We recently provided a guide to streaming the best films of 2016, but it’s time to hit pause because the theatrical options this month are stellar. Along with the year’s best film thus far, there’s a wide variety of must-see features, from documentaries to animations to sci-fi dramas to innovative experiments.
Matinees to See: Doctor Strange (11/4), Peter and the Farm (11/4), The Monster (11/11), Seasons (11/11), The Love Witch (11/11), Notes on Blindness (11/16), Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (11/18), Bleed For This (11/18), I Am Not Madame Bovary (11/18), Lion (11/25), Evolution (11/25), and Old Stone (11/30)
15. Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk (Ang Lee; Nov. 11)
Synopsis: 19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle.
Why You Should See It: After its mixed reception at NYFF, I probably shouldn’t be looking forward to Ang Lee‘s latest as much as I am. However, I’m always curious as what the director is up to, and adding in the eclectic ensemble and technical innovations (even if it’s only playing in two theaters), it may be a misfire, but it should be an interesting one. We said in our review, “There have been a thousand war movies exploring who we send to fight our fights, how they come back, and what we can do to get them healthy. Some of what’s explored in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk feels like an expansion on the subject, asking questions about what it means to truly appreciate our troops and live with all that’s made to happen in battle — an emotion momentarily, and beautifully, captured during the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the movie’s halfway point.”
14. Always Shine (Sophia Takal; Nov. 25)
Synopsis: Best friends Anna and Beth take a weekend trip to Big Sur, hopeful to re-establish a bond broken by years of competition and jealousy. Tensions mount, however, leading to an unexpected yet inevitable confrontation, changing both of their lives…forever.
Why You Should See It: You may have seen her in front of the camera in V/H/S, Wild Canaries, 24 Exposures, Uncle Kent 2, and more indies in the last few years, but now Sophia Takal has returned to the director’s chair for this psychological thriller. Featuring a great performance from Mackenzie Davis (seen recently in the best episode of this Black Mirror season), who picked up Best Actress at Tribeca this year, I said in my review, “With the excess of low-budget, retreat-in-the-woods dramas often finding characters hashing out their insecurities through a meta-narrative, a certain initial resistance can occur when presented with such a derivative scenario at virtually every film festival. While Sophia Takal’s psychological drama Always Shine ultimately stumbles, the chemistry of its leads and a sense of foreboding dread in its formal execution ensures its heightened view of a fractured relationship is a mostly successful one.”
13. Moana (John Musker and Ron Clements; Nov. 23)
Synopsis: A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.
Why You Should See It: Can Disney Animation make a movie as successful as Zootopia in the same year? All the elements are together to do so with Moana. Being in the hands of long-time Disney Animation collaborators John Musker and Ron Clements, who have previously helmed the likes of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, as well as featuring original music that is co-written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, this one premieres at AFI Fest ahead of a Thanksgiving release, so we’ll find out soon.
12. Mifune: The Last Samurai (Steven Okazaki; Nov. 25)
Synopsis: This story revolves around a Japanese samurai known as mifune. He is from a humble farm in Hiroshima who must protect his family from yet another attack by the Americans. Watch as he battles through tough mobsters such as the yakuza.
Why You Should See It: There will be countless representations of real-life heroes in the awards fare this fall, but there are few cinematic ones as iconic as Toshirô Mifune. We said in our review, “Mifune: The Last Samurai, the well-assembled documentary on the life of actor Toshirô Mifune, the long-time Akira Kurosawa collaborator, should be a worthy introduction to one of Japanese cinema’s greatest icons, if a little light on more revelatory findings. With a softly-spoken narration by Keanu Reeves and talking heads from the likes of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, as well as the sons of both Mifune and Kurosawa, Mifune offers a personal and professional tribute to an actor who reinvented the hero for a post-World War II age.”
11. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader; Nov. 4)
Synopsis: A crew of ex-cons are hired by a Cleveland mafioso to kidnap the baby of a rival mobster
Why You Should See It: A return to form of sorts for Paul Schrader, we said in our review, “Taking the trashy gusto exhibited in The Canyons to whole new extremes, Schrader goes full exploitation for Dog Eat Dog’s first act. In the delirious opening, a wonderfully withered Willem Dafoe, sporting a horseshoe mustache and a collection of awful tattoos, is first shown snorting a huge line of something in front of the TV, then losing his shit at a telemarketer and smashing the phone to pieces, then going into the toilet to inject himself with a hit of something else, then getting into a fight with his lover, then brutally murdering both her and her young daughter with the knife he keeps holstered to his ankle.”
10. Loving (Jeff Nichols; Nov. 4)
Synopsis: Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.
Why You Should See It: We already got one Jeff Nichols feature this year with Midnight Special, and now another, quite different drama will arrive this week. We said in our review, “Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton deliver remarkably nuanced performances in Loving, a late ’50s- / early ‘60s-set true life story of a mixed-race couple whose illegal marriage became a landmark case in the United States Supreme Court. Having tried his hand at the coming-of-age drama (Mud) and both small- and large-scale science fiction (Take Shelter and Midnight Special, respectively), the increasingly prolific Jeff Nichols branches out once more here to the awards season period drama. This heartwarming and wonderfully refined film might not do a whole lot of things we haven’t seen before in the civil rights-era picture, but it does the familiar stuff with enormous care and control.”
9. Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson; Nov. 4)
Synopsis: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Why You Should See It: After leading one of the most (only?) entertaining action films of the summer with Blood Father, Mel Gibson‘s comeback tour continues with his first directorial effort in a decade. We said in our review, “Hacksaw Ridge, his new World War II epic, is not concerned with politics — it is concerned with soldiers, and one soldier in particular: a 7th day Adventist and conscientious objector named Desmond Doss who went to Okinawa as an army medic but refused to carry a rifle. This was much to the chagrin of his commanding officers and his brothers in arms. While derivative and endlessly cheesy, it’s a characteristically visceral return for Gibson, and one that confirms that little has changed in the man’s singular artistic psyche.”
8. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig; Nov. 18)
Synopsis: High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.
Why You Should See It: To our surprise, one of the most well-received films at TIFF this year was the closing night entry. We said in our review, “Festival films about teenage angst are a dime a dozen, or maybe a nickel at this point. The genre is as constrained by its expected tropes as horror or superhero films in today’s age, and as in those cases, it takes a guile filmmaker to either make them work or do something new. The Edge of Seventeen does both, delivering a refreshing blast of humor and pathos, both of which are arrived at with an easy honesty which belie that this is writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut feature.”
7. Miss Sloane (John Madden; Nov. 25)
Synopsis: A story of a brilliant and ruthless lobbyist who is notorious for her unparalleled talent and her desire to win at all costs, even when it puts her own career at risk.
Why You Should See It: Jessica Chastain is back in a big way this year with her first fully-fledged leading role in some time. While an official premiere hasn’t happened yet (it will soon at AFI Fest), it’s been screening for Oscar voters and various guilds and press in the past weeks, and the response has been quite strong. Also, although it may not be front and center in the marketing, the fight for gun control also sadly couldn’t be a timelier issue.
6. Rules Don’t Apply (Warren Beatty; Nov. 23)
Synopsis: An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for.
Why You Should See It: Coming back to directing for the first time since the last millennium, Warren Beatty‘s romantic period piece drama will soon premiere at AFI Fest followed by a release later this month. Led by Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Haley Bennett, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Annette Bening, Lousie Linton, and Oliver Platt, not to mention Beatty himself as Howard Hughes, this has one of the best casts of the year, and we can’t wait to see the director back in action.
5. Allied (Robert Zemeckis; Nov. 23)
Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.
Why You Should See It: While it’s unfortunate that Robert Zemeckis‘ thrilling drama The Walk didn’t get its due last year, we thankfully didn’t have to wait long for his next feature, which stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. The Steven Knight-scripted film looks to be the blend of throwback Hollywood romance and war-time thrills that rarely find an ideal balance today. With Zemeckis at the helm, this has the makings of one of the most entertaining fall dramas.
4. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford; Nov. 18)
Synopsis: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.
Why You Should See It: Tom Ford‘s long-awaited A Single Man follow-up is finally arriving this month. Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen, we said in our review, “With everything going on, Nocturnal Animals is the sort of narrative and tonal minefield that a lesser director could easily have gotten lost in. Ford allows us to consider and cherish each unique thread and wonder just how it could all possibly come together. Each place has its own vibe, almost its own genre, and it’s a credit to Ford, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, and the entire production team that it works at all. This is the output of a great creative mind, testing the limits of this fanciful, wonderful tool he’s suddenly found at his disposal.”
3. Elle (Paul Verhoeven; Nov. 11)
Synopsis: A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.
Why You Should See It: It takes an actress as consummately skilled as Isabelle Huppert to be able to pull off the subversive drama of Elle. We said in our review, “It takes all of zero seconds for the first rape to occur in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. The film opens on a black screen and to the sounds of breaking glass and stifled struggle. When it then cuts to a cute kitty spectating the off-screen assault, we know we’re in Verhoeven territory. The ensuing countershot reveals Michèle (Huppert), her blouse ripped open, pinned to the floor by a black-clad man with his face hidden inside a ski mask. Funny Games-like, this is our warning: run for the door now or keep watching and be implicated. Unlike Haneke, however, Verhoeven renders what follows irresistibly enjoyable, and the resulting implication is all the more severe.”
2. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve; Nov. 11)
Synopsis: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
Why You Should See It: Denis Villeneuve‘s streak continues with Arrival, the year’s best sci-fi film: a visually bold drama in which one can forgive a few narrative hiccups thanks to its fascinating finale. We said in our review, “Louise’s passion to communicate is quite infectious, and the audience is asked to ponder whether language is a tool that unites us or drives us apart. At one point, Louise mentions the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory developed in the 1930s that stated that the structure of our language ultimately affects our worldview. Arrival considers that topic and turns it into a high-stakes, hard sci-fi action film.”
1. Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan; Nov. 18)
Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
Why You Should See It: 10 months and nearly two-hundred 2016 films later, there’s still nothing that has impressed me as much as Manchester by the Sea this year. As I said in my full Sundance review, “With his unassuming, quietly affecting films leaving such a distinctly indelible impact long after the credits roll, we may only have three films from Kenneth Lonergan across sixteen years, but they provide a lifetime’s worth of human experience. His latest, Manchester By the Sea, finds him in the quaint northeastern Massachusetts town as he immaculately constructs a layered, non-linear exploration of the ripple effects of loss and grief.”
What are you seeing this month?