After what feels like a hundred years in the making, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) has finally released his take on Frank Herbert’s groundbreaking sci-fi novel Dune. Part one of two, this adaptation is hauntingly stark, epic, and impeccably shot.
Timothée Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, heir to the Atreides throne, who is tasked with saving the planet Arrakis from the Baron Harkonnen.
There’s a lot of info to get to in the film’s two and a half hour runtime, from the shadowy power and politics of the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of witches searching for the Kwisatz Haderach, a superbeing who will change the outcome of the universe, to the fate of Arrakis and the influence of spice, the substance that draws armies and colonizers to the planet in the first place.
But if you can deal with all of that necessary mythmaking, you’re in for a film that basks in its outlandish scale and scope and wows in exactly the right places. —Amil Niazi
Dune will be in theaters and on HBO Max on Oct. 22.
The Power of the Dog
By now, we know there’s virtually nothing Benedict Cumberbatch can’t do. Still, it is arresting to watch this principle in action as he stars opposite Jesse Plemons in Jane Campion’s captivating Western.
Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, The Power of the Dog marks Campion’s return to feature films for the first time since 2009’s Bright Star, and it is a tour de force. The story centers on rancher brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George (Plemons) who begin to grow apart, even before the latter marries Rose, a local widow (Kirsten Dunst), and moves her and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the family home.
Conflict arises early, and it rarely lets up. Rose withers under Phil’s cruelty, which Cumberbatch delivers with overwhelming menace. But even the angry man has devastating secrets he can’t quite divulge, and his need to maintain the appearance of rugged machismo is revealed as a coping mechanism. The volatility and sensitivity of Cumberbatch’s performance should make him an early Oscar contender here.
The melodrama unfolds against a sprawling backdrop of 1925 Montana (or at least, what is supposed to be 1925 Montana; Dog was shot in New Zealand), and the breathtaking scenery and Campion’s lingering, meditative shots, coupled with a haunting score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, make for an exquisitely uncomfortable, immersive atmosphere. —Elamin Abdelmahmoud
The Power of the Dog will be out on Netflix on Dec. 1.
Fresh off the critical acclaim for her 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, French director Céline Sciamma is back with a beautiful, fantastical tearjerker that will no doubt be awards season fodder in just a few months.
A sweet, slow-moving depiction of intergenerational connection and love, Petite Maman centers on Nelly, an 8-year-old girl (Joséphine Sanz), and her mom Marion (Nina Meurisse). After her grandmother dies, Nelly starts to feel untethered, searching for an anchor now that her family has lost theirs. As her parents pack up Marion’s childhood home, Nelly takes solace in the woods behind the house and, as the title suggests, discovers her own mother, age 8.
What happens next is a beguiling adventure in fantasy, discovery, and empathy, with Nelly piecing together the parts of her mother she sees today with the little girl she meets in the woods. Shot from the perspective of an 8-year-old, Petite Maman moves with the flitting, free-spirited energy of a child. Whether or not this version of her mother is an apparition or a dream, it allows Nelly to better understand her own relationship to her real grieving adult mother. —A.N.
It’s hard enough to adapt a play into a movie. It gets harder with high expectations — and such were the stakes for Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his own one-act play, the Tony-winning and Pulitzer-nominated The Humans. Yet the film clears that bar easily as Karam and company deliver one of the year’s best films.
The Humans is, ostensibly, a story about a housewarming party over Thanksgiving. We meet the Blake family on the day the youngest daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) is moving with her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun) into a spacious, shabby apartment in New York’s Chinatown, with all that implies: the noisy neighbors, the terrifyingly loud trash compactors, the deteriorating walls.
Brigid’s dad Erik (Richard Jenkins), her big sister Aimee (Amy Schumer), her mom Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell, who originated the role on Broadway), and her grandma (the inimitable June Squibb) all come to help her move in.
It’s tempting to describe The Humans as the story of a dysfunctional family, but it is far more nuanced than that. Instead, it’s a film about navigating what we withhold or divulge in order to keep our families functional. Little by little, these characters reveal more than they mean to, and the perspective shifts to others, who must find a way to tolerate or even accommodate those revelations. This is a patient movie, willing to linger long enough and stay close enough to people’s faces to capture the burdens of love and reconciliation. —E.A.
