Fall Preview 2012: At the movies, a big hot American autumn

From 'The Master.' (Courtesy themasterfilm.com)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Follow: feed

For the next several days, our critics look forward to the fall season in movies, music, books, television and more. Click here to keep up!

The fall movie season is its own dream factory, one that generates the more reliable source of pleasure: anticipation.

Every year bulletins float in from the cinematic beyond and every year we agree to get excited as the marquee festivals and awards handicapping begin. And then, the past few years anyway, the movies finally step in to ruin the fantasy, often appearing as if, instead of actually trying to be great, everyone involved had agreed to settle for the idea of greatness. In being encouraged to do the same, the viewer suffers the peculiar disappointment of bracing for a roundhouse and walking away with a chuck on the chin.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Every few years a bumper season comes through to renew the process, and call me a dreamer but I think this might be that year. The fall festivals are teeming with exciting work, and though it will be annoying to hear about the big jams with post-fall release dates (including Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, and a bunch more), the fall’s theatrical calendar is crowded with uncommonly good-looking titles.

At this point that’s all I can really say, but even that feels exciting. It’s tough to draw out convergences, though at least one feels obvious: After last year’s domination by The Artist, this year’s relative lack of foreign language films (fall festivals will feature new Olivier Assayas, Cristian Mungu, and Abbas Kiarostami movies, all opening next year) only highlights the number of Big American filmmakers telling Big American stories.

They may not all succeed in making it new, but I feel more confident than I have in a while that at the very least it won’t be boring.

The Auteurs

We’ve been teased, trailered, and subjected to the tweets of those who sold their mortal thetans to get to Chicago for the surprise screening (in 70 mm, it was gasped) of The Master (September 13) held there in mid-August. Paul Thomas Anderson returns with what appears to be another seething epic of high Americana. Phillip Seymour Hoffman stars as an L. Ron Hubbard-esque guru building his church and Joaquin Phoenix plays one of his seekers, a troubled veteran adrift in post-World War II America. Trailer

David’s Chase’s Not Fade Away was recently announced as the closing night film for October’s New York Film Festival, though the rest of us will have to wait until December 21 for Chase’s feature directorial debut. No trailer has been released yet, but we do know it’s a period piece (set in 1964) about three Jersey boys who are inspired to start a band by the first television appearance of the Rolling Stones. Among a cast of newbies (including John Magaro, Jack Huston, and Will Brill) are James Gandolfini and Brad Garrett.

Judd Apatow has styled This Is 40 (December 21) as a sequel to Knocked Up, his 2007 feature breakout. Here he focuses on that film’s peripheral players, the cautionary married couple played by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd (parts of whose dynamic was drawn from that of Apatow and Mann, his wife). Their prickly subplot added emotional ballast and some of the movie’s best scenes to Knocked Up; the trailer for This Is 40 feels a little heavy on aging jokes and domestic body horror, but when it comes to trailers and contemporary comedy especially, that’s the nature of the beast. I’m curious to see if and how Apatow reflects his own maturity in this story about maturing. Trailer

Heart-shredder, -chiller, or -sinker, maybe—but Michael Haneke, heartbreaker? That’s the word, anyway, on his Amour (December 19), the story of an octogenarian couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) tested when one of them falls ill. Isabelle Huppert also appears as the couple’s daughter. Amour emerged from Cannes the winner of the Palme d’Or and a favorite of surprised critics, who perhaps entered Haneke’s eleventh film (others include Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, and The White Ribbon) with their central organs girded against some more typically clinical assault. Trailer

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (December 25) seems designed for wild card status. As a certain Bill Hader character might say, this movie’s got everything: afros, Germans, Johnny Cash, blood-spattered cotton blossoms, coconut-sipping villains, a slave revenge story, blaxploitation, silent d’s…The gonzo yang to the genteel yin of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (see below), Django Unchained follows the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) recruited by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz and his funky-ass accent) two years before the Civil War. Leonardo DiCaprio also appears as a plantation owner who forces slaves to participate in gladiatorial battles. From the glimpses provided by the trailer, the unchained part is less of a specific reference and more of a thematic tool. Trailer

