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Fall Movie Preview: 15 Films We’ve Already Seen

Fall Movie Preview: 15 Films We've Already Seen

There are certain advantages to working for a film website. Aside from all the fortune (translation: payment in expired Amazon vouchers), fame (translation: getting death threats on Twitter from “Wrath of the Titans” fans) and sex (translation: desperately awkward attempts at flirting during roundtable interviews), the main one is that sometimes you get to see films a little bit early.

With the fall season getting underway (read our full fall preview here), the critical bar has been raised a little higher than during the summer months, and some of the films we’ve seen at festivals over the last year or so are finally making their way into theaters proper (as well as stopping by at some of the other festivals too). We’ve kept it to films with a firm release date so far, but you can find links to some of the other movies we’ve seen that are playing TIFF or NYFF at the bottom as well. Read on for more, and let us know what you think of the fall releases you’ve seen so far in the comments section.

Synopsis: Long term love will be put to the test when elderly woman Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke, which affects both her husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
Our Verdict: Once known as “These Two” and originally cancelled by the director when he saw a Canadian film with a similar premise (possibly Sarah Polley‘s “Away From Her“), the Austrian great finally got underway on the retitled “Amour” in February 2011, and the film bowed at Cannes in May to enormous acclaim and the director’s second Palme d’Or. Kevin Jagernauth was very, very slightly cooler about the film when he saw it on the Croisette, finding fault with “a couple of ineffective, shock-style sequences.” But for the most part, he found it excellent, with leads Riva and Trintignant delivering “two of the best performances of the festival so far,” and the film being “the work of a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to ask the big questions about human nature.” And it’s not quite as bleak as it sounds, either: ” ‘Amour’ is a tough, harrowing picture, but also one that, curiously, remains optimistic and full of heart,” Kevin said in his full review. Certainly one of the must sees of the season.
When? Plays TIFF and the New York Film Festival before opening on December 19th in limited release.

“Jack and Diane”
Synopsis: A pair of teenage girls fall in love, only for one to reveal she’s a werewolf.
Our Verdict: Originally intended to reteam “Juno” stars Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby, it’s taken some time for “Jack and Diane,” director Bradley Rust Gray‘s follow-up to 2009’s “The Exploding Girl,” to get going. But the film finally mounted last year, with rising stars Juno Temple and Riley Keough (“The Runaways“) in the leads, and our hopes were high, especially considering that the film featured animated sequences from stop-motion legends the Brothers Quay and an interestingly diverse supporting cast, including Dane DeHaan, Jena Malone, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour and pop legend Kylie Minogue, as a tattooed lesbian. Unfortunately, Christopher Bell wasn’t impressed when he saw the film for us at Tribeca, calling it “an unsatisfying and empty relationship movie,” with a rushed central romance, “missing the energy and warmth that should exist between people so crazy about one another.” The horror aspects are well done, with the animation sequences impressing, and Gray “displaying a knack for suspense we didn’t know he had.” But for the most part, Chris thought it was “an utterly unfulfilling experience.” Read more from his review here.
When? Hits iTunes on September 28th and theaters on November 2nd.

“Keep the Lights On”
Synopsis: A documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhart) and a literary agent (Zachary Booth) make an unexpected connection after a one-night stand.
Our Verdict: Ira Sachs‘ follow-up to his acclaimed “Forty Shades of Blue” sounds like a U.S.-set version of last year’s acclaimed “Weekend,” and if Simon Abrams was correct when he reviewed the film for us at Sundance, it’s every bit as good as its predecessor. “Sachs pulls no punches” he wrote, with “every moment poignant and significant in some way.” Aside from one heavy handed scene, the film was “stunning… there’s no melodrama here, just a moving and totally engrossing story of two men in love.” The central performances from Zachary Booth (“Damages“) and Danish actor Thure Lindhart (“Into the Wild,” “Flame & Citron“) seem like they could be star-makers as well. And if you weren’t convinced already, the score is made up of cuts from the great Arthur Russell. Hopefully it’ll manage to break out a little more than the woefully underseen “Weekend” did.
When? Opens September 7th.

