“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” (October 2)
The current IMDb synopsis of Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” doesn’t reveal much — “A day with a taxi driver in Tehran” — and somewhat charmingly leaves out that it’s lauded Iranian director Panahi himself who is behind the wheel of this new documentary. Panahi has been notoriously banned from filmmaking in his native country and leaving said country, but he’s continually worked around those constraints to create funny, intimate, stirring and truly bold features. The Golden Bear-winning “Taxi” follows Panahi as he marries his new day job (taxi-driving) with his passion for storytelling in one of his most well-received features yet (ban and all).
“Partisan” (October 2)
October sees two high profile awards contenders about children coming of age in captivity (see “Room” and “Beasts of No Nation”), and though Ariel Kleiman’s “Partisan” is flying under the radar, his striking debut is yet another involving look at growing up under grave circumstances. With an ambiguous sense of time and place, Kleiman’s drama centers on Leo (Alex Balaganskiy), a young boy living in a cult under the paternal eye of Gregori, played by the always intimidating Vincent Cassel. The film is not so much about challenging the patriarchy as it is a slow realization that one’s way of life is not in accordance with one’s own belief system. Coming into his own personhood, Leo beings to internally question Gregori’s society and his purpose within it, and though he doesn’t necessarily act out, Leo’s understanding of his situation allows Kleiman to create an assured psychological drama with a subversive intensity. The drama won Best Cinematography in the World Cinema section at Sundance.
“The Forbidden Room” (October 7)
Canadian native Guy Maddin delivers his first feature since 2011 with the cryptic and eye-popping “The Forbidden Room,” a breathless phantasmagoria whose narrative labyrinth and intricate visual effects combine to create a film that defies convention at every turn. The experimental film has been described as a “Russian nesting doll,” as it follows the crew of a doomed submarine who encounter a mysterious woodsman that recounts his story of escaping from the captivity of cave dwellers. This peculiar launching pad for the story is only the beginning, for Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson take the viewer high into the air, around the world and into dreamscapes over the course of their mind-boggling head trip. Spinning tales of amnesia, captivity, deception, murder, skeleton women and vampire bananas, “The Forbidden Room” is an experience you won’t understand but won’t ever forget.
“Steve Jobs” (Limited October 9)
“Steve Jobs” may not technically be an indie-financed production, but Danny Boyle’s portrait of America’s tortured genius is arguably the most highly-anticipated title of the month, and it features a handful of the biggest indie heavyweights to boot. The sharp-witted Aaron Sorkin has penned a blazingly motormouth script, which follows Jobs, played by an unforgettable Michael Fassbender, through Apple’s initial product launches and behind the scenes of the digital revolution. Broken up into three 30-minute scenes, the film concludes with the 1998 launch of the iMac. Like the best biopics, the drama is rightfully as flawed and mesmerizing as its iconic subject. Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Katherine Waterston also star.
“Big Stone Gap” (October 9)
Adriana Trigiani has made quite the name for herself as a bestselling novelist, and she makes a promising transition to filmmaking by adapting her own hit novel “Big Stone Gap” for the big screen. Fortunately for the debut feature director, she’s got one of the month’s strongest ensembles on her hands, including Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski and Jenna Elfman. “Big Stone Gap” chronicles the lives and loves of various residents of the appealing small town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Although the 70s-set feature includes a large variety of colorful inhabitants, it’s mostly concerned with the (nonexistent) love life of Ave Maria Mulligan (Judd), a town favorite who has never found the right guy. When tragedy forces Ave Maria to reevaluate her priorities, it sets her off on an adventure that may not even necessitate her actually leaving her teensy Blue Ridge Mountains tone.
“Knock Knock” (October 9)
Featuring an enjoyably ridiculous Keanu Reeves performance and some clever stabs at satirizing white collar America, Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock” has an uneven tone and many ridiculous twists that never quite gel, and yet it’s so eager to please that it’s hard not roll with the absurd depravity on display — which has been the essence of Roth’s appeal from the outset. Culled from the 1977 exploitation movie “Death Game,” the sexually-charged home invasion thriller stars Reeves as Evan, an established architect who enjoys a cozy family life with his wife and two young children. But when the rest of his brood leaves town for a two-night vacation, the good-natured Evan stays home and winds up with some unexpected visitors in the middle of a punishing storm: A pair of eerily seductive young women, Genesis and Bel (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas), who claim they’ve lost their way to a party. Suffice to say, not all goes well.
“Victoria” (October 9)
The tagline for Sebastian Schipper’s extraordinary heist drama “Victoria” reads, “One girl. One city. One night. One Take.” The film is a single 140-minute take that travels through the streets of Berlin as our protagonist (Laia Costa) falls into cahoots with a group of four men who end up needing her help. While the execution will certainly draw comparisons to last year’s Oscar-winning “Birdman,” the way Schipper uses the narrative device is vastly different — far more subtle and far more powerful in its visceral ability to bring you right into the titular character’s predicament. Deftly balancing an emotionally effective romance with the tense suspense of the heist genre, the drama is a singular experience that never stops surprising in both its story and character work. Best of all, Victoria becomes a wholly refreshing heroine in the hands of Costa — a woman who is subject to her emotions while still being a strong-willed, independent thrillseeker. Come for the one take, stay for Costa’s triumphant performance.
