The 10 Movies I’m Looking Forward To The Most This Fall

1. Joker (10/4)
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Marc Maron

This is one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, which really helps raise my excitement level, but it’s so much more than that. Joaquin Phoenix might finally win his Oscar as the titular character in this origin story of the famous Batman villain. It looks like Phoenix is carrying over all the tragic/psychotic feels that Heath Ledger brought to the role so brilliantly and to Oscar-winning acclaim in The Dark Knight. If this performance comes anywhere close to Ledger’s in its weirdness and hypnotic mayhem, it will be the one to beat. While I’m a little nervous about Todd Phillips (of The Hangover trilogy) having the chops for something this meaty, it’s still at the top of my list of must-sees.

2. Knives Out (11/27)
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer

This movie looks totally bonkers and I CAN’T WAIT. A drawing room murder mystery with this killer cast (hee hee) and Rian Johnson at the reins? YES, PLEASE!

3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (12/20)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleason, Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill

Well, duh.

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Parasite

Neon

I’m not a filmmaker, but I would imagine that every director’s ultimate aspiration is to make a movie that is everything a movie can be. But is that even possible? Is it possible for any single movie to be all things at once: socially conscious, morally perplexing, layered, inventive, complicated, universal, accessible, funny, serious, scary, dramatic, weird, heartbreaking, tense, thrilling, violent, sweet, fast-paced, beautiful, well-acted, well-written and entertaining? Can you even think of a movie that covers all of that? The closest and most recent one that I can think of is Get Out, Jordan Peele’s masterpiece from 2017. Well, I’m not calling Parasite this year’s Get Out, but it’s not the worst comparison. Let me put it this way: I thought it would be a long time until I saw a movie that was as many things as Get Out was and achieved it in as such a perfect way, but here I am, just two years later and another perfect movie has arrived. And we totally should have seen it coming.

Writer/director Joon Ho Bong has been building up to this. His slate of films has slowly increased in critical attention, from Memories of Murder in 2003 to The Host in 2006 to Mother in 2009 to Snowpiercer in 2013 to Okja in 2017, Bong has been building a catalog of films that keeps getting stronger and while each film shone a brighter spotlight on the genius of Bong by cinephiles and critics, he still was far from being a household name. His latest film, Parasite, just might change all that. If there is any justice in the world at all, Parasite will finally be the film that recognizes Bong as the master filmmaker he is and officially serve notice to Mexico that Korea just may be taking over as the new home of master film auteurs.

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This Is Not Berlin

Samuel Goldwyn Films

I’m starting to feel about coming-of-age movies the same way I feel about superhero movies: at this point, it’s got to be really special for me to care anymore. That’s not to say that This Is Not Berlin (Esto no es Berlín), a new film from Mexican filmmaker Hari Sama, isn’t stunningly shot and captures its time and place with a fierce beauty, but, in the end, there just isn’t enough there there. I really wanted it to break my heart open, but it just left me wistful for what could have been.

There is no better time for Mexican cinema to break out. Mexican directors Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant) have dominated prestige Hollywood in the last few years, and Cuarón’s last film, Roma, came this close to winning Best Picture last year, despite being in Spanish, black-and-white, and having no stars. It’s a double-edged sword for Sama, though. On the one hand, there is no better time to be a Mexican filmmaker, but, on the other, if you make a film that can be too easily compared to one by the Three Amigos (not my nickname), you risk being labeled a clone. Which is why watching This Is Not Berlin is so difficult. While Sama clearly has an inventive voice, this movie allows itself way too many comparisons with Roma, reducing it to just another coming-of-age movie with a great soundtrack.

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Vita & Virginia

IFC Films

Writers love to write about writers. It certainly helps that there has been no shortage of tragic literary figures in the annals of history to inspire the creative imagination. From Shakespeare to Hemingway to Wilde to Capote, dramatizing the dramaturgs has been a fascination of Hollywood. And now there is the latest one to consider, a new film from Chanya Button that focuses on the life of acclaimed 20th century novelist Virginia Woolf.

Except there’s a twist. Vita & Virginia is not just about Virginia Woolf as a writer, it’s about Virginia Woolf as a woman, lover, and object of a seduction. But, despite the alluring premise, screenwriters Button and Eileen Atkins still find a way to make the movie about writing. After all, it is based on the letters Woolf and fellow acclaimed writer Vita Sackville-West sent to each other during the period of time when they had a famous romantic affair. And therein lies the inherent problem with Vita & Virginia. A movie based on letters demands an interpretation that translates to the screen, which is difficult enough, because letters, much like writing in general, is a very internal exercise, not something that readily translates to action. So, with a shortage of action, Vita & Virginia is a movie more about the two main characters than it is the relationship between them, which makes it a halfway interesting movie.

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Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Magnolia Pictures

I love a good conspiracy theory. Don’t get me wrong, though: not all conspiracy theories are fun. Some are silly, some are crazy, and some, to be honest, are just too dire to really think about. But in the new documentary, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, director Mads Brügger posits a conspiracy theory that is a little bit of everything. And that’s exactly what makes it so compelling.

We are used to scandals today, but, back in 1961, when Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary General, died in a plane crash in Africa, it made headlines worldwide. Only the second Secretary General ever, Hammarskjöld was someone who took his role seriously and was a vocal and powerful supporter and defender of nations asserting their independence, especially in Africa, where countries were increasingly rebelling against centuries of colonial rule. Looking back, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that these colonial powers, such as France and Great Britain, whose economic interests in the continent were deep-seated and dependent on their control, whether directly or by puppet regimes, would have felt threatened by the world’s top diplomat making it his mission to support efforts for independence. The question of whether or not any foreign government may have actually had a hand in the death of Hammarskjöld is one that has been lingering for nearly 60 years. If, however, you expect Brügger’s film to contain some bombshell revelation that will topple MI-6 or the CIA, you might be disappointed—slightly. But if you like real-life mysteries that have layers upon layers of lies, cover-ups, villains and geo-political implications, you might just love this story.

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The Farewell

A24

I have a good friend whose favorite genre of movies is dysfunctional family drama. Which makes me wonder: is there such a thing as a functional family drama? Is that even something we’d want to see? The whole fun is the dysfunction, right? The more insane the relationships, the more dramatic the movie, which means more entertainment for us, the audience.

But what if you made a movie about a regular family that just happened to collectively stumble into one specific dysfunction, all at the same time? The Farewell is just that movie, about one loving family’s struggle to work together to, well, maintain a lie. Ok, maybe they’re not so regular after all.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. Grandma Nai Nai, the matriarch of this family, has terminal cancer and has been given 4 months to live. The family, driven by cultural traditions, decides to not tell Grandma the diagnosis, and plan a fake wedding instead to allow everyone to come home to say their goodbyes without her ever knowing it. I’ll admit, when I first heard this premise, it intrigued and annoyed me. My gut reaction was “how on earth could they do that?” The idea of withholding someone’s diagnosis from them seemed offensive and immoral. But writer/director Lulu Wang not only spoke to my emotional and ethical concerns with her smart and thoughtful screenplay, she turned a film about a simple lie into a heartfelt movie about love, grief, and letting go.

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