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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 13 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise and the first film in the series’ sequel trilogy. Episode VII is directed by JJ Abrams, with a screenplay by Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Michael Arndt. The film is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and it follows a group known as “The Resistance” (led by remnants of the former Republic) in its fight against Kylo Ren and the First Order, the successor to Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire.

StarWars7Full disclosure: I saw all seven Star Wars movies over a two-week period during Christmas break; thus, I am not a lifelong fan of the franchise like the traditional Star Wars sycophant. However, after watching both the original and prequel trilogies, I became enraptured by the series and could not wait to watch Episode VII. StarWars8This anticipation for the newest film was two-fold: (1) I had become a genuine fan of the franchise; and (2) I was stoked to see if JJ Abrams could reinvigorate the famed series after its creative genius, George Lucas, nearly drove it into the ground with Episodes I and II (Episode III is actually pretty genius in many respects from a filmmaking standpoint—so get over yourselves, Star Wars nerds). Abrams’s take on Star Wars did not disappoint. But before I get to that and the rest of my review, I have decided to announce my own personal ranking of each film in the Star Wars franchise: (1) The Empire Strikes Back; (2) The Force Awakens; (3) Revenge of the Sith; (4) A New Hope; (5) Return of the Jedi; (6) Attack of the Clones; and (7) The Phantom Menace.

StarWars12I really only have one beef with The Force Awakens, and it is the fact that JJ Abrams will not be returning for future films in the trilogy; Mr. Abrams batted nearly 1.000 in his one-and-only Star Wars appearance. For starters, in terms of storytelling, the script is both reminiscent of the original trilogy and polar opposite of the prequel trilogy—in all the best ways. Abrams and his screenwriting team give us humor, snappy dialogue, action, and thrills, all which evoke the greatest moments of the past Star Wars films, all without much input at all from George Lucas—that is impressive. StarWars9Abrams clearly knows his Star Wars history, and he gives us plenty of callbacks to the past six films; the truly remarkable part is that he does so without bordering on schlock, which would be easy to do. We get the classic duo of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), a prominent cameo from the Millennium Falcon, a melted Darth Vader mask, and appearances by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), C-3PO, and, my personal fave, R2-D2. Despite the eminence of so many vintage Star Wars figures, Abrams’s real triumph stems from his creation of a wealth of new characters that are more than worthy to carry on this historic film franchise.

StarWars6Speaking of those new characters, we had a bunch of worthwhile rookies. Golden Globe-nominated actor Oscar Isaac stars as Poe Dameron, an X-wing fighter pilot for the Resistance that is heralded as the best in the galaxy. Emmy-nominated Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, a commander of the First Order and an aspiring successor to the Darth Vader legacy. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega star as Rey and Finn, respectively—Rey is a scavenger from Jakku in search of her family, and Finn is a First Order stormtrooper who decides to abandon his position. Despite being a big fan of Oscar Isaac, I admit that I did not connect much with his character—he was kind of boring to be honest. StarWars5Luckily, the rest of the cast carried the film with ease. I absolutely love Adam Driver as the newest bad boy of the Star Wars universe. His character is incredibly complex, possessing evil and torturous, yet anxious and sensitive qualities—Driver nails the nuances of each and every trait. Kylo Ren is also a downright badass character because of (1) a mask that rivals that of Darth Vader; and (2) one of the greatest light sabers anyone has ever seen.

StarWars3Ridley and Boyega also impress in their respective roles. Ridley’s Rey may or may not be the daughter of Luke Skywalker (the film sure does imply that, yet, maybe it is a red herring), but she definitely occupies many of Luke’s behavioral traits, not the least of which is her affinity for inherent Jedi powers—the force is definitely strong with this one. In addition to seeming much like Luke, she also at times seems like the new Han Solo—she is completely self-sufficient and is as rogue as they come. StarWars1Boyega’s Finn was one of my favorite characters from the new film. Finn’s personality is evocative of C-3PO, in that he is incredibly worrisome and always the first to panic when danger arises; it is in these ways that Finn is the funniest character of the movie. Luckily, Abrams brilliantly ensures that Finn’s character never becomes a mere caricature. I also loved R2-D2’s successor, the charmingly unique droid BB-8. BB-8 is a spherical droid with a free-moving domed head, and he is the perfect addition to a long history of classic droids in the Star Wars franchise.

Although I loved The Force Awakens, I am a bit wary of the direction of the Star Wars property. In 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, and it immediately set into motion plans for a bunch of Star Wars movies. In addition to the new sequel trilogy (Episodes VIII and IX will be directed by Looper’s Rian Johnson and Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, respectively), Disney has planned what it is calling an Anthology series. Rogue OneThe latter will first feature Rogue One, set just before the events of A New Hope, and after that two stand-alone “origin” films about both Han Solo and Boba Fett. Starting this year, the Anthology films will be released every other year, which is meant to complement the sequel trilogy’s same every-other-year schedule. Although it will be great to get so much new Star Wars material, I am cautious because it makes the series more susceptible to people getting completely burned out, considering a Star Wars movie will be released once a year between 2015 and 2020. Only time will tell. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGbxmsDFVnE

Academy Award nominations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

Best Original Score (John Williams)

Best Sound Editing (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson)

Best Film Editing (Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey)

Best Visual Effects (Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, and Neal Scanlan)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. Beasts of No Nation
  2. The Martian