Fall Preview 2016: No. 10 – No. 6

Happy Sunday! Today I am revealing films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes a wide range of films, including a likely heavy hitter at the box office, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – The Founder

The Founder details the true story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast-food domination. The film follows Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) as he meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who operate a hamburger restaurant in California. Controversially, Kroc tactically maneuvers himself into a position to take control of the McDonald’s brand, which grows into one of the world’s best-known brands after Kroc buys the chain for $2.7 million in 1961.

The source of my interest in The Founder is one man: Michael Keaton. Beginning with Birdman in 2014 (for which Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actor) and Spotlight in 2015 (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), Michael Keaton has undergone a true film renaissance. The resurgence of Keaton as an acting powerhouse is undeniable, and from the looks of the trailer for this film, I can only believe that he is set to kill it once more. The role seems to include elements of comedy, drama, malice, and deceit—a veteran like Keaton is sure to embrace this challenge and deliver a balanced performance.

One of the film’s keys is also one of the film’s (potential) downsides: director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s directorial history consists of The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. The positive here is that Hancock clearly knows how to take a true-life story and mold it into a solid movie. The drawback, though, is that each of these films—while well-crafted—got a bit cheesy and cliché at times. As is evident from the trailer, The Founder takes on a seriously controversial subject matter, and I am hoping that this factor takes the film into the category of “drama,” rather than “melodrama”—I want the Big Mac, not the Big Sap. The Founder is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman), Laura Dern (99 Homes, Wild), and Nick Offerman (Danny Collins, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

No. 9 – Loving

Loving follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The two are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple eventually sues the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

Before I even knew much about this film, I was interested. As most of you probably know, in May I graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law. During my time in law school, I examined the case of Loving v. Virginia in my constitutional law course. It is a case that stands as a pillar of change during a truly despicable time in American history, and I am more than happy to see the Loving’s story played out on the silver screen. Like I have felt with most films coming out this fall, however, the story appears quite susceptible to an overload of sap. But Richard Lawson, a critic for Vanity Fair, claimed the film’s lack of schmaltziness (for lack of a better word) take away the film’s “heft.” For me, I would always err on the side of avoiding anything that makes a story mawkish, so Lawson’s criticism does not bother me whatsoever.

I first heard about Loving this past spring when it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Although it did not win the coveted award, the film still ultimately won—it received a standing ovation following its screening and many critics considered the film a surefire Oscar contender. Most of this success can be attributed to Loving’s director (Jeff Nichols) and stars (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga). Nichols is a filmmaker that continues to, movie by movie, build up a critically acclaimed filmography. The beautifully crafted Mud served as my introduction to Nichols as a writer/director, and I look for him to bring that same poise and dexterity to Loving. As far as acting, I haven’t seen much of Ruth Negga, but I can definitely vouch for Joel Edgerton’s abilities—he has proven to be an underrated master of his craft, and all signs point to the same level of sharp performance that I have grown accustomed to seeing from Edgerton. Loving is set for a theatrical release on November 4, 2016.

Director: Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ruth Negga (Warcraft, Fury), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Knight of Cups), and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33g-ZHBQdNU

No. 8 – Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals follows Susan (Amy Adams), a successful LA art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, Susan is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

Tom Ford. Tom Ford. No, I am not quoting lyrics from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Tom Ford”; I am talking about the director of Nocturnal Animals. While Tom Ford is universally known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, he is also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2009, Ford wrote, directed, and produced A Single Man, an award-winning film starring Colin Firth. I was a huge fan of Ford’s debut effort, and when I found out he was returning this year with Nocturnal Animals, I was on board. Aside from Tom Ford at the wheel, my interest in this film further derives from its acting stars: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Adams definitely ranks in the top five of my favorite actresses currently working, and I cannot wait to see her take on this thrilling role. With Gyllenhaal, we all know what we are going to get—a charismatic yet enigmatic performance; it is a recipe for success and Gyllenhaal rarely lets the audience down. Nocturnal Animals is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition, Everest), Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 7 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of three stand-alone spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe and takes place (temporally) sometime between the conclusion of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV in the Star Wars franchise. The film is set 18 years after the formation of the Galactic Empire and follows the Rebel Alliance as it recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a team to steal the Death Star plans.

To be completely honest, I did not watch a single Star Wars movie until last fall when I binge-watched the entire series in anticipation of the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although the franchise had always been a cinematic blind spot for me, I got caught up in a short span of time and was not disappointed. With the exception of Episodes I and II, I found all of Star Wars films to be highly entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. Because of this, I have an enormous interest in the newest addition to the Star Wars universe.

As was probably the case for most Star Wars fans, the trailer for Rogue One had me hooked. Aside from a journey back to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One also grabbed my attention with its out-of-this-world (see what I did there) cast. Leading the way is Felicity Jones, a fetching actress who more than impressed me with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Joining Jones are actors Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, a group with varying degrees of experience but unwavering levels of precision. Led by Gareth Edwards (the director of Monsters and Godzilla), this cast has everything going for it to make the newest Star Wars film a success. Let’s hope Rogue One delivers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)

Starring: Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls, The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Blood Father, Elysium), and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Slow West)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 6 – Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age in the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three distinct chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

Moonlight is one of those films that looks to have everything necessary to strive as a sleeper hit this fall. After debuting at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Moonlight was met with universal acclaim—David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter stated the film was “fluid and seductive, deceptively mellow, and shot with shearing compassion,” while Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf hailed the film as “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.” For me, these early reviews triggered an immense interest in the film, and I cannot wait to see where Moonlight goes from here.

The film does have some question marks though: director Barry Jenkins and lead actor Trevante Rhodes (who plays Chiron) epitomize the term “unknown.” Although I have never heard of Jenkins, the critics at Telluride collectively praised his abilities. Justin Chang from the LA Times suppressed any apprehension I had about Jenkins, stating that he “made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within . . . . [Moonlight] doesn’t say much. It says everything.” Moonlight is set for a theatrical release on October 21, 2016.

Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, My Josephine)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes (The Night Is Young, Weightless), André Holland (The Knick, Selma), Naomie Harris (Our Kind of Traitor, Spectre), and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, House of Cards)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc

Best Actress

Best Actress NomineesOf the twenty actors and actress that are nominated for Oscars in acting-specific categories, only four have actually ever won an Academy Award. Two of those four are currently nominated for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard); therefore, I guess you can say this is the most accomplished acting category of the bunch this year. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

PikeAlthough she is not considered by experts to be in the hunt for the Best Actress Oscar, I still believe that Rosamund Pike gave the best performance by an actress in all of 2014. In Gone Girl, Pike plays “Amazing” Amy, a contemptuous wife who is reported missing by her husband on their fifth wedding anniversary. Pike is not particularly well known to American audiences, but I have been particularly familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End. Her claim to fame has long been key supporting roles, but in her inauguration as a true leading lady, Pike was on fire! The thing about Pike’s character is that she is one of the most complex women you will ever meet on screen. Thus, Pike had to evoke so many emotions at once to maintain her character’s inexplicable duplicity. I mentioned in my post earlier this month regarding Gone Girl that at times I found Amy “incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight,” but at other times I could not help but to desire “bashing (figuratively) her head in.” Pike nailed the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” nature of Amy flawlessly, and she is most deserved of my vote for Best Actress. Pike has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

MooreIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the titular character, a renowned linguistics professor who is shocked by an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before I get to Moore’s performance, let me briefly digress about my feelings towards her. For me, Julianne Moore is the equivalent to Tom Brady—she is wicked awesome (apropos to Tom Brady…New England…accent…get it?) at her trade, but for some reason that I cannot specifically point to, I just do not like her. With that said, I absolutely respect her ability to act (much like I respect Brady’s unparalleled ability to drop dimes on the gridiron). Okay, back to Still Alice. Moore’s portrayal of Alice in this film is heartrending. Despite the disease’s gradual diminishment of the physical capacity of Alice’s mind, she never ceases to fight. Moore depicts this relentlessness in soul-wrenching fashion, and at all times, she masterfully evokes the perfect combination of agony, vulnerability, and optimism. She is the odds-on favorite to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if she in fact does, it will be a warranted honor. Moore has previously been nominated four times for Academy Awards: twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven) and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights and The Hours). 

  1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

JonesIn The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde-Hawking, the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking. Jones’s performance will likely get overlooked in years to come (due to Eddie Redmayne’s likely Oscar victory this Sunday), but her innate portrayal of Jane was one of the more refreshing parts of the film—I loved Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, but Felicity Jones sufficiently held her own. The film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, so therefore, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Her performance differed in the first third of the movie compared to the last two thirds, but only in the substance of her character, not in terms of her acting skills. In the first third, she beautifully portrays the sheer innocence of love between Wilde and Hawking—it is charming, and she wonderfully delineates Jane’s adoration for Stephen without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the final two thirds of The Theory of Everything, she masterfully manifests the conflicted love and distress of the couple (considering Stephen’s ALS progression) with raw emotion—it is a perfect execution of Jane’s critical complexities. Jones has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

CotillardIn Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer. After returning to work from taking time off (due to an emotional breakdown), Sandra is laid off. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she is thrust into a position where she must approach each of her co-workers (one by one), and plead for them to vote for her to retain her job. The catch: if they decide to vote for her to stay, they must forfeit a €1,000 bonus. I wrote about this film on my “Honorable Mentions 2014” post, and aside from a solid screenplay, I credited Cotillard’s performance for the success of the movie. The story is as realistic as it gets (everyone can imagine being in a scenario like this), and Cotillard’s pragmatic approach to her portrayal is spirited and inspired. Her character is both sensible and wrought with emotion, and Cotillard gives a bravely humanistic voice to this troubled woman. Cotillard admitted to Entertainment Weekly that a second read-through of the screenplay was just the motivation she needed for the role: “When I read the script a second time I saw all the little beautiful details of her journey.” The veteran actress evokes subtle nuances in the exposition of her character, and it is definitely an exceptional performance worthy of Oscar praise. Cotillard was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La Vie en Rose (2007). 

  1. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

WILDIn her self-produced film Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real-life Cheryl Strayed, a woman so distraught by her mother’s passing that she ventures to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. During most of the film, Cheryl is the only character on the screen. This makes for the perfect opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to take full control over the direction of the film because its success hinges upon her performance. Although Witherspoon engrossed herself into the role with affecting command, I simply did not buy into her performance. It was unfortunate for me because I really do love Witherspoon as an actress—I greatly enjoyed her in Walk the Line and her portrayal of Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s Election is one of my favorite acting performances of all time. However, she did not convince me in Wild that she was channeling an Oscar-worthy performance. If you did enjoy her role in Wild, it is not an outlandish thought—most critics and cinema experts expect Witherspoon to challenge Julianne Moore for the Oscar. Witherspoon was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Walk the Line (2005).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Emma Roberts (Palo Alto), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 5 – The Theory of Everything

 

The Theory of Everything - BPThe Theory of Everything is a British biographical romantic drama directed by James Marsh with a screenplay, adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Anthony McCarten. The film follows the romantic relationship of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones)—it examines the intricacies of their love story as Stephen embarks on the greatest scientific discoveries of his illustrious career in the wake of his shocking diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

