Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: December may normally be all about awards season, but this year, the real draw is “Star Wars.” Although there are several major contenders – from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell and Alejandro González Iñárritu – scheduled for release at the end of the month, the highly anticipated seventh installment in the “Star Wars” film series is what everyone will be talking about during the holidays. For the few people that don’t care about “Star Wars,” there are plenty of great movies to discover this month, but for everyone else, it’s going to be awfully hard to concentrate until after December 18th.
Who: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman and David Koechner What: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home. When: December 4th Why: Michael Dougherty’s 2007 horror anthology “Trick ‘r Treat” is one of the most underrated movies in the genre, but sadly, it doesn’t look as if “Krampus” will be following in its footsteps. While his directorial debut relied on a smart mix of humor and horror, Dougherty’s new film seems genuinely confused about what kind of movie it wants to be. The trailer doesn’t really establish a definitive tone, swinging from one extreme to the other, and that could ultimately prove problematic for its marketing campaign, which already has the unenviable task of selling a horror movie during the holiday season.
“In the Heart of the Sea”
Who: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw What: Based on the 1820 event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days. When: December 11th Why: It’s not very often that you see a film’s release date moved to a more competitive time of year, but Warner Bros.’ decision to push “In the Heart of the Sea” from last March to December (one week before the release of “The Force Awakens”) speaks volumes of the studio’s confidence in the Ron Howard-directed historical epic. Though Chris Hemsworth has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man without the built-in audience of the Marvel movies, his latest collaboration with Howard promises to showcase what he’s really capable of as an actor, provided the CG-heavy thrills don’t get in the way.
While the past two months have featured several potential award contenders, there’s a surprising lack of prestige films on the November release slate. That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of Oscar bait, because “Spotlight,” “Carol” and “The Danish Girl” are all earning serious buzz, but this month is geared more towards high-profile fare like the new Bond movie and the final installment of the “Hunger Games” series. There’s almost too much to choose from this November, although that’s a nice problem to have.
Who: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes and Monica Bellucci What: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover the truth behind the sinister organization known as SPECTRE. When: November 6th Why: Daniel Craig may not be doing the movie any favors with his series of controversial remarks during the publicity tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t excited about “Spectre,” especially with the core creative team behind “Skyfall” all returning. Though it will be difficult to top the last installment in the long-running series, director Sam Mendes probably wouldn’t have signed on if he didn’t think it was possible. My only problem with “Spectre” is the casting of Christoph Waltz as the main villain, because while he’s perfect for the role, the actor has played the mustache-twirling bad guy so many times that it feels too obvious.
Who: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber What: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. When: November 6th Why: After delivering an uncharacteristic dud with “The Cobbler,” writer/director Tom McCarthy has seemingly bounced back with this investigative news drama, which gained serious Oscar buzz following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Academy loves movies based on true stories, especially ones as noteworthy as this, and the cast is overflowing with talent. Though Michael Keaton is hot off his Best Actor win for “Birdman,” early reviews have singled out Mark Ruffalo as the cast member most likely to earn a nomination come January. But regardless of what kind of presence it has at next year’s awards ceremony, “Spotlight” looks absolutely riveting.
The awards season machine continues to chug along this month, with several high-profile contenders making their debut, including the latest from Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and Danny Boyle. Of course, if prestige films aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of options for those who simply want to be entertained, whether it’s Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic horror flick, Vin Diesel hunting witches or the origin story of Peter Pan. This is shaping up to be the best October in recent history, and moviegoers won’t want to miss it.
Who: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig What: When he’s stranded on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. When: October 2nd Why: Andy Weir’s 2011 science fiction novel, “The Martian,” was one of the most talked about books of that year, so it’s not surprising that producer Simon Kinberg was so quick to nab the rights to adapt it for the big screen. Though director Ridley Scott has been in a bit of a rut lately, the premise for this movie is almost too good to mess up. Matt Damon is the perfect choice to play the stranded astronaut (even if it’s oddly similar to his cameo in “Interstellar”), while the supporting cast is comprised of A-list talent that should be headlining their own films.
