Alt-Fall Movie Preview 2016, From Docs to Demented Horror - Rolling Stone
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Alt-Fall Movie Preview 2016: Docs, Horror Flicks and the Truly Demented

From stranger-than-fiction masterpieces and indie dramas to shock-cinema showstoppers, here’s what’s playing outside the multiplex this season

Alt-Fall Movie Preview 2016 Indies Documentaries

Welcome to the autumn months — the season where, per the pundits, "movies" turn into "films" and the studios start pumping out their somber dramas, oh-so-tony biopics and other please-sir-we'd-like-an-Oscar contenders. Sure, we're getting a new chapter in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe saga and a new Star Wars flick in the next few months, but for the most part, conventional wisdom dictates that when you go to the multiplex, you're going to get serious.

There is, of course, more to see over the remainder of 2016 than just the awards-circuit stuff — this is also the season when the remainder of the year's festival-circuit biggies start hitting the arthouses, as well as the documentaries, indies, foreign-language films of all stripes and other left-of-center treasures. We've out together a nice little "alt-fall" viewing guide for you; there are one or two oddball studio movies that didn't make it into our other fall preview list, but for the most part, the 30 entries here should be considered counter-programming must-sees. Need a break from the "and the winner is" wannabes? Start marking your calendars.

‘Cameraperson’ (September 9)

If you'd been a documentary cinematographer for 25 years, you'd have amassed a lot of footage as well. Kirsten Johnson gathered disparate snippets together — a Nigerian midwife’s daily business, a Brooklyn boxing match, war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina — and turned the sum of her collected efforts into a disorienting collage of images that doubles as a sort of self-portraiture. It's freely experimental and intimate beyond all expectations — the kind of personal nonfiction project that reinvigorates its own genre in the process. CB

Demon (September 9)

Some advice to folks who've traveled to Poland, in order to marry their true love — don't start digging around the property you've inherited from your father-in-law, you may find human remains laying about. And if you do, well … we hope you're cool with spiritual possession on your wedding day. Part shivers-up-your-spine ghost story, part sharp social satire on modern-day Eastern Europe and an all-out amazing blend of comedy and tragedy, Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona's horror-inflected stunner feel like a breakthrough work — one made all the more sorrowful by the filmmaker's suicide right shortly after the movie's premiere. Don't miss it. DF

‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years’ (September 16)

From their tenure as a Liverpudlian bar band to the guys making thousands of teenagers shriek, the Beatles were always a crack live band — and luckily, there's plenty of footage to back up the claim before the Fab Four hung up their touring gear and retreated to the studio. Ron Howard's documentary focuses specifically on the period between 1962 to 1966, when the band was firing on all pistons at concerts and up to their final show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. And just when you thought you'd literally seen it all re: John, Paul, George and Ringo, the word is that Howard has unearthed a lot of rarely seen clips of the quartet tearing through classic numbers. DF

‘Blair Witch’ (September 16)

Hey, remember when that little movie about those kids in the woods, the ones with the camcorder, came out? And it scared the beejesus out of folks and made all that money? This belated "proper" sequel is banking on your memory of how much The Blair Witch Project thrilled you back in the day (as well as you forgetting about that whole Book of Shadows follow-up/foul-up), and wisely, they've hired Adam Wingard — a neo-horror auteur with pedigree; see You're Next — to guide a new batch of kids back into those spooky, haunted woods. The technology has been updated, but the screaming remains the same. DF

‘Goat’ (September 23)

Ah, the gentile, ever-so-civilized wonders of the collegiate Greek system! From the very first moment of this adaptation of Brad Land's memoir about fraternity hazing — in which aggressive, shirtless dude do their impression of the manic homicidal apes from 2001: A Space Odyssey — viewers are dropped into a world of testosterone-fueled bros and toxic boozing that plays like a freshman pledge's nightmare. (Let's just say it's called Goat for a reason, and leave it at that.) The fact that the movie goes the exposé route is not surprising; that Nick Jonas manages to imbue his douchey frat brother with heart and soul is, honestly, kind of a shock. And even the James Franco cameo rocks. DF

‘American Honey’ (September 30)

