COLUMN: 2014 Fall Movie Preview



Like the leaves withering and changing on the trees, the movie season is also waning at a crossroads.  September means the arrival of the fall movie season.  Traditionally, the months of September and October are the dumping grounds of movies that weren't good enough or too dark to be summer releases or films not quite good enough to be held until the prime awards season during the winter months of November and December.  Every now and then, though, a future Academy Award winner sneaks into early into the Oscar race with an October release.  We've seen that with "The Departed" and "Argo," just to name a pair.  This year's fall seasons is likely stashing two more future Oscar contenders while still, for the most part, living up the dumping ground tradition.  Here is my full preview of the 2014 fall movie season.  I hope I can steer you to a few hidden gems before the real big-timers get here in November and December. 


"The Identical"-- They should just call this movie "The Elvis, but Not Really Elvis, Story: Now With Twins."  Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta headline this drama about a pair of identical twins separated at birth.  One becomes a 1950's rock 'n roll legend while the other lives a tougher life.  (trailer)

"Frontera"-- Stage director Michael Berry makes his feature film debut behind the camera of this western starring Ed Harris, Michael Pena, and a supposedly non-pretty Eva Longoria.  This one involves the murder of a wife suspected by a Mexican illegal.  Keep an eye out for a concurrent Video On Demand release.  (trailer)


"The Drop"-- Adapted by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River," "Shutter Island," "Gone Baby Gone") from his own short story, "The Drop" is where we say goodbye to the late James Gandolfini.  He plays a heavy opposite Tom Hardy's ordinary blue collar guy swept into a dangerous neighborhood robbery gone awry.  (trailer)

"No Good Deed"-- I'm just going to warn you right now.  The trailer for this home invasion/hostage thriller gives the entire movie away.  Idris Elba is an escapee on a rainy night whose car breaks down during his getaway.  Taraji P. Henson is the unsuspecting good Samaritan that lets him into her house alone to borrow a phone.  Nothing good every happens from that.  (trailer)

"Dolphin Tale 2"-- The 2011 successful family crowdpleaser gets a little sequel with more dolphin rescue and perseverance.  Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick, Jr. all return for more.  (trailer)


"The Maze Runner"-- Well, yet another young adult dystopian future novel series is getting its shot to duplicate the success of the "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" with a cast of unknowns, only to likely fall short as a knock-off of over-saturation.  The source victim this time is James Dashner's 2009 book about a community of selected young men tormented and trapped by an enormous maze filled with deadly mechanical creatures.  (trailer)

"This is Where I Leave You"-- "Real Steel" and "Night at the Museum" director Shawn Levy puts the kids stuff away and goes adult for a black comedy about a dysfunctional family reuniting at home over a weekend family funeral.  Great marketing and a star-studded cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Jane Fonda, Corey Stoll, Timothy Olyphant, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, and Dax Sheppard make this one very promising.  (trailer)

"A Walk Among Tombstones"-- Liam Neeson returns to do his gravely tough guy act as a disgraced cop that gets by as a private investigator drawn in over his head on a case of a rich wife's disappearance.  A reason for optimism over been-there-done-that is the presence of Scott Frank ("Out of Sight," "The Lookout") as the writer-director.  I'm a mark for his work and you should be too.  (trailer)

"The Skeleton Twins"-- Apparently, this mid-September weekend has room for two indie features of comedy stars going the family dramedy route.  Competing directly with "This is Where I Leave You," "The Skeleton Twins" stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as deeply-connected brother-sister pair now wallowing in adulthood.  She's alone and he's a bullied homosexual.  The clowning is here, but this is deeper material than usual for these former "Saturday Night Live" vets.  (trailer)

"Hector and the Search for Happiness"-- Go-to British star Simon Pegg stars as an eccentric and beleaguered psychiatrist who feels like his advice goes unheeded even by himself.  So, he decides to do something about it by taking a big worldwide trip.  (trailer)

"Tracks"-- Adam Driver is everywhere this year, including this Australian drama from the director of "The Painted Veil."  The "Girls" crossover star plays a National Geographic photographer documenting a woman's (Mia Wasikowska) arduous nine-month journey by camel across the Australian desert with her dog.  This is a true story that has been kicking around Hollywood, including Julia Roberts' doorstep, since the 80's.  It played at last year's Toronto and Venice International Film Festivals to very positive reviews and now gets its shot stateside in limited release.  (trailer)


"The Equalizer"-- It wouldn't be a dark fall season without Denzel Washington defying his age and busting some heads.  Besides, it's been a year since "2 Guns."  The soon-to-be-60-year-old icon re-teams with his "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua ("Olympus Has Fallen") in a film remake of 1980's cult TV series of the same name about an injustice-fighting former Special Forces who helps those who can't help themselves.  Crack your knuckles and get ready for this one!  (trailer

"The Boxtrolls"-- Alan Snow's popular novel series starter "Here Be Monsters!" gets a flashy and detailed stop-motion animated feature adaptation.  The predominantly British voice talents include Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan.  With some targeting marking, this could be a surprise hit in a season scant on family offerings.  (trailer)

"The Two Faces of January"-- This thriller is the directorial debut of Iran-British screenwriter Hossein Amini ("Four Feathers," "The Wings of the Dove," "Drive") and is based on the 1964 Patricia Highsmith bestseller of the same name.  Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst, and Oscar Isaac star in a tangled mess surrounding a husband and wife con artist team and an acquired stranger who are on the run when a private detective turns up dead.  This one will also premiere on Video On Demand.  (trailer)


"Gone Girl"-- Haven't read anything good yet?  Here's the one you're looking for.  This is your sure-fire early Oscar contender that will set the awards race market moving forward into the winter.  Acclaimed director David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club," "The Social Network," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") brings in Gillian Flynn to adapt his own 2012 murder mystery bestseller.  Oscar winner Ben Affleck stars as a prominent husband to a murdered wife (Rosamund Pike) who's case is unsolved despite public perception that the spouse is the real killer.  This has all the bells, whistles, atmosphere, and pedigree to be Fincher's best yet and "Gone Girl" is in that October "Argo" slot that worked before for Affleck in the director's seat.  (trailer)

"The Good Lie"-- Premiering in September at the Toronto International Film Festival and hitting theaters here in October, Reese Witherspoon stars in this historical drama about an American women designated to help four displaced Sudanese refugees who won a relocation lottery to move to America during the Second Sudanese Civil War.  Corey Stoll and Sarah Baker back-up Witherspoon.  (trailer


"The Judge"-- "Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin goes dramatic for the first time in a long time.  A-list star Robert Downey Jr. is the estranged big shot Chicago lawyer who escaped the small Indiana town upbringing and bullying of his county judge father, played by Robert Duvall, long ago.  An unexpected family funeral and an even more unexpected murder trial against his father brings RDJ home to mend fences and bury the hatchet.  Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, and Vincent D'Onofrio round out the talented ensemble  (trailer)

"Dracula Untold"-- The Halloween vibe comes a few weeks early.  Luke Evans becomes the latest actor to occupy Bram Stoker's mythological literary legend.  Using an origin story, "Dracula Untold" brings the character back to Universal Pictures, its original hit studio from back with Bela Lugosi.  The plan is to reboot the Universal's stable of famous movie monsters starting right here.  I'll grant them ambition for sure.  (trailer)

"Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"-- Disney's latest live-action adaptation of a children's book series tackles the popular misadventures written by Judith Viorst that have held a beloved place on nursery shelves since 1972.  Just as the title suggests, the family of one Alexander (newcomer Ed Oxenbould), led by the parental units of Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner, have just about everything go wrong on one particularly rough day.  The Disney brand and the Carell charm could make this a surprise hit in a season lacking good choices for eager families and children.  (trailer

"Whiplash"-- Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are the music school jazz pupil and ruthless teacher in this acclaimed psychological drama that made waves at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter.  Miles Teller, ensemble star of "The Spectacular Now," "That Awkward Moment," "Divergent," and the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot has been on the tipping point of a breakthrough film that uses his immense talent the right way.  This might just be that film that puts him on another level.  Watch the trailer and you will see what I am talking about.  (trailer)

"Kill the Messenger"-- Turning the history clock back to the shady CIA dealings in Nicaraguan drug trade of the 1990's, "Kill the Messenger" follows a the true story of a journalist smeared and disgraced when his findings ruffle the wrong feathers and threaten his credibility and career.  Jeremy Renner leads Michael Sheen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick, and Paz Vega through this tumultuous and clandestine times.  (trailer)


"Fury"-- Second to "Gone Girl," the next film with a chance at Oscar attention is the latest from director David Ayer ("End of Watch") and brings Brad Pitt back to World War II as a tank commander taking on a new recruit (Logan Lerman) before an important mission in Germany at the end of the war.  Co-starring Michael Pena, Shia LeBeouf, and Jon Bernthal, it will be very interesting to see Ayer's handheld and modern style translated to a period piece.  If successful, Pitt and company could get some attention.  (trailer)

"The Best of Me"-- The latest Nicholas Sparks romance novel to get the big screen treatment follows two high school sweethearts and first loves who reconnect 20 years later in life.  The two lovers are played by Luke Bracey (star of the upcoming "Point Break" remake) and Liana Liberato ("Trust") in their youth and by James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in adulthood.  The date crowd will be well-serviced by this one from Michael Hoffman, the director of "One Fine Day" and "The Emperor's Club."  (trailer)

"The Book of Life"-- The style of Romeo and Juliet meets the Day of the Dead in this Spanish-flavored animated offering from 20th Century Fox Animation about a young man torn between family obligations and love.  Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman, Cheech Marin, and Danny Trejo fill the impressive and diverse voice cast.  "The Book of Life" is nicely positioned far enough after "The Boxtrolls" to possibly create two animated fall hits in the waiting.  (trailer)

"Birdman"-- From the director of "Babel" and "21 Grams," "Birdman" won the right to be the opening film of the Venice Film Festival this past July and sits at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes so far.  Michael Keaton, with shades of his own career, plays a former movie star famous for playing a superhero that is attempting to revitalize his serious acting career with a Broadway play only to have his ego and personal demons get in the way.  Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, and Naomi Watts back up Keaton.  This initial buzz for the film and for Keaton's performance has been phenomenal.  (trailer)  


"Ouija"-- If a board game like "Battleship" can somehow be turned into a 2-hour movie, why not extract a horror movie out of a Ouija board.  Well, someone not named Michael Bay went out and tried it.  With a no-name cast of teens and twenty-somethings, we'll see what kind of nostalgic memory there is for this game and premise with today's audience.  For horror fans, this looks like your lone Halloween go-to excursion.  Apparently, they ran out of "Saw"'s and "Paranormal Activity" sequel ideas.  (trailer)

"White Bird in a Blizzard"-- In another Sundance entry, "Divergent" and "The Fault of Our Stars" it-girl Shailene Woodley headlines this thriller of a determined daughter seeking to solve her mother's (Eva Green) disappearance.  In an extra note, this one is available in late September through Video On Demand.  (trailer)

"St. Vincent"-- Comedy titans Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy team for unique comedy with dramatic overtones.  Murray plays a burned-out alcoholic veteran who is recruited by his single-mother neighbor (McCarthy) to watch her 12-year-old son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) where the vet cleans up his act and finds someone worth bonding with.  Naomi Watts and Chris O'Dowd are included.  Everything Bill Murray does lately is gold and I'm eager to see what McCarthy can do away from repetitive physical comedy.  Call this a "hidden gem" to find this fall.  (trailer)


"Nightcrawler"-- Screenwriter Dan Gilroy ("Real Steel," "The Bourne Legacy") makes his directorial debut with Jake Gyllenhaal, taking on a dramatic weight loss, as a man swept into the dangerous underground L.A. scene of crime journalism.  Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Ann Cusack also star.  (trailer)

"Before I Go to Sleep"-- No, with a title like this, it's not a convenient horror movie landing on a rare Halloween Friday.  This film features Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman re-teaming after "The Railway Man" from 2013/2014.  This time around, Kidman is the lead as a woman who's blocked memory of a car accident changes her mental state years later and causes her many unstable problems.  Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff join the Oscar winners in supporting roles.  (trailer)

"Horns"-- French director Alexander Aja ("High Tension," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Piranha") dirties up Daniel Radcliffe as a mid-twenties man who wakes up after a drunken episode to find two horn-like protrusions growing from his head.  The horns grant him the paranormal ability to force people to reveal their inner secrets, which he will clearly take advantage of, despite their unsightly appearance.  (trailer)

What?!  No token cheap horror movie with Halloween falling on a Friday?  Nope.  That's how thin and uneventful this upcoming slate of films are for the 2014 fall season.  Cross your fingers for something to catch on and give us something unique to enjoy!