Last summer turned out to be catastrophic for bloated big-budget flicks. Over-hyped fare like After Earth, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, The Wolverine et al., bombed with a vengeance. That won’t stop these Hollywood follies from racking up record box-office overseas, where big, bad CGI’d action needs no translation. But American audiences may well be signaling a desire for smaller, well-written, character-driven stories — like the superb long-form fictions crowding cable TV these days.
Standout summer offerings like The Heat, The Conjuring and Fruitvale Station featured (sort-of) everyday folks who actually speak to each other, love, hate, fight and go through major life changes without the aid of volleyball muscles, spandex, “Rocky Horror Show” makeup, or industrial-grade WMD. Maybe even avid fanboys are tiring of movies that look like blown-up comic-book frames. How much pleasure can even multiplex sheeple derive from spectacle that’s been mapped and measured for little more than maximum physiological response?
It could be that fall will deliver a cornucopia of new releases designed to satisfy our appetite for interesting Joes and Janes, tasty chatter and human-sized experiences. Maybe — dare we hope? — more upcoming movies will be composed, moved and lighted as though actual filmmakers, instead of gifted computer technicians, had directed them.
So, hopes high, we dive into autumn, the hot harvest season when Oscar prognosticators begin in earnest to winnow out the cinematic chaff and earmark the best of field.
The ones to watch
Good news, folks: Some of the buzziest of fall movies focus on charismatic individuals. Many of their titles reflect an emphasis on larger-than-life types who nonetheless remain steadfastly human, feet firmly planted on the ground — at least when they’re not lost at sea or adrift in outer space!
Captain Phillips chronicles the hot-off-the-press story of a cargo ship officer who stood up to present-day pirates in the Indian Ocean. Playing an ordinary Joe turned hero is two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks’ forte. Even without his volleyball, he’ll be catnip for auds and Oscar. The helmer is Paul Greengrass, whose “United 93” taught us a thing or two about grace under pressure during a hijacking.