“Guardians of the Galaxy” aside, it’s been a brutal August at the multiplexes — and a not very happy summer overall, neither for audiences or the people hoping to make money off of them. The fall is traditionally the time when we turn our brains back on, soaking up serious and award-gobbling fare. And that’s here — but so are the usual piles of sequels, remakes and rehashes. Here are 10 that really stand out.
‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (limited Sept. 12)
An experimental narrative that will take you three movies and five hours to watch and has nothing much to do with The Beatles, this drama examines a couple’s breakup from her side, his side and then the two together. That the couple is Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy (with assists from Viola Davis, Ciaran Hinds, William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) should make the prospect easier to accept.
‘Gone Girl’ (Oct. 3)
Author Gillian Flynn herself adapts her twisty page-turner about an ex-journalist (Ben Affleck) suspected of killing his MIA wife (Rosamund Pike). Much more excitingly, it was directed by David Fincher, who — portentous trailer aside —may have a chance, given Flynn's often very funny book, to really indulge in his comedic side. Then again, this could be another of Fincher's immaculately made adaptations of books fathoms beneath his talents (see: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"). After all, the novel is really only great in its first half.
‘Birdman’ (limited Oct. 17)
“Amores Perros” and “Babel” director Alejandro Gutierrez Inarritu tries his hand at comedy, albeit a very prickly kind of comedy, with Michael Keaton playing the former star of a superhero movie struggling with life and an all-star supporting cast (including Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis). Reportedly the entire film is made to look like one take, so that’s fun.
‘Dear White People’ (limited Oct. 17)
Racial relations get sent-up in this well-titled satire and festival favorite, about four black kids at an Ivy League School who are nonplussed to discover there’s an African-American-themed party thrown by white students.
‘Fury’ (Oct. 17)
Brad Pitt goes to WWII, leading a crack team trying to kill Nazis. Wait, didn’t this already happen five years ago? And yet despite the "Inglorious Basterds"-y premise, this is a different beast, and not only because it features Shia LaBeouf. Director David Ayer (“End of Watch”) will surely keep this far closer to real life than Quentin Tarantino’s alternate world fantasy. Then again, Pitt doesn’t tend to do his best work when playing serious, in part because he’s secretly maybe the funniest man on the planet. (See: his Foghorn Leghorn accent in “Inglourious Basterds.”)
‘Listen Up Philip’ (limited Oct. 17)
Jason Schwartzman plays a cranky, grouchy, basically jerkish novelist with a very patient girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) in the latest from Alex Ross Perry, maker of the delightfully grouchy and rough "The Color Wheel."
‘Interstellar’ (Nov. 7)
The combination of Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan ought to make heads everywhere implode. Here, they go to space and enter a wormhole for reasons that are being kept fairly close to the chest. Despite the hyper-praise and hyper-criticism Nolan receives, he’s an unquestionably ambitious filmmaker who will surely give us something more than a serious twist on “The Black Hole.” Granted,Nolan also sometime has trouble sorting through his many good ideas. And while he can do smarts, he can’t do emotion, as in parts of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
‘Foxcatcher’ (Nov. 14)
The John du Pont murder — in which a paranoid schizophrenic rich kid killed an Olympic athlete — gets told in this acclaimed drama, starring Steve Carell as du Pont and Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as brothers in danger. Director Bennett Miller is hot off the cool-tempered “Moneyball,” while both Carell and Tatum are both due to show off their serious chops. Of course, Miller also made the naggingly reductive and self-satisfied “Capote.”
‘Inherent Vice’ (Dec. 12)
No stranger to difficult-sounding projects, Paul Thomas Anderson takes on the assumed-to-be-unfilmable Thomas Pynchon, albeit one of his more accessible-ish works, with Joaquin Phoenix as a P.I. looking for his ex’s boyfriend. And did we mention the bewildering all-star supporting cast includes Martin Short and Jeannie Berlin? Because we should. But the real star will be P.T. Anderson himself.
‘Mr. Turner’ (limited Dec. 19)
Filmmaker Mike Leigh returns to the past once more for this study of J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), a 19th century sea and landscape painter called “the painter of light” well before Thomas Kinkade actually trademarked the term. Turner wasn’t as horrible a person as Kincade, but he was grouchy, stubborn, neglected his daughters, took advantage of his adoring maid and, as played by Spall, evidently spoke exclusively in bon mots and deep, musical grunts.
Bonus: Let's not pretend everyone's not going to see ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1’ (Nov. 21)
It's not just some movie about Jennifer Lawrence doing something. In fact, it might be OK. After a bumpy first installment, the second “Hunger Games” series got really interesting — and then it stopped, almost mid-sentence, and told you it would see you in a year. This does feature the first half of the final screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. But because there's still more money to be made, this "Mockingjay" is only part one of part three, meaning you'll once again be rudely interrupted mid-story and told you'll get the rest 12 months later. What a jerk this series is. Or you could just go to the bookstore and use your eyes to read words.
For more of our Fall Movie Preview, see our round-up of sequels, remakes, rehashes, etc. and list of other films big and small that aren't so easily categorized.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge