Quelle horreur! Please forgive me for forgetting to include "Love 3D," the latest opus from the one-and-only Gaspar Noé (whom we recently talked with), in last month’s column. Even though our review was mixed, the film would have easily made the final list in October, but unfortunately we overlooked it. I’d also add it’s well worth seeing at a cinema projected in 3D, if the option is available. But act fast, it won’t survive long in U.S. theaters, not with the oncoming deluge of blockbusters (of the would-be and surefire variety), awards hopefuls, and smaller prestige pictures in the arthouse/indie/foreign realm.
It’s easy to get confused, what with the mad game of Russian roulette that is choosing just the right release date for a film. This time of year especially, dates get shifted late in the game, based on purported buzz (or lack thereof) around a title that may have recently debuted at a festival to great (or anti-) acclaim. Some distributors play it more nervously than others. Take Sony Pictures Classics title “I Saw The Light," which just got moved from a solid awards baiting November date to a much more safe March release. Then there’s Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s critically beloved festival darling "Anomalisa" as well as Michael Moore‘s latest, "Where To Invade Next," both recently squeezed into end of year December slots to qualify for the Oscars (more to come on those films next month). It’s hard out there, and the recent dearth in U.S. box offices the last few weeks has other players crossing their fingers they won’t pull a "Steve Jobs" and sink like a damn stone after going wide (a shame, really, since it’s very good).
So, with two months left to go with 2015, we have 15 good choices for you this month at the theater (or VOD, which many of these will be on as well) and even more in the honorable mention section. Happy movie hunting. Choose wisely.
Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
What You Need To Know: Our very own Oli Lyttelton saw 007’s latest outing early and was fairly mixed in his review, citing overwhelmingly glaring plot hole issues he just couldn’t forgive, writing, "The new film, the 24th in the long-running series, feels more like a successor to ‘Quantum Of Solace‘ or to one of the ropier Roger Moore films, than to its Oscar-winning predecessor." But still, this being a Bond film, there’s a lot that Oli admired from "Spectre." He reports an impressive long take action sequence in the opening ("Bond goes ‘Birdman‘! " are his exact words); a more loose and fun Daniel Craig performance; and strong turns from newcomers Dave Bautista and Léa Seydoux, "taking her place alongside Eva Green as the best of the modern-era female leads in the franchise." After record breaking grosses in only six territories so far, we know you’re most likely already lined up to see this.
Release Date: November 6 (with some early shows November 5, check your local listings)
Synopsis: In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Eilis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.
What You Need To Know: Based on the novel by Irish author Colm Tóibín, and adapted by Nick Hornby, this John Crawley ("Boy A")-directed swooner, is described in Rodrigo Perez’ A grade review from Sundance as "impeccably crafted [as] every single element of the movie, camera, craft, performance, music, and more, crescendos in symphonic harmony to portray these particular emotions with a poignant and aching truthfulness. There are no forced or false emotions, and the terrifically hewed intimacy of it all is deeply impressive." Word is also quite strong for Sairose Ronan‘s performance. Could this be the one true breakout hit from Sundance this year to go the distance to the Oscars? Fox Searchlight certainly thinks so.
Release Date: November 4 (limited)
"In Jackson Heights"
Synopsis: Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most culturally diverse communities in the U.S. where 167 languages are spoken. This film explores the conflict between maintaining ties to old traditions and adapting to American values.
What You Need To Know: The latest from documentary master Frederick Wiseman follows epic-length deep dives into institutions like "National Gallery" and "At Berkeley," and it continues a winning run of films. Jessica Kiang wrote in her review from Venice that "as a portrait of a vibrant, inclusive, embattled community and the pride it has in itself and its Babel Tower of chattering cultures, politics, races, ages and sexualities, [it] will be catnip to Wiseman’s many fans… ‘In Jackson Heights’ serves to remind us that our worlds are full of living things, and that, being the social creatures we are, we need each other."
Release Date: November 4 (limited)
Synopsis: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and its cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
What You Need To Know: A truly thrilling film about the process and work involved in long form investigative journalism, the entire cast — Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber & Stanley Tucci — is superb, with even the smallest roles given depth and nuance from the script and the actors involved. This is also something of a quick comeback picture for director Tom McCarthy, who struck out hard last year with the Adam Sandler debacle "The Cobbler" (though he doesn’t exactly see it that way). The story packs a punch and takes the viewer on a helluva ride via its punchy editing and efficient storytelling. Not a minute is wasted all the way through a happy, but pragmatic, ending that feels the truest possible summation of all that came before. Jessica Kiang’s glowing Venice review agrees: "McCarthy’s sensitive handling really does summon the lightning-in-a-bottle nature of this investigation, persuasively suggesting that only for the perfect alignment of all these exact people in exactly the right positions at exactly the right time, we might still be in the dark."
