Drama! Comedy! Action! Horror! In 2016, the best source for all of the above hasn’t been the multiplex. It’s been the ongoing three-ring circus that is the U.S. presidential election. Forget movie screens—a truly unpredictable narrative is unfolding in real time on all of our televisions and laptops. Isn’t our regular election year much scarier than The Purge: Election Year? Why pick sides in some fictional superhero showdown when a real one with real stakes rages on and on and on until every ballot is cast? Who needs some fake battle royal against violent Nazi scumbags when… well, okay you get the point.
Of course, movies can be a wonderful escape from all that real-world anxiety. And with the election still two months away, we’re going to need the occasional distraction—even if the films themselves have little hope of eclipsing the intrigue, insanity, or suspense of this campaign cycle. But which movies are worth tearing your eyes from the political demolition derby in progress?
That’s where the film fanatics at The A.V. Club come in. We’re here to help you pick the right ticket this election season, by breaking down 101 of the most high-profile cinematic candidates vying for your vote between now and New Year’s. We’ll tell you what each campaign is promising, which special interest it’ll appeal to the most, and whether we’re likely to grant it the much-coveted A.V. Club endorsement. Today’s guide tackles the upcoming films of September and October—which is to say, just about everything opening before election day. Tomorrow, we’re cover the releases of November and December, when—depending on how the electoral map shakes out—you might need the comfort of cinematic distraction even more than you need it now.
What’s it promising? To crack down on the artificial life-form epidemic through the terrifying prospect of Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose genetic engineering has given her certain abilities, which is why a consultant (Kate Mara) has to decide whether or not to have her put down.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Members of the Scott family; this is the directorial debut of Luke Scott, son of Ridley, who also produced.
Will it get our endorsement? This isn’t not a Labor Day-level sci-fi horror release, but fans of efficient genre trash will get their money’s worth. It helps that Taylor-Joy raises the hell she promised around the end of The Witch.
What’s it promising? The impossible feat of making the love story on screen more interesting than the one off. The film’s stars, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, are dating in real life, adding a bit of tabloid intrigue to the proceedings. In the movie, based on a novel by M.L. Stedman, they play Tom and Isabel, a couple that decides to raise the baby that washes up to shore in a dinghy. That turns out to be a bad idea.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Those in need of a good cry, your book club, and gossip-mongers.
Will it get our endorsement? Director Derek Cianfrance helmed Blue Valentine, so he’s got a knack for upsetting romances. Fassbender and Vikander are undeniably talented, and their ease with one another produces intimacy on screen. But while it will make you weep, it’s also underwhelming, given the pedigree.
What’s it promising? A buddy comedy for two teenage scions: Harley Quinn Smith, daughter of writer-director Kevin Smith, and Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of superstar caricaturist Johnny Depp. Reprising their one-scene roles from Tusk, the actresses play loopy Canadian clerks, but anyone expecting a return to the low-key conversational humor of, well, Clerks should note that this movie also features Nazi bratwursts (don’t ask) and a larger part for Depp Sr.’s obnoxious Tusk detective.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Proud fathers Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp. Those not related to the leads may be less taken with the slapdash starring vehicle fashioned for them.
Will it get our endorsement? Apparently, the only thing worse than a movie written by podcast is a spinoff of a movie written by podcast. Smith’s gooey parental heart is in the right place, but his latest is basically Tusk without the body horror—in other words, nothing but corny Canuck jokes.
What’s it promising? The return of Jerry Lewis, though not to the slapstick comedy that first made him a star. In his first starring role in over two decades, Lewis plays a recently widowed jazz pianist who discovers that his wife may have had an affair in the early years of their marriage—a sort of About Schmidt scenario, but with a nursing home instead of an RV and a heaping dose of sentimentality.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Seniors old enough to remember that idyllic time before people started making hacky jokes about how the French like Jerry Lewis.
Will it get our endorsement? Max Rose premiered over three years ago to less-than-stellar reviews. The fact that original composer Michel Legrand—a legend in his own right—disappeared from the credits somewhere in the interim doesn’t bode well either.
What’s it promising? Reckless self-endangerers Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville, together at last and way past their troublemaking prime. Renny Harlin, the onetime blockbuster hotshot turned international co-production hired gun, directed this odd-couple action comedy; Chan plays a Chinese cop in search of his missing niece, while Knoxville—who replaced Seann William Scott—plays the American gambler roped into helping him.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The Joe Redbox demographic, whose “Huh, never heard of this” decision-making process and willingness to watch anything with familiar names and a generic title has long eluded the non-direct-to-video film industry. Also, Chinese business conglomerates.
Will it get our endorsement? Nope. Harlin’s latter-day work—which has included a Georgian-financed anti-Russian propaganda movie, a Russian-financed found-footage sci-fi horror flick, and a sword-and-sandals movie made in Bulgaria—is as terrible as it is brazenly mercenary. Skiptrace is only marginally better.
What’s it promising? Hallucinatory body horror for designer drug aficionados, starring Natasha Lyonne in her wild-haired, wild-eyed mode as a party girl who’s convinced she’s been the recipient (or victim) of an immaculate conception after blacking out one night. Lyonne’s fellow ’90s cool girl Chloë Sevigny co-stars, providing slacker comic relief as Lyonne’s symptoms become increasingly alarming.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The possibility that an unwanted pregnancy could actually be the work of alien plushies from another dimension is a pretty solid pro-choice argument.
Will it get our endorsement? It’s almost out-there enough to work, but not quite.
