It is time to grow up and put away the childish things of summer. The fall movie season is here and it is far more serious, thoughtful and adult than summer, when escapist movies rule.
Fall colour in our forests also means the beginning of the Oscar race, with Hollywood studios starting campaigns for selected titles that are deemed worthy. Getting propelled into the awards season means more box office for these specialty films, with the possibility of tens of millions in extra revenues.
First, the films have to prove themselves. We look at the Top 10 titles of the fall season. Each fires the imagination with big-name talent telling (we hope) exciting stories. Here they are in chronological order of release, with all dates subject to change by the distributors as they jockey for position in the tumultuous box office struggle:
THE FAMILY (Sept. 13)
Robert De Niro, after recovering his dignity, reputation and Oscar buzz in Silver Linings Playbook, scores again. This time he is a Mafioso enforcer gone rogue by turning stool pigeon. He and his family of four are living in France. A brilliant Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wife, with sassy, sexy Dianna Agron (Quinn Fabray in Glee) as the daughter. They are all under the supervision of a crusty FBI overseer (Tommy Lee Jones). But old criminal habits, and the cheeky attitudes of all four family members, routinely get them in trouble under the witness protection program. Meanwhile, The Mob is sending hitmen to settle the score. Luc Besson’s action comedy is quick-witted, hilarious, violent, thrill-packed and full of Franco-American cultural barbs. De Niro is back at the peak of his mature powers.
PRISONERS (Sept. 20)
After scoring an Oscar nomination for Incendies, masterful Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve makes his Hollywood breakout with an American crime thriller. The film stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Jackman plays a desperate father whose daughter and her friend have gone missing. Gyllenhaal plays the detective on the case. Extreme measures might be required. The excellent support ensemble includes Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo and Len Cariou. Expect something stylish and smart.
RUSH (Sept. 27)
Actor-turned-filmmaker Ron Howard may have another hit on his hands. In telling the true story of Formula One race car driver Niki Lauda — who almost died in a 1976 crash — Howard has apparently touched a nerve and is already generating acclaim. Spain’s Daniel Bruhl plays the Austrian Lauda, with Australian Chris Hemsworth putting aside his Thor gear to portray Britain’s James Hunt, the F1 world champion in 1976. This could turn into Howard’s top-rated film since Frost/Nixon in 2008 and his biggest box office success since The Da Vinci Code in 2006.
GRAVITY (Oct. 4)
I am not sure if it is a wise idea to team George Clooney with Sandra Bullock, but that is what the superb Mexican-born filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron did for his outer space epic. So you have to trust his instincts. Bullock plays a medical engineer and Clooney an astronaut. Together they must work together to survive after being set adrift in space. The original screenplay was co-authored by Cuaron (Children of Men) and his son, Jonas.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Oct. 11)
With Tom Hanks at the helm of the MV Maersk Alabama — supposedly the first American cargo ship hijacked in 200 years — this is a true life drama on the high seas. British filmmaker Paul Greengrass chronicles the 2009 incident, during which Cpt. Richard Phillips’ vessel was taken over by Somali pirates. When the ordeal was over, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Phillips’ courage as “a model for all Americans.” The film is based on Phillips’ autobiographical book.
CARRIE (Oct. 18)
Brian De Palma’s original Carrie (1976) is a blood-bathed American horror classic starring Sissy Spacek. So the re-make — or this re-imagining of Stephen King’s novel — has a lot to live up to. Filmmaker Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) tackles the job with Chloe Grace Moretz (from the Kick-Ass movies) as the new Carrie. She is the bullied teen who exacts a terrifying revenge on her fellow students at the senior prom. The trailers are creating a buzz.
THE COUNSELOR (Oct. 25)
After fighting zombie hordes in World War Z, Brad Pitt gets more intimate in Ridley Scott’s new thriller. Pitt plays opposite Michael Fassbender, who has the title role. The plot — officially described as the story of a lawyer who “finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking” — sounds simple enough. But, of course, this is a Ridley Scott film with a screenplay from 80-year-old writing legend Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men). So there is nothing lightweight here. And it will be interesting to see Pitt set against Fassbender on-screen.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Nov. 8)
Not everything in the fall season is a counterpoint to summer. While the original Thor (2011) was a May release and earned $449 million in worldwide boxoffice, the sequel arrives with hammer blows and bolts of lightning in November. This time around, heroic Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is inspired to protect Jane (Natalie Portman) from the dark forces lurking in Svartalfheim, the fabled land of dark elves.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Nov. 15)
Based on the true story of white collar criminal Jordan Belfort, Martin Scorsese’s film tells how the American fraud artist made and lost millions through corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. Leonardo DiCaprio — one of Scorsese’s favourites — plays Belfort, who is now a motivational speaker and confessional author. The film is based on Belfort’s autobiographical books.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Nov. 22)
With the first Hunger Games movie generating $691 million in worldwide box office, the sequel is already incendiary. Based on the second book in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy, Catching Fire picks up the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after her surprise victory in the bloodbath of the most recent Games. Obliged to go on a Victors’ Tour with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), they leave their families behind and discover that rebellion is brewing and their lives are once again in danger.