After a summer of junk food, the chief pleasure of the fall movie season is the return of a healthy diet.
Granted, the past several months have been graced by the occasional piquant palate cleanser: Thoroughly winning films such as “Captain Fantastic” and “Hell or High Water” arrived as bracing alternatives to the big, sloppy bad-for-you-ness of “Suicide Squad” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” But it’s when the weather turns chilly that we rebalance and exercise some portion control – not just with the film equivalent of spinach, mind you, but with the minimum recommended doses of laughter and tears, escapism and emotion, pure fun and more serious provocations.
Because awards season is already underway (oh, “Spotlight,” it seems like yesterday …), some buzzed-about films are being tagged as Oscar contenders, including Kenneth Lonergan’s magnificent “Manchester by the Sea,” in which Casey Affleck delivers an astonishingly moving performance as a man returning to the scene of the most grievous event of his life. “Loving,” Jeff Nichols’ stirring portrait of the couple whose Supreme Court case struck down laws forbidding interracial marriage, features an equally impressive turn from Ruth Negga, who imbues Mildred Loving with quiet, implacable grace.
There will be plenty of other sober-minded dramas on offer throughout the season, including Oliver Stone’s highly anticipated “Snowden,” about the National Security Agency whistleblower; “The Girl on the Train,” Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the best-selling novel; “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age story set amid drugs and violence in 1980s Miami, directed by Barry Jenkins; and “Nocturnal Animals,” a marital thriller by the designer-slash-director Tom Ford.
“The Birth of a Nation,” a dramatization of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion written and directed by its star, Nate Parker, may not be part of the awards conversation because of Parker’s involvement in and subsequent handling of a sexual assault case 17 years ago. Although many viewers have announced their intention to boycott the film, others are eager to see a long-awaited story brought to the screen.
Fall has always been a time of historical heft and solemnity at the movies, but this year, viewers will have plenty to choose from in a variety of genres, including a couple of family films (“A Monster Calls,” “Moana”), a sci-fi thriller (“Arrival”), a “Star Wars” installment (“Rogue One”) and – praise be – a musical. “La La Land,” by “Whiplash” director Damien Chazelle, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in a song-and-dance throwback that received mostly rapturous reviews when it made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. As straight-faced as the run-up to the Oscars can be, it’s always healthy to kick up your heels a little.
(Critic’s choice recommendations are indicated by asterisks.)
– “Author: The JT Leroy Story”
The story of the literary “It Boy” who was created by a 40-year-old former phone-sex operator turned housewife.
– “Blair Witch”
A group of college students seek to solve the mysterious disappearance of a friend’s sister and encounter an evil presence.
– “Bridget Jones’s Baby”
Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth reunite for the next life chapter of the newly single and pregnant heroine.
– “Operation Avalanche”
Two young CIA agents (Matt Johnson and Owen Williams) go undercover at NASA during the Cold War to investigate a possible Russian mole.
– * “Snowden”
Oliver Stone presents the story of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who exposed illegal surveillance activity by the NSA.
– “Command and Control”
In this documentary, first responders fight to control an accident at a complex that holds one of the world’s most powerful nuclear warheads.
– * “Queen of Katwe”
From filmmaker Mira Nair comes a story about 10-year-old Ugandan chess prodigy. With David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.
Delivery stork Junior is about to be promoted at his company when he accidentally activates a Baby Making Machine.
– * “The Dressmaker”
A worldly dressmaker returns to her small Australian home town to exact revenge on the people who did her wrong. With Kate Winslet.
– “The Magnificent Seven”
Director Antoine Fuqua revisits the classic story about seven outlaws hired to overtake a controlling industrialist.
– “Deepwater Horizon”
A story about the workers who experienced and survived the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
The story of Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her legal battle with David Irving, who accused her of libel and calling him a Holocaust denier.
– “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”
From the best-selling novel comes a story about a secret home for children with unusual abilities. Directed by Tim Burton.
“– Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”
A Steve Carr comedy about the trials of young Rafe as he battles bullies, school studies and hormones.
– * “The Birth of a Nation”
Slave and preacher Nat Turner orchestrates an uprising with his fellow slaves against their owners.
– * “The Girl on the Train”
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, a woman devastated by her divorce. While on her commute, she fantasizes about a couple she passes every day.
– “American Honey”
Young Star (Sasha Lane) runs away from a troubled home and joins traveling misfits to sell subscriptions door to door.
From Jonas and Alfonso Cuarón comes a suspense-thriller about a rifle-carrying vigilante who chases a group of people through the U.S.-Mexican border.
– “Kevin Hart: What Now?”
The comedian follows up his 2013 hit stand-up and concert movie with a live-filmed, outdoor performance.
– “The Accountant”
Math savant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) works at a small-town CPA office as a cover for his freelance work for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.
– * “A Monster Calls”
The visual-fantasy drama from J.A. Bayona follows 12-year-old Conor as he deals with his mother’s illness by escaping into a world of monsters and fairy tales.
– “American Pastoral”
Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with a film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel.
– “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”
Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders star in this popular action sequel directed by Ed Zwick.
– “Keeping Up With the Joneses”
A suburban couple find it impossibly hard to keep up with their glamorous new neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), only to find that they are covert operatives.
– * “Gimme Danger”
Jim Jarmusch’s new film chronicles the Stooges and their launch to rock ‘n’ roll and punk stardom.
Ron Howard directs the adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestseller, which finds a symbologist (Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to Dante.
– * “Moonlight”
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins presents a coming-of-age story about a young man grappling with his own sexuality and falling in love.
– * “The Eagle Huntress”
A 13-year-old trains to become the first female in her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.
– “Bleed for This”
Miles Teller plays a real-life champion boxer who suffered a spinal injury in a car accident. His trainer (Aaron Eckhart) helps him walk again and return to the ring one year later.
– “Doctor Strange”
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a neurosurgeon encountering a hidden magical world after a car accident.
– “Hacksaw Ridge”
The true story of American soldier Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who saved 75 men without firing a gun in Okinawa during World War II.
– * “Loving”
A celebration of the real-life interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving and their civil rights fight to live as a family in their home town.
– “The Pickle Recipe”
Joey Miller is a single father who is in debt. With his daughter’s bat mitzvah a few weeks away, he hatches a plan to steal his grandmother’s secret dill pickle recipe to make money.
Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Zooey Deschanel voice this animated film about the optimistic Trolls and their troll-eating counterparts.
– “Almost Christmas”
A beloved family patriarch asks his for one Christmas gift: for his family to get along. With Danny Glover, Omar Epps and Mo’Nique.
– * “Arrival”
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi thriller stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.
– “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Director Ang Lee directs a film about the homecoming of a 19-year-old private and his fellow soldiers. With Chris Tucker and Steve Martin.
– “Shut In”
A widowed child psychologist (Naomi Watts) is caught in a winter storm in rural New England, and she must find a way to rescue a young boy.
– “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
A world of fantastical beasts and magical creatures set in 1926. Directed by David Yates.
– “Manchester by the Sea”
A man is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after his father dies. With Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.
– “The Disappointments Room”
D.J. Caruso’s drama thriller stars Kate Beckinsale, Lucas Till and Mel Raido.
– “The Edge of Seventeen”
Taking cues from “Sixteen Candles,” this coming-of-age film centers on high schooler Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and her attempt to overcome growing pains.
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris and Lizzy Caplan star in this World War II romantic spy thriller by Robert Zemeckis.
– “Bad Santa 2”
Billy Bob Thornton returns to his role as America’s favorite antihero, Willie Soke. He teams up with sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox) to take on a Chicago charity.
– * “Moana”
A CG-animated epic about a teenager who is on a quest to become a master wayfinder on the sea with the help of a demigod (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).
– * “Rules Don’t Apply”
The Howard Hughes biopic by Warren Beatty about an aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her driver (Alden Ehrenreich) as they struggle to keep up with their infamous billionaire employer.
A 5-year-old Indian boy gets on the wrong train, which sends him miles away from his family. Years later, he sets out to find his family with the help of new technology.
– “Miss Sloane”
Jessica Chastain plays a ruthless Washington lobbyist who faces off against the gun lobby.
– * “Nocturnal Animals”
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a divorced couple discovering dark truths about each other in this romantic thriller by Tom Ford.
– “Office Christmas Party”
Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman reunite on screen for holiday comedy by Will Speck and Josh Gordon.
– “A Kind of Murder”
Unhappily married but rich Walter Stackhouse is obsessed with a man suspected of murdering his own wife. Their lives soon become dangerously intertwined.
– “Collateral Beauty”
A successful New York advertising executive (Will Smith) suffers a deep tragedy, and his colleagues band together to find a way to help him heal.
– * “La La Land”
Damien Chazelle presents a story of an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who are struggling to make their creative dreams come true in Los Angeles.
– *”Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Lucasfilm’s latest finds unlikely heroes teaming up to steal the plans for the dreaded Death Star. Starring Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen and Forest Whitaker.
– * “20th Century Women”
Set in the summer of 1979, the film centers on a teenager (Lucas Jade Zumann) and the different women in his life, including his mother (Annette Bening), who teach him about life and love.
– “Assassin’s Creed”
Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) unlocks his genetic memories and discovers that he’s a descendant of the Assassins. The information helps him take on an oppressive organization.
Two passengers traveling in suspended animation through space awaken 90 years too early when their ship malfunctions. With Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly voice this animated feature about finding your inner star.
– “The Space Between Us”
Sixteen-year-old Gardner Elliot is the first human born on Mars. The death of his single mother leaves him with a mystery about his family background.
– * “Fences”
August Wilson’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which explores race relations in the 1950s, gets a reboot from director and actor Denzel Washington. With Viola Davis.
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a modern-day prospector, searches for gold in the uncharted jungles of Indonesia.
– “Why Him?”
Bryan Cranston plays an overprotective dad visiting his daughter at Stanford over the holidays, when he meets her billionaire boyfriend (James Franco).
Adam Driver plays a New Jersey bus driver with a secret gift of writing poetry.
– * “Hidden Figures”
The true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), African-American NASA workers who crossed gender and race lines to help launch an astronaut into orbit.
– “Live by Night”
Ben Affleck’s crime drama stars Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.
– “Monster Trucks”
A high school senior learns to build a monster truck in this comedy starring Jane Levy, Rob Lowe and Danny Glover.
– “Patriot’s Day”
Police Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) joins the manhunt for Boston bombers before they strike again.
M. Night Shyamalan reunites with producer Jason Blum for a thriller about a man with a disorder that gives him 23 personalities.
– “Table 19”
Ex-maid of honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is relieved of her duties but decides to attend the wedding anyway and bonds with a table of strangers.
– “The Founder”
The dramatized true story of how Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) met Mac and Dick McDonald to form a burger operation in 1950s Southern California.
– “Certain Women”
Kelly Reichardt directs this drama about three Montana women. With Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart.
– “A Dog’s Purpose”
A dog ruminates over his purpose in life through different owners. With Dennis Quaid.
A road-trip comedy from Lawrence Sher featuring Ed Helms, Glenn Close and Owen Wilson.
– “Same Kind of Different as Me”
Michael Carney’s faith-based drama with Greg Kinnear, Djimon Hounsou and Renée Zellweger.
– “Fifty Shades Darker”
Part two of the erotic thriller about lovers Christian and Anastasia. With Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.
– “John Wick: Chapter Two”
Keanu Reeves stars in the action-thriller sequel with Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Common.
– “T2: Trainspotting”
Danny Boyle’s British action drama with Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller.
– “The Lego Batman Movie”
Chris McKay’s animated adventure is voiced by Will Arnett, Michael Cera and Zach Galifianakis.