2014: Fall Film Festival wishlist

So while the rest of the world, (pretty much literally, it seems) goes to see “Transformers: Abandon Hope” our choice is either to kvetch and moan and rend our clothes about the Death of Culture and People These Days, or to retreat into our nice comfy wheelhouse/padded cell, humming gently to ourselves, catching the odd fly and pretending the moviegoing public has not just awarded $300 million in 3 days to the worst tentpole of the year. And right now, the cowardly but sanity-protecting latter path is the one we’re going to pursue (though we reserve the right to kvetch etc. elsewhere). With June at its end and the days getting shorter, we’re looking down the road, beyond the unstoppable, all-devouring toy franchise behemoth that’s probably about to blot out the sun, toward the fall festival season, and the films that we expect, hope or surmise we might see at the big trio of Venice, Telluride and Toronto, or the lower-profile NYFF or AFI Fest in the unlikely event of us surviving the Summer.

The 50-odd titles below range from pretty much dead certs to much dicier prospects, and internally of course the intrepid reporters assigned to these various beats are pulling for their own festival to make the biggest showing (come on Venice!) but taken as a whole, this list serves as a pretty good rundown of some of the films we’re most anxiously awaiting for the rest of the year. At this early stage, we do naturally skew toward the English-language films we’ve heard the most about, though quite a few foreign titles/directors have made their way onto our radars too. Not so promising is the ratio of female to male directors--women, as ever, represent a depressingly small proportion of the overall number of directors and a fair few of those who are on the list are on the dicier end of the spectrum for whether they’re going to show up in the fall at all. Though with the narrative about female director representation ongoing, we’d hope programmers will be anxious to be seen to be championing women in film any chance they get, which may result in a few titles getting the extra boost of encouragement to finish up in time.

As ever, glamorous Venice is the first curtain to rise, starting August 27th and running to September 6th, while little gem Telluride runs the weekend of August 29th-Sept 1st, the vast Toronto starts September 4th and continues till the 14th and the sprawling New York Film Festival brings up the rear in terms of timing and profile, running from September 27th to October 13th, followed by AFI Fest in early November. Fingers crossed for the below.....

Joaquin Phoenix, Paul Thomas Anderson Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice” (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro
Synopsis: An adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s sprawling, stoner-noir classic about a pot-addled private detective investigating the case of his kidnapped ex-girlfriend.
Last We Heard: If you’re not aware of how much we’re looking forward to this film you’re new around here, so welcome! PTA’s riff on Pynchon, our No. 1 Most Anticipated Film of 2014, is hotly tipped for a festival bow, most likely Venice, which was where “The Master” played, and seems to be the kind of timing that the considered post-production phase was aiming for. A December 12th date for limited release is slated, with a January 2015 expansion planned, so expect it also to figure in the Oscar race.

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch
"A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence"

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (Roy Andersson)
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom
Synopsis: Two men, one of whom has a minor mental disability, confront the absurdity of existence.
Last We Heard: Maybe the single most shocking omission of the Cannes line-up came in the absence of the latest from Swedish helmer Roy Andersson: “A Pigeon Sat...” closes the trilogy begun with 2000’s “Songs From The Second Floor” and 2007’s “You, The Living,” and had long been tipped for the festival. But it was nowhere to be found, despite those previous two pictures having bowed on the Croisette. Word is that the film simply wasn’t ready, but should be comfortably good to go in time for Venice, with TIFF at least likely to follow from there. Unless Andersson decides to hold for Cannes next year, we should be seeing this on the Lido.

The Weinstein Company "Carol"

Carol” (Todd Haynes)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson
Synopsis: An adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel in which a department store clerk with aspirations of social advancement falls for an older married woman.
Last We Heard: Filming only wrapped at the end of April, so timing is tight for a fall bow, but we’re mad eager to see Haynes reunite with “Blue Jasmine”-hot Blanchett after “I’m Not There,” especially in a film that promises such juicy leading female performances, from such a stellar director of same. It will mark his first theatrical film since the Bob Dylan-inspired “I’m Not There” (the excellent “Mildred Pierce” was a HBO miniseries) and as such, should the film be ready, we can’t imagine there’s a festival in the world that wouldn’t kill for this one.


“Unbroken” (Angelina Jolie)
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Glesson, Garret Hedlund, Jai Courtney
Synopsis: The true story of Louis Zamperini, who went from Olympic star athlete to WWII soldier to castaway to prisoner of war.
Last We Heard: Given the success of solo survival stories like “Life Of Pi” and “Gravity,” Universal would have had high Oscar hopes for this one anyway, even without a prestigious behind-the-camera team (Angelina Jolie directing, Roger Deakins shooting, the Coens co-writing). They’ve been pushing it for a while, debuting footage during the Winter Olympics, but it’s possible it could skip the festival circuit entirely (it’s not set for release until Christmas). But with a relatively little-known cast, it would certainly benefit from getting some early buzz, though our guess is Telluride, or an opening/closing slot at NYFF or AFI, could be more likely than Venice or Toronto.

