You may have read my column Friday about Ben-Hur and when, exactly, it is that it’s okay to remake a movie (short version: rarely), and then, over the weekend, I saw Hell or High Water, which is, without question, the best film I’ve seen so far this year. Sing Street is a not too distant second, and they’re both from original screenplays, and that got me to thinking a couple things.
First of all, a smart production company or studio should pony up a lot of money to corral Taylor Sheridan’s next few screenplays because between this and Sicario, he is clearly one of the best writers of smart, thoughtful, gritty action films currently out there. Secondly, in all this talk about how bad this summer’s movies have been, and all the remakes and adaptations and everything else (admittedly, much of this talk coming from me), I think we have lost something in the process.
If we really want the studios to once again start making the kinds of movies that made us fall in love with the movies in the first place, we need to start supporting films that are based on original ideas, because otherwise, they’re going to keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing that has ticked us off so much that we (okay, I, but also a lot of you tweeting at me at @neilturitz) can’t stop taking about it.
So I decided to take a look at what we have coming out over the final four months of the year, what wide release movies based on original ideas and not on something else — a comic book or a sequel or a book or a short story or a real life event or anything other than someone’s thoughts, which they put into a screenplay and sold to the highest bidder — are in our immediate future, and then discuss them here, so that maybe we can all get out there and show the studios that, in fact, we are big fans of this kind of thing and would like to see more of it.
A quick bit of qualification, because I think it’s important: I’m going to acknowledge that short shrift is being given to animated films (Storks, Moana, and Sing), and horror (Morgan, Keep Watching, and Incarnate), and throw an asterisk at Rules Don’t Apply, because while Warren Beatty’s long-gestating Howard Hughes pic is not actually based on real events, it is based on real people. Of course, it’s also a Warren Beatty film, so we should probably all see it, anyway, because they’re more often than not pretty great (see: Shampoo — yes, I know Hal Ashby directed it, but come on — Heaven Can Wait, Reds and Bulworth, but maybe skip Dick Tracy), but I think it’s okay to not exactly include it here, even though I kinda just did.
That leaves us with just an even baker’s dozen movies coming out between now and the start of 2017 that qualify for this list, and all of them have something interesting about them, even if you have to delve a little below the surface to do so.
So let’s give that a shot, shall we?
It essentially starts in mid-October with The Accountant and Keeping Up With the Joneses. The first one is actually a mid-range budget drama that doesn’t seem to fit into the Grand Master Plan of the studios, but rather as a sort of throwback that has me more than a tad intrigued. While I’m no Ben Affleck fanatic (he’s fine, I suppose), I do like the work of Gavin O’Connor, who helmed the best movies ever about hockey (Miracle) and ultimate fighting (Warrior), and also, it should be noted, stepped into a thankless directing gig to save Natalie Portman’s Jane Got a Gun. If the only reason to see it was because he was directing, that would be enough for me, but now there’s the added benefit of supporting an original screenplay.
Likewise, Joneses looks very funny, with a killer cast — Jon Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher and Gal Gadot — and comes from Superbad and Adventureland director Greg Mottola. Any time you have a combination like that, odds are good that you’re going to get your money’s worth in belly laughs by the time you exit the theater. I don’t know about you, but those are the kinds of movies I like to support.
November gets us another trio of originals, with Almost Christmas first up on Veteran’s Day. That’s a comedy about a family asked to get along for one five-day stretch during the holidays. Not normally my cup of tea, but this fall is different, so maybe I’ll give it a shot, after all. A week later comes The Edge of Seventeen, a teen dramedy with Hallee Seinfeld and Woody Harrelson with a great trailer that had me laughing and marking my calendar. That same week, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea hits theaters. A Sundance standout, this dark drama from the writer-director of You Can Count On Me is pretty much right in my wheelhouse. It’s exactly the kind of movie that gets lots of awards chatter going, and the early word suggests it won’t let us down.
Which takes us to December, and the last eight of our chosen films. The first two come out on the 2nd, with Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash followup, the musical La La Land with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and if you need me to flog this pony even remotely, then you were never going to see it in the first place. More interesting to discuss is the Halle Berry thriller Kidnap, which should have come out in 2015, but was delayed by the Relativity bankruptcy. It has had no less than five release dates, and one hopes that it will finally make this one, but until it actually sees the inside of theaters, we won’t know for sure.
We can be sure, however, about the Jessica Chastain vehicle Miss Sloane and the raucous ensemble comedy Office Christmas Party. The former has Oscar bait all over it, especially for its star, while the latter has an amazing cast and one of the funniest trailers I’ve seen in years. I suspect that Miss Sloane will benefit from awards chatter (which, as we know, leads to bigger box office), while Party is exactly the kind of holiday comedy that serves as good counter-programming for all the heavier fare.
Speaking of counter-programming, Collateral Beauty hits screens the same day as the Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One. That worked out pretty well last year for Sisters, and I imagine the same will be true for this heavy-duty drama, especially with a cast that includes Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslett, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris and Michael Peña. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see that bunch in one film?
A week later, one of the year’s most highly anticipated flicks opens, and I don’t mean The Space Between Us, which might actually be a pretty good movie, but you can’t really tell by the treacly trailer. In fact, I’ve had no fewer than five different people tell me that they actually laughed at it, which is not the desired effect. Interestingly, we haven’t even seen a trailer for the movie I am talking about, Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. If there was one movie that was really needed by both actors to firmly, once and for all, establish their draw as movie stars away from franchises or ensembles, this would be it. Yes, Lawrence got some people into theaters last year to see Joy, but this one is different. This is a big budget sci-fi flick that is clearly resting very firmly on their shoulders, and I, for one, will be among the first in line to see if they can pull it off.
Finally, there’s Why Him?, which comes out on the final Wednesday of the year, and even if it looks fairly ridiculous, it also serves as a comedic lead role for last year’s Oscar nominee, Bryan Cranston. I don’t know about you, but seeing someone who has worked so hard for so long, for him to achieve something akin to movie star status this far into his career — even if it’s in a more limited capacity — that just kind of warms my cockles.
All of these do, really. And they should warm yours, too, because what they are is increasingly rare. We should all agree that we’re going to support these projects, whether they’re good or bad, in the hopes that the companies making them get this particularly strong message:
We want more of them. A lot more.