Fall Movie Preview 2013
All isn't lost. It's fall, when undumb movies push through the din of summer idiocy, when excitement is human instead of digital, when topping the Oscar list is (almost) as important as topping the box office. Don't get me wrong. The greed thing doesn't disappear between Labor Day and New Year's Eve. That's why sequels to The Hunger Games, Anchorman, Thor and The Hobbit are on the fall table. But fall is the season when Hollywood itches for a little respect. And the filmmakers at work – Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen, Spike Jonze – are top-tier. It's been quality famine so far in 2013. Fruitvale Station, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Mud – and then what? You can barely fill a tweet. The movies on this list want to drop-kick a drag-ass year to glory. Game on.
By Peter Travers
Formula One racing doesn't do it for me. But Rush, directed in a whoosh by Ron Howard, from a whip-smart and sexy script by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon), is sure to make converts. Howard delivers the real deal in racing fireworks, but it's the way the film digs deep into the psyches of these risk junkies that raises the bar. Chris Hemsworth, the stolid Thor, suddenly has sizzle to spare as Brit playboy James Hunt, a rogue driver who locks horns with Daniel Brühl, all coiled-spring intensity as Hunt's by-the-book Austrian rival, Niki Lauda. They're terrific, and they make you care.
‘Metallica: Through the Never’ (9/27)
A hardcore Metallica concert film, interspersed with scenes of a roadie (Dane DeHaan) on an errand that finds him up against a post-apocalyptic heavy-metal dreamscape. In 3D Imax, yet. Huh? Don't try to get it. Live it. Director Nimród Antal leads drummer Lars Ulrich, singer James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo into a full-throttle expression of rock & roll anarchy
Can Sandra Bullock win a second Oscar to go with the trophy she took home for 2009's The Blind Side? Damn straight. She's that dazzling as a mission specialist hurtling through space alone in a damaged space shuttle. OK, she does have George Clooney for a bit, but that's another story. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) has taken 90 minutes of screen time and packed them with artistry, emotion and shattering suspense.
‘Captain Phillips’ (10/11)
True story. Really. In 2009, Richard Phillips, captain of the U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama, is taken hostage by Somali pirates and his crew held for ransom. Navy ships steam in for the rescue. How could Hollywood resist? It couldn't. But director Paul Greengrass (United 93) and Tom Hanks, as Phillips, shun the usual rah-rah to create a knockout movie, one of the year's best, with a this-just-in urgency. Greengrass' docudrama approach is raw and riveting. And Hanks, showing how trauma eats at the soul, hits a new career peak.
‘The Fifth Estate’ (10/11)
Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls) emerges from the quicksand of two Twilight movies with a potent and provocative take on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an egomaniac with a passion for transparency in the information age. Cumberbatch is a marvel, flaunting a white wig and his own white-hot intensity, in a story still being written in headlines.
‘All Is Lost’ (10/18)
A man alone. His sailboat sinking into the Indian Ocean. No flashbacks. Virtually no dialogue to explain how he got there. That's the task writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) set for himself and Robert Redford. Each scores a triumph. "Tour de force" seems puny to describe Redford's stupendous performance, which holds you in thrall from first to last. Faced with trials that would try the patience of Job, Redford does say "fuck." About the movie, I say, "Fuck, yeah!"
’12 Years a Slave’ (10/18)
Based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave concerns a free black man who was kidnapped in D.C. in 1841 and sold to a Louisiana slave master (Michael Fassbender) to work the plantations. Director Steve McQueen has never run from controversy (see Hunger and Shame), so expect gloves off and emotions rubbed raw.
‘The Counselor’ (10/25)
With an original script by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), The Counselor is not a film to go easy into dark territory. Michael Fassbender, re-uniting with his Prometheus director Ridley Scott, plays a lawyer drawn into drug trafficking. Add Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz to the mix, and expect the unexpected.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (11/15)
No fall film has me salivating more than The Wolf of Wall Street. Who better than Martin Scorsese, the gold standard among working directors, to take on the memoir by stock scammer Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)? Belfort made a killing in less-literal ways than Scorsese's Goodfellas, but the dangerous allure of amorality is embedded in the script by The Sopranos' Terence Winter. Until conviction for fraud ended Belfort's go-go 1990s party, he happily rode the wave of money, drugs, babes, yachts and Gulfstreams. Sin with a sting in its tail is Scorsese territory for sure. Sign me up.
Bruce Dern, 77, delivers a career-capping performance as Woody, a boozy, brain- addled geezer hoping to cash in on a bogus sweepstakes prize. Shooting in black-and-white, director Alexander Payne gives a muscular poetry to this road movie as Woody and his younger son (an outstanding Will Forte) ignore the hilarious insults of Woody's wife (supreme scene-stealer June Squibb) and drive to Omaha to claim the cash. In this movie without an ounce of bullshit in it, nothing and everything happens.
‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ (12/6)
The Coen brothers take on the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene through Llewyn Davis (a stellar Oscar Isaac), a fictional musician whose career runs parallel to Bob Dylan's, except for the success part. Sublime filmmaking, from the live music to vibrant acting from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham and a blessedly nasty John Goodman. The Coens make their own kind of music – hilarious, heartfelt and irresistibly twisted.
‘American Hustle’ (12/13)
David O. Russell continues his career roll (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) with a take on the Abscam political-corruption scandals of the 1970s. This lets his dream cast (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner) bust out in new directions and lets Russell dig deeper into the flaws in the American character. It sounds like a win-win.
‘The Monuments Men’ (12/18)
It's a no-brainer. George Clooney starring in and directing a fact-based film about how the Allied forces managed to steal back the artworks Hitler stole from them. Clooney brought in buddies such as Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett to further juice up his elegant, elaborate adventure caper. Go ahead, call the thing Ocean's Eleven with an extra shot of grit and gravitas. I smell Oscars.
Would you believe Steve Carell as a du Pont heir who killed his friend, Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), whose wrestler brother Mark (Channing Tatum) was also an Olympic gold-medalist? With the Capote team of director Bennet Miller and writer Dan Futterman at the helm, would you think of missing this true-life drama?
‘August: Osage County’ (12/25)
Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-winning play comes to the screen, directed by John Wells and starring Meryl Streep as a mamma mia from hell. She bullies her dysfunctional Oklahoma family, especially Julia Roberts as the daughter who fights back. Expect acting that takes no prisoners.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (12/25)
Ben Stiller, as star and director, reimagines James Thurber's 1939 short story about a daydreamer. No spoilers, except that Stiller has moved beyond the gifts he showed as a filmmaker in Zoolander and Tropic Thunder to achieve something comic, artful and visionary.
‘Lone Survivor’ (12/27)
Peter Berg's powerhouse film recounts what happened in the Afghan mountains in 2005 when four Navy SEALs, including Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), were attacked by the Taliban. Like the best war films, Lone Survivor laces action with moral questions that haunt and provoke. Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch add to the impact.
Some filmmakers create art that reflects the world. Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) creates movies that make us see the world in startling new ways. Her, set in the near future with a script by Jonze himself, concerns Theodore (an altogether spectacular Joaquin Phoenix), who falls for Samantha, a computer operating system with the luscious voice of Scarlett Johansson. Personal filmmaking doesn't get better or more brilliant, beguiling, original and heart-crushing than this. I couldn't have loved Her more.
Three Fall Blockbusters
Can epic action and nut-job laughs get respect on awards night? Unlikely, but watch these three try.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (11/22)
Jennifer Lawrence won her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. But some would have given her the nod for The Hunger Games. As Katniss Everdeen, the renegade teen who's willing to fight to the death in a televised gladiator event, Lawrence showed remarkable physical and emotional grace. Katniss fights again in Catching Fire, the second part of the Hunger Games trilogy (Mockingjay comes next year) and finds a new love in Finnick (Sam Claflin). So, if any pop movie can hit the audience sweet spot, this is the one to do it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12/13)
Hollywood never argues with a balance sheet. And the first chapter in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, took in a billion-plus. Sorry, but the movie was an overinflated bore. Watching Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) hang with Hobbits is no match for The Lord of the Rings. Part II promises more creatures, including scary Azog and the fierce dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Fire-breathing gets them every time.
Anchorman 2 (12/20)
If you think 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy isn't funny, and I mean time-capsule funny, go screw yourself. You and I are through. That's why I eagerly await Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The Seventies have moved into the Eighties, and Ron and the San Diego news team are now working at a 24-hour cable channel in New York. That means Ron (Will Ferrell, nuts and loving it) reunites with Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Veronica (Christina Applegate). Harrison Ford, Kristen Wiig and Sacha Baron Cohen get tossed in for potluck. Does the sequel stay classy? How could it not?
Four Under the Radar Films
Blue Is the Warmest Color (10/25)
Is a three-hour movie about lesbians too much? Not with these lesbians. As 15-year-old Adèle, a wanna-be teacher, Adèle Exarchopoulos gives the kind of explosive performance awards are made for. And she's nearly matched by Léa Seydoux as Emma, the blue-haired beauty who teaches her plenty. Ignore critics who were irked that Blue is filtered through the male gaze of writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche. The film is unique and unforgettable.
Out of the Furnace (12/6)
Remember Scott Cooper, who directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in 2009's indie hit Crazy Heart? Now Cooper is back with a Pennsylvania steel-town thriller about an ex-con (Christian Bale) looking for payback from a mobster (Woody Harrelson).
Dallas Buyers Club (12/6)
Matthew McConaughey, who keeps on performing acting miracles, lost 50 pounds to play a character based on Ron Woodroof, a Dallas homophobe who is diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and gets into the dodgy business of smuggling illegal alternative medicines to find a cure.
The Past (12/20)
For this Paris-set tale of secrets and lies, Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) won the Best Actress prize at Cannes. She plays the ex-wife of an Iranian (Ali Mosaffa) who finds danger in her relationship with an Arab (Tahar Ramin). Look for Asghar Farhadi's spellbinder to lead the race for Best Foreign Film.