Now it’s time for me to make some zero-sum decisions. Because I can’t cover every notable film release for the remainder of this year unless I’m willing to write multiple 10,000-word articles. Which I’m not. So what do I do? Pontificate about all of the “major” mainstream releases of the month, even ones that I am certain will be completely forgotten by the time the next installment of ‘On the Radar’ is posted, like Venom: Let There Be Carnage? Do I ignore “small” indies that may not reach a wide audience at all, even if they’re very likely to be major awards players in some way, like Mass?
Tough call… so I went with the option that is more in keeping with the focus and title of this site. Some are going to be more below-the-line competitors, some could take the Big One. But either way, I am going to be prioritizing them as the year comes to a close and as the heat of the Oscar campaigns rev up their engines and floor it. Speaking of which…
TITANE – In Theaters October 1
Directed by Julia Ducournau
Starring Agathe Rousselle, with Vincent Lindon and Garance Marillier
What is it about? “A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.”
How am I feelin’ about this one?So, back during the Cannes Film Festival, Joey and I predicted that the reportedly deranged psychosexual body horror/thriller Titane would very likely walk away with an award from Spike Lee’s jury due to its enthusiastic reception (he believed it would win the Grand Prix, I pegged it for the Best Director prize), neither of us were fully confident that Julia Ducournau would become only the second woman in the history of the festival to receive the festival’s top award.
So with this amazing achievement behind it, now the rest of the world gets to see what blew away festivalgoers earlier this year, as NEON (maybe you’ve heard of them, they did quite well with the last Palme d’Or winner they snatched up) is planning to release Titane in U.S. theaters today. I genuinely have no idea how it will be received by American audiences in general, much less the voters of the Academy. Though in the case of the latter, I would warn against anyone writing it off completely as a major end-year awards contender. Think about how Nomadland, Parasite, The Shape of Water, and Moonlight have completely redefined what kind of movie wins Best Picture. Literally one of those movies features a scene where Sally Hawkins has sex with a fish monster and I still see Film Twitter complain that it was “Oscar bait!” Based on the early rave reviews, I see recognition for its sound, score, makeup, direction, and maybe even the performances of Rousselle and a pretty-jacked-for-a-62-year-old Vincent Lindon as distinct possibilities.
The more interesting question is how general moviegoers will react to it. I have no doubt hot takes will flood social media with an intensity matching the frenzied discourse around Malignant last month, but man… I’m also pretty confident we’ll be hearing about walkouts, complaints to harried theater employees, and an F CinemaScore. Which could be leveraged as part of its marketing (“Too sensational for your normie friends!”). Or could make it the next mother!. For what it’s worth, our own Joey Magidson was simultaneously enthralled and flabbergasted by it, and warned that it is decidedly not for all tastes.
NO TIME TO DIE – In Theaters October 8
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring Daniel Craig, with Ana de Armas and Rami Malek
What is it about? James Bond has left active service. His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter, an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
How am I feelin’ about this one?Oh, James Bond. What are we gonna do with you? There is a rumor that one of the reasons George Lazenby was not asked back to the role after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was because he publicly doubted that the series would last beyond the 60’s. And look, no one is going to argue in favor of his business acumen, but I think, on a deeper level, he was on to something.
Sure, the Bond franchise is the longest continually-running film series of all time, but ever since Sean Connery left the role in 1971 it has also suffered from what is possibly the longest perpetual identity crisis of any intellectual property that still maintains a presence in pop culture. When a Bond movie is not hopping on some cinema trend bandwagon, it’s flat-out ripping off a movie that was popular just a few years earlier, and it’s not a coincidence that the few truly capital-G great installments since the end of the Connery Era, like GoldenEye and to an even greater extent Casino Royale, were radical retoolings of the entire formula in an attempt to bring it up to speed to modern times… and it never seems to really stick.
Which brings us to No Time To Die. On top of its numerous delays and ungodly long reported runtime, Daniel Craig has also vowed, in no uncertain terms, that this movie is his final outing as 007. And since his stint as the iconic superspy has the distinction of being, along with the longest uninterrupted tenure of any actor in the role, the most connected narrative throughline of anyone before him, that leaves an open question of how this all ends, and where the franchise goes from here. You (or, at least, I) can also detect, reading between the lines of this movie’s production and marketing, an insecurity coming off of Eon because they sort of know deep down “Where does Bond go from here?” is a tough question to answer right now.
