Monthly Preview: November 2014

calendar2Despite the fall normally being seen as prestige film season, so far we’ve had films from a great variety of genres and styles to pick from. After a great October, November seems to be continuing that trend nicely (and the trend of 2014 overall, for that matter). While there are certainly some clear prestige pictures on the horizon this month, we also have some more great indie genre films and a couple of big tentpoles. As has frequently been the case this year, if you can’t find something to watch in this field, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Interstellar: Christopher Nolan’s work was a major factor in my growth as a film buff during high school and college, and while I’m more aware of his filmmaking flaws now I still enjoy all of his films on one level or another. Interstellar is hopefully closer to higher-end Nolan, and if nothing else has a great thematic focus and an incredible cast to help keep it aloft. It also doesn’t hurt that the film looks absolutely gorgeous and that we’re apparently getting higher-end Zimmer on the score too. Regardless of how well the film turns out (fingers crossed for “very well”), it represents the sort of film that I hope Nolan (and Hollywood) makes more of going forward.

Big Hero 6: As much as I’ve loved the Marvel Cinematic Universe and various other approaches to the superhero genre over the past decade-plus, it does surprise me that we haven’t had many zippy cartoon superhero films a la The Incredibles. With that in mind, how could I not be excited to see Disney Animation adopt a forgotten Marvel comic as their next project? Big Hero 6 seems like the sort of lighthearted, fun adventure that kids will eat up and that adults could maybe benefit from as well. The animation looks beautiful, the action looks very fun, and yes Baymax is going to be everywhere this Xmas right next to Groot. This should be a nice fun lark of a movie to break up the seriousness of prestige season.

Rosewater: It’s hard for me to articulate how frustrated I am with myself for not watching The Daily Show anymore. Jon Stewart used to be a ritual for me, either at night before bed (during college) or in the morning while eating breakfast (after college). But it’s been awhile since I’ve immersed myself in his particular brand of incisive-commentary-meets-hopeful-activism, which is what makes me excited for Rosewater. It’s a surprisingly dramatic directorial turn for Stewart, but one that also seems like a natural extension of the progressive activism at the heart of The Daily Show. The film seems to be shooting for the stars too, using Maziar Bahari’s story to explore not just optimism in the face of fear-mongering and hatred but also the striving of youth to shape their future and the role technology plays in that struggle. I’m not sure if Stewart can accomplish all of that at once, but I’m certainly excited to find out.

Foxcatcher: I remember when Bennett Miller was on the shortlist for Catching Fire, my only thought was “I REALLY hope he does Foxcatcher instead.” The story of John du Pont and the Schultz brothers intrigued me the second I first heard Miller was developing a film of it, and my interest only increased as he assembled a great cast to embody it. I feel like Steve Carell playing a role like this will either be fiercely compelling or utterly ridiculous, but with Miller’s impressive (if limited) pedigree I’m willing to trust his instincts here. Word from the festival circuit suggests that Miller and company knocked this one out of the park, and that the film is a great exploration of American ambition and entitlement… all of which sounds good to me.

Bad Turn Worse: As I’ve discussed previously I have a great affection for old-school pulp storytelling, and Bad Turn Worse seems to be a great homage to Jim Thompson-style crime yarns of the past. It got plenty of positive reviews at last year’s Fantastic Fest, which is exactly the sort of venue that you’d hope would embrace it. Combining a bunch of young up-and-comers with the dark charms of Mark Pellegrino seems to give the film a great deal of personality besides its pulp core. This seems like something right up my alley and should be a nice throwback thriller to enjoy on iTunes in the midafternoon.

Starry Eyes: While I certainly understand the drive to be successful as an artist, there is also something specific and potentially degrading about trying to be become a professional actress. It’s that specificity that Starry Eyes is tapping into, mixed with some Faustian body horror for emphasis. The result seems to be something very stylish and unsettling, and all reports indicate that Alex Essoe really kills it as the lead. It also seems to be tapping into the natural ‘80s-throwback vibe that has permeated the indie genre scene over the past year, and besides fitting the concept nicely it also continues what has been a solid trend. This is the sort of high-concept horror that I really enjoy, and one that taps into a very real and tangible desire to be famous that is more common than ever.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: Vampire films, like superhero films, have suffered a lot of whining about how omnipresent and repetitive they are, and with vampire films that complaint is even more ridiculous. That should be as clear as ever with this film, a black-and-white Iranian vampire western that absolutely killed it at Sundance this year. It looks like an edgy, modern take on vampirism even before you factor in the cultural elements that seem to play a major role in the film on both a narrative and thematic level. This film seems to represent a distinct new voice arriving on the cinematic landscape and one that we should probably keep an eye on going forward. But first things first, we should see this awesome-looking movie.

The unifying factor of The Theory of Everything, The Homesman, and The Imitation Game is that while they all feature great casts and are put together by some talented filmmakers, it’s hard to gauge whether they can transcend their awards-bait outward appearances and deliver something more distinctive and compelling; another great-sounding horror movie from down under (after last month’s Housebound) is The Babadook, which seems to be about more than just jump-scares; and of course there’s Mockingjay Part 1, which I’m sure will be a great piece of blockbuster filmmaking that I will probably see, but that I’m also not particularly excited about.

Hopefully you don’t get burned out on movies in November, because December 2014 is as tightly-packed as ever, and should provide a great exclamation point for this terrific year in film.

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