14 fall movies getting Oscar buzz

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Fall is officially upon us and with it comes the unofficial start to the Oscar season.

Some films debut to rave reviews throughout the year, but studios save their true contenders for the fall. Fall movies will be fresh in the minds of the voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when it's time to cast ballots.

Here's a look at some of the movies coming out soon getting lots of Oscar buzz:

“Ad Astra” (Sept. 20)

Director James Gray, whose last film, “The Lost City of Z” debuted at 2016’s New York Film Festival, often makes uncommonly pensive dramas featuring fully fleshed out characters and detailed plotting, so it’s no surprise that his latest offering, “Ad Astra,” garnered such strong reviews out of the Venice Film Festival last month.

In the movie, Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, a renowned astronaut and introverted loner brought in to investigate a strange – and top secret – phenomenon that has begun to worsen and threatens all life on Earth.

“Judy” (Sept. 27)

We don’t hear too much about Renee Zellweger anymore, but her recent performance as Judy Garland in Rupert Goold’s “Judy” may just turn the tide.

Adapted from Peter Quilter’s play “End of the Rainbow,” “Judy” revolves around the winter of 1968, when Garland performed in London for a five-week run of sold-out shows before her untimely passing in June 1969 at 47.

Early reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival tout Zellweger’s performance – and her singing – as award-stealing cinema.

“Joker” (Oct. 4)

Perhaps no film has received more buzz this fall than “Joker,” from director Todd Phillips. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the titular enigmatic madman.

While much of the discussion has revolved around the brutality and realism of the violence on screen, just as much has revolved around Phoenix’s acting.

Co-written and directed by Phillips, “Joker” follows Arthur Fleck, an aspiring comedian in Gotham City, before he became the world’s most famous villain. Rejection and mental illness spur on a descent into madness in an indifferent, cruel society.

Phillips, best known for directing comedy classics like “The Hangover” and “Old School,” is stepping into territory not seen since “A Clockwork Orange” and “Taxi Driver” terrorized the world of cinema in the 1970s. If early reviews from fall festivals are any indication, this movie may well pay off, for him and for audiences.

“Parasite” (Oct. 11, Limited)

Bong Joon-ho is arguably South Korea's best-known director, although he only recently experimented with English language films (“Snowpiercer,” “Okja”). He’s resisted several offers to direct more blockbuster fare in lieu of creating original pictures, like this year’s “Parasite.”

In the movie, impoverished Kim Ki-taek and his unemployed family become involved with the affluent Park family in a lucrative – and impersonated – business scheme, only to have an unexpected incident further complicate their deception.

Early reviews compare Bong’s fable to Jordan Peele’s “Us,” another home invasion farce, although those same critics at the Cannes Film Festival, in which Bong won the Palme d’Or, thought Bong improved upon the concept. It may be the frontrunner in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards early next year.

“The Lighthouse” (Oct. 18, Limited)

“The Witch” was a disturbing horror folktale when it debuted in the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, but it also introduced the world to Robert Eggers and his unquestionable skills as both writer and director. Needless to say, his follow-up, “The Lighthouse,” is riding high expectations.

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play two lighthouse keepers tasked with occupying a lighthouse somewhere off the coast of New England in the late 19th century, only to have their minds quickly devolve into a sinister maelstrom of madness.

The film made its debut earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival and quickly became a favorite among critics, citing cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s use of black-and-white and a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Pattinson’s and Dafoe’s acting, and Eggers attention to detail.

“The Irishman” (Nov. 1, Limited)

Martin Scorsese has seemingly gotten busier as he’s gotten older, yet never has he seemed busier than with “The Irishman,” a Netflix production with a reported $159 million budget and a run time of more than three hours.

Robert De Niro plays Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a mob hitman who served in World War II but now spends his days recounting his involvement with the Bufalino crime family and the disappearance of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.

The film has been talked about specifically for its extensive use of CGI to “de-age” its three lead actors (De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci) and the ongoing battle between Netflix and major theater chains like AMC and Cinemark to get the film a wider theatrical release. It should be a major player in the craft categories.

“Marriage Story” (Nov. 6, Limited)

Noah Baumbach consistently makes engaging, realistic dramas with deceptively simple plots and rich characters. “Marriage Story” is expected to continue that tradition.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play Nicole and Charlie, divorcing parents in the middle of a splintering relationship. The story chronicles their trials and tribulations in attempting to remain friends while developing lives independent of one another and co-parenting their young son.