James Bond is an explicitly reactionary fantasy originally conceived for British consumers mourning the loss of their empire. This is not me projecting my own agenda onto the property, by the way – Ian Fleming did not even try to hide his intention to make James Bond a personification of his nostalgia for the “good old days” when the United Kingdom’s grip on the world was absolute and everyone was down with colonialism. How do you keep a character like that relevant in such a globally-aware, (relatively) racially-progressive, less patriarchal era? How do you credibly position a British secret agent as an action hero punching, spying, and shooting his way to a victory for Her Majesty when modern espionage has been conducted behind keyboards for over a decade, now? How is he going to be able to do anything after Brexit is done? Sure, they can get social media buzzing every once in while with clickbait articles teasing a Woman Bond or a Black Bond or an Asian Bond, but they have to know, in their hearts, the inherent contradiction in such an ostensibly progressive creative decision.
James Bond, as fun and exciting as some of his movies have been, is porn for nationalist conservatives. He’s the pop culture equivalent of a hard-on. Even this more progressive Bond is taking on a villain who is supposedly an eco-fascist with a Thanos-adjacent plan (boy oh boy it sure is interesting how many agitators against the status quo have been cast as genocidal villains in major blockbusters lately, huh?) but sure, Eon, he’s definitely Not Your Father’s Bond because he’s sticking with his girlfriend from the last movie. Despite the ice-cold nonchemistry Daniel Craig actually shares with poor Léa Seydoux. You can’t make that “progressive” without coming off really weird and disjointed.
Sorry, I’m drifting off topic. Joey enjoyed No Time To Die, approving of it as an appropriate send-off to the Craig era even when he did feel that grueling 163-minute runtime. So… uh, maybe Original Song again? Hell, if they could give one to unlistenable “Writing’s On The Wall,” all bets are off. Editing, probably Sound, maybe even Visual Effects depending on the setpieces. My certainty that Daniel Craig will not be much of a Best Lead Actor contender matches my certainty in 2012 when everyone told me I was a fool for writing off Javier Bardem’s performance as Not-The-Joker in Skyfall. Feel free to mock me relentlessly if I turn out to be wrong.
MASS – In Theaters October 8
Directed by Fran Kranz
Starring Jason Isaacs, with Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd
What is it about? Aftermath of a violent tragedy that affects the lives of two couples in different ways.
How am I feelin’ about this one?Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for the “little guy” actors. I absolutely love promoting the work of those perpetually-underrated film performers who almost never get leading roles and always quietly shine in smaller supporting roles, and every year at least one of them manages to break through the dirty machine of moneyed awards campaigns to get some Academy recognition. Like when Paul Raci delightfully managed to earn a Supporting Actor nomination earlier this year for Sound of Metal, based on almost exclusively grassroots support from critics and fans.
And now, Fran Kranz is giving meaty dramatic showcases to not one, not two, but three of these kinds of film performers, plus one Broadway legend. Two of them will be playing the parents of a victim of a school shooting and two of them will be playing the parents of the perpetrator. So… yeah, that’s a pretty heavy setup that is also becoming increasingly relatable to the rest of us because we’re all in hell. It’s also, surprisingly, based off of an original screenplay from actor Fran Kranz in his feature directorial debut, despite seeming like something that had to have originated off the stage. Principal photography apparently only took eight days, and most of the action reportedly takes place in one location.
Joey was able to catch this at Sundance, and was deeply moved by the performances of all four of its principal cast, and distributor Bleecker Street has been more than willing to showcase Joey’s overwhelmingly positive reception in their marketing materials. How this will actually play out isn’t as cut-and-dry as one would assume, and that’s mainly due to the subject matter and tone presented. Remember We Need to Talk About Kevin? Remember Beautiful Boy? No, not the one about drug addiction, the one about the school shooting. Yeah, I bet you forgot that Michael Sheen and Maria Bello were in a movie about parents dealing with their son being a mass shooter (don’t worry, Beautiful Boy is awful on a level that is almost morally offensive so you didn’t miss anything). These are tough subjects to get audiences to sit down for, and a film that is seen as an endurance test may not have much appeal outside very limited audiences.
There’s also the irritating certainty that these four leading roles will be campaigned as “supporting,” which makes no sense based on its premise alone, but at this point I imagine most of us will be too happy to see these four underrated actors finally getting some kind of sustained campaign for recognition to be too miffed. Including me, to be fair.