What’s it promising? The story of Chesley Sullenberger, the veteran pilot who became a national hero after successfully landing a disabled jetliner in the Hudson River, as told in the inimitable “you get one take of this shit” style of director Clint Eastwood. Given Eastwood’s fascination with troubled and morally compromised protagonists, one can’t help but wonder what he’ll do with the likable and plainspoken Sullenberger, played here by none other than Tom Hanks, the godhead of American decency.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? True patriots who are only interested in movies about great Americans, by great Americans.
Will it get our endorsement? Is this what they meant by “loyalty test?”
What’s it promising? Robinson Crusoe with talking animals. It comes from the Belgian animation studio nWave, which previously released such underwhelming titles as Thunder And The House Of Magic and A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? This one appears to be strictly for the kiddies.
Will it get our endorsement? The animation looks stunning, but reviews have already been muted. (The film was first released in Germany in February and has expanded to various other locales since then.)
What’s it promising? Just about everything studio horror movies have promised over the last decade and change: a drafty house, slamming doors, spiral staircases, ominously laughing children, you name it. The Disappointments Room has been promising all that for a while, too; it’s been caught in release-date limbo since its distributor, Relativity, filed for bankruptcy a while back.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Anyone determined to see a long-shelved, derivative-looking Relativity horror movie featuring an actress named Kate B. on the second weekend of September. (Got all that?) This one, which stars Kate Beckinsale, recently swiped the release date of that other delayed chiller, Before I Wake, which stars Kate Bosworth.
Will it get our endorsement? “From the writer of Stoker” at least marginally, uh, stokes our interest. The vague, cliché-ridden trailer does not. We’re actually a little more hopeful about Before I Wake, directed by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) and now due sometime next year.
What’s it promising? The latest opportunity to see a Saturday Night Live alum demonstrate their dramatic range. In this case, that means Molly Shannon coping with terminal cancer. The film, which opened Sundance this year, actually unfolds from the perspective of her character’s comedy-writer son (Jesse Plemons), home from New York to help out as he nurses a bad case of the breakup blues.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Those who thought last year’s superficially similar Sundance favorite James White could have used a meeker main character and more sitcom humor (like a running gag about ubiquitous FM staple “Drops Of Jupiter”).
Will it get our endorsement? Other People is autobiographical, and writer-director Chris Kelly—who, full disclosure, helmed episodes of The Onion News Network once upon a time—sprinkles in plenty of sharp details presumably pulled from his own life. But his onscreen stand-in is also a self-pitying drip. So put it this way: We won’t be campaigning against it, but it also hasn’t really earned our vote.
What’s it promising? To cast a light on the plight of inner-city kids, as it follows Brandon (Jahking Guillory) on his quest to acquire a pair of new Air Jordans—and to reclaim them when they’re taken from him, even if it throws him into serious danger. Michael Ragen’s sometimes-dreamy cinematography won an award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Moviegoers who worried that recent mission-oriented coming-of-age stories like Dope and Gimme The Loot were far too enjoyable. Rather than start with a fun premise and reveal the danger, Kicks is intent on starting out heartbreaking and revealing that everything is even worse.
Will it get our endorsement? Justin Tipping’s first feature has a lot to recommend it, including convincing performances, a strong sense of place, and that lovely cinematography. But it’s so thoroughly grim, so bereft of any joys beyond the extremely fleeting, that it eventually starts to feel like a wallow—albeit a wallow that’s also beautifully shot and sometimes nerve-wracking.
What’s it promising? A serious-minded meditation on the weight of history encased inside a genre movie. Marcin Wrona’s take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk takes place mostly over one night, as a young bridegroom, recently returned to his Polish hometown after years away in England, begins behaving in such disturbing ways at his wedding reception that even his thoroughly sloshed relatives take notice.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Advocates of government arts funding, specifically Polish cultural groups in search of the next Polanski. (Wrona, sadly, won’t inherit that title, as he committed suicide last September.)
Will it get our endorsement? Demon traveled the festival circuit for more than a year, and make no mistake, this is art-horror with a capital “A.” Viewers who didn’t consider The Witch scary enough should cast their votes elsewhere, but arthouse fans will appreciate its thoughtful ambiguity and pastoral beauty.
What’s it promising? A sexed-up 21st-century version of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle—only this time, the baby isn’t even born yet. The thriller stars Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall as the wealthy and generous couple who hires newcomer Jaz Sinclair as a surrogate mother, then invites her to stay with them after her husband goes to jail for domestic abuse. Pretty soon, the young lady is trying to seduce Chestnut, and when that goes south… well, genre rules dictate this woman must go a little craaazy.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Young couples who weren’t old enough to see Hand That Rocks when it came out, yet mature enough to start fearing that every young person who comes into their lives is trying to fuck their spouse.
Will it get our endorsement? Doubtful. Chestnut and Hall are both routinely excellent actors, but director John Cassar doesn’t have a good track record on the rare occasions he leaves television behind. This has all the earmarks of something that would play better as a Lifetime movie.
What’s it promising? A proper sequel to the most influential found-footage horror movie of all time, some 16 years after Book Of Shadows offered an improper one. An early teaser played coy about the film’s franchise ties, pull-quoting some enticingly spooked reactions to what was still being called The Woods. But producers dropped the ruse at last month’s Comic-Con, unveiling that the secret sequel would follow a group of college kids looking into the disappearance of the original film’s trio—an investigation that leads them straight into the Black Hills Forest.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Lucky bastards who haven’t seen a found-footage horror movie since 1999, when the first film opened. The rest of us have watched enough unofficial Blair Witch sequels to last a lifetime.
Will it get our endorsement? Our bubbling cauldron says it just might! Early word has been quite positive. Plus, this isn’t some work-for-hire reboot, but the latest project from director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, the creative team behind You’re Next and The Guest. Those guys know how to riff on something familiar while still making it feel distinctively their own.
What’s it promising? The out-there paranoia of Oliver Stone meets the bracingly reasonable paranoia of Edward Snowden. Telling the still-unfolding story of the NSA subcontractor who blew the whistle on the U.S. government’s surveillance of, well, everyone, Snowden gives this controversial figure a sympathetic biopic that begins with the casting of the eminently likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The surely large overlap between people who enjoy Stone’s antiauthoritarian rants and anyone who regards Snowden as a hero.
Will it get our endorsement? Stone is definitely in his element here—and as Citizenfour proved, Snowden’s story is plenty compelling even without the added gloss of movie dramatization or Gordon-Levitt’s charms. It sounds intriguing, though if the NSA is reading, we firmly renounce this movie as treasonous.
What’s it promising? The third chapter in the saga of Bridget Jones, the hapless romantic last seen still being adorably/irritatingly torn between two men in 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. This time around, Renée Zellweger’s Jones is adorably/irritatingly torn between two men and a baby, grappling with a pregnancy that might belong to her thrice-spurned fiancé (Colin Firth) or a handsome new American (Patrick Dempsey). Which one will she choose, before inevitably, adorably upending it all?
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Diehards of Bridget Jones’ fizzy, fuzzy-slippered charms, many of whom may be brought in this time out of pure nostalgia. Though even devotees might be ready for Bridget to stop flitting about and settle down with Mark Darcy already—or just focus on her career, sign up for Tinder, and be done with it.
Will it get our endorsement? Considering The Edge Of Reason felt like a tedious rehash of an already warmed-over rom-com cliché, adding Lamaze jokes to the mix doesn’t seem promising.
What’s it promising? An hour and 43 minutes of ceaseless, fist-pumping uplift, courtesy of the Australian Christian act Hillsong United, an arm of the Australian megachurch Hillsong. Trailers for this documentary about one of Hillsong’s most rocking subsidiaries originally ran last year with the Warner Bros. logo out front, but apparently that’s a Canada-only deal; in the U.S., it comes via Pure Flix Entertainment, the company behind the God’s Not Dead saga as well as Hillary’s America.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? This one is poised to break out, appealing not just to Australian Christians with terrible taste in music but also to Christians with terrible taste in music all over the world.
Will it get our endorsement? The Alex Gibney version might.
What’s it promising? An explanation of what really happened on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, told from the point of view of the people on the ground—specifically a film crew whose unscrupulous leader (writer-director Matt Johnson) is big on image manipulation. More should not be said about this heady, accomplished Canadian comedy-thriller, which premiered to good buzz at Sundance and features one of the year’s most hilarious set pieces: a meticulous re-creation of the filming of one of the most iconic movies of all time.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Conspiracy theorists, an important demographic for any director trying to build his base.
Will it get our endorsement? If you’ve seen Johnson’s earlier school-shooting comedy The Dirties (2013), you’re attuned to the filmmaker’s uniquely squirmy sensibility and fondness for mock documentary textures—and he probably already has your vote. The question is whether Lionsgate will be able to expand his constituency beyond its current status as a north-of-the-border cult.
What’s it promising? Magnificence, a quality that’s been in short supply so far in the films of director Antoine Fuqua, who teams with Denzel Washington for a third time for a third remake of Seven Samurai. This one is a remake of a remake: a new version of the 1960 John Sturges film, with Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and a magnificently bearded Vincent D’Onofrio as the seven outlaws tasked with protecting a small town in the Old West.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Fans of Denzel Washington’s extended pulp phase, along with whatever demographic is most enticed by Fuqua’s ceaseless trailer billing as “the director of Training Day,” a movie that celebrates its 15th anniversary just a few weeks after this one’s release.
Will it get our endorsement? Fuqua’s previous administrations have been compromised, but the prospect of seeing Washington and Pratt engage in some old-fashioned shoot-outs is enticing. If the movie can hew closer to the laconic first half of Fuqua and Washington’s The Equalizer than its blood-drenched second half, it might secure our support.
What’s it promising? Damned if we know; the trailer is deeply confusing save for a general (and quite loud) promise of animated zaniness. But the idea seems to be that in the world of the movie, babies don’t come from parents, but rather some kind of factory, whereupon they are delivered by storks, like in the cartoons of yore. Or at least, they used to, but now storks mostly deliver other packages, and are wholly unprepared when an unauthorized baby is produced and must be taken to the family who wants her.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Parents who have previously felt that the presence of babies in animated films made them, by default, far too sexual to ever show to a child.
Will it get our endorsement? Maybe, if the movie settles down long enough to ask for it. This is the first non-Lego feature from Warner Animation Group, the newest animation arm of Warner Bros, and it comes from Nicholas Stoller, who has shown talent both for procreation-related comedy (the Neighbors series) and kid-friendly comedy (the recent Muppet movies). But the marketing materials so far indicate some level of panic.
What’s it promising? A nauseating immersion in the boot camp of college fraternity culture. Based on a disturbing memoir, Goat follows 18-year-old Brad Land (Ben Schnetzer), who suffers a brutal carjacking the summer before his freshman year of college. To mend his battered masculinity, Brad attempts to pledge the same house that’s made his older brother a brother. Harrowing initiation rites ensue.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? The older brother is played by Nick Jonas. Yes, that Nick Jonas. His casting should definitely draw a certain demographic—assuming they can get their own older siblings to buy them a ticket.
Will it get our endorsement? When Goat premiered at Sundance in January, we wrote that there’s not much more to the film than the sick fascination its booze-and-hazing scenes inspire. But after four decades of Animal House clones, maybe it’s time for a movie that makes frat boys look less like lovable knuckleheads than destructive macho bullies.
