In the annals of fall movie previews, never has the phrase “dates subject to change” felt quite so obvious, or so fraught.
Contract negotiations between studios and the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America remain, at press time, at an impasse and the strikes continue. “Dune 2,” no longer a major late 2023 title, has been pushed back to March 2024. Will the studios tick more of its dominoes from there?
Answer: unknown. Meantime, let’s scan the ledger for some prospects already in the bag and ready for screens near you. That phrase “in the bag” always makes me think of “Sweet Smell of Success,” the 1957 drama starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Written by Ernest Lehman, then punched up, gloriously, by co-writer Clifford Odets, the movie is a writer’s movie to the core. At one point, asked if he has taken care of his latest morally compromised errand, the unscrupulous press agent played by Curtis says not to worry. “The cat’s in the bag, and the bag’s in the river.”
Take 10! Our list for fall, in order of their release in theaters. Dates subject to change.
1. “A Haunting in Venice” (Sept. 15): Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot, and returns to the director’s chair, in this freely adapted version of a late and lesser-known Agatha Christie joint, “Hallowe’en Party.” The cast this time includes Tina Fey, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan and Kelly Reilly (”Yellowstone”).
2. “The Creator” (Sept. 29): In the future, humans go to war against AI and it’s up to John David Washington to find and eliminate the Creator before the Creator has its way with the entirety of the human race. Director Gareth Edwards has made three good movies in a row: “Monsters,” “Godzilla” and “Rogue One.” Let’s go for the grand slam.
3. “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Oct. 20): In 1920s Oklahoma, a wealth of oil underneath the Osage nation’s government-imposed reservation land seeps into a true crime tale of murder, greed and corrosive American values in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the excellent David Grann nonfiction bestseller. Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons take the lead.
4. “Priscilla” (Oct. 27): Writer-director Sofia Coppola adapts Priscilla Presley’s memoir “Elvis and Me” for what may turn out to be the biopic of the season, as well as the latest proof of Coppola’s singular filmmaking strengths. Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi star as Priscilla and Elvis; the film made its world premiere recently at the Venice International Film Festival.
5. “The Holdovers” (Oct. 27 in New York and Los Angeles, Nov. 10 wide release): Paul Giamatti plays an imperious prep school instructor charged with overseeing a collection of outcasts over the school holiday. The director is Alexander Payne, who worked so well with Giamatti in “Sideways.” Here’s hoping this one’s the right kind of intelligent, witty and heartwarming throwback to the epoch before Marvel.
6. “The Marvels” (Nov. 10): Speaking of Marvel … Brie Larson returns as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in the MCU’s follow-up to the 2019 “Captain Marvel.” Expect wormholes, Kree problems and, fingers crossed, a show of directorial personality from the talented director Nia DaCosta. Teyonah Parris, Lashana Lynch and Iman Vellani co-star.
7. “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” (Nov. 17): What was Panem like 64 years before the messed-up reality series of a dystopia we knew and love/hated in the “Hunger Games” movies? Well, they were Suzanne Collins books before they were movies, and here’s the first of the prequel adaptations. The cast includes Viola Davis, which is a very good start.
8. “Napoleon” (Nov. 22): At his best, Ridley Scott is the reigning king of old school/new school Hollywood classicism, and this long-awaited portrayal of the keen military strategist and greedy acquirer of other people’s territory should provide Joaquin Phoenix a fine and juicy role. Or will it be his Waterloo? The movies haven’t had much luck with this Bonaparte fella. Time for a streak-breaker.
9. “Maestro” (Nov. 22): This Netflix biopic, streaming just soon enough after its theatrical release to prevent anything like actual crowds in actual theaters, stars Bradley Cooper and a controversial prosthetic nose in the role of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Carey Mulligan co-stars as Felicia Montealegre, who married Bernstein in 1951. Their lives together, and apart, were defined largely by Bernstein’s bisexuality.
10. “Wish” (Nov. 22): Ariana DeBose is the voice, speaking and singing, of Asha, the 17-year-old whose wish upon a star is so irresistible, it calls forth a doozy. She’ll need it to deal with the sinister King Magnifico (voice by Chris Pine) in Disney’s new animated feature. “A century in the making,” is how Disney’s selling its latest screen princess.
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