20 Must-See Movies for Fall 2016

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Summer post-mortems are being written, fall festivals are beginning, lame Labor Day movies are on deck: yes, the signs are all here that the summer movie season is over, and fall – aka “Good Movie Season” – has begun. And there are dozens of movies scheduled for the coming months that have piqued our interest, thanks to early word from previous festivals, promising source materials, or stellar personnel. We’ll cover some of them next week in our preview of the Toronto Film Festival, but these are some of the movies we’re anticipating most for the rest of 2016.

Sully (September 9)

Yes, yes, Clint Eastwood was on quite a bad movie streak there for a bit. But American Sniper was a return to form – both critically and commercially – and the excellent trailers for his dramatization of the “Miracle on the Hudson” (and its aftermath) look like the movie we so badly wanted Flight to be. Its quiet release, smack-dab in the middle of Toronto, isn’t exactly a great sign, but the idea of the steadfast Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley Sullenberger is just too good to refuse.

Blair Witch (September 16)

The Blair Witch Project seemed the kind of cinematic sensation that could only happen once in a lifetime — a point borne out by the rather miserable Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which hit theaters barely a year after the original. But if anyone can breathe new life into the franchise, it’s director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, the team behind You’re Next, The Guest, and segments of (hey, look at that) the found-footage horror anthologies V/H/S and V/H/S/2. They filmed this one under the title The Woods, keeping its franchise connection secret until its unveiling at Comic-Con, indicating a spirit of showmanship and hucksterism that’ll fit right in to this series.

Queen of Katwe (September 30)

One of the season’s most exciting pairings comes in this family drama from Disney and director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding), which teams Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and shoulda-been-an Oscar winner David Oyelowo in the true story of a young Ugandan chess whiz. Hopefully it’s more Searching for Bobby Fischer than Pawn Sacrifice.

The 13th (October 7)

Another Selma alum returns to the screen, as the crazy-busy Ava DuVernay returns to her documentary roots – her first feature was the 2008 doc This Is the Life — with this look at mass incarceration among people of color, titled after the 13th Amendment. And she’s already made history with it — it will be the first nonfiction film to open the New York Film Festival, debuting there before hitting theaters and Netflix a week later.

Certain Women (October 14)

Bit of a cheat: we saw this one at Sundance, and have been waiting patiently for it to meander into theaters. Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy) adapted three Maile Meloy stories into these three tales of women in a state of quiet struggle. Her regular muse Michelle Williams is back; she’s joined by Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, each a smooth fit into her modest style. It is, to put it mildly, an understated piece of work, but it gets to you.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (October 21)

Look, they don’t all have to be thoughtful meditations on contemporary society; sometimes, even in the fall, you’re in the mood for a big, dumb comedy. This one’s got a better pedigree than most — Greg Motolla (Adventureland, Superbad) directing Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fischer as suburban fuddie-duddies sucked into the super-spy adventures of sexy neighbors Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot.

Moonlight (October 21)

One of the buzziest titles of the fall, thanks primarily to its knockout trailer and source material, Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s acclaimed play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Barry Jenkins writes and directs this story, told in three chapters, of a young man coming of age in 1980s Miami; the ensemble cast includes Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Andre Holland, and Mahershala Ali.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11)

Director Ang Lee returns with this adaptation of Ben Fountain’s bestseller, in which an Iraq vet’s victory tour is intercut with harrowing flashbacks of his experience there. Newcomer Joe Alwyn plays Billy; the eclectic (to say the least) supporting cast includes Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Garrett Hedlund, Tim Blake Nelson, and Chris Tucker. The picture’s much-ballyhooed use of ultra-high frame rate sounds like a risk (a similar “innovation” for the Hobbit movies didn’t exactly set the industry on fire), but if anybody can make it work, it’s Ang Lee.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (November 18)

Here’s how bad we’re jonesing for a return to Rowling world: even the Eddie Redmayne Factor won’t keep us away.