What’s it promising? The sight of Nick Kroll seething over the popularity and smug athletic skills of his brother, played by Adam Scott. Their largely unspoken rivalry is complicated by two factors: They’re both in love with the same woman, played by Jenny Slate… and Scott’s character is blind, making Kroll’s resentment feel comically inappropriate.
What special interest will it satisfy most? Comedy nerds too lazy to write fan fiction that combines and recombines Kroll, Scott, and Slate.
Will it get our endorsement? My Blind Brother is far too slight to warrant a full endorsement, but it might be able to win some down-ticket races based on its pleasantly low-key consideration of the metrics of a successful life—and because Kroll’s running mate, Jenny Slate, is charming as hell.
What’s it promising? The classic fairy tale about a young woman who succumbs to Stockholm syndrome while being held captive by a hirsute monstrosity, as reimagined by the writer-director of Brotherhood Of The Wolf. Not to be confused with the upcoming Disney remake, Christophe Gans’ second attempt at making 18th-century France look like an M-rated video game benefits from some serious Gallic star power, with Léa Seydoux as Belle, Vincent Cassel as the beast, and André Dussollier as Belle’s cowardly dad.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Purists who would rather see an expensive, CGI-filled Beauty And The Beast adaptation in the original language, with that je ne sais quoi that the MPAA calls “partial nudity.”
Will it get our endorsement? Beauty And The Beast opened in France in early 2014, earning positive reviews from the mainstream press and utter contempt from the country’s most storied film magazines. Our perverse instincts tell us that any movie that can get onetime archrivals Positif and Cahiers Du Cinéma to agree on a grade must be doing something right.
What’s it promising? Lupita Nyong’o’s first starring role since winning her Oscar for 12 Years A Slave. The actress plays Harriet Mutesi, the mother of Ugandan chess champion Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), who is introduced to chess by missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) in the slum where she lives. Mira Nair, whose last feature was 2012’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directs for the Mouse House.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Parents who want to take their children to a Disney movie that isn’t a fairy tale. Also, the Spartan Cheerleaders.
Will it get our endorsement? We’re crossing our fingers. Nair’s due for a career resurgence, and Nyong’o has yet to disappoint. This strikes us as a film about African lives that doesn’t rely on a white savior narrative, which bodes well. But since it’s Disney, it also runs the risk of being treacly.
What’s it promising? A revival of the quirky Aussie charms of Muriel’s Wedding, one of whose producers, Jocelyn Moorhouse, directed here. Kate Winslet stars as Myrtle Dunnage, a fashion maven who was cast out of her tiny Australian hometown for a crime she doesn’t remember committing. She comes back and finds that her mother (Judy Davis) is a recluse, and the rest of the population is as awful as ever.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Aesthetes interested in seeing Winslet in 1950s finery, and Hemsworth fans willing to settle for the younger and smaller of the brothers, who has a supporting role.
Will it get our endorsement? Nope. Laughably ridiculous, The Dressmaker veers wildly from slapstick comedy to melodrama. By the time someone meets a supposedly tragic end by jumping into sorghum, you’ll be rolling your eyes.
What’s it promising? Tim Burton, squarely within his wheelhouse on this adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ goth-and-family-friendly story about a group of strange, gifted children living in an abandoned orphanage. Riggs’ novel, which he constructed around spooky vintage photographs, already has plenty of Burton’s aesthetic hallmarks, so hiring him to cast Eva Green and the perpetually haunted-eyed Asa Butterfield and make it into an actual movie is pretty much just a formality.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Young teens with Nightmare Before Christmas backpacks and the loving, patient moms sitting two rows behind them.
Will it get our endorsement? The trailer has all the hallmarks of latter-day Burton, somehow managing to make “quirky” feel slick and bombastic. But as with each of Burton’s new projects, there’s always the faint hope that this could be the one to recapture the soul that once lurked behind the style.
What’s it promising? A white-knuckle “you are there” thriller about the 2010 explosion of the Louisiana drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The trailer promises to show the disaster through the eyes of a hard-working family man, played by Mark Wahlberg. His loving wife, played by Kate Hudson, follows the unfolding crisis from their home. The rest of an impressive cast includes John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, and Hudson’s semi-stepfather Kurt Russell.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Pick ’em! Deepwater Horizon appears very much in the mode of other recent right-leaning “manly men in trouble” movies, like American Sniper, 13 Hours, and the Wahlberg vehicle Lone Survivor. But the explosion and oil spill made big corporations look bad, which could rope in lefties.
Will it get our endorsement? Lump us in with the “undecideds.” Director Peter Berg has had a hit-and-miss career, but he’s generally good with intense survivalist action (like Lone Survivor). It’s worrisome, though, that Berg has another movie coming out later this year: Patriots Day, also starring Wahlberg, about the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Deepwater Horizon was originally going to be helmed by All Is Lost’s J.C. Chandor, before he bailed over “creative differences.” Chandor’s version would’ve been a genuine event. Berg’s may be more of a “let’s just get this done and move on” situation.
What’s it promising? A raucous party atmosphere—though, oddly enough, this present-day story involves a group of young people who roam the country selling magazine subscriptions door to door, which seems more like something that “wild” kids might have done back in the 1950s. Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough play the crew’s power couple, but director Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights, Fish Tank) otherwise chose to cast non-professionals in key roles, encouraging improvisation and generally allowing the story to shape itself.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? People who like their movies sprawling and impulsive, with more emphasis on vivid atmosphere than story. Also, fans of actors whose names include the how’s-that-pronounced? vowel combination “eou.” (Seems it’s “uh” in “LaBeouf,” but “oh” in “Keough.”)
