Here we are with three more months in the year, and the inevitable mad dash by distributors to release as many movies as possible to maybe, just maybe (hail mary, fingers crossed, please please please) gain some awards season traction is underway. We’re still in the middle of our New York Film Festival coverage and the Vancouver International Film Festival is proceeding (expect a few reviews from yours truly coming down the road), but by and large all the big fests have come and gone. October is going to be busy, but not scary by the looks of it. Where are the good or at least fun-looking horror movies this month? Beyond a new release from Guillermo Del Toro, the pickings are slim.
It’s interesting to note the many varied releases in this month’s column (especially in the honorable mention section), with the gulf between the little guys and the big boys increasing at a rapid rate. There’s a strong crop of VOD/limited-release films made available every month, some receiving consistently good reviews. And then there’s our first film of this column, “The Walk,” the latest IMAX-sized 3D drama built to sear your eyeballs but also make your heart stir. There’s a lot of potential for these spectacle-heavy, special effects-laden melodramas, not least of which for movie theaters to regain some power in the market by showing films that people must leave their homes to see. But then again, that leaves VOD as the best and sometimes only option for a lot of other, smaller but no less immersive films. It’s almost never fair in the world of movies, but hopefully we can steer you in the right direction.
Synopsis: The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit‘s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
What You Need To Know: Playlist EIC Rodrigo Perez just reviewed this latest work from Robert Zemeckis after its NYFF premiere, the director’s second live action film in a row following the Oscar-nominated “Flight,” after an extended obsession in the aughts with CGI motion capture movies. Though his review was mixed-to-positive, it’s a curious movie, based on the book “To Reach The Clouds” by Petit about his exploits walking a wire across the Twin Towers. So why make a “movie-movie” version out of this story, complete with American actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Frenchman Petit, when there’s already James Marsh‘s Oscar winning documentary “Man On Wire“? It’s promised as an EXPERIENCE for the big screen, complete with lots of impossible CGI camera moves and 3D to really give audiences vertigo (and, to be fair, great as the doc is, there’s no actual moving footage of Petit walking across the wire, only a few photos). Could it be the next “Gravity,” “Hugo” or “Life of Pi,” using the latest technology to give the audience images they’d never be able to see otherwise? The bar has been set, and we’d love to see Zemeckis return to his past heights.
Release Date: Now playing on IMAX screens, goes wide October 9
Synopsis: Presumed dead after a Mars mission that goes wrong, Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on the red planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity and wits to survive until a rescue mission reaches him.
What You Need To Know: By most accounts (even our own), Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi spectacle refreshingly puts the emphasis on the science. Kevin Jagernauth said as much in his TIFF review of the film, which stars Matt Damon as a “John McClane meets MacGyver with a PhD.” Kevin also listed “The Martian” as one of his best films out of Toronto this year, but with a caveat that its pleasures can be fleeting. “I can’t help but recommend the movie —it’s entertaining in the moment, it looks great, is perhaps the most expensive love letter to science ever made, and it’s a crowd-pleaser. Just don’t expect it to resonate beyond the cinema.” We’re sold on it, even if some of the Oscar brouhaha around it is seems a bit overblown and premature, even with a starry cast (including Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and more).
Release Date: October 2
“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi”
Synopsis: A series of portraits of everyday characters hiring the services of exiled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi as he poses as a taxi driver in Tehran.
What You Need To Know: Panahi was banned from making films for 20 years by the Iranian government back in 2010, but he hasn’t slowed down. Through sheer force of will, some clever smuggling of the work out of the country, and a heavy dose of self-reflexivity, he’s managed to make this his third work since that punishment, after “This Is Not A Film” and “Closed Curtain.” As Jessica Kiang stated right at the top of her review of this film in which he drives people around posing as a cabbie, this deplorable mistreatment hangs over his recent work. But refreshingly, “Panahi himself slyly cracks a window on all that gravity: it’s reflexive, intelligent, and provocative, to be sure, and has lots to say about Iranian society in general and the fine art of dissidence in particular, but it’s also sort of a blast. It is rightly felt that if Panahi can muster the resources to get a film made under such insupportable circumstances, it is all but our duty to watch it as our own small act of solidarity and resistance. With ‘Taxi’, Panahi makes that duty a pleasure.”
Release Date: October 2 (Limited)
“The Forbidden Room”
Synopsis: A submarine crew, a feared pack of forest bandits, a famous surgeon and a battalion of child soldiers all get more than they bargained for as they wend their way toward progressive ideas on life and love.
