"Blue Is The Warmest Color"
Synopsis: The story of a few tumultuous years in Adele's life as she falls in love as a teenager with the slightly older Emma, and their relationship deepens before eventually beginning to fray.
What You Need To Know: At this stage there's a serious danger of the various controversies surrounding Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color" obscuring what should be the real narrative around the Cannes Palme d'Or winner: that it's simply one of the most gloriously humanist and immersive film experiences we've had all year. Already chattered about in Cannes for one particularly graphic and admittedly overlong lesbian sex scene, the film even won in an unprecedented way—with the two lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and the revelatory Adèle Exarchopoulos also receiving the Palme along with the director. And subsequently, both have intimated that the set was a less than happy place to be (though both acknowledge Kechiche's skill), and the writer of the graphic novel upon which it was based has also voiced her disapproval of the result. But none of that can ultimately detract from a film that those of us who have seen it consider an absolutely deserving winner and a beautiful, deeply rewarding few hours at the movies. We were already excited for the film prior to Cannes, having loved Kechiche's wonderful "Secret of the Grain," which won the Special Jury Prize in Venice, and 'Blue' surpassed even our high expectations in its delicate, thrilling and completely empathetic evocation of the first love.
Release Date: October 25th
Synopsis: An aging, cantankerous, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his son in order to claim a clearly bogus million-dollar Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes prize.
What You Need To Know: Alexander Payne's follow-up to the Oscar-winning "The Descendants" may not have been our reviewer's favorite film out of Cannes, by quite some distance, but there is still enough abiding goodwill towards the filmmaker round these parts to make some of the rest of us more than a little curious. It's a low-key relationship dramedy/road movie starring the ripe-for-a-late-career-renaissance Bruce Dern (who'd be the most obvious likely beneficiary from the film's award season release date), and 'SNL' alum Will Forte, that promises at least a modicum of the kind of off-kilter wry observations about masculinity and aging that have marked out Payne's best previous work. Shot in color, but being theatrically distributed in black and white, the film was also something of a slow-burn passion project for Payne, as he originally shelved it back in 2003 to take a break from the road movie genre after "Sideways." The director himself referred to "Nebraska" as "just an old-fashioned comedy" and while our expectations have perhaps been damped by the muted response to date, we're looking forward to checking it out for ourselves come November.
Release Date: November 22nd
Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting and alone in space.
What You Need To Know: If some of the other titles on this list have us near to hyperventilating with enthusiasm, Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" may very well be the one that has us reaching for a paper bag to breathe into. With the kind of response from the lucky Venice crowd that caught its premiere that can only serve to whet our appetites further (our [A] grade review is here) the film looks to deliver on the promise of its trailer and the pedigree of its director and stars, and then some. As card-carrying members of the Cuarón fan club ( "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was a blistering revitalization of his career; 'Prisoner of Azkaban' was the best Harry Potter film by a country mile; and "Children of Men" is one of the finest films of its decade), we've been following the tortuous progress of "Gravity" for what feels like forever, as Cuarón had a bitch of a time financing this 3D-shot, effects-driven film, and suffered several casting knock backs as A-listers signed on and then off the project (Robert Downey Jr., Angelina Jolie, among others). But by all accounts the film is also something of a personal triumph for the actress who did take up the reins, Sandra Bullock, as her casting was initially greeted with jeers in some quarters, but her performance is now being tipped to feature in the Best Actress Oscar race. And we hope the film does get some traction there, not just for Bullock's sake, but because “Gravity” is essentially an art film made on a studio budget (reportedly around $100 million), and it will need to succeed both commercially and critically (and Oscar noms do tend to bump bottom lines by a few mill) for WB, and other studios to even consider taking this kind of risk again.
Release Date: October 4th
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Synopsis: A talented singer songwriter in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s finds he's his own worst enemy when it comes to pursuing success in the music world.
What You Need To Know: There were many festival films this year that have impressed, even wowed us, but if there was one single film that boasted the unique attribute of making us long for the moment we'd be able to watch it again, it was the warm, human, funny, uniquely Coens-y "Inside Llewyn Davis" (here's our [A] Cannes review). Following a few misadventurous days in Davis' life, as he loses a friend's cat, sleeps on various sofas, goes on a brief road trip and plays a few gigs, there is no real way of explaining in words the alchemy that takes place that transforms that bare-bones logline into such an engaging film, though Oscar Isaac's wonderfully soulful, star-making turn has to take a good portion of the credit, with the supporting cast of Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver and Coens regular John Goodman also contributing to the rich tapestry of the film. And the music, even for those who, like us, are far from aficionados of this period or style, is wonderful, with an infectious affection for even its silliest excesses. Really it's the Coens on spectacular form, boasting many of their trademarks while also bringing us something completely fresh and new. It's a film that even as it unfolds in unexpected ways, makes you feel like it's always been there and we can't wait to sink back under its spell again in December.
Release Date: December 6th
One film that isn't particularly high on the radar yet but that will be no doubt be a major player for the family-movie-at-Christmas-dollar is Disney's "Frozen," which our resident animation enthusiast tells us looks terrific, judging from a few sneak peeks. Elsewhere there will be a few other big-budget studio films that we're relatively hopeful for: "The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug" has us curious to see how they've managed the awkward splitting-of-one-movie-into-two thing and the first film has us moderately looking forward to more of the same, while we find ourselves kind of embracing the goofy cartooniness of "Thor: the Dark World" if only because it's unlikely to feature too many impressionistic shots of washing whipping in the wind. That film's Godlike star, Chris Hemsworth, will also be showing up in the Ron Howard's positively buzzed "Rush," which we're anticipating for Daniel Bruhl's performance as Niki Lauda especially, even if U.S. audiences at large aren't famous for their interest in Formula One racing.
Then there are a bunch of films that are probably Oscar players but of the type we find it hard to get too excited about in advance. Biopic-wise, Nicole Kidman will be getting a push from the Weinsteins for her turn as Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco" but the substantial advance look we got at Cannes failed to raise our pulses much; Naomi Watts takes on another beauteous Princess in "Diana," which has left us cold to date too; Idris Elba will play Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which has potential in terms of actors (Naomie Harris is apparently exceptional as Winnie) but feels a little standard-biopic so far; while Tom Hanks will play Walt Disney to Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers (the author of "Mary Poppins") in "Saving Mr Banks" in a film that looks prestige-y and glossy but possibly kind of rote. "The Book Thief" could also figure in the awards race (for more analysis on the potential dark horses in the Oscar race, go here), and did catch our notice with its trailer, while we're split down the middle between anticipating the "Carrie" remake and regarding it as heretical. But whatever the rest of the field, with this summer already notorious for being a season of big-budget disappointments, the next few months have some tantalizing smaller-scale prospects in store, which, if they make good on their promise, could see 2013 cruise into the annals as a banner year for more thought-provoking filmmaking. - Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor