Some would have you believe that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year— so much so that they even wrote a song about it. Hardly. Others say springtime puts a spirit of youth in everything. Sure, but the best time of the year has no ties to a holiday or weather—it’s all about the movies and it happens to be right now, just after Labor Day. Now is when thousands flock to Venice, Toronto, and Telluride for film festivals, when the blockbusters and August also-rans are jettisoned from multiplexes, and our attention spans expand, even if slightly, to allow in a sharp, off-the-wall story, a “revelation” of a performance or perhaps, we’ll all go see a foreign language hit. Expect all of this and more from the dozen films we’ve previewed below, which LAMag is very much anticipating seeing this coming season.
The Whale (Dec. 9)
For months, I’ve been hearing about Brendan Fraser’s performance in this Darren Aronofsky drama, and sure enough, the veteran actor took the September film festival circuit by storm in Venice and Toronto, where he was handed the Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Award for Performance, indicating that he’s a formidable contender this awards season. The film is based on Samuel D. Hunter’s acclaimed play of the same name and finds Fraser playing Charlie, a man trying to reconnect with the 17-year-old daughter he abandoned while pursuing a relationship with a man. Stranger Things sensation Sadie Sink co-stars as said daughter, and I’ve heard she’s also great, as is Ty Simpkins, it seems too, as the newcomer has been named one of TIFF’s Rising Stars. Hong Chau and Samantha Morton co-star in the A24-distributed film, which sees Aronofsky reunite with his longtime director of photography, Matthew Libatique. The two always create powerful images and the makeup and prosthetic work on Fraser is simply remarkable. Some effectively wrote off Aronofsky following Mother! but they must have forgotten that he happens to be the filmmaker of Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler—the latter of which boasts one of the all-time greatest screen performances, from Mickey Rourke. -J.S.
The Fabelmans (Nov. 11; wide Nov. 23)
Not only is this the latest film from director Steven Spielberg, but this is actually based on Spielberg’s own childhood in Arizona following World War II. Sammy Fabelman is his semi-autobiographical stand-in; he’s played by rising star Gabriel LaBelle, who will soon be seen in Showtime’s American Gigolo series. Of course, in The Fabelmans, the young actor’s real romance will be with The Movies, which famously helped young Spielberg cope with the trials and tribulations of teenage life— including a shattering family secret. Sammy is portrayed from age 7 to 18 and Spielberg apparently went to painstaking detail to recreate this period of his youth. He’ll be aided in that mission by a fantastic cast with Paul Dano and Michelle Williams as Sammy’s parents, Seth Rogen as his favorite uncle, and none other than Twin Peaks auteur David Lynch as director John Ford. Given the personal nature of the project, the stakes for Spielberg are high, so it’s no surprise he reunited with lauded cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and asked John Williams to score it. Expect this film to be among the frontrunners at next year’s Oscars. -J.S.
The Banshees of Inisherin (Oct. 21)
Martin McDonagh doesn’t quite receive the accolades he deserves but he’s every bit an important filmmaker, having proved it over the last decade-and-a-half between In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, not to mention Six Shooter, his other Oscar winner—for Best Live Action Short. The gifted writer-director returns to theaters this fall with a dark comedy about two longtime friends who feel the weight of consequences when one of them abruptly ends their friendship. The film reunites In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, two actors with a delightful contrast; in the trailer, one threatens to cut off a finger on his own hand every time the other speaks to him. Spurred by a snappy score, the trailer crackles with energy and makes the film feel both intimate and epic all at once. Kerry Condon (Better Call Saul) and Barry Keoghan (Eternals) co-star in the Searchlight movie, which will debut at the Venice Film Festival. – J.S.
The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Sept. 30 on Apple TV)
This feature may perhaps be most notable as director Peter Farrelly’s follow-up to his groaner of an Oscar winner, Green Book. Here we have a Vietnam War movie like no other, with Zac Efron as John “Chickie” Donohue, who was drinking in a New York City bar one night in 1967 when he decided to make the trek to Vietnam to deliver his friends and fellow Americans some beer while they bravely fought on the front lines. Russell Crowe co-stars as a war photographer who helps Donohue journey into the jungles and Bill Murray supports as the New York bartender. Efron earned career-best reviews a few years back for his creepy turn as Ted Bundy; one dud of a Firestarter remake aside, this is his first major movie since. Here’s hoping Farrelly has figured out how to channel his lead’s undeniable charisma because this is a great role for any young actor. -J.S.
Triangle of Sadness (Sept. 28)
Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure; The Square) scooped a second Palme d’Or in Cannes this spring with this virtuosic social satire. Underscored by the filmmaker’s signature dark comedic sensibilities, this one explores the surreal decorum of life on a luxury cruise—in this case, on an ill-fated vessel. Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man) stars as half of a selfie-obsessed couple, both models, and the always welcome Woody Harrelson is here as a fatigued but enabling pseudo-Marxist captain. Guests eat Michelin-worthy cuisine, sip from fine crystal, and command staff to “enjoy the moment,” while scrubbing the deck, pouring the wine, and nervously heeding illogical requests. “I don’t want to hear anybody saying no,” is the anchoring ethos on this pleasure cruise. Until the ocean liner hits rough water and chaos (with mass vomiting) ensues. It’s a film that finds an intense streak of comedy in privilege, luxury, and vacuous wealth. -L.A.
