From Ron Howard’s Rush and Redford’s solo turn to the horror of slavery, the season’s films promise real drama

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 18, 2013

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12 Years a Slave

Well, aren’t we glad that’s over. After a fiscally calamitous summer in which the world ended every weekend to mass audience indifference, it’s time for the leaves to turn and for Hollywood to grow up a little bit. While the big, prestigious Oscar contenders don’t usually roll out until winter, I always prefer the fall, where studios tend to slot adult releases that are deemed too risky or sophisticated for their holiday blockbuster slots.

The season kicks off with Ron Howard’s Rush (9/27), a study piece of pop mythmaking in which Opie returns to his Grand Theft Auto roots, chronicling the rivalry between Formula One racers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) for the 1976 championship. Scripted in bold strokes by The Queen’s Peter Morgan, it’s a high-octane riff on Amadeus, with disciplined, intellectual Lauda pushed to the brink trying to keep up with the swaggering, reckless Hunt. Howard gorges himself on the funky period details, and boy, do those cars move like rockets.

Hey, if it worked for Justin Beiber, Katy Perry and One Direction, why not Metallica? Our little Danish friend and company get the 3-D concert movie treatment with Metallica: Through the Never (9/27). Ditching the teenyboppers’ behind-the-scenes puff-piece framing device, crafty B-movie director Nimrod Antal (Predators) has cooked up some sort of fantastical side-story about a roadie (Dane DeHaan) being pursued through riot-strewn streets by a horseman as the band plays on. Whatever—it can’t be as surreal as watching the group’s therapy sessions in their last big-screen outing, 2004’s Some Kind of Monster.

It’s been seven years since Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men set a new bar for vertiginous single-take tracking shots, and he’s spent the last four or five of those working on Gravity (10/4). A technical breakthrough so unprecedented that James Cameron was recently quoted saying nice things about a film that wasn’t directed by James Cameron, the film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts adrift in lower orbit after a space station mishap. Blending old-school photography with photo-realistic computer animation, Cuaron and his madman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki had to invent the technology to make these weightless stunts possible.

‘Tis apparently the season for minimalist elemental survival stories, because this fall also brings J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost (10/18), starring Robert Redford—and only Robert Redford—as a man alone on a sinking ship in the Indian Ocean. A thousand miles in the opposite direction from Chandor’s hyper-verbal debut, Margin Call, we’re told Redford has but a single word of dialogue here. (No points for guessing it begins with the letter “F.”) The 77-year-old Sundance Kid has been earning raves for his purely physical performance, a mean feat when you consider that the last time someone tried a movie like this, Tom Hanks at least had a volleyball to talk to.

Speaking of Hanks, Tom’s got his own set of nautical woes in Captain Phillips (10/11). After getting out of the Bourne franchise while the getting was still good, director Paul Greengrass returns to the hand-held, just-the-facts-ma’am docudrama format of his earlier films Bloody Sunday and United 93, this time tackling the harrowing true-life tale of the container ship Maresk Alabama’s attack by Somali pirates. In the title role, Hanks takes another shot at his bizarre Boston accent from Catch Me If You Can.

If you’ve seen Dirty Pretty Things, Inside Man or Redbelt, you already know that Chiwitel Ejiofor has been so damn good for so long, stardom is way overdue. Looks like it might finally happen with 12 Years a Slave (10/18). Rapturously reviewed at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, director Steve McQueen’s follow up to Shame stars Ejiofor as a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. A bunch of no-names like Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti co-star.

Fourteen years ago, director Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry came out of nowhere and scored Hilary Swank an Academy Award. But Hollywood can be cruel sometimes, which is the only explanation for why Pierce vanished afterwards and is now stuck remaking Carrie (10/18). Chloe Grace Moretz steps in for Sissy Spacek as the prom queen who takes a batch in pig’s blood. Julianne Moore takes over Piper Laurie’s role as Carrie’s mom. John Travolta and Nancy Allen could not be reached for comment.

Back in January at Sundance, I predicted that you’d probably never get a chance to see Escape from Tomorrow (10/11), director Randy Moore’s outrageous phantasmagoria that was covertly shot guerilla-style at Disney theme parks. The famously litigious Mouse House can’t be too pleased with their trademarks being used in this darkly hilarious tale of a bad dad’s perverted meltdown, but we’re told that the film has cleared the legal hurdles and will see the light of a projector this fall. Somebody must have wished upon a star.

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