After an unusually rewarding September, that featured critical and audience favorites like “The Master,” “Looper,” “End Of Watch,” “Dredd,” “The Perks Of Being a Wallflower” and “Arbitrage,” October has arrived, but things aren’t letting up. Sure, the box office is likely to be dominated by Liam Neeson cracking heads in “Taken 2,” but there’s plenty more to see when you look a little further afield. Below, you’ll find ten of the best options over the coming month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to most in the comments section.
Synopsis: A young boy attempts to resurrect his beloved deceased dog.
What You Need To Know: Ordinarily, we wouldn’t necessarily approve of directors returning to the scene of earlier triumphs, for fear of the film being a simple retread. But given our feelings about much of Tim Burton‘s work of late, the idea of him going back to the short film that made his name in the early 1980s wasn’t necessarily an unappealing one, especially as the 2012 incarnation of “Frankenweenie” comes in the form of a glorious-looking 3D stop-motion animation in black and white, with a castlist (Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau) that nods even further to the director’s heyday. And it seems from our Fantastic Fest review that the film lives up to expectations: we called it a “rousing return to form,” a declaration that Burton is “still very much relevant,” and a film “that will stir the heartstrings as much as it will delight the eye.” With regular collaborators like writer John August, production designer Rick Heindrichs and composer Danny Elfman all putting in sterling work, the film has the makings of a holiday classic along the lines of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
When? October 5th
2. “Wuthering Heights”
Synopsis: Radical re-envisioning of Emily Bronte‘s classic tale of forbidden love and revenge.
What You Need To Know: After her Oscar-winning short “Wasp,” and scorching features “Red Road” and “Fish Tank,” British filmmaker Andrea Arnold has been keenly watched by film fans the world over. And news that she was lending her distinctive style to one of the most beloved, and frequently adapted, pieces of literature around, “Wuthering Heights,” was certainly intriguing. But a wildly mixed critical response, and a disappointing box office haul in Britain, means that it’s taken over a year for the film to arrive on U.S. shores. Which is a particular shame, because in the opinion of the Playlisters who have seen it, the film is tremendous. We caught it originally at Venice way back in September of 2011, and raved it about at the time, calling the film “incredibly powerful, extremely sexy and a truly remarkable reinvention of of a text.” It’s not going to be for everyone — “Downton Abbey” fans will likely be shocked by the raw, profane approach to the source material, as well as Arnold’s Terrence Malick-esque visual approach (we maintain that it’s a better Malick film than Malick himself has made of late), but more forward-thinking costume drama fans, and cinephiles in general, should have a field day.
When? October 5th
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need To Know: If you were to travel back in time a decade or so ago and tell someone that Ben Affleck — then star of “Gigli,” “Paycheck” and “Jersey Girl” — would direct and star in one of the most acclaimed films of the year, and a likely Best Picture nominee, you’d have been laughed right back into the present again. But the renaissance of Mr. Affleck — which began with small character roles in films like “Hollywoodland” and “Extract,” and was reinforced by his terrific directorial outings “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” (the latter of which he also starred in) — certainly seems to be complete with his gripping Iranian hostage/inside Hollywood saga “Argo.” Once set to be directed by George Clooney (who retains a producing credit), most critics to date have agreed that the film is Affleck’s most satisfying to date, a thoughtful, entertaining piece of cinema that should be a hit both commercially and awards-wise. Our own review, from Telluride, certainly agreed, saying that the film was “extraordinarily suspenseful, extremely well-told and effortless in its complex tonal balance.” With a cast including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Scoot McNairy and Christopher Denham, among others, we’re certainly there for another watch opening day.
When? October 12th
4. “Seven Psychopaths”
Synopsis: A frustrated screenwriter finds himself in trouble when two of his friends kidnap a dog belonging to a psychotic mobster.
What You Need To Know: Like Andrea Arnold, Martin McDonagh is one of the relatively few winners of the Best Live Action Short Oscar who’ve gone on to bigger things in the features world. Of course, he was an established name even before “Six Shooter” picked up the gold in 2005, as an award-winning playwright behind Broadway hits like ‘The Beauty Queen Of Leenane” and “The Pillowman.” McDonagh confirmed his directorial chops with 2008’s “In Bruges,” a raucously funny, yet curiously soulful hitman comedy with Colin Farrell, and the Irish actor returns for McDonagh’s post-modern follow up, along with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken (who starred in his last play, “A Behanding In Spokane“), and an exciting round-up of other talent like Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and, best of all, a bunny-wielding Tom Waits. If our TIFF review is to be believed, the new film isn’t quite up to its predecessor — we said it “has a lot of narrative balls to juggle, and doesn’t always handle them satisfactorily,” as well as being “overlong and baggy” and “by turns manic and exhausting.” But others have been more enthusiastic, and there’s still a lot to like about the film, not least the performances of Walken and, in particular, the always-welcome Rockwell.
