The fall movie season, with its acclaimed film festival favorites and prestige Oscar candidates, is looking like a nice alternative to 2016’s Bummer Summer. To misquote a classic Christopher Walken SNL sketch, if the past movie summer was a cowbell, the fall season of cinema is the aspirin. Here’s the best of the lot that isn’t a sequel, prequel, CGI cartoon, remake, or comic book movie. Yes, I want to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Doctor Strange but here are a dozen titles you haven’t heard of that might (gasp) be even better.
MR. CHURCH (Sept. 16)
The Gist: Eddie Murphy stars as a cook who bonds with a father-less family over the course of decades.
Why It Could Rock: Murphy’s first dramatic turn is reportedly excellent.
On the other hand: It’s directed by Bruce Beresford, who made the acclaimed but divisive Driving Miss Daisy. Will this one also be accused of being condescending and overly sentimental?
VOYAGE OF TIME (Oct. 7)
The Gist: Visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick’s years-in-the-making documentary about the state of the universe.
Why It Could Rock: Malick, my favorite living filmmaker, has oodles of mind-blowing imagery, both natural and CGI-created, to convey the wonders of the galaxy. Brad Pitt narrates the 40-minute IMAX version and Cate Blanchett narrates the 90-minute regular version, both in theaters simultaneously.
On the Other Hand: It’s a documentary about science and our place in the cosmos. Any chance it will play on Maui?
HACKSAW RIDGE (Nov. 4)
The Gist: The stunning true story of a World War II soldier (Andrew Garfield) who was a conscientious objector but still managed to save 75 people during the battle of Okinawa.
Why It Could Rock: The story is a jaw-dropper and the trailer is stirring.
On the Other Hand: It’s directed by Mel Gibson. That may pose a problem for some viewers.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALF TIME WALK (Nov. 11)
The Gist: An adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel about a celebrated soldier (debut actor Joe Lyman) haunted by his past.
Why It Could Rock: This prestigious drama co-stars Kristen Stewart and, in serious turns, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin (!). Director Ang Lee shot it in 120 frames per second, making the imagery crystal clear.
On the Other Hand: Since the majority of movie theaters aren’t equipped to project 120 frames per second, most of the population won’t see it that way.
ARRIVAL (Nov. 11)
The Gist: Amy Adams plays a language expert assigned to make contact with an alien spacecraft.
Why It Could Rock: From Denis Villeneuve, the visionary director of Prisoners, Enemy and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel and cast to perfection, this is a rare sci-fi spectacle that has a lot on its mind.
On the Other Hand: It may be too much of a “thinker.” Even worse, a bunch of online smarty-parts may rant how it’s not scientifically feasible… Relax, kids, it’s a movie.
RULES DON’T APPLY (Nov. 23)
The Gist: The romance between an actress (Lily Collins) and a limo driver (Alden Ehrenreich) is met with disdain by her boss, Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty).
Why It Could Rock: Beatty wrote and directed this long rumored, made-in-secret passion project, his first since Bulworth. Ehrenreich, who plays young Han Solo next, is the next big thing.
On the Other Hand: Will young people care enough about Beatty or Hughes to go?
MOANA (Nov. 23)
The Gist: The long-planned Disney CGI animated comedy about Hawaii has arrived.
Why It Could Rock: Four words–Dwayne Johnson plays Maui!
On the Other Hand: Controversy has already struck over the character designs. Is Moana this year’s Aloha?
LA LA LAND (Dec. 2)
The Gist: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in this contemporary musical from Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash.
Why It Could Rock: Early word is strong (even Tom Hanks loves it!) and Crazy Stupid Love demonstrated how red hot the Gosling/Stone chemistry is.
On the Other Hand: Gangster Squad showed us how a bad movie can eclipse the Gosling/Stone chemistry.
FENCES (Dec. 16)
The Gist: Denzel Washington directs and stars in this adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.
Why This Could Rock: Den-zel! Den-zel! With its timely subject matter about race relations, expect this and not The Birth of a Nation to be a powerhouse conversation starter with audiences.
On the Other Hand: Wait, it’s opening against Star Wars? Denzel, no!
PATRIOT’S DAY (Dec. 21)
The Gist: Mark Wahlberg stars in this depiction of the manhunt for the Boston marathon bomber.
Why It Could Rock: The story of a community bonding after a dreadful tragedy resonates deeply and the cast is exceptional: John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon and J.K. Simmons co-star. When director Peter Berg is in his element, he makes Lone Survivor.
On the Other Hand: Berg also made Battleship and Hancock, neither of which worked out.
PASSENGERS (Dec. 21)
The Gist: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence play astronauts who fall in love during a lengthy space voyage.
Why It Could Rock: Pratt is on a roll, Lawrence is a good match for the charismatic Starlord and it’s from Morten Tyldum, the director of The Imitation Game. The sci-fi movie Renaissance continues.
On the Other Hand: If the love story doesn’t work and the leads lack chemistry, the CGI will have to carry it.
The Gist: Martin Scorsese’s epic drama about 17th century Jesuit priests working in Japan.
Why It Could Rock: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star in Scorsese’s years-in-the-making passion project.
On the Other Hand: It’s over three hours long and, as of right now, has no release date nailed down. Fingers crossed.
Photo from Arrival: Movieweb.com