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The 25 Most Anticipated Films of Fall 2014

Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan -- the boys are back in town.

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I’m not sure where you are, but here in Chicago it feels like the fall came ‘round way too early. As I throw another blanket on the bed and bid adieu to my A/C until next summer, my film buff senses tell me that award season is just around the corner. Let us say farewell to all the dinobots, talking raccoons, and ninja turtles I’ve loved (and hated) before, as we prepare ourselves for the always welcomed return of David Fincher, P.T. Anderson, and Christopher Nolan. Will they continue to improve upon their ever-blossoming direction, or will they deliver a dud? More importantly, what approaching film release will announce the arrival of a new icon, behind the scenes or in front of the camera? Our writers came up with a list of 25 films we are looking forward to seeing this fall as the winds blow in, the temperatures continue to drop, and the greats come out to play…

25. Into the Woods

While working on my high school theater program’s tech crew, I had the good fortune of staging Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s musical take on the Grimm fairy tales that hews closer to those than the Disneyfied versions now accepted as standard. It’s a fantastic show, full of dark humor and some sharp observations about the more problematic aspects of prince and princess stories, which is why it’s a little concerning that Disney of all studios is bringing it to the big screen. But between the all-star cast (Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and many more) and the hope that Rob Marshall can rediscover some of his Oscar-winning Chicago magic, there’s a chance that a skewed satire about the very fantasy characters Disney helped popularize could be the hit of the Christmas season. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Release Date: December 25th

24. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1

It can never be overstated enough how staggering an improvement Catching Fire was over the first installment of the Hunger Games series. Where Gary Ross’ film was a mess of poorly executed shaky-cam photography and underwhelming production value, Francis Lawrence injected a little life into the series and gave the YA dystopia phenomenon credibility with every audience. Although the relatively short final novel in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy has been split into two parts, in keeping with seemingly every third franchise installment that comes out in theaters now, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (good Lord, that title) has the chance to continue retroactively padding out the mythos of Panem, before the biggest post-Potter adapted franchise calls it a day. And, painfully, it’s one of the last chances we’ll get to marvel at the onscreen work of the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Release Date: November 21st

23. Unbroken

Filling the shoes of Louis Zamperini is no small task, but after seeing Jack O’Connell in Starred Up, I can safely say he’s up to the challenge. If Unbroken was a film based on a work of fiction, the World War II drama would seem too implausible to be true: track-and-field star joins Air Force, is shot down but survives on a life raft for a month, only to end up spending years at a Japanese war camp. However, it all happened. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book based on Zamperini’s accounts, Unbroken marks the second crack at directing for Angelina Jolie, but most intriguingly is based on a re-written script by Joel and Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski … c’mon. You know who they are!). –Justin Gerber

Release Date: December 25th

22. Horns

Daniel Radcliffe as Horns’ protagonist? I don’t know how I feel about that, per se, but there are other reasons that make fans of both horror films and novels curious to see this one. Horns is an adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel of the same name (Hill is Stephen King’s son, for all you constant readers out there). Hill’s tale of demons, revenge, and redemption should provide enough material to make it from page to screen with presumably little to no tinkering. The supporting ensemble is well-cast (Max Minghella, Juno Temple, David Morse to name but a few), and while Alejandro Aja did bring us the D.O.A. Mirrors and goofy Piranha, he did direct the good-until-the-last-second Haute Tension (High Tension) as well as one of the most underrated horror flicks of the past decade: the remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. –Justin Gerber

Release Date: October 31st

21. The Theory of Everything

Show of hands. Anybody else just get weepy during a trailer? Like, ads for Milk, you just know you’re in for a lifetime of big emotions? Me, I turned to jelly while watching a sneak peak of James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything. Don’t ask why, please. Stephen Hawking was, is, a freaking genius, and seeing him triumph against his physical limitations is just sublime cinema stuff. After an admittedly Oscar-baiting Toronto International Film Festival showing, The Theory of Everything is carefully shaping into the biopic to beat in 2014. Eddie Redamayne is Sir Stephen Hawking. Felicity Jones is the lovely, rock-like Jane Hawking. Together, they experience a lifetime of love in this grand universe of ours. Think A Beautiful Mind without the post-release allegations of white-washing racism and mania-bating. –Blake Goble

Release Date: November 7th

20. Clouds of Sils Maria

One of the more interesting features coming out of this year’s Cannes, Clouds of Sils Maria teases the possibility of acclaimed filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Something in the Air, Carlos, Summer Hours) moving into broader territory in both subject and cast. An aging actress (Juliette Binoche) is offered a role in a new staging of a play, the film version of which made her famous years before. Except this time, she’s to play the role of the older woman, with a young ingénue (Chloë Grace Moretz) assuming her role. As she steals away to the mountains with her assistant (Kristen Stewart, reportedly stellar), she struggles with her pending mortality and, possibly, her sanity. Assayas is always a filmmaker whose work is worth seeking out, and the idea of him working with name actors is endlessly exciting. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Release Date: December 1st (Limited)

19. Horrible Bosses 2

Because Horrible Bosses smashed the summer box office in 2011, New Line Cinema just had to make a sequel. Actually, good for them. The original black comedy worked with a stupid story made hilarious by adrenalized performances, specifically the uncanny chemistry between Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. The supporting cast of Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell was just the extra side of Jell-O. This time around, they all return (sans Farrell), and the boss-killing medium has been replaced with a kidnapping heist gone wrong. Joining the gang is Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, and Jonathan “Breaking Bad‘s Mike” Banks, three names that have really shined in comedy lately. Well, not Pine exactly, but let’s give the guy a chance, even if it means totally ignoring 2012’s This Means War–Michael Roffman

Release Date: November 26th

18. Rosewater

In 2009, Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, shortly after appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, was arrested in Iran amid election protests as a “Western spy” and held for 118 days. Stewart has said that he felt personally affected by Bahari’s story, and as a result, decided to take on an adaptation of his best-selling memoir, Then They Came for Me, as his directorial debut. Rosewater, which Stewart also wrote and took several months off work to shoot, stars Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari. And if you’ve seen him onscreen before, especially in Y Tu Mamá También, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Bad Education, then you know that his performance will be a high point. With the horrific ISIS slayings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff still fresh in our minds, a film about another captured, tortured journalist is likely to elicit two conflicting reactions: an urge to avoid it, out of weariness, or the urge to see it, out of necessity. –Leah Pickett

Release Date: November 7th

17. Fury

As a writer and director, David Ayer (End of Watch, Sabotage) excels at telling stories that hinge on themes of violence and machismo. That might just make him the best possible candidate to helm Fury, a film that follows a Sherman tank commander (Brad Pitt) and his crew on a dangerous mission to push past enemy lines during the final stages of World War II. Based on Ayer’s previous work, audiences are in for a bloody, unflinching look at the brutal realities of war. The director also has a knack for getting gritty, typecasting-be-damned performances out of his actors, so be prepared for some fine work from an all-star cast that includes Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf, and the always excellent Michael Peña. –Adriane Neuenschwander

Release Date: October 17th

16. Dear White People

Following a successful Indiegogo campaign and an electric showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a much buzzed about indie is finally making its way to the big screen. Written and directed by Justin Simien, with Twenties writer and comedian Lena Waithe on board as a producer, Dear White People focuses on four black students at an Ivy League college and their responses to a riot that breaks out over an African American-themed party thrown by white students. The film stars mostly unknowns and up-and-comers (with the exception of the university dean, Dennis Haysbert) and, if a hilarious trailer and glowing early reviews are any indication, is bursting at the seams with raw truth and talent. Attention all people, but especially Caucasians: You should see this movie. –Leah Pickett

Release Date: October 17th

15. American Sniper

There’s a scarce amount of promotional publicity to go on for Clint Eastwood’s 37th directorial effort, American Sniper. Yet the movie’s Christmas release date does say a lot. Eastwood owned the 2005 Oscars with his elegiac Million Dollar Baby after an under-the-radar release on Santa’s day. Same with Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006. Now, Warner is quietly, carefully debuting an adaptation of Chris Kyle’s Naval memoir on Christmas from master minimalist and public patriot Eastwood. Hotshot Bradley Cooper is starring as Kyle, in beefed-up and bearded regalia. Will this be a macho-apologetic actioner, or a thoughtful take on a career in killing? Will this be another late-career snooze or an unusually great gift from Clint for Christmas? Do not discuss until Xmas. –Blake Goble

