Tom Hanks didn’t know where the cameras were.
“Captain Phillips,” a based-on-a-true-story tale about a cargo ship taken by Somali pirates, was Hanks’ first time working with Paul Greengrass, the “United 93” and “The Bourne Supremacy” director known for his visceral, documentary-like filmmaking. Hanks, who plays the titular captain in a performance sure to be hailed as one of his best, had been warned by Matt Damon about the chaos of Greengrass’ unblocked, naturalistic approach.
But Hanks, after one particularly chaotic take, asked his director: “Are you going to get that little session over by the maps?”
“They’d say: ‘No, we got that,’ ” recalls a still perplexed Hanks. “When? When did you get that?”
“Captain Phillips” (out Oct. 11) is only one way moviegoers this fall will be fully, often staggeringly immersed in worlds as varied as slavery-era Louisiana (“12 Years a Slave”), 1970s Massachusetts conmen (“American Hustle”) and outer space, among the detritus of a space station torn apart by a storm of debris (“Gravity”).
Soon, the fall movie season will unofficially commence, the superheroes (mostly) falling from theaters like autumn leaves. After a summer of blockbuster gluttony, Hollywood will, as if penance for its binging, trot out its more serious and ambitious fare. George Clooney – this fall directing (“The Monuments Men”), producing (“August: Osage County”) and acting (“Gravity”) – will put down stakes.
There’s some hope that after a knock-about summer heavy with city-destroying tumult and some spectacular flops, that a degree of levity will return to the multiplexes. (That is, until the ever-expanding Oscar horse race commences in earnest.)
Last fall, after all, showed that good, adult-oriented movies could still draw crowds. A varied best-picture field, including “Lincoln” to “Life of Pi,” made more than $2 billion at the box office worldwide even before the Academy Awards.
This autumn promises no less a mix of both aspirational filmmaking and mainstream attractions. As if her fans needed notice, Jennifer Lawrence will return not just with “Silver Linings Playbook” director David O. Russell in “American Hustle,” but also as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Nov. 22).
A quite different fervor will greet Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” (Dec. 20), the long-in-coming sequel. There will be other sequels, too, including Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: the Dark World” (Nov. 8) and Peter Jackson’s high-frame rate “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Dec. 13). As the CIA analyst of the best-selling Tom Clancy books, Chris Pine will try to jumpstart a new franchise in “Jack Ryan” (Dec. 25).
But other types of powerhouses will compete with action spectacle. John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “August: Osage County,” features an ensemble cast topped by the tantalizing duo of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as mother and daughter.
Here’s a look at what’s coming up:
“Prisoners” (opened Friday) – A family tale, albeit of a very different sort, is “Prisoners,” a thriller in which Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard play fathers whose daughters go missing. Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are among the familiar faces in the cast.
“Enough Said” (opened Friday) – Romantic comedy from Nicole Holofcener about a divorcée who finds herself making a new friend and dating that pal’s former husband at the same time. James Gandolfini, in one of his final screen roles, appears along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Catherine Keener.
“Battle of the Year” (opened Friday) – A dream team of the best dancers across the country is assembled by a Los Angeles hip-hop mogul (Laz Alonso) who wants to win an international dance-crew tournament. He enlists a hard-luck friend (Josh Holloway), a basketball coach, to help out in this movie that counts Chris Brown among its cast.
“Rush” (opens Sept. 27) – Chris Hemsworth stars as Formula One driver James Hunt in Ron Howard’s film.
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (opens Sept. 27) – Sequel to the 2009 animated adaptation of Judi and Ron Barrett’s popular children’s book. Inventor Flint Lockwood learns that his invention has survived and is creating “foodimals” such as tacodiles, shrimpanzees and cheespiders.
“Baggage Claim” (opens Sept. 27) – Paula Patton plays a flight attendant determined to get engaged before her youngest sister’s wedding. With 30 days to find Mr. Right, she uses her airline connections to “accidentally” meet eligible ex-boyfriends and look for new candidates in this comedy.
“Don Jon” (opens Sept. 27) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in this comedy about a womanizing Jersey boy who finds there is more to life than constantly scoring when he becomes involved with two very different women (Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore).
“Blue Caprice” (opens Sept. 27) – Real-life snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who terrorized the Washington, D.C., area with a three-week shooting spree in 2002, inspired this drama starring Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond.
“Gravity” (opens Oct. 4) – Like director Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) is known for his predilection for uninterrupted takes. He opens “Gravity” with an unbroken 17-minute shot, the kind that bravura craftsmanship cinephiles will drool over.
In the film, Sandra Bullock and Clooney play astronauts tethered together after they’re left stranded in space. The film is, in part, a chamber piece between two characters, floating in the black abyss. It’s also a playground for Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to experiment with 3-D effects and zero-gravity camera movement that isn’t beholden to up or down.
To keep the audience adrift in space, Cuaron resisted cutting.
“It’s the idea of trying to create a moment of truthfulness in which the camera happens to be there just to witness, and respecting that moment in real time,” Cuaron says. “In this film, we felt it was going to bring the added value of the immersive element.”
“Runner Runner” (opens Oct. 4) – Crime-drama thriller starring Justin Timberlake as a Princeton grad student who believes he’s been swindled and heads to Costa Rica to confront an online gambling tycoon portrayed by Ben Affleck. There, he’s caught between promises of immense wealth and an FBI sting.
“Captain Phillips” (opens Oct. 11) – Tom Hanks plays the title role of Capt. Richard Phillips in this thriller about the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates.
“Machete Kills” (opens Oct. 11) – Danny Trejo returns as ex-Federale agent Machete, recruited by the president of the United States to take down a billionaire madman and arms dealer who plans to spread war and anarchy across the planet.
“Romeo and Juliet” (opens Oct. 11) – William Shakespeare’s tale of tragic love is revisited with a cast that counts Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti and Stellan Skarsgard.
“12 Years a Slave” (opens Oct. 18) – For “12 Years a Slave,” McQueen drew from Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his horrifying odyssey as a free black man with a family in upstate New York kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. With undiminished dignity, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Kinky Boots”) plays Northup as he’s led from plantation to plantation.
McQueen tells the story straightforwardly, often in long takes, submerging the audience in the world of slavery. Ejiofor says McQueen aimed to tell Northup’s story literally, without embellishment. “In doing that, it creates its own intensity,” the actor says.
“I remember having conversations about if one can capture – even for a moment for an audience – what any of these things might have felt like, might have tasted like, might have really been like, then I think it’s a really powerful piece of filmmaking,” Ejiofor says.
“The Fifth Estate” (opens Oct. 18) – Benedict Cumberbatch plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“Kill Your Darlings” (opens Oct. 18) – A story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsburg.
“Carrie” (opens Oct. 18) – Move over, Sissy Spacek, and don’t slip on the blood. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the title role, an outcast sheltered by her deeply religious mother (Julianne Moore) who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.
“Escape Plan” (opens Oct. 18) – Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are paired in this tale about a man, deceived and wrongly imprisoned, who recruits a fellow inmate to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built.
“August: Osage County” (opens Oct. 18) – To create a realistic impression of the Westons, the Oklahoma family of “August: Osage County,” Wells congregated his cast – picked to feel like a family – at an old Osage County home.
“The cast lived in a complex of small town homes together throughout the shoot,” says Wells, the producer of “ER” and “Shameless,” making his second feature film following 2010’s “The Company Men.” “It was a ways from town and from home. People didn’t return to the trailers often. We were just in the house, living as a family and rehearsing.”
The cast even started adopting similar physical gestures and facial expressions to match their fictional parents, Wells says. Streep’s three daughters (Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson) aped her mannerisms to lend a familial truthfulness.
“The Counselor” (opens Oct. 25) – Director Ridley Scott will release “The Counselor,” a dark Mexican border thriller from a script by Cormac McCarthy.
“Haunter” (opens Oct. 25) – Abigail Breslin plays a teenager who, with her family, died in 1986 under sinister circumstances but remain trapped in their house. Breslin’s character must reach out from beyond the grave to save a present-day counterpart from the same fate.
“Dallas Buyers Club” (opens Nov. 1) – Matthew McConaughey portrays a real-life Texas electrician who, in 1986, was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. He seeks out alternative treatments by means legal and illegal and establishes a buyers club to help others who are ailing.
“Last Vegas” (opens Nov. 1) – When a sworn bachelor (Michael Douglas) proposes to his 30-something girlfriend, he and his boyhood pals (Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline) head to Las Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days.
“Free Birds” (opens Nov. 1) – Animated buddy comedy about two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks who team up to travel back in time and try to change the course of history and get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu for good. Voice talent includes Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler.