Will it get our endorsement? Yes, with reservations. Word out of Cannes was strong, especially regarding the vibrant lead performance of newcomer Sasha Lane. But even rabid fans tend to concede that the film’s whopping 162-minute running time constitutes a bit of a Honey overdose.
What’s it promising? Sober-minded dramatization of author Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle against notorious British Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued the writer for libel and forced her lawyers to definitively prove that one of the 20th century’s greatest atrocities did, in fact, happen. Mick Jackson directs with Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall tearing into juicy, award-baiting lead roles.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The subgenre of Holocaust-themed dramas has typically had a solid audience, and the fact that this is a movie more about the vagaries of a strangely archaic legal system could attract anybody who likes an old-fashioned courtroom procedural.
Will it get our endorsement? A Gala presentation slot at the Toronto International Film Festival is hardly (and more to the point, rarely) a guarantor of any kind of quality, and the trailer looks a bit stodgy and on the nose. But Weisz is a marvelous, resourceful actress, and we’re curious to see what Jackson does with subject matter more serious than, say, The Bodyguard or Volcano.
What’s it promising? Mostly that it’s actually, finally coming out at all: This comedy from Jared Hess has seen a number of release dates come and go as its studio, the struggling Relativity, tried to gin up the resources to release its movies. Hence the appearance of this movie in at least one previous A.V. Club Preview, which described a farcical bank heist movie with a stacked cast including Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Ken Marino. Yes, three-quarters of the new Ghostbusters actors are in this movie.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Hardcore devotees of Jared Hess, who—a dozen years after Napoleon Dynamite—are nothing if not a special interest group.
Will it get our endorsement? It’s hard to imagine a bad movie with this cast, but far from impossible—and the endless delays make it even easier.
What’s it promising? The first major motion picture about a major historical figure whose life story still makes people nervous, more than 150 years after his death. Nate Parker wrote, directed, produced, and stars in a biopic of Nat Turner, the enslaved preacher who led a slave uprising in 1831. The film won the U.S. Dramatic prize and the Audience Award at Sundance this year. It now approaches its theatrical release through a scrim of controversy, as some disturbing charges from Parker’s past have resurfaced.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Well, not the ghost of D.W. Griffith, that’s for sure. The Birth of A Nation’s reclamation of American history begins with its title, swiped from the most horrifyingly racist of essential classic movies.
Will it get our endorsement? Flat-out endorsing the film has gotten a lot tougher, for obvious reasons—though not endorsing it initially was difficult, too, as Parker deserves some praise just for bringing this too rarely told story to the screen. Judged entirely on its own merits, Birth is a flawed, occasionally powerful historical drama—a film whose subject matter is often strong enough to compensate for its first-feature missteps.
What’s it promising? The creation sequence from The Tree Of Life, expanded to feature length. Intended as a companion piece to Terrence Malick’s autobiographical reverie, this IMAX documentary has been in the works for years—long enough for the reclusive filmmaker to finish two other movies and get sued by his financiers for taking too damn long. Voyage Of Time will be released in two versions: a shorter, IMAX-only cut narrated by Brad Pitt and a longer version with narration by Cate Blanchett that will be shown on 35mm.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The One. Perfect. Shot. lobby, who warn that the planet’s supply of Tumblr-able film stills and supercut-ready Steadicam shots is being expended faster than it can be replenished. Without immediate action, our children may grow up with no lens flares to call their own.
Will it get our endorsement? Malick’s last film, Knight Of Cups, was as entrancing as it was abstruse and self-indulgent. Frankly, it’s hard not to imagine the filmmaker’s personal take on our place in the universe coming across like the world’s most extravagant stoned dorm-room conversation—which means that we can’t wait to see it.
What’s it promising? An October surprise. Every bit of promotional material for this airport-paperback adaptation suggests that the story—adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson from Paula Hawkins’ novel—will contain blindsiding reversals. The first twist is that Emily Blunt, one of the most rigorously composed actresses around, plays a hot mess—a troubled woman whose bit of Rear Window-esque rubbernecking plunges her into danger. Or maybe the people around her are the ones who are in trouble?
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Anybody who saw Gone Girl is going to be primed for this attempted cash-in, which looks Fincher-y down to the last inch.
Will it get our endorsement? We’ve read the book, and our campaign strategists believe that a faithful adaptation will be perfectly satisfying as a Friday-night diversion. The question is whether Wilson, who wrote Chloe and Secretary, will take any liberties with her source material to bamboozle those who think they know exactly what’s going to happen. Here’s hoping for at least one risky digression.
What’s it promising? A moderately more grounded spin on Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. Based on a popular juvenile novel by James Patterson—yes, that James Patterson—Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life follows an arty kid’s quest to break every rule at his preposterously restrictive new school. Hijinks ensue, along with a few heartfelt lessons about the need for individuality.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Preteens and comedy nerds. There’s a reason why Patterson’s book has sold so well: It appeals to children’s innate sense of martyrdom in much the same way that the works of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary have for earlier generations. And those who get stuck seeing this when you’d rather be at home watching TV can at least look forward to seeing Andy Daly, Adam Pally, Lauren Graham, and Retta in supporting roles.
Will it get our endorsement? The trailer looks pretty standard-issue for this kind of fare, but it also doesn’t look egregiously gross or slapstick-heavy. Let’s just say that we’d definitely let our kids see it, but we’ll hope one of their friend’s parents will take them.
What’s it promising? An Iranian Babadook! The first feature by writer-director Babak Anvari transports elements of that new horror classic to 1980s Tehran, where an expelled university student (Narges Rashidi) copes with both the oppressiveness of post-revolution society and an evil force stalking her child.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? World history teachers looking for a novel way to reach their students. It will fill their minds and their drawers!
