Variations on the headline were all over movie websites this summer: Cinema was dead. Movies were worse than ever, and nobody wanted to see them. Of course, it's easy to overreact to the franchise-heavy summer season, especially when distributors save up their best movies for release closer to the time when critics and professional groups are handing out year-end awards. Here are some of the titles we're most jazzed to see heading toward the end of 2016.
Few things in film get my heart fluttering like a great musical, bursting with big songs and big emotions. So from the time the first teaser trailers appeared with dreamlike images and bold colors, and through some rapturous reception at fall festivals, La La Land (Dec. 16)—a Los Angeles-set romance between a musician (Ryan Gosling) and an actress (Emma Stone) from writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)—has had me giddy with anticipation. Another much-praised romance finally arrives on local screens after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May: Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (undated early January), with Adam Driver as an introverted New Jersey bus driver reluctant to share his poetry with the rest of the world. And attendees at Telluride and Toronto were wowed by Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (Nov. 11), the coming-of-age tale of a gay African-American man. These are the small stories we can celebrate once the crash-bang of summer gives way to fall.
Are women in science—and in science fiction—about to have a moment? This autumn sees the landing of three films of varying degrees of prestige that put women front and center in onscreen arenas that have previously been mostly boys clubs. Arrival (Nov. 11), from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), gives us five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams as a linguist enlisted to help make sure first contact with mysterious aliens goes smoothly; this one could help boost sci-fi as serious drama. Hidden Figures (Dec. 25), from director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), is the true tale of a team of female African-American mathematicians whose work was vital to NASA's early efforts to put a (white) man into space, rectifying a shocking omission from the history of the agency, and from America's great 20th-century adventure. And then, of course, there's the Star Wars spinoff Rogue One (Dec. 16), in which we'll get the story of the badass woman who made the destruction of the Death Star possible. The Force may finally be with us gals.
Marvel movies might have settled into an agreeable mass of regularly dispensed product, but the possibility of striking a rich vein of weirdness (à la Guardians of the Galaxy) still exists. Here's hoping Benedict Cumberbatch and company on Doctor Strange (Nov. 4) can replicate at least some of the brain-crogglingly purple inventiveness of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's source material. (Having a chrome-domed Tilda Swinton on set feels like a good start.) If it can inspire kids to run down the street yelling "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!" so much the better. Meanwhile, the supremely rough-and-tumble trailer might try to obscure the fact, but the true war story Hacksaw Ridge (Nov. 4)—about a pacifist medic thrust into bloody conflict—is directed by Mel Gibson. (Pausing for a percentage of readers to, understandably, clear the room.) If you happen to feel that Gibson's last film, 2006's Apocalypto, was one of the most brilliantly kinetic movies of the past decade, this is very good news, indeed. Note: If you don't know the story, try not to Google it until after seeing the movie. I mean, whew.
Eric D. Snider
Maybe this is cheating, but the movies I'm looking forward to are ones I've already seen. That's the main reason critics go to film festivals: bragging rights. Elle is a French-language production from Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, who's no stranger to stories about the complicated intersection of sex, feminism and violence. But Elle is less exploitative and over-the-top than Basic Instinct or Showgirls (thank goodness), being instead an audacious and savvy dramatic mystery, tinged with dark comedy and bolstered by Isabelle Huppert's champion performance as a woman who finds herself with complex feelings after being raped by a masked intruder. This film will inspire many passionate discussions—which is always (well, usually) a good thing. Toni Erdmann, meanwhile, will inspire conversations for different reasons. It's a German comedy about an old prankster dad who tries to reconnect with his stern, workaholic daughter by enlivening her days with tomfoolery. It's farcical, outrageous, a little melancholic—and 162 minutes long. Believe me, people will be talking. CW