The year is winding down, which means many of our most-anticipated films and festival favorites will finally be arriving in theaters. Featuring biopics that break the mold, first and final features by female directors with distinct visions, crime dramas of varying scales, and much more, check out our monthly highlights below.
15. Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold; Nov. 15)
After spending much of the past decade enmeshed in the world of superheroes, director James Mangold’s next film finds him going back half-a-century to capture a key moment in automotive history. Christopher Schobert said in our TIFF review, “James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is, in a word, sturdy. It’s the kind of airtight drama that could never be called groundbreaking or even original. But it offers ample pleasures in performance—from stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale—and design. While it could be a bit nastier, this is unquestionably intense grade-A Hollywood entertainment. The racing sequences are genuinely thrilling, and even the boardroom and back-office battles are compelling. “
14. Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas; Nov. 27)
Curiously absent from fall festivals thus far, Queen & Slim, scripted by Lena Waithe and marking Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut, will finally premiere at AFI Fest just a few weeks before it hits theaters. The Bonnie & Clyde-esque story follows a man (Daniel Kaluuya) and woman (newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) on a first date who get stopped by a cop and kill him in self-defense, then go on the run. With Waithe also producing, she reteams with Matsoukas after directing some episodes of Master of None. Matsoukas–who also helmed some of the biggest music videos of the last few years for Beyoncé, Rihanna, and more–seems well-equipped to tell a timely, powerful story.
13. The Hottest August (Brett Story; Nov. 15)
Get a taste of summer with one of the most acclaimed documentaries this year, arriving this month. Mark Asch said in our review from BAMcinemaFest, “In The Hottest August, Brett Story, the cultural geographer who made The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, attempts something a little like Akerman’s News from Home, schlepping a camera across NYC to take expressive samplings of people and places at the sweatiest time of the year, and pairing her vignettes with essayistic voiceover musings.”
12. Dark Waters (Todd Haynes; Nov.22)
A late-breaking entry into the fall movie season, Todd Haynes is back and in an entirely different gear with Dark Waters. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Pullman, the film tackles a true story of environmental corruption, with Ruffalo back in Spotlight mode–and even re-teaming with Participant Media. The film is based on The New York Times article about Rob Bilott, an Ohio lawyer who uncovered how the chemical company DuPont had polluted drinking water in the region, which opened up a bigger investigation regarding chemicals that were used in everyday products for decades and infecting nearly the entire population of the world. Screening for the first time last night, early word has been strong so hopefully that carries through up to its release later this month.
11. Feast of the Epiphany (Jeff Reichert, Michael Koresky, and Farihah Zaman; Nov. 29)
After premiering at BAMCinemaFest last year, the feature directorial debut from the Reverse Shot team Jeff Reichert, Michael Koresky, and Farihah Zaman will be getting a theatrical release starting at Museum of the Moving Image this month. Ryan Swen said in our review, “This joint venture feels entirely unexpected. Through a two-part structure that implicitly exists in point-counterpoint, Feast of the Epiphany continually surprises and works to innovate the viewer’s understanding of what “narrative” cinema can communicate. To say much regarding the specific contents of its second half would concede something intended as a surprise, but, in the simplest terms possible, it constitutes a radical shift in location, subject, formal construction, and even time.”
10. Age Out (A.J. Edwards; Nov. 22)
One my favorite debuts this decade was A.J. Edwards’ young Lincoln tale The Better Angels. Terrence Malick’s frequent collaborator has now returned with a modern-day tale for his follow-up and one that packs just as much poetic beauty. Premiering at festivals as Friday’s Child but now going by Age Out for the theatrical release, the drama stars Tye Sheridan, Imogen Poots, Caleb Landry Jones, and Jeffery Wright. Following a teenage drifter just out of foster and who finds a new love, Jared Mobarak said in our review, “Edwards supplies Richie’s inner turmoil through poetic imagery. We see the raucous nature of a teen running wild with new friend Swim (Caleb Landry Jones), the sterile yet optimistic expanse of employment with his hands outdoors and the calmness of hotel servitude, and the sweetly complex hope for more shared by a young woman with similarly sad eyes in Joan (Imogen Poots). We can see these two characters as a demon and angel perched atop his shoulders: one able to bring out the worst in him and the other the best. And all the while Detective Portnoy (Jeffrey Wright) looms to force Richie into deciding which road his heart truly desires.”
9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller; Nov. 22)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller continues her streak with her biopic, featuring the perfectly-cast Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Christopher Schobert said in our review from TIFF, “It’s not really a biopic at all. Nor is it a rehash of 2018’s much-heralded documentary profile of Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Instead, this 2019 Toronto International Film Festival world premiere is a deeply felt story of friendship and forgiveness. Truly, what makes Neighborhood such a tremendous success is that it is not a film about Mr. Rogers. Rather, it’s a film about the impact of Mr. Rogers.”
8. Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda; Nov. 22)
On March 29, 2019, the world lost one of its greatest filmmakers as Agnès Varda passed away at the age of 90. Just a short time before her death, the Belgium-born director premiered her final film, Varda by Agnès, at Berlinale, which follows her reflecting on her career and singular approach to filmmaking. Now ahead of a nationwide retrospective, this last feature will arrive in theaters. Rory O’Connor said in our review, “Life can seldom offer us neat endings. Cinema sometimes can, and there is something nicely fitting to the notion that Agnès Varda, the seventh art’s great celebrator of all things gleaned, would leave audiences–newcomers and devotees alike–with so much to take from her final film, as Varda par Agnès has ultimately proved to be. It is a swan song but not a melancholy tune, more a joyous celebratory coda to the director’s life and work, a film that feels purpose-built to dispel any notions of solemnity around her passing.”
