As summer turns into autumn and autumn into winter, our cinematic thoughts increasingly turn away from the base pleasures of superheroes and hitmen, and toward the more austere pleasures of Hollywood's prestige season. What follows are my five most hotly anticipated upcoming films.
1. The Hateful Eight: I tend to base these picks on the directors whom I trust the most to deliver something unique and interesting. The always-intriguing Quentin Tarantino returns with this long-gestating blend of Sergio Leone western and Agatha Christie murder mystery, and while the details sound juicy — Eight bloodthirsty strangers! A snowed-in cabin! Revenge! Jennifer Jason Leigh! Murder! Jennifer Jason Leigh! — the truth is that Tarantino could be making Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3 and I would still be losing my shit right now. (Opens Christmas Day in select cities; goes wide Jan. 8, 2016.)
2. Carol: The first theatrical feature from writer-director Todd Haynes since his 2007 magnum opus I'm Not There would be cause for celebration under any circumstances. It gets even juicier when you consider that Carol stars awards magnet/perfect human Cate Blanchett, and yet it was her co-star Rooney Mara who came away with an acting award when the film premiered at Cannes. Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, Carol appears to place Haynes back in his Far from Heaven comfort zone, as it follows the illicit love affair of a closeted lesbian couple in 1950s New York. (Opens Nov. 20 in select cities.)
3. Crimson Peak: In his first film since Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro directs Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska as secretive lovers haunted by an unsettled past, and tormented by the ice-eyed and indomitable Jessica Chastain. While I would be perfectly content if del Toro churned out Pacific Rim sequels until the sun refused to shine, the trailer for this film looks amazing, and there's no denying that the man excels at haunted-house tales. His previous efforts The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth have already set a high ceiling for Crimson Peak. (Opens Oct. 16.)
4. Beasts of No Nation: After Nic Pizzolato's hate-watched True Detective Season 2 solo effort crapped HBO's bed, his estranged Season 1 collaborator Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) gets a chance to rub his nose in it with this highly anticipated Netflix production. The film offers a meaty, awards-baiting role to Idris Elba, who officially reached "Good in Everything" status after transcending the debacles of No Good Deed and The Gunman. Here he plays a warlord who enlists child soldiers to fight in the civil war of an unnamed African country. (Opens in select cities and premieres on Netflix on Oct. 16.)
5. The Walk: While I'm not certain that the sublime 2008 documentary Man on Wire actually needs a 3D movie adaptation, they couldn't have cast a better actor for the role of puckish tightrope walker Philippe Petit than the lithe and likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The French daredevil Petit dreamed of walking a tightrope slung between the Twin Towers, and in 1974 he instigated a dangerous, illegal and heist-like scheme of espionage and trespassing, all in the service of whimsy and magic. It helps that director Robert Zemeckis knows better than anyone how to commingle groundbreaking special effects with complicated characterizations and story beats. (Opens Sept. 30 in select cities; goes wide Oct. 9.)
Five more to get excited about: Bridge of Spies, MacBeth, The Martian, Sicario, Snowden.