By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
After a disappointing summer season, blockbusters and prestige films will battle through the Christmas holidays for box office dominance.
Though franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will offer some buzzy new installments (and other burgeoning cinematic universes will try to break out, too), movie theaters will get a little more serious in the next few months as Oscar season gets underway.
Now remember: Release dates can change, and limited releases (and even some national ones) won't always reach Amarillo when the commercials say they might. And this isn't an exhaustive list: These are just the ones to put on your radar in the months to come — the ones, that is, with distribution deals and release dates already penciled in. We're also entering the height of film-festival season, so cinephiles will note that some potential 2016 releases aren't included here. Here's a handy roundup of what's on tap for the Toronto Film Festival that will hint at what else may be to come.
So, with all of those caveats in mind, let's look at the fall, shall we?
Sully (Friday): It's a given that some Oscar buzz will build around this film, considering the track record of both star Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood. It doesn't hurt that critics are saying this film — about the heroic pilot who safely landed a jetliner in the Hudson River — is Eastwood's best since Million Dollar Baby (and with a happy ending, to boot).
Blair Witch (Sept. 16): Just as The Blair Witch Project came out of nowhere in 1999, so too did this movie in July when Lionsgate screened it for fans at San Diego Comic Con (all horror fans knew then was that director Adam Wingard was screening a portion of a film code-named The Woods). It picks up where the first film (everyone's ignoring the misbegotten 2000 sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) left off, with the brother of one of the college-age kids who went missing heading into the woods to look for clues. Sounds like the film falls somewhere between "sequel" and "reboot," but seeing as how I still get twitchy when I think of how much the first one scared me, it could be a winner. (And that trailer is genuinely creepy.)
Bridget Jones's Baby (Sept. 16): Renee Zellweger returns to (possibly) her greatest role in a years-later third chapter about a hapless British woman and her romantic travails. This time out, she doesn't know whether Colin Firth or Patrick Dempsey is the father of her soon-to-be-born child. Some girls have all the luck.
Snowden (Sept. 16): Director Oliver Stone offers his take on whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose leaks to the media revealed the domestic spying capabilities of the National Security Agency. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Snowden himself.
The Magnificent Seven (Sept. 23): A scruffy band of cowboys are enlisted to protect a town in director Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day, The Equalizer) take on a story previously told in Akira Kurosawa's 1956 classic Seven Samurai and its 1960 American remake starring Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. This time out, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and others face off against a baddie played by Peter Sarsgaard.
Deepwater Horizon (Sept. 30): Mark Wahlberg stars in director Peter Berg's examination of the 2010 explosion of an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, one of the biggest environmental disasters ever, focusing on the 11 lives lost in the explosion.
Masterminds (Sept. 30): Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson try to pull off a $17 million heist in this comedy based on a true story.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Sept. 30): Based on the popular novels by Ransom Riggs, director Tim Burton's film adaptation stars Eva Green as the titular headmistress of a school full of children with exotic powers and mutations. Asa Butterfield and Samuel L. Jackson co-star.
The Birth of a Nation (Oct. 7): The toast of the Sundance Film Festival, this film about the 1831 slave uprising of Nat Turner couldn't be more timely, both as American society roils again with racial tension and as Hollywood tries to solve its problem with inclusivity. But in the weeks leading up to the film's release, the film has become overshadowed by the resurfacing of a past rape allegation against star and first-time director Nate Parker and the film's co-writer, Jean Celestin. Parker was acquitted in 2001, Celestin was convicted but had that overturned in 2005, and the woman killed herself in 2012. It's an extraordinarily fraught situation that even has the film's stars — such as Gabrielle Union, herself a rape victim — wrestling with its implications. "Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know," Union wrote for the Los Angeles Times. "Nor does anyone who was not in that room. But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize."
The Girl on the Train (Oct. 7): Emily Blunt stars in this adaptation of the hit Paula Hawkins novel about a drunken, miserable woman who becomes obsessed with a couple (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) she sees from her commuter train every morning. When the wife goes missing, Blunt's Rachel Watson tries to figure out what she might have forgotten about the disappearance in the haze of her alcoholic life.
