With the last week of summer almost upon us, it’s time to celebrate the end of Hollywood’s silly season and embrace Fall. it’s the time of year when Hollywood roles out it’s big prestige pictures, would-be awards contenders, and, as we get closer to Christmas, fun-for-the-whole-family movies. This year promises to be no different as we have A-List directors, actors, and actresses entering the fray, blatantly obvious Oscar-bait movies engineered to emote and inspire, and a glut of family friendly pics. This is my favourite movie season of the year mostly because of the vast diversity of films on offer as movies as disparate as the new ambitious Blade Runner sequel and a My Little Pony movie get released in the same week. There truly is something for everyone and a lot of it. At last count I saw 93 movies being released between now and the end of the year and as more movies vie for awards contention I can guarantee that number goes up.
Of course not every project being released in the Fall warrants excitement. So in the great tradition of entertainment websites everywhere I figured I might as well give you my list of the movies I’m most excited to see of the Fall season. This list serves a double purpose too, as with the imminent arrival of my second child, chances are getting to see half of these movies this fall is going to be an optimistic pipe dream at best. So consider this my target list, and what I think might be the best shots at being the best movies of Fall 2017.
15. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (December 15, 2017) dir. Rian Johnson
To the surprise of no one, the latest Star Wars has to be included on the list. The ominously titled The Last Jedi promises to take the good work that The Force Awakens did in restarting the franchise and push on to the obligatory but nonetheless exciting “darker” second instalment. But besides the general hype that accompanies any Star Wars pick, what has me most excited is that attached to the project is Rian Johnson who shot to fame with Brick and Looper, two very smart reimagined takes on the film noir and sci-fi genres. If the trailers are to be believed, it’s clear that this latest instalment is going to be much more intimate and character focused which plays right into Johnson’s wheelhouse. It’s not the most exciting pick but with the critical and financial success of The Force Awakens and the spinoff Rogue One it’s clear that Lucasfilm has at least earned the right to get us hyped-up every Christmas from here on out.
14. PITCH PERFECT 3 (December 22, 2017) dir. Trish Sie
You might think I’m aca-kidding here, but I’m dead aca-serious. I have no idea how, why, or when but somehow I have become entranced by this series about this (former) college acapella group and their quest to the top. The series has always managed to say just on the right side of slightly ridiculous (underground acapella-offs, elaborate concerts, the suggestion that anybody would show up to watch and cheer an elaborate college-circuit acapella competition). And having conquered the college scene and North America, what is there left to do but simply conquer the world (and student debt) through the power of acappela? I have no idea how they’re going to do it or if it’s going to be remotely believable, but I’m going to enjoy the ride. And I don’t care if you judge me for this pick, because I choose to be a happy person and Pitch Perfect undeniably makes me aca-happy.
13. SUBURBICON (October 27, 2017) dir. George Clooney
George Clooney has had what can be charitably called a mixed career as a director. His early pictures Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and especially Good Night and Good Luck hinted at a budding future master of directing but his more recent output has not borne as much fruit. So while I might approach a new Clooney picture with a little bit of trepidation but a couple of things has got me excited for this. First, the cast looks stellar whether it be an Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, or more importantly Oscar Isaac who I really would watch in anything. But the more important reason I’m excited is that this movie is penned by the Coen brothers. While I’m not sure exactly how much this final product is penned by the Coen brothers, the mere fact that they are attached to the project merits this film being on this list.
12. MOTHER! (September 15, 2017) dir. Darren Aronofsky
This is perhaps the film I have most trepidation with putting on this list. Aronofsky is returning to the well of psychological horror that he tapped with his biggest his Black Swan. The problem is that the further away I get from Black Swan the less I like it (although in all fairness I haven’t watched it again since I seeing it in the theatres). But when the director himself calls Mother! a film for people who have a threshold as high or higher than Requiem for a Dream it doesn’t necessarily inspire enthusiasm to go see the thing. But then I saw the trailer, and the truth is I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued to see Jennifer Lawrence working with truly gritty, original, and dark material again (since her debut in Winter’s Bone). I’m intrigued to see exactly how Aronofsky plans to terrify and disturb me. But mostly I’m intrigued because there is absolutely nothing I know about this film, and Aronofsky has intentionally kept everything vague. Like the legendary Pandora (the mythical person, not the music streaming service), his obliqueness simply makes me want to open that box even if I might regret it later.
11. THOR: RAGNAROK (November 3, 2017) dir. Taika Waititi
As of late I’ve been a little bit lukewarm to the cinematic universe that started a lot of ill-conceived would-be cinematic universes. Perhaps it’s because Marvel Cinematic Universe is close to approaching it’s first decade of existence; it just can’t help but start to feel a little long in the tooth. Perhaps its because it is starting to feel the same weight and bloat of continuity that the Marvel comic-books themselves have found themselves falling under time and time again. Whatever it is, the instalments have started to feel less like events to get excited about and more like obligations to keep up with.
All this to say that against all odds, Thor: Ragnarok has got me excited. With Taika Waititi at the helm there is the promise that the oddball humour he showed in his vampire-satire What We Do In The Shadows might just creep its way into our favourite Norse God. Add to that the best villain of the MCU in Loki and the unpredictable Hulk into the mix, and toss this group into space (by far the most interesting corner of the MCU) and you have all the makings of an interesting movie.
10. WOODSHOCK (September 22, 2017) dirs. Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy
Sometimes I get annoyed at modern movie trailers because they so obviously try to sell us the film’s biggest beats that they inevitably just giving away the story (*cough* Batman vs Superman *cough*). But the reason why I get annoyed is because once in awhile you get trailers like the one for Woodshock that does a fantastic job at piquing my interest while still leaving me with absolutely no idea what the movie is about.
The official synopsis from Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s debut is similarly vague: “Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug. Immersive, spellbinding, and sublime.” I have no idea what they decide to take that premise or even what genre this movie will end up falling in. But colour me intrigued.
9. THE SNOWMAN (October 20, 2017) dir. Tomas Alfredson
Amazingly it’s been six years since Tomas Alfredson’s great spy-thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. For his long overdue follow-up he seems to be returning to the mystery genre but with a heavy dose of horror. It stars the somehow still underrated Michael Fassbender as a detective and Rebecca Ferguson as his partner who finds themselves stumped, mocked, and possibly stalked by a serial killer who evades their every move.
The movie promises the same Scandinavian chilly horror that Alfredson utilized so effectively in his vampire thriller Let The Right One In. In addition, the genre is just a weak spot for me and I will gladly watch any crime mystery movie that is even half good. And the pedigree of the people involved in this movie ensures that it will be at least that good.
8. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (November 3, 2017) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
I will admit that I am late to encountering the work of the Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos and even then I’ve only seen his breakthrough American debut The Lobster which was wonderfully weird both in quirky and highly disturbing ways. Even a cursory reading of the descriptions of his earlier works Dogtooth and Alps will reveal that the man is nothing short of a provocateur. But far from merely shocking us, Lanthimos has made a career out of exploring the relationship between logic and emotion and the inherent contradictions we go through in navigating those waters.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer find Lanthimos re-teaming with Colin Farrell who this time plays a surgeon who attempts to reintegrate a troubled teen (Barry Keoghan, of Dunkirk fame) by bringing him into Farrell’s family. Not much more is known beyond that, besides the overwhelming impression that things do not go as planned and that Lanthimos’ sense of dark humour will not be lost here.
7. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (November 24, 2017) dir. Luca Guadagnino
Any movie by Luca Guadagnino automatically vaults onto this list as his work I Am Love remains one of my favourite movies from 2009. His movies are lush and opulent melodramas that recall for me the great romances of classic cinema like An Affair to Remember. And Call Me By Your Name sounds like it will be no different, as the sun-kissed summer romance comes with rave reviews out of Sundance.
The story centres on Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a teenager living in Italy for the summer as he follows his academic parents. Like many kids of academics, Elio is book-smart beyond his years but woefully naive in life until a grad-student Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to live with his family. But as with most coming-of-age tales, the novelty is not found in the story but the execution and if trailers are to be believed (which granted, they often are not), Guadagino looks to have than novelty in spades.
6. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (October 6, 2017) dir. Sean Baker
The moment a visionary director is given a chance to work with a bigger budget is always a trepidatious moment. It is an open question whether that director’s talents translate just as well when working on a bigger scale. And that is especially true in the case of Sean Baker, whose micro-budget breakout hit Tangerine was shot on an iPhone using non-professional actors with a tiny crew. Part of what made Tangerine work was the immersive on-the-ground depiction of a less-than-glamorous Los Angeles than nonetheless feels lived in and the warm intimacy of the storytelling.
Fortunately in this case, I do know that whatever trepidations I feel may be unfounded as The Florida Project has already opened to rave reviews at Cannes with special praise being singled out for Willem Dafoe’s performance as the owner of a motel in the Orlando-area. When phrases like “cements Baker’s status as one of the most innovative American directors working today” gets attached to the movie, you know it’s going to be one to see.
5. COCO (November 22, 2017) dirs. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
As I said in my Cars 3 review, Pixar has come down from the heady days of the late 2000s where Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 cemented the studio’s legendary status. And yet despite this creative slump by Pixar’s exorbitantly high standards, the studio’s releases are still appointment viewing and their latest movie Coco is no different.
But beyond being a Pixar film, there are several other reasons I’m excited. First of all, it’s Pixar’s first picture that depicts a non-white culture which as a non-white myself is something I welcome with open arms. It also is an increasingly rare original concept from Pixar centred around Dia de Los Muertos which is reason enough to be excited. But finally, for the first time Pixar is actually attempting a musical, which has the Disney-nerd in me pretty much over-the-moon with anticipation.
4. WONDERSTRUCK (October 20, 2017) dir. Todd Haynes
Most movies on this list have earned their spot simply on the merit of the director’s past work, and nowhere is that more true than with Todd Haynes’ latest feature Wonderstruck. The director of Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven, and most recently Carol has most certainly earned the right to sneak onto any of these previews whenever his latest projects debut.
Haynes is a master of telling a rich story of a past age in such a way as to make it shockingly relevant. And with Wonderstruck it seems that Haynes is not content to stick with one age, but to tell two parallel stories involving runaways with one being set in the 1920s and the other in the 1970s. While Top Chef has taught me that you should never ever produce two dishes when all that is required of you is to prepare one, I’m confident that Haynes will pull this one off as he weaves his usual poetic style of filmmaking.
3. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (October 6, 2017) dir. Denis Villeneuve
Truth be told, when I first heard that they were making a sequel to the masterful Blade Runner I rolled my eyes and screamed “Why?!?” It’s no secret that modern Hollywood has made it a lazy habit to resurrect old franchises and beloved movies as cheap money-grabs in lieu of actually investing in new and original stories. And at first glance it seemed the Blade Runner 2049 would be no different. Then I saw that Denis Villeneuve was directing this film and his 2016 film Arrival showed he had the sci-fi chops to direct the sequel to the iconic original. Next I heard that Canada’s own dreamboat Ryan Gosling was attached to star, and my interest grew a little more. But I was still lukewarm to the whole concept until the trailer, and subsequently my jaw, dropped.
All my initial fears about the sequel were quelled from the moment the Vangelis-inspired horns hit in the trailer as it became clear that Villeneuve and company at least understood the original and what made it special. The film looks gorgeous, epic, mysterious, and most importantly every bit the sci-fi noir that the original was. Now granted, these first impressions may be proven to be a false dawn and the movie might still be a train wreck. But for now, they have earned the hype.
2. THE SHAPE OF WATER (December 8, 2017) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
As I will always mention when Guillermo Del Toro comes up, it will forever irk me that for whatever reason Guillermo Del Toro was unable to adapt The Hobbit. This is because there is no other director who has a firmer grasp on how to create a fully realized fantasy world that is lived and breathed in. Every film Del Toro has made has been a marvel of world building whether it is the fantastical comic-book type fare of Hellboy and Pacific Rim or the more down-to-earth morality fables of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. Even minor works from Del Toro like his most recent Crimson Peak are almost always interesting.
The Shape of Water finds Del Toro returning to more fairy tale territory as he tells a “princess” story about a mute janitor and the strange creature she meets at the lab where she works. Of course being Del Toro, he is not content to tell a simple fairy tale but infuses it with an almost Jules Verne-esque retro-future sensibility that adds to the movie’s charm. Add to that Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg and I’m all in.
1. PHANTOM THREAD (December 25, 2017) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
At first glance it might seem a little weird that a movie with barely any plot details released, with no trailer, and with only the softest of release dates at the end of December makes it to the top of this list. As of writing IMDB can’t confirm that Phantom Thread is even the actual name for this project. But that is exactly the power of the reputation of the people centrally involved. First you have the director Paul Thomas Anderson who is the rare director who has close to a perfect filmography from his early work Boogie Nights all the way to his latest The Master. Joining him is the great Daniel Day Lewis who can easily make a claim to be the best living actor today. The last time these two figures collaborated they produced arguably the best movie of the 21st century in There Will Be Blood. So you see exactly why there is much reason to get excited about the fact that these two are trying to catch lightning in a bottle again? Truth be told it’s not fair to expect them to equal There Will Be Blood but if they even get close to matching that movie, Phantom Thread will easily be the best movie of the season if not the year.