That’s right, it’s every film lover’s favorite time of year. FESTIVAL SEASON. When a whole bunch of people descend on random areas of the world (Toronto, Colorado, Venice, Tribeca) and start to get a look at the movies of prestige. Those that are gonna be in the critical and awards conversations for the end of the year, and that I’m not gonna shut up about. So, let’s prepare for the movies I might be breathing down your neck about seeing, might be flippantly dismissing.
The latest from Sicario director Denis Villenueve, this Amy Adams-starring alien invasion thriller seeks to pitch things in a different way. Amy Adams plays a linguist tasked with figuring out how to communicate with the aliens so that we don’t start a war to end our planet. Early reviews indicate this one is as smart and tightly-shot, but has the depth and surprising emotional connection that was missing in the previous suffocatingly-tense thriller Sicario, which is what may have kept me from loving that one.
Worth thinking about if you like: Sicario, Interstellar, that linguistics class in college
Do you weirdly hate Anne Hathaway? What’s wrong with you? Well, if you do, watch a movie where she hates herself too, and also may be linked mentally to a giant rampaging legally-distinct-from-but-basically-Godzilla on the other side of the world. Director Nacho Vigolando is promising a film about a difficult woman having troubles and dealing with them in the most sci-fi-twisty of ways. Also starring Jason Sudekis and Dan Stevens, early word has been mixed, with some praising the bold weirdness and Hathaway’s performance and others claiming the film doesn’t quite meet its goals. Either way, worth a look.
Worth thinking about if you like: Godzilla (2014), Rachel Getting Married, the surprisingly rare genre of films mixing indie beautiful people angst and giant monsters.
From Ben Wheatley, director of this year’s measured film of chaos High-Rise, comes decidedly less measured chaos. An arms deal gone wrong is an excuse for the premise of a bunch of great actors (and Sharlto Copley) to put on 70s leisure suits and shoot the hell out of each other. Early word suggests that the movie may not be much more than that, but also that you may not care.
Worth thinking about if you like: High-Rise, Reservoir Dogs, leisure suits, truly rampant gun violence
The Girl With All The Gifts
From one of Britain’s best TV directors Colm McCarthy comes The Girl With All The Gifts, an attempt at another different spin on a genre thought dead. A dystopian future where humanity is threatened by a virus that turns people into zombies (called “hungries” because no zombie film can exist in a world where zombies already are a cultural thing) and its only salvation a group of children who are able to straddle the line between zombie and humanity. Early reviews pin this one as thoughtful and surprisingly bold, as well as a necessary diversionary path for a horror genre essentially all but run into the ground at this point.
Worth thinking about if you like: 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead (formerly), YA novels about being special even when you’re a zombie.
In what has quietly become Queen of the Mountain in the Best Actress race, Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the wake of JFK’s assassination in a film by Pablo Larrain. Early reviews have not only singled out Portman for a memorable and towering performance, but the film itself as a well-composed and hypnotic mediation on tragedy.
Worth thinking about if you like: Under the Skin and Marie Antoinette (as per critic David Ehrlich), American history, Boston accents from people who just went to Harvard.
La La Land
This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this one, and I earnestly can’t imagine it’ll be my last. An old-school musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as young lovers trying to make it big in LA, the festival circuit has been ecstatically kind to this one, drawing comparisons to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which piques my interest in particular. The critical reaction is near universally positive and I’ve been convinced for a while this is going to end up in the final heat for best picture this year.
Worth thinking about if you like: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Whiplash, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, beautiful people doing artistically satisfying things
Manchester By The Sea
Another favorite of the festival circuit, Kenneth Lonergan’s first film since the sprawling Margaret is a story of delicate sadness in the wake of tragedy. Casey Affleck has been singled out for praise, along with Lonergan’s scripting and direction. Another potential favorite for the Oscar voters in the wake of a now wide-open race, this is a film to break out the tissues on.
Worth thinking about if you like: Margaret, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, engaging at an ironic distance with movies about “Sad White People.”
A Monster Calls
This is a film based on a remarkable book. Delicate and tearjerking, Ness’ A Monster Calls is a fantastic book on dealing with grief through storytelling, and the film looks to be much of the same. Made by J.A. Bayona (who’s got a spotty record to this point), the trailers have seemed to already retain that same power, though I wonder how I’ll feel with Kubo treading the same ground. Early reviews have been decidedly divided, with some calling it one of their favorites of the year and some receiving absolutely nothing from it.
Worth thinking about if you like: Kubo and the Two Strings, The BFG, your stocks in tissue companies
The other film that seems to be getting near-universal La La Land-esque praise is this poetic mediation of black experience by director Barry Jenkins. It follows a young man named Chiron through three stages of his life as he grapples with a broken home, bullies, and his sexuality. Early reviews have called this one impeccably made, emotional and heartbreaking, and incredibly real.
Worth thinking about if you like: Brokeback Mountain, Boyhood, being way ahead of the cinematic curve.
Fashion magnate Tom Ford proved himself a surprisingly strong director with A Single Man, and he seems to be following it up with yet more skill and phenomenal acting choices with Nocturnal Animals. The story of Amy Adams (again) playing an art gallery owner who’s grappling with the revelations of a book her ex-husband Jake Gylenhaal wrote and sent to her. Early reviews point towards a phenomenal cast gripped in a trashy pulpy epic that might surprise fans of A Single Man.
Worth thinking about if you like: A Single Man, Nightcrawler, the fact that the movie led to this picture: