As the year winds down, November brings a packed slate of new releases––including festival favorites we can already recommend and others that hold a great deal of promise. From some of the greatest auteurs working today to breakthrough voices, there’s much to check out. See our picks below.
16. The Humans (Stephen Karam; Nov. 14 in theaters and on Showtime)
One of the notable premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival was writer-director Stephen Karam’s debut feature The Humans, adapted from his Tony Award-winning play. Coming from A24, the film follows Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, and June Squibb in a story of a family who gathers in Manhattan for a Thanksgiving meal as their fears are laid bare. As C.J. Prince said in his TIFF review, “Everything is wrong in The Humans, Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his Tony-winning play. Set entirely in a New York apartment building, Karam’s one-act play transitions to film with one big hook: it’s an intimate drama conceived as a horror film, monsters and ghosts replaced by the rot of a family unit shaken up by a world that’s getting harder to endure. It’s a confident gamble, especially for a first-time director; confidence can only take it so far.”
15. King Richard (Reinaldo Marcus Green; Nov. 19 in theaters and on HBO Max)
Although earning acclaim with his directorial debut Monsters and Men, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s drama seemed to come and go without much notice; the same rang true with his follow-up Joe Bell this past summer. Thankfully his next feature, King Richard, is primed for a warmer reception. Starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, early buzz has been strong for the sports drama and especially for Smith, who could certainly use a win after a fairly rough decade of mostly duds.
14. Prayers for the Stolen (Tatiana Huezo; Nov. 12 in theaters and Nov. 17 on Netflix)
After winning the Best International Feature Film Oscar a few years ago with Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Mexico has another notable contender this year: Tatiana Huezo’s Prayers for the Stolen, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival this summer and recently played at NYFF and BFI London, was picked up by Netflix and will now arrive this month. Backed by Roma producer Nicolás Celis and Jim Stark, the film is set in a mountain town in Mexico where three young girls take over the houses of those who have fled.
13. Spencer (Pablo Larraín; Nov. 5 in theaters)
On the heels of Ema finally getting a U.S. release, Pablo Larraín’s new film, starring Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer, is arriving this month. Considering how Jackie failed to engage as much as Larraín’s Chilean output, there’s some hesitation around this project, but with enough intriguing elements (Stewart, Jonny Greenwood, Claire Mathon) a spot of hope remains. David Katz said in his Venice review, “Larraín’s once-again eclectic directorial choices and Steven Knight’s (Peaky Blinders, Eastern Promises) reductive screenplay are liabilities, but Spencer (named after Diana’s maiden name) gains urgency from being such a necessary story. It also earns relatability for being centered on something many of us might or have gone through: the decision to end a serious, long-term relationship. It’s Christmas 1992—that fraught, frosty time of year—and Diana is quaking at the prospect of three dull and excruciating days with her unloved husband, Charles, the Prince of Wales (a great Jack Farthing), and two stony in-laws (the Queen and Prince Philip—just imagine!). Her beloved Princes Philip and Harry are of course present, hauntingly unaware of their mother’s inner strife. And the vulpine paparazzi who so recklessly brought Diana’s tragic end are circling; to them, a tense Royal Christmas at the Queen’s Sandringham estate is itself the most coveted gift. “
12. The Beta Test (Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe; Nov. 5 in theaters and on VOD)
Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow writer-director-actor Jim Cummings is back with his latest feature The Beta Test (co-directed, co-written, and co-starring with PJ McCabe), a selection at Berlinale, Tribeca, and Fantastic Fest. Michael Frank said in his review, “With Cummings taking the lead as Hollywood agent and resident douchebag Jordan, his story and performance rarely cease to be over-the-top—billed as a horror-thriller, The Beta Test turns towards violence as its narrative becomes muddled with convoluted data breaches and sex-induced madness.”
11. Hive (Blerta Basholli; Nov. 5 in theaters)
One of the most well-decorated films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Hive, Blerta Basholli’s drama which picked up an Audience Award, Directing Award, and World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. About Kosovo’s Official Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film, Orla Smith said in her review, “Hive has a similar based-on-a-true-story inspirational narrative as many English-language crowdpleasers: through sheer force of will, a resilient woman triumphs against great personal and systemic obstacles. These sorts of films are cranked out by studios, particularly in the UK, all the time (just last year we had Misbehaviour), usually in glossy packaging and with a comedic bent. Hive, however, trades that gloss for a handheld camera and a washed-out colour palette. It removes the laughs, because this is post-war Kosovo, and life is tough and grey for beekeeper Fahrije (Yllka Gashi).”
10. I Was a Simple Man (Nov. 19 in theaters and Dec. 10 on VOD)
Following up his lovely, meditative debut feature August at Akiko’s, Christopher Makoto Yogi returned this year with I Was a Simple Man, a serene ghost story set in the pastoral countryside of the north shore of O’ahu, Hawai’i, and telling of an elderly man facing the end of his life, visited by the ghosts of his past. David Katz said in his Sundance review, “One of the most succinct, yet heavily weighted lines of dialogue in cinema history is a three-syllable call to death: “Time to die,” as Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty commands Deckard in Blade Runner. Hawaiian filmmaker Christopher Makoto Yogi’s I Was a Simple Man makes its own attempt at this profundity, attempting to sum up the big goodbye in one epigrammatic phrase. “Dying isn’t simple is it?” is spoken––murmured gently, more like––no less than three times across the film, and by the end, Yogi’s work seems to have offered a resolution to that question, although viewers may beg to differ.”
9. House of Gucci (Ridley Scott; Nov. 24 in theaters)
Here’s hoping Ridley Scott’s second feature of 2021 gets a warmer reception than the first. While his impressive The Last Duel failed to connect with audiences, we imagine House of Gucci is a bit more palatable for those seeking some Thanksgiving entertainment. Bringing together the cast of Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek, and Al Pacino, it details the murder of Maurizio Gucci by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani. “This film, because it’s high fashion 80s and 90s, it’s going to be a little different,” cinematographer Dariusz Wolski recently told us mid-production. “I’m still trying to find a look for it. The 80s weren’t a particularly good-looking period. The fashion world or these fashion shows, they were not that great looking. You look at the big coats and stuff and [go] hmm… So it’s a bit of a kitschy, funny, tragic tragedy––like a high-end soap opera. With a crazy cast as well.”
8. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze; Nov. 12 in theaters)
One of the major surprises from Berlinale was Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, which won the FIPRESCI prize. The Georgian filmmaker’s latest work is set in the Georgian riverside city of Kutaisi as summertime romance and World Cup fever are in the air. Orla Smith said in her review, “This odd love story—will Lisa and Giorgi find their way back to each other?—is the thread that loosely binds together this two-and-a-half-hour epic, which is more a portrait of a city than it is a romance. The film opens with several short scenes of young children leaving school, and it ends with a montage of beautiful images of people roaming the streets of Kutaisi. In between, when we’re not with Lisa and Giorgi, we’re treated to vignettes and anecdotes about city life, often narrated by Koberidze. For a film that begins with love at first sight and a curse, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? surprisingly reveals itself to be about noticing and appreciating the little things, rather than life’s grand gestures.”
7. Zeros and Ones (Abel Ferrara; Nov. 19 in theaters and on VOD)
Even by his own standards, Abel Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones is a mystifying, darkly beautiful creation. As Ethan Vestby said in his review, “The city of Rome certainly means something to Abel Ferrara. A new home after being priced-out and disgusted by the “new” New York, it’s served in recent films as both a liberating and confining environment for tortured artists. Yet in his latest film, Zeros and Ones, we’re plunged into a land outside whatever Ferrara’s probably even imagined. Beyond just the grainy, handheld photography provided by Alex Ross Perry and Safdie Brothers veteran Sean Price Williams, drones map out the vacant night, providing glimpses of its extreme 2020 lockdown—a city symphony of the world’s deadest metropolis.”
6. C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills; Nov. 19 in theaters)
It’s a truly joyous event when a new Mike Mills film reaches theaters. After stopping by Telluride and NYFF to much acclaim, C’mon C’mon is now arriving in time for Thanksgiving. Michael Frank said in his review, “Phoenix offers a reminder of the quietness of his acting, the simmering love of Her shown once again, this time as a radio journalist obsessed with the power of audio. Sound is almost worshipped in Mills’ film, shown as a mode of expressing oneself and capturing life unlike anything else. It has the ability to leave a lasting impression, to hear someone talking about you or about the future, the pitch and inflection in their voice giving rise to deep sentiments. He’s gentle as Johnny, wanting to give love but unsure how to deal with an overwhelming situation. With the stellar Norman by his side, the two form a solid duo to build C’mon C’mon upon.”
5. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude; Nov. 19 in theaters)
After getting attention on the festival circuit this past decade, Radu Jude reached a new peak with his Berlinale Golden Bear winner Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, which follows a teacher’s journey as she picks up the pieces when a sex tape made with her husband accidentally leaks. Rory O’Connor said in his review, It is an incendiary, playful, and wonderfully exasperated piece of filmmaking that shows a director trying to draw some threads of sense from our current malaise.” It also won’t be the only film from the Romanian director arriving this month as Uppercase Print is getting a theatrical release on November 10.
4. Procession (Robert Greeene; Nov. 12 in theaters and Nov. 19 on Netflix)
One of the most original voices in documentary filmmaking today, Robert Greene (Bisbee ’17, Kate Plays Christine, Actress) has always found fascinating ways to play with the meeting points of cinema and artifice. With his latest project, Procession, he examines the lives of six men who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, as they seek peace by creating fictionalized scenes. Procession has earned much acclaim since its Telluride premiere; check back for our review next week.
3. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion; Nov. 17 in theaters and Dec. 1 on Netflix)
Marking Jane Campion’s first film in over a decade, The Power of the Dog lives up to high expectations. Led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, David Katz said in his Venice review, “The Power of the Dog has attributes that recall her past work but pleasingly seems––if not a new direction––that Campion is drawing upon a fresh skillset to best do this tale justice. It’s a fairly reverent adaptation of a little-known Western novel of the same title by Thomas Savage, who grew up in a similar ranching background to what’s depicted here. Not quite the masterpiece touted when it was republished (with an afterword by Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx), Campion cannily extracts the strongest dramatic, and cinema-ready material: it’s not an excessively talky film either, but makes the dialogue-driven stretches count (with unusually bold and bass-y post-sync sound mixing to boot).”
2. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson; Nov. 26 in theaters)
Even with the first trailer arriving, we still know very little about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest––here’s hoping it stays that way until we’re sitting in theaters. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper Hoffman, as well as Alana Haim, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, and Sean Penn, we have this logline: “The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.” The first guild screenings take place this weekend, so we’ll soon find out what PTA and crew have cooked up.
1. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi; Nov. 24 in theaters)
For most directors, releasing one of the year’s great films is a high enough bar, but Japanese wunderkind Ryusuke Hamaguchi has gone above and beyond in 2021. Following last month’s masterful triptych Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (along with co-writing another of 2021’s finest, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy), we have his soothing Haruki Murakami epic Drive My Car. Don’t let the three-hour runtime daunt you, either, as Rory O’Connor said in his review of the Cannes winner, “It seemed inevitable that Haruki Murakami’s prose would find a way into the films of Ryusuke Hamaguchi. The director returns with Drive My Car, based on Murakami’s novella of the same name—the story of a writer who finds solace in the company of the young woman driving his car. It’s a graceful, aching film that sculpts and stretches Murakami’s story into an enchanting three-hour epic (my, do the minutes fly by) about trauma and mourning, shared solitude, and the possibility of moving on. The narrative also doubles as a lovely ode to the car itself, and the strange ways that people open up when cocooned inside them.”