October is traditionally a transitional month for movie studios. Most of the larger summer movies have already left the theaters, while September tends to be a dumping ground for problematic productions and low-budget films. October is when things begin to get interesting, with the major studios rolling out their adult-oriented prestige pictures in the hope of snagging coveted Oscar nominations in 2014. Previous years have seen releases such as "The Departed" and "Training Day" become hits after debuting in October. This year's mix of releases has proven extremely popular with critics and audiences alike, with "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips" leading the way at the box office.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity" has been the runaway hit with audiences, earning over $169 million as of October 22. The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts desperately trying to get back to Earth after a catastrophic shuttle accident leaves them adrift in space. It's not the acting that makes "Gravity" so special, however; it's the immersive effects and 3-D viewing experience that keep filmgoers coming back for more. The 3-D effects are arguably the best since James Cameron's "Avatar," creating a theater experience that is rare for today's blockbusters. It's the biggest hit for Cuarón since 2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," and the film has shown zero signs of slowing down its box-office assault.
For audiences looking for a more traditional thriller, "Captain Phillips" was released on October 11. Based on the true story of the capture of the MVMaerskAlabamaby Somali pirates, the film stars Tom Hanks as the title character. Hanks always brings gravitas to the roles he plays, but it's Barkhad Abdi who steals the show as Muse, the leader of the pirates. With director Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy") at the helm, "Captain Phillips" has spent two weeks close behind "Gravity" at the box office and has received several excellent reviews from film critics.
The art-house crowd has seen a rush of limited releases for Oscar hopefuls, with movies such as "All Is Lost" making waves at film festivals. However, the one gathering the most acclaim is director Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." Based on the harrowing autobiography by Solomon Northrup, the film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup, a free man captured and sold into slavery in 1841 New Orleans. With Michael Fassbender as the sadistic Edwin Epps and Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass, "12 Years a Slave" is sure to be one of the most talked-about films of the season and a surefire contender for Best Picture.
Since October is the season of Halloween, it's usually a breeding ground for horror films, and this year saw the release of a second adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie." This version of the story had an uphill battle with critics due to the classic Brian DePalma film starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie. In the modern version, Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title character, while Julianne Moore amps up the creepiness as her mother, Margaret White. While this film can't touch DePalma's original, it's worth seeing for Moretz's sympathetic turn as Carrie. Critics have been mixed on the flick, but audiences came out in droves, bringing the film over $16 million in its first weekend.
A slate of films is set for release in the last weekend before November that should continue October 2013's run as one of the better months for movies in recent memory. Perhaps the most anticipated release is Ridley Scott's "The Counselor." With a screenplay by acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy (who wrote the novels on which the film versions of "No Country for Old Men" and "The Road" are based), this one has cinema fans chomping at the bit. Its cast includes Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt, giving the film something of an all-star lineup with some of the best talent working today. Its plot revolves around a lawyer (Fassbender) who suddenly finds himself in far too deep with the criminal underworld. Its cast and behind-the-scenes talent make "The Counselor" one of the more anticipated films of the fall.
While most of 2013 has been heavy on special effects ("Iron Man 3," "Man of Steel") and gross-out comedies ("The Hangover III"), the fall months are a cornucopia of adult fare. October is the unofficial start of the Oscar season, with the aforementioned "Gravity," "Captain Phillips," and "12 Years a Slave" already being talked about as surefire nominees for the 2014 Academy Awards. Until then, film audiences are in for a much-needed cinematic treat.