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.