Fall 2015 movie guide: the 34 films on our radar this awards season

The big, the small, and the Star Wars

39

It's time to clear this summer's glut of sequels, franchises, and reboots away and make room for fall movie season — aka Oscar season, aka prestige season, aka grown-up season, aka STAR WARS OMG BB-8 KYLO REN WOOOKIEEEESSSS JFAOIC":LADLKJSLKJFSD season.

It'll be hard to escape the gravity of The Force Awakens over the next few months, but we've got a long way to go 'til December, and plenty of notable films to check out until then — whether they're spooky Halloween thrillers, festival-lauded indies, or all-out Oscar bids. And fall is proving to be the new summer as well: besides the return of the galaxy far, far, away, we've got two highly anticipated franchise installments (Spectre and Mockingjay — Part 2) to look forward to as well. Here are the movies we've got our eye on as we head toward the year's end.

September 18th

Everest

(Universal)

When used effectively, IMAX and 3D can play off one another to transport audiences far away — showing what it’s like to be lost outside a shattered space station, for example. Baltasar Kormákur’s new film aims to deliver something similar, taking filmgoers to the top of Mount Everest during a cataclysmic blizzard in 1996. Starring Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Emily Watson, the film shot in a number of real mountainous locations, including the actual Everest Base Camp itself. Filming was so treacherous that an avalanche struck the second-unit crew last year, killing 16 guides in the process.

A 1998 IMAX documentary, also called Everest, showed the impact of documenting the location with the format, and IMAX is considered so essential to the new film that it is opening exclusively in IMAX 3D and large-format theaters for the first week, before opening everywhere on September 25th.

Black Mass

(Warner Bros.)

Johnny Depp's post-Pirates work has been a thoroughly mixed bag, but Black Mass is already being billed as his return to form. Helmed by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, Black Mass stars Depp as James "Whitey" Bulger, who rose to infamy in the Boston crime world during the late 1970s before going on the run for nearly 20 years. As the ruthless killer, Depp looks utterly transformed in the role, and is clearly loving it. Backed by a formidable cast including Benedict Cumberbatch and Dakota Johnson, the film might be the crime drama of the year.

Sicario

(Lionsgate)

If Narcos has taught us anything, it’s that there’s definitely an appetite for gritty drug trade tales right now, and Denis Villeneuve knows how to get great performances and disturbing images out of what could easily be a decent but by-the-book crime drama (see: 2013’s Prisoners). In Sicario, Emily Blunt stars as an FBI agent brought in by a Juarez task force to track a deadly drug lord. As they rarely do in these kinds of situations, things do not go exactly as planned.

September 25th

Stonewall

(Roadside Attractions)

Mere months after gay marriage was made legal nationwide would seem like perfect timing for a rousing dramatic retelling of the Stonewall Inn riots, but the first trailers for Roland Emmerich's Stonewall have sparked no small amount of controversy for the film's apparent "whitewashing" of the events. Multiple groups have called for a boycott of the film, but if you're curious as to how the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow will handle 1960s Greenwich Village, Stonewall awaits.

October 2nd

The Martian

(20th Century Fox)

Ridley Scott’s next space epic is almost here, but this one doesn’t involve Xenomorphs. The Martian, based on Andy Weir's 2011 novel, follows NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who finds himself marooned on Mars after a freak accident. His crewmates soon receive a dispatch from him proving that he’s still alive, and they must find a way to rescue him while he struggles to survive on the Martian surface. We’re looking forward to seeing Damon "science the shit" out of things in this movie.

The Walk

(Sony Pictures)

Robert Zemeckis used to be one of our most engaging mainstream filmmakers, until he lost himself for more than a decade in the dead-eyed world of motion-capture animated films like The Polar Express. His return to live action, 2012’s Flight, was sturdy if not spectacular, and in The Walk, he’s taking to the skies again, this time with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the true-life story of a French high-wire artist who walked between the Twin Towers in the 1970s. Another fall release that will definitely benefit from the IMAX treatment.

Legend

(Universal)

Here’s an undeniable truth: no matter what he’s in, Tom Hardy is compelling. But how do you improve upon merely casting him in your movie? Put two Hardy performances in a single film. In Legend, he plays gangster brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, in a deft mix of split screens and visual effects wizardry.

October 9th

Steve Jobs

(Universal)

Filmmakers and biographers have been trying to tell the "real" story of Steve Jobs since the Apple co-founder died in 2011. It’s resulted in wild misses (the Ashton Kutcher-starring Jobs), half-baked books (Walter Isaacson’s biography), and brutal documentaries (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine), but nothing’s stood out as the canonical version of the Jobs saga. Danny Boyle’s film is poised to take that mantle.

