Telluride, Venice, Toronto: Summer's final film festivals usher in moviedom's serious season and give a critic a cheat sheet of worth. (No reading of the summer blockbuster tea leaves here.) This round-up has a number of vetted flicks that we're likely to be talking about deep into awards season.
During the first minutes of an 8:30 a.m. screening at the Telluride Film Festival, I wasn't certain why this thriller (as engrossing as it began) deserved a slot in the typically high-art fest. But director Denis Villeneuve's far-reaching ambitions steadily became apparent. (See full review Page 6C). Sept. 20.
Shane Salerno's documentary, based on his and David Shields' just-published book about of famous and famously reclusive writer J.D. Salinger, is at turns rich, prurient and overly long. Still, it's difficult to imagine it won't ignite conversations about privacy, literary history and the touching and provocative nihilism of a kid named Holden Caulfield. (See full review Page 6C). Sept. 20.
With this fuel-injected account of the storied rivalry between Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, director Ron Howard offers a vroom with a view. The Toronto Film Fest crowd-pleaser is set in the 1970s. Star Chris Hemsworth (Hunt) will drop the hammer as Thor in November. Catch him here putting pedal to metal, charming the ladies and aggravating rival Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Sept. 27.
One of Hollywood's nicest fellas, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut with this tale of modern intimacy. He also stars as a nice, porn-obsessed guy who meets a nice, romantic comedy-smitten gal (Scarlett Johansson). Sept. 27.
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is a master at utterly believable, compassionately observed comedies. Here, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss portrays a divorced masseuse who befriends a poet at the same time she begins dating (unwittingly) her new friend's ex-husband, played with a wise (not wiseguy) twinkle by James Gandolfini in one of his last films. Sept. 27.
This 3-D marvel is one of a number of fall films grappling with disaster in profoundly existential ways. Director Alfonso Cuaron's space drama finds two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) hoping space is not their final frontier when satellite debris hits a U.S. space station. Oct. 4.
Don't let the fact that it's the first feature film from a Saudi woman director be the chief draw. Haifaa Al Mansour's charmer about 10-year-0ld Wadjda's angling for a bicycle has plenty of universal aches to go with its revealing view of daily life for a vibrant little girl in a restrictive society. Oct. 4.
Christian Bale can be beautifully frosty or brilliantly incendiary. As Russell Baze, older brother to Rodney (Casey Affleck), who goes missing, we're expecting the latter. Oct. 4.
Director Paul Greengrass believes big, propulsive movies can — must — wrestle with contemporary dilemmas. Take "United 93" and WMD thrilller "Green Zone." Now he uses his gift for the kinetic and the skills of Tom Hanks in this account of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009. Oct. 11.
Benedict Cumberbatch dyes his hair white to portray WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in this timely drama about the rise of the global whistle-blowing website. Rent Alex Gibney's telling documentary "We Steal Secrets," then buy a ticket for this character-driven drama that wrestles with issues of transparency and security, while recounting personality and ideological clashes in the WikiLeaks ranks. Oct. 18.
Stephen King's high-school protagonist gets a promising reboot thanks to the casting of age-appropriate actress ChloÃ« Grace Moretz as the telekinetic teenager, Julianne Moore as her mom and the bold hiring of director Kimberly Peirce ("Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Stop-Loss"). Oct. 18.
There is something quietly thrilling about J.D. Chador's spare, gripping tale of a lone sailor and his hobbled vessel. Protagonist Man's pragmatism and lack of hysteria as troubles mount and the ocean gets no less wide and empty is impressive. And who better to make his plight understated but true than Robert Redford in one of his most commanding turns. Oct 25.
In 1841 freeman Solomon Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery. What followed was worthy of Kafka's darkest musings. For his third and most chilling film to date, Steve McQueen has adapted Northup's memoir of that experience and made arguably the truest, most aptly relentless film to deal with U.S. slavery, with amazing turns by Chiwetel Ejiofor and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o. Oct. 25.
After a number of movie adaptations of his work, novelist Cormac McCarthy tries his unmistakable hand writing a screenplay of his own with this story of a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) drawn into drug trade. Ridley Scott directs. Oct. 25.
We seem to say this with each new movie, but Matthew McConaughey gives the turn of his career as Ron Woodroof, a good ol' boy who learned the hardest way how ignorant folk can be when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. Jared Leto makes a comeback to remember portraying Rayon, a transgendered woman and Woodroof's partner in an AIDS drug dispensing business. Nov. 1.
Winner of Cannes' top prize, this rich drama about first love earned the too-reductive label "that graphic lesbian movie." The sex is choreographed and indeed ample enough to at times obscure the more profound truths of AdÃ¨le Exarchopoulos' turn as high-school senior AdÃ¨le who falls for art student Emma (Léa Seydoux). Nov. 1.
Martin Scorcese and go-to muse Leonardo DiCaprio take us back to the go-go days of Wall Street. No, not the 2000s and their derivative-mad excesses but the greed-is-so-flipping-good pleasures and nastiness of the 1990s. The story comes courtesy the memoir of onetime stock broker and felon Jordan Belfort. Nov. 15.
Oscar winner and Vogue cover girl Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen — gifted warrior and accidental leader of a building rebellion — in installment two of the dark fantasy adventure, based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling novels. Nov. 22.
Bruce Dern won the best actor prize at Cannes for his portrayal of a codger who heads from Montana to Nebraska, by foot, to claim his lottery prize winnings in this wonderfully melancholy dramedy by Alexander Payne. Hard-headed, formerly hard-drinking but not completely sober, Woody is a royal pain. His wife, played for bitter hilarity by June Squibb, attests to that. Will Forte is lovely as the younger son, who commits to a bumpy roadtrip. Nov. 22.
With a willfully vital vision all his own, Spike Lee seldom plays a gun for hire. When he has he hasn't disappointed. "Inside Man" was a thoroughly engaging heist thriller dotted with Lee's observations about New York City and race. Now he's treading new (and bloody) territory, so no Red Band trailer link for you, with an English-language take on Korean master Chan-wook Park's 2003 revenge tale starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson. Nov. 27.