After a couple of weeks of mostly filler movies — a void that bridges the summer with the fall — the leaf-falling season is finally upon us. It’s actually my favorite time of the year, crammed in between the summer blockbusters and the holiday feel-good movies and the obvious Oscar grabbers that come out the last two weeks of the year. Between now and Thanksgiving is a is a little more laid back. Sure, it features a number of big movies — 2012 and Twilight among the movie expected to do well at the box office — but it’s also a time where studios release a few of their dark horses, movies that tour the festival circuit before wide release, in the hopes that they will generate enough buzz to merit consideration before the Oscar favorites take the stage.
The fact that there are at least 15 movies that I wanted to consider for the top ten here suggests that the Fall of 2009 looks like a better than average season for movies. A few of these will certainly fizzle — it’s the nature of the fall season. It’s unpredictable. It’s the one season where critics matter the most: Some of these movies will actually depend on good reviews and solid word of mouth instead of huge, empty marketing spectacles to sell tickets. But I like a movie that earns its way, instead of depending on a multimillion dollar marketing budget.
Worthy of Mention: The Box, Whip It, Jennifer’s Body and The Boys are Back.
10. The Fantastic Mr. Fox: This stop-motion animated movie based on the Raold Dahl novel, which features an incredible voice cast — George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrian Brody, and Angelica Huston — is one of the most unpredictable movies of the fall. Wes Anderson hasn’t really been the same since The Royal Tenenbaums, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can bounce back and appeal to both hipsters and children alike. Undoubtedly, his first family-friendly feature will become his biggest box-office hit (it’s a simple numbers game), but will critics like it? Will Wes Anderson fans like it? The fact that the Fox is rolling it out in limited release two weeks before its wide release on Thanksgiving weekend suggests, at least, that the studio thinks it can appeal both critics and audiences alike, but I worry that the kids won’t buy into the throwback style.
Synopsis: Angry farmers, tired of sharing their chickens with a sly fox, look to get rid of their opponent and his family.
9. Nine: After District 9 and 9, the filmmakers might have considered another title, but Nine nevertheless looks promising. It’s a return to the genre — the musical — that won Rob Marshall an Oscar nomination for 2002’s Chicago. The movie, based on the life of Federico Fellini, features a bevy of stars in singing roles, including Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Fergie, Penelope Cruz, and Marion Cottiliard, not to mention Judi Dench. But how do we know that Nine is destined to be great, whether audiences attend or not? Because Daniel Day- Lewis in in it, and that man doesn’t make bad movies. Expect eye-popping choreography, stunning costumes, and excellent acting.
Synopsis: Famous film director Guido Contini struggles to find harmony in his professional and personal lives, as he engages in dramatic relationships with his wife, his mistress, his muse, his agent, and his mother.
8. A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers’ latest has flown largely under the radar. It’s almost as though they were making the film in secret. But it merits consideration because — after a creative dry streak (Intolerable Cruelty, Ladykillers) — the Coens have returned to form with No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading. Much of the reason that A Serious Man hasn’t garnered any attention, however, is that it doesn’t have the cast of Burn After Reading, nor does it really feature any notable actors. Alan Arkin and Richard Kind are the best known members of the cast. But again, it’s the Coens, which is enough to get most of us in a theater seat, assuming that critics give it a good send-off. It also boasts one hell of an intriguing trailer.
Synopsis: A black comedy set in 1967 and centered on on Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor who watches his life unravel when his wife prepares to leave him because his inept brother won’t move out of the house. |
7. An Education: An Education hasn’t gained an enormous amount of attention yet, but it’s slowly gaining traction on the film festival circuit. I expect that, by the time it’s released just two weeks from now, that it will have a lot of critical pull behind it. It comes from Danish director, Lone Scherfig, who is largely unknown in the States, but the script comes from Nick Hornby, his first screenplay (and it’s not based on one of his own novels; it’s based on Lynn Barber’s memoir). Hornby’s novels About a Boy and High Fidelity had a certain cinematic feel to them, which made them perfect for the big screen. I wouldn’t expect anything different from An Education, which features Peter Saarsgard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, and Sally Hawkins, and a supposed break-out role from Carey Mulligan. It’s still a coming of age story, and nobody does that better than Hornby.
