“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (November)
Any movie that’s billed as an Iranian vampire Western is worthy of consideration, but “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” also happens to be really good film. The movie, from first-time feature director Ana Lily Amirpour, takes place in an imaginary Iranian town (and shot in L.A.), a place haunted by a sleazy drug dealer, a James Dean wannabe and our teenage vampire anti-heroine. We don’t want to spoil it by going into details, but “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” which premiered in the NEXT section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a tense, often funny and ultimately poignant film that challenges our preconceived notions about the vampire film genre.
“Art and Craft” (September 19)
The emotionally absorbing documentary “Art and Craft” has been garnering critical acclaim all year long on its road across the 2014 festival circuit, particularly at its Tribeca Film Festival debut in April. The story is centered on Mark Landis, one of the most prolific art forgers in the United States. For more than 30 years, Landis has duped art galleries across the country by posing as an affluent philanthropist and art patron wishing to donate rare works from his collection. But the “gifts” that he is bequeathing are actually precisely constructed reproductions of Picasso, Matisse and more that he himself has painted. The resulting documentary is both an empathetic representation of talent and well-rounded, compassionate portrait of an outsider with extreme artistic obsessions and some degree of misdiagnosed mental illness.
“Dear White People” (October 17)
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Justin Simien’s hilarious and provocative debut “Dear White People” lived up to its early promise as a zeitgeist comedy tailor-made to appeal to Obama’s America. Simien, who won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Talent award at the event, wrote and directed this freewheeling ensemble piece. Set at a fictional Ivy League college, the film centers on how four black students each react when they learn of a planned ‘African American’ themed party thrown by white students.
“Foxcatcher ” (November 14)
Originally slated to open last fall, Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and wowed everyone who saw it — us included. Miller, who directed Philip Seymour Hoffman to his Oscar win for “Capote,” once again proves he has a way with actors by drawing career best turns from Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in this dark true life tale about what happens when John du Pont, a mentally ill multi-millionaire (Carell), takes an intense liking to brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz, both Olympic gold champion wrestlers.
“Laggies” (October 24)
Writer-director Lynn Shelton’s steady output of work has accumulated into a distinctive brand. Usually set in and around Seattle and starring either Mark Duplass (“Humpday”) or Rosemary Dewitt (“Touchy Feely”) — or both of them (“Your Sister’s Sister”) –Shelton’s films are distinguished by their improvisational style and a tone. Her latest film, “Laggies,” which we caught at Sundance, marks the first time she’s directed a film from a script she didn’t personally pen. “Laggies” tells the story of Megan, a 28-year-old woman who can’t let go of her childhood (Kiera Knightley). When Megan feels threatened by the onslaught of adulthood decisions (her boyfriend proposes to her), she instead chooses to spend time in the company of a teenager (Chloe Grace Moretz) getting drunk and re-living her adolescence.
“Leviathan” (December 31)
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (“The Return,” “Elena”), “Leviathan” is an epic drama that won Zvyagintstev and co-writer Oleg Negin a screenplay award at this year’s Cannes. The Russian drama follows a struggle between a man and a corrupt mayor who wants to take away his land. In his praising review out of Cannes, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called the film “a transfixing epic that grows on you.”
“Listen Up Philip” (October 17)
Alex Ross Perry’s third feature film was greeted enthusiastically by critics and industry professionals alike at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Jason Schwartzman stars as Philip, a novelist currently awaiting the publication of his second novel. Despite his professional success — or perhaps, as a result of it — Philip has become disillusioned with everyone and everything around him. When Philip’s idol, Ike Zimmerman, offers up his summer home as retreat, Philip jumps at the opportunity to get away from it all in order to focus on himself. Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce appear in the film as Philip’s girlfriend and Zimmerman, respectively. Go here for our glowing review.
“Low Down” (October 24)
She may have just recently turned sweet 16, but make no mistake about it, Elle Fanning is an actress to contend with. In Jeff Preiss’ devastating character study “Low Down,” which won the Cinematography Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fanning exhibits her formidable range. In the true story, Fanning embodies Amy Albany (whose memoir the film is based on), a girl forced to cope with her drug addicted father, pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes), while coming of age during the ’60s and ’70s. Glenn Close co-stars as her stern but loving grandmother.
“Maps to the Stars” (TBA)
David Cronenberg is back to his gleefully dirty tricks with his latest dark comedy, “Maps to the Stars,” which earned its lead actress Julianne Moore the Best Actress award at Cannes. Penned by novelist Bruce Wagner, “Maps to the Stars” is a Hollywood satire so dark and twisted it makes last year’s “The Canyons” seem positively tame in comparison. The ensemble film stars John Cusack and Olivia Williams as an L.A. couple whose son (Evan Bird) is a troubled child star. Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman with a mysterious past who returns to L.A. after a long absence, and gets hired as a personal assistant to an actress named Havana Segrand (Moore), who is vying to play her own mother in a movie. A must see for all Cronenberg fans.
“Memphis” (September 5)
Starring iconoclastic musician Willis Earl Beal (who also scored the film), Tim Sutton’s “Memphis” premiered last year in Venice, and later screened to great acclaim at Sundance. The film is a lyrical character study, charting Beal’s character’s descent towards madness as he drifts through the legendary city. Steeped in music and folklore, “Memphis” is unlike anything you’ve seen.