Andrea Arnold does for the teens-on-the-road movie what she did for literary adaptations with her 2011 take on Wuthering Heights — injects a sense of feral poetry and 10ccs of pulsing hormones into a warhorse genre, then hits the purée button. It's fair to say that newcomer Sasha Lane, who plays the film's female-teen Candide, is quite the find; it's also safe to proclaim that the comeback of Shia LeBeouf, playing the sleazy Lothario that recruits her for a magazine-subscription scam, officially starts here. As for Arnold, the British filmmaker finally proves that yes, it is possible to out-Larry Clark everyone, including Clark himself. DF

‘Danny Says’ (September 30)

Blowing up Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" remark, hanging out at Warhol's Factory and Max's Kansas City at the height of their boho chicness, helping to sign the Stooges and break the Doors, discovering the Ramones and serving as a midwife to punk rock — Danny Fields has always had a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Brendan Toller's documentary on the music industry's Zelig does a great job of making a case for the Queens native's importance in rock history; if your life was changed by hearing "Light My Fire," "Raw Power" or "Blitzkrieg Bop," you owe this man a huge debt. DF

‘Masterminds’ (September 30)

After production delays, a studio bankruptcy, and enough rescheduled release dates to give an executive a heart attack, it’s kind of a mirace that this caper comedy is coming out at all. But lo and behold, this star-stuffed farce about a gang of cracked criminals pulling off a heist will indeed see the light of day. Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Jason Sudeikis play dumb, courtesy of Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess — a guy well-schooled in the behavior of small-town lunkheads. CB

‘Certain Women’ (October 14)

A national treasure, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt may be the single best director of actors working today — and we humbly submit this take on three Maile Meloy short stories as Exhibit A. Laura Dern is a lawyer dealing with a volatile client (ol' Lane Pryce himself, Jared Harris); Michelle Williams tries to negotiate a deal for raw materials needed for her dream house; Kristen Stewart finds herself defusing the crush of a night-school student (incredible newcomer Lily Gladstone) she teaches. Each segment is a subtle look at how women are marginalized, shushed and/or forced to take side streets to get what they need; each scene is like a showcase for its performers. DF

‘Desierto’ (October 14)

Jonás Cuarón — that'd be Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón’s son — gets in on the family business with this lean, mean thriller about a group of Mexican immigrants crossing the United States border on the down-low. Gael García Bernal is the resourceful coyote smuggling them to freedom; Jeffrey Dean Morgan portrays the deranged sniper picking them off through the viewfinder of his rifle. Why yes, there are urgent issues of politics mingling with pure, sweat-inducing standoff shootouts! CB

‘Fire at Sea’ (October 21)

Off the coast of Sicily, there's a beautiful island named Lampedusa that's home to a small fishing community. It's also the destination for thousands upon thousands of Middle Eastern and African refugees desperately trying to make their way into Europe after fleeing war, strife and poverty. A big winner at this year's Berlin Film Festival, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary somehow avoids being dogmatic about the clash between these two cultures and the larger political implications of this mass migration; instead, it takes a hot-button issue and reduces it to its painful, humanistic essentials. And someone needs to sign that Italian kid with the slingshot stat. DF

‘The Handmaiden’ (October 21)

Park Chan-wook’s superlative South Korean thriller, a loose adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, has it all: swooping crane shots, secret poisonings, black leather gloves, sex with mannequins, majestically graphic scissoring, and betrayals nested within betrayals nested within betrayals. Imagine the director's Oldboy reimagined as a chamber drama/period-piece porno, and you're halfway there — though this nasty piece of work is really in a class all its own. CB

‘In a Valley of Violence’ (October 21)

It's the season of Ethan Hawke horse operas, apparently: In addition to being one of the new Magnificent Seven, the actor is also the central figure in Ti West's grungy oater, playing a Less-Than-Magnificent Civil War veteran trying to make it down to Mexico. Complications, in the form of a psychotic would-be gunslinger (James Ransone), his laying-down-the-law dad (John Travolta) and a local girl (Taissa Farmiga), prevent him from getting there without shots being fired. If you're tastes run toward throwback Spaghetti Westerns, you'll want to check this out. DF

‘Moonlight’ (October 21)