Contemporary adaptations

David O. Russell is back with Silver Linings Playbook (November 21), the writer-director’s first adaptation (of the 2008 novel of the same name by Matthew Quick). Bradley Cooper plays a mentally ill high school teacher who moves home to reboot his life. Jennifer Lawrence plays the pillhead neighbor who attaches to Cooper, manic-depressive dream-girl style, and Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver star as his long-suffering parents. Trailer

Rust and Bone (November 16) is the new film from celebrated A Prophet writer/director Jacques Audiard. Marion Cotillard stars as a recent paraplegic and Matthias Schoenaerts her unlikely lover in this adaptation of Canadian author Craig Davidson’s short story cycle of the same name. Very well received at Cannes, Rust and Bone explores the rehabilitative properties of love as well as its limits and impossibilities. Trailer

Life of Pi (November 21) is the 3-D adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestseller from Ang Lee starring Tobey Maguire and Gerard Depardieu, Irffan Khan, and newcomer Suraj Sharma. The trailer promises superb visuals in the magic realist mode, something it has in common with Cloud Atlas, coming October 26 from the tantalizing directorial collective of Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski. Adapted by the trio from David Mitchell’s centripetal novel, Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent, among many others. A recent six-minute preview set the Internet alight, and its premiere in Venice is one of the most anticipated of the fall festival circuit. Trailer

News on the March

17 Girls (September 21) transplants a true story out of Massachusetts—about a group of teenaged girls who formed a pregnancy pact—to Brittany, France. The filmmaking duo of sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin decided to set the film in their hometown, something I find oddly touching: one country’s tabloid caricature becomes another’s tender ode to girlhood. Trailer

Argo (October 12) is Ben Affleck’s third feature as a director, and this time he has taken the true, long-classified events of a 1979 Iranian hostage crisis as his subject. Based on Joshuah Bearman’s 2007 Wired magazine article, Argo depicts the so-called “Canadian caper,” the unorthodox rescue of a group of six American diplomats who managed to avoid capture during the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Affleck plays one of the CIA agents involved in planning the escape, and he’s surrounded himself with a cast of go-to craggy white guys including Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. Trailer

Kathryn Bigelow re-teams with her Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty (December 19), formerly and provocatively known as the Untitled Osama Bin Laden Project. Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and Scott Adkins are featured in this loose retelling of the decade-long series of events that led to the May, 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden. Are we ready for an action-movie retelling of those events? I guess we’d better be, because it's ready for us. Trailer

From The Orphanage director J.A. Bayona comes The Impossible (December 21), which stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and tells the story of one family’s survival of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. I felt a little queasy about the trailer (which uses the same tinkly piano score as the trailer for Rust and Bone) for this one, to be honest, but my duties as a McGregor completist will have me there no matter what. Trailer

History on the March/Period Classics

Of the season’s lit-comp crop, I’m most excited about Wuthering Heights (October 5), as told from the fascinating, unnervingly erotic perspective of Scottish director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank). Like Cary Fukunaga’s earthy re-imagining of Jane Eyre last year, this production puts a classic in the hands of a singular and unconventional talent. A cast of unknowns (including James Howson and Kaya Scodelario as Heathcliff and Catherine) and a dreamy, forbidding trailer confirm Arnold’s determination to find something new roiling out there on the moors. Trailer

Taking a more aggressively postmodern approach to the same problem is Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (November 16), which stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson, and Olivia Williams. Working from a script adaptation by no less than Tom Stoppard, Wright has translated Tolstoy’s novel to the stage—or meta-stage—where the action appears to flow to and from the conceit of a public performance. It looks heady and overheated and like it just might work, should you find room in heart and gourd for another two-plus hours of a glittering Knightley pheasant-bound into yet another corset. Trailer

If the pairing of Steven Spielberg and the historical epic makes you nervous, the fact that his Lincoln(November 9) features a script by Tony Kushner (who adapted Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals with co-writer Paul Webb) and Daniel Day Lewis in the role of the most venerated American president should keep the Amistad flashbacks at bay. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Spader also appear, but other than that Spielberg’s playing this one pretty close to the waistcoat.

