At last, the summer slump is over. Some of the most anticipated films of the season proved quite disappointing as several of the “blockbusters” went bust. Now, the autumn season brings with it the films that the studios hope will not only garner the awards but maybe even make some serious money.
The most promising set of this season’s films seems to be those based on real-life events. “Spotlight” is a prime example. (See America’s review here.) It portrays the Boston Globe’s exposure of the sexual abuse scandals in the Boston archdiocese. It boasts an A-list Hollywood cast, and is bound to evoke a wide range of emotions.
“Trumbo” also delves into a shameful period of our country’s history, when the McCarthy-era, Communist witch-hunt ruined the careers of many in Hollywood. Dalton Trumbo (played by the excellent Bryan Cranston) was blacklisted, but because he was so respected in the industry, survived by working under a pseudonym, mostly for B-movies. (Added treat: Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper as a not-very-nice person.)
“The 33” re-enacts the saga of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in a mine for 69 days in 2010. (See America’s review here.) The story of their struggle to survive—physically and spiritually—along with their families’ struggle to ensure the men are rescued, makes for exciting drama. It offers a tour-de-force performance from Antonio Banderas as “Super Mario,” who emerges as the leader of the trapped miners.
Finally, “Suffragette” dramatizes the struggle of British women to gain the right to vote as the conflict turned violent in 1912. (See America’s review here.) The well-established stars of the film are Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter with a cameo appearance by Meryl Streep as the real-life leader of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst. It shows 19th-century industrialism and its attendant exploitation of workers and the general subjugation of women at its gritty worst.
Several documentaries also look promising. “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” offers movie lovers a rare chance to hear the triple-Oscar-winner’s own version of the ups and downs of her Hollywood career. And Janis Joplin’s life and career (and death) get the documentary treatment in “Janis: Little Girl Blue.” “In Jackson Heights,” by the master-documentarian Frederick Wiseman, examines the issue of immigration by visiting a neighborhood in Queens where 167 languages can be heard on the streets. “The Tainted Veil” explores the implications for Muslim women in choosing whether or not to wear the hijab, their traditional headscarf.
This season also include a number of dramas with historical themes. “Brooklyn” stands out as the tale of a young Irishwoman who immigrates to the United States in the 1950s because she can find no useful work—or much of a life, really—in her village of Enniscorthy in County Wicklow. Her arrival in New York Harbor, her profound homesickness and her eventual emergence into her own woman are movingly portrayed by Saoirse Ronan, who has grown up a bit since her memorable performance as the vengeful younger sister of Keira Knightley’s character in “Atonement” eight years ago. Her progress is hastened by Tony, the Brooklyn Italian boy she falls in love with, who, as personified by Emory Cohen, may be the most gentlemanly and charming suitor since the days of Jane Austen. But her life gets complicated when she returns home for the wedding of her best friend and is forced to decide between Ireland and America.
Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” offers his unique update of Aristophane’s anti-war satire “Lysistrata.” It is set in Chicago’s South Side and deals with the aftermath of a child’s death from a stray bullet. And “In the Heart of the Sea” re-creates the ill-fated, 19th-century whaling expedition that inspired “Moby Dick.” More contemporary issues are addressed in “Carol,” the story of a lesbian couple portrayed by the always fascinating Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. While the story is set in the 1950s, it resonates just as much today.
A couple of other stories look interesting. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie star in a film she directs, “By the Sea,” playing an American couple in a troubled marriage while staying at a seaside resort in France. “The Hallow” is a horror story set in a haunted forest in rural Ireland. “The Lady in the Van” is an adaptation of a successful British play by the gifted playwright and comic actor Alan Bennett about a homeless woman who moves into a van in someone’s driveway and remains for years. With the magnificent Maggie Smith as the lady and Dominic Cooper and James Corden in the cast, how can this film miss?
Some questions present themselves: Will “Miss You Already,” the tearjerker billed as this generation’s “Beaches,” and starring the lovable Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, become the cult film that its predecessor has become? Which of the several Christmas offerings, “Christmas Eve,” “Christmas Again,” “Krampus,” “Love the Coopers” or “The Night Before” will enter the canon of holiday gems?
So many movies, so little time (and money)! But fear not, lovers of the classics. A true blockbuster opens a week before Christmas. The (to put it mildly) eagerly awaited epic, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” promises to bring back Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill to join a galaxy of Hollywood newcomers in a spectacle whose plot, of course, really doesn’t matter, right? Just join the crowd, grab some popcorn and have a jolly, starry Christmas.