The Accountant (Oct. 14): An autistic forensic accountant (Ben Affleck) works for criminal organizations to hide their malfeasance, then gets hired by a legit company to uncover an embezzler in this thriller from director Gavin O'Connor (Warrior).
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Oct. 21): Tom Cruise returns to action in a follow-up to the 2012 hit based on the novels by Lee Child. Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, The Avengers) co-stars as an ally.
Inferno (Oct. 28): In the third film based on the mystery novels by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) struggles with memory loss as he tries to stop a madman (Ben Foster) from using Dante's description of Hell as a way to destroy the world.
Doctor Strange (Nov. 4): Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as Marvel's master of the mystical arts in what looks to be the trippiest MCU film yet. Tilda Swinton (controversially) co-stars as Stephen Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, who schools him in the ways of sorcery after a car accident leaves him unable to continue his career as a top surgeon. Horror-film vet Scott Derrickson (Sinister) directs.
Hacksaw Ridge (Nov. 4): Mel Gibson tries to revive his career as a director in this period drama about World War II-era conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who saved 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa as a medic and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Trolls (Nov. 4): The wildly-coiffed dolls get their own animated movie with voices from the likes of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden and more.
Arrival (Nov. 11):Buzz is high for this sci-fi drama about a linguist (Amy Adams) who is brought in to translate for some newly arrived aliens. Director Denis Villenueve is on a hot streak after Sicario and Prisoners.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11): An Iraq War hero (newcomer Joe Alwyn) has a breakdown as he is being honored at the 2004 Super Bowl in this film from director Ang Lee. Told almost entirely from Flynn's point of view (including flashbacks to the war and imaginative visions of his future), Lee shot the film in 120 frames per second, giving it what is reputed to be near (or better than near)-crystal clarity; for context, movies are regularly shot at 24 frames per second. Not every theater is outfitted with cameras capable of projecting 120fps; Amarillo Star 14's best top out at 48fps (the speed at which The Hobbit was projected in what is largely viewed as a misfire), and a representative of Cinemark said Billy Lynn distributor Sony had only just begun talks about how the film would be distributed and in what format. I'll keep watching this to see how the film will be shown in Amarillo, and I'm anxious to read reviews after its Oct. 14 debut in the format at the New York Film Festival.
Shut In (Nov. 11): A young boy (Jacob Tremblay, in his follow-up to his astounding performance in last year's Room) haunts — literally? or not? — a child psychologist (Naomi Watts), who's already dealing with a catatonic step-son (Charlie Heaton) in this psychological thriller.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18): J.K. Rowling revisits the world of Harry Potter on a huge scale with this trilogy-opening examination of the wizarding world's past, following sorcerer Newt Scamander's (Eddie Redmayne) trip to 1920s New York.
The Edge of Seventeen (Nov. 18): A high school misfit (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2 and True Grit) finds her life falling apart even further when her best friend and her brother start hooking up.
Allied (Nov. 23): Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as undercover agents in this World War II-era thriller — he's an assassin who falls in love with her character, a spy. Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) directs.
Bad Santa 2 (Nov. 23): Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is up to no good again in this sequel to the pitch-black 2003 comedy (a Christmas staple in my apartment). He reteams with devious partner Marcus (Tony Cox), re-encounters a grown-up Thurman (Brett Kelly) and even deals with his mother (Kathy Bates).
Moana (Nov. 23): Head to the islands with this new Disney feature about a young Pacific Islander woman (voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho) and a Polynesian demi-god (Dwayne Johnson). Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda provides some of the original music.
Rules Don't Apply (Nov. 23): In his first film in 15 years, actor/director Warren Beatty stars as legendary Hollywood billionaire/recluse Howard Hughes in a romantic comedy about the relationship of two of Hughes' employees (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich).
Miss Sloane (Dec. 9): A lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) tries to push a background-check bill through the U.S. Senate in this new drama from director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Madden told Entertainment Weekly that the film is less about a Second Amendment debate and more about the American political system in general. (A trailer has yet to be released.)
Office Christmas Party: The annual holiday festivities go off the rails in this new comedy, thanks to an impending closing of the branch run by the brother (T.J. Miller) of the company CEO (Jennifer Aniston).
