September is kind of a peculiar month for movies. Summer blockbuster season has faded, and though the Oscar hopefuls are rolling out at the prestige fall festivals (Toronto, Venice, Telluride), most of them won’t hit theaters until at least October, to accommodate the notoriously short memories of Academy voters. So it’s a perfect month to check out some of the mid-level indies (many of them first seen at Sundance and other, earlier fests) that will hit arthouses this month; we’ve got some recommendations for you after the jump.
Detropia RELEASE: September 5 DIRECTOR: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady CAST: Documentary
Directors Ewing and Grady are responsible for 2006’s excellent Jesus Camp (forever remembered by anyone who sees it as “that movie where the crazy lady asks God to bless the PowerPoint presentation“), and their documentary portrait of Detroit’s decay is of the same ilk; they observe and record, but seldom explicitly comment. But they’ve clearly established a familiarity with the area and its (remaining) citizens, and as a result, the film feels lived-in, vibrant, and alive — while simultaneously presenting a terrifying snapshot of a city falling to pieces.
For Ellen RELEASE: September 5 DIRECTOR: So Yong Kim CAST: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Shaylena Mandigo, Jena Malone
Our frequent resistance to Paul Dano’s acting is, we think, mostly due to the way his performances tend to seem so locked-in, over-rehearsed studies in predetermined quirk. That’s why his turn in For Ellen is such a revelation; it’s a loose, funky, anything-goes piece of work, and the picture itself has the kind of captured intimacy found in the best of Cassavetes. Jon Heder is also surprisingly good, funny but free of his usual tics and Napoleon-isms, and the film itself is a tender and moving exploration of a flawed guy trying desperately to figure his life out.
Bachelorette RELEASE: September 7 (available now on demand) DIRECTOR: Leslye Headland CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fischer, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson, Adam Scott, James Marsden, Kyle Bornheimer
We have yet to see a review of this matrimony-minded comedy that hasn’t mentioned Bridesmaids, but to be fair, this is no rip-off; writer/director Headland’s screenplay is based on a play she wrote years ago, and the film was ready to go before Bridesmaids’ monster grosses got it a quick green-light. Audiences seeking out the warmth and fuzziness of that picture’s non-food-poisoning scenes may well be shocked by Bachelorette’s mean-spirited, coke-snorting heroines, but we like the film’s spiky study in contrast — it’s like Bridesmaids’ foul-mouthed, out-of-control little sister who came to party.
Hello, I Must Be Going RELEASE: September 7 DIRECTOR: Todd Louiso CAST: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, Julie White, John Rubinstein
Todd Louiso — best known around these parts for his iconic portrayal of Dick in High Fidelity — directs this bittersweet comedy/drama about a divorcee (the exquisite Melanie Lynskey) who finds herself carrying on a rather torrid affair with a family friend (Abbott) something like 15 years her junior. What happens — the conflicts, the blow-ups, the resolutions — is not earth-shatteringly original, but everything in the film feels fresh and captured, thanks to Lynskey’s warm, open performance: this is an actor seemingly incapable of sounding a false note, and even when her character is insufferable (and she is, often), she maintains our sympathy and trust. Lynskey’s delicate work here is what great movie acting is all about.
Arbitrage RELEASE: September 14 DIRECTOR: Nicholas Jarecki CAST: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Chris Eigeman, Laetitia Casta
No one on this earth plays the charming sleazebag as well as Richard Gere (think Internal Affairs, Primal Fear, Chicago, The Hunting Party, The Hoax, etc.), and he’s never been better than he is as a Madoff-esque corrupt millionaire in Nicholas Jarecki’s one-percenter morality play. Scratch that last part — Arbitrage is too fun to be classified as such, its impressive ensemble cast and tightly-constructed thriller plot forming the cinematic equivalent of a good, trashy beach read.
10 Years RELEASE: September 14 DIRECTOR: Jamie Linden CAST: Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, Justin Long, Ari Graynor, Kate Mara, Aubrey Plaza, Anthony Mackie, Ron Livingston
Writer/director Linden assembles a kind of JV Altman picture with this ensemble comedy/drama set at a ten-year high school reunion. The cast is terrific — Tatum’s hot streak continues, his chemistry with Dawson is near-perfect, and Parks and Rec’s Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza both manage to simultaneously play off and expand their defined comic personas. It’s mild and predictable, but this is one of the most purely likable movies in recent memory.
Liberal Arts RELEASE: September 14 DIRECTOR: Josh Radnor CAST: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron
When How I Met Your Mother star Radnor made his debut as an auteur with 2010’s Happythankyoumoreplease, he weirdly seemed to catch some of Zack Braff’s backlash—similar background, similar transition, hell, even similar appearance. But his second film proves him a writer/director of skill and confidence, and his warm, charming, and patently un-cynical style is just right for this story of post-graduate floundering. But even better, it’s got another winning performance from Elizabeth Olsen, who shows herself to be a marvelous ingénue and a inspired comic performer.
The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best RELEASE: September 21 DIRECTOR: Ryan O’Nan CAST: Ryan O’Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel, Andrew McCarthy, Jason Ritter, Christopher McDonald
Musician-turned-actor Ryan O’Nan, wrote, directed, starred, and composed the music for this low-key comedy/drama that’s kind of a Once-as-bromance-instead-of-romance, but nowhere near as twee and terrible as that description would make it sound. He and Weston play a pair of mismatched, failed musicians who hit the road with a peculiar yet distinctive act and find themselves improbably making a go of it, with the help of a tag-along manager/fan/romantic interest (the impossibly charismatic Kebbel). Sweet, charming, cheery fun.
Those are the movies we recommend this month — what are you looking forward to seeing? Let us know in the comments!