October is upon us, and the race whose name we dare not speak is getting competitive: this month sees the release of such awards bait as 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, The Fifth Estate, All Is Lost, and, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. (What? It could happen — they love it when actors age up.) Meanwhile, it’s a quieter month for indie releases, but there are still several smaller pictures worth seeking out; our recommendations for the month are after the jump.
Let the Fire Burn
Release date: October 2 Director: Jason Osder
In May of 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department, with the approval of the mayor and district attorney, firebombed the residential headquarters of the radical group MOVE, killing 11 people and burning 61 homes in the process. It was, in retrospect, a kind of proto-Waco — law enforcement action against an arguably cult-like group with disturbing tendencies, but a response way out of proportion with the actions at hand. Jason Osder’s documentary offers no narration and no current interviews, relying solely on archival footage to present his minute-by-minute tick-tock in a clear, fair, straightforward manner. Powerful, thought-provoking, and infuriating.
Release date: October 4 Director: Stu Zicherman Cast: Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jane Lynch, Jessica Alba, Clark Duke
Adam Scott leads an impressive comic ensemble, playing an Adult Child of Divorce whose delicate balance (his parents haven’t spoken in 20 years — for the good of everyone) is upended when his younger brother gets engaged. The screenplay, by director Stu Zicherman and longtime Daily Show writer/producer Ben Karlin, traffics in quiet, understated wit, nicely put across by Scott’s dry, funny line readings (“I saw my Dad’s butt,” he confesses, after walking in on the old man in flagrante. “It was… moving“). Catherine O’Hara and Amy Poehler –playing Scott’s stepmother, which should give some Parks and Rec fans pause — are particularly strong in support, and if the film sticks a bit in the clutch (and tries to use its soundtrack to solve too many problems), that’s a minor complaint for a comedy as sharp and snappy as this.
All Is Bright
Release date: October 4 Director: Phil Morrison Cast: Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, Sally Hawkins, Amy Landecker
Director Morrison, helming his first feature since 2005’s Junebug, crafts a muted, low-key comedy drama with a bit of a Mazursky/Ashby vibe — sort of a seasonal flip of Rudd’s recent Prince Avalanche. The timing is a little sprung, both for good and for ill, but it’s got an off-the-cuff charm, and genuine affection for the losers at its center, played with appropriate comic desperation by Giamatti and Rudd. (Sally Hawkins is also terrific in an odd, offbeat supporting turn.) It’s a slight but touching effort, and its always-engaging leads (particularly Giamatti, sporting a killer pair of mutton chops) get at the soul of these poor saps.
God Loves Uganda
Release date: October 11 Director: Roger Ross Williams
This engrossing documentary is about as objective as you could ask for in an examination of such a stomach-churning subject. Director Williams efficiently contextualizes the movement of American evangelicals to sway the entire country of Uganda to their faith before moving, roughly a third of the way in, to the film’s real topic: the country’s persecution of its gay citizens, culminating in the notorious “kill the gays” bill. The film’s access is remarkable, allowing us to see that the missionaries on the ground are often not bad people, not really, but they’re part of a larger movement that is very scary indeed.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Release date: October 11 Director: Jonathan Levine Cast: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able
This horror thriller has become something of a legend in indie circles, premiering at the 2006 (yes, you read that right) Toronto Film Festival, playing well on the festival circuit, seeing release internationally, launching the careers of star Heard (Pineapple Express, The Rum Diary) and director Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), yet weirdly never securing a domestic release due to the bankruptcy of its American distributor. Teen flicks don’t traditionally age like fine wine, but seven years later, American audiences will finally get their chance (legally, anyway) to see Levine’s launching pad.
Escape From Tomorrow
Release date: October 11 Director: Randy Moore Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schruber, Katelynn Rodriguez
Here’s one of those movies where the fascinating story of how the film made it to the screen may well upstage the film itself: writer/director Moore and his cast shot the feature, which is set during a tense family vacation at Disney World, without permission in the Disney parks, using consumer cameras to make a fictional film stealthily while merely seeming to shoot home movies. After its Sundance premiere, there were rumblings that the notoriously trademark-protective Disney company would use legal means to keep the film from ever seeing the light of day — but somehow, Moore and his crew got away clean to make one of the most buzz-heavy indies of the year.
Kill Your Darlings
Release date: October 18 Director: John Krokidas Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Cross
In one more bit of “he’s not Harry Potter anymore, folks” casting, Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg (complete with much-discussed gay sex scene) in this biographical drama about the Beat poet’s early interactions with Jack Kerouac (Huston) and William S. Burroughs (Foster). And in a nice bit of circularity, David Cross, who played Allen Ginsberg in the 2007 Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There, appears this time as Allen’s father Louis.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Release date: October 25 Director: Abdellatif Keniche Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos
This adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue Angel was both the sensation and cause célèbre of this year’s Cannes Film Festival — acclaimed for its powerful acting and evocative storytelling, controversial for its three-hour running time and what Variety dubbed “the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory.” And controversy has continued to dog the film since its Palme d’Or win at Cannes, with its stars and director exchanging very public swipes over the film’s production and reception. And all of that interview sniping is serving to do little but make the film seem that much more tantalizing.