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25 Indie Films and Festival Favorites to See This Season, From ‘mother!’ to ‘Call Me By Your Name’

Plus: New films from del Toro, Anderson, Dayton & Faris, Allen, Sorkin, Linklater, and many more.

All this week, IndieWire is rolling out our annual Fall Preview, including the very best indie cinema has to offer, all the awards contenders you need to know about, and even blockbuster fare that seems poised to please the most discerning tastes, all with an eye towards introducing you to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed fall movie-going season. Check back every day for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up. First up: indie films and festival favorites. 

“mother!” (September 15)

"mother!"

“mother!”

The return of Darren Aronofsky should be enough to get any cinephile back to the theater, but the fact that “mother!” has remained so secretive with just under a month to go has only made anticipation higher. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a couple whose lives are upended by the arrival of unexpected guests to their home. Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are two of those unwelcome visitors, and additional cast members include Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig. Aronofsky was last in theaters with the Biblical epic “Noah,” but “mother!” appears to be more in the tradition of “Black Swan” in that it’s a psychological horror film that forces its characters into a hellish reality. If all goes according to plan, “mother!” should have no problem being the fall season’s powder keg. -Zack Sharf

“Brad’s Status” (September 15)

"Brad's Status"

“Brad’s Status”

Mike White is a writer who has made a career from finding the sweet spot between painful awkwardness and touching humor in his characters’ journeys of self-discovery. His writing has always required a like-minded director with a gentle touch to avoid the stories from falling in traps of being too ironic or saccharine, with Richard Linklater (“School of Rock”) and frequent collaborator Miguel Arteta (“Chuck and Buck,” “Beatriz at Dinner”) finding the warmth and sincerity in White’s quirkiness. This time around, the creator of HBO’s cancelled-too-soon “Enlightened” — White having directed six episodes himself — is returning behind the camera for his second feature as a director after his 2007 Molly Shannon-led indie “Year of the Dog.” “Brad’s Status” is a mid-life crisis comedy that finds Brad (Ben Stiller), a father with a reasonably comfortable existence in California, confronting his feelings of failure while taking his son on a tour of prestigious eastern colleges. With Annapurna distributing and Amazon hopping on to co-finance the Plan B production, White is being backed by three entities responsible for supporting some the best filmmakers and films of the last few years, which could be a sign this is a project that propels White’s career to a new level. -Chris O’Falt

“Battle of the Sexes” (September 22)

“Battle of the Sexes”

Fresh off her Oscar win, Emma Stone returns to awards season opposite Steve Carell in a based-on-fact movie that has the Golden Globe for Best Picture — Musical or Comedy written all over it. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, but one imagines that “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris will make the literal and verbal back-and-forth between their leads as entertaining as the tennis match that “Battle of Sexes” is based on. Said contest, which took place between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973, was watched by some 90 million people and was a watershed moment for women’s tennis; the ending may be spoiled by the premise, but that doesn’t mean that watching it reach game, set, match won’t be worthwhile. -Michael Nordine

“Stronger” (September 22)

Tatiana Maslanay and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Stronger"

“Stronger”

David Gordon Green’s career trajectory continues to confound, often in good ways. The indie stalwart, who made a name for himself with “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls” before transitioning into stoner comedies like “Pineapple Express,” is in full-on prestige-picture mode with his latest. Based on the memoir of one of the Boston Marathon bombing’s most famous survivors, “Stronger” stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany in what looks to be a wrenching drama. The material may be ripe for sentimentality, but we’d rather see it in Green’s hands than almost anyone else’s. -MN

“Victoria and Abdul” (September 22)

“Victoria and Abdul”

Stephen Frears is no stranger to historical dramas, having recently made films about ruling-class aspiring opera singers and the forgotten stories of women forced into the most impossible of situations. This fall, the director is heading back to the realm of royalty with a story of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a royal servant who worked for the crown in the latter part of the 19th century. “Billy Elliot” and “War Horse” screenwriter Lee Hall adapted the script from Shrabani Basu’s 2010 book of the same name, which follows the friendship up until and through Victoria’s death in 1901. Judi Dench and Ali Fazal star as the title characters, alongside Olivia Williams, Eddie Izzard, and the late Tim-Pigott Smith. -Steve Greene

