The Birth of a Nation (Oct. 7) – The sensation of this year’s Sundance Festival is this biopic of slave/preacher/rebel Nat Turner, played by director-screenwriter-co-producer Nate Parker, who all but assures that next year’s Oscar nominations will not be exclusively white.
The Girl on a Train (Oct. 7) – Emily Blunt heads the cast of this suspense drama about a divorced, jobless woman who rides the train past her former home, making up fantasy lives for the neighbors she sees. Then one night in a drunken haze, she gets off the train and becomes implicated in the disappearance and death of that neighbor. Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help).
The Accountant (Oct. 14) – Yes, a movie about accounting practices. Now there’s a subject you surely have not seen at the movies lately. Ben Affleck plays a bean-counter with such skill that his clients are some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. But when the heat is on, he takes on a legitimate client as cover, a robotics firm whose in-house accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) begins finding major discrepancies in the books. Holy debentures! Directed by Gavin O’Connor, fresh from Jane Got a Gun, a Natalie Portman Western that no one saw.
Inferno (Oct. 28) – Brush up your Dante, to follow the clues in the latest global life-or-death adventures of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who wakes up with amnesia in a European hospital, then teams up with a doctor (Felicity Jones) to thwart a madman who aims to eradicate half of the world’s population. Based on yet another Dan Brown potboiler.
Hacksaw Ridge (Nov. 4) – World War II medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served during the Battle of Okinawa, becomes the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. But since the film is directed by Mel Gibson – his first time behind the camera in a decade – expect some excessive violence anyway.
Doctor Strange (Nov. 4) – Just because the summer is over does not mean we have escaped from all comic book superhero movies. Marvel Comics has reached into its vault for this tale of a disgraced surgeon who trades in medicine for eradicating evil. At least the title role is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is likely to lend some class to the project, however silly it gets. Many directors have come and gone from the film – not a good sign – but the assignment ultimately went to Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us From Evil).
Trolls (Nov. 4) – The makers of Shrek think they have a new franchise in this animated tale of the ever-optimistic title creatures and their nemesis, the Bergens. And it’s a musical, with original songs by Justin Timberlake, who is among the voice cast, along with Zooey Deschenal, James Corden and the ubiquitous Anna Kendrick.
Loving (Nov. 4) – Acclaimed at Cannes, this fact-based romance/legal battle focuses on a mixed-race couple (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga), who break the law in the late 1950s by getting married, leading to a case that was finally decided by the Supreme Court. And proving that you can’t make some things up, Edgerton’s character’s last name is actually Loving.
Arrival (Nov. 11) – One of the recurring themes of science fiction has been alien invasion of our planet, a conceited notion by us Earthlings. But here we go again as mysterious spacecrafts touch down around our world and an elite team, led by a linguistics specialist (Amy Adams), risks their lives trying to determine whether humanity is endangered. Canadian Denis Villeneuve, hot from Sicario, directs. Could there be an illegal alien metaphor lurking here?Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11) – Following a harrowing battle in Iraq, 19-year-old Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is brought back stateside for the public relations value he now represents. But through flashbacks, we learn that the reality does not match the heroics. There is major awards buzz for this timely film directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain).
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18) — J. K. Rowling milks the fantasy world in this sort-of prequel to the Harry Potter series, concerning the adventures of writer Newt Scamander (the remarkable Eddie Redmayne), set in New York’s milieu of witches and wizards, resulting in a textbook that young Potter would study 70 years later.
The Disappointments Room (Nov. 18) — A mother (Kate Beckinsale) and her young son release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home. What, didn’t the twosome ever see The Amityville Horror? And who came up with that title, cheap shot fodder for critics who do not like the movie?
Moana (Nov. 23) – Disney continues its efforts to supply little girls with role models in this animated feature about a young woman who uses her navigational talents to set sail for the fabled title island, aided by her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui. Yeah, yeah, but the reason to care is that the film features new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh from his Broadway triumph with Hamilton. Perhaps you have heard of it?
Rules Don’t Apply (Nov. 23) – Methodical is one thing, slow is another. It has been two decades since Warren Beatty has directed a movie. He returns to filmmaking now by writing, directing and starring as eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, in 1958 Hollywood, busy manipulating the lives of a small-town beauty queen and screen actress wannabe (Lily Collins) and an ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich of Hail, Caesar!). They are quickly attracted to each other, against the wishes of the vindictive Hughes. Uh-oh.
Allied (Nov. 23) – Sure, war is hell, but it also leads to some steamy romances. In this World War II tale, directed by Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away), intelligence officer Brad Pitt goes behind enemy lines in North Africa and meets French Resistance fighter Marion Cotillard. When they are reunited in London, that pesky war keeps getting in their way.La La Land (Dec. 2) – Having demonstrated their on-screen chemistry in the otherwise forgettable Crazy, Stupid Love, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling reunite in – what else? – a musical romance. She is an aspiring actress who makes her living as a barista, he is a jazz musician reduced to playing cocktail piano in dingy Los Angeles bars. Still, sounds like they will make beautiful music together, despite their career hurdles. With Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) directing, maybe it won’t be as predictable as it sounds.
Miss Sloane (Dec. 9) – Jessica Chastain stars as a Washington lobbyist hired to spearhead an effort to enact background checks on would-be gun owners. Of course, there is plenty of opposition, and the battle gets increasingly brutal, as winning takes precedence over the public good. If either side prevails, it will be hard to swallow, but if you saw hard-as-nails Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, you know not to bet against her. She is reunited here with director John Madden (2010’s The Debt).
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16) – The Disney empire has acquired the rights to the Star Wars legend and legacy, so now, after the mega-success of The Force Awakens, it is readying a steady stream of films, as well as theme parks on the subject of George Lucas’s original creation. This Christmas present for Star Wars fans takes place 60 years before The Force Awakens and is centered on a Rebellion soldier and criminal named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), given the mission of stealing the Death Star. Gaining the plum directing assignment is Gareth Edwards, who must have shown more promise than he did skill on his last movie, 2014’s Godzilla, or maybe he just works cheap.
Collateral Beauty (Dec. 16) – Will Smith heads an A-list cast – Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton – in a story about a guy putting his life back together after a personal tragedy. If that’s a little vague, maybe it would help to hear Smith describe it as a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz. No, we didn’t think so, either.
The Founder (Dec. 16) – One of the business world’s more controversial titans is milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc, who didn’t create the McDonald’s fast-food empire, but set it on its course towards becoming the global phenomenon, once he pushed the McDonald brothers out of the way. Michael Keaton plays Kroc and if the idea of the movie doesn’t really grab you, recall that the last two movies Keaton made were Oscar winners Birdman and Spotlight.Fences (Dec. 16) – This Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the acclaimed August Wilson, chronicler of the African-American experience throughout the 20th century, focuses on Troy Maxson, a former Pittsburgh baseball player relegated to the Negro League, now a humble trash collector. His personal struggles and the rebellion of his son represent Wilson’s view of the 1950s. Denzel Washington reprises his stage performance and directs, appearing opposite Viola Davis, who also won a Tony Award in the 2010 Broadway revival.
Passengers (Dec. 21) – What holiday season would be complete without an epic space drama? Jon Spaihts’ screenplay had been kicking around for years, until Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt agreed to star as two astronauts on a mission to a far-off space station. Awakened 90 years too early, they fall in love – what else? – and scramble to save the lives of the sleeping crew when the inevitable snafus occur. It doesn’t sound as cerebral as director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, but it does sound like a mission worth taking.
Patriots Day (Dec. 21) – Director Peter Berg recreates that horrible Boston day and the annual marathon disrupted by terrorist bombings, as well as the police hunt – by cops Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman – for the perps. Yeah, it sounds a little like a movie-of-the-week to us too, but maybe the cast and Berg’s screenplay can elevate it to something more.
Gold (Dec. 25) – The precious metal has been the motivation for greed in many a film yarn, as Matthew McConaughey demonstrates, playing prospector-hustler Kenny Wells, who risks his life and his marriage – to Bryce Dallas Howard – to head to the Indonesian jungle to stake his claim. Director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) insists this reminds him of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which sounds like reason enough to get interested.