School, it seems, is back in session. The post-summer movie glut that we get every year in August — when it’s finally safe to dump the under-achievers that would have been swallowed whole by The Lion King, Avengers: Endgame or some other Disney-backed juggernaut can finally have a chance to catch audiences’ eyes — is well underway. And, at long last, everybody’s starting to look forward to the Fall and Winter months: the time when studios roll out their A-material and we finally get to see what classics-to-be we’ll all be talking about come Oscar season.
But what exactly are these new movies? How will people be able to distinguished from the diamonds and the surrounding rough? What can already compete with already-released “best movies” of 2019 (like Us and Book Smart and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)? If you at least manage to check out these five movies, you’ll be front-and-center for what are shaping up to be the five most interesting conversations in movies this year.
Ad Astra — Every year, it seems, we end up with one of these: a serious-minded drama that uses that familiar trappings of realistics, or “hard,” science fiction to give us an awards-ready genre piece that equally appeals to critics and general audiences. 2013 had Gravity, which one Mexican-born director Alfonso Cuaron is his Best Director Oscar. 2014 had Ex Machina, the directorial debut for celebrated 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007) scribe Alex Garland. 2015 had best picture nominee and Matt Damon comeback vehicle The Martian. 2016 had Arrival, another best picture nominee and quite possibly directorial wunderkind Denis Villeneuve’s best feature to date, while 2017 featured his immediate follow-up to it, Blade Runner 2049, which perplexingly proved to be a worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s classic neon noir forebear. Garland resurfaced in 2018 with Annihilation which, despite its utterly botched released, proved to be one of the most rapturously reviewed films of the year. 2019’s answer to this trend is Ad Astra, a Brad Pitt vehicle about personal loss and space travel in desperate times that suspiciously appear to mirror our own.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — In addition to being one of the most singularly talented actors of his generation, Tom Hanks has built his reputation in Hollywood out of his impossibly wholesome image (an image which, by all accounts, appear to genuinely reflect the kind of legitimately wonderful Human being he evidently is). From the watchful toy guardian of a young boy’s childhood to Walt Disney himself, Hanks has proven especially adept at bringing a certain kind of man to life on the big screen. With A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a well-timed biopic hot on the heels of the incredibly moving (to say nothing of popular) documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, we have what might just be the best possible marriage of filmmaker to film since the formerly burnt-out Hollywood exile Robert Downey Jr. catapulted to back to the A-list in Marvel’s Iron Man (2008).
Joker — On paper, I should hate this movie: hate the very idea of it. And up until its shockingly excellent first trailer, I was content to do just that. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody, even the most ardent DC defender, argue that Warner Bros. didn’t flub what should have been an easy layup of a shared cinematic universe with their hotly anticpated DC Extended Universe. The Joker, though the perfect, iconic Batman villain, has been so done to death in the decade since Heath Ledger’s singular turn as the character that I could hardly muster much excitement for that basic concept. And a solo Joker movie, seemingly bereft of the Dark Knight in his entirety? Now that’s a hard sell for me. And yet… after watching that trailer, and it’s grotesquely compelling The King of Comedy (1982) by way of Taxi Driver (1986) approach to the subject matter, I’m begrudgingly on board with everything. The fact that DC evidently has this penned as a major awards contender, and will be giving it the complete Fall festival roll-out like more traditional awards contenders, merely confirms that this is going to be a movie to keep both eyes on.
Little Women — 2019 has been the year of amazing Sophomore films from incredibly promising directors from the past few years. We’ve already gotten Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out (Us), Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary (Midsommar) and Robert Eggers’ follow-up to It Follows (The Lighthouse). Later this year, however, we’re going to also get Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to her Best Picture nominee Ladybird (Little Women). The trailer just dropped for this movie and everything about it looks absolutely pristine: the kind of immaculate, technical perfection that announces her as more than just some flash-in-the-pan from two years ago. And between it’s refreshingly feminine point of view and late December release date, this is a film that can safely be expected to go far in the Oscar race.
Parasite — Given how little Americans seem to follow non-American cinema, it’s understandable why a singular auteur like Bong Joon-ho isn’t already a household name. The Korean director, one of the most exciting filmmakers from his richly filmic homeland, has proven time and time again that he is a visionary that demands attention: from Memories of Murder (2003) to The Host (2006) to Snowpiercer (2014) to Okja (2017). His latest, an equally unique production to any of his prior work, won the esteemed Palm d’Ore at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (which, to the laymen among you, functionally serves as a kind of Nobel Prize in film) and is anticipating a big, late-year stateside release in time for Oscar consideration. And while the Academy is still pretty Old Guard in a lot of ways, the influx of new and decidedly international filmmakers into the awards body in recent years has made it a friendly place than ever before for international films of merit. Like Roma (2018), Amour (2012), Babel (2006) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) before it, it stands a better-than-average chance of breaking into the resoundingly English-language film discourse, and that’s reason enough for any lover of film to seek it out for a watch in the months to come.