There are three seasons for movies: the doldrums between January and May, the summer blockbuster season from May to September—and awards season, when most of the year’s best and most serious films are released (because, apparently, Oscar voters have microscopic attention spans and won’t remember anything they saw before October).
This year is no different: After nine months of sequels, remakes, and comic-book movies, this is the season for films that provoke and excite both viscerally and intellectually. In the months to come, you’ll be reading a lot about these movies, which are scheduled to reach theaters before the end of the year and which could comprise the competitive field for the annual awards race.
Sleeping with Other People
Writer/director Leslye Headland has created a very funny, very dirty, anti-When Harry Met Sally type of romantic comedy. It focuses on the friendship between commitment-phobic Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, who’s sleeping with her married college boyfriend. They lost their virginity to each other in college and run into each other in their 30s. Can their friendship save each other from repeating mistakes of the past?
Johnny Depp steps up to the Oscar plate as real-life criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, who ruled the Boston underworld for decades before going on the run for 15 years (he was captured in 2011). Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Love) has a cast that runs the gamut from Kevin Bacon to Benedict Cumberbatch, with the focus on Depp playing a truly scary criminal.
This movie offers one of the oddest couples of the fall season: Ryan Reynolds as a muse/good luck charm to Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), a degenerate Iowa gambler. They hit the road for New Orleans and a big-stakes game. This Sundance hit has unexpected poignancy, as well as the seductive and surprising humor of Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors (and a Westchester resident).
He Named Me Malala
Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out against the Taliban in favor of education for girls, an act that led the Taliban to try to kill her. She survived and won a Nobel Peace Prize; her journey and continued activism are the subject of this moving documentary.
Matt Damon stars in this film (based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir) by Ridley Scott as a member of an Earth crew on Mars. Damon’s character is mistakenly thought killed in a windstorm that forces the rest of his colleagues to abandon the planet. Can he figure out how to survive on the Red Planet until someone figures out how to save him?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit, who famously and illegally walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The film covers the audacious planning and execution of the stunning stunt. The director, Robert Zemeckis, who won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, knows a thing or two about using computers to recreate the past.
Bridge of Spies
The fall season brings a new Steven Spielberg thriller, based on a true story. Tom Hanks and Alan Alda star in a tale of the behind-the-scenes action that the United States went through to get back Francis Gary Powers, an American pilot shot down while flying a U2 spy plane over Russia in 1960.
Writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) takes on a true story of shocking scope and seriousness: the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in Boston. A heady cast that includes Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Keaton will tell the tale of victims who banded together and fought back against the church’s cover-up of consistently heinous behavior.
The Red Scare that led to the McCarthyism of the late 1940s and early 1950s claimed a number of well-known victims, including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, author of Johnny Got His Gun. This biopic gives Bryan Cranston a meaty starring role as the whip-smart and contentious writer.
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, Carol (December 18) is already being buzzed about for Cate Blanchett’s awards-worthy performance as a married woman in the ’50s who finds herself drawn to another woman. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Birdman) follow-up to last year’s Oscar win is The Revenant (December 25), the harrowing true story of legendary fur trapper Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Expect juicy talk and outlandish violence in The Hateful Eight (December 25), Quentin Tarantino’s latest film about a group of post-Civil War bounty hunters trapped in a Montana mountaintop cabin during a brutal snowstorm. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Lost) takes the reins for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (December 18), the seventh film in the monumental action-fantasy series, which passes the torch to newcomers like Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o.