The Top 10 most-anticipated films of this fall

By Daniel Barnes

In most years September marks the beginning of awards season, when major film festivals roll out the top contenders for Oscar glory. But this year it seems quite possible that the Best Picture race began and ended with Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” a film that sits at the ideal nexus of commercial success, critical acclaim and ostensible importance. Even if that’s the case, at least we’ve also shut the door on “The Emoji Movie” idiocy of summer to enter the auteur-driven pleasures of autumn, where old favorites like Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes commingle with young upstarts like Sean Baker and Yorgos Lanthimos. Keep your eye out for these 10 very promising films to make their way to a theater near you.

Mother! (Sept. 15)
Jennifer Lawrence’s last two awards-season vehicles (the joyless “Joy” and the passable “Passengers”) were drippy duds, but the pitilessness and severity of Darren Aronofsky might be the cure. Back in “Black Swan” psychological horror mode after dabbling in Biblical epics with “Noah,” Aronofsky wrote and directed this story of a woman whose domestic life gets unsettled by unexpected house guests.

The Florida Project (Oct. 10)
Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” was one of the left-field surprises of 2015, an energetic and empathetic look at transsexual prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles. It was Baker’s fifth feature film, but marked a commercial breakthrough for the low-budget filmmaker; now familiar faces like Willem Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones show up in his candy-colored follow-up about mischievous children.

Wonderstruck (Oct. 20)
When the rigid perfectionist Martin Scorsese wanted to warm up and make his first film about children, he turned to Brian Selznick’s “Hugo” for source material. And now that the rigid perfectionist Todd Haynes (“Carol”) is ready to do the same, back we go to Selznick, who adapts his own book about a generations-spanning mystery.

The Snowman (Oct. 20)
After reinventing the vampire movie with 2008’s “Let the Right One In,” Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson seemed destined for greatness but made only one more film (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in 2011) before falling off the face of the Earth. Now he returns to his roots with this snowy thriller, starring Michael Fassbender as a detective investigating a disappearance.

The Square (Oct. 27)
One of my most memorable movie experiences of 2014 was watching Ruben Ostlund’s “Force Majeure” with a full house at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Two hours of squirmy emotional emasculation went by before anyone in the theater took a breath. “The Square” is Ostlund’s Palme d’Or-winning follow-up film, and that’s all I need to know to get excited.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Nov. 3)
Some foreign-born directors are never able to find their footing in English-language efforts, but something about the singularly impudent sadism of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos made for an effortless Americanization in last year’s “The Lobster.” More confusing animal imagery comes our way with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a revenge story about a surgeon (Colin Farrell), his wife (Nicole Kidman) and a disturbed young man who they befriend.

Last Flag Flying (Nov. 3)
If you told me that my list of the most anticipated films of the fall would include a spiritual sequel to “The Last Detail” starring Bryan Cranston as ‘Badass’ Buddinsky and Steve Carell as Larry Meadows (Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, respectively, in Hal Ashby’s 1973 classic), I would have scoffed. But director Richard Linklater makes one do strange things.

Thor: Ragnorok (Nov. 3)
Having spent the last decade arguing that the awfulness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe posed a legitimate threat to national security, I’m as shocked as anyone else that this third “Thor” movie made my list. But now that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” has liberated the draggy franchise by embracing comedy over apocalyptic carnage, the table is perfectly set for “What We Do in the Shadows” director Taika Waititi.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Nov. 10)
The first film from English writer-director Martin McDonagh since 2012’s ridiculously underrated “Seven Psychopaths” and only the second since his 2008 debut “In Bruges,” “Three Billboards” is a bloody, hyper-literate, Midwestern crime comedy about idiot cops and philosophical lawbreakers. And if that’s not Coen Brothers-esque enough for you, the film also stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother battling with the local police department.

Coco (Nov. 22)
Pixar’s first non-white human protagonist is Miguel, a Mexican boy with a strange family history who travels with his guitar to the land of the dead. That sounds a lot like the 2014 animated feature “The Book of Life,” which also concerned a Mexican guitarist who travels through the spirit world. But then “A Bug’s Life” sounded a lot like “Antz,” too. By now, I think Pixar has earned the benefit of the doubt.


Daniel Barnes is the chief film critic for Sacramento News & Review.