Oh, dear. Last month’s installment of this series was… a bit grumpy, wasn’t it? Thankfully, that won’t be the case for October, which I already indulged in a few weeks ago with a special On the Radar… / Sunday Scaries spooktacular crossover event that specifically previewed a few of the most anticipated scary movies coming out later this month. Also, I’m thrilled to report that I was wrong in my skepticism towards The Woman King! The trailer was ho-hum but the movie certainly wasn’t, and I’m very pleased that moviegoing audiences are turning out for such a rousing old-school sword-and-sandals epic.
Some of the most anticipated releases and biggest awards players of the year are hitting theaters within the next few weeks. Including…
TÁR – In Theaters October 7
Directed by Todd Field
Starring Cate Blanchett, with Noémie Merlant and Nina Hoss
What is it about? Set in the international world of classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composers and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Sixteen years. That’s how long it’s been since three-time Academy Award nominee Todd Field has put out anything at all. I’m not just limiting myself to feature films, either. I made a big deal out of Jane Campion’s twelve-year gap between Bright Star and The Power of the Dog when I previewed the latter film last year, but in between then, she produced a few shorts and collaborated with Garth Davis on the miniseries Top of the Lake. But Field has written and directed nothing since Little Children was released back when I was still in high school. No short films, no streaming or TV shows, nada. He got a “Special Thanks” in the credits of the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country and the feature-length documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, and he showed up as a guest in a few Stanley Kubrick retrospectives, and that’s it.
So it’s a pretty big deal for him to not only have a new movie coming out, but one as seemingly ambitious as TÁR, a strange title that has caused us no small amount of frustration from our end in designating a consistent tag for it. It refers to the surname of its central character, an accomplished but imperious and exacting orchestra composer who is dealing with being “canceled.” The specificity with which its premise is laid out might lead a layman to believe this is a biopic of sorts, but Lydia Tár is, in fact, a fictional character. Not only that, she seems to have been conceived of and written with its star Cate Blanchett specifically in mind. The movie enjoyed a lot of glowing reactions from its debut at the Venice Film Festival and raves for Blanchett at the center of it, who received her second Volpi Cup for Best Actress to reflect the near-unanimous hosannahs she’s enjoyed so far.
Joey is not breaking away from that consensus, and was especially impressed by just how perfectly its thorny titular character fit like a glove onto Blanchett’s particular talents as a performer. So it’s clear, based on how it was received at both Venice and Telluride, that we’ve got a major awards competitor on our hands. At a minimum, worst-case scenario, Field himself is very likely on his way to a third consecutive crack at Screenplay and Blanchett might very well be joining Frances McDormand and Meryl Streep in the threepeat winner club. And that’s lowballing it; Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound, and Original Score are very much in the cards as well.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS – In Theaters October 7
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring Harris Dickinson, with Woody Harrelson and the late Charlbi Dean
What is it about? A cruise for the super-rich sinks, thus leaving survivors, including a fashion model celebrity couple, trapped on an island.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Our Palme d’Or winner earlier this year, which also makes Sweden the first and, so far, only country boasting two filmmakers who have won this prestigious international award twice. We here in the United States have Francis Ford Coppola, Denmark has Bille August, Serbia boasts Emir Kusturica, Shōhei Imamura was Japan’s two-time champ, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne hail from Belgium, Michael Haneke was born and raised in Austria, and Ken Loach is from the country still grappling with the fact that their new reigning monarch is this guy:
But only Sweden can say they’re home to two-time Palme d’Or winners. Plural. Will that translate to Academy Award attention for Ruben Östlund’s latest satire on the hypocrisies and excesses of the ultra-privileged? Well… maybe. His first Palme winner, The Square, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, losing to Chile’s A Fantastic Woman. But Triangle of Sadness is not eligible for that award since it is predominantly in English (Sweden is currently deciding between Boy from Heaven, I Am Zlatan, and Nelly & Nadine to be their official submission). Meaning that its best shot is in Original Screenplay, where dark comedies tend to be most competitive. If it’s really popular, we might even see a nod for Woody Harrelson in Best Supporting Actor or a sadly posthumous nomination for Charlbi Dean in Best Supporting Actress. It all depends on how much the Academy agrees with the jury; remember, they not-entirely-unpredictably ignored last year’s violent, sexually-charged body horror Palme champion Titane in favor of loving on fellow Cannes competitor Drive My Car last time.
