The Verge fall movie preview: from Snowden to Star Wars

Promising indies, unconventional horror, and new hope for franchises

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If summer movie season is when thought and reason are jettisoned in favor of explosions and bombast, then fall is when Hollywood decides to get serious. Or should we say, it's when Hollywood decides audiences are ready to get serious — because over the next few months a slew of Oscar hopefuls and more thoughtful films are coming to your local theater.

Things will be kicking off in earnest in September with Clint Eastwood's next run at the Oscars, the Tom Hanks-starrer Sully, with movies like The Birth of a Nation and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk arriving at nearly weekly intervals. But fall is also the season of the smart(er) blockbuster, and this year we also have movies like Arrival and Passengers fighting it out over who's going to be the new Gravity. (It also wouldn't be a season on the planet Earth without Disney extending its dominance with films from Marvel, Lucasfilm, and its own animation studio.)

It can all be a lot to take in, but we've broken down the films that we can't wait to see — and that you'll be talking about the most — below.

September

The Magnificent Seven promotional still MGM Studios and CTMG

September 2nd

Morgan (20th Century Fox)

It's Stranger Things meets Ex Machina in this claustrophobic-looking bit of sci-fi horror from director Luke Scott (son of Ridley.) Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a Very Special Girl who has been confined to a bunker in the forest to keep her genetically modified superpowers from the public. Things inevitably go south when some corporate meddlers come to push her buttons, and get their swift comeuppance. Whether Morgan is able to distinguish itself from the recent pop culture properties it unmistakably echoes remains to be seen, but the pieces are certainly in place for an unsettling, tightly wound thriller. And it's certainly got a fancy cast working in its favor, including Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. [Emily Yoshida]

The Light Between Oceans (DreamWorks)

Director Derek Cianfrance's latest is a period drama set in post-World War I Australia, in which war veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) are struggling to have a child. When a baby girl washes up on the shore near their home, they take her in, but it isn't long before they run into the girl's real mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz). Based on M.L. Stedman's 2012 novel of the same name, it's a small story with top talent, and somewhat of a tone change for Cianfrance, whose previous romantic downers have been nearly universal critical hits. [Kwame Opam]

Septemer 9th

Sully (Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood may be 86, but that hasn't slowed down his directing career (or his propensity for airing his personal politics). With Sully, he's taking on the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the airline pilot who heroically pulled off an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009. Tom Hanks (with a really impressive mustache) stars as the title character, and judging from the trailers Eastwood is dealing in a little bit of modern mythmaking — focusing on the aftermath of the incident, as the virtuous Sullenberger has his motives questioned by a bunch of dummy government bureaucrats. Did we mention Eastwood's politics shine through in his movies sometimes? [Bryan Bishop]

Other People (Vertical Entertainment)

If everyone plays their cards right, Molly Shannon might have a shot at an Academy Award in 2017. In SNL writer Chris Kelly's directorial debut, young writer David (Jesse Plemons) returns home to take care of his mother Joanne (Molly Shannon), who's suffering through the late stages of cancer. The film earned critical acclaim and plenty of tears at Sundance this year, especially for Shannon's devastating performance. [KO]

Author: The JT Leroy Story (Amazon Studios)

Just over a decade ago, JT LeRoy was a literary sensation, a teen outsider turned hit novelist and indie screenwriter. Until suddenly, LeRoy wasn't anything at all: it turned out, he was one elaborate creation. The documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story talks to Laura Albert, the writer behind LeRoy, about the persona's creation and the fallout after its discovery. It's sort of like Weekend at Bernie's, where the corpse is a pseudonymous literary career. [Jake Kastrenakes]

September 16th

Blair Witch (Lionsgate)

One of the most interesting things about the upcoming sequel to The Blair Witch Project is that it was originally advertised as a totally original movie called The Woods, complete with its own poster and secret Comic-Con screening. It was only in that San Diego theater that the film's true nature (and title) was revealed, and while revisiting the godfather of modern found footage movies may seem like a bore, there's reason to be optimistic: the film was written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, the duo behind the unnerving You're Next and The Guest. You can rest assured that Blair Witch will feature the most terrifying bundles of tied-up sticks you'll see this fall. [BB]

Bridget Jones's Baby (Universal)

Remember back in 1996, when Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones's Diary helped usher in a wearying trend of popular women's lit where all the protagonists were ditzy, clumsy, and incredibly socially awkward, but still capable of finding love with a perfect fantasy man? Twenty years after the novel and 15 years after the film adaptation, obnoxious trend-starter Bridget Jones is back, still played by Renée Zellweger, still directed by Sharon Maguire, and still co-scripted by Fielding. (Emma Thompson co-scripted and co-stars.) But now Bridget is accidentally pregnant at 40, and doesn't know whether the father is handsome stranger Patrick Dempsey or handsome ex Colin Firth. In a world with (apparently) no rush paternity tests and plenty of sheepish dream men ready to fight for the right to date a 40-year-old pregnant woman, Bridget is still struggling to get her shit together, and trying to make flailing indecision look cute and relatable. [Tasha Robinson]

Snowden (Open Road Films)

A movie about an individual struggling against oppressive government forces to reveal an elaborate web of conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels? Why yes, I have seen JFK — but what has Oliver Stone been up to lately? Turns out he's been working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt to tell some new sides to the Edward Snowden story. Made in concert with the whistleblower, Snowden tries to put the man in context, portraying his evolution from a pro-government intelligence man to a fugitive that would almost single-handedly change the way we see US government surveillance forever. [BB]

Operation Avalanche (Lionsgate)

Operation Avalanche had one of the most intriguing descriptions of any film at Sundance this year: it's a found-footage movie about a group of CIA wannabes that end up faking the Apollo Moon landing. Starring (co-writer and director) Matt Johnson, the film is alternatively fun, flippant, and an ode to visual effects and the fun of filmmaking itself — and in all of those aspects, it is tremendously entertaining. When it shifts into paranoid thriller mode, it doesn't quite hold together — but seriously, how cool is that setup? [BB]

September 23rd

The Magnificent Seven (MGM)

Fresh off Southpaw, director Antoine Fuqua and True Detective's Nic Pizolatto return with a modern take on the classic 1960 Western — itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'Onofrio are just a few of the titular seven, who are hired by a small town to protect them from the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Composer James Horner had already begun work on the movie's score before dying in a plane crash last year at the age of 61, making The Magnificent Seven his final soundtrack. [BB]

Queen of Katwe (Disney)

If the teaming up of Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo aren't enough to catch your interest, the inspiring true story behind Queen of Katwe might. The film tells the story of chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi who, as a young girl living in an impoverished area of Uganda, picked up chess and quickly became a world-famous player. [JK]

Goat (The Film Arcade)

James Franco produced this deep dive into frat culture's underbelly, based on the book by Brad Land and co-scripted by Eastbound and Down director David Gordon Green. It follows Land (Ben Schnetzer,) a college freshman who decides to pledge the same frat as his brother Brett (Nick Jonas), only to discover pledging is harder and more insane than he ever imagined. The movie promises to give a raw, searing look at hazing, and could very well be used in an argument over why the practice ought to be abolished. [KO]

September 30th

American Honey (A24)

Usually, the trailer boast "Distributed by the same company that brought you [film you like]!" sounds desperate, along the same lines as "We used the same apprentice assistant set designer as Hamilton!" There's one exception, though: "Distributed by A24" is starting to have real cachet. The NYC-based company has been curating some fascinating, striking releases lately — Green Room, The Lobster, Ex Machina, Morris From America, The Witch, The Rover — and the A24 stamp of approval carries some weight. Which is just one reason the latest from Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) looks so intriguing. American Honey follows a rootless teenager (newcomer Sasha Lane) on a road trip with a questionable sales force masterminded by a scruffy stranger (Shia LaBeouf), on an adventure that looks to have some tonal comparisons with Spring Breakers. Early word from Cannes has been rapturous. [TR]

The Blackcoat's Daughter (A24)

The Blackcoat's Daughter originally debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year under the title February, and its release date has been pushed several times, from a summer VOD date to its current fall release. Normally this wouldn't bode well for a horror film, but there's too much going for the elliptical-looking Daughter to not keep an eye out for it. It stars Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton (a standout in Sing Street) as two girls made to stay at their boarding school over the winter holiday when their parents fail to pick them up — deep childhood nightmare territory from the start. Reviews since its festival debut have been so cagey and spoiler-free as to border on nonsensical, but almost uniformly positive. And as Tasha noted above, indie distributor A24 has become a trusted arbiter of left-of-center and genre fare in 2016 — it's a good bet that Oz Perkins' directorial debut will offer more genuine surprises than the next month of horror schlock. [EY]

