The year is winding down, prestige picture season is in full swing, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate the studio movies from the brainy indies. So we’ve got an even more diverse slate of must-see movies for November, from social and political documentaries to star-driven Oscar hopefuls to clever genre riffs — a little something for everyone to be thankful for this month.
Point and Shoot
Release Date: Out now Director: Marshall Curry
Expert documentarian Marshall Curry (Street Fight, Racing Dreams) helms this gripping portrait of Matt Vandyke, an OCD adrenaline junkie raised on action movies and “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. After embarking on a “crash course in manhood” by taking a motorcycle journey through the Middle East and filming everything that happens, Vandyke impulsively leaves his comfortable life in Baltimore to join the Libyan rebels’ fight against Gaddafi. He takes his video camera along again, but must decide whether he is an observer or participant first — “a filmmaker or a fighter,” in his words. Yet that duality is invaluable in creating this thoughtful portrait of the true nature of war, which Curry drafts as a first-person narrative of remarkable images and introspective questions.
The Great Invisible
Release Date: Out now Director: Margaret Brown
This documentary account of the Deep Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, which dumped 176 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days in 2010, gives you what you pay for — stunning figures, accounts of mind-boggling hypocrisy and incompetence, and endless rage. We know the facts; director Margaret Brown’s skill is in drawing out the characters, from shell-shocked survivors to family members left behind to Roosevelt Harris, a straight-talking and kind food bank volunteer who provides the heart and soul of the picture. It’s easy to get depressed by this kind of thing, but Harris serves as a valuable counterpoint, reminding us of the goodness that inevitably appears in the wake of a nightmare.
The Better Angels
Release Date: November 7 Director: A.J. Edwards Cast: Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling, Wes Bentley
Writer/director Edwards examines the boyhood years of Abraham Lincoln, but this is no simple biopic. Edwards has collaborated with Terrence Malick (credited here as a producer) on his last three projects, and the influence borders on outright imitation: intimate handheld photography, nature shots aplenty, folksy (almost mumbled) narration and interior monologues, even women in fields. (He also shares Malick’s odd lack of interest in people talking to each other.) But once you fall into its rhythms and tune in to its wavelengths, it’s got the grace and lyrical, tone-poem beauty of his mentor’s best work, while his ace cast is particularly good at finding their characters’ essences in the long spaces between the lines.
Release Date: November 14 Director: Bennett Miller Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Director Miller (Capote, Moneyball) tells the true story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), a wrestler and 1984 Olympic gold medalist who is lured to the remote training facility of millionaire John Du Pont (an unrecognizable Carell), who becomes his coach and surrogate father before revealing himself to be an unstable puzzle. Carell, brilliantly, keys in on his oddness and plays his opaqueness, seizing on it and making that the key to the character (rather than trying to penetrate it), while Tatum starts with the character’s physicality, then finds the vulnerability and despair beneath. A difficult, unnerving, and powerful piece of work. (Full review here.)
Release Date: November 19 Director: Amir Bar-Lev
In the archival clip that opens Happy Valley, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno talks about the appeal and community of college football, concluding, “Hopefully, we’ll never lose sight of that, or screw it up.” The ways in which they did just that are the focus of this challenging documentary from director Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story), who uses candid interviews, archival footage (including a stomach-churning network news puff piece on Jerry Sandusky and his “special kids”), and on-the-ground footage to capture the complexities of a shocking scandal and a turning tide. Bar-Lev’s cameras hung around after the “big story” ended, and he takes a good, hard look at the severity of the response and the interpretation of what, exactly, happened in State College.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Release Date: November 21 Director: Ana Lily Amirpour Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Our associate editor Moze Halperin got a look at this much-buzzed flick, and reports: “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie that makes use of every ounce of blood the genre has left: using the known tropes of vampirism for an amplification of sensuality, tragedy, mystery, and, most interestingly, gender politics, it tells the tale of a young, James Dean-ish badass with a heart. It’s a heart so strong that he wins over the town’s toughest critic, a music-loving, relatively moral vampire who, rather than falling in love, typically drains men (especially the ones who’ve committed misdeeds) of their blood and dumps them in a not-particularly-inconspicuous mass grave. While the film’s name makes you fear for the titular ‘Girl,’ said Girl Walking Alone is the vampire, and it reverses notions of victimhood and subjugation in multi-layered strokes of genius. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, a Los Angeles-based Iranian director, and filmed in a desert town in California, this film about the fictitious Iranian town ‘Bad City’ amalgamates cultures and landscapes to create a fantastical world where the injustices of the real world are avenged by a magical creature with a fucking awesome record collection.”
Little Hope Was Arson
Release Date: November 21 Director: Theo Love
This forceful and shrewd documentary digs into the rash of church fires that stunned East Texas a few years back with a stylistic, fast-paced urgency that threatens, in its early passages, to render the picture too slick for the subject. But it calms down considerably once the investigation settles on its suspects, whose troubled pasts are laid out with the detailed directness and thoughtful empathy of a familial drama. How do two seemingly devout young men turn away from their faith so violently? Clues are provided by problematic parents, but the most wrenching testimonials concern the guilt of those who knew them — and how these actions test the boundaries of Christian forgiveness.
Before I Disappear
Release Date: November 28 Director: Shawn Christensen Cast: Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum, Ron Perlman, Paul Wesley
Writer/director/star Christensen plays a hopeless burnout whose plans for suicide are unexpectedly waylaid by a plea from his estranged sister to look after his type-A, know-it-all niece (the dynamite Ptacek). Christensen’s stylish direction has a dreamy, hypnotic quality, which is well matched to the unpredictability of the subjective storytelling; he stumbles through this New York nightscape, and we piece this thing together as he does. Every character has his or her own unique voice, even those that can be easily drawn and played as clichés, and Christensen lands on a tone that I can’t quite pin down, but it’s just right. Thrillingly unique and totally engrossing, it’s a true original.