Joey was not at all in agreement with Vincent Lindon’s jury, finding the movie capable of only one joke and repeating it ad nauseum throughout an overlong runtime. Normally that wouldn’t dampen my anticipation too much – he and I have disagreed plenty of times on major Cannes Film Festival entries – except those were the exact same complaints I had with Östlund’s previous two films, The Square and Force Majeure. Both took a decently humorous premise that would have made for a fine ten-or-fifteen-minute comedy skit and strrrreeeeettttched them out to feature-length, belaboring the satire far beyond the point when any halfway intelligent person would be expected to “get it.” The Square might actually be my least-favorite Palme d’Or winner of the last ten years (say what you will about I, Daniel Blake, at least its heavy-handed message felt urgent and substantive), and its trailer hasn’t assuaged my trepidation.
Then again, The White Ribbon was another Palme d’Or winner I didn’t care for at all and then Michael Haneke blew me away with Amour three years later, so maybe second time will be the charm for me again?
DECISION TO LEAVE – In Theaters and Mubi October 14
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Starring Park Hae-il, with Tang Wei and Go Kyung-Pyo
What is it about? A detective investigating a man’s death in the mountains is drawn to the dead man’s mysterious wife in the course of his dogged sleuthing.
How am I feelin’ about this one? Keeping on with this year’s Cannes Film Festival, we’re also about to see for ourselves their pick for the Prix De La Mise En Scène, also known as Best Director, very soon. This might actually be my most anticipated film of the month. This is weird since I run hot and cold on Park Chan-wook (hot on Thirst and to a lesser extent The Handmaiden, cold on Oldboy and Stoker), but nearly everyone who has seen Decision to Leave so far loves it and are declaring it one of his very best.
The Best Picture victory for Parasite two years ago was a gigantic leap forward for the visibility of international cinema and a massive feather in the cap of South Korea… can they do this twice? Stranger things have happened at the Oscars, and the central conflict driving this film seems unusually straightforward, relative to Park’s past movies. If anything, the set-up gives off a story more in line with Alfred Hitchcock, and if something from a respected but audacious and polarizing filmmaker is seen as their most “accessible” film, that might give Decision to Leave an opening. However, it’s worth noting that this film’s U.S. distributor is not NEON like Parasite enjoyed, but instead the not-quite-as-awards-promotion-experienced Mubi.
Personally, one contender I’m hoping emerges from Decision to Leave, sight-unseen, is a Best Actress nomination for its leading lady. Why? Because she’s held an Oscar I.O.U. in her hand for fifteen years. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, check out Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and try to tell me with a straight face that a white woman in an English-language film doing what Tang Wei pulls off in just the last fifteen minutes of that movie alone wouldn’t have steamrolled her way to every acting award available to her back then.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN – In Theaters October 21
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, with Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon
What is it about? Two lifelong friends are at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them.
How am I feelin’ about this one? So, two factors here are accounting for my cautious optimism towards Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the inexplicably popular Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The cautious part is because of his previous film – a noisy, crass, mean-spirited, and ultimately empty dark comedy, written sloppily and shot gruesomely. It’s not going to be easy to get back into my good graces after that came along with its craven approach towards Social Commentary [sic] on police racism and sexual violence, punctuated with lazy Nostalgia Critic-level humor, stealing the Oscar that rightfully belonged to Saoirse Ronan.
But you know what Three Billboards didn’t have? Colin Farrell. You know which one of McDonagh’s movies did? In Bruges, which is still great. Not only is Farrell starring in this movie, he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his performance as a simpleton desperately trying to hold on to a friendship his former companion, played by Brendan Gleeson, abruptly decides to end. Hey, you know what else In Bruges has that Three Billboards didn’t? So hey, maybe there’s reason for optimism this time around!
Joey reassures me this is McDonagh at his best, resulting in his least-“showy” but most complex and insightful film yet. He also had high praise for the performances, though it’s worth noting that despite him describing the quarreling former friends as co-leads in his review, it looks like Searchlight Pictures has made the Weinsteinian decision to campaign Farrell as the sole lead and Gleeson as a supporting actor. I’m assuming they made that decision while flipping off Barry Keoghan.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT – On Netflix October 28
Directed by Edward Berger
Starring Felix Kammerer, with Albrecht Schuch and Daniel Brühl
What is it about? Based on the classic novel about a young German soldier’s terrifying experiences and distress on the western front during World War I.
