At the Movies
Best of the Festivals
By Noah Gittell
There are many ways to mark the beginning of autumn – the changing of the leaves, the kids going back to school, the first appearance of the pumpkin spice latte – but for me, it’s the festivals. In the last week of August and first two weeks of September, three prestigious film festivals – Venice, Telluride, and Toronto – are held in succession. Many of the year’s biggest Oscar hopefuls are premiered, and the reaction from critics can offer a good guide to the fall movie season.
This year, the fall schedule is busier than ever, which means we all need a little help figuring out which movies to see in the theater and what can be skipped until they reach a streaming service. I’ve been combing through the critical reactions from the festivals and can offer the following can’t-miss films for your viewing pleasure. It’s going to be a great fall.
“Hustlers” (Sept. 13) – Based on a New Yorker article, the film by Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) follows a cadre of New York exotic dancers, led by Jennifer Lopez, who get back at their rich and boorish customers by secretly up-charging their credit cards. What could have been a guilty pleasure is apparently much more substantial. To wit: Rumors of an Oscar campaign for J. Lo are already spreading. Never thought I’d write that sentence.
“Joker” (Oct. 4) – Every fall, one film becomes more than just a film: it becomes a cultural football for critics and pundits to argue over. Although it has only screened at one festival, “Joker”, which tells a gritty origin story for Batman’s most popular villain, is the hands-down favorite for the honor this year. Concerned critics have suggested it could be an inspiration to would-be anarchists and criminals, while others praise it for its refusal to moralize. It will be worth seeing by all for Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance, but the real show will be the conversation that follows the film as it tries to break into the awards conversation.
“Parasite” (Oct. 11) – The latest mystery box from director Bong Joon-Ho won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival and currently boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, about the complicated relationship between a rich family and a poor one in modern day South Korea, builds on the anti-capitalist themes and genre-flipping style of his previous works, including “Snowpiercer” and “Okja.” Moving the action to a more recognizable world may pack a bigger punch.
“Dolemite Is My Name” (Oct. 25) – Eddie Murphy is back. If those four words aren’t enough to get you excited, we must have grown up in different decades. One of the biggest comedy stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s has spent more than a decade in the wilderness, but he appears to have successfully launched his comeback with “Dolemite Is My Name,” a biopic of ‘70s blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore. The critics say Murphy is his old self – funny and filthy – in the film. It’s nice to know he’s still got it.
“Marriage Story” (Nov. 6) – Those of us who have been waiting patiently for a sequel to “Kramer vs. Kramer” will accept as a substitute “Marriage Story”, a domestic drama from writer/director Noah Baumbach. In the film, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play a married couple who go through an ugly divorce. Baumbach, who has helmed such films as “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Frances Ha”, is always a critics’ favorite, but this one is getting his best notices yet.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Nov. 22) – I’ll admit to being skeptical of this one, a biopic of Mr. Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks, due to its clichéd structured: The film, directed by Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) is about a journalist (Matthew Rhys) whose life is changed by writing a profile on the iconic television star. But the early word from critics is that the film uses this structure to its advantage, re-creating the delightful opacity of Rogers by making him a mere supporting character.
“Knives Out” (Nov. 27) – It’s been a long time since we had a proper Agatha Christie-style whodunit – and no, last year’s remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” doesn’t count. Director Rian Johnson, best known for directing “The Last Jedi”, has assembled a top-notch cast of movie stars for “Knives Out”, including Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, and Jamie Lee Curtis. The less we know about the plot, the better off we will be, but the early word is that this is the most fun you’ll have at a movie all year.