With only a few months left to go in 2021, October brings by far the finest lineup of the year thus far. From festival favorites to a few blockbusters actually worth seeking, there’s a variety of choices as the theatrical business keeps sputtering back to gear. Check out our picks below.
16. Detention (John Hsu; Oct. 8 in theaters and Virtual Cinemas)
It may be a low bar, but with 12 Golden Horse nominations, Detention is one of the best video-game adaptations ever made. As Jared Mobarak said in his Fantasia review, “Director John Hsu and his co-writers Shih-Keng Chien and Lyra Fu looked beyond the scares and atmosphere of this horror property to see the message at its center about the survivor’s guilt that’s all but assured in the aftermath of such a repressive nightmare that saw around 140,000 dissidents imprisoned with almost three percent of that number executed. Whether you survived because of sheer luck, were saved because you served as an informant, or were spared to bear witness, the psychological scars are undeniable. And the pain wrought from their existence lives on with each night’s sleep.”
15. The Last Duel (Ridley Scott; Oct. 15 in theaters)
The first of two Ridley Scott films arriving over the next few months, The Last Duel marks not only an acting reunion for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, but a screenwriting one as well––in collaboration with Nicole Holofcener. The Last Duel, which tells the tale of France’s final officially sanctioned duel, follows Jean de Carrouges (Damon), who accuses his squire (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer), the king orders a trial by combat. It takes a Rashomon-like approach—per cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who spoke with our B-Side podcast earlier this year to share his excitement about the project, which premiered at Venice and arrives shortly.
14. Luzzu (Alex Camilleri; Oct. 15 in theaters)
A highlight at Sundance earlier this year, per Michael Frank’s review, “Filmed and set in Malta, director Alex Camilleri’s debut Luzzu follows Jesmark, a fisherman and new father, in his attempt to find the money and resources to give his young family a good life. Set up by a simple premise and hyperrealist approach, the film pits dreams against pragmatism as Jesmark struggles to abandon his generational pull towards hitting the open sea in a tiny, hand-painted boat. As most audiences will find, we’re even less aware of Maltese life and this culture of fishing than we think. Camilleri, a Maltese-American, has spent the last decade working as an editor and assistant editor on a number of films, collaborating often with Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani. Camilleri takes a naturalist path in his first film, edging on documentary fiction, his leading man (Jesmark Scicluna) with a hardened face and unwillingness to smile.”
13. No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga; Oct. 8 in theaters)
Considering plans began back in 2016 for a follow-up to Spectre in the 007 universe, it’s remarkable the new Bond film is now actually rolling out in theaters. After some director switch-ups and pandemic delays, Daniel Craig’s final spy outing looks to be a mammoth send-off at nearly three hours long. With the film already arriving around the world, check back for our review shortly.
12. Titane (Julia Ducournau; Oct. 1 in theaters)
If one appreciated the body horror and directorial tricks of Raw they will certainly enjoy the thrills in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner, which ups the shenanigans to the nth degree. For others, all we have is a pair of wildly committed performances seeking something to grasp onto. As Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Titane begins not with a whimper but a cacophony: a deafening engine rev; the crash as car meets concrete; then the image of a girl in a horrific head-brace, like something from a Saw film, as she gets fitted with a titanium plate. Next a temporal leap to a car show, erotic dancers, pulsating synth music, chrome, and neon. The girl from the crash appears from the milieu, now a serial killer and car show dancer. After the show, a stalker follows her to her car and gets a needle the size of a chopstick lodged in his eardrum. His mouth sputters like a piece of faulty machinery. Scarcely 10 minutes have passed.”
11. Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright; Oct. 29 in theaters)
This year’s second film from Edgar Wright, who follows The Sparks Brothers with Last Night in Soho, has already proven divisive. But we quite enjoyed at Venice: David Katz said in his review, “Can someone get Edgar Wright a DJ residency? Or a prime-time (or drive-time) radio slot. Few working directors are so passionate and eager to play the tunes, to fill the audio mix of their films with their voluminous record collection. In the immensely entertaining Last Night in Soho, he associates and recalls––especially if you come from or reside in the UK––the Britpop era; that time in the mid-90s where British pop music (not forgetting the Spice Girls along with Oasis and Blur) was commercially triumphant, when it wore its British identity on its sleeve in ways that ranged from prideful to nostalgic to necrophiliac (the latter word as music journalist Scott Plagenhoef described it).”
10. Labyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Obayashi; Oct. 20 in theaters)
Passing away in April of last year, Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi left behind a surreal, fascinating body of work. While most known for the Criterion-approved horror-comedy Hausu, aka House, he was also working until the very end, editing his farewell opus Labyrinth of Cinema while receiving cancer treatment. His swan song will now thankfully receive a U.S. theatrical and home-video release this fall. Naming it one of our favorite films when we caught it on last year’s festival circuit, Leonardo Goi said, “No film I saw in 2020 registered as timely and uplifting like Nobuhiko Obayashi’s farewell opus, Labyrinth of Cinema. With all due respect to Mank, if there is one true ‘love letter to the movies’ 2020 gifted us, this is it. Contagiously optimistic and resolutely pacifist, Labyrinth’s requiem for movie theatre doubles as a journey into the horrors of Japan’s 20th century and the films that portrayed them. Whether or not cinema will ever yield Obayashi’s utopia, here’s a film that celebrates the medium in its noblest, most humanist form: a vehicle for compassion.”
9. Dune (Denis Villeneuve; Oct. 22 in theaters and on HBO Max)
At long last, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune makes its way to theaters and, despite the director’s oppositions, HBO Max. Though David Katz said in our Venice review, “Denis Villeneuve has surmounted this slew of bad omens by arguably––in filmmaking terms––making the most impersonal adaptation possible. For all his skill and talent, his deftness and subtlety, he acts as just a translator for Herbert’s largely uncompromised original vision, let alone an interpreter or proselytizer. Dune 2021, to register with necessary impact, needs a mind and careening imaginative spirit as reckless as that of its originator.”
8. Passing (Rebecca Hall; Oct. 27 in theaters and Nov. 10 on Netflix)
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut Passing, which premiered at Sundance and stopped by the New York Film Festival, is coming this month––at least in theaters before a Netflix bow next month. Shayna Warner said in her Sundance review, “Rebecca Hall’s Passing has been fifteen years in the making, and that dedication shows in every meticulously crafted frame. Adapted from Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, the tense, black and white psychological drama is a study in intentional filmmaking. Every detail is an obsession with symbolism and performativity, from the by-turns absent and invasive score courtesy of Devonté Hynes to the elaborate period wardrobe from Marci Rodgers, to the affect with which stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga speak. This obsessiveness folds in on itself, creating a layered profile of reunited childhood friends Irene Redfield (Thompson) and Clare Bellew (Negga) whose muffled desire for one another exposes devastating cracks in each of their lives. By turns stifling and lucid with seduction, Hall’s debut is impressive, even when its atmosphere sometimes overtakes its pace.”
7. The Many Saints of Newark (Alan Taylor; Oct. 1 in theaters and on HBO Max)
After some pandemic-related delays, the continuation of The Sopranos saga is finally here with a prequel film from David Chase and series vets Alan Taylor & Lawrence Konner. Eli Friedberg said in his review, “To describe verbatim the first-or-so minute of The Many Saints of Newark would be to spoil not only one of the film’s more audacious twists, painstakingly concealed by pre-release publicity materials, but also one of the most shocking story developments from the final episodes of The Sopranos. Right off the bat, the film pitches its audience an unexpected and unapologetically quirky Billy Wilder throwback framing device that puts a new spin on some of the show’s most cosmically ambitious themes: the insistence that every person, everywhere, has an equally rich and mythic inner life, and the teased suggestion of supernatural transcendence beyond death—an afterlife from which the world of the living might be observed through an uncanny veil mimicking cinema itself. You’ll just need to have seen the TV show—all six-and-a-half seasons—to fully appreciate it.”
6. Mass (Fran Kranz; Oct. 8 in theaters)
One of the most powerful, well-acted movies from this year’s Sundance was the directorial debut of Cabin in the Woods star Fran Kranz. Mass, starring Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton follows two sets of parents who meet after the tragedy of a school shooting involving their sons––one was the shooter, another the victim. Dan Mecca said in his review, “Set in the meeting room of a modest Episcopalian church, two couples meet under tragic circumstances. For his directorial debut Mass, accomplished actor Fran Kranz is determined to wring out four incredible performances from four incredible character actors through the discussion of an extremely tough subject. It is mission accomplished as Kranz succeeds in finding understanding in the unthinkable.”