When? October 12th
Synopsis: Kate and Charlie, a hard-partying, borderline alcoholic married couple, have their relationship tested when Kate decides to get sober.
What You Need To Know: 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.”
When? October 12th.
6. “Middle Of Nowhere”
Synopsis: After her husband is sent to prison, Ruby dedicates herself to making sure he, and their marriage, survives his incarceration, but as his release approaches, she becomes drawn to an attractive bus driver.
What You Need To Know: It’s difficult enough to break out of Sundance for any picture, and even harder when your movie doesn’t star a bunch of white people (remember 2006 Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner “Quinceañera“?). But given the critical raves that greeted “Middle Of Nowhere” back in January, we’d say it has as good a chance as any of this year’s crop of making an impact. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay (who won the Directing Award at Park City, the first African-American to do so), and featuring photography by rising star Bradford Young (“Pariah“), the film has picked up great reviews on the festival circuit to date, not least for its performances, from the near-omnipresent David Oyelowo (“Lincoln,” “The Paperboy“), Omari Hardwick (“Miracle At St. Anna,” “Sparkle“) and newcomer Emaytzy Corinealdi (one of our picks to be a breakout star of the season). Whether it manages to reach a wider audience remains to be seen, but we reckon it’ll announce DuVernay as not just an exciting talent in African-American cinema, but in indie film in general.
When? October 12th
7. “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: 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 at 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.
Release Date: Oct 19th
8. “Nobody Walks”
Synopsis: A 23-year old artist arrives in LA to stay in a family’s pool house as she finishes her movie, but her presence brings out warring impulses in everyone around her.
What You Need To Know: Like some kind of lo-fi indie dream team, “Nobody Walks” is penned by Ry Russo-Young, whose last film “You Won’t Miss Me” played Sundance three years ago, and, of course, Lena Dunham, who went supernova this year thanks to her acclaimed HBO series “Girls“. With Dunham busy elsewhere, Russo-Young takes the helm, and has definitely upgraded in terms of the kind of cast she’s been able to attract, with John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt and Dylan McDermott among the players. Happily, the film’s become something of a Playlist favorite since premiering at Sundance earlier in the year. Leaning in more of a dramatic direction than Dunham’s work so far — our review called it “emotionally complex, acutely observed and sensual,” it features terrific work from all the cast — not least the oft-underused Thirlby — and suggests that Russo-Young should start catching up to her co-writer in terms of recognition before too long.
When? October 19th
9. “Holy Motors”
Synopsis: A day in the life of Monsieur Oscar, who travels in a limousine between different lives, from a terrifying homeless monster to a hitman.
What You Need To Know: Bar a segment in 2008’s “Tokyo!” alongside Michel Gondry and Bong Joon-ho, filmmaker Leos Carax hasn’t made a movie since 1999’s controversial “Pola X,” and even that came eight years after director’s third film, the amazing “The Lovers on the Bridge.” As such, news that he was returning for his third film in 20 years (even Terrence Malick has been working faster) would be exciting enough, but the ambition of “Holy Motors” — a playful, genre-hopping mind-bender totally unlike anything else you’ll see this year — makes it particularly thrilling. Reuniting the director with frequent collaborator Denis Lavant, who gives one of the best performances of the year, along with Edith Scob, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue, among others, it didn’t quite win over our reviewer in Cannes, who found it “hilarious and dull, fascinating and pretentious… bold and confounding… ultimately sloppy and tremendously bonkers.” But other Playlist writers (including myself) count it among their favorites of the year, and at the very least, it’s the kind of film that anyone who really loves movies is going to want to have an opinion on.
When? October 17th in New York, rolling out elsewhere from November.
10. “Cloud Atlas”
Synopsis: Based on a terrific novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” tells six interlocking tales tackling everything from a transpacific voyage in 1850 to a 1970s-set conspiracy thriller to a sci-fi parable set deep in the future (there’s also a bit about self-aware Korean clones and a dusty European period melodrama).
What You Need to Know: The word “unfilmable” is bandied about a lot when discussing difficult, knotty literary source material, but it was always hard to imagine a successful adaptation of David Mitchell‘s sprawling novel. That didn’t deter the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, who attracted a cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess in multiple roles that cross race and gender, with some eyebrow-raising new looks for the A-listers (Hanks as an East End gangster! Grant as a face-painted cannibal!). The unveiling of the film at TIFF immediately split critics and audiences into two. Some called it a disaster. Some — particularly the audiences at Fantastic Fest, where the film played in a secret slot last week — adored it, calling it one of the films of the year. And some, like our man in Toronto, fell somewhere in between: we praised it for its ambition and technical achievements, but also found it “dull and repetitive,” and said that the film has “all the insight of a discounted New Age self-help book.” Like the Carax, this is set to inspire debate for months and years to come, and that alone makes it worth seeing more than “Here Comes The Boom“
When? October 26th