25 Must-See Movies for Fall 2015

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Well, the kids are back in school, Big Brother is coming to an end, and we’re wearing the hell out of our white clothes before it’s too late, so y’know what that means: fall is just around the corner, and it’s thus time for a big fall movie preview. As we all know, fall is when the moving pictures get serious, as your awards hopefuls descend from the mountains of Telluride and the skyscrapers of Toronto (they have a lot of skyscrapers, right? That’s a thing?) to play the pre-Oscar game, with off-season blockbusters and year-end family-friendly movies vying for multiplex attention. We’ve selected the 25 titles we’re most looking forward to; mark your calendars accordingly.

SEPTEMBER

Sicario (September 18)

Your film editor was no fan of director Denis Villeneuve’s last mainstream thriller, the cheap and overcooked Prisoners , but the combination of Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, and (especially) Emily Blunt, alongside the rather timely issue of the drug war and law enforcement along the Mexico border, render those concerns moot. It’s got a gangbusters trailer, and early word out of Cannes is very good indeed.

Black Mass (September 18)

It has, to put it mildly, been a good, long while since the prospect of a new Johnny Depp movie conjured up anything but fear and concern, but this one’s got honest-to-God potential. Depp stars in the true story of Whitey Bulger, the gangster fictionalized as Nicholson’s Frank Costello in The Departed, and already the subject of the riveting documentary Whitey; Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart and the underrated Out of the Furnace) directs a four-star ensemble, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, Juno Temple, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Julianne Nicholson. And the notion of Depp playing a real-life mobster will surely warm the hearts of all who’ve clung to Donnie Brasco (and done their best to forget Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Tusk, Martdecai, etc. etc.).

OCTOBER

The Martian (October 2)

Like Depp, Ridley Scott’s CV has been a touch hit and miss lately, and the last time he went into space was for (yikes) Prometheus. But — odd spin-off of Interstellar elements aside (seriously, this one’s got Jessica Chastain, even) — his adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller sounds like a true return to the daily-grind-of-space-life feel of Alien, and with a killer cast that includes Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and (continuing a very interesting year) Kristen Wiig, this one’s got real juice.

Steve Jobs (October 9)

The Apple founder certainly hasn’t wanted for cinematic representation — this marks the second attempt to dramatize his life (after the best-forgotten Ashton Kutcher-fronted Jobs), in addition to two theatrical documentaries (The Lost Interview and The Man in the Machine). But, however you felt about The Newsroom, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s notion of telling Jobs’ story via a trio of product presentations in pretty ingenious, and the idea of the screenwriter returning to Social Network territory is a good one. Couple that with the always-reliable direction of chameleonic director Danny Boyle and a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, and Kate Winslet, and we might be onto something here.

Suffragette (October 23)

Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep as the first activists in the British women’s suffrage movement. I’m sorry, what else do you need to know?

Our Brand Is Crisis (October 30)

Director David Gordon Green takes a break from his Respected Actor Career Rehabilitation Project™ to helm this fictionalized adaptation of Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary that took American political strategists to South America. It’s got a big, great cast (Sandra Bullock, Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Joaquim de Almeida); best of all, it’s got Billy Bob Thornton, who just has to be playing the James Carville role, which he previously played in Primary Colors, and now I’ve gone down the rabbit hole again.

ALSO IN OCTOBER:

Goosebumps (October 16): Going bump in the night as it travels from your fifth-grade bookshelf to the multiplex, stopping to pick up Jack Black along the way.

Rock the Kasbah (October 23): We’re at the point where most Bill Murray movies are pretty much just celebrations of Bill Murray, which may or may not be a good thing. But what the hell else are you gonna see that weekend — Jem and the Holograms? The new Paranormal Activity?

NOVEMBER

Spotlight (November 6)

The quiet cult of The Paper diehards waits with bated breath for Michael Keaton’s return to the newsroom; everyone else can latch on to this All The President’s Men-ish tale of the Boston Globe team that broke the story of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Yet another ace fall ensemble here — Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup — will help director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win Win) do his darnedest to make us forget The Cobbler.

By the Sea (November 13)

You’ve gotta hand it to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: they’d presumably heard of the Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake of Swept Away, and went ahead with a nautically titled marital collaboration anyway. Jolie — or, as she’s now credited, Angelina Jolie-Pitt — also writes and directs, and she doesn’t appear to have penned some sort of lovey-dovey windswept travelogue; there’s a real sense of darkness and menace to what we’ve seen thus far, indicating that (Oscar-baiting mess of Unbroken notwithstanding) she’s not exactly making a crowd-pleaser here.

Carol (November 20)

The great Todd Haynes’ first theatrical feature since the delightfully baffling I’m Not There features (in a real case of well-of-course casting) Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a 1950s-set story of forbidden love. Yes, that sounds quite a bit like Far From Heaven. And no, this could not matter less.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (November 20)

Sure, it’s not like the billion-dollar franchise needs our help. But as knee-jerk cynical as this viewer may be about tentpoles and sequels and YA adaptations, it’s worth remembering that this entire series has remained intelligently crafted and eminently discussable; let’s just see if they stick the landing.

Creed (November 25)

The idea of a Rocky spin-off focused on the son of the pugilist’s rival-turned-friend sounded like a pass-please proposition — yet another case of Stallone beating one of his many, many dead horses. And then everybody saw that trailer, and lost their minds. A franchise follow-up isn’t exactly what anyone expected from a reunion of Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, but if it’s got a sliver of that movie’s integrity and the first Rocky’s heart, they could have the hit they both deserve.

ALSO IN NOVEMBER:

Brooklyn (November 6): Our favorite movie of the Sundance Film Festival arrives in theaters, at long last, to make you cry and sigh and tell anyone who’ll listen about how amazing Saoirse Ronan is. Don’t let its period garb and Oscar-friendly berth fool you; this is a vibrant, moving, deeply resonant motion picture.

Trumbo (November 6): Bryan Cranston does the blacklist, Helen Mirren does Hedda Hopper, and Meet the Parents/Austin Powers director Jay Roach finally does the serious political pic he was hinting at with Recount and Game Change.

The Night Before (November 25): Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and director Jonathan Levine’s reunion movie looks to be a lot broader than their cancer comedy 50/50 — but they’ve earned it, and with Bad Santa a dozen years in the rearview, we’re overdue for a good R-rated holiday comedy.

DECEMBER

Macbeth (December 4)

Roman Polanski, Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa have all taken a stab (hey, see what I did there) at Shakespeare’s bloody classic; now it’s Australian director Justin Kurzel’s turn, with the jaw-dropping pairing of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the Lord and Lady whose name never passes the lips of superstitious theater types.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18)

Oh, you’d like to know more about the forthcoming seventh part of the Star Wars saga? Allow me to direct you to this thing called “The Internet.”

Sisters (December 18)

And the winner for “least enviable release date” goes to director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and writer Paula Pell (Saturday Night Live), who share an opening weekend with Star Wars. I suppose the strategy is one of counterprogramming (but who’re we kidding, everybody wants to see Star Wars); at any rate, they’ve assembled an SNL All-Stars cast, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as the titular siblings and Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, and Bobby Moynihan in support. Can’t wait to see it! They should not be surprised if people wait to see it.

The Hateful Eight (December 25)

Speaking of regular players, Quentin Tarantino’s got alums of Reservoir Dogs (Tim Roth), Kill Bill (Michael Madsen), Django Unchained (Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern), and everything else (Samuel L. Jackson) on hand for his newest Western, which mates the tight quarters of Stagecoach with the snowy landcapes of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Throw in Jennifer Jason Leigh — long overdue for the patented Tarantino career revival treatment — and this is the best Christmas present we could ask for.

Joy (December 25)

The it’s-a-true-story-but-not-really element of promotion for David O. Russell’s latest could be one of the weirdest film stories of the fall, but in the meantime, here’s what we know: It reunites Russell with the Silver Linings Playbook/American Hustle trio of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro; it was, at least at one point, based upon the life of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano; and it looks freewheeling and funny and kind of amazing.

Concussion (December 25)

His turn in Suicide Squad and the announcement of not one, but two Bad Boys sequels would seem to indicate Will Smith is getting back into the tentpole business — and that’s a shame, given what an impressive serious actor he can be (when he chooses). Following up on last spring’s rather under-seen Focus , Smith here plays Bennet Omalu, the real-life doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE, the specific type of brain damage often suffered by football players), and found the NFL to be unsurprisingly resistant to his research. There’s a definite Insider vibe to this one, which could prove an Ali-style opportunity for Smith to truly disappear in an important, showy role.

The Revenant (December 25)

Word around the campfire is it’s one of those notorious Troubled Productions, but no matter; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s follow-up to Birdman finds Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domnhall Gleeson out in the cold, and the Oscar-winning filmmaker bucking industry norms to shoot in sequence, using natural light. Sure, it’s obnoxious that his films are all about how they’re made, rather than what they are. It still looks great!

ALSO IN DECEMBER:

Hitchcock/ Truffaut (December 4): Going bump in the night as it travels from your movie-nerd bookshelf to the art house, stopping to pick up a whole bunch of your favorite directors (Scorsese, Fincher, Assayas, Schrader, Bogdanovich, Linklater, Wes Anderson) as interview subjects along the way.

Youth (December 4): Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in a buddy movie from the director of The Great Beauty, with Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda, and Paul Dano in support. Yes, I know I shouldn’t just list a bunch of names as a persuasive description. But when it’s those names, it’s enough.