As we gently ease into the other, unwieldy busy season in the movie calendar — the awards race, yee-hah! — it’s worth taking stock of the summer that was. While it’s heartening that Universal Pictures has set all kinds of box office records already this year without one superhero movie in their roster, it’s not exactly like they reinvented the wheel with their big hits (“Furious 7,” “Jurassic World” and “Minions” all billion dollar earners). Here’s hoping they and other studios take note of their relatively smaller hits (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Trainwreck,” to name a few) and we see more diversity during the hot months moving forward. It’s good for everyone. Either way, we made it through another summer, so we can relax… but not for long.
With Venice, Toronto and Telluride film festivals all set to open very soon (and along with them, a huge crop of premieres, some of which feature on this month’s list), we’ll be inundated with big awards players and big disappointments left in the dust. It’s a crazy, overwhelming, sometimes unfair, but altogether exciting time to love cinema. You can count on The Playlist for tons of upcoming festival coverage, so make sure to tune in this month. We even try to cover some of the smaller fests beyond those aforementioned big three so there’s no shortage of stuff to discover. For those not lucky enough to attend any festival this month, fear not, there’s still plenty to catch at your local multiplexes and arthouse theaters.
Synopsis: A woman’s imagination runs wild after she loses her sight.
What You Need To Know: “Compelling, clever and surprisingly warm despite its cool palette” was Jessica Kiang’s A- take on this under-the-radar drama when she saw it in Berlin 2014, not long after its premiere at Sundance the same year where it went on to win the World Cinema Screenwriting prize. Beyond its strong, awards-laden festival run, we’re also keen on this Norwegian film because its writer/director, Eskil Vogt, previously collaborated with Playlist favorite Joachim Trier on his first two films (“Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”). “Blind” sees Vogt stepping into the director’s chair for the first time, and along with “extraordinary” lead actor Ellen Dorrit Petersen, takes an intriguing, cinematic premise — exploring the tragedy and terror of sudden blindness in a visual medium — and stylishly, wittily follows through on its possibilities. “The film is also a worthy addition to the canon of recent Scandinavian cinema, a region whose filmmaking output seems only to grow in self-confidence and distinctiveness… But really the arc of the story is one of reclamation; of a remarkable woman taking back her life and her sense of herself in the teeth of an affliction that could threaten to overwhelm her into despair,” Kiang wrote.
Release Date: September 4th (Limited)
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Synopsis: Twin boys who do everything together welcome their mother home after her reconstructive surgery. But with her face wrapped in bandages, and her demeanor distant, they grow suspicious of her identity.
What You Need To Know: If you’re like this writer, seeing descriptors like “stylishly sick” (used in the headline for our review of this Austrian horror film) is just about all you need to know to get in line opening day. But, like any well-reviewed film in the genre, there’s more. It’s co-directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, produced by chilly auteur Ulrich Seidl (the “Paradise” trilogy, “In The Basement”) and DP Martin Gschlacht is a great, under-the-radar talent (he shot the wonderful, Criterion-approved “Revanche,” a must-see from 2007), whose work on “Goodnight Mommy” we called “impeccably crafted, with a chilly, crisp sheen to the photography.” We also noted that Franz, wife to Seidl, shares a similar sensibility to her husband’s work (especially the terrific “In The Basement,” which was co-written by Franz and also shot by Gschlacht). If all that is still not enough, well, we even compared this to recent crossover arthouse horror hits like “It Follows” and “The Babadook.” So if you’re “the right kind of disturbed yourself, it might also have you grinning at its sheer audacity.”
Release Date: September 11th (Limited)
“Time Out Of Mind”
Synopsis: A homeless man tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
What You Need To Know: We’ve championed writer/director Oren Moverman’s first two films, “The Messenger” and “Rampart,” both hard-hitting dramas that never found the audience they deserved. Unfortunately, the same fate seems likely for his third directorial effort, “Time Out Of Mind,” which follows the troubled life of a homeless man on the streets of New York, played by Richard Gere. When our Kevin Jagernauth caught the film at TIFF 2014, he remarked on the actor’s work: “In a performance that will be mistakenly hailed as a transformation, it’s Gere’s immersion in the part that is remarkable. The symbiotic collaboration between Moverman and Gere is evidenced [from] the actor’s committed, subtle, and stoic turn.” Moverman is a gifted filmmaker, and is still getting chances to produce good work (he co-wrote “Love & Mercy,” which we liked quite a bit), but here’s hoping audiences catch up to his brutally honest, challenging dramas. You can start here.
Release Date: September 11th (Limited)
Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs on the Mexico/U.S. border.
What You Need To Know: Somewhere along her already very strong career, Emily Blunt went and became a total badass. “Sicario” looks like the third entry in her trilogy of characters where she’s the toughest person in every scene, starting with “Looper” then “Edge of Tomorrow.” Her role in this latest film from Playlist favorite Denis Villeneuve (we went pretty crazy for his last two films, “Prisoners” and “Enemy”), alongside Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, is one of many reasons this tough-looking drug/crime film is one of my highly anticipated titles for the rest of the year. When it premiered at Cannes this year in competition, Jessica Kiang found much to praise, but was still left wanting. “Amazing to look at, amazing to listen to, yet just a bit underwhelming to really think about, Villeneuve’s Mexican drug cartel drama is superlatively strong in every conceivable way except story. The craft is impeccable, with Roger Deakins‘ cinematography and the spectacular Jóhann Jóhannsson score conspiring to add levels of interest that keep you hungry for the next scene. But it’s a hunger never wholly satisfied,” she wrote. Mixed review or not, the rest of us can’t see this one fast enough. And of course, Villeneuve is making the much-ballyhooed “Blade Runner” sequel next, so catch the man’s work before he reaches next level status.
Release Date: September 18th (Limited, expands nationwide October 2)
Synopsis: Sheds light on the sexual, financial and spiritual abuse among members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What You Need To Know: Documentaries are being made at a rapid rate these days, and those lucky enough to actually play in theaters seem to need a timely hook, a singular voice to elevate the material and/or they just need to be undeniably great. If “Prophet’s Prey,” from the exceptional Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (her last film, “An Open Secret,” already made this column in June), is anything like her previous work, then it qualifies for all three. Berg has quickly risen to the top of an increasingly crowded network of documentarians, and for good reason. Hers is a brand of old-school journalistic integrity and is balanced along with a tireless, crusader mentality to fight for injustices. The thing that elevates her from being just another social critic or advocacy journalist is her abilities as a smart, tough interviewer and for finding cinematic approaches to her material. When we saw ‘Prey’ at Sundance this year, we said it’s a “complex and complete exploration of the The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its criminal leader Warren Jeffs, Berg’s latest film is concisely put together and relentlessly honest in its depictions of what really happens within this Mormon offshoot — a ‘religion’ where polygamy, child abuse, and rape run rampant — and the lauded leader responsible for perpetrating some of its worst transgressions.”
Release Date: September 18th (Limited)
Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a mafia family invading his turf.
What You Need To Know: The more you read about Scott Cooper’s latest, “Black Mass,” the more it sounds kinda familiar. That’s because Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” borrowed from this real-life gangster Whitey Bulger’s experiences to shape Jack Nicholson’s crime boss character in that film. But now we have the splashy biopic version, with Bulger played by Johnny Depp (anybody else really creeped out by those colored contacts he’s wearing for the part?) with a strong supporting cast made up of Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, and Kevin Bacon. Cooper is coming off the uneventful release for his muted, occasionally interesting revenge tale “Out Of The Furnace.” Maybe this next stab at genre will make a little more waves. Depp, who’s had a decent track record playing real-life criminals (“Public Enemies” and “Blow”), will hopefully remind us that he can be a great actor here, that is, if he can shed his overly-mannered, all-about-the-crazy-look string of recent turns in blockbuster material. We’ll know after its September 4th premiere at Venice.
Release Date: September 18th
Synopsis: Climbers from two different expeditions fight for survival during a fierce snowstorm on Mount Everest.
What You Need To Know: Based on a true story, specifically events from a 1996 Mount Everest disaster, directed by Baltasar Kormákur (“2 Guns,” “Contraband,”), written by William Nicholson (“Unbroken”) and Simon Beaufoy (Oscar winner for his “Slumdog Millionaire” script), the pedigree behind the camera is promising, if not a guaranteed home run. And the folks who appear on camera make this look even more enticing: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Most of them will be climbing up and trying to survive on the titular mountain, with the film zeroing in on the summit and survival attempts of two groups. “Everest” opens the Venice International Film Festival on September 2nd, and with its visuals primed and ready for IMAX-level awesomeness, we hope this can be the other thrilling mountain climbing movie this year (documentary “Meru” being the other).
