For moviegoers disappointed in this summer’s offerings, the fall boasts more than a few reasons to return to the theater. Featuring the riveting recreation of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, an erotic tale of deception in 1930s Korea, Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair and Disney’s first Polynesian hero, the slate between now and Thanksgiving is replete with comebacks, fresh takes and CG thrills. Oh—and who could forget the aliens?
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American Honey, Sept. 30
The image that comes to mind when most people hear the word “millennial” is a far cry from the portrait British filmmaker Andrea Arnold has captured in her first movie set in America, which stars newcomer Sasha Lane opposite Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. Less interested in plot than in an immersive emotional experience, American Honey tells the story of a band of youths traveling the country by van to sell magazine subscriptions because, for most of them, living in a never-ending string of dingy motel rooms is better than whatever hell they’ve left behind.
Deepwater Horizon, Sept. 30
Disaster movies too often end up, well, disasters, thanks to too much emphasis on explosions, too little on character development and a lack of restraint when it comes to cheesy one-liners. But Peter Berg’s humanizing take on the 2010 explosion of an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, which killed 11, manages to prioritize the emotional above the CGI destruction, without skimping on the terrifying blows of said destruction. Mark Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez and Kurt Russell are our everyday heroes while John Malkovich is deliciously (if a little cartoonishly) evil as the BP corporate big wig who prioritizes profits over safety.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Sept. 30
Miss Peregrine’s boasts a trifecta of riches which make the movie one of the most promising of the season: a bestselling children’s book as its source material, one of the most capable young actors (Asa Butterfield) in its leading role and the only director who makes sense to helm a story inspired by creepy vintage photographs: Tim Burton. Butterfield plays a seemingly normal boy among a coven of peculiars—there’s the Shirley Temple clone with the strength of a linebacker, the kid with a movie projector for an eye—but he’s primed to learn that maybe he’s more special than he thought.
The Girl on the Train, Oct. 7
Emily Blunt gives the most arresting performance of her career as the unreliable protagonist of this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling thriller. Blunt’s Rachel Watson is a miserable, alcoholic divorcée whose obsession with the perfect-looking couple whose home she passes daily on the train gets her dangerously embroiled in a mystery. It’s a brutally candid portrayal of addiction and a stark reminder to stop imagining that your life is infinitely worse than the lives of all your Facebook friends.
The Birth of a Nation, Oct. 7
Nate Parker’s Sundance hit about the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion became the year’s most controversial film after rape allegations against him in 1999—on which he was later acquitted—resurfaced in the news. Now the discussion is less about the film than the person who made it. TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek, who reviewed the movie out of the Toronto International Film Festival, offers her take on the issue: “This sort of punishment by refusal can’t rewrite the past, and it suggests that closing ourselves off from a movie is a bold way to engage with the world, when in fact, it’s the opposite.”
Christine, Oct. 14
TV reporter Christine Chubbuck’s on-air suicide in 1974 remains one of the most shocking events since the advent of live television. In Christine, director Antonio Campos imagines the roiling subterranean activity that might drive a person to such a public act of personal violence. Rebecca Hall stars as the lonely, exacting Chubbuck in a performance distant enough to make us understand her isolation but ultimately humane enough to elevate her from a sensationalist headline to an everyday person whose burdens became just too much to bear.
The Handmaiden, Oct. 21
Let us count the ways in which South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook’s loose adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith absolutely captivates: it’s a visual feast rife with lush color and lavish production design and a richly layered tale told from multiple perspectives—once you’ve figured out just who is conning whom, the tables are swiftly turned. And it’s thrillingly erotic, even if the sex scenes between its two female protagonists sometimes veer toward the voyeuristic. It is the rare movie which, at nearly three hours in length and with subtitles in multiple languages, begs to be immediately rewatched,
Moonlight, Oct. 21
A character study in chapters, Moonlight captures the inner life of a boy named Chiron at various stages throughout his years growing up in War on Drugs-era Miami. In his second feature, filmmaker Barry Jenkins reveals the particular struggles of a child whose classmates consider him too effeminate, a teen who’s frightened to confront his sexuality and a young man who hides his true self beneath a veneer of gym-sculpted biceps and a mouthful of gold grills. The movie’s interrogation of young black masculinity feels as timely as it does specific to Chiron, and its hauntingly poetic execution has already made a splash at festivals.
