October has never really been known for its quality, but in recent years, studios have been a lot more open about releasing potential awards contenders alongside the usual array of horror flicks. In fact, 2013 saw two of the year’s most-nominated movies – “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” – released during this time, and that trend appears to continue this year as well, with no fewer than six potential Oscar hopefuls debuting throughout the month. The October lineup is certainly tasty, which is only good news for moviegoers, because that means you can see some of these prospective gems that much sooner.
Who: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry What: When his wife’s disappearance becomes the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when he’s suspected of foul play. When: October 3rd Why: With the exception of “Aliens 3,” David Fincher’s body of work is almost flawless, and there’s little reason to believe that “Gone Girl” will change that. Though this marks his fifth film in a row to be adapted from preexisting source material, Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel is tailor-made for the edgy director. The decision to hire Flynn to also write the screenplay was certainly a bold move, but Fincher has a history of making offbeat choices that work surprisingly well, and that extends to the cast of “Gone Girl” as well. Ben Affleck probably wouldn’t be most people’s top pick for the lead role, and the supporting cast is even stranger, but if anyone deserves your blind trust, it’s Fincher.
Who: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard and Eric Ladin What: A couple begin to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists. When: October 3rd Why: It’s not often that a horror movie finds so much success both critically and commercially, but “The Conjuring” is without a doubt one of the best horror films of the past 20 years. And while fans wait for the inevitable sequel, they can dive deeper into the film’s mythology with this spinoff featuring the creepy Annabelle doll. Though it’s hard to imagine an immobile doll carrying an entire movie on her own, the trailer suggests that Annabelle isn’t responsible for a bulk of the scares, but rather the spirit that’s attached itself to her. The whole thing feels more like a cheap cash-in than a necessary addition to the “Conjuring” franchise, but with James Wan’s longtime DP behind the camera, we’re hoping for the best.
Who: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thorton What: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. When: October 10th Why: Now that Robert Downey Jr. is a huge movie star (thanks again, Marvel), the actor can pretty much do whatever he wants, including producing smaller, character-driven dramas like “The Judge” under his new company with wife Susan Downey. But while the film boasts an interesting premise and a superb cast of actors, the decision to hire David Dobkin, who’s best known for directing comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus,” is extremely odd, particularly because he has zero experience handling serious material like this. Warner Bros. is obviously angling for awards consideration with its Oscar-bait plot, but reactions were very mixed after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, with many praising the actors but damning Dobkin and the clichéd script.
Much like the month before it, October isn’t exactly overflowing with quality, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for with plenty of variety. Though there aren’t many films worth getting genuinely excited about, the schedule does provide some audience-friendly fare as well as an early look at a few potential awards contenders.
Who: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija What: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter. When: October 5th Why: Though it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t really need to exist, the original film was so much fun (not to mention made a decent bit of coin at the box office) that it’s not surprising Fox was so quick to greenlight another installment. After playing the helpless victim in the first movie, it’ll be refreshing to see Maggie Grace get in on the action this time around, even if all people care about is watching Liam Neeson kick ass and take names. Granted, the setup is ridiculous, as it’s hard to imagine the villains would have the resources to track down Neeson’s character, let alone know when he’s in a different country (a U.S.-based story would have been much more exciting), but it’s one of those details you just have to ignore in order to enjoy the movie for the action fantasy that it is.
Who: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack What: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate. When: October 5th Why: Unlike most of Hollywood, Lee Daniel’s “Precious” failed to convince me that it was anything more than a well-made afterschool special, so I’m curious to see what he’s able to do with his latest film, a pulpy erotic thriller featuring a trio of dependable actors. Though it’s been awhile since Nicole Kidman or John Cusack did anything of note, you can never count them out, while Matthew McConaughey has been on a bit of hot streak recently. The wild card of the cast is undoubtedly Zac Efron, because despite the actor’s dogged determination to shed his “High School Musical” image with more adult roles, he’s yet to really prove that he has the talent to back it up. Reaction was pretty mixed when the movie debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (not terribly surprising considering the material), so you would be wise to approach it with caution.
Who: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde and Rob Corddry What: An adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their small town’s annual contest. When: October 5th Why: A black comedy that takes place in the offbeat and seemingly trivial world of butter carving competitions? What’s not to love? The concept sounds like something that Alexander Payne might make (it’s especially reminiscent of his 1999 cult hit “Election”), but while that may speak well of the movie’s potential, it’s a little worrying that it’s take so long to get a theatrical release. Directed by Jim Field Smith, who also made the underrated rom-com “She’s Out of My League,” “Butter” played the festival circuit at the end of last year, but the Weinstein Co. hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in the movie by dumping it in October. With that said, however, the cast is awesome (Jennifer Garner is great at playing the uptight socialite), and the script by newbie Jason A. Micallef landed a spot on the 2008 Black List. That doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, but it helps.
October has never been known for offering much in the way of quality at the cineplex (in many respects, it’s the dumping ground of the fall movie season), but usually, horror fans can at least expect a bunch of scary movies to help get them in the mood for Halloween. This year is a little different, however, because there are very few horror films in sight. But while the month certainly looks to be short on scares with the exception of “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Red State” and perhaps “The Thing,” the rest of the schedule is filled with some interesting titles that really have the potential to surprise.
Who: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Mackie What: Set in the near future where robots have replaced humans in the ring, a former boxer and his estranged son discover a junkyard bot that could become champion. When: October 7th Why: It’s easy to see how someone might be a little skeptical about a film that looks like “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie,” but after visiting the set last summer, any concerns I might have had were quickly laid to rest following a chat with director Shawn Levy and star Hugh Jackman. I’ve also had the opportunity to see the finished product since then, and while the movie certainly isn’t going to earn a spot alongside “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” as a boxing classic, it’s still a really enjoyable underdog sports drama with strong central performances and plenty of awesome robot-on-robot action.
“THE IDES OF MARCH”
Who: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti What: An idealistic staff member for a Democratic presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his latest stint on the campaign trail. When: October 7th Why: With a big name like George Clooney attached to a movie come big expectations, especially when he’s the one calling the shots. Thankfully, his latest directorial effort appears to be more “Good Night, and Good Luck” than “Leatherheads,” and it doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself with such an incredible ensemble cast. In addition to the film’s multi-hyphenate star, “The Ides of March” features two other Oscar winners and two nominees. It might not be considered the year’s strongest awards contender, but the Academy always loves a good political thriller, and this definitely looks the part.
Who: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje What: When an alien life form begins wreaking havoc at an Antarctic research site, a graduate student teams up with a helicopter pilot to prevent it from escaping. When: October 14th Why: There’s been a lot of debate over whether Universal’s “The Thing” is a remake or a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic (the fact that it shares the same title certainly hasn’t helped matters), but it’s now been confirmed that it takes place prior to R.J. MacReady’s trip to the Antarctic and will detail what happened at the Norwegian camp featured in the original film. I’m not sure if that makes this prequel any less unnecessary, but at least it’s got a couple of good actors in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. That’s definitely a start, but it still has a ways to go to winning back the fanboys after Ronald D. Moore’s script was reportedly scrapped back in late 2009.