We’re getting into serious Oscar-bidding season, and the month of November is chock full of movies we’re excited about: Skyfall, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Hitchcock, Anna Karenina, Silver Linings Playbook, Killing Them Softly, and on and on. But the majors aren’t the only ones trotting out smarter-than-average fare; as usual, the indies have got a full slate of strong stuff this month as well. After the jump, we’ve got a few that are worth checking out in the weeks ahead.
A Late Quartet RELEASE: November 2 DIRECTOR: Yaron Zilberman CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Wallace Shawn
Aside from offering some interesting peeks into the group dynamic of a string quartet, this music-based drama is walking some awfully well-trod soil — the conflicts and confrontations are plenty predictable, and unfold about as expected. But that’s where the subject matter becomes analogous to the film: no one would complain about attending the titular ensemble’s concerts and hearing a bunch of songs they already knew. They’d go to appreciate the performances, and that’s what A Late Quartet provides. Along with the (to these uncultured eyes, anyway) totally convincing music scenes, Hoffman and Keener’s portrayal of a troubled marriage is achingly true, Ivanir’s frosty soloist is spot-on, Poots continues to carve out a niche as one of our most intriguing ingénues, and Christopher Walken turns in a performance that navigates gingerly between heartbreaking emotion and poker-faced restraint.
Miami Connection RELEASE: November 2 DIRECTORS: Y.K. Kim, Woo-sang Park CAST: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier
Last month, we told you about Drafthouse Films’ re-release of the long-thought-lost Australian film Wake in Flight. This month, they’ve got an act of cinematic archaeology that’s a bit less noble, but still worth noting: a long-forgotten cheapo ‘80s action flick called Miami Connection. Some movies are bad, some movies are so bad they’re good, and some movies are so bad they’re divine; put this one in the third category. A hilarious compendium of warmed-over clichés from kingpin stories, ninja movies, early rock videos, After School Specials, and Miami Vice reruns, it is (as best as we can tell) the story of how a band losing their shitty nightclub gig results in several gruesome deaths. About half the running time is occupied by comically inept fight scenes; the rest is chock full of laughable dialogue, wooden acting, and astonishingly cheeseball songs (performed, without fail, in their brutal entirety). Utterly unintelligible leading man Y.K. Kim co-wrote and co-directed this endlessly entertaining disaster, in which the scent of sweaty, sleazy, headband-sporting dirtbag all but wafts from the screen.
The Details RELEASE: November 2 DIRECTOR: Jacob Aaron Estes CAST: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Kerry Washington, Ray Liotta, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert
Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek) tries to wrangle too many far-flung pieces in this dark comedy/psychological thriller, and as a result, it’s tonally ambivalent — but that might be what makes it so interesting. It doesn’t quite hang together, but there’s enough in it that works to warrant a look: Estes has a delightfully weird ear for dialogue, Tobey Maguire and Kerry Washington have a scene of building sexual tension that’s patient and authentic enough to work like its own little short film, and Laura Linney is simply magnificent, her all-out bonkers performance giving the occasionally unsure movie a jolt of pure gonzo electricity.
Citadel RELEASE: November 9 DIRECTOR: Ciaran Foy CAST: Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wumni Mosaku, Jake Wilson, Amy Shiels
This Irish import is part drama, part thriller, part horror, and all claustrophobia — it places the viewer squarely into the shoes of its agoraphobic newly-single father protagonist, and lets the full weight of its grey skies and dark corners bear down forcefully. It’s a grim and difficult movie, but one with a powerfully cathartic conclusion, and several unexpected, discombobulating, and ultimately forceful turns along the way.
Rust and Bone RELEASE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard CAST: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Vendure, Celine Sallette
Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a hustler and bare-knuckle brawler. Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a whale trailer. They meet at a nightclub, she a patron and he a bouncer, and then they do not meet again until after a horrible accident has left her legless. Alain is nonchalant about most everything (women, work, his relationship with his son), which is a serious character defect, but his unflappability is exactly what Stephanie needs: someone who doesn’t treat her differently. It makes for a fascinating dynamic, and Rust and Bone is a tentative, unpredictable picture; unlike most film romances, it doesn’t seem predetermined. They’re making up their minds about each other, just as we are about them, and co-writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) tells their story with unblinking honesty and a strange kind of tragic beauty. Wrenching, difficult, and rewarding filmmaking.
The Central Park Five RELEASE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon CAST: Documentary
One of the year’s best docs is simultaneously a forceful piece of investigative reporting, a powerful evocation of time and place, and a heartbreaking human interest story. PBS favorite Ken Burns and his co-directors peel off the scab of the Central Park jogger — one of New York’s most horrifying crimes, and, afterwards, one of its most shameful miscarriages of justice. Thorough and emotional, it’s a tough, intelligent, and quietly angry piece of work.
Beware of Mr. Baker RELEASE: November 28 DIRECTOR: Jay Bulger CAST: Documentary
Your average documentary tends not to open with the subject threatening to “fucking put you in hospital” and attacking the filmmaker with a cane, but Beware of Mr. Baker is not your average documentary. Jay Bulger tracked down Ginger Baker, the notorious Cream and Blind Faith drummer, in South Africa, where his lifetime of hard living has left him penniless and bitter; in interviews, he mostly flips the director off and mocks him (“Go on with the interview, stop trying to be an intellectual dickhead”). But he’s a perversely mesmerizing figure, his tales of reckless rock and roll dramatized with killer music, crackerjack archival footage, and animations that portray Baker as a wide-eyed, red-headed madman. It’s sad and thrilling at the same time, an absorbing portrait of the last of a dying breed.
Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters RELEASE: Out now DIRECTOR: Ben Shapiro CAST: Documentary
Ben Shapiro’s fascinating documentary profiles Crewdson, a big-city artist drawn to small-town settings. His photographs, elaborately staged and deeply cinematic narrative works, are productions that cost nearly as much as indie film, and Beneath the Roses, the multi-year, multi-photo work that Brief Encounters focuses on, was originally envisioned as a film, its images telling rich, full stories. Shapiro’s film takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, observing the artist at work, on set, “directing” the compositions (“Position… and hold…”); in hanging back and looking, not just at the production but at the end result, Shapiro crafts an intimate and absorbing account of the creative process.
Those are our recommendations for November — what are you excited about seeing? Let us know in the comments!