The Master
Synopsis: A troubled, hard-drinking former sailor (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in with a charismatic man in the process of setting up his own religion (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Our Verdict: With just five films spread out over the last fifteen or so years, Paul Thomas Anderson has become one of the most celebrated American directors working today. It’s been nearly half a decade — his longest gap ever — since his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” became the director’s highest-grossing and most critically acclaimed film, and the wait for his next effort was pretty much worth it, according to Charlie Schmidlin, who caught a secret 70mm screening in Chicago earlier this month. While it’s not the evisceration of Scientology that many suspected (“Anderson never creates an atmosphere of outright derision,” he wrote), it seems to be a powerful and compelling drama, closer to “There Will Be Blood” than his earlier work, with three terrific performances and visuals that have “an immediate and immersive quality [that] combined with the film’s sustained atmosphere of dread, is altogether an experience at which to marvel.” It’s not without its issues; Phoenix’s protagonist is “an immensely passive character to center the film around,” and the film feels a little “listless” as a result. But for the most part, it seems that expectations will be more than matched. Read Charlie’s review here.
When? Plays Venice and TIFF before opening on September 14th.

On the Road
Synopsis: A long-time-coming adaptation of Jack Kerouac‘s famous Beat Generation novel, the story follows drifter poets Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they travel across the country in search of themselves, colliding with a rigid and impermeable society along the way.
Our Verdict: Over thirty years in the making, director Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to get this picture mounted since the mid 1970s. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles signed on to make the picture in 2005, with Coppola exec producing, but none of it became a reality until early 2010 when casting and financing finally coalesced. The film stars Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley as the two leads with Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and more, rounding out the colorful cast, but per our Cannes correspondent James Rocchi, it’s a mixed bag. There are strong performances, as he notes that Hedlund is “engaging and reprehensible,” Stewart is “liberated” and Mortensen and Adams have “drugged-up grit and gravel.” And the film is “beautifully shot” by “Into the Wild” DoP Eric Gautier. But it’s also “full of things — having sex, doing drugs, being free — that are far more enjoyably experienced by one’s self as opposed to watching other people enjoy them on screen,” and ultimately, “the film feels like any other road trip.” Read James’ full review here.
When? TIFF on September 6th and 7th, then goes on release on December 21st.

“The Paperboy”
Synopsis: A Florida journalist (Matthew McConaughey), his brother (Zac Efron) and a colleague (David Oyelowo) set out in 1969 to investigate a potential miscarriage of justice involving a death row inmate (John Cusack), with the help of the con’s would-be lover (Nicole Kidman).
Our Verdict: Having been totally scorned with his feature debut “Shadowboxer,” producer-turned-director Lee Daniels found new respect with his follow-up, the Oscar Best Picture-nominated “Precious.” Could he continue the upswing with his third film, especially given that it was a one-time Pedro Almodóvar project and that it’s toplined by McConaughey, who’s having a serious resurgence of late? Not so much, according to James Rocchi, who saw the film at its Cannes premiere for us. Calling it “one of the worst films of the year,” it seems that Daniels shoots “everything to look like an Instagram photo set on some new yellow-muck filter called ‘Southern Scuzz’ ” while the script has “no coherency or constancy of plot, tone, character or direction.” James’ full-review summed up by saying the film was “a lurid, florid, humid, flaccid and insipid waste of time and money for the audience and for everyone who made it,” so it’s probably best to steer clear.
When? Plays at TIFF and NYFF, and opens on October 5th.

“A Royal Affair”
Synopsis: Expansive, based-in-fact period drama about the love triangle between the insane Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard), his queen (Alicia Vikander) and a German doctor (Mads Mikkelsen).
Our Verdict: Something of a surprise hit in Europe, “A Royal Affair,” directed by Nikolaj Arcel (who wrote the original Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo“) and executive produced by Lars von Trier (of all people), has been building buzz for a little while, particularly after winning Best Actor for Følsgaard, when the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Playlister Jessica Kiang was there, and while she found it a little staid, “a comfortably-rendered period drama,” she found a lot to like in the acting, writing that Vikander is “positively worshipped by the camera,” Følsgaard gives “an outstanding performance,” and Mikkelsen is phenomenal, including one moment “so beautifully rendered, they should use the scene in acting classes.” Read her full review here.
When? Plays TIFF and opens on November 9th.