Will it get our endorsement? Yes. Under The Shadow has a few less scares than its Aussie cousin, in part because it takes a while for the supernatural stuff to intrude upon the low-key social drama. But in some ways, it’s even more metaphorically rich than The Babadook. And the monster is cool.
What’s it promising? Angst for days! A teenage boy is forced to co-habitate with a classmate who bullies him in veteran writer-director André Téchiné’s newest film. His exploration of adolescent sexuality was co-written by Céline Sciamma, who also wrote and directed the teenage-centric drama Girlhood—and neither film should be confused with Being 14, an entirely different French movie about teenagers.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? French teenagers relieved that the film industry is acknowledging how much it apparently sucks to be them.
Will it get our endorsement? It seems likely: A few early reviews have praised the film for displaying Téchiné’s signature sensitivity, and Girlhood was quite good.
What’s it promising? The first feature-length documentary to tackle one of the most famous incidents of mass-murder in American history. Director Keith Maitland spent nearly 10 years piecing together what happened on the campus of the University Of Texas on August 1, 1966, when ex-marine Charles Whitman shot 46 people (killing 14) from the Main Building observation deck. The tragedy has been fictionalized in movies like Targets and Dirty Harry, but has never been given the full nonfiction film treatment.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? The anti-gun crowd will surely be paying special attention to how the events depicted in this film parallel modern shootings. But the real constituency for Tower will be fans of boundary-pushing documentaries. As the trailer shows, Maitland is using a creative mix of archival footage, reenactments, and animation to bring this story to life.
Will it get our endorsement? Undoubtedly. Reviews were strong when this debuted at SXSW earlier this year, and there’s a good chance that Tower will be competing for the documentary Oscar.
What’s it promising? An answer to the question, “What if Ben Affleck’s character in Good Will Hunting had been the weird genius?” And judging by the menacing trailer, the answer seems to be, “Some kind of combination hit man/numbers cruncher.” Written by The Judge screenwriter Bill Dubuque, The Accountant stars Affleck as some sort of child savant who grows up to be a mysterious guy with many talents and OCD tendencies, which he puts to use for criminal organizations.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Intelligent introverts whose right-brain talents and nerdy obsession outweigh their left-brain social skills. Since you’re reading The A.V. Club, there’s a good chance you’re in this demographic.
Will it get our endorsement? Maybe. Director Gavin O’Connor has been uneven (though Jane Got A Gun was arguably beyond anyone’s ability to salvage), but he has a knack for crafting crowd-pleasers (Miracle, Warrior) and could conceivably deliver an icy thriller with panache.
What’s it promising? Technically, it’s promising a look at Kevin Hart’s enormously popular recent stand-up comedy tour for fans who couldn’t make it out to the show or want to relive their favorite moments. But the movie’s bizarre trailer, which features but a few precious seconds of actual comedy footage, offers more of a tribute to Hart’s massive, money-making success. Instead of one-liners, it has Hart telling his audience they’ve made history by selling out a stadium.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Comedy fans sick of all these stupid jokes getting in the way of world-dominating hubris.
Will it get our endorsement? Hart’s considerable performance skills often outstrip his hit-and-miss material, and it seems unlikely that What Now? will actually maintain the aesthetic of a big-ticket political rally for 90 minutes. But the trailer also seems pretty convinced that Hart doesn’t need anyone else’s approval, so why offer it?
What’s it promising? A look at the lives of three very different Montana ladies, rendered in the muted style of American art-film master Kelly Reichardt. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone star in a trio of loosely connected vignettes, based on the short stories of Guggenheim-awarded writer Maile Meloy. Each section starts as a spare slice of life, then develops an unexpectedly absorbing plot, ranging from a hostage situation to a marital spat to a unrequited love story.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Fans of the unapologetically literary and those who love great acting. In addition to the three leads, the film features memorable turns by Jared Harris, René Auberjonois, and James LeGros. The MVP, though, may be Kristen Stewart, playing a stressed-out young lawyer who captivates a lonely cowgirl.
Will it get our endorsement? Yes, but with the caveat that Reichardt’s films demand patience and a high tolerance for the quietly elliptical. In some ways, though, Certain Women is an ideal introduction to her work, because none of its stories last long enough to exhaust the viewer.
What’s it promising? An intense character study of a lonely, suicidal TV reporter. Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, an ambitious Florida broadcaster who shot and killed herself on live television in 1974. Director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich turn Chubbuck’s story into a study of alienation and decaying journalistic values. Hall gives an offbeat, heartbreaking performance as a deeply unhappy misfit.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Anyone fascinated by the ’70s. Christine comments on the malaise of the Nixon/Ford/Carter decade, and connects Chubbuck’s horrible on-camera stunt to a culture rife with high-profile robberies, hijackings, and corruption scandals. This is the dark side of Anchorman.
Will it get our endorsement? Absolutely. This film proved fairly divisive at Sundance, in large part because it was playing alongside Robert Greene’s experimental documentary Kate Plays Christine, which covers the same incident but with a critical eye toward those who would exploit it. On its own merits, though, Campos’ take is challenging and discomforting and more than worthy of any cinephile’s time.
What’s it promising? A bare-bones, down-and-dirty chase thriller about a band of would-be illegal migrants who find themselves hunted by a self-styled militiaman while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, with Gael García Bernal as the de facto leader of the group and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the trigger-happy villain. Jonás Cuarón, the son of Alfonso Cuarón, directed and co-wrote the script.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? We have a suspicion that it’s not going to be the ones rooting for someone to make America great again.
Will it get our endorsement? The only thing we like more than seeing an old-school, unabashed exploitation flick done right is seeing an aggressively politicized old-school, unabashed exploitation flick done right.
