SN&R's fall movie preview: Up and autumn
Film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane share their most anticipated films of fall; plus Oscar bait, Ben Affleck’s blandness and other literary aspirations
If there’s one common thread weaving its way through this year’s batch of fall film releases it’s that—wait, actually there’s not much linking these flicks together. Except, perhaps, that they’re more highbrow than the average summer flick. A bit more serious. A bit more Academy Award-worthy, if you will. ’Tis the season, after all: The Oscars will be handed out in early 2015 which means now’s the time for the movie companies to start trotting out the contenders for our consideration. Which also means now’s the time for films based on books, period pieces and brainy, conversation-heavy ensemble pieces (i.e., fewer special effects or things going “Boom!”). In anticipation of the season, SN&R film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane have each selected their five most anticipated upcoming films. The weather probably won’t cool off in Sacramento until at least Halloween, but, lucky you, movie theaters are always air-conditioned to icy temps. Grab a cozy fall sweater and start planning that cinema hibernation now.Spiritual emptiness, surrealism and Channing Tatum
by Daniel Barnes
Gone Girl (October 3): If David Fincher’s adaptation of the 2012 Gillian Flynn novel is half as creepily exhilarating as its advertising campaign, this could be the director’s best film since Zodiac. At the very least, Gone Girl appears to pull at those same threads of senseless murder, fractured perspective and self-destructive obsession that made Zodiac so captivating. Yes, there is a major red flag here—a lead acting performance by Ben Affleck—but Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder showed that Affleck’s mannequin blandness can be used to effectively portray spiritual emptiness. I trust that Fincher can do the same.
Birdman (October 17): Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu racked up accolades and Academy Award nominations for grimly self-important films like Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel throughout the 2000s. However, the heavy-handed symbolism and relentless suffering of Iñárritu’s films ground audiences and critics alike down to a nub, and his 2010 drama Biutiful was met with worldwide apathy. Cut to the ultimate Iñárritu change of pace: Birdman, a surrealist, darkly-comic satire about a washed-up actor attempting to reinvigorate his career while maintaining a tenuous hold on his sanity. It could be a definitive career reinvention, or it could be the next An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn. I can’t wait to find out.
Foxcatcher (November 14): Whenever Oscar bait is in the water, you can be sure that it’s the season for physical transformations. Just as Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto racked up trinkets through to the Oscars by losing weight for Dallas Buyers Club, Steve Carell seems positioned for acting nominations simply for the weight he gained in order to play real-life wrestling coach, millionaire philanthropist, paranoid schizophrenic and murderer John du Pont. However, I’m more heavily anticipating the lead turn from Channing Tatum, an actor who has been working hard to steadily improve with each performance in a manner similar to a young Tom Cruise. Is this his Born on the Fourth of July?
Inherent Vice (December 12): Any new Paul Thomas Anderson film is circle-it-on-your-calendar appointment viewing for cinephiles. The details of Inherent Vice are still enveloped in Anderson’s usual cloud of secrecy, but we do know a few things. It’s based on a Thomas Pynchon novel with the most ridiculously cool title imaginable. It’s a shaggy dog detective story set in 1970s Los Angeles. It reunites Anderson with The Master lead actor Joaquin Phoenix, playing a gumshoe with Elliott Gould muttonchops. The insanely talented supporting cast includes Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Martin Short and Maya Rudolph. Anderson’s core group of off-camera collaborators are present, including composer Jonny Greenwood, cinematographer Robert Elswit, editor Leslie Jones and costume designer Mark Bridges. I am literally about to have a heart attack from anticipation.
Mr. Turner (January 2015): Although he is best known for updating the British kitchen-sink drama to the age of the hand-held camera, my favorite Mike Leigh films have been his period dramas like Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake. The phony verisimilitude that often feels quite common and condescending in his contemporary-set films actually makes for a unique perspective on the past. Longtime Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his lead performance as eccentric English painter J.M.W. Turner.Science, sci-fi and Stephen Sondheim
by Jim Lane
The Skeleton Twins (September 12): I’m always up for something new from Kristen Wiig. An incredibly busy supporting actress—everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues—I always wish her roles were bigger. Her deadpan quirks greatly amuse me. As a star, she’s one for two. She had a huge hit in 2011 (Bridesmaids, more than $288 million at the box office) and a quiet flop in 2012 (Girl Most Likely, less than $1.4 million). Still, Girl Most Likely was even better than Bridesmaids, and I hope the arc continues. Here she’s teamed with Saturday Night Live colleague Bill Hader as estranged twin siblings. Writer-director Craig Johnson is an unknown quantity, but I’m banking on Wiig and Hader.
This is Where I Leave You (September 19): The trailer for this one has been in theaters for months, and it’s one of the most tantalizing of the whole year. It features Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne and Kathryn Hahn as a family with issues forced to spend a week together sitting shiva for their deceased patriarch. With that kind of talent stewing in their juices, even a director as clumsy as Shawn Levy can deliver the goods. Jonathan Tropper wrote the script, from his own novel.
Interstellar (November 7): Frankly, I’m no great fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but after 2010’s Inception, I’d follow him almost anywhere. This science-fiction epic has what sounds like a grand vision—humanity migrating to beyond the stars—which would be refreshing after the endless parade of Mad Max-style ruined-future sci-fi we’ve had for the past 30 years or so. And what a cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, David Oyelowo and Jessica Chastain. I try never to say never, but I don’t see how this one can miss.
The Theory of Everything (November 7): I’m looking forward to this film mainly because of the subject: Stephen Hawking. Probably the most brilliant mind since Albert Einstein, Hawking was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease in 1962 and has now lived 50 years beyond the 24 months his doctors predicted. The movie tells the story of Hawking’s marriage to his first wife Jane (which foundered in 1995 under the pressure of his genius), his illness and his attachment to one of his nurses, who became his second wife. It’s quite a story, and I can’t wait to see what the movie makes of it. And having Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, David Thewlis and Emily Watson in the cast certainly doesn’t hurt.
Into the Woods (December 25): Songwriter Stephen Sondheim has already kicked up a storm on social media, telling tales out of school about the changes being made in his (and librettist James Lapine’s) 1986 fairy-tale musical. Outraged cries of “How dare they!” went bouncing from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr and back again, driving director Rob Marshall into damage-control mode. Well, Marshall made changes and cut songs from Annie, Chicago and Nine too. Personally, I trust him—and Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman—more than a mob of hotheaded fankids going off half-cocked. Into the Woods always strained at the limits of the stage; a movie should be just what the doctor ordered.