The fall television and movie seasons are finally upon us. And that means we can sigh with relief: this summer's lackluster movie run has, let's hope, ended. But that also means there's a lot to choose from at the theaters and on our televisions. Below, four of our regular critics—Brett McCracken, Kenneth R. Morefield, Jackson Cuidon, and Alissa Wilkinson—weighed in on five of the movies and television shows they're anticipating as the weather cools and the busy season begins.

Brett McCracken

Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (in theaters October 4). The teaming of Alfonso Cuarón, in his first directorial effort since 2006's Children of Men, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) makes me think this film will be full of long, extraordinarily beautiful shots. Oh, and terrifying. I mean, have you seen that trailer?

12 Years a Slave, directedby Steve McQueen (in theaters October 18). With his films Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), Steve McQueen has established himself as one of cinema's most provocative and interesting new voices. That alone makes me excited to see his latest. The impressive cast—Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt and more—only makes me anticipate it more.

Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (in theaters December 20). The Coen Brothers are on a hot streak and their latest looks to impress once again. A tale of the halcyon days of the nascent folk music scene in 1960s Greenwich Village, Inside promises to have a soundtrack to match its cinematic prestige.

Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass (in theaters October 11). The last time Greengrass tackled a ripped-from-the-headlines story like this was his magnificent United 93 (2006), which I expect will be looked back upon as the definitive film about 9/11. With Tom Hanks starring in this intense narrative of the 2009 Somali pirate hijacking, I expect great things.

MobCity, created by Frank Darabont (premiering December 4 on TNT). From the director who brought us Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and AMC's The Walking Dead comes a new TV series on 1940s gangsters in Los Angeles. Here's hoping it's better than Gangster Squad.

Brett McCracken is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist, and author of the books Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (Baker, 2013). You can follow him @brettmccracken.

Article continues below

Kenneth R. Morefield

Elementary, created by Robert Doherty (season 2 premiere September 26 on CBS). Sherlock Holmes has been done to death, but this iteration resembles House more than anything else, with Johnny Lee Miller being every bit as charismatic as Hugh Laurie was in his self-tortured addict role. Television traditionally has a hard time portraying male-female relationships that aren't love interests, so I particularly appreciated the gradual partnership formed by Holmes and the female Watson (played by Lucy Liu) in Season One. I'm curious to see if Elementary can keep this up or whether they'll make the seemingly inevitable dive into "will they or won't they?" sexual tension between the leads.

Ender's Game, directed by Gavin Hood (in theaters November 1). Having spent most of my young adult years longing for an Ender movie, I spent a chunk of my summer rereading the novel (and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead). Doing so reminded me both of how hard it would be to make a film that was both true to its source material and commercially successful. It's hard to go wrong with Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, and Viola Davis, but I'm still holding my breath. Come November 1, you'll either hear a deep sigh of relief or a loud groan of disappointment coming from my direction.

The Good Wife, created by Michelle King and Robert King (season 5 premieres September 29 on CBS). I have maintained for two or three years now that The Good Wife is the best show currently on one of the big four networks. At times reminiscent of The Wire, it ends up being more about the city than the characters, and you are never sure from one week to the next if you will get a legal drama, a family drama, a political drama, or a mix of all three. Featuring the strongest ensemble cast on television (with both regulars and reoccurring guests), The Good Wife is one of those rare dramas with as many strong and interesting female characters as male characters. Also, it doesn't make religion a taboo topic—name another recent network show that had a teenager getting baptized and asking her mom why she doesn't go to church. Think the weekend ends with "football night in America"? Sorry guys, Sunday night belongs to Alicia and company.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, directed by Justin Chadwick (in theaters November 29). Speaking of The Wire, when exactly is that show's alum, Idris Elba, going to start landing film roles that are as meaty as those he gets on television? Biopics when done poorly can feel a bit like history lessons, and with 12 Years a Slave coming out a month earlier, one wonders if holiday audiences will be looking for lighter fare after their post-Thanksgiving football and Christmas shopping. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom may be facing an uphill climb, but . . . Idris Elba!

Article continues below

The Past, directed by Asghar Farhadi (in theaters December 20). Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's last film, A Separation, won a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. With The Past he looks to mine some of the same themes, in particular the ways in which where we live affects our personal relationships. Art cannot solve the world's ills or brush over political, social, and religious differences, but perhaps it can provide us portraits in others of the core human experiences that lie closest to our inmost souls, and by doing so remind us that we share, even with those most foreign to us, a hunger for our lives to have love, meaning, and personal integrity.

Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

Jackson Cuidon

Bob's Burgers, created by Loren Bouchard (season 4 premiere September 29 on Fox). This show is a huge gulp of fresh air after almost a decade of TV comedies that either found their laughs via constant, unending sexual or shocking content (Family Guy being of course the figurehead for this, but honorable mentions go out to Drawn Together, early South Park, and The Cleveland Show), or simply weren't much fun anymore at all (lookin' at you, Simpsons).

The show follows in the same basic mold as The Simpsons (which technically makes it Family Guy's brighter, smarter, kinder cousin)—a dad facing powerlessness at every turn, a wife whose grip on reality is frequently tenuous, and absolutely crazy kids—but expands on it in a really interesting way: by making the characters earnest. Rather than wanting us to point and laugh at them all the time, Bob's Burgers (with exceptions) mostly has us laughing with and empathizing with the characters, who, despite the aforementioned craziness, all genuinely seem to love each other.

Rather than doing 20 minutes of raunchy hateful ironic bitterness followed by a hollow two minutes of familial reconciliation (the mold set by FG), Bob's Burgers never indulges in the irony, or the over-sentimentality. It's refreshing in its understated-ness, and at its best, reminds me of times I spent being ridiculous with my own family. The show proves that sentimentality and sincerity don't have to go (and actually, mostly don't go) hand in hand.

Article continues below

[Aside, don't worry, the rest aren't that long.]

The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott (in theaters October 25). The Cormac McCarthy-penned, Ridley Scott-directed film stars a weirdly schizoid collection of actors—Natalie Dormer (the side-smiling star of HBO's Game of Thrones) co-stars with the thespially-challenged Cameron Diaz, but then the movie features a cowboy Brad Pitt, artist/fratboy-looking Javier Bardem, and the stoic-as-always Michael Fassbender.

But McCarthy's functional two-man play of a movie Sunset Limited managed to capture the "McCarthy feel" without using hokey voice-overs to evoke his prose, so I'm excited to see what happens here (and if Ridley Scott is the man for the job). Either it'll be amazing, or a train-wreck, but with this cast, writer, and director, it'd be impossible for the movie to bore.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, directed by Francis Lawrence (in theaters November 22). I have not seen The Hunger Games, and honestly, don't plan to see this, but any time the series resurfaces on the pop-cultural radar (having laid dormant for almost an entire year now), you can see the weird ripples of self-consciousness radiate out as people talk about how horrifying the subject matter is, only to change the channel back to whatever horrible reality TV show was going on before. Whether or not the movie is good, or what your thoughts are on the series, it's guaranteed to induce a sliver of self-consciousness to a public that tends to forget that The Hunger Games series is just as much a satire as it is a teen drama.

Her, directed by Spike Jonze (in limited release December 18; opens wide January 10). So this Jonze-helmed movie is about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who purchases a new artificial-intelligence operating system (apparently like a technologically-pervasive, sultrier Siri) voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It seems like a strange hybrid of romantic comedy-meets-sci-fi, but Phoenix's turn in The Master combined with his absolutely dad-tastic mustache in this movie make me excited to see what happens. Add to this the fact that Jonze is insanely adept at taking simple premises and adding complexity (expanding Where The Wild Things Are into a comprehensive survey of loss and growing up), and his ability to complement (rather than detract from) the work of crazy-genius Charlie Kaufman, makes me think that Her's going to be anything but stereotypical.

Article continues below

Adventure Time, created by Pendleton Ward (on Cartoon Network). Firstly: I'm not even sure what the season situation is on this show, as Cartoon Network is infamously terrible about regular show scheduling. But I'm excited. At this point, the show is 78 ten-minute episodes in, and in that time it's managed to construct a huge mythological web of a universe, taking place in what's hinted to be a magical, post-apocalyptic earth.

Where other shows on CN are calculatedly weird, weird in such a way that people will quote it incessantly and post to Facebook about how capital-R-Random it is and so forth, Adventure Time is just charmingly, blissfully, nostalgically weird, weird like how kids are weird when they're imagining worlds to play in (assuming kids still do that kind of thing, rather than just play with iPhones). It's a refreshing dash of playfulness and childlike inaccessibility and fun, the kind of fun that (especially within the world of animated TV comedies) has been replaced by either raunch or controversy or targeted and calculated weirdness, the kind that seems to make fun of the very people it's trying to appeal to.

Jackson Cuidon is a writer in New York City. He enjoys movies with explosions and music with loud guitars.

Alissa Wilkinson

New Girl, created by Elizabeth Meriwether (season 3 premiere September 17 on Fox). I can't actually believe this show has only had two seasons, so deeply has it wormed its way into my consciousness (when I set up our apartment's wireless network this summer, I named it "The Wiffy"). But what I love most about this show, besides feeling as if it's my generation's Friends, is how carefully and realistically it explores the pitfalls and triumphs of friendships in the twenty-first century. Plus, the longer it goes on, the more layered the jokes get, and that's just wonderful.

August: Osage County, directed by John Wells (in theaters December 25). I saw this play years ago on Broadway. To be honest, I don't remember too much about the plot except that it was devastating, a family drama about what happens after a death. In my opinion, plays adapted into films are not frequently successful, but given the cast—Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, shall I continue?—I'll be rooting for its success.

Article continues below

Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (in theaters October 4). Brett mentioned this above, but I have to say two things about it. First, the aforementioned trailer is the scariest thing I have ever seen (especially if you see it in 3D), probably because that very scenario figured largely and inexplicably into a recurring nightmare I experienced as a child. But also, the film showed at Telluride last week, and the Twitter chatter from those who saw it was a sort of hushed reverence at the accomplishment. I'll just have to take a deep breath and commit myself to several months of nightmares.

Parks and Recreation, created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (season 6 premiere September 26 on NBC). Parks and Rec is great for many reasons (though Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe are leaving this season), but one of the most admirable is that you'll note that if you go back and watch the first season, it was pretty terrible. From there, somehow, it turned into a finely-imagined, affectionate ensemble drama full of the weird, wonderful people who love each other and their work. It also manages to get in subtle digs at the absurdity of federal politics and bureaucracy without seeming heavy-handed. And, there's Ron Swanson. If you haven't seen the show, you might want to go back and catch up.

AmericanHustle, directed by David O. Russell (in theaters December 25). This film about a con artist and his partner navigating the wilds of Camden, New Jersey has an absolutely perfect cast—Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro—but, of course, it's Russell on whom I'm hanging my hopes, especially since this seems to be in the mold of The Fighter, the film that still takes the prize for surprising me most. This will probably be solid, if not exactly heart-warmingly Christmasy, and I can't wait to see it.

Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic. She is also Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at The King's College in New York City. You can follow her at @alissamarie and @CT_Movies.