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Fall Movie Preview 2014: The 32 Movies We're Most Psyched to See

August 22, 2014

You know that it's been a slog of a summer when the most complex, most interesting and most human characters in multiplexes were a computer-generated monosyllabic tree and his short-tempered raccoon buddy. That's why we're thrilled to be poised on the precipice of the fall movie season, that time of year when the major studios start releasing films about flesh-and-blood folks again. And while they might be motivated in part by dreams of awards glory, we'll accept any excuse they have to unveil more movies like last year’s Her or Gravity, and fewer big-budget CGI eyesores.

To give you a sense of the riches the next four months have in store, we've compiled a list of the 32 mainstream and indie releases that have us the most excited, from the return of auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan to the conclusions (or near-conclusions) of epic franchises like The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. Why 32? Maybe it's because it’s the number of times we’ve re-read the ending of Gone Girl. Or maybe it's one-half the number of speaking roles in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Or maybe it's just kind of random — like, say, casting Christian Bale as Moses, or turning the dimly remembered '80s TV series The Equalizer into a movie. Either way, these are 32 reasons to be happy that summer is finally in the rearview:

32. The Theory of Everything

Release date: Nov. 7

Starring: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Emily Watson

Director: James Marsh

The scoop: Les Misérables star Eddie Redmayne plays physics genius Stephen Hawking in this romantic drama, which follows the good doctor as he arrives in Cambridge University in the late fifties. While there, he meets student Jane Wilde (Breathe In’s Felicity Jones), and learns of the diagnosis that will change his life forever. Together, the two bravely face an uncertain future — and embark on an unlikely romance.

31. This Is Where I Leave You

Release date: Sept. 19

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver

Director: Shawn Levy

The scoop: After the death of their dad, squabbling adult siblings Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll spend a week sitting shiva in their childhood home with their assorted significant others and their overbearing mother (Jane Fonda) for company. It’s like August: Osage County except Jewish, and therefore (hopefully) funnier.

30. The Skeleton Twins

Release date: Sept. 12

Starring: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell

Director: Craig Johnson

The scoop: Saturday Night Live vets Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig reunite for this Sundance hit, playing estranged fraternal twins whose lives are going terribly wrong, and, coincidentally, almost end on the same day. They get together as some serious (yet darkly hilarious) soul searching ensues. Look out for one particular scene, involving that Mannequin theme from Starship, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” which had festival audiences in stitches.

29. The Drop

Release date: Sept. 12

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace

Director: Michaël R. Roskam

The scoop: This Brooklyn-based crime story represents a notable first and last: It’s the first feature-film screenplay penned by novelist Dennis Lehane, author of Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. It’s also the last big-screen role that James Gandolfini completed before his untimely death last year. The Sopranos star was Lehane’s first choice for the role of gruff bar owner Marv, but as he told Boston magazine, the two never had the opportunity to meet. “We were going to meet that night for dinner … and then couldn’t make [it]. But I’ll never forget it: He sent over six bottles of wine as an apology—a really nice note. He’s just a really classy guy.”

28. The Imitation Game

Release date: Nov. 21

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

Director: Morten Tyldum

The scoop: The latest of the Weinstein Company’s seemingly perennial British prestige pictures looks back at the attempts of mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to crack the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code used by the Nazis during World War II. Keira Knightley plays Turing’s fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke, who almost became her closeted co-worker’s wife until he called off the engagement.

27. Horrible Bosses 2 

Release date: Nov. 26

Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis

Director: Sean Anders

The scoop: The original Horrible Bosses rode its workplace-superior-hating gimmick to a $118 million gross, so Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis are at it again, this time kidnapping the son (Chris Pine) of a wealthy investor (Christoph Waltz) to keep their new business afloat. Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston — the best things in the first flick — return as well, while Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks crosses the thin blue line to play a cop investigating the sordid affair.

26. The Book of Life

Release date: Oct. 17

Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum

Director: Jorge Gutierrez

The scoop: Guillermo del Toro brings his distinct brand of fantasy to the cartoon world, overseeing the Hollywood debut of Mexican animator Jorge Gutierrez. Loosely inspired by the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead, The Book of Life follows young Manolo (Diego Luna) as he journeys through a trio of visually elaborate fantasy worlds on a quest to win the heart of his lady-love, Maria (Zoe Saldana), before she runs off with his rival, Joaquin (Channing Tatum). And because this is a del Toro production, Ron Perlman pops up as a sardonic spirit.

