So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.
Flying cars, renegade androids, skyscraper-sized advertisements: Although Ridley Scott only produced this long-awaited sequel to his seminal science-fiction noir, the future is basically as he left it. Directed by French-Canadian genre pro Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), Blade Runner 2049 entrusts the actual blade running to Ryan Gosling, hunting robots three decades after Rick Deckard turned in his badge and trench coat. But don’t worry: As the trailers couldn’t resist revealing, Harrison Ford makes a predictably cranky appearance.
Will it be worth your time? Part of the enduring appeal of Scott’s 1982 original is how it unveiled only a small geographic corner of its dystopia, encouraging audiences to mentally fill in the rest. Blade Runner 2049’s wider view just can’t compete with the 35 years of world-building happening in fans’ heads. But on a purely visual level, this moody, nearly three-hour franchise revival is more impressive than any movie released this year; the great cinematographer Roger Deakins offers one staggering image after another. For the eye-candy alone, it was worth the wait.
Two strangers find themselves stranded after their charter plane crashes in the Rockies in this adaptation of a romance novel by Charles Martin. One is an American photographer (Kate Winslet) who was on her way to her wedding, the other’s a prickly English surgeon (Idris Elba) due to operate the next day. The script, co-written by schmaltzmeister J. Mills Goodloe (The Age Of Adaline, The Best Of Me, Everything, Everything), attempts to refashion the source material into a wilderness survival drama by toning down the ludicrousness, though most of the suspense comes down to the question of how long it will take these two high-altitude castaways to fuck.
Will it be worth your time? Director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Idol) puts his limited talent into conveying the scale of the snow-covered mountain landscape, but no amount of arty white space can overcome the fact that The Mountain Between Us is every bit as clumsy and mawkish as its title.
The happy-go-lucky principality of Equestria, populated by talking, big-eyed ponies with names like mixed drinks, is invaded by assorted goat- and hyena-faced things in this feature spin-off of the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic; it might seem too late in the game for a big-screen outing, but, hey, this stuff still sells. While the trailer emphasizes the star cameos (Sia as a pony, Zoe Saldana as a pirate parrot, Taye Diggs as some kind of 1970s anime cat, etc.) and increased animation budget, the principal voice cast are veterans of the series, as are director Jayson Thiessen and writer Meghan McCarthy.
Will it be worth your time? A reboot of an ’80s toy cartoon, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic became a crossover success thanks to its above-average writing and creator Lauren Faust’s preference for simple, elastic character designs, but its reputation with grown-ups has in large part been colored by its unlikely fan base of older, mostly male geeks. Still, as far as media meant to sell Hasbro products to kids is concerned, it’s the cream of the crop.
Writer-director Sean Baker chases his iPhone-shot breakthrough Tangerine with another riotous, empathetic portrait of life on America’s economic fringe. The setting is a real Sunshine State establishment: a castle-themed discount motel that serves as low-income housing for impoverished locals. Balancing carefree childhood hijinks with the tough adult business of trying to scrape by with nothing to your name, The Florida Project splits its focus among several inhabitants: a trouble-making kid (Brooklynn Prince), her shit-talking mother (Instagram celebrity Bria Vinaite), and the motel’s put-upon proprietor (Willem Dafoe).
Will it be worth your time? It’s possible no movie this autumn will be more worth it. The Florida Project is a bittersweet miracle—hilarious and heartbreaking, attuned to both the pleasures and the struggles of its characters’ hardscrabble lives. And the cast is uniformly terrific, from the lively nonprofessional actors who play the motel’s permanent residents to Dafoe, never better in a role that coaxes previously untapped humor and warmth. Don’t miss it.
Vince Vaughn, unstoppable badass? That’s the surprisingly credible setup of Brawl In Cell Block 99, which puts a roundabout penal spin on the middle-aged-asskicker genre. Bulked up but still in touch with his signature sarcasm, Vaughn plays a laid-back, working-class everydude pulled into a life of crime and eventually thrown behind bars. It’s in the clink that his trouble (and the fun) really begins.
