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50 Films to See This Fall

Written by on August 22, 2019 

Les Misérables (Ladj Ly; Oct. 18)

The new film Les Misérables may take only passing glances to Victor Hugo’s text but it does boast a synopsis worthy of the sheer exuberance of that title. Hugo wrote his classic novel in the early-to-mid 19th century, but this film couldn’t be more wired-in to contemporary Paris if it tried. In it, we see the fuse of gang warfare lit when a young man, named Issa (Issa Perica), steals a lion cub from a traveling circus. Issa is a black kid in Saint-Denis, a buzzing multi-cultural suburb in the north of the French capital. The circus owners are Gypsy travelers. The most seemingly reasonable community leader is an ex-con turned Muslim Brotherhood sage named Salah (Almamy Kanoute), who runs the local kebab shop. The unofficial mayor of the block (Steve Tientcheu) wears not a shirt and tie but a jersey of the French national team with “Le Maire” on the back. The Javert to his Jean Val-Jean is a racist cop who at one point shouts “I am the law.” Almost everyone hopes to see the cub returned so as to bring things back to their delicate equilibrium. The whiff of rebellion might linger–along with Salah’s rotating lamb meat–but we are a far, far shot from crew-cut Anne Hathaway and talk-singing Hugh Jackman. – Rory O. (full review)

Synonyms (Nadiv Lapid; Oct. 25)

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. – Rory O. (full review)

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers; Oct. 18)

For all its finely considered dread, the reason Robert Eggers’ ungulate-deifying debut The Witch made such a cultural mark had far more to do with its sense of mischief. Sure, puritan religious life is fine, Eggers seemed to say, but have you ever tried living deliciously? His second feature, The Lighthouse, brilliantly confirms that taste for devilry and narrative subterfuge. 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.  – Rory O. (full review)

By The Grace of God (François Ozon; Oct. 18)

French director François Ozon has 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. – Ed F. (full review)

Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi; Oct. 18)

In between his family-friendly Thor adventures (and a secretive new project), Taika Waititi is letting his darkly humorous side shine. For his next directorial effort, Jojo Rabbit, he plays none other than Adolf Hitler in what Fox Searchlight’s marketing describes as an “anti-hate satire.” Set for a world premiere at TIFF, the film follows a boy who idolizes the Nazi party and dreams up his imaginary version of Hitler. While we don’t expect a Chaplin-esque classic, we imagine Waititi has found the heart, humor, and horror in such a story.  – Jordan R.

The Kill Team (Dan Krauss; Oct. 25)

Adapted from his 2013 documentary of the same title, Dan Krauss’ The Kill Team is an alarming look at the culture of toxic masculinity, turning a documentary about a family’s struggle in the military justice system into a white knuckle war thriller. Nat Wolff stars as Andrew Briggmann, inspired by the real story of Adam Winfield (chronicled in the documentary), an 18-year-old kid sent to Afghanistan where soldiers had a hard time seeing exactly what the point of their deployment was while working a checkpoint. When their commanding officer, a believer in hearts and minds, is blown up by a landmine right in front of his command they’re sent a charmingly charismatic killer Sergeant Deeks (chillingly played by Alexander Skarsgård) who primes his young team, including Briggmann, with the precision of a child molester, building trust, prying on his victims, and employing them to keep their mouths shut. – John F. (full review)

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. 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.Jordan R. (full review)

Waves (Trey Edward Shults; Nov. 1)

A surprise addition to the fall release calendar (and A24’s packed slate) is the latest film from Krisha and It Comes at Night director Trey Edward Shults. Set for a TIFF premiere (and perhaps an early Telluride bow beforehand), Waves is a South Florida-set drama starring Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Calvin Harrison Jr., and Alexa Demie. Not much is known about this story of a suburban African-American family, but with score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as Shults looking to bounce back from his disappointing horror feature, it’s shaping up to be a one-of-a-kind experience. – Jordan R.

Burden (Andrew Heckler; Nov. 1)

There’s a clear desire to dig into the complexities of prejudice in Burden, written and directed by Andrew Heckler and based on the true story of Mike Burden. The ambition throughout is admirable, though the execution wavers a bit in spots. Garrett Hedlund stars as the titular character, a Ku Klux Klansman living in South Carolina. He puts in work as a repo man for Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), a KKK leader and supremely evil person. Mike’s doing his best to come back from years of military service overseas, mumbling through his sentences and walking with a handful of limps and ticks. It’s a whole lot of performance from Hedlund, whose choices stay consistent and ultimately build themselves into the narrative. – Dan M. (full review)

Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton; Nov. 1)

It’s been nearly two decades since Edward Norton first got behind the camera, for his 2000 directorial debut Keeping the Faith, but this fall his long-gestating passion project will finally be brought to screens. Norton has been trying to do his take on Jonathan Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn even before his last film got off the ground and it will now get a strong festival bow, playing at TIFF, NYFF, and likely Telluride.  Starring Norton, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Leslie Mann, Bobby Cannavale, Fisher Stevens, and Cherry Jones, the story follows a private investigator with Tourette syndrome who works to solve the mystery of his mentor’s murder. Rather than being set in the 1990s as the novel, the crime story is now reimagined to the 1950s, and with a new Thom Yorke song, we’re looking forward to seeing Norton’s approach. – Jordan R.

The Irishman (Martin Scorsese; Nov. 1 in theaters and Nov. 27 on Netflix)

No film this fall brings more anticipation than Martin Scorsese’s crime epic The Irishman, which unites Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, as well as Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, and Ray Romano. Having recently finished the book it’s based on, Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, I’m intrigued at how Scorsese and Steven Zaillian extract the heart of his expansive, harrowing, and occasionally humorous story. – Jordan R.

Harriet (Kasi Lemmons; Nov. 1)

Although she was celebrated on stage, Cynthia Erivo finally made a major splash on the big screen last fall with Widows and stealing the show in the underseen Bad Times at the El Royale. This year, she returns with a major lead performance as Harriet Tubman in a new dram directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me), who co-wrote the script with Gregory Allen Howard (Ali, Remember the Titans). Featuring a cast including Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters, expect this to be a highlight of the fall festival circuit and beyond. – Jordan R.

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach; Nov. 6 in theaters and Dec. 6 on Netflix)

Noah Baumbach’s last film The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) was one of his most accomplished and now he’s back with Netflix for Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a couple whose relationship is falling apart. Set for a festival tour that includes Venice, Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF, it’s shaping up to be one of the fall’s most anticipated films. The supporting cast of Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta, as well as a reunion with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, only make it more enticing. – Jordan R.

Honey Boy (Alma Har’el; Nov. 8)

Following sci-fi sound effects over the opening credits on a black screen, Honey Boy begins with a hard cut on the face of Lucas Hedges as he’s pulled back on a harness on the 2005 set of a blockbuster. A clear nod to the Transformers franchise, we then rapidly run through multiple on-set experiences that blend into an alcohol-induced car accident. This opening, however, is not an indication of where we’re headed. Written by Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy could have easily been a satire of his much-publicized last decade, with his headline-making performance act and legal troubles. To the film’s benefit, LaBeouf and director Alma Har’el rather go much more in-depth (and farther back), taking a deep-rooted look into the actor’s traumatic childhood. Whether intentionally intended or not, this earnest endeavor does wonders to enact sympathy and overturn any negative public perception of his outbursts, even if it can feel more like self-therapy than a fully-formed film. – Jordan R. (full review)

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