"The Monuments Men"
Synopsis: In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.
What You Need To Know: George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smoke House Productions has made two films in the last two years ("Argo" and "The Ides of March"), and both have been major awards-season players. However, “The Monuments Men,” also directed by Clooney, looks tonally very different from those relatively serious-minded political thrillers, with the rather fine trailer showcasing an unusually gentle, humorous tone for a film about World War II. While the story may be reminiscent of John Frankenheimer's truly excellent Burt Lancaster-starring “The Train," "The Monuments Men” was written by Heslov and Clooney and is based on Robert M. Edsel’s non-fiction novel of the same name, and again judging by the trailer, boasts in addition to an amazing cast in Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Daniel Craig, Hugh Bonneville ("Downton Abbey") and "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin, some wonderfully rich, textured photography and period design. Its lighter tone may see it miss out on the type of awards consideration that Clooney has enjoyed of late, optimistic release date notwithstanding, but we have to say, from a pure entertainment standpoint, we're more wholeheartedly looking forward to this one than we have been to many previous Clooney joints at a similar stage.
Release Date: December 18th
Synopsis: Based on the true story of John du Pont, a multimillionaire and paranoid schizophrenic who built a wrestling training facility, Team Foxcatcher, on his 800-acre Pennsylvania estate and who, in 1996, shockingly murdered his longtime friend and Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler David Schultz.
What You Need To Know: Based on a truly incredible and wildly dramatic true story, this psychological drama is a passion project that director Bennett Miller has been trying to get off the ground since “Capote,” and his success in 2011 with “Moneyball” finally pushed it over the line. If "Bennet Miller's Passion Project" weren't enought o pique your interest, the film stars Channing Tatum as a young wrestler, and Mark Ruffalo as his doomed brother, with, in a potentially brilliantly disconcerting piece of against-type casting, Steve Carell as the wealthiest American ever to be charged with and convicted of murder. With mark-of-quality shingle Annapurna Pictures producing the film, and Sony Pictures so impressed that they snapped it up and secured a prime awards-ready slot, not to mention Miller's record in taking true story material and spinning complex, intelligent, dense and beautiful films from it (ones that often bring actors to Oscar glory), this is as close as we can get to a sure thing quality-wise. "Foxcatcher" co-stars Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Michael Hall, and even without a trailer so far, just a few stills, the only potential pitfall with this one is that everything about it has set our expectations absolutely soaring.
Release Date: December 20th
"12 Years A Slave"
Synopsis: A free black man is captured and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America.
What You Need To Know: On the slim off-chance that you've heard none of the deafening buzz surrounding Steve McQueen's “Hunger” and “Shame” follow-up (which also stars Michael Fassbender), let's get to it: by all accounts (our own included), lead Chiwetel Ejiofor is anything from a good bet to a surefire winner for this year's Best Actor Oscar, with the film itself a likely player in the Best Picture race and any number of the other actors (Fassbender foremost among them) potentially primed for Supporting Actor nod. But it was never the potential for awards that had us looking forward to this one, rather it was McQueen's track record. He has rapidly emerged as simply one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, over the space of a mere three harrowing, excoriating but unquestionably brilliant films that tackle adult subjects with unflinching humanism, even as they utterly refuse to compromise in their depictions of emotional and physical brutality—qualities that make him peculiarly suited to tackling something as potentially explosive as a slavery drama. With the considerable might of Brad Pitt's Plan B shingle behind it, “Twelve Years A Slave” (in which Pitt also turns up in a small role) will no doubt be a major player in the Oscar run-up, but it's McQueen, and the startlingly awesome cast of Ejiofor, Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Sarah Paulson and “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” stars Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis that have us breathless with anticipation, and choking down our jealousy of the Telluride attendees lucky enough to already have seen it.
Release Date: October 18th
Synopsis: Based on the true story of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacking (the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years), the film follows the story of the captain who gives himself over to the Somali pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew.
What You Need To Know: With director Paul Greengrass having made a name for himself in two relatively distinct areas—the tense conspiracy action thriller (the second and third ‘Bourne’ films) and based-in-fact films about recent historical events ("United 93," "Bloody Sunday,") "Captain Phillips" seems like it could play to his strengths in both areas, as it's a gripping, tense, fight-for survival type tale that has added weight and heft for being lifted from a real-life incident. With hot screenwriter Billy Ray seemingly on the same wavelength (“State Of Play,” “Shattered Glass,” "The Hunger Games"), and the no-brainer casting of Tom Hanks in the lead, we can expect "Captain Phillips" to deliver on a visceral as well as an emotional level, something achieved brilliantly in last year's underseen, thematically similar "A Hijacking." The film also features Catherine Keener and “Not Fade Away” star John Magaro, but it's Hanks and the four unknown non-professional Somali actors who play the pirates who received the kudos from NYFF Selection Committee honcho Kent Jones, when he explained the decision to have the film open the 2013 New York Film Festival. We'll post our review from there, but in the meantime here's the trailer.
Release Date: October 11th