Here's to September, when the high-decibel CGI chaos of summer movie season finally gives way to more humanistic, if Oscar-eyeballing projects from the major studios. Sony, Paramount, Fox and the like prepare to trot out their prestige pictures and other awards horses, many of which have the added benefit of being quite good, while indie outfits get set to release a varied array of pictures a few steps from the beaten path. Throw in an unanticipated sequel to a decade-old horror smash, a revitalized staple of the Western genre, and Mark Wahlberg yelling from atop a burning oil tanker, and we've got the makings of a promising cinematic grab-bag.
The Light Between Oceans (9/2)
Michael Fassbender takes the fore alongside recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander in this adaptation of M.L. Stedman's novel about a pair of lovers who take in a wayward infant and raise it as their own. Life's all beer and skittles until they meet a woman who just so happens to have misplaced a baby years ago, and a gnawing moral quandary presents itself. Director Derek Cianfrance has proven himself a skilled conductor of actors, and real-life couple Fassbender and Vikander rank among the finest genuine movie stars working right now. This is precisely the sort of performance-driven movie Hollywood has been hurting for as of late.
White Girl (9/2)
All-night ragers, overdoses, hectic humping in fetid alleyways — ah, to be young and in love. Morgan Saylor goes for broke in this depraved indie romance as Leah, an undergrad who careens into a life of sex, drugs, and more sex and drugs after falling hard for a neighborhood coke dealer. When he gets pinched while holding, Leah has to move the rest of his product — embarking on a scandalizing odyssey through New York's seediest patches of underbelly. The crowds that caught an eyeful of director/writer Elizabeth Wood's semi-autobiographical tale at Sundance back declared it the proper successor to Kids' legacy of juvenile hedonism, with plenty of nudity and key bumps to go around. Only time will tell whether this is the heir apparent to that classic, but meanwhile — did we mention the sex and drugs?
Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks are both right in their strike zones with this dramatization of pilot Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger's miracle airliner crash-landing in the Hudson River on January 15th, 2009. Eastwood gets to direct a typically Eastwoodian film about a pained hero wielding more terrible power than ordinary folks can know; Hanks gets to play a typically Hanksian figure defined by his composure and inner strength during a moment of crisis. If you're wondering how Eastwood eked 96 minutes out of a spectacle that played out over five, the film also delves into the less-discussed aftermath of the emergency ditching, and whether or not Sullenberger may have been at fault for endangering the passengers in the first place.
Experimental documentarian Kirsten Johnson sorted through footage she had been hoarding for decades, shot in every corner of the globe, and compiled it into this dense yet accessible collage of loose scenes. While her seemingly arbitrary style takes some getting used to, critics have hailed the results of her herculean labor as a uniquely personal achievement. Posing all sorts of slippery questions about the relationship of the audience to the camera, Johnson toys with her viewers and creates an experience that's difficult to define.
Blair Witch (9/16)
Up until San Diego Comic-Con back in July, the film known as The Woods was just another found-footage horror project about young people getting terrorized in the great outdoors by an unseen attacker. But when director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You're Next) announced the production's true title and revealed that audiences would get a proper follow-up — never mind Book of Shadows, a widely panned sequel that ran in 2000 — to The Blair Witch Project in two months' time, hype materialized instantly. The new film arms a fresh gang of youths with a camcorder and send them out into the Black Hills Forest of Maryland for a night of unimaginable fear, all the while incorporating the mythology established in the original film. It took 17 years, but the movie shall make small, neatly ordered piles of rocks bone-chilling once again.
Bridget Jones' Baby (9/16)
Another sequel nobody knew they were waiting for, this one resurrecting everyone's favorite incorrigible Brit on the path to love and a good lay. Renee Zellweger first charmed audiences as klutzy romantic Bridget Jones in 2001, then came back for seconds in 2004 with The Edge of Reason. (A lot of time has elapsed since we last checked in, however — think she's downloaded Tinder in the meantime?) Now, over a decade later, Bridget takes on the greatest adventure in life besides being courted by both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant: motherhood. She's with child, but the trouble is she can't quite tell whether her baby daddy is former beau Firth or new love-triangle point Patrick Dempsey. Oh, hijinks will ensue.
Oliver Stone has made a career of taking hard-line stances on controversial public figures: he's profiled Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Doors frontman Jim Morrison with decidedly creative biopics. Now he's placed intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden at the center of a crackling espionage thriller. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a dead ringer for the polarizing spy in the new film, which chronicles his rise within the information sector, his eventual defection from the CIA and FBI, and his life on the run. This may be the opening shot of the awards season. But whatever you do, don't try to illegally download the film; they will know.
Operation Avalanche (9/16)
This humbly budgeted indie has no stars, no big-name director — just a great mockumentary premise. Two CIA agents pose as documentarians to infiltrate NASA in search of a Russkie mole. "Operation Avalanche," however, is the name of the mission to fake the moon landing that the two men undertake after they realize that NASA has no hope of winning the space race. Spiraling out from a popular conspiracy theory, this formally rigorous comedy looks and feels like a product of 1969, from the film stock down to the period-appropriate design details.
The Magnificent Seven (9/23)
Roll call for Antoine Fuqua's remake of the essential 1960 Western about a ragtag posse protecting a town from bandits: There's Denzel Washington as the bounty hunter leading the crew. Chris Pratt is the rascally gambler/explosives expert at his right hand. Vincent D'Onofrio is a grizzled tracker, Ethan Hawke is a well-mannered sharpshooter, South Korean superstar Byung-Hun Lee shows up as an assassin émigré, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as an outlaw from south of the border, and Martin Sensmeier rounding out the ensemble as a Comanche warrior. Fuqua's back in his comfortable buddy-action-flick mode; we can't wait to see what the Washington/Pratt pairing brings.
Deepwater Horizon (9/30)
When the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20th, 2010, British Petroleum had to depend on someone with the right stuff to contain the devastation on the Gulf Coast. It would now appear that Mark Wahlberg is the one who has the aforementioned stuff, reuniting with his Lone Survivor director Peter Berg to play the worker who takes charge during the incident. (The Wahlberg-Berg team will complete their Heroic Regular Guys Trilogy with the Boston bombing drama Patriots Day in December.) Kurt Russell, John Malkovich and Gina Rodriguez round out a strong supporting cast. Truly, is there no urgent crisis that can't be resolved by Mark Wahlberg?