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Alt-Fall Movie Preview 2014: The Wild, the Weird and the Totally True

From Nick Cave and Edward Snowden docs to two new K-Stew dramas, here are your alternatives to the season’s sequels and Oscarbait

Alt-Fall Film Preview

IFC Films; Magnolia Pictures

We've spent months gorging on galaxy-traveling guardians, giant toy robots and angry lizards, ape-populated planets and a genetically enhanced Scarlett Johansson. Now that summer is basically over, we are expected to go from fluffy to heavy, and prepare ourselves for a season of prestige pics, biopics and soon-to-be Oscar picks. Yes, there are some popcorn movies coming out between now and December — a new Hunger Games entry, a long-awaited Dumb and Dumber sequel, the final chapter of Peter Jackson's Hobbit franchise — but for the most part, the fall is when studios trot out their somber and serious films. Once again, this is the autumn of our cinematic discontent.

But it's also a time when the various foreign films, documentaries, smaller American independent movies and a few genuinely unclassifiable flicks that also hit theaters don't seem like counterprogramming so much as complimentary. If you put many of the films listed in our Alt-Fall Movie Preview next to the brooding darkness of David Fincher's Gone Girl, or the stoner noir of Paul Thomas Anderson's Pynchon romp Inherent Vice, or the mondo meta-madness of Birdman, they wouldn't seem like art-house outliers the way they do in the warmer months. Still, if you need a break from the abundance of big-name studio offerings, the following movies are your best bets for outside-the-multiplex fare.

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‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (Sep 19)

Following a "typical" day in the life of Bad Seeds bandleader/singer Nick Cave — waking up, writing and recording some brilliant songs, talking to his therapist, hanging out with Kylie Minogue in a car — this stream-of-conscious documentary on the cult musician blends fictional vignettes with Cave conversing with collaborators and a loose tracing of his early days as a young Aussie punk. It also features what may be the best slow-burn live version of "Higgs Boson Blues" ever, which should convert anyone who's not already a fan.

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‘Harmontown’ (Oct 3)

Having been relieved of showrunning duties on his beloved sitcom Community in 2012 (temporarily, it turned out), Dan Harmon took his popular podcast "Harmontown" on the road and invited filmmaker Neil Berkeley to capture the whole booze-soaked, bridge-burning endeavor. Naturally, the documentarian got more than he bargained for. Much more.

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“Keep On Keepin’ On’ (Oct 3)

Trumpeter Clark Terry has played with a number of jazz legends; this documentary on the 93-year-old musician chronicles his mentorship of a young blind pianist/jazz prodigy on the rise named Justin Kaulflin and how their friendship inspires both of them. Terry's former pupil — a gentleman named Quincy Jones — produced this look at a player who just keeps playing, no matter what.

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‘Men, Women and Children’ (Oct 3)

Listen up, people: Technology is destroying all of our lives! The latest drama from Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) focuses on the evil that our current fascination with texting, social media and the Internets hath wrought, from sexting moms and porn-addicted kids to Adam Sandler being able to order a high-priced call girl from his laptop. Jennifer Garner, Rosemary DeWitt and Breaking Bad's Dean Norris contribute to the e-handwringing.

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‘The Overnighters’ (Oct 10)

An award winner at this year's Sundance, Jesse Moss' doc about a small North Dakota city that, because of its oil rich landscape (thanks, fracking!), has attracted a number of migrant workers to flock to the area. Local pastor Jay Reinke decides to open his doors and house many of these laborers in his church — and that's when the township truly starts freaking out.

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‘Camp X-Ray’ (Oct 17)

The first of two Kristen Stewart vehicles this fall that should help put all that Twilight brouhaha in the rearview mirror (see also Clouds of Sil Maria), this military drama finds the former Bella Swan playing a Guantanamo Bay guard who reluctantly befriends one of the detainees. For anyone who thought Stewart's talents simply extended to pouting and whimpering, this chewy indie proves that yes, the young woman does indeed have some impressive acting chops.

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‘Dear White People’ (Oct 17)

Newcomer Justin Simien made a splash earlier this year when his feature debut — a fierce, take-no-prisoners satire on race relations, campus politics and life in the so-called "post-black" age of Obama — became one of the hot breakout movies at the Sundance Film Festival. The hype is justified: His tale of a militant college radio DJ, a closeted African-American journalism student and a fraternity throwing an offensive pimps & ho's-style party pretty much skewers everybody in its path.

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‘Listen Up Philip’ (Oct 17)

It's hard out there for a young, successful writer — especially when the misanthropic novelist in question is sick of promoting his work, may or may not be breaking up with his girlfriend and is just generally a prick. (The fact that the hot author is played by Max Fischer himself, Jason Schwartzman, tells you most of what you need to know re: the level of narcissism this character is capable of). Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss plays his special lady friend, and Brazil's Jonathan Pryce plays an older writer who in no way resembles Philip Roth or John Updike. Nope. Not at all.

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Courtesy of RADiUS and Participant Media

‘Citizenfour’ (Oct 24)

Hey, remember that hullabaloo about some guy, Edward something-or-other, who sorta kinda exposed the NSA as a modern-day version of Big Brother? Filmmaker Laura Poitras, who helped break the Snowden story, delivers a you-are-there version of the whistleblower's saga as she helps him bring these accusations against the U.S. government to light. We're guessing the Feds will weigh on the movie any moment now, as we assume they saw the final product weeks ago. (Because of the surveillance and spying. Get it?)

