Fall is the time of the year when studios release the movies they're not ashamed of and that won't suck the soul right out of you. That's right, they save the best for last in the hope of winning audience applause and maybe Academy gold. Box-office gold wouldn't hurt either (hello, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). So, after checking out the contenders and sifting out the crap (that includes you, Adam Sandler), this guide will point you in the right direction.
Johnny Depp kicks off the fall season on a high with a scary tour de force as Whitey Bulger, the Boston gangster convicted in 2013 on 11 counts of murder. "I'm very excited to slide into that skin," says Depp, 52, who also slides into the awards game after career setbacks (The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, Mortdecai). Depp just kills it in this one.
In Mexico, the title means "hitman." The movie, a Traffic-like stunner that spins your head around, delivers something sensationally exciting. Emily Blunt is dynamite as a by-the-book FBI agent caught up in a morally shady drug operation, led by a shifty CIA agent (Josh Brolin) and a mercenary (Benicio Del Toro). "She's put to the test in a way she never has been," says Blunt. Ditto the audience. Hang on.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt excels as an ardent, acrobatic Philippe Petit before, during and after the Frenchman took that daredevil walk on a steel wire between the World Trade Center towers on August 7th, 1974. Better yet, director Robert Zemeckis, shooting in vertiginous 3D, puts you up there with him and oh, baby, wow.
Ellen Page has been trying to get this true story about lesbian rights made for six years. Now it's here with Page as Stacie Andree, the domestic partner of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey police officer with terminal cancer fighting the county's board of freeholders to pass on her pension benefits to Stacee. "Julianne is so fucking badass," says Page. True that. The same applies to this dynamite movie, directed by Peter Sollett from a script by Ron Nyswaner, that allows both of these extraordinary actresses to keep the politics personal.
In this electrifying true-crime story, Tom Hardy plays 1960s London gangster Reggie Kray and his gay twin, Ronald. They're both total psychos, but in different ways. Hardy takes more fucking risks than anyone since Daniel Day-Lewis, and you can't tear your eyes away from him. "It's a hell of a challenge," says Hardy. That's an understatement
Director Ridley Scott told Matt Damon, who was hedging about doing The Martian so soon after Interstellar, "This is going to be fucking fun." Guess what? It is. In Scott's take on Andy Weir's bestseller, Damon is an astronaut stranded on Mars when his crew heads back to Earth, thinking he's died during a Red-Planet dust storm. Don’t fret about existential dread – it's a blast.
After hate-watching the live TV version of Peter Pan, I'd had it with that crowing brat. But director Joe Wright (Atonement) takes a different angle as Pan (Levi Miller) first arrives in Neverland, meets Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), and mixes it up with the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Wright, whose parents ran a puppet theater, has a thing for fantasy and flying without a net: "It felt like, 'What's the stupidest possible idea? Let's do that one.'"
Michael Fassbender may finally win an overdue Oscar, for playing the late Apple genius in Danny Boyle's film. The ballsy script, by Aaron Sorkin, tells the core story through the launches of three Apple products. No lazy biopic here – it's all go for broke.
Award buzz has already started for Idris Elba playing an African warlord and 15-year-old newcomer Abraham Attah who portrays a boy he forces into his mercenary army of child soldiers. Says writer director Cary Fukunaga, who staged the first season of True Detective: "There's not one white person in it. It's not Leonardo DiCaprio saving Africa. It's mainly an African cast.” Beasts will debut in theaters and VOD on Netflix on the same date. That means it had better deliver the goods. It does.
Talk about having all the elements: a Cold War thriller directed by Steven Spielberg, written by the Coen brothers and starring Tom Hanks as the lawyer recruited by the CIA to defend a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in a trade for captured American U-2 pilot Gary Powers. Spielberg notes that his father was visiting Russia at the time of the U-2 incident. For him, this one's personal.
When Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) does a haunted-house movie, you better believe it will keep you up nights. "It's violent and kinky," Del Toro warns. Things get Gothic fast when a dashing 19th-century aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) takes his London bride (Mia Wasikowska) to live in his spooked mansion. For company, she has his sibling (Jessica Chastain), who redefines "twisted sister." Del Toro is a master of things that go bump in the night and fester inside.
