“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (September 4)
Before Danny Boyle and Michael Fassbender put their narrative spin on the life of the Apple co-founder in October’s awards player “Steve Jobs,” documentarian Alex Gibney gets there first in his pensive and exhilarating documentary, “The Man in the Machine.” Taking a nod from “Citizen Kane,” Gibney grounds his investigation of Jobs in a profoundly simple question — why was Jobs so incredibly mourned after his death? — and he finds the answer in a handful of startling interviews from some of his closest confidants. The end results paint a definitive portrait of man of contradictions and speak directly to our consumer age of technological Apple worship. Fans of Jobs and readers of Walter Isaacson’s biography may know much of the story, but Gibney gives it a refreshing cinematic order that makes it as mysterious as it is thrilling.
“Goodnight Mommy” (September 11)
If you thought the terrifying, bug-crunching trailer for “Goodnight Mommy” was scary, just wait until RADiUS-TWC releases the film in its entirety this September. The extremely tight and visually arresting horror film from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala has been shocking audiences on the festival circuit for nearly a year, and it’s bound to be one of the more unusual offerings of the fall season thanks to all of its disturbingly unique elements. Brothers Elias and Lucas Schwarz star as inseparable twins who welcome their mother home after her facial reconstructive surgery. Strikingly outfitted like a ghost — she wears flowing gowns and her face is completely bandaged — the mother begins showing signs of odd behavior and emotional distance, leading the boys to suspect something has changed about her. What happens next demands no spoilers, though be warned that the experience is not for the faint of heart. Filled with an unsettling atmosphere that overflows with art house beauty, “Goodnight Mommy” is a strange trip to experimental hell and back. Don’t watch it alone.
“Sleeping With Other People” (September 11)
“Bachelorette” filmmaker Leslye Headland has made no bones about her Sundance premiere’s similarities to “When Harry Met Sally,” though she’s gamely spun her own rom-com about two (damaged) people who are meant to be together into something very funny and surprisingly fresh. Jason Sudeikis and Allison Brie star in the feature as a pair of former college classmates who (somewhat unexpectedly) lost their virginities to each other when they were still fresh-faced teens. They reunite years later, only to find that their sex lives have’t improved much since their first dalliance, and that both are actually trapped by their carnal instincts. As the pair attempt to stay platonic in the face of raging chemistry, the possibility of love changes them in hilarious, genuinely heartwarming fashion. Prepare yourself for Headland’s take on the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene, it just may be the sexiest scene on film this year.
“Time Out of Mind” (September 11)
A favorite on last year’s fall festival circuit, Oren Moverman’s revelatory “Time Out of Mind” stars Richard Gere in a show-stopper of a performance as a New York City homeless man spinning through the cycle of addiction while also tearing through every relationship that could possibly offer him even a smidge of salvation. Shot mostly guerrilla style in and around NYC, the majority of the film feels more like a particularly brutal documentary than a narrative feature, with Gere (in character) moving unnoticed throughout the city while Moverman tracks his every excruciating interaction. Bolstered by supporting performances by Jena Malone and Ben Vereen (who was so wild about the role that he flew to NYC just to meet with Moverman for a day), “Time Out of Mind” is hard to shake.
“Breathe” (September 11)
Actress-turned-director Melanie Laurent’s second feature is essentially “Mean Girls” for the arthouse crowd. Based on Anne-Sophie Brasme’s novel of the same name, Laurent’s film focuses on a pair of mismatched French schoolgirls who become fast friends in the kind of consuming and obsessive way that should look familiar to plenty of viewers. As her relationship with the wild Sarah (Lou de Laage) starts to erode, Charlie (Josephine Japy) begins to crumble in spectacularly unsettling ways. Laurent nails the nature of female friendships, the passion and excitement, the way that young girls find their identity rooted in who they pal around with, the deep sadness when things go awry, but she amps it up with psychological touches that push the film into some very unexpected — though not unearned — territory. It’s chilling, but it also feels relatable, a wicked combo.
“Prophet’s Prey” (September 18)
Amy Berg turned her attention to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church with this startling Sundance premiere, a strong follow-up to 2012’s “West of Memphis.” Berg goes inside the insular world of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, paying particular attention to the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah to give viewers an unprecedented glimpse at the Church, its teachings, its methodology and its (spoiler alert?) incarcerated leader. Berg and author Jon Krakauer wrangled together an impressive group of talking heads to round out their story and to lend credence to some shocking claims, and their access is unparalleled. Aided by a haunting score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the film is a skin-crawling chronicle of one of America’s biggest criminals and the community that allowed him to flourish.