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‘Force Majeure’ (Oct 24)

Masculinity gets raked over the coals in this Swedish domestic drama about a family on a ski trip in the Alps who almost find themselves in the middle of an avalanche. That natural disaster is thankfully avoided; the fallout that occurs when Dad abandons his family when he thinks the end is near, however, turns out to be completely catastrophic. If you like uncomfortable silences and cringe-comic moments accompanied by crying binges, this is the fall movie for you.

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‘Low Down’ (Oct 24)

Joe Albany was a fixture on the L.A. jazz scene; he was also a dad and a drug addict who struggled with his demons until the bitter end. Director Jeff Preiss isn't interested in charting the musician's rise and fall so much as viewing the man's life through the eyes of his daughter, whose memoir serves as the basis for this moody take on the agonies and ecstasies of living with a troubled artist doing the funky SoCal Seventies. John Hawkes and Elle Fanning play the dad and offspring; look for Peter Dinklage as a neighbor who dabbles in underground porn.

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‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ (Oct 24)

Word on the street is that indie auteur Gregg Araki has substantially changed Laura Kasischke's novel about a suburban mom (Eva Green) who goes missing and the teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) she leaves behind in his big-screen adaptation. We've also been told that he's added a lot of his characteristically colorful, surreal stylistics and very sexed-up, druggy vibe as well — which is kind of the main reason to go see a Gregg Araki film, really. So that's good news.

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‘Goodbye to Language’ (Oct 29)

If one were to compare Jean-Luc Godard to Bob Dylan (both mined their medium's history for metatextual masterpieces in the Sixties; both have been accused of losing the plot in the Seventies and Eighties; both began to experience a reative resurgence at the dawn of the 21st century), then this might arguably be the cinematic titan's late-breaking equivalent to Love and Theft. A hodgepodge of historical references, political ideology, homages to older works, and poop jokes, Godard's rumination on the rubble of life, the universe and everything proves that the old man has not lost his sense of humor or outrage. Did we mention this was filmed in 3-D?

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‘Horns’ (Oct 31)

How do you shake off an iconic role that made you famous and consistently threatens to overshadow your career? If you're Daniel Radcliffe, you keep making movies like this supernatural tale of a young man, his murdered girlfriend, some parasitic paparazzi and the sudden growth of, yes, demonic horns from his forehead. French director Alexandre Aja was responsible for the grisly Gallic horror movie Haute Tension and that gory remake of The Hills Have Eyes, so the curiosity factor is high.

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‘The Homesman’ (Nov 7)

Actor-director Tommy Lee Jones stars as a cantankerous old coot (it's called typecasting, folks) who makes his living as a frontier bandit. Then along comes a take-no-shit woman (Hilary Swank) who hires the desperado to escort three young ladies across the plains, protecting them from even fouler men then himself. We're not sure whether Jones is trying to make a traditional Western or a postmodern feminist one, but either way, consider us sold.

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‘Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets’ (Nov 19)

They were one of the great Britpop bands of the 1990s, courtesy of singer-songwriter Jarvis Cocker's lanky-and-louche stage presence, his keen wit and one of the decade's best albums ("Different Class"). This rockumentary charts the band's recent reunion shows, specifically a 2012 gig in Cocker's hometown of Sheffield, as well as delving into the band's storied history. Yes, rest assured, you will hear "Common People."

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‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (Nov 21)

We know what you're thinking: When you've seen one black & white Iranian Western full of vampires, James Dean lookalikes, douchebags dancing to techno and a tender romance at its core, you've seen them all. Trust us when we tell you that Ana Lily Amirpour's moody, extraordinary take on previously tired horror tropes is unlike anything you've had the pleasure of previously checking out, and that this spooky, gorgeous mash-up doubles as the introduction to a major filmmaking talent. (This French trailer gives you a better idea of what to expect.)

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‘Escobar: Paradise Lost’ (Nov 26)

It's a tale as old as time: Boy (The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson) meets Girl (Claudia Traisac). Boy meets Girl's uncle, who happens to be Pablo Escobar. Legendary scenery-chewer/never-boring Method actor Benecio Del Toro plays the drug kingpin. You have our attention.

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‘The Babadook’ (Nov 28)

Never mind the goofy title that sounds like some sort of Italian-American insult; Jennifer Kent's creepy-as-hell story of a young boy desperate for a father figure and a mysterious children's book that appears in his room — one featuring a dapper boogeyman named Mr. Babadook asks you to invite him in — plays like a fairy tale that morphs into waking nightmare. Parents, you'll probably want to clear out your kids' bookshelves after seeing this. Horror-movie fanatics who prefer spooky and unnerving over Grand Guignol gore, you'll want to get in line now.

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‘Clouds of Sil Maria’ (Dec 1)

Remember how we said that Kristen Stewart had another career-altering performance coming down the pike this year? This complex, compelling and chatty backstage drama from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, always a strong director of women, pairs Stewart with Juliette Binoche as a personal assistant and her movie-star employer who share an odd, enabling bond. Adding an All About Eve element is Chloe Grace Moretz as a younger actress who is cast in a play with Binoche and adds a third angle to the film's bizarre hate triangle. This may be the best work Stewart has ever done, and if you were to take a drink every time the film made a meta-reference to her personal life/tabloid-fodder scandals, you'd be trashed within the first 40 minutes.

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Courtesy A24

‘A Most Violent Year’ (Dec 31)

Very little is known about J.C. Chandor's follow-up to his Bob-Redford-on-a-boat masterpiece All Is Lost; we know it takes place in New York City in 1981, the most violent year (see title) in Gotham's history; that it involves an immigrant hooking up with some no-goodniks; and the cast features Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks and Inside Llewyn Davis' Oscar Isaac. Consider us hooked.

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