It’s October, which means a season of horror awaits, but aside from a few compelling genre options this month, one might be best served to queue some classics. The best films coming to U.S. theaters over the next few weeks hail mainly from festivals from earlier this year beyond, with one clear-cut top selection. Check out our monthly picks below.
15. Sweetheart (J.D. Dillard; Oct. 22)
The first two films on this month’s round-up were late additions to the October slate. First up, J.D. Dillard’s creature feature is an inventive little delight. I said in my Sundance review, “When Tom Hanks was stranded on an island alone in Cast Away, he got the better end of the deal than what Kiersey Clemons faces in Sweetheart. Not only must she try to survive with limited resources on a deserted island, but her character Jen must also fight for her life against a cruel, otherworldly creature. Perhaps just a touch too minimalistic as it proceeds, Sweetheart can feel held back in taking its limited conceit to more daring places, but in that sense it’s the quintessential Blumhouse production. JD Dillard’s Sleight follow-up occupies one location with little required for design and all contained within a brisk 82 minutes–each of which feature Clemons, in an immensely strong showcase for her talents.”
14. Wounds (Babak Anvari; Oct. 18)
One of the biggest question marks of the year was if, in fact, the horror-thriller Wounds would make its way to screens before 2019 ends. Babak Anvari’s follow-up to Under the Shadow is now coming just in time for Halloween, but straight to Hulu. Starring Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson as a couple whose relationship is tested after a mysterious cell phone is left behind at a local bar, I said in my review from Sundance, “If one wants to watch a sweaty, disturbed Armie Hammer wander around New Orleans as he’s haunted by a malevolent spiritual force, Wounds satisfies on those pleasurable, if undemanding expectations with its engrossing build-up. However, for those hoping that Babak Anvari’s follow-up to Under the Shadow would contain a little more substance in its frights–especially as the third act nuttiness ramps up–prepare for disappointment.”
13. Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer; Oct. 4)
Netflix has some fairly high-profile releases this fall, and one title that arrived to a strong response at TIFF was Dolemite Is My Name, from Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan director Craig Brewer. Led by Eddie Murphy as a comedian who attempts a comeback, the epic cast features Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Kodi Smit-Mcphee, Snoop Dogg, Ron Cephas Jones, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tip ‘TI’ Harris, Luenell, Tasha Smith, and Wesley Snipes. Ethan Vestby was a bit mixed in his review, but I’m still looking forward to catching this on Netflix for the performances alone.
12. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers; Oct. 18)
As an admirer of The Witch, I had high hopes for Robert Eggers’ follow-up The Lighthouse, but as much as Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give it their all, the writer-director never really finds a center to the story. Instead, we’re left with impressive cinematography rich with avant-garde flourishes. It’s a beauty to behold, and deserves a recommendation on that factor alone, but will leave one with little to chew on. Rory O’Connor said in his more glowing review, “It’s a ghost story drenched in gritty, saltwater-flecked period accuracy and anchored in cautionary maritime fables, but one with a boozy, amorous, and darkly comic edge that made me think of everything from The Birds to Ben Wheatley’s similarly trippy A Field in England. Needless to say, it rules.”
11. By The Grace of God (François Ozon; Oct. 18)
After the ridiculous and fun erotic thriller Double Lover, François Ozon is getting far more serious with his next film. Ed Frankl said in his review, ” The French director delivered one of the best films of his eclectic career with By the Grace of God, a drama whose seriousness and sincerity marks a tonal shift for a filmmaker typically famous for sexual and sensual provocation. Instead, this chronicle of a real-life grassroots campaign to out Catholic priests who committed and covered up of historic sexual abuse is unsensational and methodical, immaculately written through a script that radically tells three different stories that slide seamlessly together.”
10. Gemini Man (Ang Lee; Oct. 11)
Leaving behind his more grounded dramas, Ang Lee has gone into pure experimentation mode and while the results are mixed, he’s still a fascinating director. In Ang Lee’s second foray into action and science-fiction since his ill-fated Hulk film, Will Smith plays an elite assassin who discovers that an operative who can counter his every move and is trying to eliminate him is a younger clone version of himself. Reviews for Gemini Man haven’t been kind, but perhaps despite my best interests, I still can’t wait to see him pushing boundaries with 120 frames per second and 3D.
9. The Cave (Feras Fayyad; Oct. 18)
After the recent success of documentaries like Jane and Free Solo, National Geographic’s latest film The Cave goes into a war-torn Syria, specifically following the trajectory of an extraordinary group of female doctors. World premiering at TIFF where it won the top Documentary Audience Award, the film comes from Oscar-nominated documentarian Feras Fayyed (Last Man in Aleppo) and will get a theatrical release this month. Shot from 2016-2019, the first trailer previews an immersive, powerful document of hope during a crisis.