Synopsis: A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
6. The Men Who Stare at Goats: I include this on the list — and this high — because I’ve read the screenplay, from Peter Straughan, and it’s phenomenal. Add to that George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Stephen Root, and it’s hard to imagine how it could go terribly wrong. That doesn’t mean it won’t, but longtime Clooney collaborator, Grant Heslov — who is making his feature directorial debut — seems to have the knowledge and experience to extract the goodness out of the screenplay. And, as someone once suggested in our comments section, the trailer makes it appears as though the Coens have been out-Coened. That about sums it up for me, too.
Synopsis: A reporter in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady, a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army’s First Earth Battalion, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions.
5. The Informant: I’m one of the many who doesn’t really buy into Steven Soderbergh’s experimental side (The Bubble, Solaris, Che, The Girlfriend Experience, Full Frontal). They are way too film school for my populist disposition. But when Soderbergh ventures into mainstream fare (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic and The Ocean’s movies), he’s one of the best directors around. The man knows his way around a camera, and hardly anyone has a better sense of timing and pacing than Soderbergh, which makes him perfect for a black corporate conspiracy comedy. If that doesn’t sell you, then Matt Damon should (in addition to Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt, Scott Bakula, and Joel McHale).
Synopsis: Based on a true story. The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation, based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.
4. The Road: The real feel-good movie of the year, the bleak-as-hell Cormac McCarthy adaptation will probably ensure that a few people won’t even make it to the holidays. (Who the hell decided to release this on Thanksgiving weekend?) Expect beautiful, morbid, dreary. Take a razor blade with you. And despite the dust-up over early trailers — which contained misleading stock footage to give the impression of a more action-oriented movie — the John Hillcoat adaptation, which stars Viggo Mortenson and Charlize Theron — looks to be a faithful one. That may not be a great thing, if you’re not into despair. But it’s sure to get some Oscar looks.
Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible.
3. Up in the Air: The third George Clooney film in the top ten (if you count his voice work in The Fantastic Mr. Fox), Up in the Air looks to be the best, and the one with the best shot at awards consideration. Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Juno and Thank You for Smoking has been getting rave notices at the film festivals so far, and Reitman is on a huge hot streak. Besides the pedigree attached (Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Zack Galifianakis, Jody Hill), there’s no particular reason that this scores so high on the most anticipated list other than, well, the trailer looks absolutely fantastic.
Synopsis: Ryan Bingham is a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles and just after he’s met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams.
2. Zombieland: An awards contender probably should’ve been in this slot, but come on. This is Pajiba. Nut up. There’s nothing better than a great zombie comedy, and Zombieland looks like the best zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead. It’s got Woody Harrelson at his best, Emma Stone at her sultriest, and the thinking man’s Michael Cera, in Jesse Eisenberg. This, folks, will be the feel-good movie of the fall.
Synopsis: Zombieland focuses on two men who have found a way to survive a world overrun by zombies. Columbus is a big wuss — but when you’re afraid of being eaten by zombies, fear can keep you alive. Tallahassee is an AK-toting, zombie-slaying’ bad ass whose single determination is to get the last Twinkie on earth. As they join forces with Wichita and Little Rock, who have also found unique ways to survive the zombie mayhem, they will have to determine which is worse: relying on each other or succumbing to the zombies.
1. Where the Wild Things Are: Have you seen the trailer? If the movie captures half the magic of the trailer, Where the Wild Things Are is going to be the best movie of the fall. It makes me all fluttery and fuzzy. It’s seventeen kinds of heart-swelly. It’s The Dark Crystal and The Princess Bride and Neverending Story and Maurice Sendak all rolled up in a Dave Eggers’ screenplay and directed by Spike Jonze. It’s my most anticipated movie of the fall (hell, the year), which unfortunately means, if it’s bad, I’m going to be crestfallen, right along with half of our readership. We’ll have to form a support club.
Synopsis: An adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world—a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler.