If September and October can still be considered the fallow season after blockbusters like “Taken 2” and “Argo,” and critically acclaimed films like “The Master,” that fallow season is certainly over. The box office saw a huge upswing last weekend with “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Flight,” and that’s set to continue through Christmas, with tentpoles and awards hopefuls arriving every single week. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we’ve put together a list of the 10 best films to see over the rest of November. Check it out below, and let us know what you’re looking forward to most.
Synopsis: In his final months in office, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) attempts to bring a lasting piece to the nation as the Civil War comes to a close, while simultaneously attempting to push an amendment abolishing slavery for good.
What You Need To Know: As we write, voting for the 2012 presidential election is underway, and still on a knife-edge, so it’s appropriate that America’s most beloved filmmaker is launching his depiction of a divided nation brought together by one man only a few days later. Whether the film will serve as a salve or salt in the wound will depend on the outcome (and on who you voted for, obviously). But given that Steven Spielberg‘s film sees him reunite with Tony Kushner, writer of his best film of the last couple of decades in “Munich,” and sees Daniel Day-Lewis don top hat and beard to play Abe, ahead of a frankly extraordinary cast that also includes an Oscar-tipped Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and pretty much everyone else you could want to see in a movie like this, we’re looking forward to it regardless of how things turn out with the electoral college. The Playlist head honcho caught the NYFF sneak preview of the film in September, and found a lot to like saying it’s “characterized by refreshing restraint, its passionate convictions and patience,” with a “forceful, but nicely muted performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.” “Solemn, well-controlled and moving with a dignified air of grace,” it avoids Spielberg’s more sentimental side, but perhaps too much so. He found it “not exactly the most engaging nor well-paced picture either” with a procedural nature “that can be tedious and trying.” So it sounds like political buffs will be in for a good time, but it may be a harder sell for others. Either way, it’s still likely to be a must-see for many film fans.
When: Limited release this Friday, November 9th, before going wide next week, on November 16th
Synopsis: Believed to be killed during a mission, James Bond (Daniel Craig) resurfaces to protect MI6 boss M (Judi Dench) from a terrifying new threat.
What You Need To Know: By the time “Skyfall” hits theaters in the U.S on Friday, it’ll almost feel like old news. Screened for press almost a month ago, the film was released in much of the rest of the world two weeks ago, and has gone on to break records ever since. It’s already on course to potentially beat “Avatar” as the biggest grossing film in the U.K., and has made a quarter-of-a-billion dollars worldwide to date. More importantly, the 23rd Bond film, directed by Oscar-winning helmer Sam Mendes, and featuring talent like Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris, has already been widely acclaimed as perhaps one of the best blockbusters of the year, and the finest Bond entry to date. While I wouldn’t quite go that far — finding the action a little lacking in spots, and the film dragging in its third act — I still had a terrific time with Mendes’ film. Undoubtedly the best-looking Bond picture to date thanks to Roger Deakins‘ lensing, with an emotional depth that’s almost unprecedented for the series, and a hall-of-fame villain in the shape of Bardem, it’s undoubtedly a sophisticated and textured reinvention for the series, and a firm return to form for Craig after the disappointment of “Quantum of Solace.” Some of the Playlist team have been a little cooler on the picture, but most should find something to enjoy.
When? November 9th
3. “Anna Karenina”
Synopsis: In 19th century Russia, Anna (Keira Knightley) is drawn away from her life with politician Karenin (Jude Law) after falling for Count Vronsky, a young soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), while her brother’s friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) falls for Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is in love with Vronsky.