Release Date: Jan 16th

14. Listen Up Philip

The teaser trailer does its job. It teases. A series of interview quips with lovely women (Elizabeth Moss, Kystin Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume) and the always lovely Jonathan Pryce, the trailer doles out hints of the titular Philip that pique your interest for a story that’s nothing new. A blasé author (Jason Schwatzman) is bad with women. He’s sad, or something, and he’s going to decompress in Pryce’s summer home. This would be another page from the Woody Allen playbook if it weren’t coming from Alex Ross Perry, who divided audiences across my couch with The Color Wheel. That movie was a joy and a trail, with abrasive characters, shoddy camerawork, and a repugnant (or transformative?) ending. I hated it moments afterwards, but woke up loving it. However this plays out (I’m guessing it’ll look like Vincent Gallo and Noah Baumbach fighting over frayed ends of discarded Kodak 16mm stock on their way to the Hamptons), I’m hoping it’ll be as caustically funny and wincingly uncomfortable as The Color Wheel, but more mature and free of incest. –Roy Ivy

Release Date: January 20th

13. The Interview

Without knowing it, Kim Jong-un has helped create a whole lot of free buzz for The Interview, the newest collaboration from the writing-directing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Leader declared the film — a comedy about two journalists (James Franco, Seth Rogen) recruited to assassinate the North Korean dictator — an act of terror and promised retaliation upon its release. As a result of this threat, Sony Pictures skittered back to the editing room and made some changes to appease him. There’s no word yet on whether or not the changes are enough for Kim Jong-un to schedule a movie night with his BFF Dennis Rodman, but if The Interview is on par with Rogen and Goldberg’s last joint effort, This Is the End, then American audiences are in for a good time. –Adriane Neuenschwander

Release Date: December 25th

12. Men, Women & Children

Director Jason Reitman has enjoyed a winning streak of films over the course of his relatively short career — Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult, marred only by the small hiccup of Labor Day — meaning that his latest effort, Men, Women & Children, has a solid chance of continuing said streak. This digital-age drama follows an ensemble cast of high schoolers and their parents navigating the ways in which the Internet has filtered and altered their relationships, communication, self-image, and love lives. The film also explores such prescient social issues as video game addiction, online dating enabling infidelity, and an oversaturation of unrealistic imagery that continues to feed our culture of detachment. And in the wake of an egregious celebrity nude photo hacking and chronic melee over the iPhone6 , one can only hope that audiences will take a sliver of epiphany from Reitman’s art-imitating-life narrative, or at least tear their eyes away from their smart screens long enough to let the reality of his message sink in. –Leah Pickett

Release Date: October 17th

11. Love and Mercy

Brian Wilson’s entire life has just been waiting for the silver screen. His father, Murray Wilson, was an abusive ego-maniac, his Beach Boys bandmates hardly understood him (see: Mike “Vegetarian Pizza” Love), and there’s the whole ordeal with the sandbox and not getting out of bed that the Barenaked Ladies even wrote about. Now, producer-turned-director Bill Pohlad (The Tree of Life) is finally bringing his story to life with two exceptional leads: Paul Dano as ’60s Brian and John Cusack as ’80s Brian. Paul Giamatti will play Dr. Eugene Landy, Wilson’s highly controversial therapist, while Elizabeth Banks will play Wilson’s patient wife, Melinda. Expect to finally understand why the world’s most beautiful music could only come from its most tortured soul. For a good, if not jeopardized read, consult Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story. You won’t be able to put it down. –Michael Roffman