Collateral Beauty (Dec. 16): This holiday fantasy stars Will Smith as a man trying to put his life back together after a personal tragedy. In doing so, he writes letters to universal forces Love, Time and Death — who appear to answer him in person. It's a high concept, but co-stars Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Pena certainly are promising.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16): In this prequel (sorry, that has a bad connotation among Star Wars fans), we learn the story of the Rebel band who secured the plans that helped Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star. Felicity Jones stars as loner Jyn Erso in a film directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla).
Assassin's Creed (Dec. 21): Michael Fassbender stars in this adaptation of the popular video game as both a 15th-century Spanish warrior and his modern-day descendent, a death-row inmate, who are mysteriously connected. The film is getting unusually good buzz for a game adaptation, in part because of Fassbender's and co-star Marion Cotillard's involvement and in part because of director Justin Kurzel's previous work (including the grim Macbeth adaptation he did last year with Fassbender).
Passengers (Dec. 21): Red-hot stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Platt team up for this sci-fi drama, starring as two passengers on an interstellar spaceship who wake from suspended animation 90 years too soon and begin to fall in love. (A trailer has yet to be released.)
Sing (Dec. 21): A koala bear/theater owner pulls in a diverse group of competitors for a singing contest designed to help him save his enue. Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Seth MacFarlane are among the other voice actors.
Fences (Dec. 25): Denzel Washington directs and stars in this adaptation of playwright August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Viola Davis co-stars — as she did in a 2010 Broadway revival that netted both stars Tony Awards. This should definitely be in the Oscar conversation.
Gold (Dec. 25): Matthew McConaughey (who plumped up by adding 40 pounds) stars as a prospector who tried to find the titular precious metal in the Indonesian jungles.
Why Him? (Dec. 25): A dad (Bryan Cranston) disapproves — strongly — of his daughter's (Zoey Deutch) new fiance (James Franco), a tech billionaire gadabout.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (Sept. 16): Director Ron Howard and his team came up with what sounds to be a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage from the Fab Four's years on the road for this documentary, which also boasts remastered audio that lets the audience hear what the seminal band actually sounded like in concert. It'll get a brief (Oscar-qualifying, no doubt) run in theaters and debut on Hulu on Sept. 17.
Captain Fantastic (Sept. 16): A father (Viggo Mortensen) who has raised his six children off the grid for the past decade must bring them back to society to attend their mother's funeral, despite her father's (Frank Langella) wishes. The film will screen in Amarillo on Premiere Cinema Westgate Mall 6's indie screen.
The Dressmaker (Sept. 23): A glamorous clotheshorse (Kate Winslet) returns to her rural Australian home in the 1950s to care for her mother — and to seek revenge on the town that cast her aside years before. It got rave reviews Down Under.
Goat (Sept. 23): A young college student (Ben Schnetzer) gets more than he bargains for when he decides to pledge his big brother's (Nick Jonas) college fraternity in this raw new drama.
Queen of Katwe (Sept. 23): This biopic, directed by Mira Nair (The Namesake), tells the story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her imposing, powerful mother (played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o). David Oyelowo (Selma) co-stars as Phiona's chess coach and mentor.
American Honey (Sept. 30): Director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) won raves at Cannes (including the jury prize) for this road trip comedy/drama starring Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keogh and others as magazine salespeople traveling west from Muskogee, Okla.
Denial (Sept. 30): This based-on-reality drama finds a historian (Rachel Weisz) facing off in court against a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall) and having to prove the genocide happened to win a libel case.
Tower (Oct. 12): The 1966 clocktower shootings at University of Texas — America's first mass school shooting — is explored in this innovative documentary that combines archival footage with rotoscope animation. Documentaries don't often screen in Amarillo, but in case this doesn't, you'll still be able to see it in the next several months. It will air on Panhandle PBS during Independent Lens' 2016-17 season; an exact date has yet to be announced, but I'll let you know when I find it out.
Mascots (Oct. 13): Christopher Guest and his merry band of improvisers return to action for this new film that will debut on Netflix. This time, the cast — mainstays like Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch and others, who are joined by newcomers Zach Wood, Sarah Baker and more — dives into the world of sports mascots, and the results look to be sublimely silly.
American Pastoral (Oct. 21): Philip Roth's 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is adapted by director and star Ewan McGregor, who plays Swede Levov, whose ideal 1960s family life crumbles with the news that his daughter (Dakota Fanning) has become a violent revolutionary.
