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35 Must-See New Movies to See This Fall Season

From select theatrical releases to VOD and virtual cinema offerings, this season promises to be different in many ways. One thing that hasn't changed: a wide selection of the best 2020 has to offer.

“A Call to Spy” (October 2, select theaters and on demand)

Women rule the upcoming IFC Films release “A Call to Spy,” a World War II espionage thriller from Oscar-nominated director Lydia Dean Pilcher. Not only is the narrative centered on Winston Churchill’s female recruits thrust into a bold mission, but the production team is also dominated by women throughout. The film kicks off at the beginning of WWII, with a diverse group of female spies ranging from a Muslim pacifist to a wooden-legged American, sent to do sabotage and build a resistance against the Nazi regime in France. Director Lydia Dean Pilcher is an Academy Award nominee for 2014’s “Cutie and the Boxer,” which she produced. —RL

“Save Yourselves!” (October 2, select theaters; October 6, VOD)

If you’re sick of hearing how every film is “timely” or “prophetic” during these strange times, we beg you: give the comedic stylings of the exceedingly timely and prophetic “Save Yourselves!” a chance. At least you’ll have something to laugh about, if only for 93 zippy minutes. Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s crowd-pleasing sci-fi comedy doesn’t stick the landing, but man, is it a fun ride.

Convinced — and rightly so — that their relatable obsessions with their phones and their laptops and the dueling ease and evil of the internet at large is keeping them from being better people (and a better couple), Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) cook up a plan to save themselves. They’ll turn their phones off, albeit temporarily, to head out on a week-long trip to upstate New York in hopes of growing closer, healing their broken brains, and reconnecting with something (anything) that doesn’t have a power cord attached to it. It’s all fun and games (and, yes, boredom) until the twosome are faced with a horrifying truth on their weekend away: the world is under attack, and they need to figure out a way to, well, save themselves. Can they? Hell, can anyone? —KE

“Dick Johnson Is Dead” (October 2, streaming on Netflix)

The title of “Dick Johnson Is Dead” doesn’t lie, but it’s not exactly truthful, either. Dick Johnson dies many times in his daughter Kirsten’s poignant and personal documentary, starting with the opening credits. And yet he’s very much alive the whole time, playacting in an elaborate form of cinematic therapy with his filmmaker offspring as she wrestles with the anxiety of losing him.

That concept could easily devolve into a navel-gazing exercise, but Kirsten Johnson — the veteran nonfiction cinematographer who directed 2016’s wondrous collage film “Cameraperson” — enacts a touching and funny meditation on embracing life and fearing death at the same time. Oscillating from intimate father-daughter exchanges to surreal meta-fictional tangents, the movie lives within its riveting paradox, reflecting the queasy uncertainty surrounding its subject’s fate.—EK

A still from Time by Ursula Garrett Bradley, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Time”

Amazon Studios

“Time” (October 9, select theaters)

Documentaries often tackle big, important issues, but few nonfiction filmmakers manage to bring such personal artistry to their social consciousness like director Garrett Bradley achieves in her latest feature, which debuted at Sundance in January. In telling the story of Fox Rich’s arc toward activism — fighting to get her husband out of jail while raising their six children — Bradley has found the perfect partner and canvas for her unique political poetry.

A story of a seemingly impossible love, “Time” is a film stripped down to its cinematic and spiritual essence, allowing the audience an emotional window into the deep pain of our rotting justice system and the resilience it demands to survive it. Weaving Rich’s treasure trove of DV home movies with her own distinct black and white compositions, Bradley finds a structure that lets Rich’s story flow like water. In Bradley’s short “America,” she showcased a beautiful re-imagining of African-American big screen representation, and with “Time” she is poised to break out and become one of the most exciting voices pushing nonfiction cinema somewhere truly new. —CO

“The 40-Year-Old Version” (October 9, streaming on Netflix)

The essence of “The 40-Year-Old Version” comes early, when Radha Blank, playing a fictionalized version of herself, sobs in the corner of her apartment. A soggy rib dangles from one hand as her large frame melts into her chair. “I just wanna be an artist!” she cries, touching on the legitimate anxieties of the black woman at its center, and poking fun at them at the same time. Much about Blank’s smart and funny crowdpleasing directorial debut negotiates that tricky balance, with a scrappy riff on real-world frustrations about the impact of race and age on the storytelling process.