25. Big Eyes

Release date: Dec. 25

Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Danny Huston

Director: Tim Burton

The scoop: Those wishing that Tim Burton would make another film like Ed Wood can look forward to this highlyanticipated period piece about artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), who specialized in paintings of cherubic children with oversized peepers. Unbeknownst to her, though, her domineering husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), took all the credit for — and most of the profit from — her work, forcing the shy, reserved painter to go public. Perhaps the best news about Big Eyes? There’s not a Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter cameo in sight.

24. The Maze Runner

Release date: Sept. 19

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

Director: Wes Ball

The scoop: Yes, this is the latest entry in the growing list of dystopian young-adult-novel series adaptations, but there’s one significant difference between it and the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent: The Maze Runner follows a male protagonist, named Thomas, who’s thrown into an all-boys world ruled by a creepy maze and its monstrous, machinelike inhabitants. Just as he’s getting settled, the group’s first girl (gasp!) arrives.

23. Exodus: Gods and Kings

Release date: Dec. 12

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver

Director: Ridley Scott

The scoop: Ridley Scott time travels from Prometheus's distant future into the biblical past, retelling the Old Testament story of adopted-brothers-turned-bitter enemies Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton), and the heaven-assisted Ten Plagues that the latter visits upon the land. The movie has already encountered some pre-release controversy for casting white actors as ancient Egyptians, which Edgerton addressed in a recent interview for Australian television, saying: “On one hand, my reaction is it’s not my job to make those decisions. I got asked to do a job and it would have been very hard to say no to that job. But I do say that I am sensitive to it and I do understand and empathize with that position.”

22. Dumb and Dumber To

Release date: Nov. 14

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner

Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

The scoop: Stupid is as stupid does, again. Hoping to eradicate all memories of that horrible, horrible prequel, Dumb and Dumberer, the real Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) buddy up for another round of unadulterated dumbness. There’s a new road trip on the menu, as the two attempt to track down Harry’s long-lost daughter (with him in need of a new kidney). Can lightning strike twice? Judging from early looks at the comedy, we’re saying there’s a chance.

21. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Release date: Sept. 12

Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis

Director: Ned Benson

The scoop: When this dyad was originally shown on the festival circuit last year, it was as two different heart-wrenching movies: Both were about the same couple (Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy), who split after a traumatic event and struggled to reconnect, but the films — Him and Her — each showed the events from their two different perspectives. The new version, Them, merges the two films, and Chastain has been receiving luminous reviews. Handkerchiefs are essential.

20. Selma

Release date: Dec. 25

Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson

Director: Ava DuVernay

The scoop: In lieu of a cover-to-cover biopic of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), the Brad Pitt– and Oprah-financed drama Selma zeroes in on the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches that paved the way for President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even though the film takes place five decades ago, recent headlines should make it seem just as relevant today.

19. Big Hero 6

Release date: Nov. 7

Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung

Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams

The scoop: Disney plumbed the depths of Marvel’s vault to strike gold with Rocket and Groot. Next, the Mouse House digs down even deeper in the comic-book basement for this animated feature about a genius-kid inventor, Hiro (Ryan Potter), and his tricked-out robo-balloon buddy, Baymax (Scott Adsit). Adapted by the brain trust behind Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, Big Hero 6 aims to be more child-friendly than the Marvel source material, as this dynamic duo (and their Bad News Bears-esque team of wannabe crimefighters) grapples with a supervillain run amok in fictional San Fransokyo. While we can’t promise Incredibles-caliber delights, Big Hero 6 should deliver enough laughs, thrills, and Baymax-related merchandise to keep the kids happy through the holidays.

18. St. Vincent

Release date: Oct. 24

Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts

Director: Theodore Melfi

The scoop: While his divorcée mom (Melissa McCarthy) grapples with a new job, a shy kid gets a crash course in living life to the fullest, courtesy of the kooky old guy next door (Bill Murray). It's nice to see that 35 years after Meatballs, Murray is still teaching younger generations how to defy authority.

17. The Interview

Release date: Dec. 25

Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan

Directors: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

The scoop: Could this be the first Hollywood movie to lead to a world war? North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has already declared this provocative comedy "an act of war," as the plot follows a pair of tabloid-media hacks (Seth Rogen and James Franco) recruited by the CIA to assassinate the young leader. The film marks Evan Goldberg and Rogen’s second shared directorial effort, following the doomsday laugher This Is the End. Hopefully, this one doesn’t lead us to the actual apocalypse.

16. The Equalizer

Release date: Sept. 26

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz

Director: Antoine Fuqua

The scoop: The vintage-’80s action series is dusted off for a completely reimagined take that stars Denzel Washington as a supposedly average working-class guy whose placid demeanor hides some very deadly skills, which he uses to help a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) in need. Early word has it that Fuqua and his Training Day star will be dishing out hard-R-level punishment on the bad guys — in other words, there will be blood.

15. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Release date: Dec. 17

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Director: Peter Jackson

The scoop: When last we saw our intrepid band of treasure-hunting little folk, they were facing cliffhangers galore. Will Smaug lay waste to Laketown? Will Thorin reclaim that throne under the mountain? Will Gandalf escape the orc-y clutches of the Necromancer? Will Bilbo make it back again? Will Peter Jackson stop after one ending this time around? Readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit already know the answers to most of the Big Questions, but we have high hopes that Jackson delivers the goods for his final cinematic spin around Middle-earth. After an uneven Unexpected Journey, the filmmaker found his footing with The Desolation of Smaug and has already proclaimed Battle to be “the most emotional, the most tense … my favorite of the three.” The ingredients are all there: ornery fire lizard, epic battle between good and evil, redemption, death, triumph, funny beards — and maybe even another cameo by Stephen Colbert.

14. Unbroken

Release date: Dec. 25

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney

Director: Angelina Jolie

The scoop: Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort is a biopic of Olympic-track-star-turned-WWII-POW Louis Zamperini, a man whom some have dubbed a real-life Forrest Gump — though this is a far darker story. After competing in the Berlin Olympics —which brought him face-to-face with Adolf Hitler in 1936 — Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps, and his plane malfunctioned and crashed into the sea in 1943. Though his family was told he was dead, he had actually been rescued by the Japanese and then suffered as a POW until the end of the war. (He died July 2 at 97.) Zamperini struggled with the psychic aftermath of his ordeals when he returned home and eventually wrote two memoirs, though this film is based on the best-selling 2010 biography by Laura Hillenbrand. Many have tried to tell his story on film, with Tony Curtis and Nicolas Cage both pegged to play the war hero at various times. But Jolie picked a relative unknown for the role — Jack O’Connell is best known for the British series Skins.

13. Mr. Turner

Release date: Dec. 19

Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey

Director: Mike Leigh

The scoop: Reuniting for the first time in more than a decade, revered British director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies) and character actor Timothy Spall prove that biopics don’t have to feel like homework in this vivid, lived-in portrait of early-19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner. The movie won raves, as well as a best-actor award for Spall, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and the pair will continue to travel the festival circuit this fall, with pre-release stops in Toronto and New York.

12. Fury

Release date: Oct. 17

Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman

Director: David Ayer

The scoop: Most would agree that writer-director David Ayer missed with his last effort, Sabotage, but he’s had enough solid efforts — not the least of which was 2012’s standout cop flick End of Watch — that we’re willing to bet the U.S. Navy submarine vet knows how to navigate big-budget waters. As shown in Watch and Training Day (which he wrote), Ayer knows his way around men riding in cars with tension. So Fury should be familiar territory, as Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy, commander of a Sherman tank crew (LaBeouf, Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal) tasked with an against-all-odds mission toward the end of World War II.

11. Nightcrawler

Release date: Oct. 31

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo

Director: Dan Gilroy

The scoop: Jake Gyllenhaal lost roughly 20 pounds to play, as he called his character, a “literally and figuratively hungry” freelance crime journalist who prowls Los Angeles in the wee hours, rushing to get footage of all manner of disasters and crimes, be they fires or murders. A gaunt Gyllenhaal is nearly unrecognizable as he cloyingly and creepily speaks to the camerain the trailer, which goes on to paint a picture of a man dangerously addicted to depicting terrible things.

10. Birdman

Release date: Oct. 17

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

The scoop: Back in 1989, when he had the title role in Batman, Michael Keaton was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Fast-forward 20 years to 2009, when Keaton had only one lousy role: playing Alexis Bledel’s dad in the quickly forgotten millennial romp Post Grad. Now in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, art imitates life as Keaton plays washed-up actor Riggan Thomson, best known as a feathered superhero from yesteryear, as he’s attempting to stage a revival while fighting sanity-threatening delusions, family trouble, and Edward Norton. Keaton’s been picking up smaller, stranger roles as of late — he recently played a delightfully malevolent baddie in the revamped Robocop — and we’re hoping Birdman will make the star’s comeback complete.

9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

Release date: Nov. 21

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Director: Francis Lawrence

The scoop: Really? You don’t know the scoop on this one already? When we last left Katniss and crew, they’d escaped the Quarter Quell version of the Hunger Games and were rescued by a rebel force led by residents of the supposedly empty District 13. Now it’s time for Mockingjay-led revolution… and more Gale-versus-Peeta action.


