Welcome to our October Movie Preview. We’ve survived another summer movie season and now is when things (hopefully) start to look up as distributors start to ration out the “prestige” properties of the 2014 cinematic calendar year. So as we’ve digested all the summer junk food (and put up with the unsavory post-summer season leftovers), there looks to be ample reasons to return to the cinema. And just maybe a few awards contenders to enter the fray as well – remember, both 2013 Oscar darlings 12 Years a Slave and Gravity opened during the month of October. Join us as we survey the films we’re most looking forward to for the month of October.
RUNNER-UP: WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
From his assaultive Queer New Wave entries The Doom Generation (1995) and Totally F***ed Up (1993) to the surprising sensitivity and maturity he brought to the Joseph Gordon Levitt hustler drama Mysterious Skin (2004) to the absurd humor he brought to the Anna Faris stoner comedy Smiley Face (2007), director Gregg Araki has been challenging expectations for nearly thirty years. With a style, verve and tenacity that’s simultaneously exhilarating and frightening, Araki’s films never play it safe. Which perhaps makes him the ideal filmmaker to bring about what on the surface sounds like a mundane domestic drama. The ’80s set White Bird in a Blizzard, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke, stars Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars) as a sexually maturing teenager thrown off balance by the mysteries that lead to the disappearance of her mother (Eva Green, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.) The rich ensemble cast includes Christopher Meloni (They Came Together), Thomas Jane (The Mist), Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood), Dale Dickey (Winter’s Bone) and Oscar nominees Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and Angela Bassett (Olympus Has Fallen.)
Buzzometer: 3/10 – Araki’s films have never really broken out of the art house (though Mysterious Skin really should have) and the icy cool vibe and heightened aesthetic of White Bird will likely limit its appeal. Still, it’s certainly curious that the filmmaker chose flavor of the year Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) to headline his suburban nightmare – Araki is incredibly skilled at getting an unexpected rise of his actors. Ever more appealing is the choice of Green in what looks to be a great vehicle for the English actress who has made a habit of being the only good thing in otherwise terrible features (Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of the Empire, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.) At the very least, Green deserves a film that can hold her. The film received decent reviews when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and while theatrical returns will likely be limited, a devout cult status looks prominent, which is, of course, way more important.
Release Date: October 24th (limited); available on VOD starting September 25th
10) THE GOOD LIE
Five years ago, Warner Bros. released an unassuming home-stuffed bio-drama in the form of The Blind Side, wherein a take-no-prisoners white lady (played by Sandra Bullock, in what would become her Oscar-winning role) took in a disadvantaged black man and changed his life, redeeming hers in the process. That blueprinted logline (invented so long before The Blind Side) runs all over the WB’s new drama The Good Lie which stars Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon as a take-no-prisoners all American gal who champions a group of Sudanese refugees who have come to re-settle in the great US of A. Based on the true story of the journey and hardship connected with “The Lost Boys of Sudan” generation, The Good Lie was directed by Philippe Falardeu (Monsieur Lazhar) and written by Margaret Nagle (Warm Springs) and stars Emmanuel Jal (Africa United), Ger Duany (The Fighter), Arnold Oceng (My Brother the Devil) and newcomer Nyakuath Weil as the refugees. Corey Stoll (This Is Where I Leave You) co-stars.
Buzzometer: 3/10 – Well intentioned, “inspiring” yarns like these are so determined by tone. If The Good Lie continues the antiquated “whites saving the blacks” trend, the results will be forgettable at best, offensive at worst. Yet, early reviews springing from the Toronto Film Festival (where the film made its world premiere) suggest the film is more evenly concentrated. For while Witherspoon gets her soapbox moments, The Good Lie keeps its focus where it should, on the inspiring story of young men who grew up in times of civil war and great turmoil. Speaking of Witherspoon for a moment, 2014 looks like it may be a banner year – the actress earned acclaim (and awards talk) for her leading performance in the upcoming Wild (opening this December), is one of the producers of David Fincher’s Gone Girl (see below) and headlines here, in what may be one of those unassuming middle-of-the-road box office hits, like, well The Blind Side five years ago.