THE LAST DUEL – In Theaters October 15
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Jodie Comer, with Matt Damon and Adam Driver
What is it about? A dramatic account of the last legally-sanctioned trial-by-combat in France’s history.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Back in 2015, Francis Lawrence was coming off of the success of The Hunger Games sequels and was aiming to leverage his stint on that lucrative YA franchise (just before the rest of the culture finally soured on that particular fad, good timing!) into something more ambitious. So he partnered with Shaun Grant to tackle the fascinating true story of the last legally-sanctioned duel in France… and that’s the last time we heard from them on this project. For whatever reason – possibly due to the diminishing box office returns of Mockingjay Part I and Part II because audiences were wising up to how splitting the last book into two bloated misshapen finales was a transparent grift – their version of the story never got off the ground, and Lawrence moved on to direct the tawdry and shockingly inept Red Sparrow while Shaun Grant went back to his old collaborator Justin Kurzel.
Then the most explosive sexual assault scandal since Tailhook vaulted into the public consciousness and forever shifted the public discourse around systemic sexism, then one of the largest and most terrifying corporate mergers in history took place, and then in 2019 this project was revived; this time with Ridley Scott directing and, more interestingly, writing duties split between Academy Award-winning writing team Ben Affleck and Matt Damon along with… Nicole Holofcener. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that name associated with an action-heavy period epic. In case that name didn’t automatically ring a bell, Holofcener is a prolific contemporary indie filmmaker who wrote and directed light-hearted intimate character studies like Lovely and Amazing, Please Give, and Enough Said. This is her first writing stint after receiving her first Academy Award nomination for co-writing Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and it is a dramatic departure in milieu and scale for her.
Turns out she was brought onboard for a very specific reason: this duel was conducted after the wife of one of the combatants, Marguerite de Carrouges, accused the other combatant, Jacques Le Gris, of raping her. How you handle this inciting incident is light-years away from how a Hollywood studio production would be able to coast on just five years ago. Affleck and Damon, possibly motivated by their shame in tacitly enabling Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behavior, decided they were not equipped to write Marguerite’s perspective, and so they only wrote the scenes predominantly from the male duelers’ perspectives. Holofcener was in charge of writing Marguerite’s scenes, and ensuring her perspective was told via a woman writer.And it lookslike the movie’s promotional materials, at least, are keeping to that promise of balance in perspective.
Along with co-writing the screenplay, Matt Damon is starring as Jean de Carrouges, while Ben Affleck was originally slated to play Jacques Le Gris until he decided he was better suited for Count Pierre d’Alençon, with the role of the accused instead going to Adam Driver, who’s been having quite a year. All three of them might be serious acting contenders, but none of them have been garnering the buzz that Jodie Comer has been enjoying as the accuser. Her career had been simmering for a number of years before her breakout on the show Killing Eve, which did not win her a Primetime Emmy this year but did win her one in 2019. This is being positioned as her first major film role… and possible first Academy Award nomination.
DUNE – In Theaters and HBO Max October 22
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Timothée Chalamet, with Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac
What is it about? An adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s famous sci-fi novel, House Atreides is betrayed shortly after taking stewardship of the “spice”-rich planet Arrakis.
How am I feelin’ about this one? And now we come to the internet’s most anticipated film of the year – Warner Bros’ latest stab at a big-budget major franchise ticket. And boy do they need one: Joker was a huge hit and The Suicide Squad did well… ish, but for the most part their window of opportunity to build up the D.C. Universe as a sustained movie series to compete with Marvel passed a long time ago, and their other gravy train, J.K. TERFling’s “Wizarding World,” has gone off the rails into a chaotically-produced patchwork of barely-coherent canonical table-setting for “future” events in a story that concluded over a decade ago on film.
So yeah, a lot is riding on Denis Villeneuve’s attempt to succeed where David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky failed to bring Frank Herbert’s influential Dune mythology to the big screen as a hit franchise. It was obvious from the trailers that his ability to show every penny of a huge budget onscreen has not waned since Blade Runner 2049, and he has assembled a truly all-star cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem are all in this, with Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet headlining as Paul, the fugitive-turned-savior from House Atreides.
Everything was set for this to be the Event Movie of 2020… and then COVID-19 happened. Since then, it has been an all-out public relations war between Villeneuve (with several other filmmakers and theater chains behind him) and Warner Bros (with, uh, Warner Bros behind them) over how to handle distribution of a movie that “demands” to be seen on the big screen during an ongoing pandemic that has killed more Americans than the Spanish Flu over a century ago. Eventually, the result ended up being in theaters and on HBO Max, only on the Ad-Free plan, and streaming in the United States for thirty-one days from its theatrical release. Probably not what either side wanted, but hey, that’s compromise.