What You Need To Know: When it was announced that “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” duo Keira Knightley and Joe Wright were reteaming for a new take on Leo Tolstoy‘s “Anna Karenina,” many dismissed it sight unseen. Another boring period drama designed as Oscar bait. But, while it’s proven to be very divisive critically, in the eyes of many Playlisters, “Anna Karenina” turned out to be a surprising and hugely cinematic take on the classic tale. By setting his version in a rundown Russian theater, and breaking away almost entirely from naturalism, Wright’s film “begins to feel more like the bold, technicolor work of Powell & Pressburger more than anything else,” according to our review, and the result is something that “looks truly stunning,” while “crucially, the artifice doesn’t overwhelm the performances, or the narrative.” And while the leads are strong, especially Jude Law, the real delights are to be found in the supporting performances from Alicia Vikander, Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson. It’s not a complete triumph; Aaron Taylor-Johnson feels like the weak link, and Wright’s conceit proves a little porous in places. But it’s a film that’s stuck with us, and is likely to end up among our favorites of the year.
When? November 16th in limited release
4. “Silver Linings Playbook”
Synopsis: Based on the book by Matthew Quick, the story centers a former high school teacher who, after being released from a four-year stint in a mental institution, moves back in with his parents, then seeks to reinvent himself, finding the titular silver linings in his life.
What You Need To Know: Depending on your feelings on the divisive “I Heart Huckabees” (we’re fans, ourselves), an argument could be made that David O. Russell has never made a bad film. And yet, somehow, we weren’t quite won over in advance by “Silver Linings Playbook,” which was sold as a decent-looking but unexceptional rom-com. But as if to demonstrate that we should always give Russell the benefit of the doubt, the film became an instant smash when it premiered at TIFF, with our Kevin Jagernauth one of the many who fell head over heels for it at the festival. Calling it “an enormously entertaining, crowd-pleasing winner from the director whose comedic edge has never been sharper,” and saying that leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give “career best, awards-worthy performances.” It’s both “a big broad comedy” and “a unique and involving tale of two outsiders who together find a way to get on with life after it has dealt them some bad hands.” It remains to be seen if it’s the big Oscar heavyweight many have predicted, but it looks pretty likely to be a huge hit with audiences either way.
When? November 16th in limited release, going wide on November 21st
5. “Life of Pi”
Synopsis: After a harrowing shipwreck, young Pi Patel finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat in shark-infested waters with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
What You Need To Know: In the works for years, with a variety of different directors all kicking it around at various points — Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuarón and M. Night Shyamalan among them — the best-selling “Life of Pi” is finally on its way to the big screen, in 3D no less. And it sounds like after the disappointment of “Taking Woodstock,” Ang Lee has rebounded in a big way with the extra dimension, with the film becoming an instant Oscar contender when it premiered by opening the New York Film Festival at the end of September. And we were certainly on board the praise train, calling it an “inspiring and visually stunning tale of faith, hope and self-discovery” in our review. Calling it “a visual marvel” which places “character, soul and emotion paramount in its mind over pyrotechnics,” we found the film to be soulful, exceptionally made and resonant. But, there are some issues. It’s a little sluggish in the first act and risks platitudes in places, but for the most part “Lee goes beyond clichés with a curious, warm and wondrously beatific approach to the ‘letting go’ philosophy that reverberates.”
When? November 21st
6. “Rise of the Guardians”
Synopsis: A supergroup of childhood icons — Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and Jack Frost — are brought together to battle Pitch, the embodiment of fear, who’s out to take over the world.
What You Need To Know: We’ve already had one pretty good animation this month with Disney‘s “Wreck-It Ralph,” but we’ve got hopes that it might yet be topped, by DreamWorks Animation‘s “Rise of the Guardians.” Disney’s great rivals have been on a pretty strong run of late, with “Puss In Boots” and “Madagascar 3” elevating their franchises, with “How To Train Your Dragon” the company’s best film yet. And here, they’ve got an impressive pedigree, with Guillermo del Toro‘s hand working in an executive producer capacity, beloved children’s author William Joyce creating the characters, and “Rabbit Hole” Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire writing the script, while Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Alec Baldwin (as an awesome “Eastern Promises“-style Santa) make up the cast list. Drew Taylor certainly dug it, so it may be the early holiday treat you’re looking for.