“Sicario” (September 18)
Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve has developed a penchant for assembling intense movies heavy with bleak atmosphere and unnerving suspense. The one-two punch of 2013’s “Prisoners” and “Enemy” showed the versatility with which Villeneuve could apply his skill, seamlessly shifting from an ensemble investigative drama to a high concept psychological thriller. “Sicario” finds Villeneuve back in “Prisoners” territory with another dour tale of cops and criminals grappling with shadowy circumstances. The film stars Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) who crosses the border to aid in the escalating war against drugs with the help of an elite government task force official (Josh Brolin) and a mysterious consultant from Mexico (Benecio del Toro). With a menacing tone that holds tight from start to finish, the movie finds Villeneuve evoking shades of Michael Mann, crafting a movie defined by viscerally-charged sequences shot with striking verve by the great Rodger Deakins. Read our full Cannes review here.
“Mississippi Grind” (September 25)
In “Mississippi Grind,” Emmy nominee Ben Mendelsohn stars as a gambling addict who doesn’t know when to cash his chips in and call it a day, and Ryan Reynolds is a flighty traveler who likes to gamble for fun and doesn’t care about winning or losing. United by the appreciation of a rainbow, they develop a great friendship and head on a gambling road trip to win money to pay off the former’s loan shark. Crafting a road trip that explores the back roads of America and ventures into the dark rooms where high stakes gambling takes place, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Half Nelson”) succeed in getting triumphant performances out of their two leads. Mendelsohn is a delight, imbuing his character with depth as he advances his character’s morally questionable behavior. And Reynolds, more charismatic than ever, delivers a career highlight. Whenever the dynamite chemistry between these two is front and center, “Mississippi Grind” soars. Read our full Sundance review here.
“99 Homes” (September 25)
After dismantling the American Dream with 2012’s Zac Efron-starring “At Any Price,” Ramin Bahrani returns to familiar territory with “99 Homes,” which uses similar material to far better effect. Andrew Garfield stars as a put-upon single dad struggling to make ends meet for both his young son and his own mother (played by Laura Dern), a hard-knock life that only gets worse when the family loses their house. Desperate for a job, Garfield’s Dennis takes a job from the very man who snatched his home away from him, unscrupulous real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). As Dennis plunges deeper into Rick’s world, partaking in unexpected windfalls, he also begins to lose his moral compass and, still worse, his own family. Bahrani keeps his tension tight, and his actors respond with two of their finest performances yet.
“The Keeping Room” (September 25)
Set in the rural South of 1865, “The Keeping Room” unfolds in the final moments of the Civil War, as northern troops progress towards victory. But those events take place well beyond the awareness of the three women at its center: Augusta (Brit Marling), her teenage sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and their slave Mad (Muna Otaru). As all the men in their lives vanished long ago on the battlefield, the women exist in a static world, waiting for a salvation that they’ve started to realize will never come. Tensely directed by Daniel Barber (“Harry Brown”), “The Keeping Room” takes place almost entirely in the confines of a barren South Carolina farm, but it’s dense with physical activity and grander implications about gender, race and American progress. The action has the paranoid intensity of a grisly Peckinpah western, but develops it through a progressive historical lens that foregrounds its originality. Read our full TIFF review here.
“Victoria” (October 9)
The tagline for Sebastian Schipper’s extraordinary heist drama “Victoria” reads, “One girl. One city. One night. One Take.” Much of the press surrounding the film will likely focus on the ambitious last entry of this list, as the film is a single 140-minute take that travels through the streets of Berlin as our protagonist (Laia Costa) falls into cahoots with a group of four men who end up needing her help. While the execution will certainly draw comparisons to last year’s Oscar-winning “Birdman,” the way Schipper uses the narrative device is vastly different — far more subtle and far more powerful in its visceral ability to bring you right into the titular character’s predicament. More importantly, the film deftly balances an emotionally effective romance with the tense suspense of the heist genre, creating a singular experience that never stops surprising in both its story and character work. One moment it’s a quiet romance, the next a heart-stopping suspense picture. Best of all, the eponymous Victoria becomes a wholly refreshing heroine in the hands of Costa — a woman who is subject to her emotions while still being a strong-willed, independent thrill seeker. Come for the one take but stay for Costa’s triumphant performance.
“Brooklyn” (November 6)
Director John Crowley’s period drama “Brooklyn,” based on the novel by Colm Toibin, stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant who comes to America in the 1950’s in search of a better life. Her travels bring her in contact with a charming Italian-American (Emory Cohen), but she’s forced back to Ireland after a family tragedy, and a suitor (Domhnall Gleeson) begins vying for her affections. With a love triangle taking up most of the plot, the narrative is anchored greatly by beautifully crafted visuals and Nick Hornby’s robust screenplay. Its vibrant production design lends an accurate sense of 1950’s New York even as it maintains a touch of suspended belief, giving the film a fantastical air on par with its romanticism. Read our full Sundance review here.