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox)

Oh, Tim Burton, you and your weirdness. Audiences were already treated to his whimsically dark aesthetic in this year's Alice Through the Looking Glass, but Burton hasn't directed a film since 2014's Big Eyes. He's finally back with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on author Ransom Rigg's novel of the same name. Here, Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) finds himself at the titular Home for Peculiar Children after the death of his grandfather, and soon discovers he can see children with abilities. Before long, it's up to him to protect them from the dark forces in the world. Given that this is a Burton movie, expect lots of tender drama and dark, strange humor. And lots of fangs. [KO]

Deepwater Horizon (Summit Entertainment)

Every year needs its based-on-a-true-story disaster movie, and in light of The 33's underwhelming performance, this is 2016's last hope. Set around the titular 2010 oil spill disaster, director Pete Berg brings his patriotic brand of spectacle to the story of drilling rig crewman Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who would become the human face of the disaster. With supporting performances from the likes of Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, and Gina Rodriguez, Deepwater Horizon is a fall movie with summer box office ambitions. [KO]

October

The Birth of a Nation promotional still Fox Searchlight Pictures

October 7th

Under the Shadow (Netflix / Vertical)

Director Babak Anvari made his feature debut at Sundance this year with what Indiewire called the "the festival’s most terrifying feature." Under the Shadow takes the horror tropes of the standard haunted houses and transplants them to Tehran in the 1980s, in a home that’s under daily threat of bombings. The film's trailer is tense and unsettling, adding the specter of a haunting to the horror of war and women’s oppression in Iran. [JK]

The 13th (Netflix)

Ava DuVernay has become one of the industry's most-watched filmmakers, since her breakout with 2014's Selma. She's currently gearing up to shoot a big-budget adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, but first we get The 13th, a documentary tracking how America's mass incarceration evolved out of slavery after the passing of the 13th Amendment. The film will debut at the New York Film Festival and then head to Netflix. [JK]

The Birth of a Nation (Fox Searchlight)

This time a month ago, Nate Parker's Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation was still on track to be the great hope for a perennially white Oscars season; Parker himself a one-man cure-all for systemic racism in Hollywood. Of course, the actor-turned-director's profile grew after the film's record-breaking Sundance deal, and soon social media users unearthed the 1999 rape case against him while he was a student and star wrestler at Penn State, of which he was acquitted. Parker's conduct and handling of the situation left a lot to be desired, and a lot of would-be ticket buyers questioning whether this was the man whose vision of the Nat Turner story the world needed right now. The film was critically lauded during its debut; it will be interesting to see how it's received when it makes its theatrical premiere in Toronto this month. [EY]

The Girl on the Train (Universal)

The Girl on the Train isn't ashamed to pitch itself as the next Gone Girl. Directed by The Help director Tate Taylor, the film follows Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) as she slowly finds herself caught in the middle of a mystery involving her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and a vanished young woman (Megan Hipwell). Based on the 2015 New York Times best seller of the same name, Taylor & co. are clearly hoping to ride the popular adaptation wave to awards season. [KO]

October 21st

The Handmaiden (Amazon Studios)

South Korean director Park Chan-Wook gained his notoriety through his revenge stories (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) and kept building it with stories of repressed lust and perverse scheming (Thirst, Stoker). His latest, The Handmaiden, combines all these obsessions. Park's adaptation of Sarah Waters' terrific 2002 novel Fingersmith preserves some of the story — a poor young pickpocket is enlisted as a maid to help a con man seduce a rich young heiress — but Park transplants it from Victorian England to 1930s Korea. Cannes reviews say Park twists the story to reflect his usual fascination with fetishism, eroticized pain, and complicated power games. Add in the lush trailers and crystalline cinematography, and this looks unmissable. [TR]

Moonlight (A24)

From its trailer alone, Moonlight looks like a quietly gorgeous coming-of-age story. But director Barry Jenkins takes a slightly different formal approach, telling his protagonist's story through three separate chapters of his life. The story follows Florida youth Chiron (played by Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert throughout the film) as he grows up struggling with his broken home life, while coming to terms with his masculinity and sexuality. Moonlight also stars The Knick's Andre Holland, and Janelle Monáe in her feature film debut, before she appears in next year's decidedly more mainstream Hidden Figures. [JK]

