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NPR's Movie Preview: 15 New Films To Watch — And Watch Out For — This Fall

Coming to you this fall, from left: KiKi Layne and Stephan James in <em>If Beale Street Could Talk</em>, Ryan Gosling in <em>First Man</em>, Amandla Stenberg in <em>The Hate U Give,</em> and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in <em>A Star Is Born</em>.
Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, and Neal Preston/Warner Bros.
Coming to you this fall, from left: KiKi Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk, Ryan Gosling in First Man, Amandla Stenberg in The Hate U Give, and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born.

Fall is often the most intense movie season of all. Awards contenders begin to come into focus after the Toronto International Film Festival, while comedies and thrillers continue to hit screens. We got to see a lot of upcoming films at TIFF — below you'll find write-ups of 15 movies we really enjoyed and a heads-up about nearly 40 notable releases. From Mary Poppins to Aquaman to the possibility of another Oscars faceoffbetween directors Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), we've got you covered. Keep in mind that release dates are subject to change.

Our Favorites

A Star Is Born (Oct. 5)

Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is a fourth take on the thrice-told story of an established artist (played by Cooper himself) who develops a troubled romance with a younger talent (played here by Lady Gaga). Cooper's desire to say something intimate about love and struggle bumps up against some of the basic story's limitations. But both stars are very good, and scenes meant to provide goosebumps come through. A crowd-pleasing weepie for sure. — Linda Holmes

The Hate U Give (Oct. 5, limited; Oct. 19, wide)

Based on Angie Thomas' hugely successful YA novel, the film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, a young woman who witnesses the death of a friend in a police shooting and must decide what to do. While the ending seems a bit too neat, there's value in this earnest examination, directed by George Tillman Jr., about how kids learn to be activists. Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are very good as Starr's parents. — Linda Holmes

Beautiful Boy (Oct. 12)

Based on a pair of memoirs from David Sheff and his son Nic, Beautiful Boy casts Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as father and son, the father madly researching meth addiction as he feels his son being sucked into it. Chalamet's charismatic, maddening Nic is spectacular, and the film's stubbornly unresolved view of loving an addict — its perception of the experience as a grueling, endless walk beside someone — is brutal but feels honest. — Linda Holmes

Steve Carell (right) and Timothée Chalamet star as father and son in <em>Beautiful Boy</em>.
Francois Duhamel / Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios
Steve Carell (right) and Timothée Chalamet star as father and son in Beautiful Boy.

First Man (Oct. 12)

Damien Chazelle directed Whiplash and La La Land, but this is his most mature meditation about men and emotions. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong, whom we track from 1961 until 1969 when, as you may know, he walked on the moon. It is an astronaut movie, but it's also about the profound pain Armstrong experienced after his daughter's death and how stoicism and grief both remained part of his experience of late-1960s American masculinity. — Linda Holmes

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Oct. 19)

Lee Israel was a biography-writing has-been when she began forging letters by the likes of Fanny Brice, Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker and selling them to collectors. She got arrested, then turned her ordeal into the comeback memoir on which this film is based. As Israel, Melissa McCarthy is caustic, profane, curmudgeonly, affecting and very funny, as is Richard E. Grant as a gay alcoholic who becomes her accomplice. — Bob Mondello

Wildlife (Oct. 19)

Actor Paul Dano directs his first film, which he wrote with actress Zoe Kazan. It tells the story of a couple in the 1960s, played by Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose teenage son watches from behind doors and listens from other rooms as their marriage collapses. It's beautifully designed and well-acted, and Mulligan's tense work as a mother who sometimes seems to be the stronger parent and sometimes the more dangerous one is exquisite. — Linda Holmes

A marriage crumbles in <em>Wildlife, </em>starring Carey Mulligan (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal.
/ IFC Films
IFC Films
A marriage crumbles in Wildlife, starring Carey Mulligan (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal.

El Angel (Nov. 9)

This moody, stylish drama is about a real-life, baby-faced murderous criminal whose spree of robberies and killings shocked Argentina in the early 1970s. The seeds of the dictatorship that will soon assume control of the country hovers in the background, ever-present. A curly haired, pillow-lipped Lorenzo Ferro plays the young sociopath, whose beatific appearance caused the press to dub him "The Angel of Death," with a vacant remorselessness that unsettles those around him – and us, too. — Glen Weldon

Girl (Nov. 16)

This breathtaking debut for director Lukas Dhont centers on Lara, a transgender 15-year-old who dreams of being a ballerina even as she is waiting for the operations and hormones that will make her body line up with her vision of herself. Played by first-timer Victor Polster, Lara is angelic and magnetic. Where most queer films are about external conflicts and prejudice, Lara's primary conflict in this movie is with what she sees in the mirror. — Bob Mondello

Widows (Nov. 16)

Viola Davis kills it — literally — in this thriller about a group of wives who have to pull off a heist to clear their dead criminal husbands' debts. Directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), the film is taut, emotional, exciting and surprising and led by a performance from Davis so fierce and specific that you will want to see her make 20 more action movies. — Linda Holmes

Viola Davis plays Veronica in the heist thriller <em>Widows</em>.
Merrick Morton / Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox
Viola Davis plays Veronica in the heist thriller Widows.