No wide release date has been set.
It’s really hard to make something genuinely inventive and shocking in the world of found footage films these days. But this grainy pandemic-themed horror from director Rob Savage (Host) is so funny, cringey, and jump-out-of-your-seat scary that it’s bound to become an instant classic in the genre.
Real-life musician Annie Hardy plays a grating, COVID-denying, MAGA hat–wearing musician with the same name who records an improv music show in her car that she livestreams on social media. Frustrated with the ongoing lockdown, Annie decides to take an impromptu trip to London to see her old bandmate Stretch. Literally everything from the moment she arrives in the UK is a disaster of nightmarish proportions. You’re never sure if you want Annie to live or die because of her abrasive attitude and horrendous politics, but one thing’s for sure: It’s impossible to look away.
The use of the Instagram Live–style commentary from Annie’s loyal followers adds an interesting layer of ongoing commentary to the events onscreen and turns a potentially standard found footage movie into something unique. The film is definitely not perfect, and the actual zombie or vampire or apocalyptic cult monster or whatever it is that’s chasing Annie and Stretch across London in the dead of night seems like an afterthought, but nonetheless Dashcam manages to make a pandemic movie that feels surprising, daring, and even a little funny. —A.N.
A wide release date has not been set.
All My Puny Sorrows
Director Michael McGowan’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ excellent 2014 novel starts off heartbreaking and only gets more devastating. The film follows two sisters. Yoli (Alison Pill), a novelist struggling to finish her next book amid a divorce, learns that her sister, Elf (Sarah Gadon), a world-famous concert pianist, is in the hospital after attempting suicide. Yoli drops everything to return to her hometown, where a contained, intimate story unfolds. There, the sisters revisit and detangle their shared foundational trauma of their dad’s suicide years prior.
McGowan’s writing stands out; the witty sarcasm and boundless love of family is all contained in characters who deftly switch gears between tenderness, anger, pity, resentment, and desperation. But it’s the acting that carries this film to success. Pill puts on an extraordinary performance as she falls apart, while Mare Winningham, who plays the sisters’ mom, lets the cracks in her veneer of stoicism show. These are performances that will haunt you for days after you watch this movie. —E.A.
A wide release date for the US has not yet been set.
The Worst Person in the World
Joachim Trier’s film — the third and final in his Oslo Trilogy — is a sharply observed character study about the anxiety of making irreversible choices. Twentysomething Julie (Renate Reinsve) keeps shuffling between life paths. First she’s studying medicine, then psychology, then photography. Worst Person is funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully messy, and it’s easily the most effective marriage of romantic comedy and coming-of-age tale in recent memory.
As we watch Julie wrestle with indecision, Trier maintains a compassionate lens on her choices, even when they’re not defensible. As she feels the walls closing in, you do, too. Ditto when she is swept off her feet and the whole world stops. The result is one of the most textured and compelling looks at millennial uncertainty, anchored by a knockout performance from Reinsve. Only watch this movie if you’ve never struggled with the finality of your choices. Otherwise, it’ll hit too close to home —E.A.
The Worst Person in the World is in theaters Oct. 15.
Peeling back the curtain on the tragedy of Nakba, the Palestinian displacement of 1948, Farha is an incredibly tender yet uncompromising film that forces the viewer to reckon with not just with the past but with Palestine’s present.
Fourteen-year-old Farha dreams of going to school in her tiny village, but she’s anxious to square this desire with her father’s wish for her to be married off.
But just as Farha tries to make headway on that goal, Israeli bombs start falling nearby and she’s forced into hiding. From the cellar, she watches as everything she’s ever known is destroyed and her hopes turn into something else entirely. Facing ruin once she leaves, she has to contend with what it even means to be free.
As the first feature-length film from writer-director Darin J. Sallam, Farha is exactly the type of challenging, necessary, contemporary cinema that changes how you see the world. —A.N.
A wide release date for the US has not yet been set.
