Autumn film preview: rich pickings from now till Christmas

The Joker
The Joker
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From awards-friendly literary adaptations to all-action thrillers (not to mention a certain Star Wars film) there’s much for movie lovers to look forward to between now and the end of the year, writes Scotsman film critic Alistair Harkness

For Your Consideration

Judy

Judy

Literary adaptations? Check. Starry biopics? Check. Bafflingly popular musicals? Double check. With the arrival of autumn comes the arrival of awards season and our annual reminder that film industry also likes to make prestige films that might just also allow them to fill their trophy cabinets. First out of the gate is the big screen version of The Goldfinch (27 September), Donna Tartt’s sublime, Pulitzer Prize-winning epic following a young New Yorker (Ansel Elgort) reckoning with both the loss of his mother and his theft of the eponymous painting in a terrorist attack when he was 13. Nicole Kidman co-stars; John Crowley (Brooklyn) directs. Sticking with literature, Edward Norton writes, directs and stars in Motherless Brooklyn (29 November), his long-gestating adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed novel about a Tourette’s afflicted private detective. Greta Gerwig, meanwhile, follows up her Oscar-denied Ladybird with a new version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (26 September), featuring an all-star cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and perennial awards favourite Meryl Streep. The big biopics kick of with Renée Zelwegger as Judy Garland in Judy (3 October), swiftly followed by Eddie Redmayne as aviation pioneer James Glaisher in The Aeronauts (8 November); Tom Hanks as American kids’ entertainer Mr Rogers in Mariella Hellar’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (6 December), and Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Le Mans ’66 (15 November), a dramatisation of the Ford Motor Company’s determination to end Ferrari’s dominance of the titular 24-hour race. But don’t be surprised if the bizarre-looking Cats (20 December) – an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical by Tom Hooper (the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables) – paw-swipes all before it. Be afraid.

Joker in the Blockbuster Pack

Be afraid too of Joker (3 October). Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime, this stand-alone origins story for Batman’s greatest nemesis has already divided critics. Taking inspiration from Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (links made explicit by Robert De Niro’s casting as a talk-show host), expect a very violent and very adult take on comic book lore. Family audiences can enjoy darker movie fun too thanks to Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (18 October), which sees a return for Angelina Jolie as Sleeping Beauty’s curse-dispensing fairy godmother. On the animation front, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (14 October) sees Aardman’s most popular character return for a close encounter with some aliens, while Disney princesses Anna and Elsa are back in the sure-to-be-huge Frozen II (22 November). Ang Lee returns to blockbuster filmmaking for the first time since Hulk with the Old Will Smith vs Young Will Smith cloning thriller Gemini Man (11 October) – one of the few multiplex movies that isn’t a sequel, reboot or spin-off. Speaking of which, Terminator: Dark Fate (23 October) attempts to save the flailing franchise yet again, this time by re-teaming Arnold Schwarzenegger with Linda Hamilton for the first time since T2: Judgment Day. Elsewhere, the post-IT Stephen King cash-grab continues with Doctor Sleep (31 October), a Ewan McGregor-starring sequel to The Shining that arrives just in time for Halloween/Brexit.

Caledonia-on Thames

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Once again this year’s BFI London Film Festival (2-13 October) is awash with Scottish talent, starting with Armando Iannucci, whose new film, The Personal History of David Copperfield, opens proceedings. The festival also screens Our Ladies, Rob Roy director Michael Caton-Jones’ much-anticipated adaptation of Alan Warner’s brilliant 1998 cult novel The Sopranos – about a quintet of Catholic choirgirls who go on the rampage in Edinburgh while attending a national singing contest. Caton-Jones has form when it comes to developing new talent –not for nothing did Leonardo DiCaprio thank him in his Oscar speech – so expect big things from his up-and-coming cast. Among that cast is Marli Siu, who co-stars in yet another Scottish film premiering at the festival: Scott Graham’s Run. The Bafta-nominated writer/director’s third feature (after Shell and Iona), which also stars Mark Stanley, is set against the backdrop of Fraserburgh’s boy-racer scene and takes inspiration from the music of Bruce Springsteen (coincidentally, the Boss will also be at the festival, promoting his new concert film Western Stars). Look out too for Rialto, the new film from Peter Mackie Burns, and Ruth Paxton’s Be Still My Beating Heart, which plays in the shorts programme.

Netflix vs Cinemas

You could legitimately not go to the cinema at all though and still see a lot of the season’s talking-point films thanks to Netflix. Following Roma’s highly publicised, multi-award-winning disruption of the distribution model last year, the biggest test for the future of cinema-going comes on 27 November when Martin Scorsese’s Robert De Niro/Al Pacino double-header, The Irishman, debuts on the streaming platform, following its London Film Festival premiere and a short awards-qualifying cinematic release. Scorsese isn’t the only auteur finding sanctuary in the streaming giant either. Also coming soon are the Breaking Bad spin-off movie El Camino (11 October), Steven Soderbergh’s Panama Papers drama The Laundromat (18 October), David Michôd’s Shakespeare adaptation, The King (1 November), Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story (6 December) and City of God director Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes (11 December). Multiplex chains are up in arms, ensuring the next few years are going to be fascinating.

Every Saga Has An Ending

Of course there’s one talking point film that will be unavoidable. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (19 December) brings the space saga George Lucas first unleashed on an unsuspecting public back in 1977 to a definitive close with the final part of what has become (and was actually always envisioned as) a trilogy of trilogies. The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams is back in the driving seat, to the delight of the fanboys who exploded into paroxysms of misplaced rage at the perceived disrespect shown towards key characters in Rian Johnson’s previous instalment, The Last Jedi. Official plot details are, of course, non-existent, but Abrams has found a way to include the late Carrie Fisher without digitally resurrecting her and as the trailer revealed, Billy Dee Williams returns to the saga for the first time since Return of the Jedi as Lando Calrissian. Abrams has said he felt less beholden to George Lucas’s original trilogy than he did when he made The Force Awakens, but he’s also confirmed that the challenge on this one was to make a film that will tie everything up in a satisfying way, telling Vanity Fair recently: “If you were to watch all nine of the films, you’d feel like, Well, of course – that!” Of course, Star Wars is also now for everyone, but for those of us who were kids when the first trilogy came out, who are not so much part of Generation X as Generation X-Wing, well, let’s just say that this goodbye might get a bit… emotional.