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount)

2012's Jack Reacher barely recouped its production budget at the US box office, but international ticket sales (and the lingering star power of Tom Cruise) ensured that the property would live to see another day. This time, writer-director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai) is behind the camera, with Cruise continuing to talk really tough, hit really hard, and stare at people without even the slightest hint of blinking. Cobie Smulders joins as a military officer that Reacher thinks has been framed for espionage... and the only way to save her is to talk, hit, and not-blink as only Reacher can. [BB]

In a Valley of Violence (Focus Features)

The prolific horror movie producers at Blumhouse turn their attentions to something a bit different with In a Valley of Violence. Indie horror auteur Ti West (The Sacrament, The Innkeepers) takes on the classic Western this time, adding some splashes of Tarantino-esque humor and gore. The film premiered at SXSW this year to strong reviews. [JK]

October 28th

Inferno (Columbia)

Everyone thinks they know the story of Dante's Inferno, but only one brave man dares to ask: why Dante? Why hell? Dang, you guys. Listen: Tom Hanks is holding one damp hand out to you, the other one wiping away dust from the latest secrets of Catholicism, and asking: do you dare to go on my hell-themed scavenger hunt? "Sounds fun," says Felicity Jones, after Googling "Felicity Jones Oscar chances vs. overexposure risk" and donning her finest wig. The secrets they uncover will never be covered again. It's a death cult, but you'll never believe how far it goes. You were right to be nervous about ancient Rome. Dante? Scramble up the letters a little, mix them up, and they spell NET AD. Coincidence? See this movie while stoned. [EY]

November

Arrival promotional still Jan Thijs / Paramount Pictures

November 4th

Doctor Strange (Disney)

How do you fit a cosmic magician in a silly cape into the Marvel Cinematic Universe without looking ridiculous? Hopefully we're about to find out, via The Exorcism Of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Mads Mikkelsen. [TR]

Loving (Focus Features)

Writer-director Jeff Nichols occasionally brings big dramatic beats into his films (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special), but more often, they simmer with buried tension and what-comes-next wonder. Judging by the Cannes reviews, his historical drama Loving goes even further than usual into quiet, sun-baked Southern drama, minus the fireworks. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred Loving, the real-life couple whose 1967 Supreme Court case ultimately ended state laws against interracial marriage. Loving focuses more on their relationship than on courtroom drama, and it's been praised and criticized in equal part for its abstract, personal take on history. But Nichols is tremendous with both images and actors, and as awards-bait prestige pictures go, this one looks unusually distinctive. [TR]

Trolls (DreamWorks)

If satirists set out to compile absolutely every lame, obnoxious cliché from the latest 20 years of kids' animated films into one trailer, they'd get something awfully close to the ads for Trolls. In just two minutes, we get multiple character dance parties, a pop hit, a cutesy pee-in-terror joke and a cutesy poop-in-terror joke, a jerky side character, a bunch of highly touted celebrity voices, and a whole lotta maniacal running around. And it's all in service to a Tangled-like team-up between a joyous, ditzy girl and a worldly, wise boy who can't stand her, but is guaranteed to change his mind by the end of act two. All that magic troll-doll hair certainly isn't going to help with the Tangled comparisons, but really, this looks more like another Smurfs movie, minus Neil Patrick Harris, and plus a lot of garish wigs. [TR]

Hacksaw Ridge (Summit Entertainment)

Mel Gibson hasn't stepped behind the camera since 2006's Apocalypto, and the next step in his effort to rebuild his life and career appears to be the most violent anti-violence movie in the history of film. Former new Spider-Man Andrew Garfield plays Desmond T. Doss, who enrolled in the US military in 1942 but refused to carry a gun due to his religious beliefs. That didn't stop Doss from heading into battle, however, where he served on the field as a medic — and if Gibson would have us believe, performed slow-motion gymnastics to deflect grenades like he was in The Matrix. But despite being the story of a man who rejected violence, the film itself appears to be awash in it, with explosions, gunfire, bloodshed, and brutal beatings all lovingly rendered with Gibson's usual zeal. [BB]

November 11th

Arrival (Paramount)

The annual thinking woman's space epic is starting to become a reliable high point on the cinematic release calendar; from 2013's Gravity to 2014's Interstellar to last year's Golden Globe-winning comedy The Martian. This year we get Arrival, Denis Villenueve's (Prisoners, Sicario) adaptation of Ted Chiang's linguistic-theory-heavy sci-fi novella Story of Your Life. Rather than take a military defense-based approach to how our society would handle the arrival of extraterrestrials, Arrival focuses on communication: Amy Adams stars as a linguist who is enlisted by the government to figure out the aliens' language and try to engage in a dialogue without accidentally starting a war. Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker co-star, but perhaps most importantly: those alien ships look totally sick. [EY]

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (TriStar)

Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) adapts Billy Fountain's best-selling novel about a 19-year-old soldier who comes home to Texas as part of a "victory tour" after a firefight in Iraq. There's a mystery behind the story — Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) is haunted by what actually happened in Iraq, which unfolds in flashbacks over the course of the film. But there's also a terse family drama, as he tries to reintegrate with the people who care about him. Lee takes pride in the wide variety of stories he's crafted over the years, but he always seems to return to the theme of repressed emotions bubbling up to the surface, and Billy Lynn looks like it has emotion to spare. Co-stars include Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, and Vin Diesel. [TR]

November 18th

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (Warner Bros.)

When this film was first announced, it seemed a bit ridiculous: not just one film, but an entire series based on a joke textbook that Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling wrote for a charity fundraiser? But as the trailers have come out, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them has begun to look a lot more promising. Finally, there's a Harry Potter movie about the actual adult society of the Wizarding World, and Rowling's worldbuilding can take center stage, in the absence of a Chosen One kid sucking up all the oxygen. Fantastic Beasts is set in 1920s New York, where a young magician (Eddie Redmayne) loses control of a briefcase full of magic creatures, and has to track them down and catch 'em all. Perhaps it can help breathe new life into Pokémon Go craze. [TR]

Manchester By The Sea (Amazon Studios)

Manchester by the Sea, which debuted during Sundance this year, is already being billed as a the performance of Casey Affleck’s career. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan paints a portrait of Lee (Affleck), a Boston janitor who’s thrown back into his ugly past and hometown after his brother’s untimely death, and is forced to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The story lets Lee’s story and trauma unfold at a natural pace, and the result is, according to our own Chris Plante, one of the most unexpectedly inspiring films of the year. [KO]

November 23rd

Moana (Disney)

Market realities dictate that Walt Disney Animation Studios' latest film is coming to theaters behind a giant banner announcing a New Disney Princess, Giant Exclamation Point, Start Preordering Your Toys Now Or Get Left Out Come Holiday Season. But in spite of all the princess-y hoopla, Moana looks pretty intriguing. Like so many Disney hits, it's based in folklore — this time, the legends of various South Pacific cultures, which share common stories about a shape-changing trickster demigod named Maui. Chieftain's daughter Moana Waialiki sets out on an epic quest for a legendary island, with Maui as a reluctant partner. Disney vets Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Hercules, return to direct. [TR]

Allied (Paramount)

Allied looks like a spy thriller plucked right out of Old Hollywood; it's being poised a safe, middle-of-the-road pick for awards season. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film follows Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), two World War II spies who fall in love while on a mission to kill a Nazi official. (Yes, Brad Pitt is still making WWII movies.) The film will live and die on the pair's chemistry, and considering their pedigree, this one could be a fun Thanksgiving watch. [KO]

Bad Santa 2 (Broad Green)

As a one-off, exceptionally dark comedy, 2003's Bad Santa had its cachet as a unique experience. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Crumb) and starring Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox as low-life criminals who used a "mall Santa and his elf" routine to case joints for robbery, the film earned its rep as a profane, uncompromising holiday comedy like no other. That makes the idea of a sequel pretty problematic, especially given the bigger-and-louder-is-always-better nature of sequels. Thornton and Cox are back, but Zwigoff has been replaced by director Mark Waters, whose films (Vampire Academy, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Freaky Friday) suggest a bent toward oversized slapstick. And the NSFW red-band trailer, filled with naked boobs and butts, accidental simulated sex, colorful profanity, ha-ha racism, and more juvenilia, isn't particularly promising either. [TR]

December

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story promotional image Lucasfilm / Disney

