We’re moving ever more speedily towards the end of the year, which is when the Quality Motion Picture game ramps up — both in the multiplexes (as studios trot out their end-of-the-year, Oscar-hopeful prestige fare) and at the art house. So this month we have 11 recommendations for you, from a Cannes winner to an arty biopic to the final film from one of cinema’s masters. It’s a good month, is the point, so let’s start marking up your movie-going calendar.
The Other Side of the Wind
RELEASE DATE: November 2 (in limited release and on Netflix) DIRECTOR: Orson Welles CAST: John Huston, Robert Random, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich
Orson Welles’ final, just-finally-completed feature film is one of his most personal, concerning as it does the story of a legendary filmmaker grappling with his fears of mortality and, even worse, artistic obsolescence. Said filmmaker is one Jake Hannaford, played by Welles’ contemporary John Huston as a fusion of both men, with dashes of John Ford and Ernest Hemingway thrown in for good measure. Hannaford fights those psychological battles through the long, late night of his 70th birthday party, captured in a variety of media (but mostly black-and-white 16mm) by various hangers-on, peeking through windows and around corners, creating a collage of picture and sound; he interweaves that story with scenes from Hannaford’s latest picture, an unapologetic attempt to capture the zeitgeist. Those scenes are shot in crisp, clear, widescreen color, and though Welles was intending to send up Antononi-esque visual ostentation, the results are fabulous, all blasts of color and striking compositions and reflective surfaces, an excuse for the filmmaker to play in the realm of pure, wild style. Those scenes alone make this one worth venturing out to the cinema for, if you’re so lucky to have one that’s playing it; if not, it’ll still come across on Netflix.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
RELEASE DATE: November 2 (in limited release and on Netflix) DIRECTOR: Morgan Neville CAST: Documentary
This companion piece to Other Side of the Wind from Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 20 Feet From Stardom) isn’t, thankfully, yet another Orson Welles bio-doc — its explicit subject is the production and extended post-production of Wind, with copious outtakes, archival footage, and interviews from those who were there. But Neville is also a smart enough filmmaker to know that you can view his entire life through the prism of that final work; the struggle to get it financed and finished is one that Welles engaged in throughout his post-Kane career, and the themes of betrayal and failure that run through it are similarly present in his own life and work. Neville doesn’t take his subject too seriously, which is what Welles would have wanted; this is a playful, entertaining picture, and a loving portrait of a honest-to-God maverick.
Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
RELEASE DATE: November 2 (in limited release and on demand) DIRECTOR: Dana Adam Shapiro CAST: Documentary
Shapiro (Murderball) directs this fascinating and nuanced portrait of that period in the 1970s and 1980s when the scantily-clad cheerleading squad for “America’s Team” fully penetrated popular culture, and what, exactly, that meant. Grappling with the contradictions of their image (as author Mary Evans notes, they were “Bible Belt good girls, but they were also selling sex”) and contextualizing them within the era of women’s liberation, Daughters asks potent questions of feminism and anti-feminism (and the kind of sexual freedoms that became a point of controversy between first and second saves), as well as exploitation. Shapiro lets alums and observers tell the story, moving fast (it runs a tight 75 minutes) and keeping it personal, resulting in a thoughtful film about what seems a fluffy subject.
RELEASE DATE: November 2 DIRECTOR: Joel Edgerton CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe
It has its problems — a somewhat paint-by-numbers script, a clumsy metaphor or two — but actor/director Edgerton’s adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir is a complicated, difficult story sensitively told of gay “conversion” therapy and, more importantly, the kind of Evangelical guilt that can lead to it. Hedges finds just the right note for the leading role, which is mostly reactionary — but when he has to raise his voice, he rises to the occasion. Crowe deftly underplays the role of Hedges’ preacher father, and Kidman is wonderful as the mother who finds herself at a line she will not cross. Edgerton’s own performance as the leader of the conversion group is nuanced, and he fills the film with the kind of small, behavioral touches the keep it from veering too far into the polemic.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
RELEASE DATE: November 16 (in limited release and on Netflix) DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen CAST: Liam Neeson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Tim Blake Nelson
The Coen Brothers’ latest runs a hefty 135 minutes, but it moves like a runaway mule — perhaps because they’ve adopted an anthology format, allowing them to shift tempos and tones so frequently, you barely check your watch. And though it sounds like a strange adjective for a lengthy picture, its most admirable quality may be its discipline; several of these stories are such clever ideas, with so many unexplored possibilities, that it must’ve been tempting to spin them off into features of their own. Instead, they’re contained and condensed for maximum effect, and the resulting multi-faceted effort plays, in the best way, like a directors’ notebook brought to life, an investigation of ideas and narrative gimmicks that might not’ve sustained their own exploration. The result, a wild campfire stew of comedy, tragedy, and melancholy, is both unlike anything they’ve ever done, and exactly what we’ve come to expect.
