After perusing our massive, 60-film, two-part fall preview, there shouldn’t be too many surprises on our first monthly highlights of the season. While September is often thought of as prelude to awards-season favorites, there are also a number of stellar, smaller-scale offerings we hope don’t get lost in the cracks––including a rather strong honorable mentions list to follow. Check out our picks below.

12. Petrov’s Flu (Kirill Serebrennikov; Sept. 23)

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has been invited to back-to-back Cannes, premiering Petrov’s Flu last year and Tchaikovsky’s Wife this year. The former is finally getting a U.S. release, and Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Petrov’s Flu opens on a stuffy commute—a Moscow bus in the early years of post-Soviet Russia. The eponymous protagonist is already bent over a handrail, stricken with his affliction. The mood is fevered, almost circus-like, the lighting like pea soup. In a moment of madness, Petrov (played by Semyon Serzin) is dragged from the bus by militiamen in Mexican wrestling masks. Hard rock plays. He takes a gun and joins their firing squad, mowing down some nameless humans. The mind briefly wanders to Brazil, and somehow Songs from the Second Floor.”

11. Catherine Called Birdy (Lena Dunham; Sept. 23)

As someone who thinks Girls achieved much more than simply delivering Adam Driver to the dream cast list of every auteur in the world, I’m always curious what Lena Dunham’s next venture may be. After the singular, divisive Sharp Stick, a clear highlight from Sundance, she’s debuting her second film of the year. Catherine Called Birdy, her adaptation of Karen Cushman’s beloved children’s novel, follows a girl in England circa 1290 who must fight off suitors her parents sell her to for money. It’ll be curious to see how Dunham’s voice carries through this medieval coming-of-age comedy and we’ll find out soon as it arrives on Prime Video following a TIFF premiere.

10. Riotsville, USA (Sierra Pettengill; Sept. 16)

Among the most fascinating documentaries to emerge from Sundance this year is Sierra Pettengill’s archival exploration of Riotsville, USA, a point in American history when the nation’s rulers––politicians, bureaucrats, police––were faced with mounting militancy of the late 1960s and did everything possible to win the war in the streets. As Shayna Warner said in their review, “Riotsville is federally funded fascism, and as director Sierra Pettengill’s urgent, meticulously collaged documentary outlines, it laid the foundation for the tactics and overwhelming funding of police brutality we see today. Riotsville, USA is a documentary made entirely of archival footage from the 1960s, much of it helpfully recorded by the U.S. military.”

9. The African Desperate (Martine Syms; Sept. 16)

One of the most exciting directorial debuts of the year, Martine Syms’ The African Desperate is an electrifying ride through a day in the life of Palace Bryant (Diamond Stingily). An MFA grad on her final day of academia, she navigates saying goodbye to some genuine friends and not-so-genuine, annoying teachers and colleagues, as well as contemplating what is next. As Leonardo Goi said in his ND/NF review, “Rollicking, piercing, and wildly entertaining, The African Desperate is pitched along the border that runs between being excited for one’s future and terrified about not knowing what it’ll look like.”

8. Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot; Sept. 2)

One of the most acclaimed films at last year’s fall festival circuit, playing at TIFF Midnight Madness, Fantastic Fest, and more, Congolese director Jean Luc Herbulot’s Senegalese thriller Saloum follows three mercenaries extracting a druglord out of Guinea-Bissau who are forced to hide in the mystical region of Saloum, Senegal. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “I don’t want to give too much away, but the visions of a young boy in chains escaping his prison that haunt Chaka are the least of his worries once Herbulot shifts genres from tense, character-driven thriller to supernatural survival horror. It’s an abrupt change that works quite well because of how its entrance at the start of the second half builds off the conclusion of the first.”

7. Hold Me Tight (Mathieu Amalric; Sept. 9)

After a brief post-Phantom Thread lull, it’s nice to know Vicky Krieps is back with roles at least reaching for a similar caliber. Following Old and Bergman Island, and ahead of Corsage, she stars in the latest drama from Mathieu Amalric. As we said in our fall preview, “One of our greatest actors (in any language) directing one of our greatest actresses (ditto) is not per se some guarantee of rousing success, making Hold Me Tight that much more gratifying an experience. Mathieu Amalric’s slippery story of a mother abandoning her life, family, and seemingly entire sense of self is animated by a performance confirming Vicky Krieps has little ceiling to her capabilities. Well after the film’s end its mysteries remain, images linger.”

6. Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill; Sept. 30)

In a Hollywood landscape that seems less and less concerned with adult-minded genre fare, it’s refreshing to see that The Warriors and 48 Hrs. director Walter Hill is returning this fall with a new Western. Led by Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Rachel Brosnahan, Brandon Scott, Warren Burke, Benjamin Bratt, and Hamish Linklater, Dead for a Dollar follows a bounty hunter on the search for a missing wife of a businessman. It’s set to premiere imminently at Venice and arrive in theaters quickly thereafter; check back for our review soon.

5. God’s Creatures (Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer; Sept. 30)

After their remarkable breakthrough drama The Fits, the wait has been long for Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer to return, but they finally did so at Cannes this year. Per Rory O’Connor’s review, “Some actors slip into familiar roles like old sweaters. Emily Watson might prefer a raincoat. The actress first graced our screens in Breaking the Waves for Lars von Trier: her eyes peeking out from under a wooly hat, whipped by wind and rain, and carrying the sins of an entire town. The great actress faces those same elements again in God’s Creatures, trading von Trier’s nightmarish vision of the Scottish highlands for a doom metal take on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.”

4. The Cathedral (Ricky D’Ambrose; Sept. 2)

What makes the fabric of our upbringing? The memories we’ll reflect on after those years have passed are often not what we may hold onto in a moment filtered and refracted through a thousand more experiences. Following his hour-long debut feature Notes on an Appearance, Ricky D’Ambrose’s Bressonian style continues with The Cathedral, a less intellectually rigorous outing that still impresses with its sense of personal significance, recreating slivers of a life experience over some two decades to form a vivid recollection of both the fracturing of a family and the United States at large. It’s an ambitious undertaking for an 87-minute film, and one comes away admiring D’Ambrose’s meticulously committed approach to storytelling. Continue reading my full review.

3. Speak No Evil (Christian Tafdrup; Sept. 9)

One of the most viscerally affecting films coming from Sundance this year was Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil. It follows a family who accept an invitation to the rural home of another they met on holiday, and they soon find their lives altered in an unexpected, deeply horrifying way. With a streak of dark humor and insightful commentary on humanity’s eagerness to accept one another, Tafdrup has crafted quite a singularly haunting experience. Christopher Schobert said in his review, “The latest from Christian Tafdrup has the brutal shock value of George Sluizer’s The Vanishing and gut-punching, visceral impact of Haneke’s Funny GamesSpeak No Evil does not reach the level of ingenuity and freshness found in those similarly potent antecedents. But what it lacks in originality is compensated in chilling execution.”

2. Moonage Daydream (Brett Morgen; Sept. 16)

One of the best films we saw at Cannes earlier this year, Brett Morgen’s David Bowie spectacle Moonage Daydream takes a hypnotic journey through the late artist’s life with Bowie’s own voice and 48 songs from his vast library. As Luke Hicks said in his review, “Morgen accordingly takes a more surreal, hallucinatory approach to the icon, leaning into the chaos of life Bowie implores us to embrace, not flee. He employs a flurry of pop-culture imagery, animation, and clips from Bowie’s favorite works (e.g. Metropolis, which inspired his third album The Man Who Sold the World). More important is footage from Bowie’s performances, films, music videos, paintings, Broadway stint, et al. in concert with interviews (no talking heads), sound bites, and quote cards to flesh out his foundational philosophies. The idea is to communicate how and why Bowie lived, a more apt way of bottling him into a feature that gives viewers real sense of who he was more than a futile attempt to capture all ever could. “

1. Blonde (Andrew Dominik; Sept. 28)

Outside a certain James Cameron blockbuster, Andrew Dominik’s Blonde receives the award for the most talked about film of the fall that has yet be released. Long in the works, then shot a few years back, it will finally debut at Venice before landing on Netflix later this month. With Ana de Armas taking the role of Marilyn Monroe, the release window indicates that coveted sweet spot of boldly artistic filmmaking that does a fine job isolating the milquetoast taste of Academy voters. Regardless of its response, one thing can be agreed upon: let’s not wait another decade for the next Dominik film.

Check out more films to have on your radar below.

  • Peter Von Kant (Sept. 2)
  • Pinocchio (Sept. 8)
  • Dos Estaciones (Sept. 9)
  • The Story of Film: A New Generation (Sept. 9)
  • The Silent Twins (Sept. 16)
  • Casablanca Beats (Sept. 16)
  • The Woman King (Sept. 16)
  • God’s Country (Sept. 16)
  • Confess, Fletch (Sept. 16)
  • Don’t Worry Darling (Sept. 23)
  • Nothing Compares (Sept. 23)
  • My Imaginary Country (Sept. 23)
  • Athena (Sept. 23)
  • Vesper (Sept. 30)
  • Bros (Sept. 30)
  • Argentina, 1985 (Sept. 30)
  • Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (Sept. 30)
  • Sirens (Sept. 30)

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