If you listen carefully you can hear it: wind rustling, the leaves beginning their descent, and the all-around calming sound of autumn. Sure, we’re only a few weeks removed from Labor Day, but the kids are back in school, the grills are getting covered, and most notably, the summer 2014 movie season is officially over.
For many movie fans, this is only good news! Yes, we all enjoy the big expensive glitzy blockbuster now and again, but it is in the calming days of September onwards that many film distributors, Hollywood and otherwise, start releasing their most buzzed and anticipated projects (or post-festival acquisitions) that could have a shelf life beyond opening weekend. It’s time for a movie season that isn’t just about the caped and cowled. Hence, we at Den of Geek have decided to compile a list for 25 of the most promising late 2014 efforts…that all cost under $100 million to make. Yes, we’re excited for Interstellar, Hunger Games, and Big Hero 6 too. But this close to those releases, it feels appropriate to look at some films that aren’t bombarding you with constant advertising. Thus here are 25 Must See Fall 2014 movies (that didn’t break the bank).
Tracks (September 19th)
It’s only fitting to kick off the list with a film that begins its limited and platformed release this weekend in select cities. Based on the true 1977 story of Robyn Davidson’s 2,000-mile odyssey across the Australian desert, and through her own limitless isolation, John Curran’s lyrical observance of the beauty found within loneliness is a wonderful feat. The accomplishment is anchored by a raw, un-showy performance by Mia Wasikowska as Robyn, as well as Adam Driver as her gregarious and intrusive National Geographic photographer/patron. Ultimately, Tracks is the kind of quietly intimate mini-epic about the human spirit that is well worth the trek to the nearest movie theater.
Jimi: All is by My Side (September 26th)
One of the most bizarre musical biopics in recent memory, Jimi: All is by My Side is also one of the more interesting because of its peculiarity. Not allowed to use a single Jimi Hendrix-penned song by the legendary musician’s estate, the filmmakers instead make due by setting Jimi in London between 1966 and 1967 at a time before he released his debut album Are You Experienced. As a result, writer-director John Ridley (writer of Three Kings and 12 Years a Slave) must rely on his own musicality as a storyteller. Whether the real Jimi Hendrix, played by Andre 3000, was abusive to Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) is under dispute. But what is definitely certain is whether this film is worth your time.
Pride (September 26th)
Winner of the Queer Palm award at Cannes, rarely has a politically motivated film appeared to have such simple warmth at its core. During the 1984 miners’ strikes in the UK, an activist group in the LGBT community decided to raise money and awareness for families affected by the disappearance of income. While unions were weary of being associated with a gay group, a community of Welsh miners welcomed the union with open arms, finding a bit of understanding and common humanity as two marginalized peoples during the Thatcher years. A mostly life-affirming affair, Matthew Warchus’ picture is a gratifying event enlivened by superb ensemble cast that includes Bill Nigh, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West.
Gone Girl (October 3rd)
The first entry on our list that has not been screened, Gone Girl nevertheless is hands down one of the most anticipated movies of 2014, period. Situated to make its world premiere on the opening night of the New York Film Festival, Gone Girl has the eyes of two rabid fan sets on it. The first will be the very critical lovers of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling source material novel, and the next is every cinephile that is ready to see director David Fincher not remake/re-adapt a perfectly fine Swedish thriller. The last time Fincher came to this festival, he brought the millennial masterpiece The Social Network with him, and this thriller about the perfect guy (Ben Affleck) who may or may not have killed his seemingly angelic wife (Rosamund Pike) looks terrifying—most especially for the media lynch mob swirling around Affleck’s suspected Nick Dunne.
Whiplash (October 10th)
We must celebrate and cherish the arts, otherwise their soul-soothing rewards will be lost forever. But what if they are also used to crush souls, as well? Such is the ethical posit of Whiplash, a story centered on a struggling jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who hears the bombastic beats of Hell from a Juilliard task master named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Often described on the festival circuit as the “theater kid version of Full Metal Jacket,” this appears to be one not to miss, if for Simmons’ performance alone. He pushes his students to new heights, but is the potentially fatal damage to the artist worth the climb?