What You Need To Know: Guy Maddin is like Canada’s bizarro, uber-cinephile auteur in the vein of a Quentin Tarantino, but don’t expect the same kind of accessibility. Existing in a netherworld of long dead, deeply cinematic burrows of the mind, his work certainly leaves an impression. He’s never been mainstream, but take a look at his career and you may recognize a title or two (if not some of his acting collaborators). When Rodrigo Perez saw his latest at Berlin this year, his praise was effusive, calling it a “masterful rendering of the outré Canadian auteur’s fascination with arcane fables, silent-era tableaus, the subconscious and its bizarre desires,” while also adding that it “may be the director’s strangest and best film to date.” Then Nikola Grozdanovic caught at TIFF, and agreed “The Forbidden Room” is something special (it even made his top 5 five of the festival). If you love movies, then you owe it to yourself to experience Guy Maddin.
Release Date: October 7 (Limited)
Synopsis: Filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
What You Need To Know: Since 9/11, approximately 500 suspects have been arrested for terrorist activity within the United States. 60% of these arrests have been predicated upon the use of FBI informants. Directed by Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe (“Adama”), and executive produced by Eugene Jarecki (“The House I Live In”), this first-ever documentary to detail an active FBI case while in progress was described as a “stressful movie full of parallel stealth operations to the point that it creates a deep level of anxiety and paranoia, the filmmakers themselves infiltrate a covert sting in order to get their documentary jumpstarted, and the way it unfolds in real time is nerve wracking and fascinating.” That’s from Rodrigo Perez’s glowing review when he saw “(T)error” at Hot Docs this past spring.
Release Date: October 7 (Limited)
Synopsis: Four local Berliners recruit a thrill-seeking Spanish woman to be their getaway driver for a bank robbery.
What You Need To Know: When this German genre mashup premiered at Berlin back in February —where it went on to win the Cinematography award—Jessica Kiang was on the ground for all the early hype. “Like ‘Birdman,’ but for real! Like ‘Russian Ark,’ but fast! Like the six-minute unbroken raid sequence in ‘True Detective,’ only 23.3 times as long!” That’s right, there’s a new one-take wonder landing in theaters this month —“Victoria” promises a helluva ride along with its impressive technical virtuosity (DP Sturla Brandth Grovlen was even given top billing in the end credits). With support from auteurs like Darren Aronofsky (quoted in the riveting trailer) and described as a tense nail-biter, Jessica’s Playlist colleagues can’t wait to see it. “My amazement now is not that they can have achieved something so polished in just three tries. It’s that they can have lived that ridiculous night three whole times — from a stationary, seated position, I watched it just once and I am exhausted,” Jessica enthused.
Release Date: October 9 (Limited)
Synopsis: The life of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs set in three different time periods, each centered around a new product launch.
What You Need To Know: This splashy biopic apparently split some critics down the middle after its premiere at Telluride, but not our Rodrigo Perez, who named it one of his top films from the festival. He “unapologetically loved almost every minute of this incredibly propulsive, symphonic and unconventional biopic…. Kineticist filmmaker Danny Boyle usually coaxes acceleration through his films visually. Here, he cedes the authorship to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, which is a nice, surprising change of pace. It’s Sorkin’s film, which means rapid fire and assaultive dialogue, and Boyle largely serves that through vigorous editing, music and an orchestral-like swirl to this razor sharp drama about a man that helped transform our digital world. And then there’s of course the actors, Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and others, who make the material sing effortlessly. ‘Jobs’ is one of the greatest roller coaster rides you’ll take this year, and it also examines the binary notion of where and when genius develops.” Expect this one to be a big Oscar player.
Release Date: October 9 (Limited)
“Beasts Of No Nation”
Synopsis: As civil war rages in Africa, a fierce warlord trains a young orphan to join his group of guerrilla soldiers.
What You Need To Know: Cary Fukunaga may have officially become one of our very best filmmakers. After deservedly winning the Emmy for directing every episode of the first season of “True Detective,” he’s followed it up with a film that had our Jessica Kiang raving (in an A grade review) when she caught the Venice premiere. A lot of us are getting enthusiastic about the Oscar chances for this film, possibly more than usual since it’s produced by Netflix where it will open day-and-date this month in theaters and on the streaming service, but I’m glad to hear that Fukunaga is continuing to find ways to entertain and horrify audiences by telling challenging stories. This one sounds a lot like “War Witch,” the excellent 2013 Canadian film that shares similar story elements, but also like Fukunaga’s excellent debut feature “Sin Nombre” in that it finds thrilling genre elements in its story about residents of the third world struggling with the harrowing reality around them. Jessica also listed this as her second favorite film from Venice, where she called it “uncompromising, brutal and gruelling” but also “quite beautiful too, in a way that does not romance or sentimentalize the issue… The central performances are great, with Idris Elba outstanding as The Commandant, but newcomer Abraham Attah (Venice Best Young Actor winner) steals the show entirely, and the intensity of the filmmaking is masterfully sustained and marked by flashes of the surreal and even the playful.”
Release Date: October 16 (Limited + Netflix)
Synopsis: During the ninth century, a general’s young daughter is kidnapped and trained to become an exceptional assassin. When she doesn’t execute a mission, she is ordered to kill her betrothed, forcing her to choose between love, family and the assassins.
What You Need To Know: Legendary Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien worked on this wuxia tale for so long that we picked it several years in a row as a most anticipated film in the coming year, only for the film to be perpetually delayed. That all changed this year, when the film premiered at the Cannes to big praise, and Hsiao-Hsien eventually went on to win the Best Director prize at the fest. Jessica Kiang saw it, describing an “epic visual poem” and name-dropping similar works in this genre such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Grandmaster.” But don’t expect nearly the amount of action here as in those films: “These are pictures that feel like time (which will make them hard to sit through for the impatient) —they feel steeped, marinated in time, as though Hou has waited, not 25 years, but eleven centuries with his camera parked on this hillside or beside that thatched barn, to get just exactly the right combination of light and cloud and movement and stillness, just the right fall of a sleeve or tremble of a drape in the breeze.” This also made Nikola Grozdanovic’s TIFF Top 5, where he said the film “transported [him] into its world, swiftly and securely, and kept [him] there utterly spellbound by its visual masterwork until the closing credits.”
Release Date: October 16 (Limited)
Synopsis: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.
What You Need To Know: Epic, big-budget R-rated horror films have always been rare, but they all but died a slow, agonizing death during the last 15 years while the genre gorged on many trends that came and went swiftly (except for found footage, which just won’t go away). By and large, scary movies have typically been treated as the B-squad against the more “respectable” movies put out by distributors and studios, so they continue to exist in the low budget realm. Cue one Guillermo Del Toro, a movie geek hero whose style tends to produce the best outcome when he’s working on a slightly more arty vibe (as in “Devil’s Backbone” and his masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth”). With “Crimson Peak,” it appears as though he’s getting to flex some of the muscles he hoped to use when he was trying to mount an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness” a few years back. I’d prefer he stick to this kind of thing, as opposed to a sequel for “Pacific Rim,” but either way, it’s good to have del Toro working consistently again, and here’s hoping ‘Peak’ can live up to all its promise.
Release Date: October 16
Synopsis: Escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for half a decade, a young woman and her five-year-old son struggle to adjust to the strange, terrifying and wondrous world outside their one-room prison.
What You Need To Know: Rodrigo Perez was lucky enough to catch the Telluride premiere of this adaptation of the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name. In his review, where he gave the film a ‘B’ (but rated the performances an ‘A’), he was less enthusiastic for the overall work but still found a lot to appreciate. “As the movie’s ‘love conquers all’ theme fully coalesces, it’s frustratingly both poignant and just a smidge too treacly,” he wrote, but finished by saying “Room” has “unforgettable, must-witness performances, and its soulful mother-and-son narrative is one of the most touching dynamics you’ll see in theaters this year.” Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson’s (“Frank”) latest film, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in performances everyone seems to be raving about, ended up winning the ever-important People’s Choice Award at TIFF, which in recent history has proven to be a good indicator of Oscar glory (recent winners include “12 Years A Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Imitation Game.”).
Release Date: October 16 (Limited)
“Bridge Of Spies”
Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.
What You Need To Know: I’m a little concerned that this latest Steven Spielberg joint looks a little too… cloyingly Spielbergian. Of course, I’m only basing that off the trailer and a few clips, which if nothing else certainly look like the work of the man who brought us “Lincoln” and “War Horse.” But your mileage may vary as to whether or not that’s a good thing (sorry, not a big fan of either of those). It is good to see Tom Hanks starring in another Spielberg effort, and there’s the script written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, which holds a lot of promise. But am I the only one who wishes Spielberg would go back to his darker, vastly more interesting films he was making at the turn of the aughts, starting with “A.I.” (underrated as hell) and ending in 2005 with “Munich,” one of his very best works?
Release Date: October 16
Synopsis: The remarkable untold true story of the real foot soldiers of the Suffragette movement.
What You Need To Know: One of the splashy premieres at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, our review was decidedly mixed, granting it a ‘C’ grade and taking issue with the script and several hokey moments. But still, our reviewer was moved by Carey Mulligan’s performance: “As much as the movie wants to overplay its hand at virtually every turn, Mulligan just as surely undersells the transformations that her initially mousy laundry worker undergoes on the way to suffragette city. She deserves a vehicle that’s worthier of her nuance, but she’ll pick up a lot of women’s (and men’s) votes in early 2016 anyway.” This one’s a good bet for some Oscar attention.
Release Date: October 23 (Limited)
“I Smile Back”
Synopsis: Laney is an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and devoted mother of two adorable children. Just beneath this façade lurks depression and disillusionment that send her careening into a secret world of reckless compulsion. Only very real danger will force her to face the painful root of her destructiveness and its crumbling effect on those she loves.
