Given that the summer movie season is now officially over with IT: Chapter Two welcoming us into September, Oscar season is well on its way. A few of the key festivals in that race, like Telluride and Venice, are already underway with a modicum of hot debuts, including the much-anticipated Joker movie with Joaquin Phoenix starring as the titular character, and the James Mangold vehicle Ford v Ferrari, both of which are racking up stellar reviews (though the latter much more so than the former). Every year, right around this time, I put out a list of my Top 10 most anticipated non-blockbuster movies for the rest of the year to mark that Oscar season start and give a heads up to general audiences about some films they might want to catch between their Jumanji and Star Wars viewings. This year, I couldn’t seem to pick which film the number 10 spot was going to go to, so they tied as 10A and 10B (lettering has no significance in terms of ranking and is purely for separational purposes). This typically isn’t as involved of a list as most of my others, so these picks might only include some rudimentary information about each movie, as well as a small plot synopsis (if available), and why I find it exciting. Without further ado, let’s get started. (Disclaimer: While I am very much looking forward to Joker, it is included only as an honorable mention here, because despite being a stand-alone film, it is adapting one of the most popular characters associated with blockbuster filmmaking).
10B. Ford v Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Writer(s): Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Plot Synopsis: Legendary American auto designer Carroll Shelby and racer Ken Miles team up to build and test the greatest racecar the world has ever seen to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, challenging the world-dominating Ferrari, in just under 90 days.
Why I’m Excited For It: James Mangold is an incredibly gifted director, and the film itself has already had a staggeringly good first trailer and debuted to loads of praise at Telluride. Combine that with the fantastic cinematography and sound present in the trailer, as well as a dynamite pair of leads in Matt Damon and Christian Bale, and you’ve got a recipe for something pretty special coming down the track.
10A. The Goldfinch
Director: John Crowley
Writer(s): Peter Straughan, Donna Tartt (Novel)
Plot Synopsis: After losing his mother to a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a boy in New York is taken in by a wealthy family from the Upper East Side.
Why I’m Excited For It: John Crowley directed by favorite film of 2015, Brooklyn, and although the direction wasn’t the most impressive part of that picture, I’m more than confident that he knows what he’s doing here, especially with talents like Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman in front of the camera. Not much is actually known about the central story by those (including myself) who haven’t read the novel yet, but what we do know is intriguing, and while it could be at risk of becoming the most pretentious movie of the year, Crowley being at the helm means we’ll probably get something unexpectedly moving and poignant.
9. Queen & Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writer(s): Lena Waithe, James Frey (Story)
Plot Synopsis: When a black couple is pulled over after their first date by a cop with an axe to grind, the man accidentally shoots him, forcing the couple to go on the run across a country in which some people now view them as heroes.
Why I’m Excited For It: It’s been a long time since a movie I knew nothing about shot straight into my Most Anticipated list by the strength of its initial trailer alone. I know nothing about this director or these writers, but I do know Daniel Kaluuya’s talent, and having a film explore what it might actually be like if an unjustly-pulled-over black man “fought back” (accidentally or otherwise) against the system that oppresses too many of the most innocent people in this country, and what that might mean to any variety of people, is an intriguing prospect solely by the sound of it. Luckily, the movie looks great too.
8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Director: Marielle Heller
Writer(s): Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Plot Synopsis: A hard-ball journalist (Matthew Rhys) attempts to unmask Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) as a false god, but ends up being touched by just how good the host of the hit show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood actually is, and eventually is pulled into a lifelong friendship.
Why I’m Excited For It: Marielle Heller got a lot of buzz for her work on last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which scored a number of Oscar nominations, including two in the acting categories, but this might just be the piece that rockets her into the stratosphere of directors to watch. Aside from the note-perfect casting of America’s dad Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, we also get to see Matthew Rhys continue to do great work post Emmy win* in a pretty wonderful, joyous first trailer, and given how fantastic the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was, I can’t wait to see more of Mr. Rogers on screen.
*Best Actor, The Americans Final Season.
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer(s): Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Plot Synopsis: Two young British soldiers are given a dire task in the midst of WWI: deliver a message deep into enemy territory to prevent the British forces (the brother of one of the soldiers among them) from walking into a deadly trap.
Why I’m Excited For It: Many films have been made about the perils of WWII, but surprisingly few have taken a deep dive into the “War to End All Wars.” Mendes has directed some of the most celebrated films of all time (and Spectre), and his work with all-time great cinematographer Roger Deakins, as well as a stacked cast and brilliant production design, made the teaser trailer for this WWI epic one of the most tense of the year, and I’m all-but-100% sure the film will fare the same.
6. The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer(s): Max Eggers, Robert Eggers
Plot Synopsis: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play two lighthouse keepers living together on a remote and mysterious island during the 1890s.