Tim Burton Samsung

Big Eyes” (Tim Burton)
Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Terence Stamp, Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston
Synopsis: Biopic of painter Margaret Keane and her huckster husband Walter who exploited her work, passing it off as his own.
Last We Heard: Slated for a Christmas Day release, Tim Burton’s next film is a welcome turn away form his recent Johnny Depp-in-wacky-makeup vehicles, and stars overdue-for-an-Oscar Adams alongside already-got-two-of-’em Waltz, with a prime Oscar-friendly release date to boot. So this smaller, more intimate, but still quirky story has the potential to be the first Burton film to get a festival berth since “Corpse Bride” (which went to Venice, FYI).

Trash, Rooney Mara

Trash” (Stephen Daldry)
Cast: Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura
Synopsis: Based on the Andy Mulligan novel of the same name, the story follows three poverty-stricken Brazilian street kids who find a mysterious leather bag containing a map and a key while scavenging, which leads them on a mystery/adventure that brings them into conflict with the authorities.
Last We Heard: Slated for a Halloween release in the UK, this Richard Curtis-scripted films feels more like classic Oscar bait, perhaps, than true festival fare, but its timing suggests a Toronto bow might be possible. Daldry is one of those odd directors who’s been incredibly successful with the Academy while sort of bypassing the kind of auteurist cred many other directors here have earned, and this film, which seems exactly a meeting of “Slumdog Millionaire” and his last film “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” doesn’t really look like it’s going to change that. ‘Slumdog,’ of course, premiered in Toronto, so producers might want to push this one that way too.

The Cut, Fatih Akin

“The Cut” (Fatih Akin)
Cast: Tahar Rahim, George Georgiou, Akin Gazi
Synopsis: Unknown, but Akin has suggested that Rahim’s character is influenced equally by Charlie Chaplin and Sergio Leone, and is mostly silent.
Last We Heard: The latest from German filmmaker Akin, completing the trilogy begun with “Head-On” and “The Edge Of Heaven,” and his first film since 2009’s “Soul Kitchen,” was a source of some controversy ahead of Cannes last year, with the director publicly pulling the film from consideration from the festival, reportedly because he felt slighted by only being offered an Un Certain Regard slot. Whether or not that was true (Thierry Fremaux said that it was because the film wasn’t done in time), it didn’t appear, and reports suggest that it’s essentially locked in for Venice at this point. Expect it to head to Toronto or New York from there.

Gone Girl Ben Affleck

Gone Girl” (David Fincher)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle
Synopsis: Nick and Amy Dunne are a surface-perfect couple until Amy goes missing and Nick is suspected of killing her, though our ideas of quite who is the victim of whom are constantly switched up in this adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s huge bestseller.
Last We Heard: Planned for an October 3rd release, the adaptation of a blockbuster thriller novel might not seem like a festival fit, were it not for its director. With Fincher at the helm, an ending that deviates from the book (which, having read it, we’re quite pleased about) and composer Trent Reznor recently describing the finished movie as darker than even he’d expected, a fest berth seems a strong possibility, though probably for the less artily minded end of Toronto, or an opening/closing/centerpiece date at NYFF a la “The Social Network.”

Noah Baumbach

“While We’re Young” (Noah Baumbach)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naom Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver
Synopsis: An uptight middle-aged couple have their life upturned by a bohemian younger pair.
Last We Heard: Two years on from “Frances Ha,” Noah Baumbach has two movies in the can: another low-budget collaboration with Greta Gerwig, along the lines of ‘Frances,’ and a higher-profile project produced by Scott Rudin, that sees him reunite with “Greenberg” star Ben Stiller. Given the grade of the cast, we’re probably more likely to see the latter popping up at festivals (although the former shot first) if we only get one, and Telluride (where Baumbach’s last film screened) is the most likely, though TIFF and NYFF are very plausible as well. And if we’re really lucky, we’ll get both together...

Jason Reitman

“Men, Women & Children” (Jason Reitman)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thompson, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort
Synopsis: A look at the sexual mores and frustrations of a group of suburban parents and teens in the Internet era.
Last We Heard: Jason Reitman’s last film “Labor Day” went down like a lead peach cobbler, but the “Juno" helmer isn’t hanging around licking his wounds, going straight into production on a new film that seems much more up his street, an adaptation of Chad Kultgen’s novel that seems to mix comedy and drama in the way that he’s been so effective at in the past. It sounds like more of an ensemble piece than he’s tackled before. Adam Sandler, in one of a double-header of more challenging fare, will bring the star power too. Reitman has skipped the festival circuit before (“Young Adult” didn’t go that route), but he’s a TIFF hometown hero, and “Juno,” “Up In The Air” and “Labor Day” all appeared at Telluride, so an appearance at one or both with this film seems very likely.