What You Need To Know: When this film premiered at Sundance, Katie Walsh found much to love in outré and confrontational comedian Sarah Silverman’s lead performance. “[It’s] so devastatingly bleak at times that it’s bone-chilling. ‘I Smile Back’ is a showcase for Silverman’s considerable prowess as a dramatic lead actress, and any story problems in the film are eclipsed by her tremendous performance. She’s so completely raw while also conveying the numbness and shape-shifting abilities of an addict. It’s one of the darkest portraits of human desperation and destruction seen in some time.” The review even included an early prediction of an Oscar nomination for Silverman. It’s just the kind of performance the Academy loves, but this movie will have to overcome a lot of hurdles to get enough attention as such. Hopefully that happens, because Silverman already proved in a small role in “Take This Waltz” that she has real dramatic chops. Good to see her nab a starring role.
Release Date: October 23 (Limited)
Synopsis: Musician Jonny Greenwood travels to Rajasthan, where he performs with a multitude of Indian musicians.
What You Need To Know: The zigs and zags of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career may have baffled many, but clearly have endeared him to cinephiles. There’s a first half of his career —Altman meets Scorsese— typified by “Boogie Nights” and that kind of quasi-Tarantino spark that some audiences sorely miss. But then there’s the second half, starting with “There Will Be Blood” (and perhaps to a lesser degree with “Punch Drunk Love”) where Anderson got wonderfully strange. Opening up ‘Blood’ with music and no dialogue for almost 20 minutes; the inscrutable nature of “The Master” and then the hilarious oddness of “Inherent Vice”: all these moves continue to puzzle mainstream audiences. But as Anderson leaves his early influences behind, his works continues to become more exciting and one really doesn’t know what to expect next. For his latest trick, Anderson has made his first documentary. Shot largely in secret, “Junun,” is described as a “impressionistic” doc and it’s about a recording session between the Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greendwood, Anderson’s composer for his last three films, and 19 local musicians at Mehrangarh Fort above Jodhpur in northern India for an album by Shye Ben Tzur. Running only 55 minutes, we should probably expect the unexpected and hopefully a blast of unique music.
Release Date: Premieres at NYFF October 8, and the next day will be made available on MUBI.
It had to happen eventually that the two preeminent Japanese gonzo genre auteurs would have new movies out the same month. After all, Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “13 Assassins”) and Sion Sono (“Love Exposure,” “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?”) are some of the most prolific filmmakers working. Miike’s “Yakuza Apocalypse” had us over the moon when we caught it at Cannes (we called it “transcendently batshit”) and Sono’s “Tokyo Tribe” looks pretty damn crazy as per usual.
There’s plenty of mainstream, potentially Oscar-worthy stuff by talented filmmakers left to point out. We just couldn’t find room for David Gordon’s Green’s “Our Brand Is Crisis,” starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton. Much as we love the director, this one didn’t work for our reviewer when he caught it at TIFF. “Pan” is the latest classic story to be updated for modern audiences, this time from Brit auteur Joe Wright and starring Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara (who also stars in this month’s “Trash” from beloved-by-the-Academy filmmaker Stephen Daldry) in a Peter Pan origin story. And there’s “Freeheld” with Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, set to come out and make you cry your eyes out in a true story about a lesbian couple’s struggle for equality after one of them is diagnosed with cancer. “He Named Me Malala” has a shot at making one of the documentary slots. “Truth” stars Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett in an adaptation of Mary Mapes’ memoir “Truth and Duty.”
Even more festival movies are making their way to theaters for a proper run. “Partisan” looks like a great vehicle for Vincent Cassel and a chilling genre exercise. “Legend” features two Tom Hardy performances for the price of one in the biopic gangster tale about Reggie and Ronnie Kray from Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”). We saw “The Wonders” at Cannes last year and called it a deeply-felt coming of age drama. “Northern Soul” was so successful at evoking its period and music (’70s era english northern soul) that it our critic was ready to dance in the theater. Peter Sarsgaard stars in “Experimenter” as Dr. Stanley Milgram, in a feature version of his Obedience to Authority experiment.
There isn’t a ton of buzz around “Rock The Kasbah” but it stars our beloved Bill Murray as a beleaguered has-been rock manager and is directed Barry Levinson, so maybe it’ll be a goofy good time. Maybe “The Final Girls” can find the right alchemy for a good horror-comedy, one of the trickiest genre hybrids to pull off. Eli Roth has another new movie out this month, “Knock Knock,” starring Keanu Reeves as a guy who gets more than he bargained for when two gorgeous women knock on his door.
Finally, “Burnt” stars Bradley Cooper as a chef going for a third Michelin star. Colin Hanks directed a doc about Tower Records called “All Things Must Pass.” “Meadowland” tries to avoid cliched indie miserablism.