolin yelling at a cook in Japanese, something about seeing the likes of Benicio Del Toro and Martin Short in the background of the trailer makes this feel like the return of Boogie Nights-era Anderson. He's put together a stellar cast, and considering the pedigree of the source material, this has a very strong possibility to be something very special.