RELEASE DATE: November 16 (in limited release and on Netflix) DIRECTOR: Daniel Goldhaber CAST: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters
One of the best Twilight Zone stories — in both the original show and its mid-‘80s reincarnation — was the one about the guy who accidentally calls his own telephone number, and is shocked when he picks up on the other end. Director Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei give that concept a 21st century spin with this story of a webcam performer (Brewer, brilliant) who wakes up one morning and discovers she can no longer access her channel and audience — and someone who looks and sounds exactly like her has taken it over. It’s a tricky role for Brewer, who has to play both selfish and sympathetic, often simultaneously; she becomes aware of her contradictions as she spends quite a bit of time (probably too much) in the act of watching herself. Dark and disturbing, with a portrait of cam-girl culture that seems verrrrry authentic.
At Eternity’s Gate
RELEASE DATE: November 16 DIRECTOR: Julian Schnabel CAST: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac
Dafoe is passionate and heartbreaking as Vincent van Gogh in a tightly-focused biopic that begins with its subject on the edge of madness, and follows him as he tumbles right over. The endless source of the artist’s frustration and alienation is his certainty that he sees the world differently than everyone else, and only wanted his paintings to bridge that gap; director Julian Schnabel uses his own background as a visual artist to push color temperatures and frame compositions to similarly reflect Van Gogh’s unique perspective. But more importantly, he conveys his inside knowledge of the nervous moments of wandering and contemplating, before the work begins, waiting for inspiration to strike. It probably takes an artist to know an artist so well, and this inspired pairing of director and subject results in one of the more convincing portraits of that temperament.
RELEASE DATE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Koreeda CAST: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sôsuke Ikematsu
“Can you find your way home by yourself?” they ask the little girl, whom they took in a couple of days earlier, as casually as the items they lifted from the grocery store for that evening’s dinner. And when she doesn’t, they shrug and keep her around; after all, she came from what sure sounded like an abusive household, so is it really kidnapping if the child is living a better life? It turns out it is, and the way Shoplifters shifts, rather suddenly, from a gentle survival story to something far more sinister is one of the many fine qualities of Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner. It’s also a film that offsets its portraiture of casual crime and near poverty with moments of genuine warmth and images of astonishing melancholy; this is a major work in a deliberately minor key, full of deeply felt scenes and characters who hide profound secrets under a sheen of good cheer.
RELEASE DATE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos CAST: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman
The latest from Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) contains his most direct commentary on class — particularly early on, when the members of the royal court feast and frolic in grotesque slow-motion, images that are sharply contrasted with new servant Abigail (Stone) sleeping on the floor and taking a group cold-water “shower” with a single bar of shared soap. Of course, it helps that it’s a tale of British history, set in the court of Queen Anne (Colman), and detailing the ways in which cunning and resourceful Abigail first used her cousin Sarah (Weisz) to elevate her position, and then usurped Sarah as the Queen’s lover and trusted advisor. The dialogue is cutting, brutal, and ruthless (Weisz, in particular, wields it like a sharp-shooter), and it often plays like a nastier Dangerous Liaisons, framed and lit like Barry Lyndon. Both, of course, are intended as the highest compliment.
Write When You Get Work
RELEASE DATE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Stacy Cochran CAST: Rachel Keller, Finn Wittrock, Emily Mortimer
The first words to appear on screen aren’t a credit or a production company logo, but a promise: “Shot on Kodak Film.” (The cinematographer is Oscar winner Robert Elswit.) And that’s appropriate; the filminess of the latest from writer/director Cochran (My New Gun) gives it weight and context, making it look like a lost late-‘80s/early-‘90s indie, something like Spike of Bensonhurst or Just Another Girl on the IRT. Trouble is, the weirdly retrograde script makes it feel like a leftover from that era as well, romanticizing a “courtship” that should probably end with a restraining order rather than a walk into the sunset. That said, the filmmaking is sturdy and it boasts a solid cast — with a standout performance by Mortimer, who plays her freaked-out financier’s wife as a bundle of frayed nerves.
If Beale Street Could Talk
RELEASE DATE: November 23 DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins CAST: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Beale Street is in New Orleans and Barry Jenkins’ latest is set in Harlem, but that doesn’t matter much; the opening quote from James Baldwin, who wrote the novel it’s taken from, explains that Beale Street is less of a place than an idea, a location for the lives and loves of black people in every city. The film — which perfectly fuses the voices of its two creators — concerns a young couple in love, and the trials they face. Jenkins’ images soar in time with the swells of the score, and the actors gaze into his camera with an emotional immediacy that’s downright transportive. Every performance lands, but special praise is due to the heart-melting work of Regina King; every moment, every gesture, is imbued with immeasurable love and wisdom. As is the movie itself.