7. The Report (Scott Z. Burns; Nov. 15)
Frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns made a splash at Sundance this year with The Report, which stars Adam Driver as he leads an investigation to uncover post-9/11 torture methods covered up by both the Bush and Obama administrations. I said in my review, “Structured in the vein of Spotlight and The Post, but certainly more engaging than the latter, the only home life we hear about is what those involved have given up to dedicate their life in this search for justice. This is a drama almost entirely made of up conversations in corridors, government offices, and the isolated basement facility that Jones and his small team made their discoveries. Within those limits, it’s a feat just how riveting Burns makes the proceedings, which have a clearly delineated timeline as if the writer-director put as much investigative care into the particulars as Jones did.”
6. Knives Out (Rian Johnson; Nov. 27)
After helming one of the most compelling films in the Star Wars series, before he jumps back into the franchise with his new trilogy, Rian Johnson thankfully had time for an original marvel. Jared Mobarak said in our review from TIFF, “No stranger to a good mystery—noir (Brick) or comedy (The Brothers Bloom)—Knives Out sees Rian Johnson back to a wholly original property before returning to the world of Star Wars. From the stellar cast to its Clue-esque estate (even he couldn’t resist that joke), this whodunit has looked impeccably positioned to deliver exactly what the genre demands while also dissecting and subverting it for good measure. That the final result might go even further than that only makes it more intriguing.”
5. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach; Nov. 6)
Noah Baumbach’s latest film is one of his sharpest–a touching, tender, and surprisingly funny look at the dissolution of a marriage. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “As an elevator pitch: it’s Kramer vs. Kramer for the 21st century, with Scarlett Johansson and Driver–both in career-best form–in the Streep and Hoffman roles, respectively. Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) are partners on the verge of a break-up and parents to young Henry (Azhy Robertson), their only child. Charlie, a soon-to-be recipient of the MacArthur grant, is a playwright on the cusp of real fame, and the head of a successful theater group that is about to make the jump to Broadway. Nicole is a Los Angeles native who once starred in a frat house comedy but left the Hollywood path in order to act in Charlie’s plays. You might spot where the tensions eventually lie.”
4. Atlantics (Mati Diop; Nov. 15)
Niece to the great Djibril Diop Mambéty, Mati Diop has been on our radar for a while, with excellent short films and performances in 35 Shots of Rum, Simon Killer, and more. She finally embarked on her feature directorial debut with Atlantics, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in competition earlier this year and picked up the Grand Prix. Leonardo Goi said in his Cannes review, “Somewhere along the stretch of Senegalese coastline where Mati Diop’s feature-length directorial debut Atlantics takes place, a futuristic tower stands tall and spectral above the ocean–a sinister crossbreed between a stalagmite and a lighthouse, its lights thrusting red and warm blobs into the night. It’s a fictional place in a story of magical, mysterious elements–a love story that crisscrosses between social commentaries and ghastly apparitions, addressing the global migrant crisis through a language of disquieting and stunning reveries.”
3. Light From Light (Paul Harrill; Nov. 1)
If the jump scares and horror set pieces of Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring franchises were exchanged for an authentic reckoning of the tangled emotions the departed may leave behind, you have something close to Light From Light. There’s a palpable tension to this story of paranormal investigating, but rather than injecting the expected terror, the film’s power lies in never seeing ghost hunting depicted so grounded and character-driven before. I said in my review, “This is the kind of film where the minutiae of insurance policies are discussed before any haunting may begin. Those going into Paul Harrill’s second feature looking for frights will be rewarded with something more substantial: an experience rich with atmosphere and humanity, and drama ultimately more enlightening than the cheap thrills that pervade the dime-a-dozen ghost stories we’ve seen before.”
2. Waves (Trey Edward Shults; Nov. 15)
A24 reteamed with Krisha and It Comes at Night director Trey Edward Shults for his third feature and it was our favorite film from TIFF. Christopher Schobert said in our review, “Waves is a film that truly understands how dominoes start to fall in a young life. Just as importantly, it visualizes what happens afterwards. It is the latter achievement that makes Waves one of 2019’s finest films and a landmark third feature from Trey Edward Shults. In 2015’s family drama Krisha and 2017’s post-apocalyptic thriller It Comes at Night, Shults expertly balanced pathos and intensity. Waves ratchets all emotions up to an exhilarating degree. There are scenes here of almost unbearable sadness and tension. But Waves never drowns in either feeling, resulting in a genuinely invigorating experience.”
1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese; Nov. 1)
Bringing together Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, as well as Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons and more, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is a supremely entertaining, stunning, subdued crime epic. Vikram Murthi said in our NYFF review, “It’s a critical cliché to describe a filmmaker’s late-period output as elegiac, nostalgic, or any other adjective that suggests an aging artist grappling with their own mortality. With that said, Martin Scorsese actively courts this framework for his latest film The Irishman, a 209-minute crime epic that reunites him with actors Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, with whom he hasn’t worked since Casino in 1995. All three men, along with co-star Al Pacino, are septuagenarians who have been working in the film industry for upwards of half a century. To watch The Irishman means to confront their age, history, and inevitable decline. Scorsese filters this idea through a dramatization of a mob enforcer’s life, but there’s no ignoring the self-reflexive mode on display.”
Matinees to See: Harriet (11/1), Gay Chorus Deep South (11/1), The World is Full of Secrets (11/1), Adopt a Highway (11/1), Doctor Sleep (11/8), Honey Boy (11/8), Mickey and the Bear (11/13), I Lost My Body (11/15), Everybody’s Everything (11/15), Crown Vic (11/15), Shooting the Mafia (11/22), and The Two Popes (11/27)
What are you watching this month?