That deafening roar you hear is the praise for Barry Jenkins' long-awaited follow-up to 2008's Medicine for Melancholy, an ambitious story about an African-American male, told in three distinct stages as he goes from confused young boy to full-grown man. Issues of sexuality, as well as usual growing pains and the racial strife that's part of this nation's DNA, all naturally come into play. We can't remember the last time we were this excited about a sophomore movie; if it's even half as moving and attuned to real life as Jenkins' debut, this should be considered essential viewing. DF

Everett Collection

‘By Sidney Lumet’ (October 28)

In the canon of great New York filmmakers, Sidney Lumet ranks near the top — few directors could capture the ebb and flow of Gotham during the Horror City era better than the man behind Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Nancy Buirski's documentary lets the man himself talk about his career, speaking to the camera as his life flashes before your eyes. Having a filmmaker take about his career in between clips can often be a lazy go-to proposition; this deftly edited mix of scenes from The Wiz, Network, etc. and Lumet shedding light on his process proves that, with the right mix of subject and technique, you can still make magic with a warhorse format. DF

‘The Eagle Huntress’ (October 28)

For centuries, Mongolian men (and only men) have trained eagles to hunt in order that their communities can survive the harsh, unforgiving winters of the region. Then a 13-year-old girl decides she wants to break tradition and become the first "huntress" to roam the terrain with her trusty bird — and if she can win the annual tournament to see who the best human/animal team is, she may even be accepted by a skeptical patriarchy. Welcome to the season's most-family friendly female-empowerment nature doc. DF

‘Arrival’ (November 11)

They’re here… Extraterrestrials have come to Earth, and humanity’s only hope of establishing contact with this inscrutable new species lies in linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams). The question is, are the space invaders friends or foe? Before jumping in to that Blade Runner sequel, Sicario director Denis Villeneuve takes a nice little Close Encounters detour, delving into the big cosmic questions (Are we really not alone in the universe? Why do all spaceships like modernist houseware?) without losing any of his stylistic panache. Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker are all along for the ride. CB

‘Elle’ (November 11)

Dubbed a "rape comedy" after throwing the Cannes crowd into a tizzy earlier this year, Paul Verhoeven's latest shocker is even more complicated than that pithy description suggests — it's a pulpy character study that puts poor Isabelle Huppert through her paces after several sexual assaults leaves her emotionally broken. Once she starts to put herself together and find out who's perpetrating these acts, the movie then wades into some genuinely murky waters. "From the director of Basic Instinct" doesn't begin to suggest what's in store. DF

‘The Eyes of My Mother’ (November 18)

We'll repeat what we said about this glorious Grand Guignol horror nugget after it premiered at Sundance: "Picture Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic. Now imagine that, just below the frame, a young woman is sawing the elderly couple's legs off, so that they'll never, ever leave her. That's writer-director Nicolas Pesce's stark black-and-white serial killer movie, in which a lonely young woman (Kika Magalhaes) living in the backwoods decides that she needs to keep replenishing her supply of 'friends.' This is what curdled Americana looks like, one fueled by isolation, madness, and good ol' Type O." DF

‘Bad Santa 2’ (November 23)

As a boozy thief posing as a mall Kris Kringle, Billy Bob Thornton took a big whiz all over the Yule Log in 2003’s Bad Santa. Now, after a decade and change, the anti-Claus is back to scheme a few more bucks out of some new suckers, preferably while slugging spiked eggnog. Tony Cox and Brett Kelly return as Thornton’s elf sidekick and child protégé, respectively, with Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks joining the cast as well. (Bates sounds like a gift-wrapped present as Thornton’s even more foulmouthed mother.) Debauchery is the reason for the season. CB

‘Lion’ (November 23)

It was one of those too-good-to-be-fake stories: An adopted, Indian-born man named Saroo Brierley used nothing more than Google Earth satellite images and his own resourcefulness to pinpoint his forgotten Indian hometown and locate his long-lost birth parents. Dev Patel plays Brierley; Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, and David Wenham fill out the supporting cast as director Garth Davis cranks up the inspiration-factor in this feel-good story of identity, struggle, and high-resolution computer imagery. CB