“Rust & Bone”
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson‘s 2005 short story involving a killer-whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in a freak accident, and the nightclub bouncer (Matthias Schoenhaerts) who she begins a curious relationship with.  
Our Verdict: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips” and “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. And for the most part, he cemented that status in Cannes this year with “Rust & Bone.” The talk of the film was a “predictably fantastic” performance from Cotillard, according to Kevin Jagernauth’s review from Cannes, but it seems to be a star-making turn for “Bullhead” lead Schoenhaerts too, given that he’s got “acting chops to spare, finding the vulnerability beneath his character’s exterior that helps us understand him, even when he’s at his selfish worst.” And Audiard’s no slouch, either. By the end, “you know you are in the hands of a master who is directing with the confidence and command that few possess.” Kevin found the film to be “a towering picture we can’t wait to see again” — you can read his full review here for more.
When? Plays TIFF and opens on November 16th.

The Sessions
Synopsis: Polio-afflicted writer and poet Mark O’Brien decides, at the age of 38, to lose his virginity, and hires a sex surrogate to help him do so.
Our Verdict: John Hawkes has become a bit of a Sundance favorite over the years, but after two brilliant but deeply sinister turns in a row — his Oscar-nominated performance in “Winter’s Bone” and last year’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” — he arrived in 2012 with something lighter, with the festival’s biggest crowd-pleasing hit, “The Sessions.” And it looks to put him on track for another Oscar nod, with potential awards season heat for his co-stars Helen Hunt and William H. Macy as well. According to James Rocchi, who saw the film for us in Sundance (when it was still titled “The Surrogate“), all three are terrific, noting the roles are “neither melodramatic nor too underplayed, not without humor and not without gravity.” But at the same time, the film is “at best, talky and static,” without the imagination of something like “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly.” But the film’s “intelligence and humanity” means that it should be worth checking out all the same. Take a look at the full review here.
Release Date: Hits TIFF before opening on October 26th.

Synopsis: A true-crime author moves his family to a new home, only to find reels of Super-8 footage that shows a series of murders, including those of the house’s previous occupants.
Our Verdict: We’re honestly struggling to remember the last mainstream horror film we really, truly enjoyed. But “Sinister” seems to be one of the rare exceptions (at least until any sequels come along), a genuinely unsettling film with a cunning skew on the found footage trope, and a strong performance from Ethan Hawke in the lead. According to Todd Gilchrist, who saw the film for us at SXSW, “there’s an elegant simplicity to the film’s synthesis of truth-seeking and haunted-house shock,” with the picture proving “a satisfying old-school thrill ride.” There are certainly issues, including a soundtrack “that overpowers a lot of the material,” and and an ending that “lets slack the tension they’ve been creating.” But it’s certainly an above-average horror, and it’ll be interesting to see how it goes down with the public in general. Read Todd’s full review here.
When? It hits Fantastic Fest and opens in October 5th.

Synopsis: Kate and Charlie, a hard-partying, borderline alcoholic married couple, have their relationship tested when Kate decides to get sober.
Our Verdict: On the surface, “Smashed” seems to have a fairly similar premise to Playlist favorite short film “Successful Alcoholics,” but where that film ended with one of the central couple giving up the bottle, that seems to be the starting point for its feature-length cousin, which comes from James Ponsoldt, who directed Nick Nolte-starrer “Off the Black,” and co-writer Susan Burke (“Important Things With Demetri Martin“). And they’ve certainly assembled an enticing cast, with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman (aka RON FUCKING SWANSON) supporting the two leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. And the film turned out extremely well, according to James Rocchi, who saw the film at its Sundance premiere, particularly with regard to its young leads. The former gets to “show dark rot underneath” her usual charms, while Paul is “loving, gentle, lightly hammered [and] in a very different key” to his work on “Breaking Bad.” But they’re not the only thing that the film has to offer as Offerman gives “a performance that in a just world would be an Oscar contender,” while the “editing is particularly adept” and “the script has a sense of humor, but also a sense of honor.” Read James’ full A-grade review here.
When? Hits TIFF before rolling out on October 12th.

