Fall film preview: Is it, perhaps, a return to normal in theaters?

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For the first time in three years, the Fall Movie Industrial Complex is kicking into high gear. The red carpets of the festival are rolled out. The Oscar campaigns are ready. Long-awaited blockbusters like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” are ready for the box office.

But after the tumult of the pandemic, can the fall movie season go back to how it was? Many hope so. After two spring editions, the Oscars returned to a more traditional date in early March. The Golden Globes, after a near-cancellation, are planning a comeback. Some films also attempt to rediscover a spirit of the past. At this month’s Toronto Film Festival, Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” booked the same theater in which “Knives Out” premiered to a packed house almost exactly three years ago.

“Looks like it was yesterday,” Johnson said with a laugh. “OK, a few things happened.”

After a near-wiped-out Fall 2020 and a 2021 season hampered by Delta and Omicron COVID-19 variants, this fall could perhaps be more like the normal annual cultural revival that happens every fall, when most of the year’s best movies arrive.

“I think we’re all trying to make it exist as at least some version of what we knew before,” Johnson said. “As with everything, you just have to dive into the pool and see what the water is like. I really hope that at least the illusion of normalcy holds. I guess that’s all normalcy is.”

But “Glass Onion,” starring Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in a new mystery, is also a reminder of how much everything has changed. After “Knives Out” was a box office success for Lionsgate, grossing $311 million worldwide for Lionsgate, Netflix paid $450 million to secure the rights to two sequels. And while exhibitors and the streaming company have been discussing a bigger theatrical release for “Glass Onion” — a surefire hit if it was — a smaller rollout in theaters is planned before the movies roll out. land December 23 on Netflix.

The balance between cinema and streaming remains unstable. But after a summer box office renaissance and a changing Wall Street outlook for streaming, theatrical cinema — with its billions in annual ticket sales and cultural footprint — is looking pretty good. For the first time in years, cinema has a strong wind at its back. Or at least until a particularly slow August sapped momentum largely due to a dearth of new wide releases.

“If you look at the number of movies we had versus the business we were doing, we were operating at 2019 levels,” says John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “We had 70% of the blockbuster movie supply in the first seven months and we did 71% of the business we did in the same period of 2019. Moviegoers are back in pre- pandemic, it’s just that we still need more movies.”

This will be less of a problem as the fall season intensifies.

“Wakanda Forever” (November 11) and “The Way of the Water” (December 16) can each compete with summer hit “Top Gun: Maverick” ($1.36 billion worldwide and counting) for Best Picture. of the year. What’s less clear, however, is whether the fall’s robust roster of adult films and Oscar contenders can once again lead to the movies. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Apple TV+’s “CODA,” ran the awards gauntlet without a box office penny.

Among the most anticipated films on the fall festival circuit and in theaters are Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical ‘The Fabelmans’ (23 Nov); “Blonde” (September 23), with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe; “TÁR” by Todd Fields (October 7), with Cate Blanchett; “Empire of Light” by Sam Mendes (December 9); “The Son” (Nov. 11), Florian Zeller’s sequel to “The Father”; the Emmett Till saga of Chinonye Chukwu “Till” (October 14); “The Banshees of Inisherin” by Martin McDonagh (October 21); “Armageddon Time” by James Gray (October 28); and Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The Triangle of Sadness” (October 7).

Superhero movies (“Black Adam,” October 21, with Dwayne Johnson), kids movies (“Lyle Lyle Crocodile,” October 7), horror movies (“Halloween Ends,” October 14), romantic comedies ( “Ticket to Paradise,” October 21, with Julia Roberts and George Clooney) and other high-flying adventures (“Devotion,” November 23) will also mingle, as will major streamer titles. These include Amazon’s “My Policeman” (October 21), with Harry Styles; and Netflix is ​​releasing “Bardo” (in theaters November 4), by Alejandro González Iñárritu; “White Noise” (in theaters November 25) by Noah Baumbach; and “Pinocchio” by Guillermo del Toro (aired December 9).

But while much of the fall movie season is about restoring what’s been lost over the past few years, for some upcoming movies, change is the point.

“Woman King” (September 16), directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood and starring Viola Davis, is a muscular, fact-based epic about a West African army of female warriors. For Prince-Blythewood, the filmmaker of ‘Love & Basketball’ and ‘The Old Guard’, ‘Woman King’ represents “the chance to reframe what it means to be a woman and a woman.”

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a movie like this before. So much of our history has been hidden, ignored or erased,” Blythewood said. “‘Braveheart’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ I love those movies. Now was our chance to tell our story in that genre.”

“Bros” (September 30) is also something different. The film, starring and co-written by “Billy on the Street” comedian Billy Eichner, is the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio (Universal). All of its main actors are LGBTQ. Comedies have struggled in theaters in recent years, but “Bros,” produced by Judd Apatow, hopes a fresh perspective will liven up a familiar genre.

“It’s a historic film in many ways,” Eichner said. “It’s not something we thought about when we first developed it. Nobody sits down and says, ‘Let’s write a historical film. We said, “Let’s make a hilarious movie.” It’ll make people laugh, but it’s unlike anything the vast majority of people have seen.”

“Bros” and “Woman King” are productions meant to challenge the Hollywood status quo. It’s also part of the nature of “She Said” (November 18), a dramatization of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (December 2) also chronicles a real-life women’s uprising. It is based on events in 2009, when Bolivian Mennonite women gathered after being drugged and raped by the men of their colony.

Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as a married couple living in a 1950s-style suburban nightmare-slash-masculine fantasy, tackles similar themes through a lens of science. -fiction.

“I want to do something really entertaining and fun and interesting, but it’s actually my way of sparking conversations about real issues like bodily autonomy,” Wilde said. “I had no idea it would be as timely as it is right now. Never in my wildest nightmares did I believe Roe would have been knocked down just before this movie was released.”

Other movie production schedules seem to exist almost outside of our Earth reality. James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of the Water” will debut 13 years after 2009’s “Avatar” (still the highest-grossing film of all time), a follow-up originally slated for release in 2014. Since then, both of dates that the sequels – four films now set to launch over the next five years – sometimes seemed like blockbuster Godots that could always be waiting in the wings.

Speaking from New Zealand, where “The Way of the Water” was being mixed and recorded, producer Jon Landau promised that the wait was actually almost over.

“It’s finally happening,” Landau said. “These delays, as you would call them, were really about laying the groundwork for a movie saga. It wasn’t about saying, ‘Let’s do a good script.’ It was about: ‘Let’s do four scripts well.'”

Measuring change in the film industry is even more difficult when it comes to the length of time between “Avatar” installments. When the first “Avatar” was in theaters, 3D was (still) being touted as the future. Barack Obama was in the first year of his first term. Netflix rented DVDs by mail.

“A lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t changed,” Landau said. “One of the things that hasn’t changed is, why do people turn to entertainment today? Just like they did when the first ‘Avatar’ came out, they do to escape, to escape the world we live in.”

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