Will it be worth your time? Writer-director S. Craig Zahler made the enjoyably off-kilter Kurt Russell cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk, and his prison actioner is every bit as unconventional, reveling in sardonic dialogue and slowing the plot to a leisurely stroll, before delivering some of the gnarliest violence of the year. If you can stomach all the bone crunching and face stomping, it’s a delightfully idiosyncratic genre movie—and a strong showcase for Vaughn, establishing his unexpected tough-guy bona fides and reestablishing his impeccable snark.
The impish French New Wave icon Agnès Varda (Cléo From 5 To 7, Vagabond) climbs into a mobile photo studio to travel the French countryside alongside Jean “JR” René, a photographer and street artist young enough to be her great-grandson. Varda’s own declining eyesight provides one of several loose through lines for this gently digressive documentary, which is as interested in day-to-day life in working-class and rural France—everything from the bathing habits of miners to goat farmers’ differing opinions on dehorning—as it is in the subject of photography.
Will it be worth your time? The 89-year-old Varda, who retired from fiction filmmaking more than two decades ago, is the last living director from the French New Wave’s creatively experimental Left Bank scene, whose members mostly came from backgrounds in documentary film and photography. (The only other living New Wave filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, belonged to the movie-mad Cahiers group, composed of former film critics.) Faces Places is rumored to be her final feature film; if that’s true, it makes a fitting (albeit minor) swan song to a career fascinated with pictures, people, and ordinary life.
Best-known for his star-studded productions of classics like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Maids, Benedict Andrews becomes the latest theater veteran to make the leap to film with Una, an adaptation of David Harrower’s 2005 play Blackbird. Adopting an English accent, Rooney Mara stars as a twentysomething woman who tracks down the middle-aged next-door neighbor (Ben Mendelsohn) who sexually abused her in her teens, now married and living under a new name. Harrower’s two-hander—which had a Tony-nominated revival on Broadway last year, with Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in the lead roles—is set entirely in an office break room; this adaptation, scripted by the playwright himself, substantially expands the drama, adding flashbacks and a host of new characters.
Will it be worth your time? Una, which premiered at Telluride last September, has already opened in theaters in the U.K., where it’s gotten mixed, but largely favorable, reviews. While Mara and Mendelsohn have been praised for their performances (give or take a few misgivings about the former’s accent), Harrower’s expanded script has been a target for criticism.
One of America’s most famous jurists, Thurgood Marshall helped pry apart the legal framework of segregation as the NAACP’s chief counsel in the 1940s and 1950s before becoming the country’s first black Supreme Court justice. But though he led an interesting, contradictory life—from his wild college days as a prank-paying classmate of Langston Hughes to his vendetta against the influential civil rights activist T.R.M. Howard—he’s never gotten a biopic of his own. Marshall gives him the gritty origin story treatment (kind of) by focusing on an early case, The State Of Connecticut V. Joseph Spell, in which the rising lawyer defended a black chauffeur who had been accused of raping his employer’s wife. Chadwick Boseman stars as the thirtysomething Marshall, physical resemblance be damned.
Will it be worth your time? A long way from his debut, House Party, director Reginald Hudlin hasn’t helmed a feature in 15 years, having found more success as a TV and film producer. Still, given that his strong suit has always been comedy, Marshall seems like an odd choice for a comeback; the trailer’s wildly veering tone doesn’t bode well.
Are we trapped in some kind of cosmic loop ourselves, or is this really the year’s third Groundhog Day riff? Following a mopey YA version and a dopey Marlon Wayans lowbrow comedy version, here’s the teen horror take, about a college coed (Jessica Rothe) forced to constantly relive the day of her brutal death. Can this distaff Phil Connors exploit her circular predicament to eventually solve and then prevent her own murder at the hands of a masked maniac? Or will she spend eternity awaking to the infectious hook of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” hours before getting hacked up and starting the loop all over again?
Will it be worth your time? It might have taken Bill Murray’s boorish weatherman a lifetime of repeated days to get everything right, but Groundhog Day basically perfected this irresistible premise on the first try. Still, cross-pollinating it with a Scream-style self-aware slasher isn’t the worst idea. Here’s hoping that the director of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse breaks his own cycle of failed attempts.