Shot throughout New York with gorgeous black-and-white photography (by “Clemency” cinematographer Eric Branco), “The 40-Year-Old Version” always feels close to the ground, with Blank’s uneven path to writing a new play — and finding unexpected catharsis in hip hop — taking a series of entertaining twists. At 129 minutes, the lighthearted format risks growing stale, and certainly could have shaved off some perfunctory scenes. But Blank is so adroit at populating her story with shrewd observations and her own infectious personality that even its loose structure vibes with the nature of the movie, which maintains the rascally energy of an early Spike Lee joint while channeling a fresh new voice. —EK

Martin Eden

“Martin Eden”

“Martin Eden” (October 16, select theaters and virtual cinemas)

Veteran Italian documentarian Pietro Marcello (whose surreal, lyrical work includes “Lost and Beautiful”) has delivered his first entirely narrative effort with this innovative adaptation of Jack London’s novel. The filmmaker recontextualizes the author’s semi-autobiographical story of early 20th century experiences in an unspecified period in Italian history, where the titular sailor (Luca Marinelli) goes from a class-spanning romance to become an ostracized writer at the center of hot-headed intellectual showdowns in a divided Europe.

The 16mm film won fans last fall on the festival circuit, where its ambiguous timeline and and complex historical reference points provoked the same sort of fierce debate captured in the film. Writing from the Venice Film Festival last fall, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called it “a dreamy and surprisingly faithful adaptation made with more than 100 years of hindsight” where “the anger is palpable.” Released stateside in these divisive times, this century-old story might just hit the zeitgeist. —EK

“Shithouse” (October 16, select theaters and on demand)

It’s a shame that Cooper Raiff’s “Shithouse” didn’t get a chance to screen at this year’s SXSW, because this knowing and funny nano-budget debut is exactly the kind of film the Austin festival exists to showcase. And that’s all the more true because it sounds like such a potential nightmare on paper: Written, directed, and co-edited by its reluctant 22-year-old star with some help from his friends, Raiff’s vulnerable DIY gem tells a coming-of-age story about a mopey college freshman who’s struggling with the whiplash of leaving home.

He meets a girl, they spend a magical night together, things get awkward in the morning but maybe they’ll still be able to help each other figure shit out… you know how it goes. It’s basically the Platonic ideal of the movie you’d expect from a suburban white American softboy who’s been raised on Richard Linklater and “Sex Education.” After winning the SXSW grand jury prize, “Shithouse” was acquired by IFC Films. —DE

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (October 16, streaming on Netflix)

Nothing epitomized late ’60s iconoclasm like the trial of the Chicago Seven, a high-profile courtroom showdown between vindictive government forces and the righteous men who opposed its corruption. The nearly five-month proceedings were so loaded with histrionic grandstanding they practically anticipated the movie Aaron Sorkin would make five decades later. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is exactly as advertised — a giant, giddy burst of earnest theatricality, loaded with a formidable ensemble that chews on every inch of the scenery, that overall makes a passionate case for the resilience of its formula more than using it as an excuse.

Of course, Sorkin practically rejuvenated that formula by writing the fiery confrontations of “A Few Good Men” almost 30 years ago, and here directs his own blunt, energetic screenplay with the convictions of a storyteller fully committed to the tropes at hand. It works well enough in part because the trial lends itself to such artifice: When the government charged an eclectic blend of stoned rebels and non-violent anti-war protesters with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the resulting charade bordered on performance art. —EK

“Rebecca” (October 21, streaming on Netflix)

Dame Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic novel “Rebecca” is best known for its Oscar-winning Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, but the master of suspense doesn’t have a monopoly on it. With films like “Sightseers” and “Kill List,” Ben Wheatley has emerged as one of the U.K.’s most enjoyable black comedy auteurs, so his spin on this drama about a woman who marries a wealthy man and contends with the ghostly presence of his dead wife is more than welcome.

The Netflix production (co-scripted by “Kick-Ass” and “Kingsman” writer Jane Goldman) co-stars Lily James and Armie Hammer as the central couple, with Kristen Scott Thomas (as the wicked housekeeper Mrs. Danvers), Sam Riley, and Ann Dowd among the supporting roles. The new version takes place in Manderlay, against the backdrop of the English coast. Expect a slick and elegant refashioning of the material with surprises to spare. It’s too early to say if this “Rebecca” could obtain the classic status that Hitchcock’s has accrued over the years, but never underestimate Wheatley’s ability to direct his viewers in shocking and memorable directions. —EK 

“Borat 2” (October 23, streaming on Amazon Prime Video)

The surprise sequel to the 2006 blockbuster comedy was one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets for months, even as star Sacha Baron Cohen has been popping up in the news over the last several months for public pranks, leading many fans to speculate as to whether or not he was cooking up something new. At the end of June, Cohen made headlines for crashing a far-right rally in Olympia, Washington and convincing the crowd to sing a racist song with him. The event was a “March for Our Rights 3” rally organized by the Washington Three Percenters, a far-right militia group known for its gun advocacy. Cohen appeared dressed in overalls and a fake beard, and his song included lyrics about injecting kids with the “Wuhan flu.”

The sequel is reportedly titled “Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan.” As always, Cohen risked his life to shoot the project in secret. Deadline reports the comedian had to wear a bulletproof vest on two different shooting days to stay safe in case a scenario got out of hand. —ZS

Check out the rest of the fall preview, including selections for November and December, on the next page.

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