Kill the Messenger (October 10th)
We like to believe that when brought to light, corruption will shrivel beneath the glare of the public eye—that justice will prevail in the face of honesty and righteousness. The sadder-than-fiction reality of such notions receives some terrible cold water from the story of American investigative reporter Gary Webb who in 1996 published a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News entitled “Dark Alliance.” A grim report on how the CIA allegedly helped smuggle crack cocaine into the U.S. to fund contra fighters opposing the Sandinista government, it was a damning exposé that mostly came back to land on Webb.
Kill the Messenger chronicles the merciless smear campaign against Webb (Jeremy Renner) and everything he may have uncovered. Directed by Homeland veteran Michael Cuesta and also starring Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Mary Elizabeth Wisntead, and Andy Garcia, Kill the Messenger has our ears to the ground.
Birdman (October 17th)
Imagine an actor most famous for playing an iconic superhero from the 1980s trying to have a comeback on the Broadway stage. Now picture that this actor is Michael Keaton. Already, Birdman should have its talons in you. This latest effort from Alejandro González Inárritu (Biutiful), Birdman promises to be a dizzyingly trippy self-aware comedy/tragedy about Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor who still talks to his most famous mainstream role during interior hallucinations. The picture also features Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.
Dear White People (October 17th)
The first feature from writer-director Justin Simien promises to be one that will grab many headlines with a title like Dear White People. But if the word from Sundance is to be believed, this subversive comedy is worth more than just that head-turning moniker. The story of four black students at a prestigious Ivy League school, Dear White People follows Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, and Brandon P. Bell’s characters as a race riot breaks out on campus over a popular “African-American” themed party thrown by white students. It’s a knowing comedy of racial identity in a supposedly post-racial America.
St. Vincent (October 24th)
While word coming out of Toronto about the Capra-esque St. Vincent has been divided, the praise for Bill Murray’s performance in this slice of Americana has been near universal. Playing a gambling drunkard war vet who has a soft spot for strip clubs and prostitution, Murray’s Vincent is not someone you’d assume at first glance to be a great father figure. But when neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) needs something to keep an eye on her introverted son named Oliver (Jaeden Liberher), this lout becomes the most unexpectedly successful after school program imaginable. Also featuring Naomi Watts and Chris Dowd, St. Vincent is being heralded as a career best for Mr. Murray.
White Bird in a Blizzard (October 24th)
George Araki’s latest movie about a teen wonderland of confusion, White Bird in a Blizzard wraps the adolescent need for independence in the colorful mirage of a YA mystery centered on a young girl (Shailene Woodley) rationalizing why her happy homebody mother (Eva Green) up-and-vanished one day. Woodley’s Kat denies caring what the actual reason is or why her milquetoast father, Christopher Meloni, seems as equally apathetic, but there is a simmering rage looking to be freed like…well a bird in a blizzard. Also, the movie may be out in theaters on October 24th, but it is already scheduled for a VOD release on September 25th as well.
Nightcrawler (October 31st)
If you’ve seen the trailer for Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, then you are well aware of the movie’s intense elevator pitch from a highly caffeinated Jake Gyllenhaal. Playing Lou Bloom, a perversely eccentric personality who stumbles into the world of freelance crime journalism, Nightcrawler is not so much a character study as a forbidding warning of self-actualization gone wrong. With Bloom, the titular definition of a bottom feeder, Gyllenhaal appears to be turning in a career highlight about a charlatan who gets in way over his head by seeking all that goes bump (and bang) in the night. The results will hopefully be as electrifyingly ominous as its release date.
The Theory of Everything (November 7th)
The buzz on The Theory of Everything is so strong that the fact that Stephen Hawking would one day distance himself from the literal “theory of everything” is inconsequential. This picture looks to offer two star-making turns for Eddie Redamayne and Felicity Jones in the roles of Stephen and Jane Hawking. Despite being one of the greatest minds in history that advanced the field of theoretical physics by light-years, Hawking is nevertheless a figure of immense tragedy and conflict beyond the scope of any biopic. But based on the respected memoir of Jane Hawking, The Theory of Everything still stands poised to offer a harrowing romance that has the weight of the universe upon it.
