The fall movie season arguably looks better than the summer season this year, with a nice mix of traditional fall films and a few scattered blockbusters – although a look at each film’s pedigree reveals this to still be the season of the auteur. Here are my picks for the top 10 movies to see:
“The Predator” (Sept. 14) – Shane Black, who (trivia alert) played one of the soldiers in 1987’s original “Predator,” is the writer-director of the series’ fourth installment (sixth if you count the “Aliens” crossovers). My buddy Michael recently introduced me to Black’s writing style, where he dodges clichés and adds understated humor to traditional genre set-ups in the likes of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Iron Man 3” and “The Nice Guys,” all of which I adore. So two things make this a must-see: It’s a “Predator” film and a Black film.
“A Simple Favor” (Sept. 14) – This is likewise on my radar for two major reasons: One, it’s directed by Paul Feig, who’s work I’ve enjoyed since “Freaks and Geeks,” and two, it doesn’t look at all like a Paul Feig film; the trailer says it’s “from (his) darker side.” I appreciate the fact that the trailer piques my interest without giving away the solution. Anna Kendrick gets into one of those odd friendships where there’s something just a bit off about her new buddy (Blake Lively, in this case). Then Lively goes missing, “Gone Girl”-style, and the mystery kicks in.
“Life Itself” (Sept. 21) – I resent this one slightly for using the same title as the Roger Ebert biopic, although not as much as the fall film “Serenity” for stealing the “Firefly” film’s title. Still, it is written and directed by Dan Fogelman of “This Is Us” fame, and it looks to tap into the lump-in-your-throat love and family stories that show trades in. “This Is Us” is soon going to have to contend with the danger of becoming a parody of itself, with its emotions running so high and butting so close to melodrama. It works for me so far, but some viewers are already labeling it trash. “Life Itself” looks to walk that same tightrope.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” (Oct. 12) – Buffyverse and “Daredevil” veteran Drew Goddard gets grindhousey in a movie with a unique setting. The titular hotel is near Lake Tahoe, and the California-Nevada border crosses right through the building. Guests have a choice of which state they’d like to stay in. (I’d choose Nevada for about a dozen reasons.) But that might be just one of many quirks in a heist/murder movie with a star-studded cast, from Jeff Bridges to “Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth to “Parks and Recreation’s” Nick Offerman, to Dakota Johnson, who is working hard this fall to add non-“Fifty Shades” entries to her resume with this and “Suspiria” (which just missed my list).
“First Man” (Oct. 12) – The misunderstanding is easy: Damien Chazelle, the jazz fan and young filmmaking genius behind “La La Land,” is doing a movie about a famous Armstrong. Louis, obviously. Nope, “First Man” is actually about Neil Armstrong and all of the NASA testing from JFK’s announcement of the moon plans up through Apollo 11’s landing. This is a well-tread genre, with the likes of “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13,” plus the “From the Earth to the Moon” miniseries which devoted an episode to each moon mission. This one looks grittier, and definitely worth a (moon)shot.
“mid90s” (Oct. 19) – Known for an acting career that has spanned from silly comedies to award-winning turns, Jonah Hill goes behind the camera for a personal entry in what I think of as the “American Graffiti” genre: Filmmakers recapturing their formative period on screen. Hill is more or less from my generation, so I might find this chronicle of being young in the mid-90s deliciously nostalgic. It might depend on if it’s a 1990s movie that happens to feature skateboarding, or a skateboarding movie that happens to be set in the 1990s; I’m hoping for the former.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (Nov. 16) – I adored the first entry that introduced us to Newt Scamander (the excellent Eddie Redmayne, portraying a rare Aspie hero), but I can sympathize with viewers who found it insubstantial. If the trailers are any indication, the sequel addresses those concerns and blows them away, as we’ll get healthy doses of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, titular villain Grindelwald, young Newt learning ridikkulus spells, and adorable baby Nifflers.
“Creed II” (Nov. 21) – For being one of the fall’s biggest franchise films, this eighth entry in the “Rocky” saga is surprisingly under the radar, with Entertainment Weekly not even writing about it in its Fall Movie Preview. This might be because “Creed” helmer Ryan Coogler (who then became even more famous with “Black Panther”) is handing off the reins. The recipients are fellow MCU man Cheo Hodari Coker, the helmer of “Luke Cage,” who has writing duties, and director Steven Caple Jr., who I’m less familiar with. The trailer hits on all the Rockyverse clichés, backed by modern rap music that I could take or leave, but then delivers a brilliant zinger when we see the robe of Adonis’ opponent: DRAGO. Hell yes.
“Aquaman” (Dec. 21) – “Man of Steel” was OK, “Batman v Superman” was overwrought, “Suicide Squad” was ridiculous but a blast, “Wonder Woman” was a masterpiece and “Justice League” was fun but insubstantial. I’m a DCEU apologist compared to the average filmgoer, but whether the entries so far are a creative success or failure, I mainly just want the DCEU to find its groove and become as consistently strong as the MCU. Although there’s a danger of “Aquaman” being production-design porn, in that the underwater scenes are so vibrant, I have confidence in this one. Jason Momoa (introduced in “Justice League”) is perfect in the title role, and James Wan (the “Conjuring” films) knows how to direct.
“Holmes and Watson” (Dec. 21) – Yet another Sherlock Holmes adaptation? I’d pass, except that Holmes and Watson are played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, who successfully teamed up for “Step Brothers” a decade ago. So although the trailer isn’t out yet, I suspect they’ll be finding the funny and absurd in this franchise, giving this installment a reason to exist. Writer-director Etan Cohen has experience with parodies, having co-written “Idiocracy” with Mike Judge.
What movies are you looking forward to this fall? Share your lists below.