9. Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7)
Disney’s big animated film of the season is a Japanese animation-influenced tale of a boy and his comically inept friend the inflatable robot who form an adorable team of superheroes and save the world. The combo of humor and action looks reminiscent of The Incredibles.
8. St. Vincent (Oct. 24)
Bill Murray is being touted as an Oscar contender in another serio-comic film that hopes to remind audiences of his low-key brilliance in Lost in Translation and Rushmore. He plays the grumpy, sardonic next-door neighbor of a mom (Melissa McCarthy) and her boy who becomes an unlikely friend. Distributor Harvey Weinstein, though, is known for his sentimental taste.
7. The Hunger Games – Mockinjay – Part I (Nov. 21)
The third of four films set in a dystopian future where kids are made to fight each other to the death for the amusement of a television audience in a fascistic all-controlling state picks up the story at the point where it finally threatened to become interesting. Finally, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is gearing up to graduate from reality-TV star to revolutionary leader. Philip Seymour Hoffman had already done his work for this film when he died.
6. Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14)
Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, and stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, all badly need a hit. They deserve one: Carrey, for all of his excesses, is a gifted physical comic. The Farrellys (who also made There’s Something About Mary) started the current, unfortunate craze for bodily-function humor, so even 20 years later they’re still very much of the moment. Anyway, the trailer is damn funny.
5. Gone Girl (Oct. 3)
Director David Fincher hopes to recapture the intensity of Zodiac (but not, let’s hope, the silliness of Panic Room) in a mystery about the disappearance of a woman (Rosamund Pike) whose husband (Ben Affleck) falls under a cloud of suspicion. The shifting points of view between the two protagonists made the book a hot item that’s been on bestseller lists for years.
4. Foxcatcher (Nov. 14)
Without explanation, this serious drama was pulled back from its planned release last fall but then made a big splash at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Steve Carell was lauded for his prosthetically enhanced performance as John duPont, an heir to the DuPont feature who had a fixation on virile young wrestlers and ran a training camp for them. Director Bennett Miller has made only two dramatic features but both (Capote, Moneyball) scored lots of Oscar nominations.
3. Birdman (Oct. 17)
Playing off his most famous film role, Michael Keaton returns in a film heralded as one of the year’s top Oscar contenders. He plays a washed-up star of a superhero franchise returning to acting for a Broadway gig. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu established himself as a critical favorite with films like 21 Grams and Babel, but so far he’s never done anything that connected with audiences. This one could be the exception.
2. Fury (Oct. 17)
Brad PItt plays an iron-willed sergeant leading a tank company across Germany in the closing weeks of WWII. Director David Ayer showed he could deliver real grit with his film End of Watch, and the film’s trailer promises a sinewy, rough experience down where the rubber meets the road.
1. Interstellar (Nov. 7)
Though it has echoes of Contact, Matthew McConaughey’s problematic 1997 foray into sci-fi, this space opera is easily the fall’s number one must-see. Writer-director Christopher Nolan is the leading filmmaker of his generation, having made a long, unbroken streak of interesting and at times brilliant films going back to the late-1990s. Judging by the trailer, this film has the potential to be among the year’s biggest hits, with its combination of spectacle and emotion. And it seems well-timed to take advantage of the second act of McConaughey, who in the last three years transformed himself from a cheeseball into an all but universally beloved American figure.