Movie News & Reviews

A die-hard moviegoer’s guide to fall 2016

From left, Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in “The Magnificent Seven.”
From left, Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in “The Magnificent Seven.” Sony Pictures

A recent New York Times article exploring summer 2016’s box office extremes – blockbusters and bombs, with little in between – suggested America’s most loyal moviegoers, who attend movies for the big-screen experience no matter what is playing and thus can fuel modest hits, no longer are showing up. Competition from streaming services such as HBO GO was cited.

This article struck a chord because the people it referred to are my people: those who go to movie theaters because that’s what one does on Sunday afternoons and Thursday nights.

But they stop being my people when they prefer small screens to big ones. Or turn away from the many-finger-smudged doors of the local multiplex just because “War Dogs” and that terrible “Ben Hur” remake are the only films there they have yet to see. A true die-hard picks one and hopes for the best.

This ride-or-die moviegoer also appreciates the fall movie season, when theaters fill with movies with awards potential and therefore a greater likelihood of being good rather than just “currently in release.” To celebrate the fall movie season’s arrival, this diehard has compiled a list of 10 of the season’s films to which I most look forward.

This rundown differs from those I wrote as movie critic. The selections are those of a food critic who goes to the movies, a lot, on her own time. So it’s still highly opinionated, but more personal.

It does not, for instance, include Marvel’s “Dr. Strange” (Nov. 4 ) or “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (Dec. 16) because doing so would be disingenuous. The only comic-book films I am eager to see are the “Captain America” movies, and I prefer “Trek” to “Wars.”

Nor does it include “The Birth of a Nation,” (Oct. 7), an historical drama, directed, co-written by and starring Nate Parker, about real-life slave rebellion leader Nat Turner. Fox Searchlight’s record $17.5 million purchase of the film, at January’s Sundance Film Festival, seemed like an antidote to the then-current #oscarssowhite controversy. But detailed, troubling news reports about a 1999 rape case involving Parker and “Birth” co-writer Jean Celestin (Parker was acquitted and Celestin’s conviction eventually overturned) have clouded the film’s pre-release period.

Separating artist from art is easier when the artist has a track record. Parker lacks one as a director. So I cannot put “Birth” on my top-10 rundown unseen, the way I have other films included based on the filmmakers’, actors’ or studio’s previous works, and others which I stumbled upon on Thursday nights.

“The Magnificent Seven”: Denzel Washington leads the large cast of this remake of the 1960 John Sturges Western, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai.” Washington plays a warrant officer, who with a gambler (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke) and four others try to end a homicidal industrialist’s (Peter Sarsgaard) chokehold on a frontier town. Washington reunites here with his “Training Day” and “The Equalizer” director, Antoine Fuqua, and “Training” co-star Hawke.

Fuqua has had a mixed career in Hollywood. But his recent works – the 1970s-style exploitation film “Equalizer” and rise-fall-rise boxing film “Southpaw” were well-made genre pictures featuring terrific acting and shot composition, the latter a key part of a successful Western. Sept. 23

“The Girl on the Train”: Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel frustrated in its depiction of its lead character, Rachel, as pathetically man-dependent yet also enthralled the reader through its tightly woven story lines.

The casting of Emily Blunt as Rachel intrigues, because Blunt can play a lot of layers, and Rachel, a blackout drinker who spies on her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and his new wife and might or might not have been part of a crime, is practically a Biba lasagna. In the film’s trailer, for maximum “Gone Girl”-style suspense, Rachel seems a bit more in charge than she does in the book and the ex-husband less like a saint ever-patient with Rachel’s antics. But that’s partly casting: Justin Theroux, like Ben Affleck in “Gone Girl,” brings an innate touch of smarm to all roles. Oct. 7

“Moonlight”: Filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ lyrical 2008 film “Medicine For Melancholy” followed a young, hip man and woman on a 24-hour-date in which they got to know each other while also exploring San Francisco and issues of racial identity.