“Diana” (opens Nov. 1) – Naomi Watts stars as Princess Diana during the last two years of her life.
“Thor: The Dark World” (opens Nov. 8) – Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor, who fights to restore order across the cosmos, but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness.
“About Time” (opens Nov. 8) – Comedy, from the writer of “Love Actually,” “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” about love and time travel starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (opens Nov. 15) – Filmmakers will be showing their craftsmanship this fall, including Martin Scorsese, who’ll release his “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a story of the decadence of modern finance starring Leonardo DiCaprio that should rival that of the actor’s last film, “The Great Gatsby.”
“The Best Man Holiday” (opens Nov. 15) – College friends, who were the focus of 1999’s ”The Best Man,” reunite during the Christmas holidays and discover how easily once-forgotten rivalries and romances can reignite. Ensemble includes Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Nia Long and Sanaa Lathan.
“A Case of You” (opens Nov. 15) – A young writer (Justin Long) woos a quirky barista (Evan Rachel Wood) by studying her Facebook profile and making himself into the man of her dreams. When she falls for his alter ego, he must keep up the act or risk losing her.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (opens Nov. 22) – The first movie grossed $408 million in North America and helped turn Jennifer Lawrence into a star before her Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Director Francis Lawrence says some changes from the book, largely involving the Josh Hutcherson character of Peeta Mellark, have been made for the movie.
“Nebraska” (opens Nov. 22) – This film is Alexander Payne’s return to his native Midwest, a black-and-white father-son road trip.
“Frozen” (opens Nov. 27) – When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, a young dreamer must team up with a daring mountain man to find the Snow Queen and end the icy spell. Animated movie with the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel.
“Oldboy” (opens Nov. 27) – Spike Lee remakes the Korean revenge thriller about a businessman imprisoned in a windowless hotel room for 15 years. He adds five years to the solitary confinement, making it an even 20 for prisoner Josh Brolin and adds Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen to the cast.
“Grace of Monaco” (opens Nov. 27) – Nicole Kidman channels the former Grace Kelly to Tim Roth’s Prince Rainier in a movie about the political conflict between Charles de Gaulle and Monaco and Alfred Hitchcock’s attempt to tempt the Philadelphia-born beauty back to Hollywood.
“Homefront” (opens Nov. 27) – Action movie about a widowed ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his 10-year-old daughter. The only problem: He picked the wrong town. Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth and Frank Grillo.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (opens Nov. 29) – Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela.
“Out of the Furnace” (opens Dec. 6) – In “Out of the Furnace,” Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as brothers separated when one is lured into a gang while in prison.
“Her” (opens Dec. 18) – Spike Jonze’s “Her” is a futuristic romance starring Joaquin Phoenix.
“Saving Mr. Banks” (opens Dec. 20) – Tom Hanks stars as Walt Disney in this film about author P.L. Travers’ reflections on her difficult childhood while meeting with the filmmaker during production for the adaptation of her novel.
“Foxcatcher” (opens Dec. 20) – Channing Tatum stars as Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz in Bennett Miller’s new film.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (opens Dec. 20) – The Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a film about a folk musician struggling in early 1960s Greenwich Village.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (opens Dec. 25) – More fanciful of this fall’s films will be Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which is an adaptation of James Thurber’s short story.
“The Invisible Woman” (opens Dec. 25) – Ralph Fiennes stars as Charles Dickens.
“Labor Day” (opens Dec. 25) – In Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” Kate Winslet plays a mother who encounters an escaped convict.
“American Hustle” (opens Dec. 25) – Many of these films will naturally enter the awards circuit and the monthslong handicapping leading up to the Oscars. It was only months ago that Russell went through that gauntlet with “Silver Linings Playbook,” which received eight Academy Awards nominations, winning one for Lawrence.
An instinctive filmmaker (“There’s an immediacy when it comes from the gut,” he says), Russell escaped the frenzy by jumping – quicker than he ever had between films – into “American Hustle.” The film, which stars Bale, Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, is a stylish story about the FBI Abscam operation and a cast of corrupt characters operating in the ’70s recession-era Northeast.
“It’s about the world of these people who are jaw-dropping to me,” Russell says. “You look at them, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God. Who are these people?’ They’re messed up and human, but they’re fighting to survive.”
Russell can again expect the prestige of a release in the heart of awards season. But the aura of the season, he says, ultimately means little.
“The film has to prove itself,” Russell says. “Let the proof be in the pudding.”
Barbara Vancheri of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this article.