By Chris Balboni
Oh, September. That awkward month where it’s too late for the massive popcorn flicks of summer but still too early for the obligatory Oscar contenders. Usually, anyways. This month has already seen the release of the excellent biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” skin-crawling thriller “The Gift,” and hopefully Johnny Depp’s first praiseworthy leading role in half a decade (“Black Mass,” opening Friday). These films aside, as well as the highly and deservedly anticipated next installments of James Bond and Star Wars, there are no shortage of things to look forward to in theaters this fall. Here are a few to keep an eye out for.
“Beasts of No Nation” (October 16)
“Beasts of No Nation” follows a young boy in civil war-torn West Africa as he is forced to become a soldier after losing his family. The subject of child soldiers in Africa is a heavy, complicated one that has rarely been tackled head-on in western cinema, and with director and screenwriter Cary Funkanaga at the helm, “Beasts of No Nation” should be nothing short of poignant. This is Funkanaga’s first cinematic effort since directing the brilliantly terrifying first season of “True Detective” for HBO, and his gritty view of reality lends itself perfectly to this subject matter.
“Trumbo” (November 6)
When Dalton Trumbo, writer of the classic anti-war novel “Johnny Got His Gun,” was called upon by the House of Un-American Activities Committee to testify about his knowledge of communism during the Red Scare of the 1950s, he refused to give any information, ultimately leading to Hollywood shunning him and his work. The era of the Hollywood Blacklist was a complicated one, and biopic/oddball comedy “Trumbo” will attempt to capture the absurdity and drama of the time through the story of Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”). Cranston’s addictive screen presence and a supporting cast that includes Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, and John Goodman, is enticing enough that director Jay Roach’s spotty track-record can almost be overlooked.
“The Walk” (October 9)
“The Walk” covers the same ground as James Marsh’s incredible, Academy-Award winning documentary “Man on Wire”: In 1974, French high-wire walker Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers in New York City, a feat that required obsessive planning and an uncomfortable amount of luck. It’s an unbelievable story; a caper filled with endless tension and a high-energy Frenchman at the center of it who you can’t help but love. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit and Robert Zemeckis on a directorial upswing after 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Flight,” “The Walk” may wind up being the perfect companion piece to “Man On Wire,” one where you finally get to look straight down from Petit’s wire and truly appreciate how wonderfully out of his mind he was.
“Crimson Peak” (October 16)
Set in the 19th century, “Crimson Peak” tells the story of a young girl (Mia Wasikowska) moving in with her new husband (Tom Hiddleston), only to find that the house is filled with dangerous, paranormal entities. A genre film to be sure, but with an R-rating and Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim”) at the helm, the possibilities for horror are endless. Stephen King has already praised the film, and Del Toro’s knack for creatively terrifying creatures combine with a cast that includes Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, promising one of the best entries into the lineup of horror films slated for this fall.
“Bridge of Spies” (October 16)
After a three year absence, Steven Spielberg returns to direct this historical drama about the 1960 incident where the Soviet Union shot down a U.S. spy plane over Soviet airspace, capturing pilot Gary Powers in the process. Focusing on lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and his efforts to get Powers released, “Bridge of Spies” delves into the politics of one of the most volatile eras of our government. It’s an obvious contender come awards season, and the Coen Brothers’ assistance on the screenplay could make this stand out when combined with Spielberg’s unmatched directing skills.
“The Hateful Eight” (December 25)
When “Hateful Eight’s” script leaked last year, Quentin Tarantino was so disappointed that he initially cancelled the film. A few months later he had a change of heart, and if the trailer is any indication, we should all be thankful. Set just after the civil war, “Hateful Eight” tells the story of a bounty hunter taking his prisoner to trial, only to be caught in a blizzard and forced to take shelter in a mountain-top cabin alongside six other bounty hunters, who may or may not be who they appear to be. Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Walton Goggins (of “Justified” fame) round out the incredible cast of what looks to be a clever homage to 1960s western television shows mixed with Taratino’s wildly entertaining dialogue and violence.
“Steve Jobs” (October 9)
The death of Steve Jobs has already resulted in two feature length documentaries and a critically-panned biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, so you wouldn’t be remiss in feeling indifferent to yet another piece of media about the co-founder of Apple. This biopic, however, strives for much more than the shallow praise found in 2013’s “Jobs.” Adapted by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “The Newsroom”) from the exhaustively researched and highly acclaimed biography by Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” aims to show the life and character of Jobs with unflinching honesty. Michael Fassbender stars, which combined with Sorkin’s biting dialogue and director Danny Boyle’s (“127 Hours,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) sense of style, is enough to make even those of us who aren’t part of the Apple cult get excited.
“The Martian” (October 2)
Based on the hugely successful self-published novel by computer programmer Andy Weir, “The Martian” was written as a completely scientifically accurate tale of how one astronaut could survive the perils of being stranded on Mars for years while waiting for rescue that may never come. This is far from the first time we’ve seen a movie about astronauts in danger on Mars, but with a charismatic Matt Damon leading the cast and Drew Goddard (“Lost,” “Cabin in the Woods”) handling the adaptation for the screen, the film is set to capture the novel’s use of dry wit and harsh reality. Top that off with Ridley Scott directing, and “The Martian” could be one of the best science fiction films of the year.
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Working with a crew of fur trappers in 1823, Hugh Glass was viciously mauled by a grizzly bear in a surprise encounter. When his partners decided his wounds were too severe to survive, Glass was left for dead. He eventually came to and despite his incredibly severe injuries, he trekked alone through 200 miles of wilderness to find help at the nearest settlement. “The Revenant” is based on Glass’s infamous tale, and despite an ambitious production using entirely real locations (including Kootenai Falls in northwest Montana) and only natural lighting, it’s shaping up to be something quite special. The tone of the film looks to be one of bleak existentialism, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s emotional journey as Hugh Glass taking center stage with minimal dialogue all around. This is also writer/director Alejandro Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s follow-up to “Birdman,” which earned them Oscars in their respective fields earlier this year, so the buzz behind “The Revenant” is already growing. If you see one film this winter, make sure it’s this one.