8. Foxcatcher

Release date: Nov. 14

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

Director: Bennett Miller

The scoop: After guiding Philip Seymour Hoffman and Brad Pitt to transformative, Oscar-nominated performances in Capote and Moneyball, respectively, writer-director Bennett Miller seems poised to do the same thing for Steve Carell in the director’s latest true-life tale. The Office alum dons a Nicole Kidman-in-The Hours-like schnoz to play John du Pont, oddball scion of the du Pont fortune and Olympic wrestling aficionado, who brings renowned wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) into his rarefied air — a move that has tragic, if awards-friendly, consequences. Carell never got an Emmy for playing Scranton’s own Michael Scott, but he might soon be adding an “O” to his EGOT hopes.

7. Into the Woods

Release date: Dec. 25

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp

Director: Rob Marshall

The scoop: Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale mash-up musical is getting the big-screen treatment with an A-list cast. Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack (of “Beanstalk” fame) are among the main characters who come together in the woods and clash with the requisite witch (Meryl Streep). Fans of the stage version know to expect laughs at the beginning but anticipate a darker, more poignant second half.

6. Inherent Vice

Release date: Dec. 12

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

The scoop: What could go wrong with a stoner-detective movie set in Hollywood at the end of the psychedelic ’60s, starring mysterious award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, helmed by mysterious award-winning director Paul Thomas Anderson, adapted from a book by mysterious award-winning author Thomas Pynchon? Throw Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro into the sticky, icky mix, and you’ve got yourself all the makings of a Dude-worthy caper — and one the director is keeping under wraps until September, when Vice will premiere at the New York Film Festival.

5. Dear White People

Release date: Oct. 17

Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Dennis Haysbert

Director: Justin Simien

The scoop: Justin Simien’s buzzy directorial debut began as a concept trailer that went viral, with the Internet success allowing the young filmmaker to get the actual movie financed. Dear White People secured a slot at Sundance and earned strong reviews there, as well as comparisons to the early oeuvre of Spike Lee. The comedy follows a group of black students at an Ivy League college ready to put the proverbial smackdown when a mostly white fraternity announces an “African American-themed” house party.

4. Wild

Release date: Dec. 5

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffman

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

The scoop: The Oprah-approved best-seller by Cheryl Strayed serves as Reese Witherspoon’s big comeback vehicle, with the Oscar-winning actress reenacting the author’s seemingly self-destructive (but ultimately self-empowering) hike along the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Don’t worry about any 127 Hours-style spontaneous surgeries here, though Witherspoon does share James Franco’s penchant for This Is Your Life-style flashbacks as she ruminates on her failed marriage and the death of her mother.

3. Interstellar

Release date: Nov. 7

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain

Director: Christopher Nolan

The scoop: One of fall’s most anticipated films, Christopher Nolan’s latest is also the one most shrouded in mystery: Plot details have been sparse, although a recent trailer (and a surprise appearance by the Dark Knight trilogy director and his star Matthew McConaughey at Comic-Con) shed a little bit more light on the sci-fi epic. We know that something catastrophic happens on Earth, forcing McConaughey’s family man to go on a Bruce Willis-in-Armageddon-esque voyage to the stars to save the planet. With themes like “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space,” Nolan’s saga, if all falls into place, could be the rare action-blockbuster that will have you cheering and sobbing.

2. Whiplash

Release date: Oct. 10 (limited)

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Director: Damien Chazelle

The scoop: Prepare for the most intense movie you’ve ever seen about music school. Damien Chazelle’s pulsating drama follows an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller), enrolled at a prestigious New York music conservatory, who will stop at nothing to become one of the greats. And that means surviving the tutelage of the school’s renowned — but cutthroat and conniving — conductor (J.K. Simmons). The film scored a rare sweep at Sundance, winning both the audience and jury awards for Best Drama, and will likely continue to drum up awards attention through spring, with Teller and Simmons both likely Oscar contenders.

1. Gone Girl

Release date: Oct. 3

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

Director: David Fincher

The scoop: If you’ve read the best-selling mystery by Gillian Flynn, you’re probably as curious as we are about how all the twists will transfer to the big screen. (And if you’re one of the few left who haven’t read the 2012 book and have managed to avoid spoilers thus far, you have just under two more months to hold out!) Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a simultaneously smug and sympathetic husband who finds himself the main suspect after the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). This is Fincher’s second adaptation of a hit novel in a row (following 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), but this time the script was written by the author herself. The two have been coy about how much has changed from book to movie, and Fincher recently gave Entertainment Weekly an explanation that was even more befuddling: What has changed about the third act, he said, is “everything and nothing.” That kind of mind-bending explanation feels like it could have been pulled from the book, making us even more excited to see the film.

Photo credits: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Roadside Attractions, Open Road Films, Paramount Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Walt Disney Pictures, New Line Cinema, Lionsgate, Universal Pictures