As I sat down to assemble this look at autumnal movie goodness, Twitter launched a new meme format. It consists of “My Fall Plans” written above a pleasant/fun/optimistic image on the left side and “Delta Variant” written above a nightmarish/unfun/pessimistic image on the right side. Please know that even though I’m writing this preview while on the left side, reality could be on the right side by the time you read it.

If the unvaxxed masses don’t plague-ify things, we are in for a truly bonkers bounty of bad-ass flicks from now until the year’s end, which is somehow about five minutes from now. Like a cinematic sommelier, I have carefully stewarded this collection, perfectly paired with the blend of nightmare-fueled ennui many of us are struggling with this year.

The Card Counter (Sept. 10)

Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe star in a movie about an ex-military interrogator turned gambler. Are you still here, or are you in line for tickets already? It’s written/directed by Paul Schrader, which means that guy you dated who calls literally every movie a “film” is really excited.

The Many Saints of Newark (Oct. 1)

The thought of watching James Gandolfini’s son playing Tony Soprano in a prequel to the HBO show is thrilling … for some of you out there. Personally, the whole thing sounds like a combination of ghoulish and unnecessary. But this is America, where ghoulishly unnecessary is arguably the national pastime.

Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage (Oct. 1)

The first Venom was a surprisingly campy bit of maniacal Tom Hardy nonsense. This one adds Woody Harrelson to the mix, which exponentially amps the camp and maxes the mania. Who needs Spider-Man? We’re all tuning in for the sexual tension between a man and his sentient, murderous alien spacesuit.

Titane (Oct. 1)

A body-horror film slathered with terrifying-sounding carnal curiosities, the plot description alone of Titane is what many parents think the new sex ed curriculum will be. Julia Ducournau became the second female director to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And you know what they say, “If the French love it … it’s probably artistically problematic.”

No Time to Die (Oct. 8)

Let’s be honest, if a disease was going to stop James Bond, we all had money on syphilis, right? COVID turned 007’s long-delayed release into a burn slower than his relationship with Moneypenny. But they added Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer to a spy film co-written/directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga that features Rami Malek as a bad guy. So, yeah, whenever it comes out, I am coming with it.

Lamb (Oct. 8)

A24 is just playing Mad Libs for its films now. The noun chosen in this case is “hybrid sheep-human.” The blank for “undervalued lead actress” was filled with “Noomi Rapace.” “Choose a hauntingly idyllic setting” was answered with “Iceland.” The instruction for genre was “cram many words together,” and Lamb got “psychological pagan folk horror comedy thriller.” My God. I’m so in…

Halloween Kills (Oct. 15)

Director David Gordon Green’s Halloween was a reboot hoot. The trailer for the sequel reveals that he and writing buddy Danny McBride have picked up literally where the last film ended, with Michael Myers hot-footing it out of a burning building to once more try to kabob Jamie Lee Curtis. If it’s a third as fun as the last one, it will still be the second-best thing William Shatner’s face has been in.

The Last Duel (Oct. 15)

Fresh off needing to shut his mouth for various reasons, Matt Damon will follow up his MAGA-baiting Stillwater with a new Ridley Scott medieval movie. You’re probably worried that Ben Affleck is in it. He is. He also co-wrote it with Damon. Don’t give up hope — maybe it’s a time-traveling sequel to Good Will Hunting? “How do you like them apples, Serf?” Oh, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer are in it too. So it’ll probably be, like, “good” and stuff.

Dune (Oct. 22)

Are giant sandworms enough to overcome both Es in Timothee Chalamet’s lack of charisma and talent? Writer/director Denis Villeneuve’s intergalactic white savior riff is gonna be absolutely gorgeous. And I’m not just talking about a sandy Jason Momoa and intubated Zendaya. Whether or not the film can cement itself as one of the few space operas to sing about is another matter entirely.

The French Dispatch (Oct. 22)

Wes Anderson is back doing Wes Anderson things. Chalamet is also in this one, as is literally every other person you’d expect to be in a Wes Anderson movie. Things will be full of twee and quirk. Those who are not totally and completely over his schtick will revel in its allegedly esoteric charm. I’ll be watching Dune. Maybe for the second time.

Last Night in Soho (Oct. 29)

Speaking of white directors who try too hard, Edgar Wright’s latest is described as a “psychological horror” film and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, whose eyes are literally always stuck in “psychological horror” aperture. There’s body swapping, time traveling and Matt Smith, who probably gave advice on both after his time on Doctor Who. I don’t know, man. I’m still rooting for Wright, but I hope this isn’t just him being sexually aroused by a jukebox filled with B-sides and neon colors again.

The Harder They Fall (Nov. 3)

Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors and Regina King in a hyperactive outlaw revenge Western? This elevator is going to the top, as all of my buttons have been pushed. Whether or not it can fulfil the promise of a trailer that left me 10-gallon twitching, even if it is just OK, I will be contentedly corralled.

Eternals (Nov. 5)

I can safely say that no woman has ever before won the Oscar for best director and then immediately released a comic book adaptation. Because Kathryn Bigelow didn’t do it. But Chloé Zhao did! Sure to feature 100% less bucket pooping than her last film, Zhao’s Marvel project is arguably the riskiest thus far. If it hits, it will expand that world into fascinating new proto-religious areas. If it duds, Kumail Nanjiani got upsettingly swole for nothing.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Nov. 11)

In an Incel-free world, we’re at least two films into a trilogy of Paul Feig’s Ghostbuster series. Instead, we are getting this nostalgia pornography that seems to have forgotten entirely that the original, beloved classic was, you know, a comedy. Although this will surely have moments of levity, Jason Reitman’s reboot cross-its-heart promises to treat the source material with overwrought reverence. He just wants to make his dad, who directed the first film nearly 30 years ago, proud enough to argue nepotism works.

Top Gun: Maverick (Nov. 19)

Speaking of nostalgia: You remember how that one-time Tom Cruise played sweaty, shirtless volleyball in a music montage, around which a film about airplanes took place? Well buckle your scientolo-seatbelts, as the hot-dogging Maverick has gone from rebel to flight instructor. But he’s still cool, y’all. Miles Teller is also in it. He still not, y’all.

House of Gucci (Nov. 24)

Some directors slow down when they get older, and some won’t stop until they’ve put Adam Driver in a turtleneck. This crimey quasi-biopic fully had my interest when the first images of Driver and Lady Gaga were released. Then they showed a poster of Jared Leto lathered in the world’s supply of prosthetics. Look, I know we have more to worry about right now as a people, but we’ve gotta get a handle on this Leto bullshit. It goes: COVID, climate change, Leto. And the gaps in that list are shrinking.

Soggy Bottom (Nov. 26)

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest may not even actually be called Soggy Bottom, but please God let it be called Soggy Bottom. He’s one of the few filmmakers who could make a “most anticipated movie” list with something that could literally be about the invention of adult diapers or something. Bradley Cooper is in it, and if he poops his pants, so help me, I will not stop until this is the highest-grossing film of all time.

Nightmare Alley (Dec. 3)

Guillermo del Toro is branching out from merman pornography and other spooky nonsense with this adaptation of a pulpy 1946 novel about carnies, hustlers, grifters and femmes fatales. That’s right, multiple femmes! And at least one of them is played by Cate Blanchett! Toni Collette and Rooney Mara are also potential fatales. Sigh, but Bradley Cooper is also in this, with a significantly lower shot at pants-pooping.

West Side Story (Dec. 10)

Do yourself a favor and Google “Ansel Elgort and Sarah Paulson” for some incredibly horrifying allegations that will make you hate him (more) and love her (also more). Anyway, Steven Spielberg is the one human who could direct this musical adaptation and generate something close to excitement in me. This didn’t need to exist, but neither did Ansel Elgort.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 17)

The rumors about what may happen in this Marvel movie have crossed from “plausibly fun” to “almost certainly impossible and thus guaranteed to disappoint.” Will Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield show up as their respective Spider-Men? Will Willem Dafoe return as the Green Goblin and thus be the actor with the most films on this list? Will we all be disappointed that we built this up in our minds without any confirmation that any of this was happening? Disappointed isn’t a word I’ve ever used with Spider-Man. And I’ve used a lot of words.

The Matrix 4 (Dec. 22)

Talk about not being disappointed, I was and remain a staunch defender of the Matrix sequels. I loved Cloud Atlas. I adored Jupiter Ascending. Thus, it is certifiably impossible for writer/director Lana Wachowski to present something I won’t get giddy about. Watching the first film in this series remains one of my top 5 all-time movie-watching experiences. The minute Neo says “Whoa” again here, I expect I will have to revise that ranked list.

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