Release Date: December 26th

10. Dumb and Dumber To

There’s an understandable aura of skepticism surrounding Dumb and Dumber To, especially in this Age of Unnecessary Sequels. But what makes Dumb and Dumber To promising is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels didn’t need to make it. Daniels is kicking ass as a dramatic actor these days, what with his starring gig on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. And Carrey? Well, he’s got a shit ton of money and the freedom to do anything he damn well pleases. Desperation doesn’t seem to be the key ingredient here. So what brought them back? Maybe it’s a great script. Or Jennifer Lawrence. Or maybe they just really like each other. Regardless, it’s promising. And based on the trailer alone, the humor feels of a piece with the film’s 1994 predecessor, a fact that will probably be Dumb and Dumber To’s saving grace and Achilles’ heel. Were the film to adopt the sly raunch of the in vogue Apatow camp, it would feel disingenuous. But to stay true to the original film’s zany sensibility is to alienate an audience that’s evolved in its comedic tastes. This, my friends, is why you don’t wait 20 years to make a sequel. –Randall Colburn

Release Date: November 14th

09. Ned Rifle

Fay Grim pissed me off. For one, it was just unnecessary. The story of Henry Fool had ended on an appropriately ambiguous note, and Hal Hartley had never been the sequeling type. But the whole thing just stunk. A befuddling espionage plot? Parker Posey’s snarly Fay reduced to a bumbling sleuth. Sloppy revelations that detonated everything that made the Faustian Henry so fascinating. And those goddamn tilted camera angles; a Hal Hartley film shouldn’t summon Battlefield Earth. But thankfully his most detached film was so detached that you’ve likely forgotten it already. So why are my hopes so high for the final act of this unexpected trilogy? Because I’m still in love with Hartley and his world, and Ned Rifle might be his way of standing in the rain holding a boombox. The plot is simple: Ned wants to kill his cad dad. Almost of all Hartley’s all-stars are back together. And new addition Aubrey Plaza looks pretty hot with a gun. I can’t wait. –Roy Ivy

Release Date: TBA

08. Whiplash

The Sundance superstar finally hits theaters this October. A feverish, passionate, vitriol-fueled melodrama about a young drummer looking to find a spot in a studio jazz band, Whiplash looks like the Crazy Town music goods. Like a spiritual cross between Vertigo’s obsession and Fame, what with its dreams of, well, fame and glory, Whiplash promises to be a musical thriller of the moment. Fight mediocrity, to hell with everyone else. You can just feel the guilt about quitting your piano lessons while watching the trailer. The irregularly charismatic Miles Teller stars, as a young drumming protégé banging on his drum all day to get a spot on J.K. Simmons’ (looking devilish) team of jazz musicians. –Blake Goble

Release Date: October 16th

07. Foxcatcher

Here it comes: Steve Carell’s dip into heavy drama. Not Little Miss Sunshine drama, and definitely not Dan in Real Life drama. Foxcatcher is f’real drama, a pot-boiler based on the true story of Olympic gold medalists Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo). Carell, unrecognizable in a bulbous prosthetic nose, plays John E. du Pont, the eccentric billionaire behind their tragedy. Director Bennett Miller is the man behind Moneyball and Capote, two Oscar contenders that were as proficient as they were safe. Still, those films shine thanks to transformative performances from genre-hopping actors, and there’s already talk of Carell scoring the same Oscar nomination his 40 Year Old Virgin co-star Jonah Hill did for Moneyball. Regardless, Cannes doesn’t just hand out Best Director awards to anyone, and Miller’s work on Foxcatcher scored him one back in May. Consider us cautiously optimistic. –Randall Colburn

Release Date: November 14th

06. St. Vincent

After toiling away in already-forgotten movies the past couple of years (not counting his cameo in The Grand Budapest Hotel), Murray is not only returning to the world of comedy with St. Vincent, he’s actually playing the lead. His titular role appears to answer the question, “What if Rushmore’s Herman Blume truly bottomed out?” The plot centers on his character babysitting the son of his new next-door neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) in a desperate attempt to get some cash. We’re thinking St. Vincent is more Stripes than Hyde Park on Hudson, and this isn’t a bad thing. For as good a dramatic actor as Murray has proven himself to be, it’s always a welcome sight to see him return to acting silly with a heart of gold. Or in this case, a can of booze. –Justin Gerber