Release Date: November 6 (limited)
"By The Sea"
Synopsis: With their marriage in trouble, an American writer and his wife make new connections at a French resort during their vacation.
What You Need To Know: Though this 1970s set domestic melodrama stars probably the most famous Hollywood couple alive in Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, it nonetheless screams personal passion project (read: way more arty than "Unbroken"). Jolie, here also serving as writer, producer and director for her third feature film, scales way back for something that looks more European in style and form. We only have the trailers to go on so far, which certainly sells its two leads and is also reminiscent of the work of filmmakers like Eric Rohmer, Michelangelo Antonioni and especially Roberto Rossellini (see “Journey To Italy”) It may just nab a curious public looking for a peak behind this famous couple’s curtain (made during their honeymoon apparently), but either way, consider The Playlist intrigued by the curious departure.
Release Date: November 13
Synopsis: A coming-of-age story about a young New Yorker struggling to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges.
What You Need To Know: The filmmaker collective Borberline Films, created by Sean Durkin ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"), Antonio Campos ("Simon Killer") and Josh Mond, has allowed for these three talented filmmakers to carve out a place in the industry just for their particular brand of deeply felt, subtly stylized and artistic modern character studies. Their success has been impressive, and they continue with another winner, directed with real skill by Mond in his feature debut. Though its lead character, who the film relentlessly follows, is challenging to sit with at times, he’s undeniably fascinating and honest. A very intimate and particular perspective — the camera rarely ever strays from the titular character’s vantage point, often locked in on a closeup of actor Christopher Abbot‘s face — guides the viewer through an incredibly difficult and demoralizing six months in this young man’s life. He’s self-destructive, narcissistic, entitled and selfish. But he’s real, and actually a fairly original creation in the annals of modern American independent cinema. This one may fray your emotions, leaving the audience as spent as a long-lit candle’s burnt out wick. Rodrigo Perez also had much to praise when he saw it at Sundance this year: "Featuring a solid soundtrack, the brassy howl of Billie Holiday figures prominently, providing the film’s other form of catharsis, with the jazz legend crooning about loving life, accepting pain and keepin’ on… But without ever feeling the need to show you hope or redemption, a recognizably real humanity still bleeds through."
Release Date: November 13 (limited)
"Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words"
Synopsis: Home movies, letters, diaries and archival interviews highlight the personal life of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman.
What You Need To Know: Nick Schager found much to appreciate when we caught this doc at the New York Film Festival in September: "An act of celebratory remembrance that’s buoyed by a desire to understand the messy contradictions, motivations and emotions of its subject, [the film] proves a stirring and insightful biography of assemblage. Stig Björkman’s film recounts the life story of the famed international actress through the usual non-fiction devices – talking-head interviews with relatives, film and news clips – as well as a wealth of photos, home movies and diary writings made by Bergman herself, who was committed to documenting her experiences through journal entries, letters to friends, and celluloid… Be it in these clips or in private recordings of vacations and down-time with her husbands and kids, Bergman’s radiant smile, effervescent manner, and lively eyes radiate an almost hypnotic charm that’s difficult to resist. To watch Björkman’s expertly constructed, montage-heavy film is to recognize her as not only one of the medium’s most magnetic stars, but a talent and beauty whose expressive face and irresistible charisma made her a figure born to live for (and permanently live on through) the camera."
Release Date: November 13 (limited)
Synopsis: An abrasive stand-up comic hits the road to perform a series of shows at seedy venues.
What You Need To Know: Our very own Rodrigo Perez liked this film a lot when he reviewed it at Sundance this year, calling it a "twisted, existential comedic masterwork." He devotes the entire opening paragraph in his review to filmmaker Rick Alverson and his absorbing and intimate indie works: " ‘The Builder’ is a terrifically underrated gem, and ‘New Jerusalem‘ coaxes another strong lead performance by musician Will Oldham. But it’s Alverson’s provocative and pointed collaborations with comedian Tim Heidecker that have proven to be layered and rich next-level works. The deeply misunderstood ‘The Comedy’ — a hilariously confrontational, but also alarming examination of the age of ironic distance — is an incendiary piece de resistance. But Alverson may have outdone himself with ‘Entertainment‘, an even more abrasive, alienating, and nightmarish masterwork about the cruel futility of connection, performance, and existence." He is indeed a talented no budget director, and those of you in the know should be well past excited to catch up with his latest.
Release Date: November 13 (limited)
Synopsis: Set in 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.