Shoplifters (Nov. 23)

In Hirokazu Kore-eda's Cannes Palme d'Or-winning and hugely affecting film, a scruffy pickup "family" of Japanese grifters takes in an abused 5-year-old girl. From the Fagin-like father figure who teaches the kids to shoplift to the sweet daughter who works in a soft-porn peep show, they're all charmers. "Maybe the bond is stronger when you choose your family," says someone, and darned if the film doesn't make a good case for that notion. — Bob Mondello

Miyu Sasaki and Jyo Kairi star in Hirokazu Kore-eda's <em>Shoplifters</em>.
/ Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF
Miyu Sasaki and Jyo Kairi star in Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters.

If Beale Street Could Talk (Nov. 30)

Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this soaring, heartfelt and visually stunning adaptation of a James Baldwin novel about a young, newly pregnant black woman struggling to free her boyfriend from jail for a crime he didn't commit. You've never seen romantic love depicted on screen with such lyrical and gorgeous intensity, or systemic injustice brought to such vivid and enraging life. Film classes will be taught about Jenkins' use of color. — Glen Weldon

Ben Is Back (Dec. 7)

Like Beautiful Boy, this is an addiction narrative about a well-off white teenager, though this time, the addiction is opiates, and the story isn't based on a real family. Julia Roberts plays a mother whose son (Lucas Hedges) turns up for Christmas when he should be in rehab, and the first half of the film is a thoughtful family drama about trust, safety and empathy. The second half becomes more of a crime drama and is far less interesting, but on balance, Roberts and Hedges make it worth seeing. — Linda Holmes

Julia Roberts plays a mother whose son (Lucas Hedges) turns up for Christmas when he should be in rehab in <em>Ben Is Back</em>.
/ Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF
Julia Roberts plays a mother whose son (Lucas Hedges) turns up for Christmas when he should be in rehab in Ben Is Back.

Capernaum (Dec. 14)

Had Charles Dickens written about Beirut, he would have penned this story. Zain Al Rafeea plays a diminutive, feistily resourceful 12-year-old who sues his parents for having brought him into a world where they can't (or won't) care for him. Nadine Labaki has directed a couple of lovely small films, but nothing suggested she could make a work on the epic level of Capernaum. The last shot had me choking back sobs. — Bob Mondello

Roma (Dec. 14)

Alfonso Cuarón delivers a study of a young woman named Cleo, who works as a nanny and housekeeper (first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio), and the relationship she has with her employers in Mexico City. Stunning in black and white, the film contemplates the ways in which Cleo's bond with her employers can seem almost familial and the ways in which it emphatically isn't. She is both never alone and always alone, and she is crucial to the survival of a family that isn't always present for her. Roma will come to Netflix, but also to some theaters, and it is well worth searching out on a big screen. — Linda Holmes

Destroyer (Dec. 25)

Nicole Kidman looks and seems very little like Nicole Kidman in Karyn Kusama's jangled police thriller in which a cop (Kidman) returns to ugly past events in her own life to solve a new crime that has landed on her desk — sort of. Rarely are women cast in these roles of screwed-up, hard-boiled antiheroes with a lifetime of regrets to make up for, and even if this is your basic LA noir, it's well-executed and satisfying in all the ways it should be. — Linda Holmes

Other Notable Releases

Private Life (Oct. 5): Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti star as a couple undergoing fertility treatments in this film from director Tamara Jenkins (The Savages). — Linda Holmes

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock — and the title alien symbiote — in <em>Venom</em>.
/ Sony Pictures Entertainment
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock — and the title alien symbiote — in Venom.

Venom (Oct. 5): Tom Hardy continues his mystifying streak of denying movie audiences a chance to gaze upon his gorgeous mouth by hiding it, this time, behind the slimy black mask of Venom, the alien symbiote who has been a Spider-Man villain/antihero for decades — but don't look for Spidey to show up just yet. — Glen Weldon

22 July (Oct. 10): Paul Greengrass, director of United 93, dramatizes the 2011 terrorist attacks in which a right-wing extremist killed 77 people with a car bomb and at a Norwegian youth camp. — Bob Mondello

The Happy Prince (Oct. 10): Rupert Everett says Hollywood stopped hiring him as a leading man after he came out, so he wrote, directed, produced and cast himself as the title character in this story of Oscar Wilde. — Bob Mondello

The Kindergarten Teacher (Oct. 12): Sara Colangelo's film is about a teacher who becomes obsessed with a student who she is convinced is a genius. Word of mouth at TIFF was mixed, but audiences were buzzing about Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance. — Glen Weldon

Halloween (Oct. 19): Jamie Lee Curtis is back again as Laurie Strode to tangle with, and hopefully stop, the unstoppable masked murderer Michael Myers. — Glen Weldon

Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin are skateboarders in <em>Mid90s</em>, actor Jonah Hill's directorial debut.
Tobin Yelland / A24
Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin are skateboarders in Mid90s, actor Jonah Hill's directorial debut.

Mid90s (Oct. 19): Jonah Hill's directing debut is a loosely plotted skater-boy flick centering on a 13-year-old eager to hang with the cool kids at the local skateboard shop. They nickname him "Sunburn" and introduce him to cigarettes, pills, drinking, girls and sex. The cast is mostly skaters, not actors, but they're persuasive as pals, and Hill is clearly having fun. — Bob Mondello

Suspiria (Oct. 26 limited; Nov. 2 wide): Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me by Your Name, remakes Dario Argento's Italian horror flick about a dance academy that's a front for a supernatural conspiracy. — Bob Mondello

Bohemian Rhapsody (Nov. 2): Rami Malek (yay!) stars in this Freddie Mercury (woo!) biopic directed by Bryan Singer (...). — Glen Weldon

Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon in <em>Bohemian Rhapsody</em>.
Alex Bailey / Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox
Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Boy Erased (Nov. 2): The year's second drama about gay conversion therapy (following the wry, pugnacious The Miseducation of Cameron Post) plays it, as it were, straight. Performances from Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman are outstanding, which should surprise no one — look for both on Oscar lists — but the film is hampered by an ending that aims for catharsis, yet ends up feeling too narratively tidy and overdetermined. — Glen Weldon

The Front Runner (Nov. 6 limited; Nov. 21 wide): If you buy the film's oft-stated thesis that Gary Hart's campaign was the moment in American politics that CHANGED EVERYTHING™, with respect to demanding access to politicians' private lives, you'll have a great time. If your brain keeps offering up caveats and counterexamples, as mine did, you can still have a ball with its overlapping dialogue, behind-the-scenes look at the campaigning process, and, of course, Hugh Jackman's hugely distracting Gary Hart wig. — Glen Weldon

<em>The Front Runner </em>follows Gary Hart's (Hugh Jackman) failed presidential campaign.
/ Sony Pictures Entertainment
Sony Pictures Entertainment
The Front Runner follows Gary Hart's (Hugh Jackman) failed presidential campaign.

Nobody's Fool (Nov. 2): Tyler Perry's latest comedy features Tiffany Haddish as a woman who is released from prison and immediately makes herself busy sniffing out a con artist who may be victimizing her sister. — Linda Holmes

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Nov. 2): In Disney's digitized extravaganza, it's not safe for young Clara to traipse through the land of the Sugar Plum Fairies. — Bob Mondello

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (Nov. 2): Morgan Neville's documentary is about the making of Orson Welles' satire The Other Side of the Wind, which will itself be released for the first time on that day. — Bob Mondello

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Nov. 9): Claire Foy takes over the role of Lisbeth Salander in this adaptation of the first of the books in the Millennium series that was written by another author after the death of Stieg Larsson. — Linda Holmes

Peterloo (Nov. 9): Director Mike Leigh looks at the tragic 19th-century massacre of nonviolent protesters in Manchester. — Linda Holmes

At Eternity's Gate (Nov. 16): Willem Dafoe is a tormented Vincent Van Gogh, painting landscapes in Arles, France. — Bob Mondello

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Nov. 16): The Coen brothers head to Netflix and bring some of their favorite actors (Tim Blake Nelson! Stephen Root!) for this stylish fable of the Old West as it never was. — Glen Weldon

Tim Blake Nelson is Buster Scruggs in <em>The Ballad of Buster Scruggs</em>, a film by Joel and Ethan Coen.
/ Netflix
Tim Blake Nelson is Buster Scruggs in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a film by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Nov. 16): The first Fantastic Beasts film was set in America, decades before Harry Potter got that lightning scar; this one promises a return to Ol' Blighty – and Hogwarts itself. — Glen Weldon

