The dog days of summer are finally creeping into the rearview, and that most magical time of the calendar is upon us: good movie season, when studios roll out their Oscar hopefuls and indie distributors carefully, strategically releasing the movies they’ve picked up at festivals throughout the year. We’ve got eight great flicks to recommend, narratives and non-fiction (and one in between), profiles and experiments, all guaranteed to engage and entertain.
RELEASE DATE: September 5 DIRECTOR: Robert Greene CAST: Documentary
The latest masterful mixture of drama and documentary from director Greene (Kate Plays Christine, Actress) goes into the city of Bisbee, Arizona, as it approaches the centennial anniversary of the Bisbee Deportation, in which thousands of strikers (most of them immigrants) from the local copper mine were taken from the city by gunpoint, loaded onto trains, and sent into the New Mexico desert. As the city’s current residents commemorate and research the event, Greene extracts their ghost stories and folk tales, and stages a full, cinematic dramatization of the strike and deportation. The compositions, camera movements, and score are forceful — the climactic accumulation of elements is really quite astonishing — and the act of bringing the past to life in the present becomes a meta-textual commentary on keeping history safely distant. But it’s not; he observes even contemporary commenters insisting the conflict was neither anti-labor nor immigration, but a matter of “safety.” Greene doesn’t draw the line to current anti-immigrant rhetoric. He doesn’t have to.
RELEASE DATE: September 7 DIRECTOR: Ethan Hawke CAST: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton, Josh Hamilton, Kris Kristofferson
“I don’t wanna be a star,” purrs the singer/songwriter Blaze Foley (Dickey) to his wife Sybil (Shakwat). “I wants to be a legend.” Yet Hawke’s freewheeling biopic doesn’t stop there; its complex construction includes a framing device in which his two closest collaborators (Sexton and Hamilton) share their recollections in a radio interview, and lock horns over who he was – revealing that there’s a world of difference between telling these stories of hard-drinkin’ and hell-raisin’, and living through them. There’s real tension between lionization and candor, and beyond the usual observations of addiction and creativity, that’s what this keenly observed, thoughtfully executed movie is really all about.
RELEASE DATE: September 7 DIRECTOR: Amy Scott CAST: Documentary
It seems like every New Hollywood icon is getting the bio-documentary treatment these days, but there’s a much sharper rise-and-fall arc to Hal Ashby’s story than you’ll find in Steven Spielberg’s or Brian DePalma’s. The humanist filmmaker of the ‘70s became the enfant terrible of the 1980s, and cancer took him away before his career could recover. But his earlier masterpieces remain, an unparalleled run of warm, humanist works like Harold and Maude, Being There, and The Last Detail, and Scott’s affectionate portrait functions as annotations to those classics, which are as fresh and funny today as they were all those years ago.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
RELEASE DATE: September 14 DIRECTOR: RaMell Ross CAST: Documentary
In 2009, Ross moved to Alabama to teach photography and coach basketball, and he started filming. The film he assembled from that footage is impressionistic and expressionistic, full of moments grabbed and exploded, overwhelming images of everyday lyricism (my favorite: of one of his players’ drops of sweat hitting concrete, followed by a hard cut of raindrops doing the same). It’s observational and easy-going — so much so, the unspeakable tragedy that occurs late in the film really wallops you. But even then, Ross doesn’t succumb to pathos; the event is seen, and noted, and then life goes on. As it does. What an extraordinary film.
RELEASE DATE: September 14 DIRECTOR: Craig William Macneill CAST: Chloë Sevigny, Kim Dickens, Kristen Stewart
Lizzie Borden (Sevigny) is best remembered for (allegedly) murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet one sunny morning in 1892, but Macneill’s intimate character study saves the dirty details of that crime for the finish. In the meantime, we meet the title character, a sparkplug whose sharp tongue and unapologetic independence causes such frequent clashes with her father, their entire household begins to feel like a ticking bomb. Into that environment walks Bridget (Stewart), a meek maid in whom Lizzie finds a friend, and then more; Stewart masterfully suggests the pain that her character must keep hid, and the inevitability that more is to come. But this is Sevigny’s movie, and she’s on fire — her intensity keeps the picture humming until the inevitable crime scene, when they really go for it.
Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable
RELEASE DATE: September 19 DIRECTOR: Sasha Waters Freyer CAST: Documentary
Winogrand, a growling straight-talker with a Bronx accent and an eye for visual poetry, was a street photographer — one of the great ones. This documentary portrait from American Masters and director Freyer utilizes a loose biographical structure to explore his recurring motifs, and to close-read some of his best pictures’ compositions, themes, and influences. It’s not a total shine-job — Fryer doesn’t shy away from the shortcomings of the work, or the controversies surrounding it — but it admires him regardless, and cleverly figures out ways to see, through him, a modern history of the form.
RELEASE DATE: September 21 DIRECTOR: Wash Westmoreland CAST: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Fiona Shaw, Eleanor Tomlinson
The four books detailing the adventures of Claudine, the gamine country girl who takes on the sophisticates of Paris, were a sensation in early-20th century France; credited to the popular novelist Henry Gauthier-Villars (aka “Willy”), they were actually written by his wife Colette. She became a brand — a marketable name and lifestyle, a proto-Kardashian, if you will — and Westmoreland’s friskily entertaining literary biopic tells the story of how she stumbled into writing, and then stumbled into her own identity. West is well-cast as Willy, roguishly handsome and utterly incorrigible, and Knightley is a marvel; watch carefully, at a key moment, how she says a single word (“possibly”) and turns it into a symphony.
RELEASE DATE: September 21 DIRECTOR: Lisa Dapolito CAST: Documentary
This documentary love letter to comedy icon Gilda Radner lets her tell her own story, via archival interviews, readings from her journals, excerpts from her autobiography, and tapes of the free-flowing monologues that she presumably used to write it. In spite of that material, you don’t really come away from this generally agreeable movie with a much of a sense of who she was and what drove her; Dapolito tends to merely hint at or brush past her difficulties and frustrations (particularly on Saturday Night Live, which seems a calculated choice to avoid dinging the mystique). But comedy geeks will go nuts for the archival material, which includes footage of her fabled Toronto Godspell production and wonderful home movies from her National Lampoon shows and SNL days.