Peak Season

Fall brings smart films without the bombast

Frost is the on the pumpkin, geese are on the wing, the autumn clichés are in the newspaper and the cornucopia of cinema belches out some of its best offerings of the year.

After the underwhelment of Europa Report, ‘Gravity’ (Oct. 4) looks like it’ll have significant punch. Once upon a time, critic Pauline Kael declared the deadly Gemini-kidnapping pre-titles of You Only Live Twice more exciting than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Director Alfonso Cuarón seems to agree there was something going on in that pre-title. Gravity is a technically startling, artistically excruciating version of the astronaut’s dilemma—stuck in a space walk from which he can’t return. The previews are unbearably tense, and Cuarón has already made some of the best movies of the past few years (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También). George Clooney and Sandra Bullock co-star.

Destin Cretton’s ‘Short Term 12’ (fall) is already one of the most applauded films of the coming season. Brie Larson plays a young counselor at a home for volatile foster kids. Cretton worked at such a home for a couple of years, and he won an award at Sundance in 2009 for the short version of this feature film.

Highly anticipated: ‘Museum Hours’ (Sept. 20), Jem Cohen’s story of a friendship that carried out in Kuntshistorisches Museum, the 120-year-old Vienna gallery where the Hapsburgs put their treasures; the centuries of art are the backdrop to a tale of two lonely people at loose ends
in that city.

I adore writing about ‘Adore’ (Sept. 6), which, under its original title Two Mothers, got used as a punching bag at Sundance this year. There are a few reasons to tune out the adverse buzz. The director, Anne Fontaine, has shown wit and a gift for the erotic in the past. Two first-rate actresses are in the lead, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. Adore has a Doris Lessing novella as its source and a Christopher Hampton script, and was apparently filmed with prime 35mm photography on the coast of New South Wales. At last, the subject matter: old female friends commence affairs with each other’s sons . . .

Strange how something more ghastly would feel less ooky. ‘Machete Kills’ (Oct. 11) brings back ol’ rockface, Danny Trejo, and no more Mr. Politeness this time.

Remakes of ‘Oldboy’ (Oct. 25) and ‘Carrie’ (Oct. 18) may, in the bigger scheme of things, only function as necessary in the sense that some producer’s son really needed ermine mudflaps for his Escalade. But I am interested in what aspects of race Spike Lee will bring to retelling Park Chan-wook’s captivity thriller Oldboy, just as I’m curious to see what a female director (Kimberly Peirce) will bring to a new version of Carrie. And the superb Chloë Grace Moretz has the role of the hellbound Carrie White.

The documentary ‘Inequality for All’ (Sept. 27) has Robert Reich, a familiar figure on the Sunday talk shows, delivering worrisome news about the growing gap between the hyper-rich and the working poor. Bill Condon’s ‘The Fifth Estate’ (Oct. 11) likely won’t help Julian Assange’s hurt feelings after We Steal Secrets, particularly since he’s being played by Benedict Cumberbatch—not the man to warm up one’s image.

Sonoma County Library