Release Date: October 3rd
9) DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
“This just in: dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism,” is just one of the bon mots featured in the confident trailer of debut feature filmmaker Justin Simien’s Dear White People. Simien riled up the Sundance Film Festival this past January with his incendiary new film that revolves around African American students in a mostly lily-white Ivy League university (and won a Special Jury Prize at the Park City fest and a spot on Variety’s “10 Director to Watch” list in the process.) This social satire, posited in a seemingly post-racial America, aims to humorously observe the contemporary mores of the black experience, as seen from the perspectives of a university shock-jock (Tessa Thompson, Selma), a college golden boy (Brandon P. Bell, Hollywood Heights), an ambitious social climber (Teyonah Parris, Mad Men) and a gay outsider (Tyler James Williams, Everybody Hates Chris.) All while waving a raucous (and defiant) middle finger to political correctness.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – Perhaps just what a post-Ferguson, age of Obama world needs is a firm shock to our nervous system. With its sharp tongue and bracing marketing, Dear White People seems just like the type of smart and sassy little engine that might breakout with audiences and perhaps, even more importantly, jolt the sensibilities of filmgoers. That is unless the film reads only as a racial polemic.
Release Date: October 17th (limited)
8) THE JUDGE
It’s been far too long since Robert Downey, Jr. has had a meaty role to devour with his eclectic verve. You really have to go back to 2008, when he played “that dude playing a dude disguised as another dude” to see his electric gifts put to extraordinary effect (that would be Tropic Thunder, a performance for which Downey, Jr. received an Oscar nomination). So it comes as a hearty relief that in The Judge, Iron Man himself seems to playing a three dimensional human again. Downey, Jr. portrays hotshot litigator Hank Palmer in this you-can’t-go-home-again father and son drama. He spars against Robert Duvall, portraying his father, a respected judge who is now suspected of murder. Familial discord played out in a courtroom – could be some old school, classy entertainment. Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Billy Bob Thornton (Parkland), Dax Shepard (This Is Where I Leave You), Vincent D’Onofrio (Charlie Countrymen) and Leighton Meester (Country Strong) co-star in this new drama from director David Dobkin (The Wedding Crashers). (No, that is not a typo.)
Buzzometer: 5/10 – The Judge had its world premiere as the opening night presentation of the Toronto Film Festival, and while early reviews were mixed, there seems to be abundant commercial appeal to a film that seems unlike anything else in the current marketplace. With a premise that reads like a lost John Grisham novel, a stellar ensemble cast led by an actor capable of being one of the very best, The Judge may be that rare homespun family drama that major studios haven’t attempted very often in the past decade.
Release Date: October 10th
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash swooped in and won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance this year. His music drama starring Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and J.K. Simmons (Juno) has being earning rapturous critical praise at Cannes and Toronto. Is this a shot-in-the-pants festival hit or a film unearthing new talent? We shall see. The film stars Teller as an ambitious jazz drummer who gets a chance of lifetime under the tutelage of a brilliant but tough-minded instructor played by Simmons. Unassuming as loglines go, but critics have been singing critical hosannas since January.
Buzzometer: 5/10 – Simmons is already receiving awards buzz for his intense performance and Chazelle, who previously wrote and directed the cult art house musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and wrote the spiky thriller Grand Piano (currently streaming on Netflix) appears a brash talent awaiting a breakout..
Release Date: October 10th (limited)
6) ST. VINCENT
One of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the Toronto Film Festival, St. Vincent stars Bill Murray as our favorite iteration of the Oscar-nominated actor – grouchy, salty and unaffected. If reaction from Toronto (where the festival went so far as to inaugurate Bill Murray Day, where festival organizers hosted special free screenings of the funnyman’s previous work before unveiling the world premiere of St. Vincent), it seems Murray delivers and then some in Theodore Melfi’s comedy of manners. The film pitches Murray as a cantankerous veteran who strikes an unlikely friendship with the young man (Jaden Lieberher, Midnight Special) who just moved in next door. Melissa McCarthy plays the boy’s mother while her Bridesmaids co-star Chris O’Dowd plays his Catholic school teacher. Naomi Watts co-stars as a Russian “lady of the night.”
Buzzometer: 5/10 – St. Vincent, with a premise that sounds like a fairly formulaic sitcom, will live or die on chemistry and commitment of its ensemble. On that note, the film has a pretty terrific one. Yet all eyes will be on Murray, former Ghostbuster, Groundhog Day-er and Wes Anderson mainstay. If his performance charms general audiences as much as those in Toronto (the film placed as the third runner-up for People’s Choice Award at the festival), a hit may be in the making and, perhaps Murray can earn Oscar nomination number two. The Weinstein Company, who is distributing the film, must have confidence considering they moved the film into a more competitive fall release date after originally announcing the title as a spring 2014 release.