Moonlight (Oct. 28): A young black man (portrayed by three actors as he grows from childhood to a teenager to a young adult) discovers his sexuality in this intimate drama based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Naomi Harris (Skyfall) co-stars as the boy's mother.
Bleed for This (Nov. 4): A champion boxer (Miles Teller) breaks his neck in a car accident, then battles his way back into the ring.
Loving (Nov. 4): Joel Edgerton (Black Mass) and Ruth Negga (Preacher) star as iconic copule Richard and Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage in 1958 led all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who issued a landmark 1967 decision finding miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud) directs.
Elle (Nov. 11): A businesswoman (Isabelle Huppert) is violently attacked and raped, then seeks out her attacker for revenge in the latest by provocative filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct).
Manchester by the Sea (Nov. 18): Casey Affleck stars as a man who returns home to care for his nephew, though he's also forced to confront his ex-wife (Michelle Willams) and other elements of his haunting past. The director is Kenneth Lonergan, whose previous films You Can Count on Me and Margaret have been stunning character studies.
Nocturnal Animals (Nov. 18): Fashion designer Tom Ford returns to the director's chair following his acclaimed A Single Man, this time tackling what sounds like a tricky, metatextual novel, Tony and Susan. An ennui-filled woman (Amy Adams) is mailed a manuscript from her ex-husband that may reveal more than she expects about his life. Co-stars include Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Michael Shannon. (A trailer has yet to be released.)
Lion (Nov. 25): An Indian man (Dev Patel) adopted and raised by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) tracks down his biological family via unusual means — Google Earth maps.
La La Land (Dec. 2): Damien Chazelle caused a splash with his feature debut Whiplash in 2014, but his follow-up could turn even more heads. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as a pair of lovebirds in this original musical that is already getting very positive hype.
A Kind of Murder (Dec. 16): In another film inspired by a Patricia Highsmith novel (The Blunderer, following in the footsteps of The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Price of Salt [Carol]), Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel star as a couple who find themselves entangled with a man (Eddie Marsan) who may have murdered his wife.
20th Century Women (Dec. 21): Annette Bening (who also appears in husband Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply) stars as a mother who seeks the advice of a pair of different women (Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) in raising her 15-year-old son (Lucas Jade Zumann) in a film by Beginners director Mike Mills.
A Monster Calls (Dec. 23): A 12-year-old boy (Lewis MacDougall) imagines a looming, 36-foot-tall tree creature as a way to cope with his mother's (Felicity Jones) serious illness in this film based on Patrick Ness' 2011 graphic novel.
Note: Generally, many of these Fathom Events specials screen additionally (or often exclusively) at Cinemark Hollywood 16 (and Fathom's website still indicates that many are supposed to). However, with ongoing remodeling at the theater shutting down most of its screens, extras are on hold for now. Manager James Owens said the full compliment of theaters should reopen by December.
Labyrinth: The fantasy classic will screen for its 30th anniversary at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday at Amarillo Star 14.
Snowden Live (Sept. 14): Fathom Events will offer a sneak peek of director Oliver Stone's Snowden, the based-on-a-true-story political thriller about Edward Snowden and his decision to leak classified information to the media about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. Then, Stone will interview Snowden in a live Q&A session streamed from Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile.
Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Sept. 18 and 21): Turner Classic Movies and Fathom team to bring back this pitch-black Cold War comedy for a pair of screening days.
Young Frankenstein (Oct. 5): The sad news of Gene Wilder's death has one silver lining: A big-screen revival of one of his best, a loving parody of old monster movies that he co-wrote with director Mel Brooks. Check it out before heading to Amarillo Little Theatre's staging of the musical in December.
Tristan und Isolde (Oct. 8): The Met Live in HD opens its 2016-17 season with this new staging of the Richard Wagner opera. If you miss it on the big screen, remember that these productions also air on Panhandle PBS.
Stephanie Miller's Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour (Nov. 7): On Election Eve, Fathom Events will offer this stand-up comedy special ... that I somehow imagine won't draw a huge audience in Amarillo, but that's just a guess.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Nov. 27 and 30): Revisit this glam fave with TCM and Fathom. Just don't bring in your cigarette holder and alcohol.