Welcome to the movie’s serious season, when the award-worthy films unspool.
This fall, there seems to be a pre-occupation with the 19th century (The Current War, The Lighthouse, Harriet, The Aeronauts), movies we usually expect in the summer (Joker, Gemini Man, Doctor Sleep) and a host of films featuring Adam Driver (The Report, Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
As always, expect a few of these subjectively chosen films to drop out before their release date and plenty of others to get pushed into 2020.
* Joker (10/4) – The baton is passed from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger to, now, Joaquin Phoenix, playing Batman’s most iconic villain in this origin tale. And if the movie is half as creepy as its trailer, we are in for a dark time in Gotham. Directing is Todd Phillips, previously best known for the Hangover series. This one should change his image instantly.
* Pain and Glory (10/4) – The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar logs his eighth collaboration with Antonio Banderas in what is being touted as the director’s most personal work yet. Banderas plays a director looking back on his life and career, battling his demons and clinging to his fixation on his mother.
* The Current War (10/4) – The punning title refers not to a contemporary skirmish, but the battle between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) over whose electrical system – direct or alternating current – will power the world. We remain intrigued, even though this one has been sitting on a shelf for more than a year.
* Gemini Man (10/11) – It will be hard to know whom to root for as Will Smith as an aging hitman faces off against a younger version of himself. Ang Lee directs, and continues his fascination with technology, as he clones Smith with computerized graphics and ups the realism with high frame rate. But will this be a hit on the order of his Oscar-winning Life of Pi or a stumble like Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk?
* Jojo Rabbit (10/18) – It is not unusual for a 10-year-old boy to have an imaginary friend, but Jojo Betzler’s happens to be Adolf Hitler. New Zealand filmmaker Taiki Waitiki goosesteps his way to the other side of the camera to play a Hitler worthy of a road company of The Producers. Just as we were ready to dismiss this movie as a terrible idea, it won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, a frequent precursor of Oscar gold.
* The Lighthouse (10/18) – A grizzled old Irish lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe) and his younger apprentice (Robert Pattinson) go about their mundane chores on a remote New England island, circa 1890s, slowly going mad. The two actors comprise the entire cast, if you don’t count the mermaid they begin to see. Directed by Robert Eggers, best known previously for the very haunting The Witch.
* Harriet (11/1) – Engineer and conductor of the Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman gets an action-packed biopic treatment as the film’s heroine, worthy of immortality on the $20 bill, is shown transforming from scared runaway to courageous freedom fighter. Broadway’s Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) gets a great cinematic showcase and from early reports makes the most of it.
* Motherless Brooklyn (11/1) – Edward Norton wrote, directs and stars in this murder mystery set in 1950s New York, playing a loner private detective with Tourette’s syndrome, seeking the killer of his only friend and mentor (Bruce Willis). Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw show up in support in what has been called Norton’s Chinatown.
* Doctor Sleep (11/8) – Are you ready to return to the Overlook Hotel for a sequel to The Shining, based on Stephen King’s follow-up book? Tricycle-riding Danny Torrance has grown up – now played by Ewan McGregor – and works at a New Hampshire nursing home, comforting the dying in his new guise as Dr. Sleep. He almost escapes his past, until he encounters a young woman with extreme “shining” powers. Could there be “redrum” in Dan’s future?
* Ford v. Ferrari (11/15) – Back in the 1960s, American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) battle corporate interference and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The film’s climax is the hour-long race, so you might want to make your own pit stop halfway into the movie.
* The Report (11/15) – Unsung hero of the post-9/11 era, U.S. Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), is tasked with investigating CIA torture policy, an assignment which takes him down the rabbit hole of deceit and duplicity. A fact-based drama of the type that Hollywood rarely makes anymore and if the box office is anemic for this one, they will probably make even fewer. Still, as impressive as Driver is said to be, expect Annette Bening as Sen. Dianne Feinstein to steal the film, possibly earning her the Oscar that has been long just outside her grasp.
* A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (11/22) – Just when we figured out that Tom Hanks was really Ben Bradlee, Sully Sullenberger or perhaps Walt Disney, he morphs into beloved children’s TV host, Fred Rogers. In this unofficial follow-up to the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Rogers is seen re-inventing kids’ television and turning a skeptical magazine profile writer into a true believer.
* The Irishman (11/27) – Mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) looks back on his involvement in the murder of union capo Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) in this epic – 3 hour, 30 minute – crime saga. It has been simmering in director Martin Scorsese’s brain for years, now realized thanks to bankrolling by Netflix. Along for the ride are such other Scorsese favorites as Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel. Don’t go tired, but go.
* Marriage Story (12/6) – As the film begins, Charlie (Adam Driver) is a Brooklyn theater director and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is his leading lady both onstage and off. But when she yearns to move to California and break into films, cracks begin to show in their marriage. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, marital strife is familiar territory to him, as he is said to have drawn on his own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh for inspiration.
* The Aeronauts (12/6) – Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, paired so successfully in The Theory of Everything, are reunited in this far less earthbound, fact-based tale of an historic 1862 hot air balloon flight by a meteorologist and an adventuress. Expect personality clashes and weather battles, along with some breathtaking visuals high above London.
* Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (12/20) – Is it just me or has the quality of this great, iconic space epic gone down since Disney bought the franchise? Still, a new episode remains an event to be much anticipated. In this case, a face-off between the surviving Resistance and the First Order is being billed as the final chapter of the Skywalker saga, but of course that will really depend on the box office results. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is at the center of the movie, but we hear that Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine put in appearances, as well as Carrie Fisher as Princess/General Leia, thanks to re-edited outtakes from past films.
* Cats (12/20) – The musical that started the British invasion of Broadway finally makes it to the big screen almost 40 years later. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborates with T.S. Eliot (from beyond the grave) on a song cycle about Jellicle cats, introducing themselves and vying to be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer. Who would want to be in such a movie? Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and James Corden, to name a few.
* Bombshell (12/20) – The toxic atmosphere at Fox News begins at the top in the person of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), who gets his comeuppance at the hands of sexually abused female employees and on-air talent, played by such blond lookers as Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman. Already covered in a made-for-TV movie, is the public’s appetite for such tabloid material not yet satiated?
* Uncut Gems (12/25) – Diamond district jewelry store owner and dealer Howard Ratner’s (Adam Sandler) life and career are in constant crisis. His marriage (to Idina Menzel) is breaking down and unpaid loan sharks are circling him for the kill. But Howard is undaunted, ready to maneuver himself out of danger yet again. Or maybe this time will be the endgame. Either way, the frenetic Safdie brothers – Josh and Benny (Good Time) – capture the New York street milieu with uncanny accuracy and Sandler is said to be giving the performance of his career. Yes, even better than in Happy Gilmore.