Why I’m Excited For It: The Witch is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, a marvelously sinister debut for director Robert Eggers, and from the second I heard he’d be working with two of the most exciting performers of their generations in a close-knit, claustrophobic, atmospheric horror shot in black and white, I knew we’d be getting something remarkable. The first trailer for Egger’s sophomore effort keeps the mystery intact, but manages to showcase just enough of the 4x3 cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, as well as Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances, that we understand the film will haunt us long after the credits close.
5. Motherless Brooklyn
Director: Edward Norton
Writer(s): Edward Norton, Jonathan Lethem (Novel)
Plot Synopsis: Based on the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name, the film follows lonely private detective Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a man afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he attempts to solve the murder of his mentor and friend Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) in 1950’s New York.
Why I’m Excited For It: Every once in a while, we’ll get a film that seems to be more about the performances at the center of the story than the story itself, and while there’s certainly a story to be intrigued by here, it’s the performance and sophomore directorial effort of Edward Norton that has me intrigued. Norton (despite being notorious for being difficult to work with) is a hell of an actor, and this looks to be one hell of a leading performance, one that could land him an Oscar nod in that oft-coveted Lead Actor category. Plus, I’m a sucker for 50’s production design, especially in New York.
4. The Report
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Writer(s): Scott Z. Burns
Plot Synopsis: Adam Driver stars as Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss (Annette Benning) to investigate a post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program helmed by the CIA, and ends up uncovering shocking secrets that could make it impossible to prosecute the people responsible.
Why I’m Excited For It: Amazon has been making Oscar contenders almost as long as the company’s been packaging and distributing motion pictures, and their latest original looks just as good (or great) as the rest of the pack. Debuting to rave reviews at Sundance, largely praising the powerhouse lead performance by Adam Driver, The Report looks like yet another hard-hitting journalist drama in an era chock full of them that actually takes a good look at the mistakes the US made in the wake of one of the most terrifying and tragic events on its own soil, and that sounds exciting to me.
3. The Irishman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer(s): Steve Zaillian, Charles Brandt (Book)
Plot Synopsis: A mob hitman (Robert De Niro) recalls his possible involvement with the assassination of gangster icon Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Why I’m Excited For It: Martin Scorsese is my favorite director of all time, and he hasn’t tackled a gangster film since 2002 with Gangs of New York. While the trailer didn’t exactly blow me away, Scorsese always delivers. A ton of major studios passed on this project, which Netflix opted to pick up, but not unfairly. Recently, it was revealed that the total run-time for Scorsese’s return to gangster epics clocked in at a whopping 3 and a half hours long, something that would make any studio doubt its financial prospects in a market currently dominated by more nostalgia-and-spectacle-driven fare. However, despite the gargantuan length, the names behind and in front of the camera are more than enough to keep me interested in this movie, which stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino (the three greatest gangsters in movie history) all together on screen for the first time, as well as Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, and Jesse Plemons in an adaptation of the novel I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Unfortunately, Netflix is passing on making this feature their first-ever wide theatrical release (cowards), but if you get the chance to see it in a theater, you probably should.
Director: Jay Roach
Writer(s): Charles Randolph
Plot Synopsis: Charlize Theon, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie lead an all-star cast as a group of women working for the Fox News channel who decide to take on Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), who founded the network, and the toxic atmosphere he presided over.
Why I’m Excited For It: The title for this film could not be more perfect, as the teaser dropped like a bolt out of nowhere, a literal bombshell of a marketing drop chock-full of tension and unspeakably perfect prosthetic makeup work that transformed an unrecognizable Charlize Theron into Fox News journalist Megyn Kelley. Couple that with Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, as well as Margot Robbie playing a fictious character taking one of the most tense elevator rides I’ve ever seen on screen, and you’ve got a recipe to guarantee a high slot on this list. Plus, movies that showcase the toxic atmosphere still present at Fox News today are never a bad thing. I’m sure the President will love this one.
1. A Hidden Life
Director: Terrence Malik
Writer(s): Terrence Malik
Plot Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, this story follows Blessed Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian peasant farmer who became a conscientious objector by refusing to fight for the Nazis in WWII, despite threats of execution for treason.
Why I’m Excited For It: Terrence Malik is often hit-or-miss, both for general audiences and the Academy (he hasn’t had a Best Picture nominee since 2011’s The Tree of Life), but given the relevance of resistance to Nazism and white nationalist rhetoric in the modern age, this looks to be one of those films that speaks to more than just the appetites of movie fans. The gorgeous cinematography in its first trailer, as well as a hauntingly beautiful score, couple to form an experience selling transcendence beyond the screen, and a message that’s (unfortunately) sorely necessary for today’s culture, for both the young and old.
And those are my Top 10 Most Anticipated (Non-Blockbuster) Movies for the Remainder of 2019! What are your most anticipated films for Oscar season? Which ones are you hoping make it to that coveted stage? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and keep it here at The Friendly Film Fan for Reviews, News, Rankings, and more!
Honorable Mentions: Ad Astra, Doctor Sleep, Harriet, Honey Boy, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Judy, Just Mercy, Knives Out, The Laundromat, Little Women (2019), Lucy in the Sky, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems
- The Friendly Film Fan