Release Date: September 18th (Limited release at IMAX & premium large-format theaters, goes wide on September 25th)
Synopsis: A New York teen transitions from female to male, while his mother adjusts to having a son.
What You Need To Know: With a TIFF premiere planned and a theatrical rollout soon after, now may be just the right time to strike for a film like this drama, originally called “Three Generations,” starring Elle Fanning as the titular teenage lead character who no longer identifies with her female gender and wants to transition into becoming a man and the issues this causes the rest of the matriarchs in the family (Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon). As we mentioned in our post for the film’s trailer, these stories are in the zeitgeist thanks to strides made by Caitlyn Jenner and new, popular and well-made media like “Transparent,” “Orange Is The New Black,” and “Tangerine” along with the buzz surrounding the upcoming “The Danish Girl.” In terms of moving things forward and becoming a more progressive, understanding world, this is all great news and vitally important. Whether or not “About Ray” is any good, well, we just gotta wait and see.
Release Date: September 18th (Limited)
Synopsis: In 1915 a man survives the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, but loses his family, speech and faith. One night he learns that his twin daughters may be alive, and goes on a quest to find them.
What You Need To Know: A lot of us at The Playlist were disheartened and surprised to read Jessica Kiang’s review of this film out of Venice last year, where she minced nary a word calling it “close to a disaster.” Yikes. So, why were we surprised? For one, this is the latest film from brilliant Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akin, whose 2004 anti-romance “Head-On” is one of the very best films of the past decade (and made a star of Sibel Kekilli, from “Game of Thrones,” who until that time had only acted in porn). “The Cut” — along with “Edge of Heaven” and the aforementioned “Head-On” — completes a thematic trilogy and stars Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”), one of the most talented young actors working in Europe. So even though we tend to trust our beloved Ms. Kiang with anything (especially movie reviews), we’d still like to check this one out and see for ourselves, just based on the talent involved, even if “when it’s not awkward, ‘The Cut’ is, of all things, staid, and with a bland lead and uninspired execution it’s very very far from the ‘Sergio Leone meets Charlie Chaplin’ vibe that Akin teased.” It’s also worth noting that our Editor-In-Chief, despite understanding the issues pointed out in our official review, still found it to be decent.
Release Date: September 18th (Limited)
Synopsis: American chess champion Bobby Fischer prepares for a legendary match-up against Russian Boris Spassky.
What You Need To Know: Bobby Fischer continues to be an unlikely but still viable movie subject. Here he is again — after “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” which to be fair was not really about him, and documentary “Bobby Fischer Against the World” — with this biopic-like take on his famous chess matches with Russian master Spassky during the 1972 world championships. Fischer is played by Tobey Maguire while Liev Schreiber has to pull off his best Russian accent as his opponent. Directed by (sometimes) awards-bait filmmaker Ed Zwick (“Blood Diamond,” “Love & Other Drugs”), who dealing with a very un-cinematic sport, manages to “take it on to mostly satisfactory results,” according to Kevin Jagernauth’s TIFF review from last year. “‘Pawn Sacrifice’ certainly whips up a dervish of energy, and as a piece of dramatic entertainment, it’s mostly engaging, and features character actors doing very good work… the film gives us one solid, compelling reason to keep our eyes glued to the screen: Bobby Fischer. And like everyone else around him, you’ll be so enamored of his intelligence and skill that the breakdown that seems so inevitable will still be a tragic surprise.”
Release Date: September 16th (Limited)
“The Green Inferno”
Synopsis: A group of student activists travels to the Amazon to save the rainforest and soon discover that they are not alone, and that no good deed goes unpunished.
What You Need To Know: When Eli Roth’s latest gore-soaked opus premiered two years ago at TIFF’s infamous Midnight Madness, our own Cory Everett admitted that, though “The Green Inferno” overall seems like a regression for the once-(over)hyped horror filmmaker, “admittedly, the film is solid fun once shit starts hitting the fan, but it takes trudging through fairly tedious setup to get there.” A September 2014 release was in the works, until distributors Open Road pulled the movie after financiers Worldwide bailed on their commitment for P&A. This kind of shelving often spells doom for a film, but not so for this “Cannibal Holocaust” inspired torture-fest, which was rescued recently by current top-dog horror impresario Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Tilt label. He stepped up to put the movie out, and so, after languishing for a couple years we can now see it. Will Roth ever follow through on that initial hype that’s certainly dwindled as his career has progressed? For those of us who love horror movies, there’s a belief that he has a good film in him, but we just haven’t seen it yet. Our critic wasn’t convinced two years ago, but I for one hope “The Green Inferno” delivers the goods.
Release Date: September 25th
Synopsis: A father struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker who’s the source of his frustration.
What You Need To Know: Still under-the-radar filmmaker Ramin Bahrani has the privilege, pressure and (perhaps unfair) expectations to live up to after Roger Ebert named him “the new great American director” back in 2009. The claim was bold, but not for nothing, as Bahrani’s first three films — “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop,” and “Goodbye Solo” — are stellar indie films, all moving well past melodramatic or familiar terrain to expose a side of the country and people rarely given any depth in films. His more high profile fourth feature, “At Any Price,” came and went fast without much attention, good or bad. So now with this second stab at a relatively commercial style (working with more well-known actors again like Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield), perhaps “99 Homes,” with its plot involving the ongoing housing crisis, will resonate more. Our review out of Venice had much to praise: “It feels like Bahrani’s learned many of the lessons resulting from his previous misfire, and has managed to find a place for the furious humanism of his early triumphs.”
Release Date: September 25th (Limited)
We’ve already reviewed the “The Quay Brothers On 35mm,” a touring retrospective of the insanely talented stop-motion filmmaking duo, combined with a short documentary made by none other than Christopher Nolan, a super fan, who’s also put his name on an upcoming Blu-Ray collection of the Quay Brothers work, to be released by Zeitgeist and Syncopy October 20. If you’re lucky enough to see these in a theater (check here to see if your city is on the list), we recommend buying tickets in advance.
In other exciting repertory cinema news, Rialto Pictures will be bringing the first ever digital restoration of the classic French 1955 crime film “Rififi.” This Jules Dassin work, which made Our 25 All-Time Favorite Heist Movies and ranked on our 10 Best Cannes Film Festival Openers Ever, will open and run from September 2-8 at Film Forum in New York City and will arrive at Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles and to other cities afterwards — it’s a must see, not just for its amazing, dialogue-free 30 minute heist sequence.
Nancy Meyers (“What Women Want,” “Something’s Gotta Give”) cast Robert De Niro as “The Intern” to Anne Hathaway in what looks to be a fairly breezy take on the modern workplace from the veteran filmmaker. We saw “The Keeping Room,” featuring Brit Marling and Sam Worthington, last year at TIFF. We liked it ok, but it does look like it could be a good bit of indie genre cinema and comes with a Black List-approved script.
Hey everyone, remember M. Night Shyamalan? There was a time when he was the second coming of Steven Spielberg. Now, after a string of bigger budgeted flops and increasingly dire reviews, he’s made a low budget, found footage flick for Blumhouse Productions called “The Visit.” It may actually be just the right fit for the writer/director, as even his best material (“Unbreakable,” “Sixth Sense”) has plenty of pulpiness to make the heavy drama go down easier.
Last month, we mistakenly placed “Sleeping With Other People” in our honorable mentions list. When we caught it at Sundance, we called it refreshingly funny and romantic, the key being the two leads in Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as they “exhibit the kind of cinematic chemistry that the recently ailing rom-com genre has been lacking for entire years. They’re not just good together, they’re believable, sexy, funny and sweet, and more than a little sad.”
As per usual just about every month now, there’s a host of smaller docs coming that may be worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of the subject material. “The Reflektor Tapes” sees Arcade Fire doing the concert doc thing. “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” looks like essential viewing for comedy devotees. “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution” for those looking to get dig deeper into that time period and group.
Horror film “Before I Wake” is the latest from the director of modest hit “Oculus.” “Captive” looks of interest for its cast (Kate Mara, Mimi Rogers, Michael Kenneth Williams, and David Oyelowo). “The Perfect Guy” looks similar to last month’s “The Gift,” in that it reminds us of that brief stretch in the early 90s where yuppie thrillers were all the rage.
Chris Evans aka Captain America directed a Richar Linklater-esque walk and talk rom-com called “Before We Go.” Robert Redford and Nick Nolte take “A Walk In The Woods.”
The latest film from revered Chinese director Zhang Yimou, “Coming Home,” the eighth collaboration between the director and his first and most frequent leading lady Gong Li is worth a watch if you like his films. “The New Girlfriend,” starring Romain Duris, is another work by François Ozon, the hit-or-miss French filmmaker behind “8 Women” and “Young and Beautiful” and many more.