Manchester by the Sea (November 18)

It’s been rather a strange journey for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose debut feature You Can Count on Me was a critical fave and Oscar contender in 2000, but whose follow-up Margaret was surrounded by literally years of studio fights and a muted reception (though it’s since found plenty of enthusiastic partisans). But there’s no equivocation this time; those who saw his latest at Sundance came away with as close as that festival gets to a consensus, dubbing it a staggering and moving story of loss and grief. Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, and Michelle Williams star.

Rules Don’t Apply (November 23)

Speaking of long hiatuses from filmmaking, this period romantic comedy marks Warren Beatty’s first film as director since 1998’s Bulworth, and his first appearance as an actor since 2001’s Town & Country. He stars as Howard Hughes in this fictionalized story of a starlet, a driver, and the billionaire who brings them together. If Beatty’s gotten rusty since the turn of the century, there’s no sign of it in the sparkling trailer.

Moana (November 23)

Disney is having one hell of a year, dominating the box office via Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Captain America: Civil War (not to mention the considerable financial crumbs from last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens). They’ll look to top it off with yet another animated feature, in which Dwayne Johnson voices the Polynesian demigod Maui – and seriously, how has he never done one of these before? Johnson is basically a walking Disney hero. Oh, and did we mention Lin-Manuel Miranda co-wrote the songs? Lin-Manuel Miranda co-wrote the songs.

La La Land (December 2)

Few trailers in recent memory have given us the goosebumps like the remarkable spots for director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follow-up, a lush-looking musical romance with a rising-stars-in-love storyline reminiscent of Scorsese’s New York, New York. And with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone re-teaming (after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) to play the leads, this could be the most generally gorgeous movie of the season.

Always Shine (December 2)

This intense, psychological drama from indie stalwart Sophia Takal (best known for her performances in films like All the Light in the Sky, V/H/S, and Supporting Characters) is a masterfully executed story of two actresses whose friendly rivalry takes a decidedly dark turn. Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) and Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex) are stunning in the leads; it was the best film of the Tribeca Film Festival, and will be tough to beat this fall.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December 16)

Sure, increasing Star Wars movies to an annual event will almost certainly decrease their status as world-stopping cinematic blockbuster events. And this whole spin-off/“Star Wars story” angle smacks of Disney doing everything they can to maximize their LucasFilm investment. But y’know what? “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel”? That’s pretty damn good.

Julieta (December 21)

We’re all friends here, so nobody’s gonna get mad: Pedro Almodóvar’s last film, the 2013 airborne comedy I’m So Excited, was not exactly his finest hour. But his latest is getting rave reviews abroad, and the idea of the gleefully stylish filmmaker adapting three Alice Munro short stories (“Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence”) is wildly intriguing.

Passengers (December 21)

The question is not if you’d want to see a sci-fi movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The question is how good it’d have to be to pass the Gene Siskel Test, named after the late Chicago film critic, who noted, “It’s amazing how many movies aren’t as interesting as a documentary of these same actors sitting around talking over lunch.”

20th Century Women (December 21)

Director Mike Mills took his time crafting a follow-up to his acclaimed 2010 feature Beginners, which netted Christopher Plummer an Oscar. But in doing so, he nabbed one of the fall’s best casts – Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Alia Shawkat, and Billy Crudup – for this SoCal-set 1970s period piece, which will debut as the New York Film Festival’s Centerpiece selection.

Fences (December 25)

The 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winner was the must-see show of the season, thanks to the considerable star power of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the leading roles. Now, at long last, the 1987 classic is coming to the screen with those stars intact – and with Washington directing, his third time in the chair, following 2002’s Antwone Fisher and 2007’s The Great Debaters. Those films exhibited a style that was modest but effective, unsurprisingly actor-friendly and unfailingly intelligent; in other words, a good match for this powerful play.

Paterson (December 28)

Amazon Studios continues their mission to keep our favorite indie filmmakers of the 1980s and 1990s hard at work with the latest from Jim Jarmusch, who wrote and directed this story of a bus driving poet, his dog, and the woman he loves. Adam Driver stars, making for an actor/director match that was probably inevitable, and word out of Cannes is very good (for both the film, and his performance).