Theory 5This movie is magnificent. I was completely unaware of James Marsh’s previous work, but after researching his career in film, The Theory of Everything does a complete 180° from his usual work. Marsh made his career as a documentarian—in fact, he won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his film Man on Wire (2008). Even though he is a critically acclaimed documentarian, I sure hope he continues to venture into films like The Theory of Everything because he has created a superlative, emotionally evocative drama. This film thrives off of its supreme acting (Redmayne and Jones were unbelievable—I will get to them soon), and Marsh excels in his ardent direction of his two stars. Anthony McCarten also delivers an exceptional screenplay that gives the film’s stars plenty to work with during their scenes. It is adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir about her life with ex-husband Stephen, and this would tend to imply that the story (which inherently includes their separation) might be biased in her favor; however, McCarten pens the story from a more neutral perspective, and this allows the viewer to come to his/her own conclusion regarding Stephen and Jane’s history.

Theory2Although The Theory of Everything was met with generally universal acclaim, some critics complained about the fact that the film explores romanticism more so than the scientific greatness of Stephen Hawking’s life. However, this exploration of Hawking’s life is a substantial reason why I loved this movie so much. Biopics are great—I really do enjoy them; but they can get monotonous quickly as they attempt to cover every single aspect of someone’s life. That is why I so greatly enjoyed Marsh and McCarten’s storytelling point of view. With such an esteemed scientific career, Hawking’s tale could have easily been made into a 2 ½-hour illustration of his theoretical findings—but instead, The Theory of Everything makes Hawking’s career work the backdrop for a tried-and-true love story. Theory1This is a part of Stephen Hawking’s life that does not get much exposure; in fact, I knew nothing of this chapter in Hawking’s story. The depiction of Hawking and Wilde meeting for the first time, dancing under the stars, and falling in love is unmistakably beautiful—with Marsh’s direction and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s photography, the delineation of this emotionally charged pas de deux is charming beyond words.

Theory3The most remarkable element of The Theory of Everything is its acting prowess. The story is marvelous, the direction is excellent, the cinematography is affecting, and the musical score is quite possibly the greatest in recent memory, but the acting steals the show. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of 2014’s most poignant performances. Eddie Redmayne is the odds-on favorite to take home the Oscar for Best Actor this year (he definitely has my vote—stay tuned this week for more on that), and an honor of this stature is most deserved. An underrated aspect of Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is in the first third of the film (before the motor neuron disease begins to affect Hawking’s physical abilities). Redmayne breathes into Hawking an unparalleled charm, and the mix of effervescent humor with his incomparable intellect allows Redmayne to make the brainy scientist seem more relatable to the average person. But as the hype suggests, Redmayne earns his keep via his incredibly realistic depiction of Hawking during his life post-diagnosis—Redmayne packs a memorable punch, akin to Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in My Left Foot. He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible. Redmayne’s performance is a complete inhabitation, and it will go down film history as one of cinema’s most astounding performances.

Theory4Felicity Jones also gives a notable performance in her role as Jane Wilde-Hawking. Her performance will likely get overlooked in years to come, as Redmayne clearly made the biggest mark, but I have always believed in Jones’s instinctive portrayal of Hawking’s dedicated wife—I applaud the Academy for rewarding her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Given that the film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Jones succeeds in the last two-thirds of the film as a wife living a conflicted life of love and distress (given the circumstances that she and Stephen have been thrust into with the ALS diagnosis), and with raw emotion, she brilliantly reveals the fateful complexities of a once ordinary relationship. In the first third, however, I loved Felicity Jones the most. The portrayal of the utter innocence of love between Hawking and Wilde is charming, and Jones absolutely nails the role of a girl besotted with adoration for Stephen—she does not do so in a heavy-handed way, instead portraying Jane with more level-headed practicality. The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Salz7uGp72c

Academy Award nominations for The Theory of Everything:

Best Picture (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, and Anthony McCarten, producers)

Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne)

Best Actress (Felicity Jones)

Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Anthony McCarten)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Blue Ruin
  3. American Sniper
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Birdman
  6. Fury
  7. Calvary
  8. Interstellar
  9. Gone Girl
  10. The Lego Movie