25 Must-See Movies For the Fall

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Hey there reader, been to the movies lately? If the box office reports are any indication, I’m guessing not — and who can blame you? We’re currently in the weird dead zone between the tentpole blockbusters of the summer and the prestige, Oscar-friendly pictures (and, increasingly, tentpole blockbusters) of the fall. But relief will be here soon enough, so in the interest of helping you mark up your movie-going calendar, we’re looking ahead to the fall films we’re anticipating most.

SEPTEMBER

The Drop (September 12)

The final film appearance of the late, great James Gandolfini is reason enough for this crime drama to top our fall viewing list. But there’s plenty more going for this one besides Gandolfini’s posthumous supporting turn: a screenplay by Dennis Lahane (adapting his short story “Animal Rescue”), direction by Michaël R. Roskam (who helmed the terrific, and underseen, Bullhead), and Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in the leading roles.

This is Where I Leave You (September 19)

Fans of Jonathan Tropper’s bestseller will be happy to hear that he penned this screenplay adaptation himself. Everyone else will go gaga over the picture’s remarkable cast, filled to the brim with people we like: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Abigail Spencer, and Ben Schwartz. Maybe all that talent will help offset the fact that it’s directed by Shawn Levy, whose credits include the Night at the Museum movies and (ugh) the Pink Panther remake. (In all fairness, his Date Night was pretty good, so maybe he’s in the clear as long as he’s working with Tina Fey?)

A Walk Among the Tombstones (September 19)

I am well aware that there are a good many moviegoers who have tired of Liam Neeson’s unexpected second act as a gun-toting, low-growling action hero. I’m not among them, but that’s not why this one’s on this list — it’s because of the jaw-dropping pedigree. The source material is a novel by Lawrence Block, whose “Burglar” novels are much better than that Whoopi Goldberg movie might lead you to believe; the screenwriter and director is the great Scott Frank, whose screenplay credits include Dead Again, Malice, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report, and whose directorial debut, 2007’s The Lookout, is one of the most undeservedly overlooked movies of the 2000s. So it might not look it, but based on Frank’s track record, there’s a good chance this one’s going to be amazing.

ALSO IN SEPTEMBER:

No Good Deed (September 12): Let’s all pretend like the deliciousness of a major release fronted by Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson isn’t offset by the fact that it looks like a pretty generic thriller, okey dokey?

The Boxtrolls (September 26): Most of the time, a children’s movie about cave-dwelling trash collectors wouldn’t be cause for celebration. But slap the tagline “From the makers of Coraline and Paranorman” on just about anything, and, sorry, I’m sold. (Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning, and Tracy Morgan contributing voices certainly doesn’t hurt either.)

The Equalizer (September 26): Like Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington is continuing on the “offbeat action movie” track at a point in his career where he could presumably flex his acting muscles a bit more. Still, it’s yielding some interesting movies, and while he certainly isn’t the first actor to come to mind when filling Edward Woodward’s shoes, this reunion with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua could prove beneficial to both men.

OCTOBER

Gone Girl (October 3)

High-profile book adaptations are all the rage this fall, and this may be the biggest: David Fincher and an all-star cast (including a newly Oscar-ed Ben Affleck, a newly rediscovered Patrick Fugit, your new favorite character actor Scoot McNairy, your previous favorite character actor Neil Patrick Harris, Treme’s marvelous Kim Dickens, and Tyler “I don’t know who David Fincher is” Perry) taking on Gillian Flynn’s giant bestseller. Word is that Fincher asked Flynn to rewrite her ending; time will tell if that improves the narrative or alienates the book’s fans. (Or, quite possibly, both.)

Birdman (October 17)

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has struggled a bit since parting company with his frequent collaborator Guillermo Arriaga, but his latest film looks all-out stunning: a long-overdue return to the spotlight for the great Michael Keaton (enacting the life-imitates-art scenario of an actor, known for playing a superhero, attempting to prove his chops again), with a stellar supporting cast (including Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Merritt Wever) and acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki reportedly working in a showy, one-long-take style.

Laggies (October 24)

One of our favorites of this year’s Sundance Film Festival finds prolific (and terrific) filmmaker Lynn Shelton following up Touchy Feely and Your Sister’s Sister with the tale of a frustrated young woman (Keira Knightley) who gets a much-needed taste of youth when she befriends a teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz)—and maybe the girl’s father (Sam Rockwell) too. Smart, spiky, and entertaining, this is one we’ve been waiting all year to talk about.

St. Vincent (October 24)

Writer/director Theodore Melfi is a newbie — this is his film debut, following a TV movie and a series of shorts. But anyone who can land Bill Murray, Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and Terrence Howard on his first time out gets much respect. And that irresistible trailer goes a long way too.