Another president and another casting coup recommend Hyde Park on Hudson (December 7), which finds Bill Murray playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Olivia Williams co-stars as the indomitable Eleanor, and Laura Linney plays a visiting Roosevelt cousin and our narrator. Directed by Roger Mitchell, Hudson takes a microcosmic approach to its themes, focusing on the 1939 visit of England’s King and Queen to the president’s upstate New York estate—an appeal by the former for support as England faced the prospect of World War II. The trailer presents the story as more of an airy comedy of manners in the mold of The King’s Speech; history as atmosphere for hot dog jokes. Trailer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14): Peter Jackson has returned, after much to-ing and frodo-ing, to direct this prequel, and Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis and the gang are back (along with newcomers including Martin Freeman, of the BBC's Sherlock, playing Bilbo Baggins) for another homosocial, interspecies dispatch from Middle Earth, this time in, yes, 3-D. If that’s not all the information you need, you probably already know much more about it than I could tell you. Trailer

Anne Hathaway’s sacrificially shaved head continues casting about the world, a furry eyeball imploring us to see Les Misérables (December 14), Tom Hooper’s engorged adaptation of the world’s longest-running musical and the movie for which she was shorn like a New Zealand lamb. I’m not sure if being the world’s longest-running anything is an endorsement or a blight, but like Hathaway’s Locks of Love donation (and a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter), it can’t be so easily dismissed. Trailer

Low Riders

A luminous, thoughtful documentary about urban decline, Detropia (September 7) is one of the few notable documentaries of the fall so far. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady bring lyricism and a host of human voices to their inquiry into what happened to the great American city of Detroit, and what the future might hold. Trailer

Julian Farino’s The Oranges (October 5), about a socially fatal affair between a young woman (Leighton Meester) and a family man played by Hugh Laurie, looks too determinedly cozy, but I can’t resist a cast that includes Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, Alia Shawkat, Alison Janney, and Adam Brody. Trailer.

With Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie Dewitt, and John Krasinski arranged into a similar configuration, Nobody Walks (October 12) presumably casts a darker eye on the same scenario. As she demonstrated with You Won’t Miss Me, director Ry Russo-Young (who co-wrote the Nobody Walks script with Lena Dunham) brings a real edge to her depiction of female desire and desirability. Looking forward to seeing what she does with the temptress/homewrecker cliché aptly skewered in Woody Allen’s recent To Rome With Love. Trailer

Shades of Cosmopolisinflect Holy Motors (October 17), Leos Carax’s (The Lovers on the Bridge) existential limo ride starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, and Kylie Minogue. Dennis Lim has called it “about as close as Carax has come to an artistic manifesto.” Trailer

I could exhaust myself just anticipating everything going on in This Must Be the Place (November 2), which stars Sean Penn as a faded glam-rock star searching for the Nazi who tormented his father during the Holocaust. This syndrome may have ultimately hurt Paolo Sorrentino’s movie, which has suffered a surprisingly deflated reception on the festival circuit (Frances McDormand and Judd Hirsch co-star; David Byrne plays himself!). Trailer

For fans of Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Our Beloved Month of August), the black-and-white TABU (December 26) might double as a holiday gift. For everyone else it may prove the unexpected movie to seek out, a bisected love story launched from an old woman’s (Laura Soveral) remembrance on her deathbed. Well received at Cannes and elsewhere, even from here TABU looks like it might provide the strange and inventive antidote to award season bloat. Trailer