Jenkins’ “Moonlight” tracks a character named Chiron through a decade of life in Miami, with three actors (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) assuming the role for one of the movie’s acts. In the film’s trailer, Chiron wrestles with family strife and bullying by his peers as a youngster yet seems to rebound in young adulthood, as he shyly interacts with another young man in moments that evoke the naturalism and underlying romanticism of “Melancholy.” Oct. 28

“Arrival”: Due for an Oscar after five nominations without winning, Amy Adams is the early star of the 2016-17 awards season, as lead of this alien-contact film and “Nocturnal Animals” (see below), which have received a rapturous praise from film festival screenings.

Here, Adams plays a linguist recruited by Army intelligence to try to communicate with aliens that have just arrived in vessels that look like eggs stood on end. From the trailer, it appears as if “Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”), distinguishes itself from other alien-contact films by emphasizing interaction over anticipation. Nov. 11

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”: Based on Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel, this film follows a soldier (newcomer Joe Alwyn) whose unit is brought home for a victory tour after a fierce battle in Iraq is captured by television news cameras. This premise reads like an updated version of Clint Eastwood’s affecting 2006 film “Flags of Our Fathers.”

Two-time Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”; “Life of Pi”), who is equally wonderful in guiding actors and visuals, used new camera technology to heighten tension in the film’s flashback battle scenes. Nov. 11

“Manchester by the Sea”: Casey Affleck plays a janitor who reluctantly moves back to his Massachusetts hometown to care for his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the janitor’s brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Affleck does well with blue-collar New England roles, as he demonstrated in “Gone, Baby, Gone,” and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan’s exquisite observation of adult-sibling and uncle-nephew relationships in his 2000 gem “You Can Count on Me” also bodes well for this film. Nov. 18

“Moana”: Disney has been on such a roll for the past several years, with both animated (from “Frozen” to “Finding Dory”) and live action (“The Jungle Book”) family films, that adults as well as children look forward to each new release.

In the animated “Moana,” newcomer Auli’i Cravalho voices the role of a teenager in the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania who develops her gift for navigating, or “wayfinding,” with the help of a demi-god named Maui (Dwayne Johnson). In the film’s trailer, the visuals look sumptuous. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” composed music for the film. Nov. 23

“Nocturnal Animals”: Fashion designer Tom Ford’s 2009 directing debut “A Single Man” contained a highly sympathetic, Oscar-nominated performance by Colin Firth as 1960s college professor grieving the death of his boyfriend, but was so style-first otherwise as to seem nearly bloodless. There was not a hair or stick of furniture out of place in Ford’s hermetically sealed mid-century Los Angeles.

“Animals,” according to early reviews, also looks beautiful yet pierces the surface in exploring a failed marriage. Adams plays an art-gallery owner who receives a copy of a novel written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film then explores the novel’s story, with Gyllenhaal as the husband and Adams look-alike Isla Fisher as the wife. Dec. 9

“La La Land”: A piano player (Gosling) falls for an actress (Emma Stone) in this musical, director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his critically beloved 2014 music-school-sadism film “Whiplash.” In the “La La” trailer, people dance on air amid the blues and pinks of faux-L.A. sunsets that look soundstage-bound in the manner of 1950s Hollywood Technicolor extravaganzas.

The track record on which we base this pick is not Chazelle’s: “Whiplash” seemed over-directed, its visual flourishes used as shortcuts to build tension the writing should have built. Rather, we base this pick on the chemistry Stone and Gosling showed in the 2011 film “Crazy. Stupid. Love.” Dec. 16

“Hidden Figures”: Its official release is Jan. 13, 2017. But from the moment a commercial for this movie aired during the recent Summer Olympics, this fact-based story of African American women who worked behind the scenes at NASA during the 1960s space race looked destined for awards consideration.

The studio behind it recently previewed 30 minutes of this as-yet-unfinished film, in which Taraji P. Henson (Fox television’s “Empire”) plays mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped put John Glenn into space, at the influential Toronto International Film Festival. A December awards run looks likely.

“Figures” also stars Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as Johnson’s colleagues, and Kevin Costner as a NASA boss. In exploring the women’s story and the tension of the space race with the Soviet Union, “Figures” looks to be one of those studio marketing department dreams: a “four-quadrant” film appealing to male and female and younger and older moviegoers. Jan. 13, 2017

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