With good movies actually starting to trickle into theaters (see: The Town, Easy A, Never Let Me Go), the fall film season is officially upon us. And after an especially weak summer dominated by Toy Story 3, Inception and only a handful of quality indies (including The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone), it couldn’t have arrived soon enough. Luckily for film lovers, this fall’s promising crop of cinematic offerings is dominated by some of the business’ most dazzling auteurs: Mike Leigh. Sofia Coppola. Peter Weir. Danny Boyle. Alejandro González Iñárritu. Darren Aronofsky. David Fincher. And more. Below are the 15 films we can’t wait to see, a few of which aren’t technically released in the fall but looked too good not to include:
Release Date: Oct. 15
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard
Studio: Warner Bros.
Based on its cryptic trailer, Clint Eastwood’s self-described “chick flick” is a welcome change-of-pace for the director, whose films of late have been simultaneously well-made and a bit dull. With an ensemble cast led by the ever-reliable Matt Damon, Eastwood’s latest meditation on life and loss looks interesting. Or, the very least, more interesting than Changeling.
14. Rabbit Hole
Release Date: Dec. 17
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
Nicole Kidman has always been better in independent films than big-budget studio fare, and here she’s collaborated with risque avant garde filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Itch, Shortbus) for what sounds like a devastating drama about two parents (Kidman, Eckhart) dealing with the sudden loss of their child. Sounds like a second coming of In the Bedroom, which is a very good thing indeed.
Release Date: December
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Javier Bardem
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Early word on Babel and 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest pegs the film as devastating and relentles—so, just like any other one of his films. Front and center is Javier Bardem who, after a series of supporting roles in Hollywood productions like Eat Pray Love and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, looks like he’ll be able to lose himself in a character that will further confirm he’s one of the most gifted actors on the planet.
12. The King’s Speech
Release Date: Nov. 26
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter
Studio: The Weinstein Co.
Colin Firth stars as King George VI, who enlists Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist to help him battle his image-crippling stutter. That doesn’t exactly sound like rousing entertainment, but The King’s Speech has already been designated as an Oscar frontrunner. Moreover, director Tom Hooper made last year’s overlooked The Damned United, and after his superlative performance in A Single Man, Firth has established himself as an actor worth trusting.
11. The Tourist
Release Date: Dec. 10
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany
There is something perfect about pairing Angelina Jolie opposite Johnny Depp. Their star wattage and good looks alone are enough to guarantee a blockbuster, but this crime-caper flick looks like it will fill that crucial slot of the breezy crowdpleaser that aims for nothing more than a good time at the theater (rather than a seat at the Kodak). It doesn’t hurt that its production values and exotic European locales are almost as handsome as the stars themselves.
10. Blue Valentine
Release Date: Dec. 31
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Studio: The Weinstein Co.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are probably the two most-talented actors of their generation so, the pairing of the two is brilliant casting. Early word on the film (and the couple’s chemistry and performances) is tremendous, positioning it almost as a modern-era Revolutionary Road. Its late-December release date is a little ominous, however. Hopefully it won’t get lost in the shuffle.
9. The Way Back
Release Date: December TBD (2011?)
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan
Based on a novel of the same name, The Way Back is a World War II-set story of seven people who escaped from a Siberian gulag. The film, based on actual events, is the first directed by Australian auteur Peter Weir since 2003’s Master and Commander, and, on paper, this story of survival should warrant just as much Oscar attention as that film did. Ed Harris, in particular, seems overdue.
8. 127 Hours
Release Date: Nov. 5
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Lizzy Caplan
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Actor/writer/performance artist/professional celebrity James Franco stars in Danny Boyle’s first film since his triumph at the Oscars in 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire. In this real-life story, Franco plays Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who amputated his arm after becoming trapped between a boulder in 2003. The subject matter is gruesome and claustrophobic, but if there’s anyone who can pull it off, it’s Boyle.
7. Another Year
Release Date: Dec. 29
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Mike Leigh has slowly become one of the most brilliant, dependable and inventive filmmakers living today. For his latest effort, he employs many actors from his past films (like Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville) to tell a story of interweaving characters struggling to define happiness in their life—a reoccuring theme in the Leigh oeuvre. Expect this to be one of the year’s biggest critical darlings.
Release Date: Dec. 22
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan
Studio: Focus Features
In Sofia Coppola’s fourth film, an edgy Hollywood actor (Stephen Dorff) has his life turned upside down when his estranged 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) turns up unexpectedly. Judging from the trailer (scored by Phoenix, no less), the film will be a sardonic, brooding, introspective tone poem to a father-daughter relationship. Hmm…sounds a lot like Lost in Translation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
5. The Social Network
Release Date: Today (Oct. 1)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara
The buzz on David Fincher’s latest film has been deafening, so much so that nearly every young actor in its cast has already seen their career enhanced significantly. (Sony’s cast Andrew Garfield as the next Spider-Man, and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s own Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series.) With critics lavishing four star reviews and pundits whispering the five-lettered o-word, The Social Network looks to be that rare of-the-moment movie that completely taps into the cultural zeitgeist—one that actually makes a movie star out of Justin Timberlake.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Release Date: Nov. 19
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Studio: Warner Bros.
The second-to-last entry in one of the most successful film franchises of all-time. Does it really need further explanation?
3. The Fighter
Release Date: Dec. 10
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Christian Bale (returning to his emaciated Machinist-era body) top-line director David O. Russell’s first film since 2004’s I Heart Huckabees. Besides that temper of his, Russell is known for the offbeat, almost cold sensibility to his films, which makes The Fighter even more curious because in many ways it seems like a standard biopic. Regardless, Bale looks electric, and we’re curious to see if Adams can pull off a character that isn’t quite so angelic.
2. True Grit
Release Date: Dec. 25
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper
The last time the Coen Brothers put their spin on a Western (No Country for Old Men), it won four Academy Awards. There’s no doubt this remake of the classic John Wayne film will continue their recent artistic renaissance (reuniting with Jeff Bridges doesn’t hurt, either). The only question mark is the casting of the unknown young actress Hailee Steinfeld in such a pivotal role—though, based on the trailer below, it looks like she’s more than up to the task. Plus, The Dude in an eye patch!
1. Black Swan
Release Date: Dec. 1
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassell
Studio: Fox Searchlight
The trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s ballerina psycho-horror flick is effed up in the best way possible. Natalie Portman slowly starts to lose her mind whilst masturbating on a bed, kissing Mila Kunis, and pulling feathers out of her skin while her eyes turn blood red. How could this not be our top pick? Praise at film festivals has already been rapturous, and Portman is said to give the performance of a lifetime. Bring it on.