“Lucky” (September 29)

Harry Dean Stanton Lucky

“Lucky”

“Lucky” represents a unique relationship between two distinct, distinguished actors. Legendary screen figure Harry Dean Stanton is front and center as a man on a meditative journey, facing the possible end of his life. John Carroll Lynch, known for roles in “Zodiac,” “The Invitation,” and “Jackie,” takes his first turn behind the camera. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich described in his SXSW review that the film opens “as a broad comedy before blossoming into a wry meditation on death and all the things we leave behind.” Set against the same kind of desert landscapes that framed parts of Stanton’s signature performance in “Paris, Texas,” it’s a fitting late-career statement for one performer as another begins a new career of his own. -SG

“Abundant Acreage Available” (September 29)

“Abundant Acreage Available”

If “Abundant Acreage Available” didn’t have closeups or outdoor scenes, it could have been filmed theater. Writer-director Angus MacLachlan’s second feature focuses on grown siblings Tracy (Amy Ryan) and Jesse (Terry Kinney) in the immediate aftermath of their father’s death. Stuck with his expansive farmland, they’re unsure what to do next, until the arrival of three older men who knew the deceased stake a claim to it. Set in a single location with a cast of five, the movie offers a lesson in minimalist drama, unfolding as a sharply acted mood piece that never crescendos, but hums along with wise observations and first-rate performances. Among these, Ryan stands out with one of her finest roles to date, as a fierce, lonely woman at once committed to alienating the world around her and eager for a companion with whom to share her pain. -Eric Kohn

“The Florida Project” (October 6)

“The Florida Project”

Sean Baker’s much anticipated follow-up to iPhone movie “Tangerine” was the hot acquisition at Cannes, scooped up by “Moonlight” distributor A24, which will build awareness for it on the fall festival circuit. This time, Baker shot his naturalistic portrait of outsiders living on the margins of society in 35 days on 35mm. The film is set on a strip of Orlando’s budget motels on Route 92, just a mile away from Disney World. These relics of the ’50s and ’60s were once designed to lure tourists, but now teem with families on the edge. Instead of E-rides, the kids find their fun spitting on cars, peeking at topless bathers, stalking grazing cows, and panhandling for soft-serve ice cream to slurp before it melts in the blazing heat. Six-year-old Monee (Brooklynn Prince) is the focus of this slice-of-life movie, which relies on local casting and Instagram discovery Bria Vinaite as her loving but volatile ex-stripper mother Halley, who scrapes together her rent money every week, selling wholesale perfume at a nearby tourist hotel. Baker, working closely with kids’ coach Samantha Quan, encouraged both the adults and the children to improvise, using the Hal Roach “Our Gang” shorts as a model of what he wanted to achieve, along with considerable profanity. The movie builds dread, concern, and anxiety for the kids, while navigating between joyful fun and obnoxiousness. Baker asked Vinaite to stand up to two-time-Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, whose frustrated but humane motel manager is the glue that holds together this poverty-row drama. He’s the closest thing to a father figure and civilizing force these marginal characters will ever know, and could earn his third Oscar nomination. -Anne Thompson

 

“Marshall” (October 13)

“Marshall”

The story of the court case that put future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) on the map when he was then a young NAACP lawyer follows Marshall as he goes to Connecticut to defend an African American chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) against sexual assault charges from his employer (Kate Hudson). The film would not appear to be cut from a nostalgic “Young Mr. Lincoln” cloth, as the film’s hard-driving trailer shows Boseman and director Reginald Hudlin portraying young Marshall as a fierce, undeterred fighter unwilling to back down from any kind of fight in his mission to force progress. The film looks like a welcome raucous reprieve from the genteel, polite period pieces in which African Americans quietly learn their place in a deeply racist society. Josh Gad plays the inexperienced Jewish lawyer who must front the case as Marshall is not only the brains and moral compass navigating the watershed case, he must also play detective and find out what really happened the night in question as his defendant appears to be hiding the truth. -CO

“Wonderstruck” (October 20)

