We’re already into fall. Here in the Chicago area we experienced what are hopefully the last couple late-year heatwaves and are now fully into cooler temperatures. Step outside at 5:30 in the morning and you can see your breath floating, on a clear night, past the constellation Orion in the southern sky.
While everyone else might have already considered which end-of-year movie releases audiences should be watching for, I take a stricter calendar-based approach to such topics, preferring to follow the quarterly schedule familiar to anyone who’s worked in a corporate environment. Yes, the summer movie season technically ended at the end of August, but that’s not how my brain works.
So, with October arriving this weekend, I present the nine movies – three for each month – that have most captured my interest or attention for various reasons.
A Star Is Born: The movie, marking the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and starring him and Lady Gaga, is the latest version of a story that’s been made into a movie several times over the last century. This one has been a big hit among critics and commentators who have seen it on the festival circuit to date, all of whom have created substantial positive word of mouth leading up to general release. Warner Bros. is hoping Gaga’s fanbase, as well as those moved by all the buzz on Film Twitter, turn out to make this a massive hit and so have run a campaign that’s heavy on how Gaga opened up emotionally to get in touch with the amateur singer-songwriter she plays.
Bad Times at the El Royale: Writer/director Drew Goddard has a lot of fans who have followed his career with great interest, first as a writer on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and then for movies like The Martian, Cloverfield and more. His first directorial effort, Cabin in the Woods, is a funny take on the slasher movie genre. The marketing for Bad Times looks as if the movie is filled with what’s become a style honed by making his bones working for Joss Whedon and then J.J. Abrams, selling a story of a disparate group of individuals who all wind up at a slightly shady hotel on the Nevada/California border one fateful night.
The Hate U Give: There have been a few #BlackLivesMatter-themed movies already this year, but none also starred Amandla Stenberg like this one does. This is also one of the few to come at the topic of how police shootings of black people impact younger members of the community, something that could make this much more of a touchpoint – and igniting match – than those that have come before. Fox has taken a marketing approach focused on reaching out to fans of the source novel, including lots of involvement by the book’s author.
Bohemian Rhapsody: It’s a toss-up. Either this movie, a biography of the late Queen lead singer Freddy Mercury, is going to be a massive hit – which would be a rarity for biopics – or a complete disaster. Star Rami Malek, who plays Mercury, has been out there on the press circuit doing everything he can to convince audiences this is a respectful and inclusive look at the singer’s life from the early days of the band to his death from complications from AIDS. Malek is trying to swim against the tide of negative press that’s threatened to drown the movie, starting with Fox’s dismissal of original director Bryan Singer to complaints the first trailers whitewashed Mercury’s sexuality and diagnosis.
Suspiria: There’s nothing about the movie’s marketing so far that doesn’t sell it as a batshit insane story of the nightmarish world inhabited by a professional dance company. The trailers are filled loopy, trippy, disturbing visuals and non-linear character presentations while the posters and press images are drenched in blood and anguish. Early buzz from festival screenings have only reinforced all that. It’s so off-kilter it’s begging to be seen just so you can finally figure out what the hell is going on.
Widows: Steve McQueen is not a filmmaker that’s shied away from difficult material and this movie appears to be no exception. The story follows a group of women whose gangster husbands have been killed while still owing a debt to some very bad people. Determined to pay those debts and stay alive themselves, the women – played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo – take matter into their own hands and develop a plan that pushes everyone out of their comfort zone. The edginess conveyed by critics who have seen it at festivals isn’t quite on full display in the marketing so far, but the talent involved overcomes whatever may be lacking.
Vox Lux: Mostly this one intrigues me because I want to see if star Natalie Portman can go all-out playing a singer we follow from overnight stardom to peak success to attempted revival after a setback. The movie was just picked up for distribution by NEON following successful Toronto screenings and no marketing material has been released to date, meaning the studio has to make its case to the audience in a very tight window here.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Sony has struggled over the years with how to maximize its ownership of Spider-Man and related characters. It takes the anti-hero route with Venom in October but this animated feature is more interesting not only because of the amazing visuals on display in the trailers but because it goes full-comic book, bringing in different versions of the Spider-Man character from different dimensions, including Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales and even Spider-Ham, the latter voiced by comedian John Mulaney.
Bumblebee: Paramount may have continued raking in the money with its Michael Bay-directed series of Transformers films, but a constant criticism was that none felt like the Robots in Disguise of old, the ones Gen Xers grew up on. The studio is seeking to meet those expectations by having Bumblebee, a long-time fan favorite, star in his own story and moving the story back in time to the 1980s. People have rightly pointed out that the marketing so far has sold less in the way of big explosions and more in the way of an Iron Giant-like story involving human star Hailee Steinfeld. The latest trailer even features old-school versions of Optimus Prime, Soundwave and other characters.
First Man: Why is this being sold like the first movie to ever tell the story of NASA’s early days?
Can You Ever Forgive Me?: A ho-hum marketing campaign so far was followed by very good reviews from festival screenings.
The Front Runner: Is there any appetite for the true story of a politician who actually faced consequences for his personal indiscretions when the real world doesn’t seem to do that any more?
Creed II: Super-interested if this can match the genuine emotional depth of the first movie, which succeeded largely because it paid tribute to, but wasn’t constrained by, the Rocky legacy.
Under the Silver Lake: Always interested in weird stories about investigations into the shady underworld of Los Angeles.
Aquaman: Will this be more Wonder Woman and less Justice League? My man!
Holmes & Watson: You’d think there would have been something on the marketing front for the reteaming of Step Brothers/Ricky Bobby costars John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell, but there hasn’t been. What’s up with that?