SN&R’s fall movie preview
SN&R's film critics pick their most anticipated films of the season, and it's a battle of the biopics
The 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival opens this weekend, marking the unofficial start to the 2018 awards season. It’s too early to predict which films will emerge from the pack as legitimate Academy Award contenders, but it’s a sure bet that one or more of this year’s acting winners will be rewarded for playing a real person. Two of the four acting Oscars last year went to performers playing actual people (Gary Oldman in The Darkest Hour and Allison Janney in I, Tonya), and in 19 of the last 20 years, at least one of the Academy Awards for acting have gone to someone playing a real person. Therefore, it’s probably no surprise that when selecting their 10 most anticipated films of the fall, film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane chose a total of seven biopics. But which doppelganger will reign supreme? We can only watch and wait.
Daniel'S REEL OF REAL LIFE
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (October 19)
Melissa McCarthy forgoes her usual broadly drawn slapstick silliness to star as Lee Israel, a real-life down-and-out writer who started forging, stealing and selling letters from dead celebrities in the early 1990s. As for the supporting cast, any film that finds a juicy role for Jane Curtin has captured my attention, while drunk best friend specialist Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I) plays Israel’s drunk best friend Jack. Marin County native Marielle Heller directs her first film since her 2015 debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl (although she is already working on a Fred Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks), this time working from a script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty.
Peterloo (November 9)
Once the most pitiless chronicler of contemporary working-class England, 75-year-old master Mike Leigh follows up his excellent 2014 film Mr. Turner (not to mention his 1999 classic Topsy-Turvy) with yet another rough-edged, 19th-century costume drama. Rather than chronicling an iconic artist, Leigh this time tells the story of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre that occurred in his hometown of Manchester. The ironically named Peterloo saw British soldiers attack a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing 15 people and injuring several hundred more, an event that horrified the public yet only led to greater government suppression. Peterloo sounds difficult and dark and depressing as hell, and I can’t wait to watch it.
Widows (November 16)
Five years after delivering his Oscar-winning triumph 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen wades into Michael Mann waters with his follow-up film, a highly stylized crime thriller based on a 1980s television series. The short-form series Widows, an original work penned by crime writer Lynda La Plante, aired from 1983 to 1985 on British television. I have never seen the show, but this film adaptation certainly looks and sounds like high-gloss trash. However, I choose to trust the talent involved in this update, including McQueen, Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn and star Viola Davis, who heads a strong cast as a newly widowed woman forced to pay off her criminal husband’s debts.
The Favourite (November 23)
As much as I loved Dogtooth and The Lobster, the singularly airless and sadistic cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos felt a little threadbare when placed in a comparatively conventional revenge movie setting with last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer. That said, I’m still extremely curious to see The Favourite, Lanthimos’ first historical costume drama. Working from an original screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film stars Olivia Colman as the 18th-century British monarch, Queen Anne. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone co-star as her scheming cousins, who both become fierce rivals for the mentally and physically frail queen’s affections.
If Beale Street Could Talk (November 30)
In a possible repeat of two Oscar ceremonies ago, it seems increasingly likely that this season’s awards competition could come down to a two-horse race between the latest from La La Land director Damien Chazelle (First Man) and this third feature film from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins (whatever happens, just please keep Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway a thousand miles away from the ceremony, thank you very much). First Man looks interesting enough, but I’m far more excited about the smaller-scale If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel about a young black couple in early 1970s Harlem.
Jim's musical motley
The Old Man & the Gun (September 28)
Writer-director David Lowery made, for my money, the best picture of 2017, A Ghost Story. It earned barely $1.5 million, but on a budget of $100,000 that makes for a reasonably tidy profit. For his next movie, Lowery goes higher profile, with Robert Redford as career criminal and jailbreak artist Forrest Tucker (not to be confused with the old-time actor), Sissy Spacek as a woman he encounters while at large, Lowery regular Casey Affleck as a cop on Tucker’s trail—plus Danny Glover, Tom Waits and Keith Carradine. An impressive cast list in itself, and after A Ghost Story I’ll follow Lowery anywhere—at least once.
The Happy Prince (October 5)
The fall of Oscar Wilde from glittering celebrity to social pariah, dying penniless at 46, was so scandalous, it’s said, that for 50 years there wasn’t a newborn named Oscar anywhere in the British Empire. Some worthy actors over the years (Peter Finch, Robert Morley, Stephen Fry, Vincent Price, Michael Gambon) have portrayed Wilde, trying with varying success to capture his unique blend of insouciance and sybaritic charm (Wilde was, after all, one of a kind). Rupert Everett may just come closer than most—he’s a dead-on physical match, and The Happy Prince is a true labor of love: Everett also wrote and directed it.
Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2)
I admit it, I’m putty in the hands of a good movie musical, and with luck, this could be one of the best. With the Queen songbook on the soundtrack, it at least has one essential ingredient: great music. For the rest …well, this bunny might hop either way. The production was stormy; director Bryan Singer was fired for erratic behavior after two months on the set (20th Century Fox also canceled his future production deal), and Dexter Fletcher brought the thing home (though he won’t have screen credit). Still, I have high hopes that the film will deliver on Queen’s most famous promise: “We will, we will, rock you!”
Mary Poppins Returns (December 19)
We might have had this sequel 50 years ago, with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to boot, if author P.L. Travers hadn’t lived so long. But after seeing “Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins” everywhere she turned, her initial pleasure at the movie soured into resentment, and by the time she died in 1996, she’d convinced herself that she hated Disney’s movie from the get-go. Still, the sequel should be worth the wait: No Andrews or Van Dyke, perhaps (except the latter in a cameo), but Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda are damn fine substitutes. Plus, there’s Rob Marshall (Chicago) directing, and songs by the team behind Hairspray. I don’t see how this one can miss.
Welcome to Marwen (December 21)
Director Robert Zemeckis’ premise—the victim of a savage beating finds therapeutic release in fantasies of a doll village in his yard—admittedly may play to his penchant for visual effects over character and story. But his undeniable strength in that area, plus Steve Carell as his hero and Leslie Mann, Merritt Weaver, Janelle Monaacute;e, Eiza Gonzaacute;les and Gwendoline Christie as various heroines (with animated doll avatars for all of them), make this one an intriguing idea. If nothing else, it should be unlike any other movie this year.