“Mr. Turner” (December 19)
Directed by Mike Leigh, “Mr. Turner” is a first-rate match of director and subject. The biopic, which marks Leigh’s first one in 15 years following 1999’s “Topsy-Turvy,” centers on the latter part of the life of legendary British painter J.M. W. Turner (played by Timothy Spall in a performance that won him Best Actor at Cannes). “One gets the sense that only a film artist like Leigh could apply such elegance to the uneasy state of another creative mind,” Eric Kohn wrote in his review out of Cannes.
“Pride” (September 19)
Winner of the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Pride” is a drama film that looks at two very different groups who come together at a pivotal moment in English history. In 1984, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike, which inspired the LGBT community to raise money to support the strikers’ families. Inspired by this very real time, the film chronicles the unlikely pairing between two communities that brought on change.
“The Babadook” (November 28)
Horror fans, meet your new savior. No film in this year’s Midnight section at the Sundance Film Festival was more celebrated than Jennifer Kent’s debut feature “The Babadook,” a horror film that centers on a single mother and her troubled young son’s battle with the titular monster that’s haunting their house. Swiftly acquired by IFC Midnight at the festival, the film has since gone on to screen at New York’s prestigious New Directors/New Film Festival. “The Babadook” heralds the arrival of a new talent savvy enough to scare you silly with rigorous technique and who has a gift for coaxing great performances from her actors (no surprise, given Kent’s previous acting experience in Australia).
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her” (October 10)
As Indiewire’s Eric Kohn declared in his review out of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, you’d be hard pressed to find a project more “innovative” in last year’s lineup than Ned Benson’s astonishingly ambitious two-part opus “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her.” Clocking in at a whopping 190 minutes (each film runs approximately half that length), “Rigby” examines the dissolution of a marriage from the perspectives of both halves of the couple (played by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy). The husband’s section is titled “Him”; the wife’s “Her.” The Weinstein Company is also releasing a shortened cut titled “Them” (on September 12 in New York and September 19 in Los Angeles) that combines the two films into one whole, but we suggest you make time for the longer experience.
“The Green Prince” (September 12)
Winner of the World Cinema – Documentary Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Nadav Schirman’s Israeli documentary thriller tells the riveting story of Mosab Hassan Yousef. The son of Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab was arrested and interrogated by Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, for smuggling guns at age 17. While detained, the prisoner turned against his Palestinian roots and agreed to spy for Israel, becoming the country’s most valuable asset within the Hamas leadership for over a decade (1997-2007). Mosab’s 2010 autobiography “Son of Hamas” is the inspiration behind Schirman’s pulse-pounding feature film, which combines aerial surveillance footage of Israel, beautifully constructed reenactments and an intense score from Max Richter (“Waltz with Bashir”) to create a humanistic portrait of its espionage subject.
“The Skeleton Twins” (September 10)
No actor surprised more at Sundance this year than former “Saturday Night Live” comic Bill Hader. In Craig Johnson’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award-winning sophomore feature “The Skeleton Twins,” Hader reunites with his “Adventureland” co-star and “SNL” alum Kristen Wiig, to play one of two deeply depressed siblings in desperate need of a change in direction and a firm slap to the face. Wiig’s showed off her formidable dramatic chops before in films like “Imogene” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” so Hader stood out as the true revelation. The film’s also pretty solid too.
“The Zero Theorem” (September 19)
The new Orwellian drama from Terry Gilliam is the final part of what Gilliam calls his dystopic satire trilogy — a series he began in 1985 with the cult classic, “Brazil” and then returned to ten years later with “12 Monkeys.” Christoph Waltz stars as Qohen Leth, a computer programmer attempting to develop a formula that will allow him to determine whether or not life holds meaning. “The Zero Theorem” marks Gilliam’s first narrative feature in nearly four years — the last one having been the 2009 film ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” which struggled to make it to the finish line following the death of one of its its stars, Heath Ledger. We caught it on the festival circuit and call tell you: it was worth the wait.
“Tracks” (September 19)
An epic journey of wilderness travel and self-imposed isolation is at the heart of John Curran’s (“The Painted Veil,” “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”) new film, “Tracks,” which debuted at Telluride last year and screened to great responses at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mia Wasikowska stars in the true story of Robyn Davidson, who in 1975 traveled 2700km across the Australian desert accompanied only by her dog and four camels. Impressively photographed by Mandy Walker (who also shot Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia”), “Tracks” also stars Adam Driver as Rick Smolan, the photographer who occasionally accompanied her along the way.
“Whiplash” (October 10)
The breakout smash of this year’s Sundance, “Whiplash” tells the tale of a young, aspiring musician who clashes with an instructor at one of the world’s top schools for the medium. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons both won raves for their performances and the film itself took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance while receiving recognition at Cannes a few months later. The accolades are well deserved. “Whiplash” is a stunner.
“White Bird in a Blizzard” (October 24)
It’s been a couple of years since Gregg Araki has released a film, and his latest, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” doesn’t disappoint. Starring Shailene Woodley in a role that’s unlike anything she’s done before, the film is a dreamy coming-of-age drama that explores a teenage girl coping with the sudden disappearance of her housewife mother, played by a never-nuttier Eva Green. The film also features a wonderful post-punk soundtrack.
“Winter Sleep” (December 19)
Recipient of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep” has drawn praise for its intimate look into the psyche of a hotel owner, his family and their perils. Clocking in at over three hours, “Winter Sleep” is a hard sell, but that shouldn’t deter you from seeing it. In his review out of Cannes, Eric Kohn called it “mesmerizing” and “superbly acted.”