Last Night in Soho
Soho centers on Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a young British woman who moves to London to study fashion. Ellie rents a room in Soho, but the room comes with a bit of a quirk: Every night when she falls asleep, she’s transported to 1960s London. In her dream world, she finds herself following a chic singer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she tries to make it big. But Soho is interested in more than just the nostalgia; Eloise’s dreams quickly turn from the romantic toward the sinister as Sandy is plunged deeper into more precarious and dangerous settings.
Visually, Soho is a feast. The world Wright constructs for Sandy is gorgeous and crafted with precision that reveals his affection for the era. The pace is perfect — Wright rarely misses when it comes to pace — and keeps you in the story as it gets more unhinged. There are about half a dozen sharp turns that could’ve dulled the movie but they’re all expertly handled.
We often charge films with the responsibility of saying something. On this account, Soho fails. It is not a discourse-y movie; it’s hardly a movie that knows what it wants to say! But, damn, it looks good and sounds good. A week later, you might not remember the finer points of the plot, but you’ll remember the thrill it gave you. —E.A.
Last Night in Soho is in theaters Oct. 29.
Even if you’ve never stepped foot in this Toronto suburb, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Scarborough, though perhaps not in the most flattering light. An incredibly diverse city, Scarborough is often maligned for its high rates of crime.
In 2017, writer Catherine Hernandez offered a new perspective of the city with her novel Scarborough. Now she has turned that book into a moving, frank, funny screenplay directed by promising young directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.
Shot documentary-style and almost lost completely because of COVID-19, this film tells the stories of three young kids in a low-income neighborhood whose lives intersect at a community center, offering up a story full of personal, vulnerable rites of passage that interrogate issues of belonging, friendship, and perseverance.
Bing (Liam Diaz), Sylvie (Essence Fox), and Laura (Anna Claire Beitel) have to navigate trauma and tragedy far greater than their years; in the process, they carve out a place for themselves in their families and their communities. Diaz as Bing is particularly arresting, showcasing a remarkable talent for his young age. —A.N.
A wide release date for the US has not yet been set.
The Mad Woman's Ball
Mélanie Laurent keeps breaking through. The French actor’s first break came in 2006’s Don’t Worry, I’m Fine, which won her a César for Most Promising Actress. Her Hollywood breakthrough came a few years later, when she played Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. But all the while, she’s been cultivating an alternate career path as a director. Now, with The Mad Woman’s Ball, her fourth outing at the helm, Laurent is poised for another breakthrough, this time as a powerhouse filmmaker.
Ball is set in Paris’s famous, and occasionally infamous, Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, but it does not start there. Instead we meet the spirited Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge), who has the kind of clever retorts and quick wit that frustrate her father, who is obsessed with maintaining the family’s social standing. We discover early on that Eugénie has encounters with the dead, which provides an opening for her family to commit her to the asylum.
Laurent’s source material is Victoria Mas’s novel of the same name, but it might as well be real life. Eugénie’s admission to the hospital comes during the tenure of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, whose work is synonymous with the “hysteria” diagnosis that was often applied to women. Eugénie comes under the care of head nurse Geneviève (Laurent), and their exchanges reveal the fragile artifice that the medical establishment used to police and abuse women. As their relationship grows more tender, their world becomes more grotesque, culminating in the titular ball — based on an actual historical event — where the Paris elite come to gawk at the women in the asylum, with gruesome consequences.
In Ball, Laurent is showcasing all of her skills, from her complex portrayal of Geneviève to her directing and writing. Everything comes together and presents as a show of force. —E.A.
The Mad Woman’s Ball is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.
In this celebrated animated documentary, Amin Nawabi shares his remarkable, death-defying journey out of Afghanistan as a child refugee, a story he’s been keeping secret for 20 years. Exposing the lengths so many around the world go through for a chance at freedom, Amin opens up to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, his former high school classmate and longtime friend, about his need to live as openly and honestly as he could, even in the face of mounting danger.
Flee is a tender, at times cruel study of what it takes to live freely. Animated beautifully, the film will leave you in awe of all that Amin has endured and how much he’s had to hold inside, burying his past as a way of holding on to his future.
Executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, this is one of those movies that will burrow itself into your heart for years to come. —A.N.
Flee will be in theaters on Dec. 3.●