What’s it promising? An in-depth look at property values in Recife, one of Brazil’s largest metro areas. Specifically, Aquarius concerns a retired music critic (Sonia Braga) who’s the last remaining holdout in a seafront apartment building that’s been purchased by developers; only her stubborn affection for her childhood home stands in the way of plans to demolish the place and build a luxury resort. Strained politeness on both sides gradually escalates into full-fledged war, featuring some grotesque weapons.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Anyone who saw director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s highly acclaimed previous film, Neighboring Sounds, and has been patiently waiting to see what he’d do next. Tenants of rental units, too, will want to get tips on how best to combat unscrupulous landlords.
Will it get our endorsement? Yes. Braga inexplicably failed to win the Best Actress prize at Cannes this year, but she takes full advantage of the juiciest role she’s been offered in many years. And Mendonça Filho deftly avoids lone-crusader clichés, creating an intimate character study (with some shocking twists).
What’s it promising? Tom Cruise ignoring the advice of the title by returning to a role he was definitely not born to play: the violent (and very tall) ex-military policeman Jack Reacher, antihero of nearly two dozen novels by Lee Child. Christopher McQuarrie’s enjoyable Jack Reacher ditched almost all of the character’s most memorable qualities, turning him into a generic Cruise blank slate, but benefited from a few crackerjack chase scenes and some offbeat touches—like, say, the casting of Werner Herzog as the villain.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Members of the growing Edge Of Tomorrow cult, who have seen the dark wonders that can be secreted in a Tom Cruise vehicle with an uninspiring title.
Will it get our endorsement? McQuarrie, who went on to direct Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, is sitting this one out, with the far less playful Edward Zwick stepping in as director and co-writer. That’s the kind of platform change that can trip up a campaign—er, franchise.
What’s it promising? An adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about well-to-do Americans weathering the cultural tumult of the 1960s. Ewan McGregor stars as a successful businessman whose idyllic life unravels when his daughter becomes a violent revolutionary. Jennifer Connelly plays his beauty queen wife, and Dakota Fanning their disruptive daughter.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Those who wish more actors would direct. McGregor is stepping behind the camera for the first time, taking over for Phillip Noyce, who’d been attached to the project for over a decade before dropping out. Actors often end up making unexpected and illuminating choices as directors, so it’ll be interesting to see what McGregor does.
Will it get our endorsement? Too close to call. Roth’s book is brilliant, but there’s no way to know yet whether McGregor has a talent for directing or if he just did the job because somebody had to. We will say that we’re not persuaded by the trailer, which sets generic “upper-middle-class America in the ’60s” imagery to the umpteenth slowed-down version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World.”
What’s it promising? A joke from Chris Rock’s Top Five about Tyler Perry’s relentless, formulaic Madea cash grabs turned into an actual, formulaic Madea cash grab. This time around, Tyler Perry’s id-driven alter ego doles out her usual blunt wisdom/face punches in what looks to be a genuine horror movie—albeit one of the Ernest Scared Stupid variety—slapping some sense into not only rowdy teens but a bunch of vengeful ghosts, parkour-practicing zombies, and the assorted other dead awakened by her pithy screeching.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Undiscerning connoisseurs of Madea movies and people who will see anything vaguely scary around Halloween, you’ve at last found common ground.
Will it get our endorsement? Madea movies are notoriously critic-proof, so it doesn’t really matter what we think. That said, there is something intriguing about this proudly pandering series embracing self-parody.
What’s it promising? More killer clowns, ’70s-style grime, and classic-rock cues from the moonlighting shock-rocker behind The Devil’s Rejects. Rob Zombie’s latest grindhouse throwback puts a traveling troupe of foul-mouthed carnies at the mercy of sadistic aristocrats, who force them to spend one night fending off chainsaw-wielding lunatics in a dank dungeon.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Indiscriminate midnight-movie nuts who respond on Pavlovian cue to obscenities and eviscerations. Which is to say: Rob Zombie fans.
Will it get our endorsement? All joking aside, Zombie has, in the past, exhibited enough formal panache to account for the generous acclaim he regularly garners from genre buffs. But 31 is just a lazy mess, its action totally incoherent and every one of its ideas recycled. Even the Zombie horde may shamble out disappointed.
What’s it promising? The sequel to the 2014 horror movie based on a novelty board game that someone must have been clamoring for. Origin Of Evil rewinds to late-’60s Los Angeles, where a single mother running a spiritualist racket buys a Ouija board to use as a prop in fake seances. But her youngest daughter actually believes in the board’s ability to contact the dead and summons some unwanted houseguests.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Like many possession movies, the Ouija series operates on the assumption that, should someone in your family start acting weird, the best thing to do is to call a priest. The Catholic League ought to be pleased.
Will it get our endorsement? The trailer for the film can be best described as “Conjuring-sploitation.” But director Mike Flanagan has a solid track record, and since the aforementioned Before I Wake isn’t opening until next year, we’re willing to look past our doubts.
What’s it promising? Kinky sex and graphic violence! Following a brief English-language detour (Stoker), Oldboy director Park Chan-wook returns to South Korea, though he adapted The Handmaiden from a British novel (Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith). Its labyrinthine three-part story finds a young female pickpocket hired by a con man to swindle a sheltered heiress, with an eye toward one or both of them seducing the victim. To say that all is not quite as it seems, however, would constitute truly hilarious understatement.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Perverts and sickos—which is to say, Park Chan-wook fans. His latest effort is typically lurid, featuring explicit sex scenes and gleeful torture sequences; in this context, a woman reading porn aloud to a room full of horny geezers qualifies as comparatively tame.