Who: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen What: The true story of the life of visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs. When: October 9th Why: Do we really need another movie about Steve Jobs so soon after the 2013 version starring Ashton Kutcher? Probably not, but the fact that it’s written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle makes it awfully difficult to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t see it, even if the film appears to cover much of the same ground as “Jobs.” Michael Fassbender may not be the first person you’d think of to play the Apple co-founder (Christian Bale was originally attached to the project before dropping out), but he’s an incredible actor who will undoubtedly make up for his lack of physical similarity with yet another top-notch performance.
Now that the summer movie season is finally over, it’s time to turn our attention to fall, and more importantly, awards season. Though you don’t normally see many Oscar hopefuls being released in September, over the past few years, studios have begun rolling out potential contenders earlier and earlier in order to get a leg up on the competition, and there are a few films this month that definitely fit the bill. Of course, if you’re still pining for some mindless entertainment left over from the doldrums of August, there’s plenty of that too.
“The Transporter Refueled”
Who: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Gabriella Wright and Radivoje Bukvic What: In the south of France, former special-ops mercenary Frank Martin must rescue his kidnapped father after he unwittingly helps rob a Russian kingpin. When: September 4th Why: Apparently, the dearth of original ideas in Hollywood has gotten so bad that movie franchises from the early 2000s are now being rebooted, and if that sounds totally ridiculous, it’s because it is. The last two “Transporter” films may not have been very good, but rebooting the series with a different actor is hardly the answer. If the studio wanted more “Transporter” movies, they should have just done another sequel with Jason Statham instead, because this new version with Ed Skrein (who famously quit his recurring gig on “Game of Thrones” to make the film) looks even more terrible than Statham’s final appearance in the title role.
Who: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge and Peter McRobbie What: A single mother sends her two children to visit their grandparents for the week, only to discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing. When: September 11th Why: M. Night Shyamalan’s career has been circling the drain for the better part of a decade now, so it’s not surprising to see him reduced to making found-footage horror movies in order to pay the bills. There’s nothing even remotely scary in the trailer to suggest that “The Visit” will be anything other than a disappointment, which is a shame, because Shyamalan used to have a real talent for creating suspense. His last few films were a complete joke, however, and while it would be nice to see him stop the rot with a low-budget genre movie that plays to his strengths as a director, “The Visit” simply doesn’t look the part.
August may officially be part of the summer movie season, but with the exception of a few titles (“Fantastic Four,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), many of the new films being released this month are very un-summer-like. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course, as audiences are likely experiencing blockbuster fatigue at this point in the year, but while there are some promising movies on the schedule, you probably shouldn’t set your expectations too high. After all, in the past five years alone, there have been only a handful that we’d ever want to watch again.
Who: Miles Teller, Kata Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell What: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. When: August 7th Why: After going the lighter, more family-friendly route with its first two Fantastic Four movies, Fox has done a complete 180 with this gritty, super-serious reboot from director Josh Trank that surely marks the studio’s last chance to get it right. Unfortunately, that hasn’t shielded the project from the inevitable fanboy criticism, whether it’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, or recent rumors of the film’s troubled production. And while the casting debate is a non-starter (not only is Jordan an excellent actor, but he’s a great choice for the role), the latest trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “Fantastic Four” is going to be any better than its predecessors. Different, yes, but not better.
“Ricki and the Flash”
Who: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan and Kevin Kline What: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. When: August 7th Why: On paper, “Ricki and the Flash” sounds like a surefire hit. It boasts Oscar-winning talent in the form of star Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, and is perfectly positioned as a clever piece of counterprogramming to the barrage of superhero movies and action films. What’s not to like, right? As it turns out, an awful lot judging from the trailer. Not only has the whole rock star/estranged parent story been done countless times before, but nothing about the film suggests that it’ll bring anything new to the table, either. Though Streep’s recent trend of turning bad movies into awards contenders (see: “Into the Woods, “August: Osage County”) is certainly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that continuing here.