As summer comes to a close and kids go back to school, so comes an end to the summer blockbusters (weak as they were) in order to make room for the films aiming for Oscar glory as well as movies hoping to entertain the public during the holiday season. This means it’s time for The Fall Movie Preview. What can movie fans expect to see up on the big screen this fall and holiday season? Among the films heading to theaters in the last few months of 2014 are stories of dysfunctional families, a sci-fi tale centering on a giant maze, the return of a demonic doll, wormholes and space travel, two WWII epics, and the final entry in the Hobbit saga.
THE DROP – Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini (Sept 12th)
Plot: The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski (Hardy) through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters – “money drops” in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (Gandolfini), Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past.
Outlook: With a strong cast led by James Gandolfini in his final feature film, The Drop looks to be a solid, gritty crime thriller. Plus, dog lovers will be drawn in by Hardy’s canine co-star and Dennis Lehane fans should be interested in checking this drama out as the acclaimed writer adapted his own short story (“Animal Rescue”) for the screen.
THE MAZE RUNNER – Starring Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Sept 19th)
Plot: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape.
Outlook: Yet another futuristic, dystopian teen adventure based on a popular book. Author James Dashner says director Wes Ball’s book stays true to his vision, but not all adaptations of YA novels have worked on the big screen (The Giver, Ender’s Game, Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, and Beautiful Creatures didn’t exactly catch fire at the box office). Young moviegoers who aren’t into the book might skip this one and catch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 instead. However, The Maze Runner does have O’Brien in the lead and he’s built up quite a fan base from playing Stiles on Teen Wolf which might drive those not into the source material to the theaters to check out this sci-fi action film.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU – Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda (Sept 19th)
Plot: When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.
Outlook: With a very strong cast and Jonathan Tropper adapting his book for the screen, This is Where I Leave You has all the makings of sleeper hit. However, big names don’t necessarily equal big business at the box office, so this one’s tough to predict as the buzz just hasn’t built around this title even though it’s heading into theaters early in the fall season.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES – Starring Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens (Sept 19th)
Plot: A Walk Among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime…nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.
Outlook: Liam Neeson was hesitant to star in this action tale thinking it sounded too much like the film Taken, but director Scott Frank won over Neeson with his tight, dark script which seems to be true to the original novel. If it’s as gritty and suspenseful as Neeson promises, A Walk Among the Tombstones could be a first-rate thriller.
THE BOXTROLLS – Featuring the voices of Sir Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Elle Fanning (Sept 26th)
Plot: The Boxtrolls are a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who have lovingly raised an orphaned human boy named Eggs (Hempstead-Wright) in the amazing cavernous home they’ve built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. When the town’s villain, Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley), comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls, Eggs decides to venture above ground, “into the light,” where he meets and teams up with fabulously feisty Winnie (Fanning). Together, they devise a daring plan to save Eggs’ family.
Outlook: From the people who brought us the gorgeously animated stop-motion films Coraline and ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls might just be the weird, funny, quirky, and entertaining animated film audiences have been waiting for this year.
THE EQUALIZER – Starring Denzel Washington and Chloë Grace Moretz (Sept 26th)
Plot: Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her.
Outlook: For fans of the 1980s hit television series, this new film is similar to the show in name only. The script and backstory of Robert McCall was changed and tailored to fit Washington. It seems like this one could just as easily be titled Man on Fire 2, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to buy a ticket.
ANNABELLE – Starring Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton (Oct 3rd)
Plot: A rare vintage doll (that was first introduced to moviegoers in the horror movie The Conjuring) becomes possessed by a malevolent demon and terrorizes a young couple with a newborn baby.
Outlook: Just in time for Halloween comes not a sequel but a prequel to The Conjuring that takes the focus off of the Warrens and places it on the nightmare-inducing doll. Whether this is just a cash grab or a spin-off that will actually live up to the critically acclaimed Conjuring is yet to be seen, but hopefully this isn’t an unnecessary tale that tarnishes horror fans fond memories of the original film.
GONE GIRL – Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (Oct 3rd)
Plot: When Nick Dunne’s wife goes missing and is presumed dead, the media and police both focus on the most likely suspect: Nick.
Outlook: Based on the critically acclaimed, award-winning novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is heading to theaters with fans of the book expecting a faithful adaptation of Flynn’s novel. Fortunately, Flynn actually handled the adaptation and it’s a safe bet that she stuck close to the book both in tone and content.
THE GOOD LIE – Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal (Oct 3rd)
Plot: Mamere and Theo are sons of the Chief in their village in Southern Sudan. When an attack by the Northern militia destroys their home and kills their parents, eldest son Theo is forced to assume the role of Chief and lead a group of young survivors, including his sister Abital, away from harm. But the hostile, treacherous terrain has other dangers in store for them.
As the tattered group makes the difficult trek to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, they meet other fleeing children, forging a bond with Jeremiah, who, at 13, is already a man of faith, and Paul, whose skills become essential to their survival.