Hacksaw Ridge, Nov. 4
Not since Saving Private Ryan has a movie depicted the battlefields of World War II in as much graphic horror as Mel Gibson’s forthcoming release and return to the director’s chair after a decade-long hiatus. The film tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-day Adventist and war medic who rescued dozens of his comrades in Okinawa, becoming the first conscientious objector to win a medal of honor. His actions are as heroic as the violence around him is harrowing to watch, and Garfield’s scrawny resolve—Vince Vaughn’s barking sargeant compares his physique to that of a corn stalk—makes his show of valor all the more thrilling.
Loving, Nov. 4
Filmmaker Jeff Nichols’ portrait of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose Supreme Court case led to the downfall of anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, is most remarkable for its restraint. Rather than elevating the aptly named Lovings into the realm of untouchable heroes, it depicts them as reluctant champions of the Civil Rights Movement, a family whose impact on history stemmed from its simple desire to be left alone to live like any other family. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton play their love as neither showy nor remarkable, but with the quiet romance that accompanies everyday domestic life.
Arrival, Nov. 11
Questions of whether we’re alone in the universe, what else might be out there and whether we’d want to encounter it, if it is, are famously rich fodder for filmmakers. In Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, the question is less about humans’ relationships to the seven-legged extraterrestrials that descend upon Earth but about our relationships to one another: between nations in disagreement as to how to respond and between Amy Adams’ pragmatic linguist and Jeremy Renner’s theoretical physicist. Sometimes it takes a glimpse into the beyond to finally turn the microscope on ourselves.
The Edge of Seventeen, Nov. 18
Hailee Steinfeld is poised to join a long list of memorable high-school movie misfits in The Edge of Seventeen. The Oscar-nominated actress plays the miserable Nadine, whose best friend, nightmare of nightmares, hooks up with her brother, and whose closest confidante is the sarcastic teacher, played by Woody Harrelson, whose lunch breaks she regularly crashes. Nadine’s problems may be colored by the times in which she lives—handwritten love letters never seem to accidentally send themselves in the way of a pesky text message—but her story should resonate with anyone who’s ever wanted to crawl into a hole rather than show up for first period.
Manchester by the Sea, Nov. 18
When it premiered at Sundance in January, Manchester by the Sea had audiences gushing about its awards-season prospects and Amazon shelling out $10 million in a historic deal. Ten months later, as its theatrical debut approaches, excitement remains high, though the story filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan delivers is less exciting than exceptionally sad. Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a maintenance man called upon to return to his coastal Massachusetts hometown after his brother dies and leaves Lee’s nephew under his uncle’s guardianship. With Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges rounding out the cast, as Lee’s ex-wife and nephew, respectively, it’s one of this season’s dramas not to be missed.
Rules Don't Apply, Nov. 23
Warren Beatty spent nearly four decades stewing over a Howard Hughes movie, and although the aviator-entrepreneur-movie-magnate (played by Beatty) features prominently in Rules Don’t Apply, the movie is not, the filmmaker insists, a biopic. Instead, it’s a love story about two young Hollywood transplants under Hughes’ employ: Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a prudish pageant queen with a watchful mother and a knack for songwriting, and Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a driver for Hughes’ contracted starlets with entrepreneurial aspirations of his own. It’s a condemnation of the stringent sexual mores of 1950s Hollywood, a glimpse into the life of an increasingly reclusive Hughes and purveyor of one of the sweetest original love songs in recent movie memory.
Moana, Nov. 23
To create the newest Disney heroine, veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) traveled to Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji and studied ancient pan-Pacific folklore. The result: Disney’s first Polynesian heroine, who is decidedly unique from princesses past. She rejects the title of “princess” outright, has a body type that won’t blow over with a strong ocean gale and has no discernible love interest in the film. Her journey, refreshingly, is one of self-discovery, and she completes it with the reluctant aid of a demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who plays the mansplaining foil, and later friend, to newcomer Auli’i Cravalho’s Moana.
Allied, Nov. 23
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard have teamed up with director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future) for this romantic thriller about two World War II spies who fall in love in Casablanca in 1942. The trailer has already drawn half-joking comparisons to an earlier Pitt film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only this time with more Nazis and less seduction-by-tango. The movie has the prestige factor to launch with a healthy Thanksgiving opening and sail smoothly into awards season, if in fact its sum is as least as remarkable as its parts.