“This Must Be the Place”
Synopsis: An aging rock star sets out to find the Nazi concentration camp guard who tortured his late father.
Our Verdict: Entire movies have been shot and released since “This Must Be the Place” premiered at Cannes back in May 2011. Hell, at least two “Paranormal Activity” movies emerged from nothingness in that time. And one suspects it’s down to the hostile reaction that Paolo Sorrentino‘s follow up to “Il Divo” got at the festival, the film passing into history as that year’s equivalent to past Cannes disasters like “Southland Tales.” In fact, James Rocchi didn’t hate it when he saw it on the Croisette back in the day, he found that “there are laughs… purely intentional ones, and they’re minor but appreciated.” And it wasn’t “nearly as bad as one might fear, or alternately, one might hope.” But Sean Penn‘s Robert Smith-esque central performance was “needlessly showy,” and the film has a “slow, stately pace that feels dawsling.” Not an all-time trainwreck, then, but far from a success. Read James’ full review here.
When? November 2nd.

Synopsis: A pair of vandals break into a house to retrieve a video tape, only to be confronted by a whole host of VHS tapes, each of which tells a horrifying story.
Our Verdict: We’ve made no secret of believing that the found footage is increasingly played out, but it seems that it found a new lease of life in “V/H/S,” which also successfully gave a jolt to the heart of another unfashionable genre, the horror anthology, when it premiered at Sundance way back in January. The film sees six filmmakers from the indie horror side of the spectrum — Adam Wingard (“You’re Next“), David Bruckner (“The Signal“), Ti West (“The Innkeepers“), Glenn McQuaid (“I Sell The Dead“), collective Radio Silence and mumblecore enfant terrible Joe Swanberg — each tackling a segment, with stories that go from a webcam haunting to a sex tape with unfortunate consequences. And for the most part, according to William Goss, who saw the film for us in Park City, it works; there’s “a good sense of playfulness around concepts and conceits generally exploited to lure in the gullible masses for the sake of a single opening weekend.” And without an obvious weak link among the sections, the film “delivers the thrills and chills craftily and with a better batting average than usual.” Read his full review here.
When? Actually skipping the fall festivals, principally because it’ll be available on iTunes from August 31st before coming to theaters October 5th.

“West of Memphis”
Synopsis: A documentary following the West Memphis Three, Arkansas teenagers who were convicted of the 1994 murders of three children.
Our Verdict:Lord of the Rings” helmer Peter Jackson has taken a particular interest in the West Memphis Three since the start of his career, helping to fund their defense and now producing this documentary about the case by Amy Berg, director of the Oscar-nominated “Deliver Us From Evil.” There were plenty of questions to be raised in advance here. Would another doc, on top of three “Paradise Lost” films from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, prove superfluous? Not according to William Goss, who saw the film at Sundance. While “the noble involvement of famous faces threatens to skew the film closer to back-patting terrritory,” for the most part it’s “an exhausting and exhaustive chronicle of justice” with “the fundamental grip of a well-structured mystery.” Read the full review here.  
When? Hits TIFF before rolling out on December 25th.

“Anna Karenina”
Synopsis: Based on Leo Tolstoy‘s classic novel, “Anna Karenina” focuses on the titular heroine (Keira Knightley) who has an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) who wants her to leave her stable husband Karenin (Jude Law).
Our Verdict: Given that they were the team that produced “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement,” most thought they knew what to expect when Joe Wright and Keira Knightley reunited for “Anna Karenina.” Another lush period piece with handsome production values and a fine cast. And they weren’t necessarily wrong, from the looks of trailers and such, but they also probably weren’t expecting the exact approach that Wright took. Clearly freed up by his pop-art gem “Hanna,” Wright has set his take on Tolstoy’s tragic romance inside a dilapidated Russian theater, which can be transformed into an ice rink, a train station and everything in between. Now, we’re in a tricky situation. A Playlister might have seen the film, but is under heavy embargo for another week or two. But the word seems to be that the film will… divide audiences, and inspire an awful lot of debate. Check back soon for the full verdict.  
When? The film opens September 7th in the U.K. and screens the same day at TIFF before opening in limited release in the U.S. on November 9th.

And below, you can find links to films that we’ve seen at festivals and are playing one or both of TIFF or NYFF, but don’t (yet) have firm U.S. release dates.

“John Dies At The End”
“Room 237”
“Beyond The Hills”
“Laurence Anyways”
“Post Tenebras Lux”
“The Sapphires”
“Holy Motors”
“Like Someone In Love”
“The We & The I”

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