Sept. 9 2014 06:33 PM

October will be a month of heavyweights, including Gone Girl' and The Two Faces of January'

Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice

With the Venice, Telluride and Toronto international film festivals either over or in full swing, the fall / winter movie season has officially begun. Oscar pundits are earning their meager paychecks by spewing hyperbole about Academy favorites while pro-bono art-film writers are espousing the genius of new works by the likes of Lav Diaz, Pedro Costa, Thomas Strickland and Hong Sang-soo. This has become an annual taste tango for those who pay attention to such things. 

A gravely disappointing summer at the box office has essentially ensured that 2014 will make considerably less money than any year in the past decade. This puts even more pressure on Hollywood juggernauts being released in the next four months to perform—and perform well. Economic angst aside, the high season for cinema is shaping up to be a strangely attractive one for San Diego audiences, with a mix of low-budget indies, mid-tier oddities and high-profile films from eclectic auteurs. 

The Drop (Sept. 12), a Spartan crime saga starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts and James Gandolfini in his final role, arrives fresh from its Toronto premiere. The English-language debut from Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead), this modest genre film looks to be an old-school throwback to the gritty Sidney Lumet-era gangster films of the 1970s. 

The next week brings a strange triple feature: Scott Frank's long-gestating thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones (Sept. 19) starring Liam Neeson; Kevin Smith's insane-sounding horror film Tusk (Sept. 19), which finds Justin Long's blogger held captive and tortured by Michael Parks' walrus-loving madman; and finally James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain romantically jousting in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (Sept. 19).

In late September, Denzel Washington stands up for the innocent in The Equalizer (Sept. 26), Focus Features tries to sway the family audience with The Boxtrolls (Sept. 26) and America's last-ditch effort to save face gets the documentary treatment in The Last Days of Vietnam (Sept. 26).

October unveils a bevy of heavyweights, none heavier than David Fincher's Gone Girl (Oct. 3), a stylized adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestseller. With Ben Affleck as the demonized husband of a missing (and presumed murdered) woman (Rosamund Pike) with a dark past, the film looks to be the perfect template for Fincher to further explore a few of his themes: depravity and sensationalism. 

Buzz has been strong for The Two Faces of January (Oct. 3), Hossein Amini's directorial debut that stars Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst mired in a web of deception. Adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, this cat-and-mouse thriller could be a fine sleeper this season.

Nightcrawler

Three other major titles in October appear destined for Oscar attention. David Ayer's World War II-set Fury (Oct. 17) stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a tank unit fending off the Germans' desperate effort to defend the homeland at the end of the war. Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michael Keaton unleash Birdman (Oct. 17), a biting and surreal showbiz satire about a once-fabled comic-book movie star trying to rejuvenate his career by staging a one-man show on Broadway. Nightcrawler (Oct. 31) looks like a nasty and darkly comic film about underground crime reporting in Los Angeles starring a rail-thin Jake Gyllenhaal. 

On the independent front, seek out Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Phillip (Oct. 17), Justin Simien's Dear White People (Oct. 17) and Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard (Oct. 31). Also being released is Bill Murray's blatant awards bait, St. Vincent (Oct. 24); Jason Reitman's Internet mosaic Men, Women, & Children (Oct. 10); and the Sundance award winner Whiplash (Oct. 17), which might be the worst film I've seen in a few years. Of course, everyone else loves it. 

Gone Girl

Hollywood finally unleashes its tent poles and other big-budget titans in November. Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated sci-fi film Interstellar (Nov. 7) stars Matthew McConaughey as the leader of an exploration team sent through a wormhole to find humanity's next home. Opening the same weekend is the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything (Nov. 7) starring Eddie Redmayne, already a frontrunner in the annual Oscar stampede. 

Tommy Lee Jones' superb and eccentric western The Homesman (Nov. 14) is sure to divide audiences, but those looking for a daring genre film won't be disappointed. The weekend before Thanksgiving unveils behemoth The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Nov. 21), Bennett Miller's true crime tragedy Foxcatcher (Nov. 21) and The Imitation Game (Nov. 21) starring Benedict Cumberbatch as an English mathematician who helps crack the German Enigma code during World War II. 

Jon Stewart's directorial debut, Rosewater (Nov. 7), stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an imprisoned journalist in Iran, and The Better Angels (Nov. 21), a festival favorite, looks at the lyrical qualities of Abraham Lincoln's younger years. 

December always means business when it comes to the final leg of the movie-going season, and this year's no different. Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (Dec. 12) is the film of the season by far, and early word is that it's as nutty and funny as The Big Lebowski

Ridley Scott makes Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton don swords and sandals in Exodus: God and Kings (Dec. 12), while Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp sing their way Into the Woods (Dec. 25). Angelina Jolie's sophomore film, Unbroken (Dec. 25), tells the true story of Olympic runner and POW Louis Zamperini (played by young virtuoso Jack O'Connell). 

Finally, there's Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (Dec. 25), starring Bradley Cooper as the most prolific marksman in the Afghanistan war. After the new year, we'll finally get Tim Burtonís return to serious filmmaking, Big Eyes (TBD), and a pair of weighty biopics: Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King film Selma (Jan. 9) and Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, about British painter J.M.W. Turner (Jan. 9).

With a crowded field of films ahead, there's something for everyone this fall. Enjoy or scowl at your leisure.

Write to glennh@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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