Working from a script by The Social Network’s Aaron Sorkin, Boyle directs Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, and Kate Winslet as Macintosh marketing guru Joanna Hoffman. The film has had quite the public life even before coming to theaters, with director David Fincher originally attached to the project before parting ways and the movie featuring prominently in last year’s Sony hacks. But reactions to the film at its Telluride premiere were effusive, with many already earmarking Fassbender for awards consideration thanks to his turn as the master of the reality distortion field.

October 16th

Crimson Peak

(Legendary Pictures)

A Victorian haunted house tale is perfectly in keeping with the Halloween season, but Crimson Peak is highlighted on our calendar because of who's behind the camera. Guillermo del Toro's latest film involves a young author (Mia Wasikowska) falling in love with and marrying a charming aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) with a dark and mysterious past. The film is definitely going for a Gothic horror, so even if it isn’t Oscar material, it will most likely be as beautiful as it is terrifying.


Beasts of No Nation

(Netflix)

Netflix’s first original film is definitely aiming for Oscars glory, and may wind up being one of the most talked about movies of the season. Beasts of No Nation, directed by True Detective alum Cary Fukunaga, takes place in an unnamed West African country torn apart by civil war. A mercenary known only as the Commandant (Idris Elba) recruits child soldiers to help him in the conflict, including a young boy named Agu. The film recently screened at this year’s Venice International Film Festival, and it’s already being called visionary. Keep an eye on this one.


Bridge of Spies

(DreamWorks)

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have both become elder statesmen of American movies, and their collaborations have embodied the kind of craftsmanship you’d expect from two veterans. But while Saving Private Ryan was a raw, visceral gut punch, their team-ups since have been frothy and fun; the filmmaking equivalent of two old pros throwing the football around during Thanksgiving.

Bridge of Spies turns to more serious territory once again, with Hanks playing James Donovan, an attorney who was sent to Berlin to help negotiate the release of U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. Add in a script co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, and it stands to be one of Spielberg’s more weighty films before he dives into Roald Dahl’s The BFG and the geeky fun of Ready Player One.

Room

(A24)

Sometimes it’s best not to know too much going into a movie, so we’re choosing to include this early, less detailed trailer for the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel. Let’s just leave it at this: Brie Larson plays Ma, who is trapped in a tiny room with Jack, her five-year-old son who has never seen the outside world.

Experimenter

(Magnolia Pictures)

In Ghostbusters, Bill Murray gives electric shocks to a subject during an ESP test — a technique that actually came from controversial psychologist Stanley Milgram. Peter Sarsgaard stars as Milgram alongside Winona Ryder, Taryn Manning, and John Leguizamo.

October 23rd

Jem and the Holograms

(Universal)

1990s nostalgia is at peak saturation right now, so why not mix it up with a little ’80s nostalgia, for old time’s sake? There was a time when Jem and the Holograms was the zeitgeistiest MTV-era cartoon going on Sunday mornings. But while the show’s original fans are well into their 30s by now, Jem and the Holograms is aiming decidedly for the YouTube set, who might actually have a much more savvy perspective on viral stardom and the perils of public and private identities (and probably already know what the word "synergy" means). Whether 2015 Jem will prove to be a staid perils-of-stardom narrative, or something truly outrageous and contagious remains to be seen.


The Last Witch Hunter

(Lionsgate)

How do you turn Vin Diesel into more of a badass? Have him play a centuries-old witch hunter with a flaming sword. All you really need to know about The Last Witch Hunter is that Vin Diesel hunts witches, he’s the last of his kind, and witches have returned to threaten the modern world with their evil witchcraft. But — plot twist! — he’ll have to team up with a beautiful witch (Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie) to save the day. Really, you’re probably not gonna watch this for the plot. It’s all about that sweet sword.

November 6th

Spectre

(MGM / Columbia Pictures)

2012’s Skyfall put Daniel Craig’s angsty James Bond back in familiar (and dated) surroundings, with Ralph Fiennes’ self-satisfied M behind that classic leather door, and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny inexplicably ditching field work to take her "canonical" role as an MI6 secretary. It only seems logical that the next film would take on the classic Bond criminal organization SPECTRE. There’s been a lot of debate about who exactly Christoph Waltz plays in this film (we still think he’d make a great Blofeld, no matter what Cumberbatchian denials anyone makes) and what relationship he will have with Bond (trailers point toward a long-standing relationship, which feels so forced it hurts). But then again, Andrew Scott is also playing some sort of mysterious role, and we know he has the supervillain chops down pat from his turn as Sherlock’s madman Moriarty.