8. Frankie (Ira Sachs; Oct. 25)
Ira Sachs’ Frankie wasn’t exactly the toast of Cannes, but Isabelle Huppert was still praised for her central performance as the matriarch of a family, bringing them to her seaside town for a reunion and to unveil a secret that could shake their dynamic to the core. Our review by Rory O’Connor notes, “It is a heartfelt and modest work but an oddly languid one, a movie that asks the viewer to dig beneath the awkward, stilted topsoil of uneasy family reunion and find the tangled roots beneath….The film tries so hard to position Huppert’s character as something larger than life, a shadow under which these characters must now come to terms with no longer living in.”
7. Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe; Oct. 4)
Four decades after its release, it’s become etched in cinema history that Ridley Scott’s Alien was a landmark achievement in not only the science-fiction genre, but horror as well, and specifically the feat of nightmarish imagery that now exists in the deepest corridors of our collective conscious. As the compelling new documentary MEMORY—The Origins of Alien explores, the space odyssey “didn’t come out a vacuum.” Rather, it was an immensely collaborative effort that drew on paintings, novels, films, mythology, current events, and centuries-old sociological and ideological issues to conjure such a masterpiece. Read my full review.
6. The King (David Michod; Oct. 11)
Timothée Chalamet is getting medieval. The Call Me By Your Name star is leading David Michôd’s The King, which includes the impressive supporting cast of Robert Pattinson, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lily-Rose Depp. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “A newly groomed Timothée Chalamet stars as Henry V in David Michôd’s latest film The King, a post-modern, mud-and-guts reworking of William Shakespeare’s trilogy of plays on the reluctant ruler. As indebted to the mood and visual language of Game of Thrones as it is to the Bard’s texts, Michôd provides finely worked entertainment with a compelling and significant central performance from Chalamet–who frankly hasn’t had to carry a film in quite this way before.”
5. In My Room (Ulrich Köhler; Oct. 11)
After touring festivals since last year’s Cannes, Ulrich Köhler’s grounded post-apocalyptic tale In My Room finally gets a release this month. Rory O’Connor said in our review, “Operating with a relatively small budget, given the material, Köhler’s post-apocalyptic world is realized with great economy: a few overgrown ferns here, a couple of overturned cars there and, in the film’s most chilling moment, a ferry sliding down the river like a ghost ship.”
4. Mister America (Eric Notarnicola; Oct. 11)
Along with starring in one of the year’s biggest films, Us, and releasing a new, surprisingly tender album, Tim Heidecker is heading into the fall with his own leading role. Mister America expands one of the most beloved universes in media, the On Cinema universe, as we follow Heidecker’s political journey to unseat a San Bernardino District Attorney who led a charge against him for selling fatal e-cigarettes at an EDM festival. Also starring, of course, Gregg Turkington, we hope they are preparing their awards season speeches now.
3. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar; Oct. 4)
Pedro Almodóvar is not returning to form with Pain and Glory since he’s had a great decade with Julieta, Broken Embraces, and The Skin I Live In. The film does, however, seem to be a personal culmination of his inner-most thoughts, rendered stunningly. Ed Frankl said in his review, “Pedro Almodóvar, the punk chronicler of post-Francoist Spain, turns inwards for his 21st feature Pain and Glory, which arrived in competition at Cannes as a summation of his storied career, a quasi-self-portrait of an artist as an older man. Even for Almodóvar, this is an especially personal work, anchored by the director’s on-off muse Antonio Banderas in perhaps his greatest performance and sweeps through the Spanish maestro’s recurrent themes: high melodrama and kitsch comedy, piety and carnal lust, sex and death, human pain and transcendent glory.”
2. Synonyms (Nadav Lapid; Oct. 25)
Israeli writer-director Nadav Lapid made a splash with both his gripping debut Policeman and his follow-up The Kindergarten Teacher, but he earned his highest accolade yet with Synonyms, which picked up the Golden Bear at Berlinale. Telling the story of an Israeli man who moves to Paris and is caught adrift as he wrestles with identity, it’s a thoroughly riveting character study that consistently catches one off guard in evolving ways. Ed Frankl said in our review, “Relocation becomes dislocation in director Nadav Lapid’s intense, beguiling Synonyms. Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the story follows a young Israeli man who moves to Paris in the hope of shedding his past and remolding his identity, yet instead finds his sense of self chipped away at. This is an unsettling film about nationality and how society shapes people in a way that is difficult to entirely shake off.”
1. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho; Oct 11)
South Korean director Boong Joon-ho has managed to entertain, shock, and inform in nearly all of his films thus far, but with his Palme d’Or winner, the tonal tightrope balance he walks has never been executed with a rhythm that is this perfectly in tune. Now arriving in U.S. theaters this month, Giovanni Marchini Camia said in his Cannes review, “Suffice it to say that with the terrific Parasite, Bong has crafted an angry, genre-inflected social allegory that in many ways functions as a Korean analog to Jordan Peele’s Us. A far superior craftsman than Peele, Bong is perhaps the contemporary master of entertaining, intelligent and resolutely political cinema. In our age of assembly line blockbusters, he’s a veritable treasure.”
What are you watching this month?