The Big 12
Fall is here, which means it is finally safe to go back to the multiplex. The superheroes, giant robots, war-mongering aliens and doofus dads who reigned on the big screen all summer have departed. In the next few months, we get an all too brief respite during which smart dramas and comedies aimed at adults (and at garnering awards) will make up a hefty percentage of Hollywood’s new offerings. The following is a look at 12 movies opening before Thanksgiving that hold out the promise of being worth a grown-up filmgoer’s time and money.
"Enough Said" (opening Sept. 18)
This comedy from writer-director Nicole Holofcener (“Lovely & Amazing” and “Please Give”) offers one of the final performances by the late James Gandolfini. He plays the new love interest of a divorced woman (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), whose new best friend (Catherine Keener) turns out to be his ex-wife, who loathes him. It’s a great cast and Holofcener always makes wonderfully bittersweet movies that perfectly capture how a privileged slice of urban, upper-middle class Americans live today.
"Prisoners" (Sept. 20)
The advance word after early festival screenings of this crime thriller, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, is that it puts viewers through the wringer but in a good way. Jackman plays a father whose young daughter goes missing, and Gyllenhaal is the police detective on the case. The supporting cast includes Viola Davis, Melissa Leo and Maria Bello, as talented a trio of actresses as anyone could ask to see.
"Rush" (Sept. 27)
Movies about professional auto racing almost never work and yet Hollywood keeps trying to get it right. Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard is hoping to find 'vroom' at the top with his attempt, a drama based on the true story of the rivalry between two ace Formula One drivers in the 1970s. Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth portrays dashing British racer James Hunt and German star Daniel Brühl plays his analytical Austrian adversary, Niki Lauda.
"Don Jon" (Sept.27)
Who ever would have predicted when he was an adolescent star on the sitcom,“3rd Rock From The Sun,” that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would grow up to be such a terrific actor? Now he adds director and screenwriter to his resume with this impressive debut film, a very adult, exceedingly contemporary comedy about a young guy (Gordon-Levitt) from New Jersey who is addicted to online porn. This becomes a problem when he falls in love with Scarlett Johansson and tries to give up his relationship with his laptop. A very funny Julianne Moore also stars.
"Gravity" (Oct. 4)
They loved it in Venice! That would be the recent Venice Film Festival, where the premiere screening of this taut sci-fi thriller had critics and industry veterans cheering. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as colleagues on a space mission who must fight to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in the darkness of space. Mexican-born director Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama También”) directed based upon a screenplay he co-wrote with his son, Jonas Cuaron.
"Captain Phillips" (Oct. 11)
Tom Hanks stars in a pirate drama but don’t expect anyone to be yelling “Ahoy, matey!” here. The real life Captain Phillips of the title is Richard Phillips, the commander of an American cargo ship that was taken over by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa in 2009. Expect director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “United 93”) to tell a complex tale involving negotiations, violence and economic desperation.
12 Years a Slave
"12 Years a Slave" (Oct. 18)
Steve McQueen is back. That would be Steve McQueen, the black British artist turned writer-director (“Shame” and “Hunger”), who here brings to life the true tale from the 19th century of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free-born African-American from New York state who was kidnapped and enslaved for 14 years before finally regaining his freedom. Do not go expecting a variation on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” The impressive cast includes Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender (a McQueen regular), Paul Giamatti, Michael K. Williams (Omar on “The Wire”), and Quvenzhané Wallis (the little girl from “Beasts of the Southern Wild”).
All Is Lost
"All Is Lost" (Oct. 18)
Remember when Tom Hanks held a screen for two hours, alongside only a volleyball in “Castaway?” Count on Robert Redford to do the same in a gripping drama about a man and the sea. He plays a lone sailor whose 39-foot yacht is disabled when it collides with a shipping container. Add a major storm and sharks and his chances of survival begin to look mighty slim. J.C. Chandor, whose last movie was the deservedly well-regarded “Margin Call,” wrote and directed.
"The Counselor" (Oct. 25)
Rising star Michael Fassbender teams with director Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Black Hawk Down”), who knows a thing or two about making smart commercial movies, for this crime thriller. He plays the titular lawyer who runs into trouble with nasty tough guys when he tries his hand at a drug deal. Costars include Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. Bonus: Novelist Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplay.
"Last Vegas" (Oct. 25)
This one could be a painful geezer version of “The Hangover,” but here’s hoping for the best. Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline play sixty-something longtime buds who journey to Las Vegas with another pal, Michael Douglas, to celebrate the fact that he, the only bachelor in their quartet, is finally getting married. Expect hi-jinks, prostate jokes and sentiment to ensue.
The Wolf of Wall Street
"The Wolf of Wall Street" (Nov. 15)
Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese reunite for their fifth movie. DiCaprio, in what might seem an updating of his recent turn as Jay Gatsby in “The Great Gatsby,” here plays Jordan Belfort, a real life stock brokerage tycoon who enjoyed the high life (parties! yachts! booze! blondes!) in the 1990s until he was convicted of securities fraud and money laundering and was shipped off to jail. Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill costar.
"Nebraska" (Nov. 22)
Director Alexander Payne has such a sterling track record (“The Descendants,” “Sideways,” “About Schmidt” and “Election”) that it’s a good bet that whatever he turns his hand to will be worth viewing. This time he has made a road movie, in black and white, about a booze-soaked older father (Bruce Dern) and his son (“Saturday Night Live” star Will Forte) who travel together from Montana to Nebraska to claim their winnings in a sweepstakes. Sounds like a journey worth joining.