As a kid, I got excited for summer movie season, because it brought sequels, superheroes, dinosaurs — that kind of thing. But the past few summers haven’t given us more than one or two blockbusters worth getting riled up about. These days, my event movies tend to be much smaller in scale, featuring powerhouse acting in favor of explosions and Oscar buzz in lieu of box office clout.
For a guy like me, fall is the new summer, because that’s when all the Academy Award hopefuls roll out. It’s starting already, with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (which opened last weekend), and something at least mildly tantalizing opening just about every weekend until the new year. Yay!
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you how Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained just might be strong Oscar contenders, because of duh. A big movie-musical adaptation of Les Miserables? Also pretty obvious. And, quite frankly, I’m not that excited about another Tolkien trilogy, so rule out The Hobbit also.
Instead, here in no particular order are the seven films I’m looking forward to that haven’t received as much hype. The general public is probably still unaware of most of these, all of which I hope are pleasant surprises that dominate Oscar season (if they are actually as good as they look).
My 7 Most Anticipated (And Least Obvious) Fall Movies
1. Not Fade Away
Not Fade Away, about a fictional rock band in the 60’s, has nothing to do with organized crime, but it’s The Sopranos creator David Chase’s feature debut, co-stars James Gandolfini, is set in New Jersey, and features music from Steven Van Zandt (AKA Silvio). For Sopranos fans, that may be more than enough. For everyone else, it’ll probably just be a good movie.2. The Impossible
Let’s set aside the cynical observation that this film, about the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed an estimated 228,000 people along the Indian Ocean, is centered around a Caucasian family, even though the vast majority of those actually affected by the catastrophe were Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Indian, or Thai. The film is Spanish-produced and highlights a tragedy that most of us know less about than we probably should, compared to other disasters of this century. The trailer is reasonably uplifting, considering, and the tsunami scenes look pretty damn awesome/terrifying. The buzz out of Toronto is good, meaning this may be a good place to find some future Oscar nominees in visual effects and acting (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts).
3. Silver Linings Playbook
I liked but didn’t love The Fighter, David O. Russell’s 2010 boxing drama starring Mark Wahlberg, for which Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won Oscars. But Silver Linings Playbook seems more in the vein of Russell’s earlier films like I Heart Huckabees, starring the intriguing romantic pairing of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s Cooper’s chance to prove that he can deliver on a smaller, more respectable scale, outside of a big broad studio comedy, and it co-stars Animal Kingdom’s delightful Jackie Weaver (whose deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Leo).
Can Zac Efron act? We’re about to find out. Nicole Kidman is back in full-on To Die For mode as a femme fatale who seduces a younger man in Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, co-starring Matthew McConaughey (having a big year in good movies, for once), along with John Cusack and, um, Macy Gray. While I found Precious a bit too dreary and disjointed to be an unequivocal fan, The Paperboy looks like plenty of pulpy, sexy, trashy fun, a la the campy 1998 erotic thriller Wild Things. And even if the movie sucks, surely some will see it just for Efron in his white briefs, slow-dancing with Nicole Kidman in the rain…
5. The Details
There is some debate as to whether The Details will get a theatrical or on-demand release, but let’s hope for the best either way. It stars Tobey Maguire as a “cheating, cat-killing liar” (Laura Linney’s character’s words) in a role reminiscent of Election, in which an actor known for playing affable nice guys portrays a smug jerk who goes up against a high-strung Type A goodie-goodie, then quickly unravels. It’s directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, whose last film was the phenomenal, underseen Mean Creek, and it co-stars Kerry Washington, Ray Liotta, Elizabeth Banks, and lots of raccoons. This kind of sardonic suburban dramedy is right up my alley.6. Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas is probably the highest-profile film on this list, but I couldn’t leave it off. I’m midway through David Mitchell’s epic novel, featuring six stories set in disparate centuries like a series of Russian nesting dolls (a character in each story reads, views, or discusses the story told in the last segment). It’s a movie so ambitious, it took three visionary directors to make it — the Wachowskis (of The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run). I refuse to watch the lengthy trailer until I’ve finished the book, but it features Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, and more, each playing multiple characters of varying ages, genders, and ethnicities. I really want this to be good — and yet, it’s such a sprawling, complicated story, it’s easy to see how it could all go horribly awry. Here’s to hopin’.7. The Sessions
“Heartwarming” isn’t really my favorite adjective when it comes to describing movies. Nor is “feel-good” — I’d rather feel terrible! When it comes to Oscar season, I want to be borderline suicidal when walking out of a movie theater. But The Sessions won the Audience Award at Sundance, and generally, the audience at Sundance knows what they’re talking about. So I’m going to assume that this film, about a 38-year-old paralyzed man who asks a priest to help him lose his virginity, isn’t quite as cutesy and tepid as the trailer makes it look. I can’t get too excited about William H. Macy or Helen Hunt these days, but it is nice to see frequent supporting player John Hawkes carry a film for once. I have my reservations about this one, but I’m cautiously optimistic based on the good buzz.
Honorable mentions that I’m anticipating (but were still a bit too obvious for this list) include Skyfall, the new James Bond directed by American Beauty’s Sam Mendes (!); Rian Johnson’s sci-fi trip Looper, starring Bruce Willis a weird-looking Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Argo, Ben Affleck’s real movie about a fake movie; and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s first film as an Academy Award-winning director, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, starring Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton.