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From Ad Astra to Joker to Parasite, 13 must-see films this fall

Top films from Cannes, TIFF and Venice are hitting theatres — along with a reboot of a Disney megahit.

Top films from Cannes, TIFF and Venice are hitting theatres — along with a reboot of a Disney megahit

From horror flicks to biopics to movies that are out of this world, this fall's offerings run the gamut — and some are being touted as Oscar contenders.

The Toronto International Film Festival may be hogging the movie headlines, but soon many of those red carpet flicks will be opening in theatres across the continent — along with reboots of huge films.

And whether you're into astronauts, creepy clowns, sweet biopics or foreign buzz-makers, chances are there are a few films you'll want to catch this fall.

So as the days grow shorter and the chilly winds begin to blow, here are 13 films to check out.

It Chapter Two (in theatres)

Nothing says fall like colourful leaves, cozy sweaters, and having the wits scared out of you by a terrifying sewer clown — but that's what the season has in store for horror lovers with the feverishly anticipated return of Stephen King's clown in It Chapter Two. Set 27 years after the first film, Pennywise has returned to terrorize the town of Derry, and the Losers Club — the kids who defeated him the first time around — return as adults traumatized by their earlier experiences but determined to finally take him down.  Bill Skarsgård reprises his role as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, with the adult Losers Club includes James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan and others. 


Downton Abbey (Sept. 13)

The 2015 cancellation of the hit TV series Downton Abbey had legions of fans crying in their PG Tips, but now the Crawley family moves to the big screen with much of the original cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. Set in 1927, the film centres around a royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary, and also introduces several new characters, among them a Crawley relative with royal ties, and a woman who cozies up with widower Tom Branson. "We'd been talking about it for a long time and it was only a matter of time before they rallied the troops and got everyone in the same country and got people to commit to it," Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, told the LA Times about making the film. "We knew it wasn't quite over. And when we went back it felt like we'd never left."


Ad Astra (Sept. 20)

The all-American astronaut is one of the most enduring and beloved figures in Hollywood cinema, but this time it's heartthrob Brad Pitt stepping into zero gravity as the cool, lonesome Ad Astra. In the near-future sci-fi adventure, humans have colonized the moon and Mars, and Astra goes into space in search of his long-lost astronaut father, whose scientific experiment is endangering planet earth. Some critics say it's a tired father-son tale (The Times also said "the 55-year-old heart-throb is as blank as he's ever been"), but others are rapturous in their praise. "It's an extraordinary picture," wrote a Guardian critic, "steely and unbending and assembled with an unmistakable air of wild-eyed zealotry."


Judy (Sept. 27)

Judy Garland's tragic final year gets the biopic treatment in this new film starring Renée Zellweger as the Hollywood icon. Based on the stage play End of the Rainbow, the film is set far from the yellow brick road when Garland was in her mid-40s, broke, unable to get work, addicted to drugs and fighting for custody of her two kids. The fallen star took a gig at London's Talk of the Town nightclub to try to get back on her feet; a few months later she was dead from an overdose. But despite the film's dark subject matter, it still finds glimmers of light. "I think that's one of the wonderful things about telling this story about this stage of her life is it shows it was not completely tragic," Zellweger told the Toronto Star. "She was hopeful and she got so much joy out of connecting with her audience and performing — and she never gave up. Never."


Joker (Oct. 4)

With rapturous reviews coming out of the Venice Film Festival, this fiercely anticipated Batman offshoot — which also landed Venice's Golden Lion award and an eight-minute standing ovation at the premiere  — is expected to break fall box office records. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover) and starring Joaquin Phoenix, the film delves into the dark origin story of Batman's infamous arch-nemesis, and paints him as a deeply awkward young man determined to fit in, but faced with relentless rejection. Joker was inspired in part by classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and King of Comedy — but also cuts to the heart of modern alienation. "He creates a dazzlingly disturbed psycho morality play," writes critic Owen Gleiberman in Variety, "one that speaks to the age of incels and mass shooters and no-hope politics, of the kind of hate that emerges from crushed dreams."


Pain & Glory (Oct. 4) 

Legendary director Pedro Almodóvar has returned with Pain & Glory, a film that has already been named Spain's official submission to the Oscars. It also landed Antonio Banderas best actor at Cannes for his role as Salvador Mallo, an aging director who is looking back at his life — his childhood, his first love, his early passion for cinema, his broken friendship with a collaborator, his drive to create, and his fraught relationship with his mother. In one particularly powerful scene, Mallo apologizes for not being the son she wanted, and blurs the line between fiction and reality — even for the director himself. "Pedro normally comes to the set and just says the lines for the actors, just for the last syndications before we start shooting," Banderas said in an Entertainment Weekly interview. "He read the [dialogue for] the character [of my mother] and then he was going to read mine, and he couldn't. He just couldn't say those lines."


Lucy in the Sky (Oct. 4)

Ad Astra isn't the only fall flick to head into outer space, but Lucy in the Sky has a decidedly different twist. Starring Natalie Portman, the film follows astronaut Lucy Cola who suffers a turbulent return to family life following her arrival back on earth, and kicks up an affair with a fellow astronaut — but Cola ends up getting pulled into a personal black hole. Sounds improbable? Oddly, the film is loosely based on the notorious story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who famously drove non-stop from Orlando to Houston (officials said she was wearing an adult diaper), then attacked her ex-lover's new girlfriend; she was later charged with attempted kidnapping, battery, attempted vehicle burglary and other crimes. "What was interesting to me, as I thought about taking this on, was what's really behind a tabloid story?" said director Noah Hawley in an interview. "Her human experience has been reduced to a joke on some level. I wanted to try to tell that story, and allow her to retain her dignity."


Parasite (Oct. 11) 

Beloved South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho returns with a "pitch-black modern fairytale" about two families — one extremely wealthy, the other barely making ends meet — whose lives become deeply and unexpectedly intertwined when the poverty-stricken family offers "luxury services" to their affluent counterparts. The film won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival — the first ever from South Korea to take the top prize — and some critics are calling it one of the best movies of the decade. Wrote Indiewire's David Ehrlich, "Giddy one moment, unbearably tense the next, and always so entertaining and fine-tuned that you don't even notice when it's changing gears, Parasite takes all of the beats you expect to find in a Bong film and shrinks them down with clockwork precision."


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Oct. 18)

It's hard to know who's more lovable, Tom Hanks or Mr. Rogers, so when you get Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers, well, let's just say there's a lot to feel good about. Of course every film needs a little tension, so Matthew Rhys plays a cynical journalist who has been assigned by Esquire to profile the TV icon — but finds out that maybe it really is a beautiful day in the neighbourhood. "We have become so inured to [cynicism] that when we are met with as simple a message as 'Hey you know what, it's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood!' we get slapped a little bit. We are allowed, I think, to feel good," said Hanks at a TIFF press conference, adding that it's especially important for kids to grow up with a positive message. "There's a place for cynicism, but why begin with it right off the bat?"


The Lighthouse (Oct. 18)

You won't have too much trouble keeping track of the characters in Robert Eggers' follow-up to The Witch, because there are only two — both of them lighthouse keepers isolated on a deserted shore. Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson and legendary actor Willem Dafoe play the roles of the men, who wrestle with the relentless winds and rains, and even more with their own states of mind. But the characters weren't the only ones struggling with the elements; the cast and crew also had to battle the weather in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, which Eggers described as "cold and rainy and s--tty and tough." The Lighthouse's reception has been anything but chilly, though, with rave reviews and a lengthy standing ovation at Cannes.


Doctor Sleep (Nov. 8)

Forty years after The Shining scared the bejeezus out of legions of moviegoers, the son, Danny Torrance, returns to the horrific Overlook Hotel in order to lay demons to rest and find some semblance of peace — but all of that goes out the window when he encounters Abra, a teen who possesses an extrasensory gift called "the shine." With plenty of dazzling effects, the film — named after the Stephen King novel — is decidedly 21st century, but revisits plenty of the creepy Kubrick scenes too, from the blood gushing through the hallways to the singing twin girls to the scrawled redrum. 


Honey Boy (Nov. 8)

It's one thing to act in a biopic; it's quite another when the film is roughly about your own life. But that's what Shia LaBeouf did in Honey Boy, which revolves around a child star named Otis Lort who tries to salvage his relationship with his abusive and drug-addicted father. The film, which LaBeouf says is "a little bit like an exorcism," was written by the actor during a stint in rehab, and directed by his friend and collaborator Alma Har'el. "I was just sending her stuff that I was writing down," LaBeouf said at TIFF. "I had a flashlight and was rummaging through the attics of my soul trying to figure stuff out, figuring my past out … She was like, 'Oh, this is a movie.'"


Frozen 2 (Nov. 22)

Just when you thought you had finally banished Let It Go from your noggin, Disney offers a sequel to the universally loved Frozen — and answers a key question. "Our producer Peter Del Vecho traveled around the world talking about Frozen," co-director Chris Buck said during a D23 Expo panel. "And he told us there was one question people kept asking him: 'Why does Elsa have powers?'" The hotly awaited sequel to the icy classic will solve that mystery — as well as why Anna doesn't share those powers, and where the parents were headed when their ship went down — as Elsa saves her kingdom. Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and Santino Fontana all return to their roles, so parents had better make way for a whole new batch of earworms.

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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