We’ve flipped the switch on the weather, and it’s been a glorious late summer/early autumn in Chicago — a great time to go for long walks, hit a farmers market, play touch football or tailgate at a Bears’ game, but this is also the perfect spot on the calendar for something else.
Even in these unprecedented times, the arrival of October means the start of Awards Season for theatrical and day/date releases, and I’m pleased to report I actually had an initial list of about 30 contenders for my annual Fall Preview before narrowing it down to the 10 films I’m most looking forward to seeing between now and Thanksgiving.
In chronological order:
‘The Last Duel’ (10/15)
Matt Damon plays a 14th century knight in “The Last Duel.”Sony Pictures
The great Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “Gladiator”) reteams with his “The Martian” star Matt Damon in this epic adaptation of Eric Jager’s brilliant book “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” which tells the story of the Norman knight Jean De Carrouges (Damon), who challenges his friend and protege Jacque Le Gris (Adam Driver) to a duel after Jean’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer from “Killing Eve”) accuses Le Gris of rape. Expect gritty, period-piece realism (the story is set in the 14th century) with thought-provoking insights on issues still relevant today.
Timothee Chalamet plays an interplanetary traveler in “Dune.”Warner Bros.
The wondrous visionary David Lynch (saddled with a controlling studio) didn’t know quite what to do with Frank Herbert’s landmark 1965 sci-fi novel, as evidenced by the bomb that was 1984’s “Dune.” Now comes the interpretation by Dennis Villeneuve, whose directing on “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” suggests he might just be the right man for the job of taming this sprawling and unwieldy story about a young man (Timothee Chalamet) who must journey to the most dangerous planet known to humankind in the obligatory mission to save his people. The supporting cast includes Oscar Issac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, David Bautista and Javier Bardem, so apparently they couldn’t get any talented people to join in.
‘The French Dispatch’ (10/29)
Bill Murray and Pablo Pauly are part of the ensemble of “The French Dispatch.”Searchlight Pictures
This is a Wes Anderson film, so you know it’s going to be quirky, dry, deadpan, whip-smart and occasionally a bit pleased with itself but usually because it deserves to be pleased with itself. In this three-part anthology, the French foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper puts together its final issue, and that must have been some Kansas newspaper to have a foreign bureau in France. As usual, Anderson has assembled a killer cast (many of them regulars in his movies), including Bill Murray, Timothee Chalamet (weren’t we just talking about him?), Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Frances McDormand and Adrien Brody. If everyone brought their Oscars to the set, that would be a lot of Oscars.
‘Last Night in Soho’ (10/29)
Transported to the 1960s London, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, right) meets a glamorous singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) in “Last Night in Soho.”Focus Features
Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Baby Driver”) is one of those directors who creates original works that are also homages — love letters — to the movies. This time around, Wright directs a psychological and seemingly psychedelic time-tripping horror film, with Thomasin McKenzie as an aspiring fashion designer who is transported to the mod scene in 1960s London and now has the persona of a Swingin’ Sixties nightclub singer.
‘The Harder They Fall’ (11/3)
Regina King (from left), Idris Elba and Lakeith Stanfield star in “The Harder They Fall.”Netflix
Fresh off “Concrete Cowboy” on Netflix, Idris Elba is back in the saddle (and back on Netflix) as a killer named Rufus Buck who is released from prison and is the target of a manhunt led by the outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), whose parents were murdered by Buck. With Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo and Regina King, and music by Jay-Z (who is also a producer on the film), this could be an exciting new addition to the tradition of the great American Western.
Kristen Stewart plays Diana, Princess of Wales, in “Spencer.”Neon/Topic Studios
Anyone who still refers to Kristen Stewart as the actress from the “Twilight” movies simply hasn’t been paying attention, as Stewart has carved out a marvelous career in films such as “The Runaways,” “Personal Shopper,” “Still Alice” and “Certain Women” and has established herself as one of the most interesting actors of her generation. In “Spencer,” directed by Pablo Larrain (“Jackie”), Stewart has a potential Oscar nomination coming her way as she plays Diana, Princess of Wales, during the period when she is making the decision to leave Prince Charles.
‘Red Notice’ (11/12)
The caper movie “Red Notice” teams up Ryan Reynolds (from left), Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot.Netflix
Dwayne Johnson stars as a top FBI profiler who finds himself working with an infamous con artist (Ryan Reynolds) to track down the world’s greatest thief (Gal Gadot). This sounds like awfully familiar territory, but this is reportedly the biggest Netflix movie ever, and that might be a good thing — plus we have that power trio headlining the cast, so this could make for some escapist entertainment on a cold November evening. Do we call that Netflix and Warm?
‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ (11/19)
On this timeline, the well-intentioned but regrettable “Ghostbusters” (2016) doesn’t exist, as “Afterlife” is a three-quel to the 1984 classic and the 1989 follow-up, which was cleverly titled “Ghostbusters II.” Jason Reitman, son of original “Ghosbusters” director Ivan Reitman and an accomplished filmmaker in his own right (“Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”), helms the story set 30+ years after the original, with Carrie Coon as the daughter of the late Dr. Egon Spengler, and boy do we miss Harold Ramis. The cast also features Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd and Mckenna Grace — with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts reprising their original roles. Now THAT’S who you’re gonna call!
‘King Richard’ (11/19)
Will Smith stars as the father of Serena (Demi Singleton, center) and Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) in “King Richard.”Warner Bros.
No, this isn’t a 12th century biopic about the King of England. The title character is Richard Williams, who will be played by Will Smith, and if you’re asking “Who is Richard Williams?,” he’s the father of Venus and Serena Williams, who had a vision to take his daughters (played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) from Compton to historic greatness.
‘House of Gucci’ (11/24)
“House of Gucci” stars Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani.United Artists
As is the case with “Spencer,” the striking poster art alone has me up geeked up for this one. Making just a slight pivot from “The Last Duel,” the prolific Ridley Scott adapts Sara G. Forden’s “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed,” and that’s a pretty darn good capsule pitch for the movie as well. The sure-to-be-amazing cast includes Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek and Al Pacino.
Let the Oscar countdown commence.