Creed II (Nov. 21): With the direction turned over from Ryan Coogler to Steven Caple Jr., it's hard to know what to expect from the Creed sequel. But if Michael B. Jordan is punching, many of us will be there. — Linda Holmes

Green Book (Nov. 21): Starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, Green Book looks a lot like Driving Miss Daisy for a new generation, but it won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, so get ready to hear more. — Linda Holmes

<em>Green Book</em> tells the real-life story of Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Tony Lip's (Viggo Mortensen) road trip through the American South.
/ Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF
Green Book tells the real-life story of Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Tony Lip's (Viggo Mortensen) road trip through the American South.

Ralph Breaks the Internet (Nov. 21): The sequel to Wreck-It Ralph sends Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) into the world of social media via Wi-Fi router, but forget that — everyone's talking about the scene with the Disney princesses. — Glen Weldon

The Favourite (Nov. 23): Yorgos Lanthimos follows up The Killing of a Sacred Deer with this period piece about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and two members of her retinue (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) squabbling to win her ... um, favour. — Glen Weldon

Anna and the Apocalypse (Nov. 30): It's a British Christmas zombie musical – say it soft and it's almost like praying. — Glen Weldon

Mary Queen of Scots (Dec. 7): Saoirse Ronan's Mary Stuart foolishly tries to overthrow Margot Robbie's Elizabeth I (didn't she see I, Tonya?) and gets sent to the tower for her trouble. — Bob Mondello

In <em>Mary Queen of Scots</em>, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) attempts to overthrow her cousin, Elizabeth I.
Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Focus Features
In Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) attempts to overthrow her cousin, Elizabeth I.

Under the Silver Lake (Dec. 7): Andrew Garfield stars in a shaggy-dog, LA noir mystery from the director of It Follows. — Bob Mondello

Mortal Engines (Dec. 14): Peter Jackson adapts Philip Reeve's steampunk novel about a post-apocalyptic world where the few surviving cities are housed in giant machines that roam the Earth and fight one another. — Glen Weldon

Second Act (Dec. 14): If you've been wondering why fate hasn't brought you a movie where Jennifer Lopez accidentally defrauds a company into hiring her — a movie where the trailer actually uses The Cranberries' "Dreams" — then this comedy is here for you. — Linda Holmes

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Dec. 14): The animation looks ... well, amazing, and the all-star voice cast spectacular. The story, in which Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) visits parallel universes, with their parallel Spider-Men (including Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore), promises to feature many of the comic's deep bench Spidey-adjacent characters.— Glen Weldon

Vice (Dec. 14 limited; Dec. 21 wide): Christian Bale gained a lot of weight to play Dick Cheney in this biographical dramedy from Adam McKay that also stars Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Tyler Perry. — Bob Mondello

Mary Poppins Returns (Dec. 19): Not a remake but a sequel, this film from director Rob Marshall casts Emily Blunt as perhaps the most famous nanny ever, Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the grown-up Banks children, and some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda as her friend Jack. Apparently, he's got a resume. — Linda Holmes

Bird Box (Dec. 21): Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson star in this post-apocalyptic story with a screenplay written by Eric Heisserer, who wrote the adapted screenplay of Arrival. — Linda Holmes

Welcome to Marwen (Dec. 21): Steve Carell plays the lead in a drama inspired by the 2010 documentary Marwencol, about a man who recovers from trauma by building and maintaining a miniature town .— Linda Holmes

Cold War (Dec. 21): Shot in black and white (like director Pawel Pawlikowski's Oscar-winner Ida), this romance between a singer and a pianist is really about the dark heart of Poland itself. — Bob Mondello

Holmes & Watson (Dec. 21): Will Ferrell is Sherlock Holmes, John C. Reilly is Dr. Watson, and Arthur Conan Doyle is doubtless rolling over in his grave. — Bob Mondello

Jason Momoa stars in <em>Aquaman</em>.
/ Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Jason Momoa stars in Aquaman.

Aquaman (Dec. 21): Jason Momoa's waterlogged fratboy hero must embrace his destiny, contend with his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) — and contend with Orm's VERY goofy-looking outfit, in the process — in DC/Warner's latest superhero tale. — Glen Weldon

On the Basis of Sex (Dec. 25): Felicity Jones plays Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this biopic about Ginsburg's battles against sex discrimination long before she made it to the nation's highest court. — Linda Holmes

Jessica Reedy and Alex McCall produced and edited this story for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 3, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story characterized They'll Love Me When I'm Dead as a mockumentary. It is actually a satire.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

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