How am I feelin’ about this one? I cannot imagine how ambitious and confident I would have to be to remake the first unqualified masterpiece of the sound era and one of the best Best Picture winners of all time. If you have not seen the original All Quiet on the Western Front, please do. In between the premiere of The Jazz Singer and Lewis Milestone’s landmark war epic are some of the most terminally unwatchable “classic” films you will ever see, mostly a product of filmmakers still clumsily trying to get a handle on this novelty technology allowing audiences to hear spoken dialogue and music while the fancy moving picture is playing out in front of them. “Talkies” were not even a full three years-old yet, and then in comes this adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel with a soundscape that is still nightmarishly effective and overwhelming to hear even now, almost a full century later. Experiencing it for the first time back in 1930 must have been legitimately transcendent. It is still the finest cinematic depiction of World War I ever made (put your hand down, Sam Mendes… I said put your hand down, Sam Mendes), and rarely equaled in its unabashed anti-war messaging.
So I can only assume German television director Edward Berger must have balls of steel to helm a feature film that can’t avoid being compared to a cinematic magnum opus so enduring and powerful. Germany, too, is announcing their stones, because this is going to be their entry for Best International Feature Film. So far, early reviews have been highly positive, and the trailer is certainly vivid and dramatic.
The only thing holding it back from being buried in the Netflix streaming library, never to be heard from again, is comparison. Not just to the unforgettable 1930 original, but also to recent World War I Oscar darling 1917, which… I personally wasn’t all that impressed with, but a lot of other people, including members of the Academy, certainly did. I have no doubt reactions will be contrasting the two, and whether or not those will fall in All Quiet on the Western Front’s favor remains to be seen.
ARMAGEDDON TIME – In Theaters October 28
Directed by James Gray
Starring Banks Repeta, with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway
What is it about? A deeply personal coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream.
How am I feelin’ about this one? I’m a James Gray apologist. Though he has, luckily, been able to get steady work making the kinds of thoughtful dramas that are becoming harder and harder to get financed these days, he also feels perpetually underrated. We Own the Night might be the single most underrated American crime thriller of the 21st century so far. Audiences didn’t turn out at all for The Yards and The Lost City of Z, and those at least had a chance to open and fail on their own terms – The Immigrant was flat-out sabotaged and buried by convicted sex criminal Harvey Weinstein. Whoever still puts up cash for his projects, despite a good number of them losing money, I’m grateful to them.
This time, Gray has been able to get those financiers to bring to life a roman à clef loosely about his childhood, and my goodness, we’ve been getting a lot of those lately, haven’t we? I suppose I’m not opposed to older filmmakers looking back on their formative years in principle, but it sure does seem like the recent uptick in them reflects an anxiety a little deeper than simply facing one’s own mortality. From Belfast to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood to Licorice Pizza to the upcoming The Fabelmans, it’s hard not to see an escalating trendline, here. So how does Gray plan to break out from this pattern and get his bildungsroman noticed among all the other ones released by bigger names? According to early festival reactions and promotional materials, it’s through a stronger lens of skepticism, and considering this is set in the 1980’s, I am more than happy to see a movie at least attempt to deflate the unearned nostalgia Stranger Things has ginned up towards that overrated decade.
Joey has confirmed this distinction, reporting last month that this semi-autobiographical work is not some wistful rose-tinted nostalgia trip, but a far more piercing and critical look at a family dealing with unexamined privilege, race, class, and generational conflicts during the Reagan Era. Because this is James Gray, I don’t hold out much hope that this will be some major Oscar competitor because… well, his films never are (though maybe Anne Hathaway will be able to slot herself into the “Vague Allusion To The Director’s Mom” character everyone assumed Michelle Williams was waltzing to in March?), but I am holding out hope that he will deliver an affecting, well-acted human drama because, well… he’s James Gray.
What do you think? Will Gray finally get some love from the Academy this time around? Can All Quiet on the Western Front possibly compare favorably to the 1930’s classic? How many of Brendan Gleeson’s fingers will be cut off? Let us know in the comments.