Can audiences really buy Jackie Chan as a creepy vigilante with a dark past? The new film from Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Edge Of Darkness, The Mask Of Zorro), a reliable specialist in James Bond reboots and sturdy and entertaining big-budget action-thrillers, casts the class clown of the Hong Kong action school as a Vietnam veteran who takes matters into his own hands after his daughter is killed by a terrorist bomb. Pierce Brosnan—who made his debut as Bond in Campbell’s GoldenEye—co-stars as a political operator with links to the IRA who becomes a target in the Chan character’s search for vengeance.
Will it be worth your time? Adapted from a 1992 airport novel by Stephen Leather called The Chinaman, The Foreigner looks for all intents and purposes like a throwback to the minor IRA craze of the early- to mid-’90s—the days of Patriot Games and Blown Away. And if anyone should be directing one of these things, it’s Campbell, who seems to have spent his entire career waiting to make a Tom Clancy-type thriller without ever actually getting a crack at one.
At this point, it’s no surprise to see Ben Stiller go serious for Noah Baumbach, the acerbic writer-director who gave him a couple of his most challenging roles ever in Greenberg and While We’re Young. But with The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach also swoops in to reveal the melancholy depths of Adam Sandler. The two moonlighting funnymen play estranged half-brothers working out their feelings for their distant, difficult, unsung-artist father (Dustin Hoffman). Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, and Grace Van Patten round out the dysfunctional New York clan.
Will it be worth your time? Divided into theatrical acts, The Meyerowitz Stories lacks some of the ecstatic comic snap of Baumbach’s recent work (especially the films he co-wrote with Greta Gerwig), but the tradeoff is that it’s maybe his warmest, most generous movie—a cousin, in bittersweet familial concerns, to one-time collaborator Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. And believe the hype on Sandler, who offers another moving glimpse of the hangdog vulnerability laying too frequently dormant beneath his buffoonish shtick.
Now that Wonder Woman has had her moment at the box office, Professor Marston And The Wonder Women is here to put her creator on the big screen as well. Luke Evans stars as Dr. William Moulton Marston, the Harvard-trained psychologist who created the polygraph machine, as well as the iconic comic book heroine. Marston would have been nothing, however, without his wife, Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), and their lover, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), each representing an aspect of femininity that Marston combined in the character of Wonder Woman. Tracing this three-way romance from its early days—when Olive served as William and Elizabeth’s psychology lab assistant—to Marston’s death from cancer in 1947, director Angela Robinson’s biopic celebrates love in all its myriad, sometimes messy forms.
Will it be worth your time? Depends on your tolerance for sentimental strings and golden halos of light behind perfectly coiffed vintage bob hairdos. Although the love story at the heart of the film is extremely unconventional—especially for its 1930s and ’40s setting—the filmmaking is played straight, an artistic decision that takes the edge off of the Marstons’ story.
Did you know that beloved Winnie The Pooh creator A.A. Milne based pipsqueak wilderness explorer Christopher Robin on his own son, and most of the furry or feathered inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood on the boy’s stuffed animals? That bit of trivia is the narrative foundation of this brightly lit biopic by Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn), which explores how the relationship between the author and his son suffered in inverse to his characters’ growing popularity. Domhnall Gleeson stars as Milne. Margot Robbie is his wife, Daphne.
Will it be worth your time? Early reviews have suggested that Goodbye Christopher Robin is a little tougher than it looks—which is to say, that it’s not a total middlebrow trifle. Which is good, because the overwhelming impression given off by the trailer is that an interesting life and career has been given the tony, damnably polite Finding Neverland treatment. If there’s an irony greater than a famous enchanter of children struggling to connect to his own kid, it’s that biopics about famous artists are almost never a fraction as resonant as the work of their subjects.
He’s been a corrupted hobbit, an ape (four times), a lame Star Wars arch-villain, and a loveable alcoholic sea captain. But now, Andy Serkis, the Lon Chaney of motion capture, takes on an even less flattering role: the director of an “inspirational” middlebrow tearjerker. Andrew Garfield stars as Robin Cavendish, an English veteran and businessman who was paralyzed with polio as an adult and focused the rest of his life on inventions, causes, and organizations that could improve the lives of severely disabled people in Britain. Claire Foy plays his wife. The couple’s real-life son, Jonathan Cavendish, produced.
Will it be worth your time? From the chintzy cinematography to the incessant string and piano figures, everything about the trailer suggests cheap awards-bait in the vein of The Theory Of Everything. We’d love to be proven wrong on this.
The jutting blade. The shrieking violins. That closing pullout from Janet Leigh’s glassy, unblinking eye. Is there a moment in all of cinema as famous and influential as Psycho’s shower scene? Named for the ratio of shots to cuts, 78/52 takes a feature-length dive into the masterfully orchestrated, audience-confounding set piece, a panel of fans and experts explaining the sequence’s significance and dissecting Alfred Hitchcock’s formidable technique.
Will it be worth your time? As in the recent De Palma, it’s a little strange to see such groundbreaking, virtuosic filmmaking explored through the most conventional of documentary devices. 78/52 starts out as remedial as a DVD extra, reiterating the basics of Psycho’s importance. But it picks up once the talking heads start breaking down the scene shot by shot, moving beyond Hitchcock 101 broad strokes to specific analysis.
Artist, architect, filmmaker, and activist Ai Weiwei combines, well, all of those disciplines in Human Flow, his new documentary on the global refugee crisis. While he follows one group of Syrian refugees through the process of fleeing, arriving in Europe, and being refused entry at the Macedonian border, the film’s focus is less narrative than visual; impassive drone photography strives to set this human story within a very specific, physical set of locations.
Will it be worth your time? Sure, in the probing, compelling manner of any skillful documentary, although be forewarned that Ai Weiwei is less interested in delivering a polemic than he is a string of haunting images.
Like a moralizing Michael Myers who rises every October to screech at horny teens, Tyler Perry’s Madea is back in this sequel to 2016’s Boo! A Madea Halloween, once more pitting Perry’s fat-suited alter ego against things that go back-sass in the night. This time, the sexy costume party Madea sets out to ruin takes place at a summer camp with a murderous past, where a chainsaw-wielding slasher terrorizes various 35-year-old kids who are up to no good.
Will it be worth your time? At this point, attending a Madea film is purely an act of brand loyalty. That said, anyone disappointed by the lack of actual horror spoofing in the first Madea Halloween might be more interested in this follow-up, whose trailer promises comedic riffs on The Ring and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and other things that are nearly as funny as Tyler Perry in drag.
Ever wonder what Leatherface, the squealing cannibal with the skin mask and the buzzing power tool, was like as a pimply teenager? Curious or not, along comes this gory new installment to fill in the backstory of everyone’s favorite Longhorn State serial killer. The real mystery, perhaps, is where the movie fits into the convoluted Chain Saw continuity, which includes three official sequels, a remake, a prequel to the remake, and an additional 3-D sequel that retcons every previous entry except Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. When did a franchise about flesh-eating rednecks get as complicated as those time-traveling X-Men movies?
Will it be worth your time? Horror origin stories are almost always a bad idea, as nothing makes a monster less frightening than rationally explaining its evil. Anyway, aforementioned prequel-to-the-remake The Beginning already covered this chapter of the title fiend’s biography, so where does that leave Leatherface? At least, presumably, with some gruesome, intense moments courtesy of directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the French extremists who made Inside. Gorehounds, at least, will want to see what those sick fucks do with a roaring chainsaw.
In what is now an annual fall tradition of ripped-from-the-headlines, working-man’s tragedies, the 2013 wildfire that overran Yarnell, Arizona and claimed the lives of 19 firemen gets a dramatic retelling from director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion). Some of Hollywood’s manliest men—including Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, and, er, Miles Teller—stand in for the lost heroes of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, “the SEAL Team Six of firefighters.”