Initial reviews out of the Venice Film Festival last month praised the film all around (it’s Baumbach’s highest-reviewed film ever and holds a 100 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes) while highlighting Driver’s and Johansson’s performances on more than one occasion.

“Ford v Ferrari” (Nov. 15)

Since the acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney has taken on several productions that hold significant Academy Awards potential. “Ford v Ferrari,” directed by James Mangold and starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, is one of those contenders.

The film recounts the real life events circling Ford’s attempt to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 after Enzo Ferrari refused to sell his company’s racing division, Scuderia Ferrari, in a deal that would’ve seen Ford buyout Ferrari altogether.

Critics at the Telluride Film Festival last month praised Mangold’s direction during elaborate racing sequences and applauded both Damon and Bale for their performances. Disney may have struck a little awards season gold with this $100 million production.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Nov. 22)

Tom Hanks portrays America’s favorite neighbor in Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” titled “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

The story is based on the true story of a friendship Fred Rogers developed with Esquire reporter Tom Junod (his name has been changed to Lloyd Vogel in the movie). Vogel is assigned to cover Rogers for an article, only to change his skeptical stance after learning more about the man in the red sweater.

Piggybacking off of the popularity of last year’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is still no guarantee of an Academy Award, but early reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival praised Hanks and co. for a powerfully uplifting “valentine to kindness.

“Queen & Slim” (Nov. 27)

“Queen & Slim” may end up disrupting an already uncertain race at the Academy Awards, particularly after lead actor Daniel Kaluuya got some much-deserved attention from the Academy for his performance in 2017’s “Get Out.”

As a modern spin on the “Bonnie and Clyde” narrative, a young couple’s first date takes an unexpected turn when they’re pulled over by a police officer and forced to shoot him in self defense.

Picked as the opening night selection at the AFI Fest this November, the film is sure to garner some awards attention. Screenwriter Lena Waithe, who won an Emmy in 2017 for her writing in the Netflix show “Master of None," and first-time feature director Melina Matsoukas may be relatively unknown until the upcoming award season.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Dec. 6)

French director Celine Sciamma, who directed little-known movies like “Water Lilies” and “Girlhood,” might be bringing home some Academy Awards hardware for her latest venture, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

In the late 18th century, Marianne, a gifted painter played by Noemie Merlant, is hired to paint a portrait of young Heloise, played by Adele Haenel, to be shown to a young Italian man who may choose to marry her.

What develops is a benevolent story of love and longing, one that some critics at various summer film festivals (including Cannes and the Sydney Film Festival) think is one of the best stories put on screen in the last decade. It may well surpass Bong’s “Parasite” to capture the Best Foreign Language Film statuette at the Academy Awards.

“A Hidden Life” (Dec. 13)

While Terrence Malick has sputtered out in his most recent films (“Knight of Cups” and “Song to Song”), the director returns to form with “A Hidden Life,” the true story of an Austrian conscientious objector in World War II who refused to fight for the Nazis.

Franz Jagerstatter, played by August Diehl, lives his days in a quiet farming community in the Austrian mountains with his wife and kids, but news about Hitler’s rise and insistence that every Austrian citizen pledge allegiance doesn’t sit well with the deeply religious man.

It’s been several years in the making, but its initial debut at Cannes and subsequent rollout to other film festivals this fall has been well-received. Malick may find himself back in Academy Awards contention with this one.

“Uncut Gems” (Dec. 13, Limited)

The Safdie Brothers may not be well-known to general audiences, but their recent feature films (“Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time”) have been garnering strong reviews in the festival circuit for years. Their latest, “Uncut Gems,” may be their best-reviewed film yet.

Set in New York City, Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler) runs a jewelry store that caters to the rich and famous, but when his merchandise is taken from one of his top sellers, he must scramble to find a way to pay his debts.

When it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival last month, it received some of the highest reviews of any film this year, although it may not be an easy watch for those that don’t enjoy edge-of-your-seat, anxiety-inducing cinema. Nevertheless, some outlets think Sandler may land his first Best Actor nomination for his role in the film.

“1917” (Dec. 25)

Shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049") in what feels like one long, continuous take, Sam Mendes’ “1917” may make a huge splash at both the box office and at this awards season.

The story, set during the height of World War I, follows two young British soldiers that are given the task of delivering a message deep within enemy territory that may save 1,600 men – and one of their brothers – from a deadly trap.

The Academy Awards often love war dramas, particularly in the craft categories, and Sam Mendes is well-known as the director of previous critical gems “American Beauty” and “Skyfall," with the former even getting him a Best Director Oscar in 2000.

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