5. The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson; Oct. 22 in theaters)
In large stretches of The French Dispatch, it is Wes Anderson’s finest work since The Darjeeling Limited––advancing his meticulous picture-book aesthetics to their extreme ends with eye-popping wonder and clarity, not to mention a delightfully dark sense of humor. David Katz said in his review, “Just as his partner in ’90s indie wunderkid-dom Quentin Tarantino has shown surprising evolution across his decades-long career, Wes Anderson has clearly been doing some reading; surely those well-thumbed Salingers (and Kinks LPs) are deep in a messy office drawer or half-open under his bed. Grand Budapest progressed things to a friendly, captivating near-middlebrow level, with his embrace of popular Viennese man-of-letters Stefan Zweig (whose The Post Office Girl was a big, posthumous bestseller, and apparent future Terence Davies film). Now, we can imagine hefty, hardback art volumes on the Viennese Actionists, and violent, mid-century abstract expressionism; Sontag and Stein anthologies, and ’68-vintage student manifestos; and for its final main section, an utterly delightful hybrid of James Baldwin and George Simenon’s Francophone pulp thrillers. “
4. The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes; Oct. 13 in theaters and Oct. 15 on Apple TV+)
Todd Haynes’ first documentary centers on a subject deeply deserving of such treatment. Luke Hicks said in his review from Cannes, “If you told people in 1967 that Andy Warhol’s house band just released one of the most revered rock albums of all-time, they would ask what they’re called, and when you told them they would laugh. As far as the public was concerned, there were a hundred acts capable of that historical success in the ‘60s, and none were called the Velvet Underground (or Nico). To a certain extent they would be right. It would be another decade before the banana-adorned The Velvet Underground & Nico would have its pop cultural comeuppance and over half a century before the glam avant-garde group would receive definitive documentary treatment by one of the best living filmmakers. But as history and said doc have proven, we would have the last laugh in that exchange.”
3. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve; Oct. 15 in theaters)
It’s increasingly clear Mia Hansen-Løve might never make a film I fail to appreciate. As we wait to see if her previous feature, Maya, will ever secure a U.S. release, her remarkable debut All Is Forgiven finally arrives stateside this November. But first her most high-profile project yet, the heartbreaking and beautifully acted Bergman Island, is coming ashore. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Parenthood, relationships, and the creative process: three key elements of the cinema of Mia Hansen-Løve casually combine in Bergman Island, a playfully self-aware meta-portrait of the filmmaker and, indeed, of filmmaking itself. Introspective, inventive, and effortlessly calm; it follows a couple, both screenwriters, on an idyllic work retreat to Fårö, an island in the Baltic Sea (population: 498) just off the South East of Sweden. It’s the place Ingmar Bergman called home for the majority of his life, where he made many films and eventually died.”
2. The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg; Oct. 29 in theaters)
While it is warranted to bemoan the endless output of sequels, an exception can certainly be made for Joanna Hogg’s follow-up The Souvenir Part II––not only one of the best films of the year, but also one of the best sequels of all-time, layering upon what came before while expanding the story in moving, daring ways. Picking up right where the previous left off, it features a mix of familiar faces and new players: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, Joe Alwyn, Ariane Labed, and James Spencer Ashworth. Rory O’Connor said in his Cannes review, “For The Souvenir, a candid work of autofiction, she went the opposite direction and had her biggest success while also making her most conventional work. The Souvenir Part II is anything but: a daring work of meta-filmmaking in which Hogg loops backwards to re-reexamine her own past (in some ways it is more a supplement than a standard sequel).
1. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi; Oct. 15 in theaters and Virtual Cinemas)
Before his Cannes winner Drive My Car arrives next month, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s first film of 2021, the masterful and playful Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, is here in just a couple of weeks. Rory O. Connor said in his review, “Gentle alarm is very much in the Hamaguchi wheelhouse. As a director he has an incredible skill for shifting between different tones and tempos at speed, yet seldom at the expense of his films’ narrative integrity nor do those shifts undermine the validity or importance of his characters’ world or their inner lives. And in Wheel of Fortune they are inner lives very worthy of our attentions.”