ALSO IN OCTOBER:

Whiplash (October 10): Sure, Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) is a movie star waiting to happen — but the draw here is the idea of Most Valuable Supporting Player J.K. Simmons finally getting to tear it up in a show-stopping leading role.

Fury (October 17): On the plus side: Brad Pitt back in WWII fatigues, hunting down Nazis for writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch). On the minus side: Blergh, LaBeouf.

Nightcrawler (October 31): The first-time director is Dan Gilroy, brother of acclaimed writer/director Tony (and his co-writer on The Bourne Legacy). Jake Gyllenhaal is apparently continuing his “weirdo indie” career path — and good for that — but hey, we’re just excited to see Rene Russo getting work.

NOVEMBER

Interstellar (November 7)

Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey go to space. Sorry, what other information do you need?

The Theory of Everything (November 7)

The life story of Stephen Hawking is ready-made biopic material; it could also fall easily and clumsily into all of the cliché pitfalls of the form. The good news here is that the story is in the hands of Man on Wire’s James Marsh, who seems patently disinterested in conventional filmmaking. Plus, an Oscar-ready role for Eddie Redmayne, and hopefully (at long last) a role that’s worth Felicity Jones’ time.

A Merry Friggin’ Christmas (November 7)

A dark holiday comedy by frequent Community director Tristam Shapeero, featuring that show’s Joel McHale alongside Lauren Graham, Candice Bergan, Oliver Platt, Jeffrey Tambor, and Wendi McLendon-Covey, already sounds like a can’t-miss. But there’s an extra level of poignancy to this one: it’s one of the final film appearances of Robin Williams, who excelled at tapping into the dark side of familial relations (see World’s Great Dad. No, seriously, see it like right now, if you haven’t.)

Foxcatcher (November 14)

We’ve been waiting a full year for the latest from Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) — it was originally slated for release last fall, but was pushed out of that crowded season and given the opportunity to wow critics and audiences at Cannes. It’s baased on the true story of millionaire Jon du Pont’s descent into madness, and word is the lead performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum are Oscar-worthy. (Yes, seriously.)

ALSO IN NOVEMBER:

The Imitation Game (November 21): Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley lead an impressive cast (also featuring Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, and Charles Dance) in the true story of British mathematician and WWII code-cracker Alan Turing.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (November 21): Haven’t heard much about it, but this Jennifer Lawrence is supposedly one to watch.

DECEMBER

Inherent Vice (December 12)

Paul Thomas Anderson hasn’t exactly blown us away with his speediness as of late; he took five years between Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, and five more before The Master. So the mere two-year break here is pretty exciting — even more so is the prospect of a reunion with Joaquin Phoenix (alongside the likes of Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Michael K. Williams, Maya Rudolph, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, and — wait for it — Martin Short) in a Long Goodbye-styled adaptation of Pynchon’s novel.

The Interview (December 25)

Look, as far as I’m concerned, we can have a This is The End-style comedy with Rogen and Franco sending themselves up once a year, with no complaints. This time, instead of skewing the apocalyptic action movie, they’re taking a crack at political thrillers, playing Hollywood idiots trying to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. The trailers look ridiculous (and uproarious), and hats off for hiring Lizzy Caplan to play the foil.

Selma (December 25)

Ava DuVernay’s The Middle of Nowhere is one of the best indies in recent memory, but it never quite found the audience it should’ve (hell, until recently, it was difficult to even see it). But no matter — it got her one of the most important pictures of the fall, a ground-level look at the marches that defined the civil rights movement. David Oyelowo playing MLK is a masterstroke, but I’d like to buy a drink for whoever cast Tim Roth as George Wallace.

Unbroken (December 25)

A film adaptation of the riveting book by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand (America’s greatest living non-fiction writer, don’tcha know) is noteworthy enough; Angelina Jolie in the director’s chair is also cause for celebration (it’s a male-driven adventure story, meaning Jolie’s already broken the confines of what is typically expected from female directors). But here’s the cherry on top: a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, who took a crack at it after The Fisher King’s Richard LaGravanese and Gladiator’s William Nicholson. That combination of off-kilter talents means this sounds like much more than traditional Oscar-bait.

ALSO IN DECEMBER:

Annie (December 19): So maybe we weren’t really dying for another movie version of Annie, and that Cameron Diaz performance looks… troubling. But the idea of Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks is nearly as tantalizing as Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role.

Big Eyes (December 25): A compelling and possibly disturbing true story, with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in the leads (and Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, and Terrence Stamp in support). So maybe this will finally, after all these years, turn out to be a Tim Burton movie worth seeing? Hey, ’tis the season for miracles!