“Birdman” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts
Synopsis: An actor best known for playing a superhero in movies tries to mount a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.
Last We Heard: With that cast, a terrific trailer, and with further slightly contradictory rumors about a) a 40-minute tracking shot and b) the whole film, shot by seamless-extended-take master Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”), is being edited to seem like a continuous shot, yes, we have to say anticipation for this one is at fever pitch. Inarritu is a director who has somewhat divided the Playlist staff in the past, but we are all aboard the “Birdman” train, and the festival circuit has never had such qualms anyway. And with an October 17th release date, really the chief question is which fest will snag it. Early money’s on Venice (it was rumored for Cannes so should be well and truly ready; “21 Grams” bowed there before “Babel” and “Biutiful” both went to Cannes, so it seems favored) though TIFF is also possible.
“Rosewater” (Jon Stewart)
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Dimitri Leonidas, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jason Jones
Synopsis: An Iranian journalist is arrested and tortured in prison for more than a hundred days.
Last We Heard: For a relatively low-budget drama, there’s no better way to get publicity than by having your filmmaker take months off his day job presenting “The Daily Show” to direct. As a result, “Rosewater,” the directorial debut of Jon Stewart, is already on the lips of many, and that’s before it starts to make the festival rounds that it’s certain to do. We hear that the film is already locked in for TIFF: given the new regulations the festival has set in about Telluride premieres, it’s probably unlikely to make a trip to the mountains too, but it’s not totally unfeasible either.
“Suite Francaise” (Saul Dibb)
Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie and Ruth Wilson
Synopsis: Based on a novel that took sixty years to be published after the author Irène Némirovsky’s death in Auschwitz, the story is an epic romance between a French woman and a German soldier, set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied France.
Last We Heard: Reportedly test screened already back in April, this Weinstein film, that positively drips with prestige appeal, should be ready for Venice, with the only real question mark being its relatively untested writer/director Saul Dibb, whose “The Duchess” was also a lavish period spectacle starring an established young actress in Keira Knightley, alongside Ralph Fiennes, no less, and went nowhere. He’ll be a fall fest first-timer therefore, but we’d wager the Weinsteins will want to get this one’s Oscar chances rolling, having teased it at their Cannes presentation already.
“Far from the Madding Crowd” (Thomas Vinterberg)
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenarts, Juno Temple
Synopsis: Based on the Thomas Hardy classic previously memorably filmed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie, the story is of a willful young woman who inherits a large farm and has three very different men vie for her affections.
Last We Heard: Another of the anticipated films we’d hoped to see at Cannes, Thomas Vinterberg’s follow-up to his tremendous “The Hunt” is surely now a lock for a fall festival bow. Venice would seem most likely to fit this project’s Euro-arthouse appeal; could it do for Carey Mulligan there what “The Hunt” did for Mikkelsen in Cannes? Strong support, particularly from “Rust and Bone” star Schoenarts who may just be the romantic lead of the season (he’s also in “Suite Francaise”) can only help. It isn’t due to hit theaters until early next May, but Fox Searchlight premiered “Belle” at TIFF before holding it to the same date, so that doesn’t necessarily mean much.
“The Imitation Game” (Morten Tyldum,)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Mark Strong and Charles Dance
Synopsis: The true story of Alan Turing, the mathematics genius who helped invent the computer and crack the Enigma code during World War II, only to be hounded for his homosexuality, later committing suicide.
Last We Heard: The tragic story of the brilliant Turing alone would have us agog for this film, but this huge British cast, the director of “Headhunters” stepping up to the big leagues, and a November 21st release date (prime Oscar season) suggests the Weinsteins are pretty high on it too--enough to justify the cool $7 miller price tag. With Cumberbatch so far a star without a lead movie role commensurate to his buzz (“The Fifth Estate” was horrible), this is a good proving ground for him too--we’re almost sure we’ll see this one turn up at TIFF.
“Wild” (Jean-Marc Vallee)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin and Michiel Huisman
Synopsis: Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, the film follows a woman who experiences the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage and decides to embark on a solo 1000-mile trek of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Last We Heard: Fox Searchlight slotted this in a very awards-friendly December 2nd release date, and Jean-Marc Vallee, of course, coached his last film’s stars, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto of “Dallas Buyers Club” to Oscar glory, so expect producers to follow that film’s template as closely as possible, with one eye to getting Witherspoon her second Oscar. And yes, “Dallas Buyers Club” bowed at TIFF 2013, so we expect “Wild” to show up there this year.
“Miss Julie” (Liv Ullman)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
Synopsis: A wealthy young woman begins an affair with a servant in her father’s employ in Ireland in the 1890s.
Last We Heard: Scandinavian actress and Bergman collaborator Liv Ullman steps behind the camera for the first time in fourteen years with this adaptation of August Strindberg’s legendary play, and she couldn’t have asked for a better, or festival-friendlier, cast for the occasion, thanks to Chastain, Farrell and Morton. The film’s set for an early September release in Ullman’s native Norway, which would seem to make a bow at Venice and/or TIFF all but a certainty.
“A Most Violent Year” (JC Chandor)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo and Catalina Sandino Moreno
Synopsis: Set in New York in 1981, the most violent year in the city's history, it’s the story of a Latino immigrant businessman trying to find success in the gasoline business who runs into underworld dealings and his wife Anna, whose connections may be of some help.
Last We Heard: Promised for an awards season run, Chandor’s follow-up to the terrific, bruising “All is Lost” is one to watch. And with Chastain and Isaac (widely felt to have been snubbed last year for an Oscar nomination for “Inside Llewyn Davis”) heading up this intriguing-sounding story, the question isn’t whether A24 will pursue an Oscar campaign, but what type. Any of the three fall fests would very gladly take this and its attendant stars and buzz, and Chandor has previously only bowed in Sundance and Cannes, so no fall precedent set yet.
“The Theory of Everything” (James Marsh)
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson, David Thewlis Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, Tom Prior, Charlotte Hope, Maxine Peake and Adam Godley
Synopsis: The story of how famous physicist Stephen Hawking found something to live for, in the shape of Jane Wilde, his future wife following his diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease and a prognosis of just a few years to live.
Last We Heard: Primed for a November 7th release and coming from British powerhouse stable Working Title, the new film from James Marsh (“Man on Wire,” “Shadow Dancer”) is a likelihood for a fall festival bow. Its biopic structure and potential crowdpleaser appeal hints at Toronto rather than Venice, but that’s a pretty unreliable rule of thumb, and changing all the time, so we won’t call it just yet.
“Child 44” (Daniel Espinosa)
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares and Vincent Cassel
Synopsis: Based on Tom Rob Smith’s bestseller (and the first in a trilogy) and set in 1950s Soviet Russia, it’s the story of an MGB agent who investigates a child murder and finds himself, and his frosty relationship with his wife, changing as a result.
Last We Heard: Rumored for an October release in some parts of Europe, rising star Espinosa’s film, based on a script by crime writer Richard Price, has the pedigree on all levels to be something pretty special, and a potential mainstream hit. We’ve heard little about it recently, and if it were immediately going wide in an early fall slot we’d have expected a few more promotional pieces perhaps, so it’s possible this is being treated as an awards contender, in which case a festival berth is a distinct possibility.