SN&R's fall movie preview: Harvest screen

SN&R critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane talk fall’s fresh crop of films

<i>The Martian</i>

The Martian

As summer turns into autumn and autumn into winter, our cinematic thoughts increasingly turn away from the base pleasures of superheroes and hit men, and towards the more austere pleasures of Hollywood’s prestige season. SN&R film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane have selected their most hotly anticipated movies left on the 2015 release schedule, and offer their picks for the best films of the year to date. Don’t expect any Star Wars nostalgia trips from these two cinephiles.

Tarantino's return, True Detective redemption and other warm fuzzies

The Hateful Eight (December 25 in select cities and nationwide on January 8, 2016): I tend to base these picks on the directors that I trust the most to deliver something unique and interesting. The always intriguing Quentin Tarantino returns with this long-gestating blend of Sergio Leone Western and Agatha Christie murder mystery, and while the details sound juicy—Eight bloodthirsty strangers! A snowed-in cabin! Revenge! Jennifer Jason Leigh! Murder! Jennifer Jason Leigh!—the truth is that Tarantino could be making Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3 and I would still be losing my shit right now.

<i>Beasts of No Nation</i>

Carol (November 20 in select cities): The first theatrical feature from writer-director Todd Haynes since his 2007 magnum opus I’m Not There would be cause for celebration under any circumstances. It gets even juicier when you consider that Carol stars awards magnet/perfect human Cate Blanchett, and yet it was her co-star Rooney Mara who came away with an acting award when the film premiered at Cannes. Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, Carol appears to place Haynes back in his Far from Heaven comfort zone, as it follows the illicit love affair of a closeted lesbian couple in 1950s New York.

Crimson Peak (October 16): In his first film since Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro directs Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska as secretive lovers haunted by an unsettled past, and tormented by the ice-eyed and indomitable Jessica Chastain. While I would be perfectly content if del Toro churned out Pacific Rim sequels until the sun refused to shine, the trailer for this film looks amazing and there’s no denying that the man excels at haunted-house tales. His previous efforts The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth have already set a high ceiling for Crimson Peak.

Beasts of No Nation (October 16 in select cities and via Netflix): After Nic Pizzolato’s hate-watched season two of True Detective solo-effort crapped on HBO’s bed, his estranged season one collaborator Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) gets a chance to rub his nose in it with this highly anticipated Netflix production. The film offers a meaty, awards-baiting role to Idris Elba, who officially reached “Good in Everything” status after transcending the debacles of No Good Deed and The Gunman, and here plays a warlord who enlists child soldiers to fight in the civil war of an unnamed African country.

The Walk (September 30 in select cities and nationwide on October 9): While I’m not certain that the sublime 2008 documentary Man on Wire actually needs a 3-D movie adaptation, they couldn’t have cast a better actor for the role of puckish tightrope walker Philippe Petit than the lithe and likeable Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The French daredevil Petit dreamed of walking a tightrope slung between the Twin Towers, and in 1974 he instigated a dangerous, illegal and heist-like scheme of espionage and trespassing, all in the service of whimsy and magic. It helps that director Robert Zemeckis knows better than anyone how to commingle groundbreaking special effects with complicated characterizations and story beats.

Scots, seafarers and Silver's stars

Pawn Sacrifice (September 16): The 1972 chess tournament between the brilliant, unstable American Bobby Fischer and the Soviet Union’s world champion Boris Spassky ignited a media frenzy at the time—unprecedented for a chess match, but that sort of thing could happen during the Cold War—and it’s the stuff of legend now. I’m curious to see what director Edward Zwick makes of it.

The Martian (October 2): Have you read Andy Weir’s gripping novel of an astronaut marooned on Mars, scrambling to survive while the folks back at NASA scramble to mount a rescue expedition? If not, then for heaven’s sake do, and you’ll be as eager for the movie as I am. Ridley Scott directs a star-studded cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor. The preview trailer suggests that Weir will have no cause to complain, and I don’t think I will either.

Macbeth (December): My first exposure to Shakespeare was Orson Welles’ 1948 Macbeth at the age of 8. It rattled my young bones, and I’ve been a sucker for the Scottish play ever since. This new version stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the ruthless Mrs., with Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Harris and David Thewlis in support. With a cast like that, I’ll chance the relative inexperience of director Justin Kurzel and the trio of writers tackling the Bard’s text.

In the Heart of the Sea (December 11): Here’s another thing I’m a sucker for: a harrowing seafaring adventure from the days of sail—and in this case, a true one to boot. In 1820, the whaling ship Essex was pursuing a particularly large sperm whale when the whale turned the tables, ramming the ship and sinking it. The ordeal of the surviving crew’s efforts to reach safety is a litany of horrors—starvation, madness, cannibalism—better listened to or read about than experienced. The tale was well-known in the 19th century (and inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick), but was largely forgotten until Nathaniel Philbrick turned it into a book in 2000. Now director Ron Howard has turned it into a movie that (surely) can’t miss.

Joy (December 25): I have no idea what this one’s about. The studio’s publicity says it’s a four-generation family saga about a woman who becomes the founder of a business dynasty—which makes it sound like a novel by Edna Ferber or Danielle Steel. The preview trailer is tantalizing but uninformative. All I know, really, is that it’s directed by David O. Russell and reunites him with the stars of Silver Linings Playbook —Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro—and that’s good enough for me. (Frankly, I’d line up to see Jennifer Lawrence play Batman or King Lear.) The supporting cast includes Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini and Virginia Madsen as well, and that can’t hurt.