Will it get our endorsement? Hell yes. We have no shame, and The Handmaiden ranks among Park’s best films, thanks in large part to Waters’ crafty plotting (which the film expertly transplants from Victorian England to 1930s Korea, when the country was occupied by Japan). It’s a whole lot of objectionable fun.
What’s it promising? Finally, a new movie from Barry Jenkins (Medicine For Melancholy). Adapted from a play by Tarell McCraney, Jenkins’ sophomore feature inverts the timetable of his debut: Whereas Medicine was set over a single awkward day following a one-night stand, Moonlight spans several years in the life of a gay man in 1980s Miami.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? People who take the retro-styled A24 logo as a sign of quality. The taste-making distributor of Under The Skin, Ex Machina, The Witch, The Lobster, Green Room, Spring Breakers, and Swiss Army Man—among many others—has become a dominant force in indie film. Moonlight marks its debut as a production company.
Will it get our endorsement? Jenkins’ super-low-budget debut showcased a promising talent. In the years since, he’s worked mostly in commercials; we’re eager to see what he’s learned and what he’ll do with the bigger resources of this project.
What’s it promising? Bumbling, spoofy spy-movie antics, which seem to be in greater supply than straight-faced movie spies these days. Bored suburbanites (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) discover that their glamorous, too perfect neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) may be secret agents.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Isla Fisher fans sick of her getting the short shrift; Jon Hamm fans sick of him only doing comedy for a few minutes at a time.
Will it get our endorsement? Greg Mottola’s past platforms (Superbad, Adventureland, and The Daytrippers) have been admirable. The trailer for this one sweats a little trying to show off its broadness, but a few good laughs and Mottola’s track record may earn it a party-line endorsement.
What’s it promising? John Wick in the Wild West, with Ethan Hawke as a reformed gunslinger who picks up the pistol again when some brutes unwisely threaten his trusty pooch. For his first oater, House Of The Devil director Ti West assembles a fine cast, putting John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, and horror renaissance man Larry Fessenden in frontier wear.
What special interest group will it satisfy most? Either dog lovers (because of the throwback cute-canine shtick) or dog haters (perhaps you remember what happens to the little furry guy in John Wick). We guess those with no real opinion on man’s best friend might get something out of the film, too.
Will it get our endorsement? Sadly, that dog won’t hunt. It’s cool to see West make his name apropos, as his talents with a Steadicam were wasted on found footage. But In A Valley Of Violence can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a cornball classic Western or an Unforgiven-style revisionist one. It ultimately fails at both.
What’s it promising? Robert Langdon is back! Seven years after Angels & Demons—and a full decade after The Da Vinci Code—director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and star Tom Hanks re-team to adapt another Dan Brown novel about the adventures of a Harvard symbology professor. This time out, Langdon is suffering short-term memory loss in Florence and relying on a doctor played by Felicity Jones to help him figure out why so many people suddenly want to kill him.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Conspiracy theorists, puzzle-solvers, and anyone looking for something to watch on a long flight.
Will it get our endorsement? We can’t believe we’re saying this, but given how nerve-wracking this year has been—both politically and in the culture at large—we’re not entirely opposed to nostalgia for the relatively simpler era of the mid-2000s. Don’t get us wrong: Those earlier movies are pretty bad. But they’re a diverting kind of bad, and we could all use a diversion.
What’s it promising? A new sequel to Gore Verbinski’s superior J-Horror remake The Ring, which will attempt to reimagine the eerie videotape that kills anyone who watches it within seven days for a world where no one has had a VCR in over a decade. The most obvious (and creepy) analogue would be a haunted viral video, though if the trailers are any indication, the filmmakers have opted for the equally elemental horror of unscanned email attachments and in-flight movies.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Teens who totally know a guy whose friend’s brother once touched a VHS tape.
Will it get our endorsement? Verbinski’s version of The Ring was basically the only good thing to come out of Hollywood’s brief infatuation with Japanese horror, and the fact that Rings was co-written by cornball supreme Akiva Goldsman doesn’t exactly stack the odds in its favor.
What’s it promising? As the title suggests (at least to those who own The Stooges’ Raw Power—and that really should be everyone), this is a documentary portrait of one James Osterberg Jr., better known to the world at large as Iggy Pop. That might not sound terribly exciting, given the recent glut of music docs, but Gimme Danger happens to have been directed by a first-rate filmmaker: Jim Jarmusch. The main question is whether Iggy Pop’s combustibility and Jarmusch’s laid-back cool will cancel each other out.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Yeah, we’re gonna go ahead and say Iggy Pop and/or Stooges fans will probably be keen to see this. If you don’t yet qualify, however, Gimme Danger provides a ready-made opportunity to belatedly get with the program. Jarmusch completists simply have no choice.
Will it get our endorsement? To some degree. Iggy is a riveting subject, and Jarmusch certainly does a much (much) better job as an interviewer here than he did in his 1997 Neil Young tour doc, Year Of The Horse. But he doesn’t quite succeed in transcending the standard behind-the-music trajectory of such fare.
What’s it promising? A real-life feel-good story about a teenage Mongolian nomad named Aisholpan who aims to become the first female trained in her ancestors’ ancient art of using birds of prey to hunt game. Actress Daisy Ridley narrates the documentary (which she also co-produced), placing it in the tradition of classic crowd-pleasing nonfiction nature/ethnography films.
What special interest group will it appeal to most? Budding feminists. Although The Eagle Huntress is about the hard work of daily survival for all of Aisholpan’s people, the main point is to show long-standing gender barriers falling even in a community bound to traditionalism. Parents with daughters will want to bring their little ones along.
Will it get our endorsement? Probably. Strong Sundance reviews and the stunning imagery in the trailer have us eager to see a doc that could end up becoming a surprise hit.