Much like this year’s truncated summer season, the 2020 fall moviegoing season is going to look a bit different than it has in years past. While plenty of films have opted to set release dates in the thick of what has traditionally been the proving ground for the year’s biggest awards contenders, others are still holding back, or opting to pursue modified releases. Some films will be in theaters, while others are going for on demand releases or even virtual cinema bows. Many festivals, usually the first home of the films that will keep us talking for months to come, will be going virtual this year.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of exciting movies coming out in the months ahead. These include the latest offerings from directors as far-reaching as Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Charlie Kaufman, Chloe Zhao, Miranda July, Antonio Campos, Julie Taymor, Ben Wheatley, and Denis Villeneuve. The blockbusters won’t be stopped (well, for now), from “Black Widow” to “Wonder Woman 1984,” and neither will the festival darlings hoping to break into the mainstream. Of course, it remains to be seen if this schedule will evolve in the coming weeks, but for now, there are dozens of films on their way that are worth looking forward to seeing, in whichever fashion they roll out.
This list includes only films that have currently set a firm release date, though many of IndieWire’s most-anticipated 2020 films have yet to announce release plans, including Netflix heavy-hitters (“Hillbilly Elegy,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank,” “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” “The Midnight Sky,” “The White Tiger,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”), films gearing up for festival runs (“One Night in Miami,” “Ammonite,), projects that have already screened to acclaim (“Zola,” “Sound of Metal”), and others that are shrouded in mystery (like “The Green Knight”), just to name a few.
Of course, everything remains in flux, and as plans continue to change, this list will be updated. Whether that includes changing release dates, the method of a film’s release, or adding in some of those anticipated titles that have locked in an official date in 2020, this preview remains particularly fluid. For now, however, these are the films we are most excited to see in the coming months. Updated on August 27.
“The Mole Agent” (September 1, on demand)
Even without the extra kicker of “and it’s a documentary!,” Maite Alberdi’s latest film, “The Mole Agent,” packs an inventive punch. One part character study, one part unexpected buddy comedy, and an entirely emotional affair about the value we ascribe to our elderly citizens, “The Mole Agent” may be hard to classify, but its charms are quite clear. In his glowing Sundance review, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn was taken with the film’s clever twists, writing: “There’s a certain immersive thrill that comes from documentaries that hide themselves, and ‘The Mole Agent’ epitomizes that appeal. Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s delightful character study unfolds as an intricate spy thriller, in which a sweet-natured 83-year-old widower infiltrates a nursing home at the behest of a private detective.” It is, without question, the sweetest damn spy thriller ever made. —KE
“Tenet” (September 3, select theaters)
Christopher Nolan’s espionage epic “Tenet” arrives in U.S. theaters on September 3 (well, for now), making it the biggest theatrical event of the fall movie season after multiple release delays pushed it from being the biggest tentpole of the summer movie season. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson star as secret agents who use time inversion to prevent a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) from carrying out World War III.
While “Tenet” being the first new studio blockbuster released in theaters amid the pandemic understandably makes it the big event of the fall movie season just by default, the real reason to look forward to Nolan’s latest is because it finds the Oscar-nominated filmmaker playing with one of his biggest budgets yet (over $200 million for an original property) across more countries than he’s ever shot in (the grand total is seven). Nolan himself has called “Tenet” the most ambitious movie he’s directed so far, and that’s a declaration that seems tough to argue with. —ZS
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (September 4, streaming on Netflix)
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is Charlie Kaufman’s version of a horror movie, which is to say it’s both everything and nothing like what you’d expect from the genre. Wrapped up in Kaufman’s spin on Iain Reid’s horror novel, serving as more of a jumping-off point for Kaufman’s off-kilter and more comedic vision, is a study in loneliness, a breakup story, and the writer/director’s own searching journey through his career. Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons star as a recent couple on a road trip to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), whose isolated farmhouse is at the other end of a hastening blizzard.
As Buckley’s character wrestles internally with an ineffable desire to end her relationship, this classic horror film setup soon breaks down, and Buckley’s world starts to fall apart. “Cold War” and “Ida” cinematographer Łukasz Żal provides painterly images that situate “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” in the gloomy terrain of Kaufman’s directorial debut “Synecdoche, New York.” Just don’t go in expecting a straightforward adaptation of Reid’s novel. In fact, if you’ve read it, leave the book at home. —RL
“Mulan” (September 4, streaming on Disney+)
After being pushed off its originally planned March 27 release date in mid-March due to burgeoning fears about the global pandemic, Disney eventually opted to lock the live-action “Mulan” in for a July 24 release date, later pushing even further back to an August 21 date. But as theaters continue to struggle in some of the country’s biggest markets, a traditional summer release date has proven to be impossible. Now, the film will hit Disney+ in most markets, great news for families in search of fresh programming.
And fresh it is, because while filmmaker Niki Caro is working with some hallowed Disney Princess ground for her big-budget epic, this “Mulan” is happy to go back to its roots, stirring up an action-packed adventure with, you read that right, zero singing. Based on the Chinese folklore legend “The Ballad of Mulan,” the film stars Liu Yifei as the Chinese maiden who disguised herself as a male warrior to save her father. Unlike the beloved animated Disney tale, the film is not a musical and is instead built around a number of large-scale, jaw-dropping action setpieces that show off Mulan’s warrior prowess. —KE
“Feels Good Man” (September 4, on demand)
“Feels Good Man,” Arthur Jones’ deft examination of just how, exactly, a cartoon of a stoner frog managed to become a white nationalist symbol, was already timely when it won Jones a Sundance Special Jury Award in February. Birthed by cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005, Pepe the Frog quickly took on a life of his own, one far removed from the artist’s vision of a frog who just does what “feels good man.” At first it was through 4chan posts that morphed Pepe into light-hearted memes, before users of the image board made Pepe speak in more racist and alt-right terms. Then came Pepe’s status as a Trump campaign surrogate, the Anti-Defamation League listing the frog as a hate symbol, and even a satirical religion and imaginary country with a Nazi-inspired flag. As a case study in how one of the trolliest corners of the internet can impact national politics, “Feels Good Man” has, just in the last few months, taken on even more urgency — another runaway 4chan phenomenon, the QAnon conspiracy theory, counts congressional candidates vying for election in November among its adherents. —CL
“I Am Woman” (September 11, select theaters and on demand)
There are a couple of tropes that seem to inevitably spell disaster for any biopic: the character who coughs a lot (and nobody notices) and the character who sniffs a lot of coke (and everyone ignores). Unjoo Moon’s fact based-accounting of singer Helen Reddy’s life — titled “I Am Woman,” after both her biggest hit and her essential ethos, the film premiered at TIFF last fall — is beholden to such cliches, but the sheer star power of breakout leading actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey, combined with the movie-ready career path of Reddy and Moon’s clear respect for her, set it a cut above other genre entries.
Respiratory-based ailments are anathema for big star biopics, but nothing is more forgiving than a wallop of a leading performance and a story that has long needed to be told. The current spat of music biopics could use more direction like Moon’s, which understands how much can be telegraphed through the sheer grace of a good performance within an even better performance. And the genre could use more stars like Cobham-Hervey, compelled to not only find the woman within the star, but to give both of them to power to be strong, invincible, and to roar. —KE
“Martin Eden” (September 11, select theaters and virtual cinemas)
Veteran Italian documentarian Pietro Marcello (whose surreal, lyrical work includes “Lost and Beautiful”) has delivered his first entirely narrative effort with this innovative adaptation of Jack London’s novel. The filmmaker recontextualizes the author’s semi-autobiographical story of early 20th century experiences in an unspecified period in Italian history, where the titular sailor (Luca Marinelli) goes from a class-spanning romance to become an ostracized writer at the center of hot-headed intellectual showdowns in a divided Europe.
The 16mm film won fans last fall on the festival circuit, where its ambiguous timeline and and complex historical reference points provoked the same sort of fierce debate captured in the film. Writing from the Venice Film Festival last fall, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called it “a dreamy and surprisingly faithful adaptation made with more than 100 years of hindsight” where “the anger is palpable.” Released stateside in these divisive times, this century-old story might just hit the zeitgeist. —EK
“Sibyl” (September 11, virtual cinemas)
For her two previous narrative films, “Age of Panic” and “In Bed with Victoria,” Justine Triet has received three César Award nominations, including for Best First Feature and Best Film. The French filmmaker returns this year with “Sibyl,” another comedy-drama hybrid that focuses on the inner lives of women. The film stars “Blue Is the Warmest Color” breakout Adèle Exarchopoulos as an actress who becomes an object of artistic obsession for therapist/novelist Sibyl, played by Belgium’s Virginie Efira. “Toni Erdmann” star Sandra Hüller and César winner Gaspard Ulliel round out the cast. “Sibyl” premiered in competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it received mixed reviews. According to IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, however, “the movie hovers between the elegance and eroticism of a shrewd psychological thriller.” —JD
“The Devil All the Time” (September 16, streaming on Netflix)
Antonio Campos’ first feature as a director since 2016’s “Christine,” “The Devil All the Time” is a harrowing Appalachian gothic with a ridiculously good cast, including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, and Robert Pattinson. Lifted from the violent novel by Donald Ray Pollock and set in the same world of Midwestern hell as Cormac McCarthy’s bleakest nightmares, the film portrays a religious community and its sprawling underbelly taking faith and ideals to horrific extremes.
Sinister characters pack into every corner of the ensemble, from Pattinson as a crooked preacher to Keough and Clarke as a serial-killing couple to Stan as the corrupt local law enforcement. The American landscape between World War II and the Vietnam War is a wretched one in Campos’ vision. Remember that this is the director of “Simon Killer” and “Afterschool,” and you’ll be primed for the dark canvas the filmmaker paints. —RL
“Antebellum” (September 18, PVOD)
The feature film debut from directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (who work under the alias Bush/Renz) takes American race relations to another level. Lionsgate’s cheeky official synopsis reads: “Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late,” and the final product has mysteries to spare. The film explores the dynamics and dilemmas of antebellum slavery from the sensibility of a 21st century Black woman, who is still well aware of its legacy in contemporary American society.
The film, also written by Bush and Benz, was created to explore how a modern Black woman would personally experience slavery society, and to say anymore would be to spoil its many twists. Slavery movie fatigue aside, the slickly-produced “Antebellum” is almost guaranteed to be a conversation-starter, and will likely generate volumes of thinkpieces. —TO
“The Nest” (September 18, select theaters; November 17, VOD and digital)
Director Sean Durkin lived out the Sundance dream, not just to have a breakout hit from the festival, but to create a brand-new superstar while doing it. His “Martha Marcy May Marlene” catapulted Elizabeth Olson to fame and Marvel fortune — and for many, Durkin’s take on the life of a young woman trapped in a cult heralded his arrival as a star behind the camera as well. Still, it took Durkin nine years to make his cinematic followup, and when it finally arrived at Sundance 2020, “The Nest” thrilled some viewers and puzzled others.
The story of a domineering husband (Jude Law) who abruptly moves his wife (Carrie Coon) and kids to a Gothic manor house in the U.K. was ultimately considered just an “exercise in style” according to IndieWire chief film critic Eric Kohn in his B- review out of the festival. But what style! Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry provided a jazz score to accompany the story, which unfolds in startling long takes by “Son of Saul” cinematographer Mátyás Erély. —CB
“Kajillionaire” (September 25, select theaters)
Miranda July’s first movie in nearly a decade stars Evan Rachel Wood in an extraordinary performance at the center of a dark comedy that splits the difference between “Shoplifters” and “Parasite.” The story of a con artist family whose life deteriorates around them, July’s clever and unpredictable character study is both cynical and sincere. The movie centers on the struggling Dyne family, headed by Robert (a disheveled Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger, wizened and wide-eyed). Their daughter has a ridiculous name that speaks to her parents’ eccentric past, but Old Dolio Dyne (Wood) doesn’t know a thing about that; an awkward, lanky woman barely capable of eye contact, she lives wholly within the confines of the grifter lifestyle that dictates her existence.
The Dynes, who live in a bubble factory and attempt to swindle everyone in their sight across Los Angeles, don’t seem to know what’s best for them. But when Old Dolio meets the kooky Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), the new friends begin to explore the possibility of a fresh path in life. Like all of July’s movies, quirky meets cute meets emotional gut-punch, making for one of the most rewarding American movies of the year. —EK
“Misbehaviour” (September 25, select theaters and on demand)
Phillipa Lowthorpe has cut her teeth on highly acclaimed TV dramas, directing episodes of beloved series “Call the Midwife” and “The Crown.” For her feature film debut, she’s directed a screenplay from Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn (from a story by Frayn) about the 1970 Miss World competition in London, which proved an unexpected flashpoint. The pageant’s organizers, portrayed by Lesley Manville and Keeley Hawes, were targeted by a group of feminists — including renowned activists Sally Alexander, played by Keira Knightley, and Jo Robinson, played by Jessie Buckley — protesting the competition as objectifying women. They were assailing the Miss World event from outside, but from the inside, major change was spearheaded by one of the pageant contenders, Jennifer Hosten (Guga Mbatha-Raw), Miss Grenada, who saw competing in Miss World as an act of empowerment for Black women to take the spotlight. What emerges is a clash between two very different ideas of what such a public celebration of beauty can truly mean. —CB
“The Glorias” (September 30, digital and streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Julie Taymor follows up biopic “Frida” with her second portrait of a real person, a 139-minute adaptation of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s dense 2015 autobiography “My Life on the Road.” The director intersects the journey with four different Glorias, from child (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and teen (Lulu Wilson) to intrepid Playboy-infiltrating New York journalist (Alicia Vikander) and finally, the woman they were all on the way to becoming, the mature Ms. founder (Julianne Moore), a recognizable long-haired woman in t-shirt, jeans and aviators. Timothy Hutton plays Gloria’s father, while Bette Midler turns up as Bella Abzug, and Janelle Monae takes on Dorothy Pitman Hughes. —AT
Check out the rest of the fall preview, including selections for October and onward, on the next page.