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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. 

“Last Flag Flying” (November 3)

“Last Flag Flying”

Amazon Studios / Wilson Webb

In “Boyhood,” director’s Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Darryl Ponicsan’s 2005 sequel to “The Last Detail,” Bryan Cranston plays an older version of Jack Nicholson’s character, which could well yield his second Oscar nomination after “Trumbo.” Nicholson earned an Oscar nomination for his colorful performance in Hal Ashby’s 1973 film as a Navy sailor whose escorts (Oscar nominee Randy Quaid and Otis Young) show him a good time en route to prison. Road trip drama “Last Flag Flying” picks up with the characters of “The Last Detail” decades later as three Vietnam Navy veterans who reunite to bury one of their sons, an Iraq soldier. Carell takes the role originally played by Quaid, with Fishburne picking up for Young. -AT

“Lady Bird” (November 10)

With “Lady Bird,” brainy actress and screenwriter Greta Gerwig is finally making her solo directorial debut after her collaborations with Noah Baumbach on “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” and co-directing “Nights and Weekends” with Joe Swanberg. The semi-autobiographical relationship comedy stars twice-nominated Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “Brooklyn”) as Christine McPherson (a.k.a. Lady Bird, no relationship with the wife of LBJ), a rebellious student at a conservative Catholic Sacramento high school who wants to escape her family and small town constraints to go to college in New York. Laurie Metcalf costars as her complicated mother, along with Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein. Scott Rudin produced, and A24 is taking the film to fall festivals. -AT

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (November 10)

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Fox Searchlight

Martin McDonagh has only made two features, but “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” are so ingeniously written and performed that he’s become something of a fan favorite for indie cinephiles. After a five-year hiatus, McDonagh returns with a fiery Frances McDormand in this story of a woman who takes matter into her own hands after the local police refuse to close the case involving her murdered child. The all-star cast includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Peter Dinklage, but it’s really McDonagh’s acerbic dialogue and outrageous scenarios that should make “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” one of the breakout hits for adults this fall. -ZS

“Molly’s Game” (November 22)

Love him or hate him, you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer in Hollywood with a more recognizable voice than Aaron Sorkin. His facility with whipsmart, fast-paced dialogue earned him an Academy Award for “The Social Network,” and for his eighth feature screenplay, he will step into the director’s chair for the first time. Based on the bestselling memoir of the same name, “Molly’s Game” tells the story of former Olympic skiing hopeful Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who finds herself running a high-stakes poker game that involves Hollywood elites, business moguls, and Russian mobsters. After she is arrested by the FBI for her mob connections, Molly hires a criminal defense attorney (Idris Elba), who discovers there is more to her than meets the eye. Given an awards-friendly November release date by STX Entertainment, “Molly’s Game” has all the elements in place to generate Oscar buzz. The combined star power of Chastain and Elba will be a sight to behold, and the true crime story with a heart of gold is exactly the kind of yarn Sorkin loves to weave. The only mystery is whether his directing skills are any match for his writing. -Jude Dry

“Call Me By Your Name” (November 24)

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

“Call Me By Your Name”

Sundance

A feverish love story that premiered during one of the fiercest blizzards in Sundance history, “Call Me By Your Name” started 2017 on a deliriously high note, and it still ranks among the very, very (very) best films of the year. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”) with all of his usual cool and adapted from André Aciman’s beloved 2007 novel of the same name, this heart-wrenchingly beautiful romance takes place on an idyllic Italian island during the summer of 1983. Timothée Chalamet stars as Elio, a 17-year-old American virgin who’s scrawny enough to be mistaken for a child but sophisticated enough to be mistaken for a man. Elio starts to mature real fast when he meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), an older man whose body is as big as any one of the ancient statues that have been dredged up from the local seas. It’s thrilling to watch Elio and Oliver grow closer as the season sinks toward its dog days, but the film is at its most sensitive (and most soulful) when they start to move apart. Shot with immeasurable sensuality by Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Arabian Nights”), “Call Me By Your Name” is a life-changing film that submits all of its beauties to the service of one simple truth: The more we change, the more we become who we are. -DE

“Mary Magdalene” (November 24)

Garth Davis was one of the breakout directors of the 2016-17 awards season thanks to the success of “Lion,” which earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Davis missed out on a Best Director nomination, but he was recognized by the Directors Guild of America with a nomination and a win for Best First Feature. Expect to see Davis’ name back in the running this year with the Biblical drama “Mary Magdalene,” starring the formidable pairing of Rooney Mara in the title role and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. With The Weinstein Company and cinematographer Greig Fraser re-teaming with “Davis” after “Lion,” the new movie has all the makings on paper of a fall season hit. -ZS

“Wonder Wheel” (December 1)

“Wonder Wheel”

Scheduled for release on his 82nd birthday, Woody Allen’s latest is a rare Brooklyn tale from the former Flatbush boy. “Wonder Wheel” takes place in Coney Island during the 1950s, when Allen would have been a teenager who undoubtedly spent time at the borough’s most famous attraction. Amazon has yet to release an official synopsis, but the film stars Kate Winslet as a waitress in a clam house, who is married to a carousel operator (Jim Belushi), and falls in love with a handsome lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). Juno Temple, Debi Mazar, and Max Casella also star. Early photos show Winslet and Timberlake in charming period costumes strolling along the iconic boardwalk. Allen films can be a grab bag these days, but hopefully “Wonder Wheel” will give Winslet her “Blue Jasmine” moment. “Wonder Wheel” will premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 14 before its December release. -JD

“The Disaster Artist” (December 8)

“The Disaster Artist”

Courtesy of A24

James Franco was born to play aspirational filmmaker/actor/performer Tommy Wisseau, the enigmatic, accented director of cult phenom “The Room,” aka the worst movie in modern history. But nobody could’ve predicted that Franco was born to direct that story, too. Unquestionably his best filmmaking achievement to date, Franco’s just as good in front of the camera in this tragicomic behind-the-scenes portrait of Wisseau’s outlandish determination to bring his awful vision to the big screen. Even if you don’t know the inspiration for the story, “The Room” is a surprisingly touching crowdpleaser about the hubris of creative impulses, both good and bad, and it’s bound to generate a few new fans of “The Room” phenomenon as well. -EK

“The Shape of Water” (December 8)

“The Shape of Water”

Jaw-dropping might be a word employed too often when it comes to trailers, but the first images from Guillermo del Toro’s next feature, “The Shape of Water,” are truly stunning. Set in Cold War-era America, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a lonely janitorial worker, uncovers a government secret: a fish-human hybrid being kept for experimentation. Elisa forges a connection with the creature, which sets her at odds with everyone around her. “The Shape of Water” will certainly draw comparisons to “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but the trailer also calls to mind the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. And while fans of the “BioShock” video game series may not have gotten a Gore Verbinski film, hints of Rapture can be seen in the cold tile laboratory setting. Most of all, the creature, played by long-time del Toro collaborator Doug Jones, is stunning and another testament to del Toro’s uncanny ability to bring fairy tales to life, and still make them believable and breathtaking enough for adults. December really can’t come soon enough. -Jamie Righetti

“Happy End” (December 22)

"Happy End" Michael Haneke Isabelle Huppert

“Happy End”

Les Films du Losange

Michael Haneke is no stranger to unlikable characters trapped by their despair, but “Happy End” may be the most extreme version of that vision to date. The Austrian director’s followup to “Amour” is a pointed, fatalistic look at festering anger percolating throughout a wealthy European family in which nobody seems capable of feeling good about themselves, each other, or the world in general. The story finds several generations arguing about infidelity and job expectations in a constant cycle that never slows down. Some critics resisted this consistency from the Austrian director, but it’s actually a remarkable show of confidence from the 75-year-old storyteller, one that illustrates his tight control over performances (which include enjoyably nasty turns by Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant and newcomer Fantine Harduin) and his modern perspective. With plot threads that include sexting and smartphones, the narrative careens through a series of grim circumstances as it illustrates the self-destructive tendencies inherent to modern bourgeois life. Yet there is also an undercurrent of black comedy to Haneke’s approach, a wry sense of calculation to the way he sets up his characters for engineering their own dissatisfaction. “Amour” was a comparatively gentler look at an aging couple facing their mortality; “Happy End,” which borrows some names and circumstances from that earlier work, proves that Haneke’s dour filmmaking vision shows no sign of brightening up. For his fans — and there are many of us — that’s great news. -EK

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film (December 25)

Every time Paul Thomas Anderson is working on a new movie, it quietly gains momentum in the background as the rest of the film world continues along its business, until the hype machine gets so loud that it drowns out everything else. This year is no exception. PTA has been pushing along his secretive tale about the fashion world in ’50s-era London for what feels like eons, and there’s a strong chance it won’t play at any festivals before it opens Christmas Day. But while this allegedly very sensual, very British movie that finds its protagonist assigned to design outfits for the royal family already held plenty of intrigue, it became the atom bomb of the fall season once the actor playing that dressmaker, Daniel Day-Lewis, announced his impending retirement. Now, it’s not only an intriguing new entry in PTA’s distinctive approach to major historical periods through a personal lens; it’s also a farewell from one of the greatest actors of all time, and thus a historic event unto itself. -EK

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