There comes a time when even the most discerning, cultured moviegoer does some serious soul-searching and decides to plunk down money to see Happy Death Day. I get that. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t an array of high-quality films idling in dark theaters — and I’m not talking about Suburbicon, ack. These five eclectic movies all premiered to much buzz at high-profile festivals throughout the year. Now they need your attention, love, support and a little bit sunshine so they can grow and last throughout the fall season (or be remembered come awards time, same diff.) Check ‘em out now; rave about them later.
The Florida Project
On the outskirts of Disneyworld, a fierce 6-year-old girl (Brooklynn Prince) and her two best friends run wild on the grounds of a low-rent week-to-week motel complex. Meanwhile, her young mom (Bria Vinaite) goes to desperate and often-illegal extremes to pay the rent to the ever-watchful building manager (Willem Dafoe in a role that’s way more nuanced than in seems). There’s not much a story, but that’s not the point. This is a film about what’s like to experience the adventures and tenderness and struggles of childhood just on the fringe — but most definitely not in — the Happiest Place on Earth. Director Sean Baker’s sun-drenched, pastel-colored drama has a vibrant energy even amid the most heartbreaking moments. I’m still thinking about it. (Now in select theaters; wide on October 27)
Andy Serkis has spent the better part of his career giving a human essence to CGI characters such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes. For his directorial debut, he eschews sleek motion-capture technology to focus on an old-fashioned (albeit safe) love story. In the 1950s, charismatic Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) has a beautiful wife (Claire Foy, The Crown), money and a baby on the way. Then he’s stricken with polio, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a respirator. He thinks his life is over . . . but he ends up becoming a leading activist for the disabled. What the film lacks in narrative oomph — the story has exactly one dimension — it makes up for in effectively warm-hearted performances. Cavendish is an inspiration. But let’s be real: it’s his patient, devoted wife who is the real heroine. (Now in theaters)
Two young characters embark on an identity search — but never meet — in this soulful, elegant treat. In 1927, a deaf girl (Millicent Simmonds) in New Jersey embarks across the river to locate her favorite movie star (Julianne Moore); 50 years later, a prepubescent boy (Oakes Fegley), deaf from a freak accident, runs away from Minnesota to New York City to track down his long-lost father. Their stories unfold mostly without spoken dialogue, leaving audiences to marvel at the dazzling hustle-bustle of Manhattan in two different eras. Based on a book by Brian Selznick (Hugo) and directed by Todd Haynes (Carol), this is a beautifully crafted story about love and acceptance and the powers of curiosity. Kids may cherish it even more than adults. (Now in theaters)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
I couldn’t stop checking my watch, but not because I was bored. The Stanley Kubrick-esque off-kilter thriller was such an excruciating slow burn that I counted the moments for the tension to subside. Colin Farrell is a successful cardiologist with a fellow doctor wife (Nicole Kidman) and two cool kids. So why is he clearing time to hang out with a teen boy (Barry Keoghan, last seen dying on Mark Rylance’s boat in Dunkirk)? Why is he showering him with gifts? Something is clearly unsettling about this dynamic, and the haunting organ-chord score heard during each encounter seals it. Some might be disappointed when the rather simplistic motive is revealed, though it doesn’t discount from a chilling cinematic experience. By the way, this film comes from the director of the acclaimed The Lobster — a quirky comedy in which people were turned into animals if they didn’t mate. Yah, you’re dealing with that level of impishness. (Now in select theaters)
Jessica Chastain, Will Smith and director Pedro Almodovar, were just some of the jury members at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival that awarded the top Palm D’Or award to this thought-provoking drama. In a contemporary Stockholm art museum, a new 4-by-4-meter exhibit called The Square is intended as a “sanctuary of trust and caring.” So much for good intentions. The chief curator (Claes Bang) goes to nasty extremes after his iPhone and wallet are stolen, leading to a crisis of conscience. The married dad also has an affair with a wily TV journalist (freshly minted Emmy award winner Elisabeth Moss.) Credit the sharply observed, wryly funny and openly cynical 142-minute work for addressing difficult questions about race and class that most people usually just whisper about. Some of the scenes — including one with Moss, Bang and, ahem, an outstretched condom — will be classics before the credits roll. (In theaters Friday, October 27)
Also published on Medium.