2016-09-08



Fox / Paramount

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way up top: It was a pretty bad summer for movies. We probably don’t even need to rehash the reasons why anymore. But a funny thing happened after the season bottomed out with the mostly abysmal Suicide Squad: Good movies started to appear again. Pete’s Dragon, Hell or High Water, Don’t Breathe, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sausage Party, Morris From America, Little Men, White Girl; All won over audiences and/or critics and all served as reminders that movies could be innovative and surprising at the end of a long stretch of sequels we didn’t ask for and formulaic exercises.

Will this trend carry over into the fall? Let’s hope so. Traditionally a time of year dominated by awards-friendly prestige fare, the coming months also have their share of blockbuster-sized entertainment, including a return to the world of Harry Potter and a new installment in a franchise called Star Wars.

To help you plan your viewing, we’ve prepared a week-by-week guide to the many, many films coming out before the end of the year, breaking out the movie everyone will be going to see and offering some alternatives that might be worth checking out.

SEPTEMBER 16



Open Road Films

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Snowden
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

It’s been a relatively quiet stretch of years for Oliver Stone since Savages came and went without creating much of a stir in 2012. Prior to that, even topical films like World Trade Center, W., and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps failed to recapture the spirit of his prime years, when Stone could join a controversial topic to his trademark two-fisted style and start a national conversation.

Done right, Snowden could bring memories of those days backs. In 2013, former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked information about NSA overreach to the press. Three years later, his actions remain a divisive topic and the right sort of movie could reignite the passions around the subject. Will Snowden be that sort of movie? Tough to say. Stone’s never made a secret of his politics, which swing from left wing to paranoid left wing, but he seems to have done his homework with this one, adapting his screenplay from a pair of books on the subject and speaking to some of the principals involved. Also likely to help matters: A cast headed by Joseph Gordon Levitt as Snowden that includes everyone from Shailene Woodley to Nicolas Cage.

Also Out

Blair Witch: Writer Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, the team behind You’re Next and The Guest, surprised Comic-Con by revealing that their latest movie, The Woods, was actually Blair Witch, a direct sequel to the 1999 found-footage hit The Blair Witch Project. Will they be able to recreate the scares of the original 17 years later? It has to be better than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, right?

Bridget Jones’s Baby: And speaking of overdue sequels, Renée Zellweger returns to the role of the hapless singleton she originated with 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. To echo the above, it has to be better than Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, right?

SEPTEMBER 23



MGM / Columbia

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

The Magnificent Seven
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio

That person you know who complains about remakes will probably be apoplectic that Antoine Fuqua is directing a remake of John Sturges’ 1960 Western classic, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. But everybody else will likely be happy. Denzel Washington takes over Yul Brynner’s role as a bounty hunter who recruits six other heroic (sometimes questionably heroic) types, including Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio, to protect a small town from a horde of bandits.

Hollywood’s spent years trying to revive the Western, with the occasional success (True Grit) amid more modest hits (the recent remake of 3:10 To Yuma.) But if anybody can meld the Western with the demands of a modern action film it’s Fuqua, who’s reunited here with his Training Day stars Washington and Hawke.

Also Out

Queen of Katwe: Everything about this movie sounds like a typical inspirational sports story from Disney, in the vein of The Rookie or Million Dollar Arm, until you get to the director, award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), and the cast, which includes Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. In other words, this will could be anything but your typical inspirational sports story, and that’s exciting.

Storks: Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets) delivers an odd-looking animated movie about storks, who used to deliver babies, but now drop off packages for an Amazon-like service. Then one accidentally activates the Baby Making Machine and, well, you can gather what happens from there. The presence of Stoller, and a voice cast that includes Andy Samberg, Key and Peele, and Kelsey Grammer, promises to liven up what might be a fairly standard visit to the theater for families.

SEPTEMBER 30

Lionsgate

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Deepwater Horizon
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich

The Lone Survivor team of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reunite to put us on the titular oil drilling rig on the evening of April 20, 2010, when an explosion killed 11 crew members, injured dozens more, and led to the biggest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow, the film stars Wahlberg as a loving father working on the rig at the time of the disaster when all he wants is to get home to see his daughter and give her a dinosaur tooth. Barstow’s story, co-written by David Rohde and Stephanie Saul, is intense and heartbreaking on a personal level, without even getting into the environmental ramifications.

The question is: Can Berg and Wahlberg do the victims justice in retelling this story for the big screen? The duo previously earned strong reviews for Lone Survivor, and they’re also taking on the Boston Marathon bombing in December’s Patriots Day, so, if nothing, they’re certainly confident in their ability to pay tribute to real life heroes.

Also Out
Masterminds: Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) directs this star-studded comedy based on the true story of the 1997 Loomis, Fargo & Co. robbery that was one of the largest cash heists in U.S. history. Zach Galifianakis plays the vault supervisor responsible for the heist, while Kristen Wiig plays his married girlfriend. They’re joined by Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Ken Marino, and more. It’s probably safe to say the real robbers won’t be too pleased about this portrayal of their story.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Tim Burton reunites with Eva Green for this adaptation of Ransom Rigg’s popular YA novel, and it certainly looks much better than their last collaboration, Dark Shadows. Whether it can please fans of the book and newcomers while still feeling like a Burton film remains to be seen.

American Honey: Shia LaBeouf is the biggest name in the latest film from Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights), which follows a magazine sales team on a road trip of debauchery across the Midwest. Well-received at Cannes, American Honey has drawn comparisons to Kids for its frank depiction of the loose morals and questionable antics of modern teens. For added authenticity, Arnold sought out previously unknown teen actors in the film, leading to the discover of her star, Sasha Lane.

OCTOBER 7

Universal

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

The Girl on the Train
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Hayley Bennett

At any given moment there’s always one must-read thriller that can be glimpsed on nightstands and in the hands of commuters across the country. Lately they all seem to have the word “girl” in the title. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gave way to Gone Girl which in turn gave way to this bestseller from English author Paula Hawkins, the story of a woman who believes she sees something sinister while riding to work one day. (Think Rear Window but in motion and without the paralysis.)

This adaptation moves the action from London to Westchester, N.Y. and casts Emily Blunt as the eponymous character. (In fact, it’s promising casting all the way down, with supporting roles filled out by everyone from Edgar Ramirez to Laura Prepon.) Tate Taylor, who previously helmed The Help and Get On Up, directs. He’s never helmed a thriller before, but Get On Up revealed him as a director of more style than expected, so this could be a good match.

Also Out

The Birth of a Nation: The best-reviewed film out of Sundance arrives in theaters trailed by scandal thanks to the resurfacing of rape accusations against writer/director/star Nat Parker and his co-writer Jean Celestin. Will its merits as art shine through the ugliness of what we know about those behind it? That’s the big question as the film hits theaters, and one unlikely to be answered no matter what sort of reviews it receives or how many people show up to watch it.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life: Since there’s apparently no genre in which he doesn’t work, thriller master James Patterson, who’d already reached out to younger readers via his Maximum Ride series and other books, also co-authors a line of young adult humor books. Steve Carr, best known for Daddy Day Care and Paul Blart: Mall Cop takes a shot at adapting the series, which bears a resemblance to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. That might not sound too inspiring, but at least this film has everyone from Andy Daly to Lauren Graham to Adam Pally in the cast.

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience: Terrence Malick’s long, long in the works experimental documentary, said to span the birth of the universe to its death, finally makes it to screens, specifically IMAX screens. How the IMAX version will differ from the version that will later be released to non-IMAX theaters, Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey remains a little fuzzy, but we do know that the IMAX version will run 45 minutes, compared to the 90-minute running time for Life’s Journey, and that it will be narrated by Brad Pitt instead of Cate Blanchett. Will there be dinosaurs in both? Probably!

OCTOBER 14

Warner Bros.

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

The Accountant
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons

Ben Affleck plays, well, an accountant, except this accountant seemingly has as much common with Jason Bourne than Cyril Figgis. Affleck’s Christian Wolff is an accountant for dictators, mafia dons, and other assorted criminals who expertly builds their hidden financial networks, takes his cut, and disappears. But his skills, which derive in part from his place on the autistic spectrum, extend beyond math. J.K. Simmons and the seemingly everywhere Anna Kendrick co-star.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Warrior), this throwback to the thrillers of the ’70s seemingly came out of nowhere. Studios tend to see wholly original, adult-aimed action dramas as too much of a risk these days, and it will be interesting to see if this film proves current conventional wisdom wrong.

Also Out

Kevin Hart: What Now?: Kevin Hart, who’s working almost as hard as Anna Kendrick this year, delivers his third concert film, shot in front of a crowd of 53,000 at Lincoln Financial Field. It says all you need to know about Hart’s star power that he could get a stand-up concert film into theaters in the first place.

Max Steel: Mattel’s toy line comes to life in what looks to be a fairly straightforward and slightly more kid-friendly superhero story. If nothing else, it’ll scratch that superhero itch before Doctor Strange arrives a few weeks later.

OCTOBER 21

Paramount

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders

Released to so-so reviews and tepid U.S. box office in 2012, Jack Reacher didn’t seem like the most natural candidate for a sequel. But international audiences embraced it and as everyone else caught up with it at home a new, and correct, consensus seemed to emerge: You know what? This is actually a pretty good thriller. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back finds Cruise once again assuming the role of Lee Child’s ex-military drifter/do-gooder/badass who here finds himself in trouble when he returns to his old military unit to clear an old superior accused a crime. (Never go back, Jack Reacher! Don’t you read the subtitles of your own movies?)

Edward Zwick, working with longtime screenwriting partner Marshall Herskovitz, takes over directing duties from Christopher McQuarrie, who recently directed Cruise in the quite-good Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. The team, also responsible for Blood Diamond and Courage Under Fire, previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai. It’s not necessarily a reunion for which that many people were clamoring, but the material looks strong and Cruise had a lot of fun in the role last time around. This could be pretty tough to screw up.

Also Out

Moonlight: Director Barry Jenkins made the terrific Medicine For Melancholy in 2008 then kind of disappeared for a bit. That’s due to change with this three-part coming-of-age story, which is already earning raves at festivals. Expect to hear a lot about this one.

Keeping Up with the Joneses: Seeing Adventureland director Greg Mottola’s name on a film usually means it’s worth checking out and there’s no reason to suspect this comedy, starring Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot as spies and Zach Galiafanakis and Isla Fisher as their ordinary neighbors, will be an exception.

Ouija: Origin of Evil: What an odd thing these Ouija movies are: They’re horror films made in conjunction with Hasbro, which sells the boards used to contact the other side in the films. Is this good product placement? Maybe. Maybe not. But audiences showed up for the first one in numbers large enough to warrant a prequel.

31: Whether you love or hate them, Rob Zombie’s horror movies are never dull. His latest, which features circus workers and evil clowns, may be the Rob Zombiest Rob Zombie movie yet.

American Pastoral: Ewan McGregor stars in and makes his directorial debut via this adaptation of Philip Roth’s devastating 1997 novel. Between this and James Schamus’ well-received Indignation, could 2016 be the year people finally crack the code of adapting Roth to film?

The Handmaiden: Set in the 1930s, this is an erotic thriller from Park Chan-Wook, director of Stoker and Snowpiercer. We can probably just stop there. It’s obviously a must see.

In a Valley of Violence: The Magnificent Seven isn’t the only Western featuring Ethan Hawke to make its debut this fall. Ti West, best known for horror films like House of the Devil, directs Hawke in the reportedly brutal story of an Old West town that’s earned the ugly nickname that gives the film its title.

OCTOBER 28

Columbia

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Inferno
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster

Robert Langdon (Hanks) is back in the latest big screen adaptation of a Dan Brown novel. And, once again, Langdon must solve a series of puzzles in order to stop a horrific threat. The professor’s task is tougher than ever, though, as he is not only battling amnesia after waking up in a hospital, but he also soon discovers that he stole Dante’s Mask from a museum. That has to be illegal!

Where The Da Vinci Code dealt with the Holy Grail and Angels & Demons had the Illuminati plotting against the Vatican, Inferno revolves around a plague that will wipe out a lot of people. Will Langdon and his latest female counterpart (Felicity Jones) be able to solve the puzzles in time? If only there was a book we could read to find out.

Also Out

Rings: Naomi Watts may have moved on, but that evil footage is still making the rounds in the third installment of the Ring franchise. The girl from the well is back to climbing out of TV sets to murder people who watched that weird video, and she’s even joining the mile-high club by killing an entire plane full of people. Ambitious, yes. Still terrifying? We hope.

NOVEMBER 4

Disney

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Doctor Strange
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton

Marvel and Benedict Cumberbatch are combining their powers to try and launch yet another arm of Marvel’s sprawling superhero franchises. When Stephen Strange gets in a car accident, causing irreparable nerve damage to his hands, he seeks out the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) for a cure and instead becomes the Sorcerer Supreme, protecting this realm from the dangers beyond our perception.

Scott Derrickson, best known for his work on horror movies like Sinister, is taking on the unenviable task of recreating Steve Ditko’s bizarre pop surrealism for the screen. Strange is a weird character even by the standards of hammer-slinging gods and scientists with rage issues, but if nothing else, this promises to be something genuinely different from a studio that lately has stuck a little too close to the world of the Avengers.

Also Out

Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield plays conscientious objector and Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss. Doss’s acts of World War II heroism, which were all about saving his fellow soldiers while refusing to carry a weapon or fight back in any capacity, is so cinematic it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t been made into a movie before. The presence of Mel Gibson in the director’s seat (which the trailers have notably avoided mentioning) may make, however, for some conflicted feelings for people considering buying a ticket.

Loving: Try to ignore for a moment that this title is a pun on the real life story of, Loving v. Virginia, the case that led to laws against interracial marriage being declared unconstitutional. Director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special) is a skillful, nuanced filmmaker overdue for a mainstream breakthrough, as is Preacher’s Ruth Negga, who could find herself in Oscar contention after this movie. Negga co-stars with Joel Edgerton as, respectively, Mildred and Richard Loving, who were sentenced to prison in 1958 for violating Virginia’s laws against miscegenation. 2016 will see Nichols veering from science fiction to historical drama, but he’s above all a director of intimate dramas and those skills should serve him well here.

Trolls: Yes, the lovable little fluorescent-haired dolls are getting their own movie. Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick in the lead roles mean it’ll sound good and have charisma to spare, at the very least.

Bleed For This: Miles Teller plays a boxer who, after a severe injury in the ring, continues to fight professionally. The story of Vinny Paz is an inspiring one, but this so far hasn’t rung any critical bells.

NOVEMBER 11

Paramount

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Arrival
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner

Aliens have landed, so are they here to harm us or do they need our help? That’s what Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner will find out when they enter the giant space bean’s door that opens every 18 hours. “What did they look like?” is the question asked in the trailer, but the real question is what do they intend to do with us? That’s up to Adams’ Dr. Louise Banks to find out, as she must break down the keys to an alien language to understand the mysterious visitors who may or may not have squids for hands.

Based on a story by Ted Chiang, the Denis Villeneuve film received a warm reaction at Telluride — though one that reportedly left some viewers confused about what they’d just seen. That’s not really a surprise given Villeneuve’s filmography, which has mixed artful thrillers like Sicario with oddities like Enemy. If nothing else, this seems likely to be a film people will be talking about for a while.

Also Out

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Director Ang Lee helms this adaptation of a Ben Fountain novel that examines the realities and embellishments of soldiers returning home from war. Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, and Steve Martin co-star alongside newcomer Joe Alwyn.

Elle: Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) directs this story of a woman (Isabelle Huppert) who tries to uncover the identity of the man who raped her. Verhoeven’s comeback played to enthusiastic crowds at Cannes — apart from the viewers that hated it.

Almost Christmas: Writer-director David Talbert (First Sunday) tells the story of a family coming together for Thanksgiving for the first time since its matriarch’s death. Naturally, everyone hates each other. Danny Glover is the grieving father of a screwed up family that includes Mo’Nique, Omar Epps, Gabrielle Union, and J.B. Smoove.

Rules Don’t Apply: Warren Beatty’s desire to make a movie about Howard Hughes dates back to the 1970s, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he made this his overdue return to Hollywood. Writer-director Beatty plays Hughes in this story of two employees (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich) who risk everything to find love while working for an eccentric billionaire.

Shut In: Naomi Watts may have left the Ring franchise, but she’s found another thriller with Shut In. Watts plays a child psychologist caring for her brain dead son (Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things). But things take a terrifying turn when her newest young patient goes missing and is presumed dead.

NOVEMBER 18

Warner Bros.

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell

After earning $7.7 billion worldwide, the Harry Potter franchise is coming back to the big screen, minus Harry Potter. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on J.K. Rowling’s 2001 reproduction of a textbook, takes place decades before Harry, Ron, and Hermione enrolled at Hogwarts. The film follows Newt Scamander (played with goofy earnestness by Redmayne), an employee of the British Ministry of Magic who travels to the United States in the 1920s with an enchanted briefcase. The contents of his luggage: the titular beasts. Where to find them? All over New York after they escape. Based on the trailers, Fantastic Beasts looks lighter than the gloomy Deathly Hallows — think Pokémon Go, but with wands. And just like Pokémon Go, it’s likely to be huge. Warner Bros. could always use another $800 million.

Also Out

Manchester by the Sea: While sibling Ben scowls menacingly as some sort of man-bat, Casey Affleck is getting strong Academy Award buzz for Manchester by the Sea, the latest film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, Margaret). After his brother (Kyle Chandler) is killed, Lee (Affleck) is named the legal guardian of his 16-year-old nephew (Lucas Hedges). The film left Sundance audiences in tears last January.

Nocturnal Animals: Fashion icon Tom Ford’s last (and only other) film, A Single Man, was an award season mainstay in 2010; Colin Firth was even nominated for an Oscar. That puts a lot of pressure on the thriller Nocturnal Animals, but considering the cast involved — including Amy Adams, who plays the ex-wife of possibly disturbed novelist Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as Michael Shannon and Laura Linney — there’s a chance it might even top expectations.

The Edge of Seventeen: Writer Kelly Fremon Craig (Post Grad) makes her directorial debut with a coming-of-age story starring Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as a high school junior whose life is, like, totally horrible when her best friend begins to date her brother (Everybody Wants Some!! hunk Blake Jenner). It’s been too long since we’ve had a great teen movie. With luck, The Edge of Seventeen could be it.

NOVEMBER 23

Disney

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Moana
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Alan Tudyk

Sometimes it’s as simple as “everyone loves The Rock and everyone loves Lin Manuel-Miranda — they should make a movie together.” That might be all you need to know about Moana, Disney’s computer animated musical about a young girl, Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), who teams up with demigod Māui (Dwayne Johnson). The South Pacific graphics look stunning, and the songs, co-written by the Hamilton genius, ought to be memorable (though not as memorable as when you show your Moana-loving child Pain & Gain for the first time).

Also Out

Allied: This fall, spend Thanksgiving with your family at the multiplex, watching two ridiculously attractive World War II assassins, played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, fall in love and attempt to murder a German official. Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis, has something for everyone. Romance! History! Lizzy Caplan! Grandparents love Lizzy Caplan. The last time Zemeckis debuted a film in the fall it was the criminally underseen The Walk. This one looks a little tougher to resist.

Bad Santa 2: It will be tough for Bad Santa 2 to top the 2003 original’s “f*ck me Santa” scene — as memorable a holiday movie moment as Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls wishing everyone a merry Christmas — but the trailer still looks more delightfully naughty than nice.

Lion (November 25): Based on a true story, Lion stars Dev Patel as Saroo Brierley, who uses Google Earth to reconnect with his lost family after decades apart. If you type “best movie of 2016” into Google, something tells me the result might be Lion. Don’t try searching for it on Bing.

DECEMBER 2

Summit Entertainment

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

La La Land
Directed by: Damien Chezelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons

By even the most generous assessment we’re not living in a golden age for musicals or romantic comedies. If there’s a film that could change that, or at least provide a reminder of how good both genres can be, it might be La La Land. Damien Chezelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, the film follows a pair of Los Angelenos (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) as they try to make it in L.A. She’s an actress. He’s a jazz pianist. They sing and dance and break each others’ hearts. Festival crowds have been going nuts over this one, and it’s likely to be a title that comes up a lot when the talk turns to the best movies of the year.

DECEMBER 9

Dreamworks

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Office Christmas Party
Directed by: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon

The last time directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck teamed with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston it was for The Switch, an uncomfortable and not particularly funny film about artificial insemination. This looks to be a far more raucous affair, focusing on a party that goes way out of bounds in an attempt to impress a client. Every holiday season seems to need a comedy or two to break up all the prestige items and big-deal blockbusters, and this could be 2016’s. That it features a lot of funny people like Vanessa Bayer and Randall Park should help.

Also Out

The Salesman: Here’s another one that shouldn’t need a lot of selling to anyone familiar with the director’s previous work. The Salesman is the latest from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi whose last two efforts — A Separation and The Past — should be on anyone’s short list of the decade’s best films.

DECEMBER 16

Disney/Lucasfilm

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker

C’mon, it’s a new Star Wars movie. What else is there to say?

Also Out

Collateral Beauty: Collateral Beauty hasn’t had the easiest path to the big screen. Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara were originally supposed to star in the comedy-drama, but they dropped out, as did director Alfonso Gómez-Rejón (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). But in stepped David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), and as far as actor swaps go, you could do far worse than replacing Wolverine and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, and Helen Mirren. As for the plot, all Smith, who plays a depressed advertising executive, will say is, “It’s a little bit It’s a Wonderful Life and a little bit The Wizard of Oz.” It’ll take more than magic slippers for Collateral Beauty to beat Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but that description makes it sound like pretty good counter-programming for anyone tired of lasers and droids.

Fences: Directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars as Troy Maxson, Fences tells the story of a temperamental former Negro League baseball player. The movie is based on the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, revived in 2010 with Washington in the lead. Washington’s last two directorial efforts, The Great Debaters and Antwone Fisher, showed promise, but never really came together. Considering how long Washington has lived in the world of Fences, however, this could be a turning point for him behind the camera.

The Founder: McDonald’s wasn’t popularized by a man named Ronald McDonald. It became the Death Star of greasy fast food franchises (if only there was a movie about the Empire out this weekend…) thanks to Ray Kroc, who saw potential in mass-producing burgers that eluded the McDonald brothers who established it (played here by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). Michael Keaton steps into the Kroc’s clown shoes, or whatever, in a script written by Robert D. Siegel, whose previous efforts include The Wrestler, Big Fan, and Turbo. That’s the Cars-but-with-snails movie. The Founder probably has more in common with The Wrestler. John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) directs.

Neruda: Gael García Bernal stars as Pablo Neruda in a film about the famed poet and politician. Bernal is from Mexico. You know who else hails from Mexico? Bernal’s longtime friend Diego Luna, who’s in… Rogue One. (Face it, you’re going to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend. But you can still check out Neruda, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, during the week.)

DECEMBER 21

20th Century Fox

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Assassin’s Creed
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard

It’s been a bittersweet year for movies based on video games. Warcraft arrived and became the highest grossing and most popular movie based on a video game ever released, a low bar to clear when the former champion was the Resident Evil franchise. But Assassin’s Creed is a different beast altogether.

Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a man supposedly executed but in reality kidnapped by a company called Abstergo. Abstergo has a machine called the Animus, which allows Callum to experience the memories of his ancestors… namely, a member of a secret order tasked with saving the world from an equally shadowy conspiracy, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Sweetening the pot is the presence of director Justin Kurzel, who directed Fassbender in last year’s well-regarded adaptation of Macbeth, a pairing that promises to give this Christmas week action movie a bit more art than you might expect.

Also Out

Passengers: This script spent decades in development hell as Keanu Reeves fought to make it happen, only for the logjam to finally break with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. They’re both riding a spaceship in stasis when their pods break and the two find themselves stuck together on a 90-year ride. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) directs a script that demands just Pratt and Lawrence carry the whole thing.

Patriots Day: In the first of competing movies about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Mark Wahlberg plays a police officer dealing with the manhunt after the tragedy. Filmed largely on location in Boston itself, it will also somehow be the second fact-based Peter Berg-directed movie starring Mark Wahlberg to hit theaters this fall.

Sing: Matthew McConaughey plays a singing koala. Do we have to say anything else?

The Space Between Us: Asa Butterfield plays a kid born on Mars who escapes to Earth to meet people, smell flowers and otherwise live life before being sent back to Mars, or dying. In other words, it’s a bit of John Green and a bit of hard science fiction mixed together in an ideal end of year date movie.

A Monster Calls: J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) is set to take on the next installment in the Jurassic Park series. But before that he’s tackling a different sort of fantastic in this story of a boy who befriends a sentient tree creature voiced by Liam Neeson. The Orphanage established Bayona as a thoughtful director of supernatural stories and The Impossible displayed his skill with young actors, introducing the world to future Spider-Man Tom Holland. This could be a nice combination of those skills.

DECEMBER 25

20th Century Fox

The One Everyone Will Be Watching

Why Him?
Directed by: John Hamburg
Starring: Bryan Cranston, James Franco

Remember what we said above about every holiday season needing some silliness to balance out the heavy-duty prestige films? This could be another one to fill one of the slots occupied last year by Sisters and Daddy’s Home. Bryan Cranston plays a father who disapproves of his daughter’s (Zoey Deutch) new, billionaire boyfriend (James Franco). The premise suggests it could go obvious places, but director John Hamburg is a longtime associate of Ben Stiller (who also produces) and directed the quite good I Love You, Man, a film that found laughs and unexpected depth in another potentially obvious premise.

Gold: The Matthew McConaughey resurgence may have hit a snag with this past summer’s The Free State of Jones, but the latest film from Syriana writer/director Steven Gaghan, which sends him looking for gold in Indonesia, could reverse that. (If not, maybe it will be the singing koala movie mentioned above.)

Toni Erdmann: When the BBC released its critics’ poll of the young century’s best film, this film from German director Maren Ade snuck into its lower ranks, despite not being released yet. That’s because the comedy about a father who goes to absurd lengths to reconnect with his adult daughter wowed virtually everyone who saw it at Cannes. In all likelihood its reputation will only grow as more get a chance to see it.

Paterson (December 28): Also impressing the Cannes crowd: the latest from the ever-reliable Jim Jarmusch. Paterson takes its name from the New Jersey city in which it’s set. Adam Driver, showing a commitment to taking on acting challenges despite graduating to the big leagues with The Force Awakens, stars as a bus driver with poetic inclinations.

— Additional writing by Keith Phipps

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