Joey had a chance to screen this last month The Way It Was Meant To at the Toronto International Film Festival and was blown away by its visual scope and ambition, though he also noted that this movie is very much dependent on future sequels to conclude a truly satisfactory narrative out of Herbert’s sprawling epic. If Academy voters share Joey’s passion for its production values, we may be seeing an all-out sweep of the crafts categories next year not unlike what Gravity, Avatar, and The Return of the King managed. Then again, those were all Best Picture nominees and its final awards haul may be significantly less than predicted if the rest of the movie doesn’t similarly compel audiences.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH – In Theaters October 22
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Timothée Chalamet, with Elisabeth Moss and Owen Wilson
What is it about? An outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine.”
How am I feelin’ about this one? Now for another release that we were all looking forward to last year, pushed back and delayed multiple times due to the deadly pandemic that is also apparently not all that worse than a common cold but also a bioweapon released by China but also a hoax perpetuated by the Democrats to make QAnon look bad but also a smokescreen to get us all vaccinated so we can be microchipped by Dr. Fauci’s Critical Race Theory nanobots.
After releasing his visually-splendid-but-culturally-problematic Isle of Dogs in 2018, Wes Anderson is back to a live action period piece, and this one, against all odds, looks to be even more ambitious in scope than The Grand Budapest Hotel. Billed as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city,” The French Dispatch is an ensemble piece shifting between several vignettes covering the titular magazine’s various subjects, reporters, and time periods. Just like Dune, this cast is stacked: we’ve got Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. Oh, and also Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, and Anjelica Huston.
Yeah, it’s pretty safe to say that Wes Anderson has reached a level of fame and respect that he can pick up the phone and get any performer he wants for his movies for even the walk-on parts. But are any of them possible awards contenders? Apparently yes: Jeffrey Wright has been receiving near-unanimous best-in-show notices for his portrayal of what would happen if A.J. Liebling and James Baldwin somehow combined and became one person. I would absolutely love to see this prolific supporting actor finally receive recognition… but I think it’s worth noting that Wes Anderson has directed exactly zero Oscar-nominated performances so far in his twenty-five-year career: not Bill Murray in Rushmore, notGene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, not even *sobs* Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Just something to keep in mind.
Reactions from the Cannes Film Festival seemed to regard this as not necessarily the best Wes Anderson film so much as the most Wes Anderson film, and your mileage will vary on whether or not that’s a good thing. Joey’s take is here. Regardless, it’s almost certainly going to be a contender for Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, and Cinematography at a minimum. Maybe even Wright. We’ll keep an eye on him.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO – In Theaters October 29
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, with Anya Taylor-Joy and Diana Rigg
What is it about? An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960’s where she encounters a dazzling singer.
How am I feelin’ about this one? If there is one thing Edgar Wright loves, it’s movies. And music. His love of the pop culture of his formative years bleeds into every single one of his features, from his breakout comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz to his American action films like Baby Driver. Now he’s directing and releasing his love letter to the horror movies he grew up on, especially those New Hollywood-era psychedelic thrillers like Don’t Look Now and Repulsion. The title itself is a callback to the hit single from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, so that’s where his love of classic pop and rock clocks in.
Last Night in Soho stars Thomasin McKenzie as shy aspiring fashion designer Eloise, who finds herself with the ability to travel to London in the 1960’s as an enigmatic lounge singer named Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. It’s hard to tell for sure what the actual conflict of the story is, or even if there is a coherent one and Wright isn’t just going full Giallo incomprehensibility on us. We can tell, however, based on the trailer, that we’re looking at an ambitious feat of meticulous visual design and editing (the short clip seamlessly cutting between McKenzie and Taylor-Joy dancing in the nightclub alone is almost shameless in its “yeah, try to figure out how we did that!” flexing). Whatever my criticisms of Wright as a storyteller and director of actors, his ability to make a movie feel like a capital-M Movie is inarguable.
Overall critical reception has been positive…ish, though Joey Magidson was very disappointed when he saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, finding that it manages the disheartening feat of feeling both head-slappingly ludicrous and disappointingly rote at the same time. So that… doesn’t help Wright’s odds at recognition if Joey’s bummer reaction is shared by others. Nevertheless, that dance sequence alone is pretty marvelously cut, so Paul Machliss may yet have to practice some speeches by the year’s end.
On a more sobering note, Last Night in Soho will have the unfortunate distinction of being the final film appearances of English actresses Margaret Nolan and Diana Rigg. Both of them passed away shortly after principal photography had concluded, and they will be sorely missed.
So with that, I ask you, dear readers, do you think I erred in prioritizing Mass over Venom: Let There Be Carnage (which is already a contender for Joey’s So-Bad-It’s-Glorious Hall of Fame)? Which October release are you most excited for? Will you risk it and see Dune on the big screen? Sound off in the comments.