Will it be worth your time? Kosinksi’s flair for CGI wonder seems an able match for these dreadful fire-swept vistas, and the alpha cast—abetted by Jennifer Connelly and Andie Macdowell—should bring the appropriate, growling gravitas. Of course, you already know how it ends.
Working from a bestselling novel by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson returns to the frigid Scandinavia (but not the native tongue) of his acclaimed international breakthrough, Let The Right One In. In The Snowman, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), the gumshoe hero of several of Nesbø’s novels, becomes convinced that a woman’s disappearance during the first snow of winter may be the handiwork of a long-dormant serial killer. Together with a green recruit (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole tries to connect a series of ancient unsolved murders to his open investigation.
Will it be worth your time? Best-case scenario for one of these airport-fiction adaptations is seeing a talented filmmaker mine some sleek thrills from the source material, even if they can’t overcome its fundamental pulp silliness. (Call it the Dragon Tattoo imperative.) Alfredson, whose last project was the labyrinthian John Le Carré mystery Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, definitely has the chops to make a stylish potboiler—though trading sophisticated spy games for a cat-and-mouse manhunt seems like the definition of slumming it.
Dean Devlin, the longtime producing and writing partner of disaster movie maestro Roland Emmerich, strikes out on his own with something that looks… an awful lot like a Roland Emmerich movie. In the near future, humanity has taken charge of the Earth’s climate with a network of weather-controlling space stations and satellites. No more unseasonably hot Septembers, no more hurricanes—until, of course, someone figures out how to hack the system, unleashing all kinds of over-the-top natural disasters on our poor planet. A muttering, bearded Gerard Butler stars as some kind of gung-ho science man; the bizarre, Emmerich-ian cast also includes Zazie Beetz, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia (as, of course, the president), Richard Schiff, Abbie Cornish, and Eugenio Derbez.
Will it be worth your time? Geostorm runs 109 minutes, which is about how long it takes a real Roland Emmerich movie to get to the good stuff. And we’ll be honest: From the goofy sci-fi premise to the cheaply executed, over-the-top destruction effects packed into the trailer, this thing kind of looks like a blast.
Just about every movie from Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos has its nightmarish moments, but The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is the closest the Greek filmmaker has come to out-and-out horror. Reuniting with the star of his uproarious dystopian satire The Lobster, Lanthimos casts Colin Farrell as a wealthy surgeon whose upper-middle-class dream life is invaded by a strange teenage boy (Barry Keoghan) with a bone to pick. What starts as a discomforting sins-of-the-past drama soon transforms into something more twisted, outlandish, and allegorical.
Will it be worth your time? One could argue that Lanthimos’ habit of turning every conversation into a deadpan alien exchange doesn’t suit this particular material as well, given that it denies him a “normal” reality to subvert. But the filmmaker is in full control of his singularly strange style; The Killing Of A Sacred Deer unfolds with a thunderous dread that suggests Cape Fear by way of Stanley Kubrick. The film also supplies Farrell’s The Beguiled co-star Nicole Kidman, who plays the matriarch of this unlucky family, with a seething new range of emotions.
Essentially a fictionalized companion piece to David France’s moving documentary How To Survive A Plague, this sprawling French drama from writer-director Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys) flashes back to the early 1990s, when members of the Paris wing of AIDS advocacy group ACT UP fought for awareness, affordable treatment options, and their own lives. Balancing the personal and the political, BPM was one of the consensus critical favorites of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix (basically second place).
Will it be worth your time? Campillo, who’s probably best known for penning the screenplays for Laurent Cantet’s Time Out and The Class, has a talent for capturing feverish group debate; BPM is totally gripping whenever focused on the particulars of boots-on-the-ground activism: the guerrilla protests, the planning of those protests, the contentious negotiations with pharmacy bigwigs, etc. The film is less specific, and hence less compelling, when shifting focus to the romance that develops between two of the organization’s young volunteers.