The Menu (Nov. 18)
Fresh off the cultural riptide of season 3 of Succession, director Mark Mylod brings his entry into this season of black comedy horror. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) and Ralph Fiennes (No Time to Die) star as a guest and an elite chef, respectively, to an exclusive and mysterious dining experience set on an isolated island. Haute cuisine meets social satire… then it’s a survival thriller as the trailer has Fiennes’ Chef Slowik reminding guests, “You are not the common man.” As the dark remoteness of the island surrounds, what will happen when the meal suddenly becomes uniquely interactive and guests are asked to take part in dinner in shocking and horrifying ways? We’re guessing it’ll make the humiliation of Roy family party game Boar on the Floor look like light post-meal parlor fun. -L.A.
White Noise (Netflix, TBD)
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follow-up, White Noise, has the basic ingredients for the next awards show mammoth: A Greta Gerwig-Adam Driver reunion (they appeared together, briefly, in Frances Ha as their careers shot into the stratosphere), a beloved Don DeLillo novel as source material, a bucolic midwestern setting, montages of colorful suburban grocery stores; a car careening from a cliff… Here we have a story that’s equal parts meditation on the mundanity of suburban family life and exploration of the vulnerability of mortality, the trenches of academia, and broader existential uncertainty. There’s also the dread of a possible airborne toxic crisis—if we trust Baumbach script follows the progression of DeLillo’s novel. Some scenes from the promotional trailer—Driver crawling on the ground in desperation as chaos ensues in the background—indicate some levity in a thick haze of 80s ennui. The rollout: White Noise opened the 79th Venice International Film Festival and will open the New York Film Festival this month, then follow up with a release in select theaters; this will be followed by a Netflix release sometime later this year. -L.A.
Bros (September 30)
Bros comes with the comedy cred producer Judd Apatow’s name brings to the fold and is being touted heavily as a historic event when it opens this month. This is the first rom-com about two men falling in love to be given a nationwide release by a major Hollywood studio (sorry, Fire Island, you were on Hulu); it’s also the first studio tentpole to be cast with only out LGBTQ+ actors in the lead roles. Bros trace the rom-com template by following two successful, white, seemingly ill-matched New Yorkers meeting and then falling in love, despite the fact that they may be completely wrong for each other. The two are also beset by the requisite obstacle course of concerned friends, dating apps, and more modern foibles in a world that isn’t always on the side of two boys finding a long-term partner. There’s a lot of room to maneuver in this framework and Bros is, in addition to having that Apatow cred, distinguished by a team of collaborators with a solid track record. Expectations are high. -D.S.J.
Amsterdam (October 7)
David O. Russell returns with this star-studded 1930s-set drama in which a trio of friends—a doctor, a nurse, and an attorney (Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, respectively)—witness a murder, become suspects, then uncover one of the more outrageous plots in history. Also, the film’s tagline suggests, “A lot of this actually happened.” The views of Amsterdam, at least as seen through the window of its trailer, are as stylish and sexy as, say, Russell’s American Hustle. The two-minute-plus clip gives away none of the film’s plot points, so the context-free jokes don’t make much sense. But anticipation for this movie is sky high, given the track record of the director and cast. At his best, Russell’s films can be gifts that refuse to simply entertain, as he applies palette, period detail, wardrobe, makeup, and other rich elements of art direction to create a world and then gives his characters wild or unexpected things to say and do. There is a level of “anything can happen” and “wait for it” in his films that’s just irresistible. Being a murder mystery, Amsterdam’s plot has mostly been kept locked up. Naturally, very early Oscar buzz is afoot, given the pedigree of this period-garbed cast and their maestro’s seven-year absence after a mid-decade hot streak. -D.S.J.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (November 4 on Roku Channel)
Eric Appel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is an entry into the niche genre of biopics about music icons of the 60s, 70s, and 80s (The Doors, Bohemian Rhapsody). While these biopics’ relationship with the truth—so slippery and hazy in those decades—is undefined, they’re essentially presented as factual. As a performer, Weird Al (Daniel Radcliffe here) is more comedian than rock star, which the tone of this star-studded Roku movie appears to reflect. It is difficult to parse fact from fiction in the Yankovic story but this film’s first task is to justify why anyone would want to. Maybe because the five-time Grammy winner somehow built a pop career by parodying major hits, often reworking lyrics to focus on details of everyday life. Many of these are songs about nothing and that’s where some find the genius—Yankovic transformed the banal into something kind of fabulous as the world of the deeply uncool becomes an exclusive, beautiful place. Whether or not Appel gets here with his comedy, Weird Al has a love scene with Madonna in this movie, which leads us to think it will work or is at least trying something false but wildly fun. In the world of Weird Al, the truth of life never gets in the way of a good time.-D.S.J.
Good Night Oppy (November 4, in select theaters; November 23 on Prime Video)
Amid its historic Mars mission, NASA saw a unique opportunity to tell a story about the nature of the universe simple enough for any physics class dropouts to grasp and retain. Two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, would be sent to Mars to examine rocks, transmit data back to Earth, and seek evidence of water on the Red Planet. Cameras mounted on the rovers would provide viewers at home with a vivid picture of that data. Planned as a 90-day mission, the show would end as their solar batteries would fail. Except that’s not what happened; 15 years later, Opportunity was still efficiently touring Mars and sending data. The success story even brought evidence of water on Mars. Good Night Oppy combines mission footage with NASA research materials with animated sequences and focuses on the growing relationship between the engineers grounded on Earth and the rover in space. The mission and what it has given to science is undeniably complex and profound; what emerges in this film about the need for connection is perhaps more essential. When the mission is over, and Opportunity is powered down, the feeling of loss is something akin to grief. -D.S.J.
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