December 2nd

La La Land (Lionsgate)

Writer-director Damien Chazelle made such a big splash with his Oscar-nominated, Sundance-award-winning 2014 film Whiplash that it was easy to forget it wasn't his first film. He actually launched his career much more quietly in 2010 with the feature-length black-and-white musical, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, about a jazz trumpeter and a waitress who fall for each other, then separate. Chazelle's third film, the much-anticipated La La Land, sounds something like a reworking of that story, this time in color, and with bigger names. The new film is a "throwback musical" starring two young LA up-and-comers — Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist, Emma Stone as a would-be actress — who meet and fall for each other, but find success is getting in the way of their relationship. La La Land premieres at the Venice Film Festival on August 31st, and until then, we've mostly just got the dreamy, mildly abstract, but mighty pretty trailer to go by. [TR]

December 16th

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney)

The first of the Star Wars standalone films covers some familiar territory: it's about the team that steals the Death Star plans that Princess Leia hides in R2-D2 back in the first 10 minutes of the original A New Hope. It has TIE Fighters. It has Darth Vader. It has Felicity Jones as a rebellious scoundrel named Jyn Erso. But most importantly, it has director Gareth Edwards, who has shown an ability to balance character with thrills (the excellent Monsters) while also seeming equally at ease with blockbuster theatrics (2014's Godzilla). Oh, one other thing: it's Star Wars. [BB]

The Founder (The Weinstein Company)

Michael Keaton's resurgence is nowhere near done yet. After earning acclaim for his performances in Birdman and Spotlight, Keaton is set to play McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc in John Lee Hancock's The Founder. The film tells the story of how Kroc finagled his way into Mac and Dick McDonald's hamburger business and managed to turn it into the biggest fast food brand in the world. In the tradition of character studies like There Will Be Blood, this movie seems made to showcase Keaton's talents. We have high hopes for it. [KO]

December 21st

Assassin's Creed (20th Century Fox)

2016 was supposed to be the year that video game movies proved they could actually work. It hasn't gone so well thus far — and now it's all up to Assassin's Creed. First off, the premise of this thing is such high-concept movie fantasy trash that it's hard to believe it wasn't already made with Nicolas Cage or John Travolta. Michael Fassbender plays a criminal scheduled for execution, who is instead kidnapped by a shadowy organization that wants to Quantum Leap him back into the body of his ancestor, who was really good at killing people (and running on roofs) during the Spanish Inquisition. It's like Lawnmower Man meets Face Off meets The Da Vinci Code, people. And on top of that, it's directed by Justin Kurzel, a truly talented filmmaker that most recently worked with Fassbender on Macbeth. Seriously! Macbeth! As in Shakespeare! With a situation like that, it's no wonder that 20th Century Fox went all out at Comic-Con this year, spending every single dollar the studio could promoting this thing.

Wait, what? Fox didn't show up at all? Even though Assassin's Creed seems to be genetically engineered to appeal to Hall H Comic-Con crowds? Hrm. [BB]

Passengers (Columbia)

Passengers is a movie starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Passengers is a movie whose script floated around Hollywood for years as one of the best unproduced screenplays out there. Passengers is a science fiction film about two people who wake up from hibernation ahead of schedule. Passengers is also a love story. Passengers is a total mystery, because other than a brief clip shown at CinemaCon earlier this year, there hasn't been any footage shown from Passengers. Passengers is supposed to come out in less than four months, but a still photo release was a recent newsworthy event. What does this tell us about Passengers? Only Passengers knows for sure. [BB]

December 23rd

A Monster Calls (Focus Features)

Director J.A. Bayona made a tremendous debut with the 2007 horror movie The Orphanage. But his prestige-picture follow-up, the real-life disaster drama The Impossible, dulled his edges with a sentimental core and some questionable choices. Bayona is thankfully back to his horror roots with A Monster Calls, based on a young-readers novel by Patrick Ness, author of the blisteringly grim Chaos Walking trilogy. Liam Neeson stars as the primal, Groot-like tree-monster summoned to help a young boy whose mother (Felicity Jones) is gravely ill. Sigourney Weaver co-stars as the kid’s brisk, patrician grandmother. If this is anything like Ness’ dark, uncompromising book, and if Bayona can resummon his terrifying Orphanage voice, this will be a can't-miss film. [TR]



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