Based on the incredible true story of someone producing a Magical Negro script in 2017, this Pure Flix adaptation of Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent’s bestselling memoir follows a homeless black man who finally finds his calling as the pet project for an unhappy white couple. Greg Kinnear (in his late-career bloom of Christian movie stardom) and Renée Zellweger’s Southern accent star as the bored yuppies who take in Djimon Hounsou’s drifter over the objections of Yosemite Jon Voight, then really spice up their marriage by giving him the life-changing gift of pitying condescension.
Will it be worth your time? Fuck no.
Just when you thought you’d seen every last image or clip of Jane Goodall bonding with a chimpanzee, along comes Jane. Brett Morgen (Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, The Kid Stays In The Picture) sifted through roughly 140 hours of unearthed 16mm National Geographic footage—most of it more than 50 years old—to assemble this intimate portrait of the world’s most famous primatologist. Philip Glass provides the undoubtedly busy, swelling orchestral accompaniment.
Will it be worth your time? There’s arguably no documentary filmmaker working today who makes more urgent, gripping use of archival footage. Jane’s subject matter all but assures that it won’t be as exciting as Morgen’s Cobain doc or his anachronistically soundtracked Chicago 10. But reviews from the fall festival circuit have already heralded it as an involving collage profile.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s 2006 documentary Jesus Camp ignited a political firestorm for its depiction of evangelical Christianity’s intersection with the neoconservative politics of then-president George Bush, eventually leading to the titular camp’s closure. The duo’s new One Of Us returns to organized religion, this time tracing three Hasidic Jews as they leave their community and struggle with the world outside. (Sample line: “Google, what the hell is that?”)
Will it be worth your time? Like the previous film, there’s clearly an angle here—the trailer pitches it all as something of a horror film, as Hasidic Jews hound and harass the film’s subjects—but all of Ewing and Grady’s works are thoughtful and thorough.
Daniel Radcliffe continues his post-Potter descent into man versus nature grit with this new odyssey from the director of Wolf Creek and the less-good Wolf Creek 2. He plays a millennial tourist lured off the beaten path in search of adventure, finding instead thick bogs of quicksand and huge animals and lots of bugs and shit. Bones will probably be broken. Radcliffe has a beard.
Will it be worth your time? Probably not, but scholars will be debating what his accent is supposed to be for years.
It’s been seven years since Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, which means the law of Hollywood sequels had to kick in. Jigsaw looks to actually continue the original series rather than restart it, meaning Tobin Bell’s title fiend is back to torment a new group of people, even if it’s once more from beyond the grave (or possibly just a copycat using his voice, as suggested by the trailer). Expect more people with ambiguously unethical behavior in their pasts being subjected to punishment far beyond what anyone could imagine as just, all for our entertainment. Maybe a jaywalker could be ripped apart by a thousand paper cuts from unpaid tickets? So fun!
Will it be worth your time? Honestly, if you enjoyed the last few films of this series, you’ll probably find something to like here, as it seems to be more of the same. Over-the-top deaths, convoluted plots, and scares more targeted at grade schoolers than general audiences—yep, it’s a Saw film. The one potential saving grace: Jigsaw was directed by the Spierig brothers, who have made a career of smarter-than-expected genre fare (Predestination, Daybreakers, Undead). If the franchise sees a quality uptick with this entry, it’ll likely be due to them.
For his latest step behind the camera, George Clooney dusts off an early, unfilmed Coen brothers script about the ugliness lurking beneath the well-manicured lawns and behind the white picket fences of American suburbia. Matt Damon plays a bespectacled, clean-cut 1950s family man whose wife (Julianne Moore) tragically perishes in an In Cold Blood-style home invasion. When her twin sister (Moore, again) takes up permanent residence in the house, the deceased’s grade-school-age son (Noah Jupe) begins to suspect foul play of Dad.
Will it be worth your time? Given how often and well he’s acted for the sibling auteurs, Clooney might seem like an ideal second choice to shepherd a lost Coens project to the screen (assuming, of course, that Joel and Ethan aren’t making it themselves). But the actor-turned-director badly botches the dark-comic tone of the material, a cheeky noir exercise that maybe should have remained on the shelf. Worse, Clooney awkwardly shoehorns in scenes of a black family facing discrimination from the predominately white community—a painfully earnest subplot that clashes disastrously with the arch thriller he’s otherwise concocted.