Trumbo

(Bleecker Street)

Nearly every role Bryan Cranston’s had since Breaking Bad has been looked to as an opportunity for the actor to show off his Emmy-winning versatility. Taking on the role of blacklisted 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Recount), he’ll have that chance to play drama and comedy in equal measure. It won't hurt that he'll be surrounded by a powerhouse cast including Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, and Diane Lane.

November 13th

James White

(The Film Arcade)

Christopher Abbott (Girls) won rave reviews for his performance in this Sundance hit, which tells the story of an irresponsible, privileged New Yorker forced to confront his partying ways when his mom (Cynthia Nixon) is diagnosed with cancer. Just in case this fall movie season isn't enough of a downer for you.

November 20th

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2

(Lionsgate)

The dystopian saga that conquered the world is back for its final, aggressively punctuated installment, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her squadron of District 13 rebels close in on the Capital and their final confrontation with the evil President Snow. Those who have read the books know we’ll be sent off with a suitably brutal finale, capping off an ostensibly YA series that has always been far more complex and engaging than it needed to be — today’s Katniss fangirls are tomorrow’s Mr. Robot binge-watchers.

The real question is, what will fill its place when it’s gone? What #teen sensation will sweep the mainstream next? (Sorry, The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, this isn’t your moment.) The final Hunger Games film will also be the final film role for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.


Carol

(The Weinstein Company)

Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt certainly stands to be one of the most sweepingly romantic films of the year and certainly one of the best-looking. Rooney Mara stars as a young shopgirl in 1950s New York City who falls hard for Carol (Cate Blanchett) an older, impossibly glamorous married woman. As he did in HBO’s fantastic Mildred Pierce and 2002’s Far From Heaven, Haynes luxuriates in the mid-century setting and sweeps you off your feet even as his characters are mired in the hopelessness of their situation.

November 25th

Creed

(Warner Bros.)

In a red-letter year for franchise retreads, Creed might just surprise us by being good. Starring Michael B. Jordan (who we hope is recovering after the debacle that was Fantastic 4), the movie follows Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky Balboa’s rival Apollo Creed. The legacy of Apollo, who was tragically killed in the events of Rocky IV, weighs heavily on the young boxer, who’s determined to make a name for himself. It sounds gimmicky until you watch the trailer, and with a stellar cast that includes Phylicia Rashad, Dear White People’s Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone himself, the movie could turn out to be a must-see.


Victor Frankenstein

(20th Century Fox)

Anyone who’s watched Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is perfectly familiar with the idea of a sexy Dr. Frankenstein, but what about a bromantic Dr. Frankenstein? Mary Shelley’s pioneering sci-fi tale gets the Sherlock Holmes treatment with a script from Max Landis, rendering both the titular doctor (James McAvoy) and his minion Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) as just a coupla blokes up to no good. Slash fiction forums will never be the same.


The Good Dinosaur

(Disney / Pixar)

Pixar may be riding a creative high after Inside Out, but The Good Dinosaur has been a troubled project, to say the least. The film had its original release pushed two full years, and both the original director and producer were jettisoned along the way. The last time Pixar had this much trouble with a movie, the result was Brave.

November 27th

I Saw the Light

(Sony Pictures Classics)

Whether he’s playing Loki in the Marvel universe or a burnout vampire for Jim Jarmusch, Tom Hiddleston has been on a charismatic roll. In this musical biopic, he’ll be showing off his singing chops — and accent skills — as the legendary Hank Williams.

The Danish Girl

(Focus Features)

A year full of increased visibility for the transgender narratives will be capped off by this film, in which Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, a married transgender woman that became one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Alicia Vikander follows up her incredible turn in Ex Machina, playing Elbe’s wife.

December 4th

Macbeth

(The Weinstein Company)

Like any of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, we are not, as a society, terribly underserved when it comes to adaptations of the Scottish Play. But director Justin Kurzel’s latest take, which wowed audiences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, ups the ante by casting no less than Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender (who can be seen working that doomed hubris in a different sort of troubled kingdom in this fall's Jobs) in the lead roles. And it looks gorgeous, to boot — the Bard's Scotland rendered in fog and candlelight and bloody warpaint. If you’re having trouble convincing yourself to sit through two hours of Elizabethan English, just imagine it’s a very long episode of Game of Thrones. Or House of Cards, with witches.