Robert Redford plays CBS News anchor Dan Rather, and Cate Blanchett is his producer Mary Mapes. Rather resigned and Mapes lost her job when they used suspect documents to back up a 2004 piece on 60 Minutes that challenged then-president George W. Bush's National Guard service. This potent cinematic provocation reopens old wounds in ways you won't see coming.
Carey Mulligan leads the charge for women's voting rights in 1912 England. With Meryl Streep cast as suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, the film is hardcore in its depiction of the struggle. Mulligan says she had no idea these women were "beaten, imprisoned, blew up bridges, went on hunger strikes. We have a very muted picture of happy women with banners." No more.
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, 21, is superb in this ravishing story of love and leaving home. Ronan plays a girl who comes to 1950s America for work and must choose between an attractive stranger (Emory Cohen) and a man she left behind (Domhnall Gleeson). John Crowley's film brims with small pleasures. "I get very emotional about it," says Ronan. You will too.
Is Spectre an origin story for James Bond? Director Sam Mendes, who hit pay dirt bonding with Bond in Skyfall, says so. And Daniel Craig is up at bat for the fourth time as 007, with Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as his nemesis. Waltz practically oozes out the words "I'm the author of all your pain." How do you resist?
Director-cowriter Thomas McCarthy borrows a crusading page from All the President's Men to tell the true story of how the Boston Globe won a 2003 Pulitzer for exposing the Archdiocese's cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton plays the head of the paper's "Spotlight" team with Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James as reporters on the case.
Can Bryan Cranston add an Oscar to his four Emmys for Breaking Bad and his Tony for playing LBJ in All the Way? He’s got a juicy role as Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who was blacklisted in the 1950s for his alleged "Commie" politics. The exile wrote Exodus and other films using a fake name (no, not Heisenberg) and fought back hard before Kirk Douglas put Trumbo's name in the credits on Spartacus.
Picture Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara enjoying a love that dare not speak its name. That's Carol, a film set in the 1950s, when lesbianism was a social taboo. Todd Haynes directs from a book Patricia Highsmith had to write under a pseudonym. At Cannes, the magnificent Blanchett and Mara won ovations. You'd be crazy to miss it.
This is the end, at last. Studio execs have squeezed four movies from three bestselling books by Suzanne Collins. You could feel the padding. But it didn't hurt that much, because The Hunger Games remained the class act in a long line of imitation dystopian epics (that's you, Divergent). And because Jennifer Lawrence gave her all to playing Katniss, the "futuristic Joan of Arc" (Lawrence's words) who finally gets to go medieval on President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Rock on.
Eddie Redmayne, who just won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, could go for two in a row here. As a Danish artist who in the 1920s became the first male to make the surgical transition to female, the gifted British actor taps into the zeitgeist. Hello, Caitlyn.
Yup, that's Loki, i.e. Brit actor Tom Hiddleston, stepping into the boots of Hank Williams to tell the story of the Alabama-born country legend in a movie that, the star says, "pulls no punches about Hank's self-abusive relationship with alcohol and prescription drugs." I'll say. But the brilliant Hiddleston, doing his own vocals, traces ole Hank's career till his untimely death at 29 with tremendous power and tender mercies.
Hungary's submission for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (I’m calling the win now) is a Holocaust drama that reps a stunning feature debut for director Lazlo Nemes. Geza Rohrig gives one of the year's best and most powerful performances as Saul, an Auschwitz Sonderkommando (a Jew enlisted in the disposal of other Jews to delay his own execution) who finds the body of a boy he thinks is his son and struggles to provide the boy with a Jewish burial. "I told them to ban this feeling of self-pity, to do less," says Nemes. The effect is shattering. Hard to take, yes, but impossible to forget.
Quite simply, the movie event of the year. No one knows yet how J.J. Abrams will pick up the saga that ended with Return of the Jedi, but it's gotta be better than the three George Lucas prequels. We do know Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is back, as well as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). We know there's a new hero in Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and a fresh villain in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Chewbacca sums it up best in his immortal Wookie sound: "Arwwwwwaaaaaaaarrrrrrahahahahahhaahhhhaa. . . ."