Conventional movie wisdom says summer is for superheroes and sequels, reboots and R-rated comedies — but come September, it’s time for the potential classics, the Oscar contenders, “grown-up” movies.
Conventional movie wisdom is pretty, pretty, pretty wise.
In order of Chicago release date, a dozen movies pinging my movie-going radar:
1. ‘Black Mass’ (Sept. 18)
Johnny Depp is the master of the wild-costumed, crazy-makeup, over-the-top performance, but my favorite Depp movies are the ones in which he concentrates more on authenticity than eyeliner (“Blow,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Finding Neverland”). In “Black Mass,” Depp plays Whitey Bulger, the notorious Boston mobster turned FBI informant who disappeared in the 1990s and was at large for 16 years. Director Scott Cooper helmed the dark and quietly powerful crime thriller “Out of the Furnace,” one of my favorite overlooked movies of the last few years.
2. ‘Sicario’ (Sept. 25)
I’ve seen this one and I’ll hold off until my full review to tell you WHY it’s one of the most memorable films of this decade. Suffice to say Denis Villeneuve’s uncompromising, intense, violent and morally ambiguous take on the war on drugs is perhaps the best movie of its kind since Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” in 2000. Benicio del Toro won best supporting actor for his work in that film, and his performance here is equally brilliant. Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin also deliver nomination-worthy work.
3. ‘Legend’ (Oct. 2)
Another true crime story, starring one of the best actors in the world, Tom Hardy, in a dual role as Ronald and Reginald Kray, twin brothers who ruled organized crime in London in the 1950s and 1960s. “Legend” is directed and co-written by Brian Helgeland, who won the Oscar for his “L.A. Confidential” screenplay. Emily Browning, Paul Bettany, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald and David Thewlis co-star.
4. ‘The Martian’ (Oct. 2)
For 20 years, Matt Damon has been one of the most versatile actors in the business, handing heavy drama (“The Departed,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Syriana”), action blockbusters (the “Bourne” movies) and lighter fare (the “Ocean” franchise) with equal aplomb. I’ve seen a nearly finished print of Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” a beautiful and thrilling space adventure featuring perhaps Damon’s best acting yet. He plays an astronaut who is left behind on Mars by his crew, who thought he was dead. For most of the film, Damon is on his own, a la Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” as he tries to figure out how to survive for years on a planet decidedly not designed to host human life. The supporting cast includes Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Sean Bean and Michael Pena. Too bad they couldn’t find anyone talented.
5. ‘Steve Jobs’ (Oct. 9)
Can you believe they’re taking another stab at a biopic of the Apple genius so soon after the Ashton Kutcher-starring “Jobs” of 2013? Cough-cough. This time around, we have a wonderful director in Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Trainspotting,”), a first-rate writer in Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network”) and a terrific leading man in Michael Fassbender (“Shame,” “12 Years a Slave”). I’m gonna tiptoe on a limb here and predict “Steve Jobs” will be better than “Jobs.”
6. ‘Bridge of Spies’ (Oct. 16)
Another historical drama. Some kid named Spielberg directs some kid named Hanks in the story of the lawyer who in 1960 was tasked with negotiating for the release of American pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union during the white-hot era of the Cold War.
7. ‘Burnt’ (Oct. 23)
Relatively lighter fare: Bradley Cooper plays a rising-star chef who burns out on drugs and bad behavior and then tries to stage a comeback. Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson co-star.
6. ‘Truth’ (Oct. 30)
Robert Redford as Dan Rather? THAT should be interesting. Redford stars as the CBS icon in the behind-the-scenes story of the 2004 “60 Minutes” report about the Texas Air National Guard service of one George W. Bush. Cate Blanchett plays producer Mary Mapes (whose memoir is the basis for the film). The cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood (who always seems to be in movies like this, and that’s a good thing), Topher Grace and Elisabeth Moss.
9. ‘Spotlight’ (Nov. 6)
Yet another historical drama, based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the horrific child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church, and the monstrous, orchestrated cover-up effort. What a cast: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery.
10. ‘Spectre’ (Nov. 6)
Craig is back as Bond, on a mission to take down SPECTRE. With Christoph Waltz as the villainous Franz Oberhauser; Ralph Fiennes as M, and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny.
11. ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ (Nov. 20)
The excellent Billy Ray (“The Hunger Games,” “Captain Phillips,” “Shattered Glass”) directs Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts in this crime thriller, an Americanized version of the Argentine film from 2009 that won the Academy Award for best foreign language film.
12. ‘The Good Dinosaur’ (Nov. 25)
The 16th film from the magic-makers at Pixar imagines an Earth in which dinosaurs never became extinct. If “The Good Dinosaur” is half as good as Pixar’s earlier 2015 release, “Inside Out,” it’ll still be special.