Autumn 2015 looks unusually strong. Perhaps I’m optimistic, but there seems to be several upcoming titles on the release schedule in the months leading up to the holidays that I find myself looking forward to as much as any fall I can remember. It just comes down to whether you trust the cast and crew around the individual film release or if you trust that the movie studios will stick to the script and deliver the best quality films when they intend to. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
Hollywood justifies its existence with its accomplishments. We get bombarded annually with loads of nonsensical big-budget franchise flops — we also get our minds blown when the picture is right, when it all comes together. Here’s to hoping that, this fall, we experience enough excellence to forgive and forget the never-shrinking studio batch of goofy big-budget embarrassment we are sometimes forced to sift through as moviegoers.
September has a lot of movies on the schedule that I wouldn’t raise my hopes for, but a few strike me as intriguing. I would say that M. Night Shyamalan won’t be making another good movie any time soon — The Happening is a great ironic viewing — but sometimes a director has to take a turn for the worse to make an eventual turn for the better. The perhaps too-often-mocked director behind The Sixth Sense and Signs returns to horror with The Visit, set for wide release from Universal on Sept. 11. The premise is as frightening as it is vintage Shyamalan. In the PG-13 “original thriller” (so says the trailer), two kids visit a pair of grandparents who strictly enforce bedtime. Over the course of The Visit, the kids notice strange noises after bedtime, and their grandparents begin to behave strangely the next day. I would say that the idea of a total Shyamalan comeback is outlandish, but Universal seems to be releasing nothing but insanely popular movies this year. I’m not getting excited for The Visit, which seems to feature a heavy found-footage-style dosage of screen time, but I’d be lying if I denied that I typically root for any horror film to scare the living snot out of me.
On Sept.18, Warner Brothers will distribute Black Mass for wide release. The true-crime drama will feature Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp in what looks like a good old-fashioned gangster film. Depp is already being hailed for a sort of comeback in TV spots and reviews. It’s good to know that he at least decided to play a character that isn’t some sort of mystical being or peculiar sad man. The hype for Depp portraying Boston crime legend James “Whitey” Bulger is astronomically high, and I can only hope that he reaches the performance level that most critics seem to believe he has delivered.
October is when things will get pretty exciting. The first weekend of the month will see the wide release of Ridely Scott’s The Martian, a limited release of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk in IMAX, and a double helping of Tom Hardy in Brian Helgeland’s Legend. The Martian has a bold ensemble cast led by Matt Damon, but its merit will be accomplished or missed behind the camera. I like to liken Ridley Scott to a power hitter in Major League Baseball — sure, he strikes out more than most, but when he gets ahold of something good, he really makes it count. There is a good level of hype for The Martian — some seem to hope that this could be Scott’s finest film since American Gangster, but it could be as disappointing as Scott’s similarly hyped (albeit very different subject matter in) The Counselor, which turned out to be an uncomfortable sitting for movie fans hoping for the best out of a Cormac McCarthy script. The Walk is based on the true story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to walk a wire connecting the two towers of the World Trade Center. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and is directed by Robert Zemeckis, the guy behind Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Flight. The movie should at least be worth seeing in IMAX, and Zemeckis’ films always have an outside shot to be awards-season surprises. Zemeckis’ constant attempt to walk the fine line between broad appeal and powerful visual skills won him an Oscar and massive box office success, but The Walk’s story seems as risky as its protagonist’s goal.
In limited release, Legend seems sure to satisfy the best of the Tom Hardy fan in everyone. We all know that the only thing better than Tom Hardy starring in a movie is Tom Hardy starring with Tom Hardy in the same movie. He’ll be portraying real-life London crook icons, the twin Kray brothers. One is the brain. One is the brawn. The colorful biopic has already garnered mostly mixed but positive-leaning reviews. We are about to discover if Hardy may be ready to prove that he can carry a film at the box office for any studio. The film will not have an initial wide release, but it will be interesting to see if Hardy — practically the entire selling point of the movie based on its trailer — can pull Americans to smaller movie houses for a mobster flick about British criminals. Legend will be another Universal release. If Universal’s box office mojo continues into the fall, Legend will probably surpass expectations.
And that’s only the first weekend of October. On Oct. 9, we get to watch one of the best actors around — Michael Fassbender — portray one of the most monumental, impossible-to-ignore public figures of our time in Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) will be directing, and Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network) has penned the script. It’s worth noting that Sorkin has now written two big-time portrayals of tech industry tycoons; but if it works, why not do it again? If the picture shows as well as its producers seem to expect, we could very well see Fassbender at the Globes and Oscars in early 2016. Much of Steve Jobs’ weight will rest on his shoulders. Keep an eye on this one.
The week after we watch Fassbender take on Jobs, we get two auteurs’ latest releases on the same wide release date. Bridge of Spies will be the newest movie from Steven Spielberg. The legendary filmmaker is teaming up with Tom Hanks to take on a story loosely based on Cold War espionage. It seems a little bland from the trailers, but this is Steven Spielberg, so I’m definitely more optimistic than not for Bridge of Spies. The other half of the awesome Oct. 16 weekend is Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic horror extravaganza Crimson Peak. The trailer footage is stunning, and Del Toro should be capable of scaring us in more ways than we might imagine. The Mexican master of the supernatural has brought us the Hellboy movies, the chilling Pan’s Labyrinth and the outrageous Pacific Rim. His ability to visually stun us with his creations is only matched by his ability to compel us with his mysterious plots and scheming villains.