Jason Hall, the writer of American Sniper (and the underappreciated Spread), takes another go at the home-battlefront divide in his directorial debut, an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner David Finkel’s well-received 2013 nonfiction book about Iraq War veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life. Miles Teller stars as Adam Schumann, a traumatized Army sergeant first profiled in Finkel’s The Good Soldiers, while Haley Bennett plays his wife; among the odder members of the ensemble cast are James Franco good luck charm Scott Haze, microbudget indie stalwart Kate Lyn Sheil, and Amy Schumer, of all people.
Will it be worth your time? Although American Sniper’s box office success turned it into a token of this country’s red-blue culture wars, its flag-waving reputation tends to undercut its unsettled depiction of post-traumatic stress. Hall can write this stuff; we’re hoping he can direct it, too.
Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven) puts adult content on the back burner and tries his hand at a bona fide family entertainment, adapting an illustrated YA novel by The Invention Of Hugo Cabret author Brian Selznick. Wonderstruck crosscuts between timelines, following two deaf children (Oakes Fegley from Pete’s Dragon and newcomer Millicent Simmonds) on their respective misadventures through Manhattan, circa 1977 and 1927. Naturally, this allows the director to lavishly recreate not one but two eras of bygone New York, with the help of many of the collaborators he relied on for his last NYC flashback, Carol.
Will it be worth your time? The rare kid-courting Hollywood movie with a real stylistic identity, Wonderstruck is never less than a marvel of technical craftsmanship—one that relies heavily and unconventionally on nonverbal storytelling. Whether one emotionally connects to the movie’s helixed coming-of-age stories is another matter; Haynes’ sensibilities don’t blend with Selznick’s as gracefully as Martin Scorsese’s did—which it to say, Wonderstruck may be just a bit too academic to achieve the magic of Hugo. Beautiful Carter Burwell score, though.
Force Majeure, the last film by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, tracked the slow-motion shattering of a fragile male ego. With The Square, Östlund relocates his withering social critique to a modern art museum, probing the pretensions of a self-involved curator (Claes Bang) as his personal and professional lives intersect over nearly two-and-a-half episodic hours. It’s a super-sized cringe comedy about art, social intervention, and the often-vast chasm separating values from action.
Will it be worth your time? Absolutely, if you can stomach the exquisite discomfort. Whether or not Östlund ever lands on a single, coherent point about supposed high society, The Square is consistently, unnervingly funny, volleying from one priceless deadpan scenario after another, including what may be the scene of the year: a performance-art stunt gone spectacularly, disturbingly awry.
The $10 title and Halloween release date spells “horror movie,” but this is actually a 1960s-set drama about a Catholic teenager (The Leftovers’ Margaret Qualley) who decides to become a nun under the tutelage of a strict, overbearing abbess (Melissa Leo) just as the sweeping reforms of Vatican II are starting to turn the church’s traditions upside down. Writer-director Margaret Betts won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for the film, her debut fiction feature.
Will it be worth your time? Although we didn’t catch it at the festival earlier this year, Novitiate received plenty of positive buzz when it premiered at Sundance, with many early reviews praising Leo’s and Qualley’s performances and Betts’ direction, while voicing reservations about the methodical pace.
Winner of the Silver Bear (second prize) at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Alain Gomis’ Kinshasa-set drama initially appears to be the straightforward tale of a nightclub singer (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu) desperately attempting to scare up money for an operation that would save her badly injured son’s leg. About halfway through, however, the film unexpectedly abandons this Dardenne-esque trajectory, metamorphosing into a jittery but compassionate portrait of a severe nervous breakdown.
Will it be worth your time? Arguably, the Berlin jury ought to have given Félicité the Golden Bear. The film is an intoxicating amalgam of naturalism and expressionism, with the latter embodied by the title character’s emotionally charged musical performances. And Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu deserves to be part of any Best Actress discussion, though the odds of that actually happening are close to nil.