“Room” (October 16)
Brie Larson took the indie world by storm in 2013 with her acclaimed, Gotham Award-winning performance in “Short Term 12,” and she’s about to do it once more with her resonant work in “Room.” Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her bestselling novel of the same name, the drama centers around a mother and her five-year-old son (outstanding newcomer Jacob Tremblay) who have been living in captivity in a small room for a number of years. Fans have long thought the book was impossible to translate to the big screen, but director Lenny Abrahamson, who last showed an assured vision behind the camera in “Frank,” reached out to Donoghue directly to convince her of the novel’s cinematic possibilities. As fans of the book already know, the finished result is a powerfully moving drama about the bonds between mother and son.
“Truth” (October 16)
“Truth” was one of the bigger question marks of the fall season thanks to its undeniably strong cast — Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace and Bruce Greenwood — but untested director, James Vanderbilt. Luckily, its well-received premieres at Telluride and TIFF put fears to rest, and it seems the same kind of journalistic integrity Vanderbilt brought to the screenplay of David Fincher’s “Zodiac” has been preserved for his directorial debut. The drama depicts the 2004 controversy known as Rathergate, wherein CBS News anchor Dan Rather falsely reported on “60 Minutes” that George W. Bush had gone AWOL during the Vietnam War. The ensuing firestorm shook CBS News to its core and forced Rather to resign. While Redford turns in yet another triumphant late-career performance, the movie ultimately belongs to Cate Blanchett, whose blazing screen presence as producer Mary Mapes elevates the entire film singlehandedly.
“Cut Snake” (October 16)
Australian filmmaker Tony Ayres (“Walking on Water”) is back behind the camera after the ill-fated NBC miniseries “The Slap” for revenge thriller “Cut Snake,” starring Alex Russell and Sullivan Stapleton. Russell stars as Sparra, an ex-convict who tries to leave his criminal past behind and start anew. When he becomes engaged and starts a new life with his fiancee, Sparra’s old cellmate, Pommie (Stapleton, sporting the same intense grin he brings to Cinemax’s “Strike Back”), draws him back into the life of crime and challenges the new life he was creating for himself. The movie premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and will finally hit theaters this month, bringing assured character work and intense emotion to a rather straightforward story about returning to one’s criminal roots.
“I Smile Back” (October 23)
Audiences know Sarah Silverman best as the fearless R-rated comedian who loves a good dirty joke, but that’s all about to change thanks to Adam Salky’s “I Smile Back.” The actress shocked audiences at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year with her breakthrough dramatic performance in the film, which follows a suburban wife as her depression and disillusionment threaten to destroy her seemingly perfect life. Within the first 20 or so minutes of this harrowing drama, based on the 2008 novel by Amy Koppelman, Silverman’s Laney goes on a drug and alcohol fueled rampage that causes her husband (Josh Charles) to check her into rehab. Silverman is astonishing in the role, fearless in her portrayal of a woman on the verge of self destruction. Don’t miss it.
“Suffragette” (October 23)
Featuring a stacked cast of female talent in front of and behind the camera, Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette” is a lightly fictionalized look at the beginning of the feminist movement in the UK. Starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Romola Garai, the girl power vibe in this one is strong, just as it should be. Penned by “Shame” and “The Iron Lady” scribe Abi Morgan, the film boldly threads together the personal and the political to provide a fuller look at the battles waged in the early part of the suffragette movement by unstoppable women who fought to be heard. With a fearless Mulligan front and center, “Suffragette” has a vulnerable undercurrent that only enhances its timeless protest.
“Bone Tomahawk” (October 23)
Marking the first title released under the RLJ Entertainment brand, S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is a fusion of the Western and horror genres that features an unforgettable cast, led by Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson. Russell, who is in the midst of quite a career resurgence as of late, plays Sheriff Franklin Hunt, the leader of an unlikely team of gunslingers who set out on a mission to find and return townspeople who have been kidnapped by a group of cannibal savages. Defined by its rampant imagination and clever alternations to the traditional genres in which it proudly operates in, “Bone Tomahawk” is one of the strongest genre entries the month has to offer, and an inventive title for the Halloween season.
“Our Brand is Crisis” (October 30)
Indie darling David Gordon Green has dipped his toe in star-packed fare before, but the results have been widely mixed, with “Pineapple Express” sparking to audiences, while both “The Sitter” and “Your Highness” fell mostly flat. Despite Green’s own interest in broader comedies, he finally marries his earlier dramatic sensibilities with pointed humor in “Our Brand is Crisis.” Based on the documentary of the same name, Green’s latest centers on political campaign maneuvering in South America, as headed up by Sandra Bullock as fixer “Calamity” Jane Bodine. A strong supporting cast, including Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan, further ups the film’s cred, giving Green the chance to shine in the studio space. While it may come off as a diet version of Pablo Larraín’s “No,” the film ultimately belongs to Bullock’s impressive performance, once again proving she’s one of the most relatable and comedically sharp performers in the business.
“The Wonders” (October 30)
Alice Rohrwacher’s latest walked away from Cannes with a Grand Jury Prize, a Palme d’Or nomination and plenty of lavished and very well-deserved praise. Loosely based on the filmmaker’s own life, “The Wonders” stars Rohrwacher’s own sister Alba (who recently stunned audiences with her turn in the jarring “Hungry Hearts”) as a version of the pair’s own mother. The family-centric drama is mostly concerned with telling an intimate family story, but Rohrwacher’s eye for details and lush lensing also makes it a feast for the eyes, as well as the heart.