When? November 21st
7. “The Central Park Five”
Synopsis: Documentary focusing on the infamous Central Park Jogger case in the late 1980s, when five black and Latino teenagers were wrongfully convicted of the rape of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park, only for a colossal miscarriage of justice to emerge over a decade later.
What You Need To Know: While Ken Burns has become one of the best known faces and figures of PBS thanks to his seminal series like “The Civil War,” “Jazz” and “Prohibition,” it’s been a fair amount of time since he had a theatrical feature. But the duck’s being broken in a few weeks with “The Central Park Five,” a collaboration between the veteran documentarian, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon. Focusing on an infamous miscarriage of justice with the usual meticulous research and power you’d expect from Burns, it’s been wowing people on the festival circuit since Cannes. It’s unfortunately slipped through our fingers so far, but we’ve heard nothing but good things and we look forward to checking it out when it hits theaters. Could we be seeing Burns back on the Oscar podium for the first time in a few decades? It seems entirely possible…
When? November 23rd
8. “Rust & Bone”
Synopsis: A killer whale trainer who tragically loses her legs and a Belgian bouncer/illegal boxer recently arrived in France with his son are drawn together. Can they find redemption and salvation in each other?
What You Need To Know: 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 Marion Cotillard, according to Kevin Jagernauth’s review from Cannes, but it seems to be a star-making turn for “Bullhead” lead Matthias 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 ultimately found the film to be “a towering picture we can’t wait to see again.”
When? November 23rd
Synopsis: Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) sets out to make his boldest, most disturbing film yet, “Psycho,” risking his reputation, his finances and his marriage to long-time collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren) along the way.
What You Need To Know: Biopics of film directors are relatively few, at least ones that aren’t thinly veiled autobiography, but in a year that’s seen multiple restorations, re-releases and retrospectives (including our own two-parter) focused on Alfred Hitchcock, it seems appropriate that the British filmmaker has been the focus of two movies: the disappointing, less than flattering HBO movie “The Girl,” and this, Sacha Gervasi‘s light-hearted drama about the director’s struggle to bring “Psycho” to the screen. Focusing principally on the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma, when we saw the film at AFI Fest last week, we certainly agreed that Hopkins and Mirren are excellent in the leads. Charlie Schmidlin called their turns “dedicated,” with the duo sharing “fine chemistry.” And certainly any movie fans, whether Hitchcockophiles or otherwise, are bound to be fascinated by a look behind one of cinema’s greatest triumphs. Charlie did find the film a bit lightweight, calling it “breezy” and “disposable,” relying too heavily on “using the audience’s present knowledge to telegraph a knowing chuckle from a character’s clueless perspective.” But there are more fervent fans of the film out there, so it’s certainly one of this month’s more intriguing efforts.
When? November 23rd
10. “Killing Them Softly”
Synopsis: Based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel “Cogan’s Trade,” “Killing Them Softly” follows Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.
What You Need To Know: Director Andrew Dominik’s first film since 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” sees him team up once again with Brad Pitt, who leads a cast including James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins, with Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn also taking on significant roles. And ever since it premiered at Cannes, it’s been nestling its way into becoming one of the Playlist’s favorite films of the year. A politically-tinged crime thriller about the last days of the American empire, some have found it a tad overbearing in its subtext, but we had no problem with its savage and acerbic message — it feels like a crucial and potent picture. As Kevin said in his Cannes review “it’s not heavy handed by the simple fact that it’s so well woven into the fabric of the story. In fact, it is the story.” And even those who think otherwise will find pleasures to be found among the cast (Jenkins and McNairy in particular shine), and while ‘Jesse James’ DoP Roger Deakins was unavailable, rising star Greig Fraser (“Bright Star“) does a sterling job in his place. A unique and rich take on the crime genre, this should be a late-year joy for cinephiles.
When: November 30th