By most measures, summer of 2013 was a disaster for Hollywood, with several big-budget blockbusters severely under-performing. For all of you who relished in the downfall of a broken system reliant on bloated remakes and sequels, things are only going to escalate in the next few years. I also didn’t watch any of the movies that came out this summer, which is okay, because I know exactly what The Lone Ranger is all about with ever having to see it. The last movie I watched in the theater was The Amazing Spider-Man, and that was on July 8, 2012, the night before my daughter was born. Since then, the prospect of actually going to the movies has been non-existent. Not only was I preoccupied with keeping a tiny human alive, but there also wasn’t much incentive for me to leave my family and sit in a dark room with a bunch of strangers. Now that my baby is getting older, however, I have been talking with my wife about making our way back to the theater. Lucky for us, there are some seriously good-looking movies coming out this fall. Here are the five I am most looking forward to, along with several honorable mentions.
5. The Counselor (Oct. 25)–Dir. Ridley Scott
Despite making his mark forever with Alien and Bladerunner, Ridley Scott has made some serious duds over the years. Yet, 2012’s lightning-rod Prometheus was an amazing, terrifying, and nuanced film, despite some really stupid scientists. While not as philosophically bombastic as Prometheus, The Counselor looks like a thrilling and supremely crafted morality tale of a lawyer’s descent into a world of crime and violence that he can’t escape. Combine this with a star-studded cast and the visual pop we can expect from a director like Scott, and we have ourselves a film.
Yet, if this were it, The Counselor might not have made this list. The real draw, the thing that could vault this move to elite status, is Cormac McCarthy’s original script. The man behind No Country for Old Men, The Road, and perhaps the greatest American novel ever written is tackling the big screen for the first time. To say I am excited would be an understatement.
4. Don Jon (Sept. 27)–Dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut opens today after a lengthy tour of the indie-cinema festival circuit. Upon premiering at Sundance this year, Don Jon has gotten a lot of positive media attention. Yet, the premise seems something out of Judd Apatow’s notebook; a porn-addicted lady’s man (played by Gordon-Levitt himself) falls for a romance-addicted bombshell (played by Scarlet Johansson), and hilarity ensues. The only difference between this and a vapid and most likely offensive rom-com, and this is a really really big difference, is that Don Jon appears to take relationships between men and women seriously. While there are some potential pitfalls (affirming the stereotype that men are physical and women emotional, for example), Don Jon looks like a surprisingly thoughtful and perhaps even important movie that takes modern masculinity seriously in a way that isn’t just weak men blaming strong women for their own impotence. The themes of fantasy, desire, and how to establish real, authentic connection in a modern world that makes that incredibly difficult are worthwhile and prescient.
It will also be interesting to see how Joseph Gordon-Levitt handles the other side of the camera.
3. Blue Caprice (Sept. 13)–Dir. Alexandre Moors
I am not sure how many of you remember, but eleven years ago this October a series of mysterious, and fatal, shootings took place in the Washington D.C. area. Ten people were killed in what became known as the Beltway Sniper Attacks, and the country, only one year post-9/11, was gripped with fear and suspense. The shooters were named John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the latter being a young teenager who fell prey to Muhammad’s influence. Blue Caprice, which was the color and make of the car they drove during the shooting spree, follows their horrific story.
This is the most obscure film on this list, and will be the most difficult to find. Locate your local art-house cinema to see if and/or when they are showing it. Otherwise, you will have to wait and watch this chilling tale in the comfort of your living room.
2. 12 Years a Slave (Oct. 18)–Dir. Steve McQueen
The initial reactions to 12 Years a Slave have been hot and Oscar-heavy, and Steve McQueen’s latest could very well live up to the hype. After a year that gave us Tarantino’s horrifyingly brilliant Django Unchained, McQueen takes us back to the antebellum south, albeit with a decidedly different tone. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography detailing his journey from Northern free-man to southern slave, and the story looks filled with trials and torments. Directed by a man who could make a prison cell covered in feces look like fine art, 12 Years a Slave will surely be beautiful. I just hope that all that aestheticism doesn’t take away from the brutal and intensely human subject matter. Judging from the trailer and everything I have read, 12 Years a Slave seems to hit that balance perfectly.
1. Gravity (Oct. 4)–Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Gravity is about two astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney who get stranded in space with limited oxygen and no way to communicate with earth. If that seems boring, then you obviously haven’t seen the initial trailer, which went viral a couple months back. And if this movie can leave Wesley Morris without any trenchant commentary or critique, then it must be pretty amazing. Not only am I excited about this film, but I am excited about watching it in 3-D, which is saying something considering there has only been one other movie I was excited about watching in 3-D, and it was about cave paintings.
I could say more about what makes this movie profoundly interesting to me, but really, just watch the trailer, and then shut your computer, lean back in your chair, close your eyes, and think about space. Just take, like, two minutes, and meditate on what “space” is, and let your mind go to all the paradoxes and mysteries and philosophical rabbit-holes of what that means, and then think about getting lost up there.
This movie is a lock for me. It will be the first movie I watch in the theater since being a father, and what better way to commemorate such an occasion than to contemplate the powerful minutiae of human experience in the vast nothingness of eternity.
Honorable Mentions: As I Lay Dying (James Franco); Oldboy (Spike Lee) ;The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese); Inside Llewyn Davis (The Coen Brothers); American Hustle (David O. Russel)