Release Date: October 24th

05. Birdman

I haven’t enjoyed Alejandro González Iñárritu since he busted out of the gates in a fury of fangs, passion, and more fangs with Amorres Perros. Babel, 21 Grams, and Biutiful: all masterful and prestigious, but they didn’t hit me in the heart. I respected them far more than I enjoyed them. But that dreamy trailer for Birdman had my heart soaring. Michael Keaton in a part that mirrors the caped role that cratered his career: instant pathos. I know I’ll be crushed if/when this tale of a washed-up actor’s comeback ends in Iñárritu tragedy, but it’s still gonna be a blast to watch. Everybody’s a sucker for tracking shots, and advance word says Iñárritu blows all kind of continuity wads in making this look like a single take. And to paraphrase Gene Siskel’s comment about how some movies would be better as documentaries of the same actors having lunch, I’m fine if the whole thing is just Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Damien “Bus Driver Stu” Young eating KFC Double Downs. –Roy Ivy

Release Day: October 17th (limited)

04. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal may be the ballsiest actor on the A-list. Stay with me. He’s undoubtedly a superstar, but his greatest, most acclaimed performances occur in challenging indies (Brokeback Mountain) and hardboiled drama (Prisoners), not the Hollywood tentpole films that occasionally appear on his resume (The Day After Tomorrow, Prince of Persia). Nightcrawler may be his ballsiest role yet, with Gyllenhaal playing a scummy crime-scene photographer with — if the reports from TIFF are to be believed — nary a redeemable quality. The film’s midnight milieu and slick-as-slime protagonist evoke Mike Leigh’s seminal Naked, which forever altered the way audiences looked at its star, David Thewlis. Nightcrawler may just do the same for Gyllenhaal. –Randall Colburn

Release Day: October 31st

03. Gone Girl

When it comes to directing thrillers, David Fincher can do no wrong. And when he commissions Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to do the music, well, that’s just the black-clad cherry atop the sundae. So, I’m excited that the gang is reuniting after the commercial and critical successes of The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for Gone Girl, the highly anticipated film based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. Fincher tapped Ben Affleck, who’s also at the top of his game following an Oscar win for Argo, to play a man who’s suspected of murder following the mysterious disappearance of his wife. In addition to Affleck, this dimly lit digital roller coaster ride boasts an impressive ensemble that features Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry. –Adriane Neuenschwander

Release Day: September 16th

02. Inherent Vice

While the last couple Paul Thomas Anderson movies have been endlessly thought-provoking, demanding of their audiences, and lent themselves to long-term, repeated contemplation, they often felt like the work of a very different filmmaker than the onetime wunderkind who made Boogie Nights in his mid-twenties. The early word behind Inherent Vice, Anderson’s adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel about a perpetually stoned private detective (Joaquin Phoenix) who ends up involved in a case concerning his ex-girlfriend, has been positive, though nothing definitive will be said until the film’s premiere at the New York Film Festival at month’s end. There’s endless potential for Anderson to get quick-witted and weird in a way he hasn’t in years, and we’re waiting impatiently to see it. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Release Day: January 9th

01. Interstellar

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars; now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” Matthew McConaughey’s monologue, stripped from the teaser trailer, could very well be director Christopher Nolan’s perception of filmmaking in general. The auteur treats each of his projects — including both Dark Knight sequels — as a unique event, something that should only exist because it hasn’t before. As such, his latest adventure is this fall’s greatest treat, an epic journey through space using wormholes to traverse great distances previously unthinkable. While the most recent trailer unearthed a handful of information about the film, Nolan, as per tradition, has kept this one pretty close to the chest. That’s a good thing: In an industry with very little mystery, it’s nice to get excited about the unknown again. Still, the writing’s on the wall, and considering it’s McConaughey’s first post-Oscar performance — not counting those rather excellent existential Lincoln ads — there’s a lot of goodwill riding on Interstellar. Oh yeah, let’s not forget it stars Topher Grace, either. –Michael Roffman

Release Day: November 7th

 

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