Rosewater (November 7th)
The movie that caused Jon Stewart to take a sabbatical from The Daily Show, Rosewater has had many comedy fans surprisingly fascinated by this intimate biopic about BBC journalist Maziar Bahari, the man who dared to record footage of the 2009 electoral riots in Iran. As punishment, the Iranian government accused Behari of being a spy and locked him away for 118 days where he was interrogated and tortured by the Revolutionary Guard—and he was only released when he falsely promised to spy on western governments for Iran. The definition of a horror film, the warmly Telluride welcomed Rosewater may announce a new career path for the increasingly beloved “newsman” Stewart, as well as trumpet the reemergence of The Motorcycle Diaries’ Gael Garcia Bernal as a major presence. Whatever the case, it will hopefully stand as a testimonial for a story that should be shared, much like reports on the riots themselves.
Foxcatcher (November 14th)
Make no mistake, Steve Carell’s performance as the rich paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont is no laughing matter. This latest biopic from director Bennett Miller combines the filmmaker’s sports drama side (Moneyball) with his killer character studies that often leave you feeling unclean (Capote), and the end result is something that seems riveting in its depravity. Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz, an Olympic Wrestling Champion who is conned by du Pont’s fantasies about being a wrestling coach until they become deadly. Going for the gold, Foxcatcher might showcase more than great performances under its uneasy premise.
The Homesman (November 14th)
There is never anything quite like a Western. The genre that set American imaginations ablaze with rugged self-realized individualism long before superheroes took over multiplexes, this was the dominant film genre for most of the 20th century. So, when any filmmaker offers the possibility of its reemergence with the right riding gear, it’s always worth saddling up for. And the preparation for this trip into the brush looks especially inviting with its veteran crew of rough riders, including Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto, William Fichtner, Meryl Streep, James Spader, John Lthgow, and Hailee Steinfeld.
The relatively simple set-up of an experience-hardened woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) enlisting the help of a claims jumper (Jones) in escorting three “crazy” women across territorial lines, this directorial effort from Jones has all the hallmarks of a mythic passion play in the land of endless skies.
The Imitation Game (November 21st)
The most coveted screenplay on the 2011 Black List (by Graham Moore) has turned into one of the most provocative upcoming attractions in 2014: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing, the British mathematician and logician that led the code breakers in Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park—the organization that cracked the German Enigma during World War II. An enigmatic figure who had near carte blanche from Winston Churchill when he developed the “bombe” that electronically broke thousands of German codes a day, Turing also became a victim of hate when after the war he was convicted for “gross indecency” (a criminal offense stemming from homosexuality). Turing’s social demise was a tragedy, but the movie about his greatest heights that also features Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance could prove uncrackable.
Clouds of Sils Maria (December 1st)
Conceivably positioning itself as a modern day All About Eve, Clouds of Sils Maria looks to be a fanged and self-aware deconstruction of the role of femininity and sexuality in the modern world. Starring three generations of women in the town of dreams—Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz—Clouds is predominantly about Binoche’s Maria Enders, a famed actress who is asked to revive the play that made her famous 20 years ago when she played an alluring young girl who drove her boss to committing suicide. Except now, she is asked to play the boss who ends her life, and simpering upstart Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz) is the young girl. Maria thinks if she retreats to the Swiss town of Sils Maria that she will be able to swallow the indignation, but how little she knows either her assistant (Stewart) or the globalized commodifying of women today. The acidity of the premise alone burns to the touch.
Wild (December 5th)
Not dissimilar in premise to September’s Tracks, Wild is the story of a Cheryl Strayed’s real-life 1,100-mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail following her divorce. A Hell of a way to hit the reset button on one’s life, Witherspoon is expected to be doing the same for her career in this starring role that offers her far more substance than much in her filmogrpahy since 2005’s Walk the Line. And as directed by Dallas Buyers Club’s Jean-Marc Vallée, this hike into the wilderness is expected to be actually crowded with strong performers, like Laura Dern, along the way.
Inherent Vice (December 12th)
Few to date have seen more than a passing second from this sixth feature effort by maverick filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, There Will Be Blood), and it should still already be on your radar. The reason, beyond Anderson’s beckoning involvement, is its seedy source material from author Thomas Pynchon. A grisly time warp to 1970, this may be Anderson’s attempt at traversing neo noir while revisiting the sleaze that made his Boogie Nights so hypnotic.
In the backdrop of the Manson Family trials, Private Eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is on the case in a sordid world of blackmail, murder, and, well, vice. Surrounded by the usual suspects of scum and indecency—as populated by a cast that includes Jena Malone, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Michael K. Williams, and Maya Rudolph—no self-evident defect Doc might find will prevent us from taking this movie for a spin.