What You Need To Know: "Made of crystal and suppressed tears, shot eternally through windows and mirrors and half-closed doors, Todd Haynes‘ ‘Carol‘ is a love story that starts at a trickle, swells gradually to a torrent, and finally bursts the banks of your heart." So says our very own Jessica Kiang from her review, loaded with the kind of high praise that was not uncommon after it premiered at Cannes in May. Kiang and just about everyone else’s excitement seems rightly justified. Haynes, even though he’s respected in the industry, is long overdue a true breakout hit. He’s always been a critical darling, but here he may just have the kind of all-consuming hit that any filmmaker would die to make. "A beautiful film in every way, immaculately made, and featuring two pristine actresses glowing across rooms and tousled bedclothes at each other like beacons of tentative, unspoken hope, the film is based on a novel by ‘The Talented Mr Ripley‘ and ‘Strangers on a Train‘s Patricia Highsmith. But ‘Carol’ is not those stories, nor their filmic adaptations. It is not dark and it is not cutting, instead it is an aching, pining film that layers the simplicity of this love affair with such strata of feeling that the story eventually becomes the essence of every affair ever, gay or straight, in which true, luminous love has been denied by circumstance." Expect this to be a major Oscar player this year, especially for the film’s leads, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Release Date: November 20 (limited)
"The Night Before"
Synopsis: As their annual reunion tradition comes to an end, three childhood friends search for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties in New York.
What You Need To Know: Tis a curious thing, opening a Christmas set and themed movie a full month early. It’s not entirely unheard of (just like horror films playing outside of October, it happens), but the reason seems fairly obvious. December being stacked to the nines with cinematic competition too tough and large for this small-ish comedy featuring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as three friends ending their annual holiday get together with a bang. The former two actors re-team here with their "50/50" director Jonathan Levine, and here’s hoping they can re-capture much of what made that underrated comedy work so well. The trailer is solid (as per usual go with the red band instead) if not entirely inspiring. It shows pretty much exactly what we’d expect from this crew i.e. lots of slo-mo party montages, lots of drugs, a few relationship squabbles, and plenty of pop culture references. If it’s a hit (and, fingers crossed, funny) then Christmas will have come early for moviegoers in need of a good chuckle.
Release Date: November 20
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2"
Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and District 13 engage in an all-out revolution against the autocratic Capitol.
What You Need To Know: While it seems there’s no foreseeable end in sight for many of the biggest franchises in play these days, it’s good to know "The Hunger Games" series has an actual, well-established (via the books) conclusion in this second half of the final chapter. After ‘Mockingjay: Part 1‘ and the ‘Catching Fire‘ (also directed by Francis Lawrence, a good fit for this series), the machine is in place and the parts are all in motion to wrap the story up in suitably epic fashion. The trailer is stellar, it looks action-heavy and large in scale, moving well beyond the limits of the first film (which just wasn’t very good). Star Jennifer Lawrence will cap the year off strongly with this surefire monster hit and then the more awards-friendly "Joy" in December. She’s been the most important aspect of this series, so here’s hoping Katniss gets the ending she deserves. But it will be a struggle to get there, no doubt. And of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s final role ever will be this film, so we hope it’s also a fitting tribute for his already legendary legacy.
Release Date: November 20
"The Secret In Their Eyes"
Synopsis: A tight-knit team of investigators, along with their supervisor, is suddenly torn apart when they discover that one of their own teenage daughters has been brutally murdered.
What You Need To Know: A remake of the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentine film by Juan José Campanella (it won Best Foreign Language Film, beating out stiff competition from "A Prophet" and "The White Ribbon"), the combo of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, along with "Shattered Glass" writer/director Billy Ray, is a compelling one. But the question still lingers of why this story needed to be retold, and what could be improved. “I felt that as great as that movie is, and I literally mean great, I felt that it needed to be made into a slightly more muscular version of itself, and that just meant it needed a little bit more story and a couple of things I thought were sort of uniquely American touches to justify retelling the story,” Ray told EW. “I’m pretty confident we found all that.” The trailer reminds of the original (giving a glimpse at an analogous action sequence to its most famous moment, a thrilling one-take chase sequence set at a rowdy soccer match), but we’re sold on this crew. Hopefully they’ve made a worthwhile remake.
Release Date: November 20
Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
What You Need To Know: If you’ve seen director Ryan Coogler‘s feature debut, the Sundance winning "Fruitvale Station," then you already know: the kid’s got the goods. He took the inherently upsetting true story of Oscar Grant and stayed away from the average biopic flourishes, instead following the character in the last 24 hours of his life before he was murdered by a BART police officer. It was the right tactic to employ for that film, favoring a Dardenne brothers-esque visual approach that worked wonders. Thankfully, Hollywood was paying attention and came knocking and Coogler was ready for the challenge of a much larger budgeted quasi-sequel to a beloved franchise. Teaming again with ‘Fruitvale’ star Michael B. Jordan, his "Creed" looks modern and fresh, and even with Sylvester Stallone showing up for "Rocky" franchise connectivity, we sure hope that Coogler and Jordan can go down their own path in the future, if this latest film warrants further stories (and if it’s a hit, of course). The latest trailer fleshes it out more, but lacks the punch and surprise of that initial teaser, which dropped this summer to a widely enthusiastic reception online. Let’s hope it can live up to all that hype and baggage.
