Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in "Gravity."

Warner Bros. Picture,

Movies: CuarĂ³n, the Coens and lots of George Clooney

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT
  • Star Tribune
  • September 13, 2013 - 3:17 PM

‘Gravity’ -- opening Oct. 4
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” was one of the essential science fiction films of the past decade. His latest effort stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts adrift in Earth orbit with limited air and no link to Mission Control following a shower of space debris. The extraordinarily ambitious 3-D production features long, unbroken takes lasting minutes at a time and a sense of verisimilitude akin to NASA documentary footage. The elemental survival story promises impressive feats of storytelling as well. Houston, we have a crisis.

“Captain Phillips”: The versatile Tom Hanks, who’ll be seen as Walt Disney himself in December’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” plays cargo ship skipper Richard Phillips, who confronted Somali pirates in a tense, extended standoff in 2009. The true hijacking drama is in capable hands with director Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” two “Bourne” films), whose slightly ragged documentary style should mine every ounce of anxiety out of its real-life crisis. (Oct. 11.)

“12 Years A Slave”: English director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of a historical slave narrative stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, born free in New York but sold into servitude on cotton plantations in 1840s Louisiana. Rounding out the cast are Michael Fassbender as Northup’s slavemaster, Brad Pitt as an abolitionist, Benedict Cumberbatch as a Baptist minister and Quvenzhané Wallis, who became the youngest-ever Oscar nominee last winter for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” as Northup’s daughter. (Oct. 18.)

“The Wolf of Wall Street”: Give Martin Scorsese a brash, R-rated story about wish fulfillment gone wrong and he’ll give you a classic. This is the unbelievable but true story of Jordan Belfort, a stock-market schemer who made megamillions in his 20s, veered into drugs, fraud, embezzlement and dwarf-tossing, and ultimately sank his own yacht. The trailers promise Scorsese in full-on black comedy “Goodfellas” mode, with colorful debauchery, stylish freeze-frames, explanatory voice-overs, and the inner workings of a flamboyantly corrupt enterprise laid open for us to admire. Leonardo DiCaprio is all cash, sex and swagger as a tycoon bolder than Jay Gatsby. Matthew McConaughey plays his hard-drinking mentor, Jonah Hill is Belfort’s even more depraved partner in crime, and Jean Dujardin is a suave Swiss banker with a soft spot for American tax evaders. (Nov. 15.)

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: Joel and Ethan Coen’s bleakly humorous look at the Greenwich Village ’60s folk-music scene won Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize. Oscar Isaac performs his own songs as the title character, a spiky starving troubadour looking for his big break. Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan appear as a husband-and-wife folk duo whose relationship is strained when Llewyn overnights on their couch. The Coens’ good-luck charm John Goodman plays a bitterly dismissive jazzman who offers Llewyn a ride to a gig in Chicago; Garrett Hedlund is his sullen, silent driver. The vain Llewyn blames his bad luck on crass rivals and a know-nothing public, but it looks like the existential joke’s on him. (Dec. 6.)

“American Hustle”: After “Argo,” disco-era government subterfuge is hot. David O. Russell’s dramatization of the FBI’s Abscam sting operation against corrupt U.S. Congressmen reunites him with Christian Bale and Amy Adams (“The Fighter”), Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook.”) Beyond all the prestige Oscar possibilities, I expect this to score for costuming. It’s a riot scene of garish polyester, fur, and tacky jewelry. (Dec. 13.)

“The Monuments Men”: Clooney’s back once again, directing, starring in, co-writing and co-producing this World War II drama about art curators and academics sent to the front lines to preserve cultural treasures from the Nazis. Quite a few gems in the cast, too: Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and John Goodman, among others. (Dec. 18.)

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”: By the beard of Zeus, has it been a decade since we last gazed into the dead eyes of happy-talk newsman Ron Burgundy? No, it’s only been nine years, but it sure feels longer. In their new go-round, the merry misfits of San Diego’s 1970s Channel 4 news team return to their teleprompters at the ’80s birth of 24-hour cable news. Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and the rest of the gang are back, with cameos from Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey and Will Smith. As the ever-inappropriate Burgundy, Will Ferrell blazes new frontiers of political incorrectness. The trailer featuring his efforts to ingratiate himself with his new black girlfriend’s family are aggressively offensive and insanely tasteless. So that’s a good sign. (Dec. 20.)

“Labor Day”: Kate Winslet takes her first starring role since “The Reader” as a single mom taking in an injured man (Josh Brolin) who proves to be a menacing fugitive. It’s a move in a distinctively darker direction for Jason Reitman (“Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”), who has not disappointed yet. Young Gattlin Griffin plays Winslet’s son as a 13-year-old, with Tobey Maguire playing the son as an adult. (Dec. 25.)

“August: Osage County”: Based on the to-die-for talent involved, Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his own Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play should attract prizes like a scrapyard electromagnet. The story is a cornucopia of resentment, recrimination and baleful humor that bursts open when an Oklahoma family reunites for daddy’s funeral. Meryl Streep has a showy-accent part as the fierce, pill-popping widow using the wake as one last opportunity to browbeat her clan. There’s family pathology galore, bitter hilarity and a cavalcade of juicy parts for a gallery of superb actors including Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sam Shepard. George Clooney (of last year’s best picture “Argo”) produces. John Wells (“Company Men” and many episodes of “E.R.”) directs. (Dec. 25.)

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