Unbroken (December 25th)
Based on the stunning Laura Hillenbrand biography, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, this sophomore narrative feature from Angelina Jolie has a lot to live up to. But whether it soars or crashes and burns, this is an account too rich to ignore: Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was the American son of Italian immigrants when he became an Olympic runner in 1936. Seven years later, he was a bombardier flying over the Pacific when his lemon plane, “The Green Hornet,” crashed into the Pacific leaving him and only two other crew members alive on the high seas with sharks and Japanese bombers to keep the company for 47 days. Ultimately, Zamperini was taken into custody and tortured as an unregistered POW by the Japanese until 1945. He came home and became a born again Christian inspirational speaker.
This is an amazing story. The movie shouldn’t be anything less.
Big Eyes (December 25th)
Tim Burton has been haunted by “big eyes” himself throughout his many films. However, as of late, those eyes have almost certainly belonged to Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter (and to diminishing returns of late at that!). Perhaps that is why his next project is so interesting. Big Eyes marks Burton’s first biopic since the masterful Ed Wood (1994) and it stars a few pair of new eyes to the filmmaker’s oeuvre. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz lead a new kind of Burton movie where ‘50s blonde bobs are more likely to be the fashion than ghostly white streaks in the lives of Margaret and Walter Keane.
The husband-and-wife team behind the 1960s-ubiquitous “big eyes” art style that took the art world by storm, for over a decade Walter took sole credit for the artwork that his wife created. The reason? He convinced Margaret that nobody would buy art from a woman. Let the paint-off begin.
American Sniper (December 25th)
American Sniper has almost as intriguing a filmic history as it does a subject matter: Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL with over 150 confirmed kills to his name. Previously featuring Steven Spielberg attached as director, American Sniper changed hands to Clint Eastwood who is in need of a satisfying effort after Jersey Boys, the most muted musical in recent memory. Starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife, this saga of an Iraqi War vet that observed four tours of duty before being unceremoniously murdered on a Texan shooting range in 2013 is one to watch out for.
Pawn Sacrifice (TBA 2014)
And potentially finishing off the December biopic rush is the first sports movie ever made about chess! Bobby Fischer probably suffered from Bipolar Disorder, schizophrenia, or some combination therein. However, he was also a child prodigy and a genius chess player. With a mind perfect for the most celebrated table game, Fischer became the unlikely poster boy of Richard Nixon when our best and brightest chess player went head-to-head with the Soviet golden boy Boris Spassky. It is a wild story that star Tobey Maguire has been trying to get made for 10 years, mostly with a script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) to boot. While the end results have left critics in a state of check with director Edward Zwick out of Toronto, Maguire is getting the best notices of his career for playing the manic and tortured Fischer while battling the nonverbal Liev Schreiber as Spassky. With Maguire always a restlessly absorbing presence to watch, Bleecker Street’s recent seven-figure acquisition of the film seems like a real edge.
99 Homes (TBA 2014)
There are films that reflect the sad truths of our times, and then there are films that use a twisted, distorted mirror to unmask the surreptitious horrors we pretend do not exist. 99 Homes, which stunned Venice, could be the latter. Taking on the scale of fable, director Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes imagines a Faustian pact between an evil-incarnate realtor (Michael Shannon) and the desperate single father he once evicted (Andrew Garfield). Determined to support his young son and aging mother (Laura Dern), Garfield’s unemployed construction worker agrees to go to work as the muscle for Shannon’s Rick Carver—the bank’s favorite real estate man used to evict people from their homes. It is an uncomfortably nauseating premise that demands viewing, through squinted outrage or not.
Still Alice (TBA 2014)
Julianne Moore would be worth seeing reading from a phone book. Though Still Alice is undoubtedly far more fascinating a prospect than that, it also will likely prove far more heartbreaking. In a performance that is so electrifying that it has fast-tracked the movie from Toronto to awards season, Julianne Moore plays Dr. Alice Howland, a Columbia cognitive psychologist diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Forced to balance that tragedy with her professionally high standards, including husband John (Alec Baldwin), and daughters Anna and Lydia (Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart), Still Alice should be an unforgettable affair.
So, there are 25 Must See Movies from the remaining months of 2014, and not a single one of them cost nine-figures. What did we miss, and what are you most looking forward to seeing?