Release Date: October 17th (limited)
5) MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
Director Jason Reitman presents a mosaic that examines the disconnected tissues of the contemporary human experience when we share more online rather than in person. Featuring a sprawling ensemble consisting of formidable actors including Jennifer Garner (Juno), Judy Greer (Married), Dennis Haysbert (Far From Heaven), Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars), Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), an about face turn from Adam Sandler and Oscar-winner Emma Thompson as the omnipresent narrator, Men, Women & Children could probably be characterized as Reitman’s “The Internet is Destroying Our Lives” thesis. Or, a meaningful examination of the danger of living on the web. Adapted from the novel by Chad Kultgen, Reitman co-wrote the screenplay with Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary.)
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Men, Women & Children had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, where it sparked lively debate and mixed but spirited critical reaction. The film comes at a crossroads in Reitman’s career, following the critical and commercial failure of his 2013 romantic drama Labor Day, a film many thought strange from director of irony-infused, serenely focused hits like Thank You For Smoking and his Oscar-nominated films Juno and Up in the Air. Sometimes divisive early reaction can work in a films favor, sparking a need-to-see sort of event. Perhaps it’s Reitman’s American Beauty.
Release Date: October 1st (limited)
Brad Pitt plays a war sergeant named Wardaddy who leads a five-man crew behind enemy lines in the final days of World War II. David Ayer (End of Watch) wrote and directed this period film that also stars Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Shia LeBeouf (Nymphomaniac), Jon Beranthal (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son.) The action takes place in April of 1945 as the Allies embark on the European Theater in the waning days of the war. With precision and a high degree of danger, Fury recounts the action and trauma, whilst telling a side story of how Wardaddy mentors a rookie solider (Lerman.)
Buzzometer: 6/10 – Ayer expressed a visceral command of the cinematic language with End of Watch, his 2012 police procedure with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. With an uptick of budget and gravitas, it will be interesting to see how the writer/director pushes Fury – Ayer’s other credits include writing the screenplays to Training Day (2001) and The Fast and the Furious (2001.) What may transpire is a dramatic breakthrough and the potential for an awards season run.
Release Date: October 17th
“If it bleeds, it leads,” might be the mantra of the slick L.A. story Nightcrawler, the feature directorial debut of Dan Gilroy (writer of The Bourne Legacy and brother of Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy.) The brash dark comedy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an opportunist who is thrust onto a “creative” new career as crime journalist covering the Los Angeles criminal underworld. Nightcrawler became a premiere destination at the Toronto Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere and had many critics inviting comparisons between Gyllenhaal’s live wire performance and a present-day Travis Bickle. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a smarmy charmer aided by a hard-boiled television producer (Rene Russo) who falls into a dangerous and intoxicating obsession with the power of mass media. Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow), Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and Ann Cusack (The Informant!) co-star.
Buzzometer: 7/10 – When performances are favorably compared to Robert De Niro’s classic Taxi Driver antihero, that’s something that calls for attention. More so, Nightcrawler, with the dark and dastardly wit thrown about in its impressive trailer, recalls a modern-day Network, an eerie and dark dissection of the anything-goes/morality-thrown-at-the-wall values of modern news. Nightcrawler may be too dark and twisted to make much of an awards impression (despite early acclaim for Gyllenhaal and Russo), but it may become a cult centerpiece in the growing library of its distributor Open Road Films.
Release Date: October 31st
2) GONE GIRL
Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? That’s the major question of David Fincher‘s new mystery. Yet, when it comes to a David Fincher, there’s certainly more to the story. The eagerly anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel (Flynn penned the screenplay herself) posits itself to be one of the major cinematic highlights of October, and perhaps the whole year. Ben Affleck portrays Nick, golden boy and husband to the beautiful Amy (Rosamund Pike, An Education.) When Amy goes missing, a greater mystery develops about their relationship and “picture perfect” marriage. A media circus grows, further implicating Nick as a broader detective story unfolds. Fincher has put together an unusual, but intriguing ensemble cast that includes Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Missi Pyle (The Artist), Carrie Coon (The Leftovers), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Boyd Holbrook (The Skeleton Twins), Casey Wilson (Happy Endings), Kim Dickens (The Blind Side) and most curiously, Tyler Perry (Alex Cross.) Gone Girl also continues frequent Fincher collaborations including cinematography Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network), film editor Kirk Baxter (who won Oscars for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Buzzometer: 9/10 – For cinephiles, a new David Fincher movie feels like an event, so Gone Girl arrives with feverish expectations. With his methodical precision and uncompromising attention to detail, the filmmaker (who has earned two Oscar nominations in his career for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network) has justly solidified a reputation as one of the smartest and most accomplished of modern film directors. The marketing has been spot-on as well, teasing the mystery with a tautness and specificity that’s infrequently found in modern Hollywood, and without going to deep into spoilers better yet. On top of that, as a novel Gone Girl was one of the most popular, page-turning thrillers to be written in years, eliciting great tension and intelligent insight into what could have just a fairly standard ripped-from-the-headlines/Scott Peterson-like procedure. Gone Girl opens the 2014 New York Film Festival before arriving in cinemas, so in short time, we’ll have an idea of what we’re dealing with.
Release Date: October 3rd
1) BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
Ever since Alejandro González Iñárritu (the filmmaker behind such gloomy fare Babel and 21 Grams) announced that his latest project would be a comedy, Birdman has been a considerable curiosity. Set in a meta-infused hyper reality, this Hollywood satire of sorts revolves around a washed-up actor trying to stage a comeback on Broadway. Skewering the comic-book franchised-obsessed movie industry, the movie positions the actor in question (played by former Batman Michael Keaton) as having made a name for himself portraying the eponymous Birdman in a string of successful superhero flicks. With a live-wire premise and a dreamy ensemble – Emma Stone (Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-man films), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk), Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) – Birdman has become one of the most eagerly anticipated titles of the year. Matching that is a visual conceit that mirrors the tricky tonal slope o the film itself – Birdman was shot in a style as if it’s one continuous shot (echoing Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rope) with Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) behind the camera. Iñárritu co-wrote the screenplay with first-timer Armando Bo and his Buitiful scribes Nicolás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris. Can the filmmaker possibly pull this hat trick off?
Buzzometer: 9/10 – According to early reviews, it appears he has. Birdman opened the Venice Film Festival to rapturous acclaim, followed by an equally strong screening at the Telluride Film Festival, inviting talk that the film works as actors showpiece, a visually striking fever dream and a no-holds-barred response to modern filmmaking politics. Keaton, in perhaps the edgiest performance of his career, has already spawned awards talk, as has Norton, who sends up his own image as a difficult actor portraying a difficult actor. In the interim, the hard part may just be managing expectations for a film that will certainly spark interest from cinephiles, remembering that tricky, tonally specific movies like this are typically hard to pull off.
Release Date: October 17th (limited)
ALSO OPENING IN OCTOBER:
- ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY– A young boy has the worst day ever. (October 10th)
- ANNABELLE– Halloween comes early in creeper, a prequel to the 2013 hit The Conjuring. (October 3rd)
- BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP– Chiller about an amnesiac (Nicole Kidman) trying to unlock the mystery of her trauma. (October 31st)
- THE BEST OF ME– Another Nicholas Sparks romantic weeper, this one with James Marsden (Anchorman 2) and Michelle Monaghan (True Detective.) (October 17th)
- THE BOOK OF LIFE– Animated adventure produced by Guillermo Del Toro, featuring the voice work of Channing Tatum and Zoe Saldana. (October 17th)
- CAMP X-RAY– Kristen Stewart joins the military in this new drama that premiered at the Sundance this year. (October 28th- limited)
- DRACULA UNTOLD– The Transylvanian bloodsucker gets an origin story with The Hobbit‘s Luke Evans headlining. (October 10th)
- FORCE MAJEURE– Critically admired festival favorite and Sweden’s foreign entry for Academy Awards this year. (October 24th- limited)
- THE HOMESMAN– Hilary Swank transports a wagon of crazy ladies in this period western directed by Tommy Lee Jones. (October 7th- limited)
- HORNS– Harry Potter with horns. (October 31st- limited)
- KILL THE MESSENGER– Jeremy Renner-led thriller based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Gary Webb. (October 10th)
- LAGGIES– Keira Knightley refuses to grow up in this arrested development indie comedy. (October 24th- limited)
- LISTEN UP PHILIP– Indie comedy-drama starring Jason Schwartzman as an anxiety-ridden novelist. (October 17th- limited)