Release Date: November 25
"The Good Dinosaur"
Synopsis: An epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.
What You Need To Know: This summer we saw what happened when humanity and prehistoric creatures clashed in "Jurassic World," but what the upcoming "The Good Dinosaur" ponders is, how would humans have evolved had dinosaurs not been wiped out? Well, it turns out, we would’ve gone on really cute and breathtaking paleolithic adventures. The trailer sells the picture well, and no doubt its familiar elements (the plot sounds a lot like "Finding Nemo") added with more dinosaur action should equal big money for the Disney and Pixar co-production. Like anything from Pixar, it’s a big concept, and as they showed earlier this year with "Inside Out" (one of the best films of the year), if they are on their A-game, it will be something special. The voice cast is an eclectic bunch: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, AJ Buckley, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Frances McDormand, Marcus Scribner, and Jack Bright. Then there’s director Peter Sohn, taking the reins on his first feature (he directed the short "Partly Cloudly" and has worked with Pixar for more than a decade). This one should also have devotees of the Pixar theory teeming with nerd joy.
Release Date: November 25
"The Danish Girl"
Synopsis: The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, whose marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
What You Need To Know: Tom Hooper‘s latest bid at awards glory has at its center a very timely issue. The zeitgeist seems to be ready for a movie on the subject of transgenderism, given Caitlyn Jenner’s success story this year, and celebrated transgendered narratives like “Orange Is The New Black” and “Tangerine” (one of the best films this year). Hooper and Focus Features couldn’t have picked a better year to release “The Danish Girl.” But the film hasn’t had a slam dunk reception. Jessica Kiang’s Venice review had its reservations, but she still acknowledged the film’s many qualities (including the sure-to-be Oscar nominated turns from stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander). But it was Jessica’s beautifully articulated and spot-on assessment of Hollywood’s recent crop of message movies that really got at the troubling fact for most these glitzy titles: they play it safe and dull far too often. "The Danish Girl" remains a must-see this year, as it’s definitely part of the awards conversation that will be unfolding in the months ahead.
Release Date: November 27 (limited)
As per usual in any given month (especially this time of year) there’s a whole swath of worthy films that just can’t make the final list. And so, there’s a pair of biopics coming this month with gifted thespians in the lead role. Or, I should say, role(s), at least when referring to Tom Hardy‘s dual performance in "Legend" as twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the legendary British gangsters who get the bio-film treatment from Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland. “Trumbo” gives a rare flashy lead role in a film to Bryan Cranston, in a film version of the famous screenwriting legend by Jay Roach.
There’s always at least a few docs every month to perk some interest in moviegoers. November is no different, with Amy Berg‘s "Janis: Little Girl Blue," about Janis Joplin, of course. Berg has had one of the strongest years on record for a single documentarian. This is her third feature-length nonfiction film this year alone, and they’ve all been very strong works. Hats off to her. "Censored Voices" uses long censored recordings by renowned author Amos Oz, concerning the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ won decidedly by Israel. Oscilloscope is releasing "What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy," another picture in a long interest with this era and history for the indie distributor. “The Notorious Mr. Bout” tells the real story of the merchant of death, who inspired the Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War."
We caught "Mustang" at the Cannes this year (it played in Director’s Fortnight where it took home an award). It’s a "Virgin Suicides" like tale of five sisters form Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. "Theeb," a period piece shot in Jordan, took home a prize from the Venice Film Festival for its director, Naji Abu Nowar.
An under the radar Sundance horror movie, “The Hallow (aka The Woods)” looks like it could be a spooky good time. "Victor Frankenstein" comes from "Lucky Number Slevin" (remember that one?) helmer Paul McGuigan and gives stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe the chance to don some period clothing in a new adaptation that pulls from several sources on top of Mary Shelly‘s 1818 novel, including other movies, to create a new pastiche. The film is told through the eyes of Igor (Radcliffe), Dr. Frankenstein’s (McAvoy) assistant, and a human guinea pig who has to suffer through various experiments.
Lake Bell and Simon Pegg better “Man Up” if this new rom-com, about a mistaken identity case that turns into a great blind date, is going to break through to any audience. "The Peanuts Movie" brings the whole gang back, but this time drawn on computers (yay!?). Catherine Hardwicke directs Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette as best friends dealing with the former’s character’s breast cancer in "Miss You Already." "The 33" stars Antonio Banderas in a re-telling of the August 5, 2010 cave-in at a San José copper mine in Chile that trapped 33 workers 2,300 feet below the Earth.