While our massive, 50-film fall preview will give you an overview of what we’re looking forward to for the next four months, we’ll still be diving deeper in our monthly previews. While much of September is dedicated to coverage from Venice, TIFF, and NYFF, there’s still plenty of worthwhile new releases to check––including a few from the aforementioned festivals.
14. The Mad Women’s Ball (Mélanie Laurent; Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime)
Along with her impressive acting career, Mélanie Laurent has proven to be a formidable force behind the camera, particularly with Breathe. She’s now back with two features over the next two years and first up is this TIFF premiere. Set in Paris at the end of the 1800s, it concerns an independent woman who is deemed mentally unwell and institutionalized. Once inside, she desperately attempts to escape. The title refers to a year-end ball in which patients are dressed up and shown off for high society in a prestigious bit of patronizing.
13. The Year of the Everlasting Storm (Various; Sept. 3 in theaters)
While it still remains to be seen if Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria will get a release this year, the director’s work can be seen in a new anthology film alongside David Lowery, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, Anthony Chen, and Malik Vitthal. As Luke Hicks said in his Cannes review, “It shows pandemic art is maturing and substantiates the idea that the more time we have to process, the more nuanced our understanding of the topic—and our artistic expression of it—will be. The seven titles range from a dialogue-free mystery surrounding a gravesite to a cyberwarfare true-crime documentary to a contemplative encounter with clamorous insects. The progression is sensible and smooth, teleological in the way it flows from segment to segment.”
12. The Nowhere Inn (Bill Benz; Sept. 17 in theaters and on VOD)
The formula for the concert documentary is a tried-and-true one, with only a few surprises to arrive here and there. Martin Scorsese had some fun with tenets of the form in his recent Rolling Thunder Revue, and now St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein are here to shake things up. After premiering at Sundance last year, the comedy-thriller-documentary The Nowhere Inn arrives soon. Directed by Bill Benz, the film is a metafictional account of the two creative forces banding together to make a documentary about St. Vincent’s music, touring life, and on-stage persona, but things quickly go awry.
11. Wild Indian (Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr.; Sept. 3 in theaters and on VOD)
One of the more ambitious films I saw at this year’s Sundance was Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s Wild Indian. Featuring a stellar performance by Michael Greyeyes, with Chaske Spencer, Jesse Eisenberg, and Kate Bosworth rounding out the cast, the story follows an indigenous man who covered up his classmate’s murder decades ago as the past comes back to haunt him. David Katz said in his Sundance review, “Wild Indian is a bold, anger-wreaked character study, creating a deeply unsympathetic antihero who nevertheless inspires some pity and understanding.”
10. Prisoners of the Ghostland (Sion Sono; Sept. 17 in theaters and on VOD)
Arguably the hardest working man in show business, Nicolas Cage appeared in over 40 films the last decade alone. Yes, he may no longer work with the likes of David Lynch, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Charlie Kaufman, or the Coens, but the eternally entertaining actor usually finds a gem every now and again that truly utilizes his eccentric talents. That’s why the prospect of him teaming with a director as unhinged and prolific as he is an actor made for the most-anticipated collaboration in some time. With Cage as his lead, Sion Sono––one of Japan’s most creative, kinetic filmmakers––embarked on his English-language debut Prisoners of the Ghostland following his life-altering, death-defying heart attack. The results are a madcap Mad Max-esque, Gilliam-style fever dream that throws everything at the screen that its limited, albeit resourceful budget can muster up. The actual experience of watching this gonzo dystopian samurai western is far from the shock-a-minute journey one would expect, but even in more banal sequences Sono’s imaginative eye peeks through. Continue reading my full review.
9. Anne at 13,000 Ft (Kazik Radwanski; Sept. 3 in theaters)
One of the best performances of the year comes from Deragh Campbell in Kazik Radwanski’s riveting character study Anne at 13,000 Ft. Ethan Vestby said in his review back at TIFF 2019, “Anne (Deragh Campbell) is in stasis. Doing four shifts a week at a Toronto daycare, she’s repeatedly given a hard time by co-workers (or the managerial state in general) for being “unprofessional,” i.e. daydreaming or playing too much with the kids. Perhaps a reflection of how many of us reach a certain point, say in our late 20s, where we realize that we’re not going to actually be made happy by our career. Beyond struggling at work, Anne’s interactions with friends, family, and Tinder dates alike all take on different plains of awkwardness; she struggles to maintain conversation, a straight face, or even a line of thought.”
8. Azor (Andreas Fontana; Sept. 10 in theaters)
A highlight on the festival circuit the past year, Azor should fulfill expectations for those seeking a stylish international thriller. Mark Asch said in his review, “An almost suffocating air of secrecy permeates Azor, a Swiss-Argentinean coproduction concerning the mutual suspicion and damnable complicity of patrician North Atlantic capitalism and repressive regimes in the postcolonial Global South. The year is 1980, and a private banker from Geneva circulates among the Buenos Aires elite. This is at the height of the Dirty War, though so absolute is the Swiss banker’s discretion—so clean his hands—that the military junta’s crimes against its people feel as suggestively peripheral to the film’s narrative as the word “disappeared” implies. Filmmaker Andreas Fontana’s debut feature is a film of almost Le Carréan subtlety, of oblique plotting, crouching dialogue, and guarded performances masking sinister realpolitik.”
7. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (Kristina Lindström & Kristian Petri; Sept. 24 in theaters)
A portrait of lost innocence as it pertains to a famous figure of international arthouse cinema, Brianna Zigler said in her review, “In 1971, Björn Andrésen was the most beautiful boy in the world. In 2019, he’s the elder of a neopagan commune in rural Sweden, whose inability to commit suicide in the fictional ritual of ättestupa forces the other cult onlookers to brutally bash his head in with a rock. In the time between Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice and Ari Aster’s Midsommar, Andrésen lived a life that might have seemed enviable on the surface, but which he baldly describes in this documentary as a “living nightmare.” It was the fateful casting audition in 1970 Stockholm where Visconti met Andrésen and found his beautiful boy that set the wheels in motion for the rest of his life, marred by personal tragedy, substance abuse, and exploitation. At the film’s conclusion, the woman who oversaw Andrésen’s casting alongside Visconti regretfully reflects on the day that shifted the course of his life forever, unable to separate the years that followed from the first moment this minor was forced out of his innocence.”
6. El Planeta (Amalia Ulman; Sept. 24 in theaters and VOD on Oct. 8)
A keenly observant, slyly funny debut feature, Amalia Ulman’s El Planeta was a highlight at Sundance earlier this year. Per Matt Cipolla’s review, “In a café in Gijón, Spain, Leonor (Amalia Ulman) sits with a cup of coffee. An older man (Nacho Vigalondo) approaches her and joins her, and the two start discussing some sort of transaction. She’s considering sleeping with him for money, but then she reconsiders. “I’m wondering if it’s worth sucking a dick for a book.” Like Leonor’s own little gig economy she’s come to, this is one of the many vignettes El Planeta finds itself in. She was a fashion student in London before, but now that her father (and cat) has died, she’s home living with her mother (Ale Ulman), who’s facing eviction. The unemployment office has failed them and their time is scarce. Naturally, they start grifting to get meals and lower their bills. If someone else can pay for dinner, that’s great. If Leonor can sit in the hallway to read so she doesn’t have to turn on the lights, that adds up too. I’d be sad if it didn’t have such a droll approach. In some ways, it is. El Planeta isn’t the most thematically consistent, but it’s clever and brisk enough to be a good time.
5. The Village Detective: a song cycle (Bill Morrison; Sept. 22 in theaters)
Following up one of this century’s greatest films, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Bill Morrison returns with The Village Detective: a song cycle, another excavation of lost cinema. This time he explores the life and career of Soviet actor Mikhail Zharov, the impetus being four reels of 35mm film discovered off the coast of Iceland in 2016. While the film doesn’t necessarily pack Dawson City‘s epic gravitas, it greatly succeeds as a kind of version of a biographical documentary that only Morrison could deliver. With a fantastic score by David Lang, the director mesmerizingly weaves through an entire life of unbridled creativity while also, once again, instilling the importance of film preservation.
4. The Card Counter (Paul Schrader; Sept. 10 in theaters)
There’s not much I can say about Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter until the Venice Film Festival embargo lifts, but its placement on this list should indicate if it’s a worthy follow-up to First Reformed. Check back for our review soon.
3. Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir; Sept. 3 in theaters)
“Look how far God has brought us. We can only go where God guides us to. We are exactly where God wants us to be.” These are the first words spoken in Jessica Beshir’s ruminative and ravishing feature debut Faya Dayi, establishing a conversational dialogue with a higher realm that carries through the rest of this graceful, ethereal journey through Ethiopia. Specifically exploring the trade of the khat leaf––a hallucinatory plant used by Sufi Muslims for religious meditation but has now become Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop––Beshir deeply immerses the viewer into daily work, spiritual ponderings, and questions of life’s purpose. At times recalling Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s striking black-and-white debut Mysterious Object at Noon and the vivid chiaroscuro work of Pedro Costa, Faya Dayi shares a similar approach to mixing documentary and narrative elements to form a transportive ethnographic survey. Continue reading my full review.
2. Cry Macho (Clint Eastwood; Sept. 17 in theaters and on HBO Max)
After hitting quite a creative stride with Sully, 15:17 to Paris (yes, I will defend this utterly fascinating experiment), The Mule, and Richard Jewell, here’s hoping the 91-year-old Clint Eastwood continues that run with Cry Macho. It was in various stages of development for the last many decades, and Eastwood finally took the helm and lead role for the story of an ex-rodeo star who is hired by a former boss to kidnap his Mexican son and transport him to Texas.
1. Wife of a Spy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Sept. 17 in theaters)
Given his adoration for Robert Zemeckis’ spectacular throwback spy thriller Allied, expectations were high for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s very first entry into the subgenre––only increased by the fact that Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, responsible for two of the greatest films of 2021, co-wrote the script. Thankfully, the Japanese director has delivered. Rory O. Connor said in his review, “Wife of a Spy is a tragic love story with feminist leanings and one in which Kurasawa looks to show us how warm human bonds can be lost amidst a conflict of ideologies. It is also about a time in Japan when burgeoning Western influences rubbed up against the rising nationalistic fervor, something the director expertly implies in his production––showing without having to tell.”