Thirteen years later, the now young adults are given the opportunity to leave the camp and resettle in America. Upon arriving in Kansas, they are met by Carrie Davis (Witherspoon), an employment agency counselor who has been enlisted to help find them jobs—no easy task, when things like straws, light switches and telephones are brand new to them.
Outlook: The premise is interesting and engaging and with Witherspoon (who’s earning Oscar buzz for her other fall release, Wild) in a starring role, The Good Lie could be a crowd-pleaser as long as it doesn’t become too preachy or self-important.
DRACULA UNTOLD – Starring Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper (Oct 10th)
Plot: The origin story of the world’s most famous vampire.
Outlook: Moviegoers and fans of Dracula films would be better off just watching Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman instead, or at least that’s the impression we’re left with following the release of the first trailer. Vampire projects aren’t as hot as they once were (now it’s all about zombies), so rebooting the Dracula legend might not be a smart move at this time.
THE JUDGE – Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall (Oct 10th)
Plot: Downey stars as big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his childhood home where his estranged father, the town’s judge (Duvall), is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.
Outlook: With two incredible lead actors playing opposite each other, The Judge has ‘Oscar bait’ written all over it. However, the reviews coming out of the Toronto Film Festival have been mixed, with many critics saying The Judge suffers from a mediocre script and a storyline that fails to engage the audience. Those early reviews don’t bode well for Duvall or Downey Jr being in Oscar contention.
FURY – Brad Pitt, Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman (Oct 17th)
Plot: April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
Outlook: Fury is a dark and gritty WWII film in the line of Saving Private Ryan meets Battle of the Bulge. Written and directed by David Ayer – writer of Training Day and writer/director of End of Watch – Fury was bumped from a mid-November release date to a mid-October release, which still leaves it opening during the awards season. Ayer promises a realistic look unlike other Hollywood productions, and this film should play well to audiences looking for a character-driven action drama during the fall season.
LAGGIES – Starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Keira Knightley (Oct 24th)
Plot: Having spent her twenties comfortably inert, 28 year old Megan (Knightley) reaches a crisis when she finds herself squarely in adulthood with no career prospects, no particular motivation to pursue any and no one to relate to, including her high school boyfriend (Mark Webber). When he proposes, Megan panics and given an opportunity to escape – at least temporarily – she hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika (Moretz) and Annika’s world-weary single dad.
Outlook: Laggies seems a perfect for girls night out, and one that should play to a wide range of age groups. Knightley doesn’t often get to play the lead in a comedy, and thankfully she has some terrific support in the form of Sam Rockwell, Ellie Kemper, and Jeff Garlin.
ST. VINCENT – Starring Melissa McCarthy, Bill Murray and Naomi Watts (Oct 24th)
Plot: Maggie (McCarthy), a single mother, moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair.
Outlook: Melissa McCarthy has been playing the same character over and over again in films (with very small variations) but Bill Murray can usually be counted on to elevate the material. Throw in supporting appearances by Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd and Nate Corddry, and a marketing campaign that’s put together some very funny trailers and clips, and this might just be one of the better comedies of the year.
BIG HERO 6 – Voices by Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit and Jamie Chung (Nov 7th)
Plot: Big Hero 6 is the story of the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada (Potter). When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Chung), neatnik Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (TJ Miller). Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called Big Hero 6.
Outlook: Disney dived into the Marvel vault to come up with this animated story which marks the first completely animated Marvel comics feature film. Disney’s not releasing a Pixar film this year, but Big Hero 6‘s trailers and clips have a Pixar vibe to them. It’s not likely Disney will have a Frozen size hit with this animated family-friendly action adventure, but it should draw in the audiences over the holidays.
INTERSTELLAR – Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain (Nov 7th)
Plot: Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi thriller involves explorers making use of a newly discovered wormhole in order to conquer interstellar travel.
Outlook: With Nolan behind the camera and an A-list cast in front of it, Interstellar is obviously one of the most anticipated films of the year. Nolan attempted to keep the storyline under wraps for as long as possible, and even the trailers don’t give away much of the plot. But audiences know the quality and originality they can expect when Nolan’s involved in a project, and Interstellar might be Nolan’s best chance to earn a Best Director Oscar nomination to date.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO – Starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels (Nov 14th)
Plot: Lloyd and Harry go on a road trip to find a child Harry never knew he had and the responsibility neither should ever, ever be given.
Outlook: It’s been 20 years since the original film, Dumb and Dumber, hit theaters and that film still works when you’re in the mood for a really dumb comedy. This sequel looks equally ridiculous, which is pretty much the whole point. If you like the original and you’ve been wondering what happened to the dimwit buddies, then the sequel will most likely answer your questions and maybe provide a few laughs.
FOXCATCHER – Starring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum (Nov 14th)
Plot: Based on true events, Foxcatcher tells the dark and fascinating story of the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carell) and two champion wrestlers.
Outlook: If the buzz can be believed, the actors and director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) will be very busy this awards season. Steve Carell in particular is being singled out as a possible Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender for playing against type as du Pont.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 – Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth (Nov 21st)
Plot: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.
Outlook: The third film of the series takes an even darker tone as the rebellion that’s been set up in the first two The Hunger Games movies comes to a boiling point and the Districts are now actively involved in fighting the Capitol. Francis Lawrence returns as director and the main cast is back in place, along with key new characters who’ll move the story toward the big finale coming to theaters in 2015.
WILD – Starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern (Dec 5th)
Plot: After years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) makes a rash decision. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Dern) and with absolutely no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. Wild reveals her terrors and pleasures as she forges ahead on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.
Outlook: Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jean-Marc Vallee directs Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) in a dramatic film from Oscar nominated writer Nick Hornby (An Education), inspired by the true story of Strayed’s journey toward discovery. The film, based on Strayed’s memoir, earned rave reviews for Witherspoon after premiering at the Telluride Film Festival. Variety says she gave a “tour de force performance that moves her solidly into the Oscar race in the best actress category.” The Hollywood Reporter agrees, saying that Witherspoon has returned with a “formidable performance” in which she’s on the screen nearly every minute of the movie. THR labels her work ‘brave’ as in “physically demanding, risque and not at all glamorous” and the type of role that the Academy voters love to recognize.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – Starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton (Dec 12th)
Plot: The story of the defiant leader Moses (Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
Outlook: Stunning visuals effects, a strong cast, and director Ridley Scott combine to make Exodus: Gods and Kings an intriguing entry in the Biblical epic trend currently hitting Hollywood. Although it will be compared by classic movie buffs to Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, the 18 to 49 year old audience will likely be drawn into checking this one out because of the teaming of Scott and Bale.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – Starring Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen (Dec 17th)
Plot: Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo’s frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf (McKellen), the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo (Freeman) finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.
Outlook: The final film of Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, won all 11 Oscars that it was nominated for back in 2004. The love for and ardent support of The Hobbit hasn’t ever reached the levels achieved by the films of the Lord of the Rings franchise, so it’s unlikely The Hobbit will be up for more than just Oscars in technical categories. Still, this final visit to the world of hobbits, wizards, and dwarves will have fans in seats and should be the most profitable of The Hobbit movies.
ANNIE – Starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis (Dec 19th)
Plot: Annie (Wallis) is a young, happy foster kid who’s also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they’d be back for her someday, it’s been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything’s about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Foxx) – advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) – makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he’s her guardian angel, but Annie’s self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it’s the other way around.
Outlook: Let’s just tell it like it is: Unless some miracle takes place, Annie will be the flop of the holiday films. Fans of the original Annie aren’t likely to turn out in big numbers for this reworking of the musical, and musicals in general are a tough sale at the box office. Plus, the trailers just haven’t been that effective, giving those who aren’t familiar with the musical little reason to check this one out.
INTO THE WOODS – Starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Anna Kendrick (Dec 25th)
Plot: Into the Woods is a modern twist on several of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) — all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Streep) who has put a curse on them.
Outlook: Into the Woods has one of the most impressive cast lists of any 2014 release, led by Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp and including Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, and Christine Baranski. It has Rob Marshall, a director who knows his way around movie musicals having helmed Nine and Chicago, in charge working off a script by James Lapine from his Tony Award-winning musical. Plus, fairy tales are hot right now (Once Upon a Time and Grimm have passionate followings on TV). Take into consideration Meryl Streep’s success in the movie musical Mamma Mia!, Depp’s success in the musical Sweeney Todd, and Anna Kendrick’s popularity as a singer in Pitch Perfect, and prospects are good for Into the Woods to fill the movie musical void much more successfully than the other year-end musical, Annie.
PADDINGTON – Starring Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Nicole Kidman and Ben Whishaw’s voice (Dec 25th)
Plot: Paddington tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear (Whishaw) who travels to the city in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined – until he meets the kindly Brown family who read the label around his neck that says “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist.
Outlook: The voice of Paddington was recast late in the process, with original voice actor Colin Firth being replaced by Ben Whishaw when director Paul King decided Firth’s voice (which he loves) and the bear (which he also loves) simply didn’t go together. The release date has also been moved around, yet none of that matters if the finished film remains true to Michael Bond’s beloved books. Paddington is aiming for the family audience this holiday season and it won’t have much in the way of kid-friendly competition.
UNBROKEN – Starring Jack O’Connell and Domhnall Gleason (Dec 25th)
Plot: Unbroken is an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini ( O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII—only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
Outlook: Hopes are high for a film that will live up to the legacy of war hero Louis Zamperini who passed away before being able to view the movie that was inspired by his incredible life. Angelina Jolie (Zamperini’s neighbor and friend) directed Unbroken based on Laura Hillenbrand’s critically acclaimed bestselling novel and the year-end film should be one of the most inspirational movies of 2014. It could even be one of this year’s most awards-worthy films, based on the source material and the early trailer released by Universal Pictures.
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