Millicent Simonds Wonderstruck

“Wonderstruck”

Don’t be fooled that his latest feature is a hyper-faithful adaptation of a half-illustrated children’s novel by “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” author Brian Selznick — “Wonderstruck” is nothing if not a Todd Haynes movie. And it’s an exquisite one, at that. Fresh off the greatest triumph of his career, the “Carol” director is still operating near the peak of his powers, returning to cinemas with an immaculately crafted fable about the ways in which people of all ages learn to break out of their bodies and connect with the world. Split between two time periods and shot to perfection by Haynes’ usual cinematographer Edward Lachman, this mesmerizing and open-hearted drama charts the parallel journeys of two deaf pre-teens — one in 1927, the other in 1977 — as they follow the treasure maps of their personal histories in search of a place where they might belong, a gap that they were born to close. Julianne Moore eventually factors into it somehow, but we’d hate to reveal how. Trust us, you’re going to want to find out for yourself. -David Ehrlich

“Novitiate” (October 27)

“Novitiate”

Maggie Betts’ feature debut didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved at this year’s Sundance, where it premiered amongst a predictably crowded field, but those who did see it (including Sony Pictures Classics, who snapped it up at the fest) were richly rewarded. The film traces the journey of the starry-eyed Cathleen (a breakout Margaret Qualley), which begins in parochial school when a nun explains that the Catholic faith is different from all others because it’s built on the twin pillars of love and sacrifice. Combine that with the sense of peace that she gains from the church, and boom: This is a lovesick teenage girl, and Cathleen’s beloved is no less than God. As the decrees of Vatican II begin to forever alter the world of nuns, Cathleen and her cohorts grapple with the meaning of faith, while Melissa Leo’s frantic Mother Superior turns in yet another god-level supporting performance. -Kate Erbland

“Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” (October 27)

“Professor Marston & The Wonder Women”

Annapurna/Sony Worldwide

What in goddess’ name did we ever do to get so lucky to land not one, but two movies about Wonder Woman in a single calendar year? Sure, Angela Robinson’s fact-based biopic isn’t the same kind of splashy superhero outing that Patty Jenkins gifted us with this summer, but it looks to offer up its own special brand of insights and delights. Starring Luke Evans as William Moulton Marston, the film promises to delve into the author and psychologist’s complicated personal and professional life, and how it spawned the creation of one of the world’s most beloved heroines. How complicated? Robinson’s feature, an Annapura release, also stars Rebecca Hall as his wife Elizabeth and Bella Heathcote as his lover Olive. Both women are credited with helping him conceive of Wonder Woman, and their stories alone are worthy of a film. -KE

“The Square” (October 27)

“The Square”

For those of us who loved 2014’s “Force Majeure,” director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning follow-up cannot get here soon enough. “The Square” finds Östlund once again posing tricky moral questions in painting his satire, this time centered around the art world. Based partially on an real life art installation Östlund created years ago, the film focuses on the chaos that ensues when a curator hires a public relations firm to promote the new work. Unlike the narrative and thematic laser-like focus of “Force Majeure,” the filmmaker’s latest is working with many story threads and themes. Opinions out of Cannes were sharply divided as to if the director was able to pull them all together into a cohesive whole (obviously, the Pedro Almodovar-led jury thought he did), but everyone agreed the film was a tour de force that demonstrated Östlund’s is a massive talent with cinematic ideas to burn. -CO

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (October 27)

Colin Farrell in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER by Yorgos Lanthimos

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Yorgos Lanthimos earned a ton of new devotees with “The Lobster,” but nothing can prepare even the biggest Lanthimos admirer for the twisted vision of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” The movie divided critics at Cannes and proved Lanthimos has one of the most singular voices in film right now. Colin Farrell stars as a prominent surgeon who is forced to make a terrible decision after he takes a teenage boy under his wings whose actions grow sinister. Nicole Kidman co-stars as Farrell’s wife, but it’s the young breakout Barry Keoghan whose name everyone will be talking about. After starring in a crucial supporting role in “Dunkirk” this summer, Keoghan is on his way to becoming a fixture on the indie film circuit. -ZS

On the next page, the best indie offerings of November and December. 

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