Krampus

(Universal)

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin entertainment and its adventure-filled ‘80s catalog influenced an entire generation of filmmakers, and in recent years we've seen its influence in everything from Jurassic World to Ant-Man. The latest example: Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, a Gremlins-style horror-comedy about the sinister version of Santa Claus. And to all, a good night.

December 11th

In the Heart of the Sea

(Warner Bros.)

Ron Howard heads to the 1800s in this film about the maritime disaster that helped inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy star as members of a crew that run afoul of an angry bull sperm whale, while Ben Whishaw (Skyfall's "Q") plays Melville himself.

December 18th

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(Walt Disney Pictures)

If there’s a bright center to the movie universe, this is it. J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t just going to be another holiday blockbuster; it’s going to determine much about the future of franchise filmmaking. Disney and Lucasfilm have spent several years now patiently educating moviegoers that Yes, they agree the prequels weren’t great, and Yes, they think the original movies had a good thing going, and Yes, they respect fandom more than George Lucas did. In the process, they’ve pulled off a remarkable feat: interest in Star Wars has been fully revived, hitting an uncynical fever pitch it hasn’t seen since The Phantom Menace debuted in 1999.

But all of that has been predicated on the potential of the new movie: a glimpse of John Boyega here; Kylo Ren there; a single shot of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. It’s enough to all but guarantee one of the biggest opening weekends of all time, if not the biggest. But the larger success of Disney’s multi-year agenda, which includes annual Star Wars movies and more tie-ins than one can reasonably comprehend, depends in large part on the movies themselves. December 18th is when we’ll find out what we’re really working with.


Sisters

(Universal)

Those looking for Star Wars counter-programming on the 18th will be taken care of by no less than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the Golden Globe hosts of our hearts. Sisters reunites the pair on the big screen for the first time since 2008's Baby Mama, with Poehler and Fey returning to their childhood home only to discover that their parents are selling the house off. There’s only one thing to do: throw a huge party for other grown adults for some reason. With fellow SNL alums like Maya Rudolph and Bobby Moynihan in tow, this movie looks like a lot of mindless fun. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

December 25th

The Hateful Eight

(The Weinstein Company)

If you do a modicum of digging, there’s no great mystery as to what happens in Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature film — the full script leaked online early last year, and Tarantino himself staged a public reading of it in Los Angeles. But do we really go to Tarantino film’s to be shocked by plot twists, or do we go to watch a bunch of fun actors swear creatively and shoot guns at each other? At any rate, The Hateful Eight looks like a westernized version of Reservoir Dogs, and the combination of close quarters and an all-star cast of Tarantino Players — including Kurt Russell, Tim Roth and, yes, Samuel L. Jackson — promises to be an afternoon at the movies well spent. We’re personally most looking forward to ‘90s MVP Jennifer Jason Leigh joining the pantheon of take-no-shit Tarantino heroines.

The film will be released exclusively on 70mm film on Christmas Day, followed by a digital wide release on January 8th, 2016. It’s a lonely war against the impending death of celluloid, but Tarantino’s going down fighting.


Joy

(20th Century Fox)

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a one-two Jennifer Lawrence punch — first in a Hunger Games film, and then, for the third time in four years, in a David O. Russell-helmed Oscar grab. But whatever you do, don’t call their latest collaboration a biopic: it may share a name with Joy Mangano, self-made entrepreneur and mother of three who built an empire by inventing the Wonder Mop, but I’m pretty sure that’s a hula skirt Lawrence is sketching in the trailer. Bradley Cooper co-stars, because of course.

Concussion

(Fox Searchlight)

Will Smith wants an Academy Award, and he’s taking on the NFL to do it. In Concussion, Smith plays Nigerian neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who went on to discover that late Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that was brought about by repeat concussions. The movie dramatizes Omalu’s battle with the NFL at a time when the sport continues to battle with critics over how it keeps players safe. Sony even reportedly changed the film to avoid angering the league, so expect this film to see some controversy before awards season next year.


The Revenant

(20th Century Fox)

What do you do to follow up your Oscar-winning meta-film about acting, fame, and critical condemnation of the artistic soul? If you’re Birdman writer-director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, you team up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the story of a fur trapper in the 1800s, then go $35 million over budget and months past schedule.

What we do know about the film: DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, who is attacked by a bear, and then robbed and left for dead by his traveling companions. Alone in the wilderness, he has to trek back through the wilderness to save himself and hold the men accountable. It’s a simple enough revenge premise, but with Iñárritu behind the camera the movie will no doubt turn out to be something more ambitious and audacious — that is, if he finishes the thing.


The best of Verge Video