‘Things to Come’ (December 2)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest actresses working today, Isabelle Huppert is Mia Hansen-Løve's drama about a philosophy professor contending with her husband’s infidelity and readjusting her carefully-constructed life, the latter courtesy of a handsome student and a communal cabin in the woods. It's the second (and more subtle )of the French star's showstopping performances this season — see also Elle — and an uncommonly rich portrait of middle-aged womanhood. CB

‘The Salesman’ (December 9)

Iran’s Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) delivers a gripping domestic drama about an act of violence that tears apart a married couple performing in a local production of Death of a Salesman. Gradually, the curtain is pulled back on both a surface-level mystery and a much deeper network of crossed emotions. It didn’t win the Best Screenplay and Best Actor prizes at Cannes this year for nothing. CB

‘Neruda’ (December 16)

For the record, director Pablo Larraín would rather this film about the life and works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda not be labeled a biopic. Better to think of a movie about the South American country itself, and how its disparate citizens — the intellectuals who embraced the artist's work, the underclass that actually related to it — bonded under one man's writings. All this, and Gael García Bernal as a bumbling police inspector hot on the poet's trail. Viva la revolucion! CB

’20th Century Women’ (December 21)

It's got the indie-hip pedigree, in the form of designer and writer-director Mike Mills. It's got the to-die-for cast, including Annette Bening, Great Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Bill Crudup, among others. And it's got that late 1970s vibe, both in terms of its funky look and its Cater-era time period. So you're damned right we're stoked to see this collection of tales about a single mother collectively raising a teenage boy and a bunch of Angelenos looking for love in all the wrong places. Bring it. DF

‘Julieta’ (December 21)

Three Alice Munro short stories, and one peerless cinematic eye — it's a winning combination. Pedro Almodóvar returns with a lush, sumptuous tale of a woman (Emma Suárez), the stranger on a train who changed her life, and the estranged daughter (Blanca Pares) who causes our heroine's downward spiral. All this, plus the director's usual eye-popping use of color, a beautifully Bernard Hermann-esque score and Almodóvar regular Rossy de Palma's one-woman riff on Rebecca's housekeeper. DF

‘Toni Erdmann’ (December 21)

There are delightful movies, and then there's Maren Ade's blissful, batshit-crazy tale of a stressed out white-collar worker (Sandra Hüller) and her free spirit father (Peter Simonischek), whose unexpected visit leaves them both feeling disconnected. Then a disruptive, wild man named Toni Erdmann barges into her life and her professional circle — a trickster who happens to be her dad in a wig and false teeth. You will not see a better takedown of the banality of corporate living, experience a more profound tale of the ties that bind, or hear a better impromptu take on "The Greatest Love of All" this year. And the movie's last half hour is as close to perfection as you could ever hope for. This is one for the ages. DF

‘I, Daniel Blake’ (December 23)

Once again, Ken Loach is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. The British filmmaker vents all of his frustrations with the System in this socially-motivated drama about a fiery old coot (Dave Johns) who falls victim to the evils of government bureaucracy and online form submission. An endless chain of absurd catch-22s leads him into poverty and acquaints him with a struggling single mom (Hayley Squires). Together, they form their own sort of family unit and try to carve out a little corner of the world for themselves. CB

‘A Monster Calls’ (December 23)

From the all creatures big and metaphorical department: A young boy (Lewis MacDougall) keeps having the same recurring nightmare about a giant, tree-like monster, a huge gaping hole opening up in the earth and his mother (Rogue One's Felicity Jones) disappearing into the abyss. Soon enough, the behemoth starts talking to the boy during his waking hours — and gosh, doesn't he sound a lot like Liam Neeson! — and offers him a series of stories designed to help the kid deal with a bad blow life has dealt him. Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) brings the far-out fantasy elements and the pathos; you bring the handkerchiefs. DF

‘Paterson’ (December 28)

A humble bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He does the same thing every day: kiss the wife (Golshifteh Farahani), straighten the mailbox, write a little poetry, head to work, grab a beer, call it a day. As he repeats this humdrum routine, director Jim Jarmusch adds little variations to each daily routine, eventually culminating in an unexpectedly touching climax. Unlike the filmmaker's other release this year — the Stooges doc Gimme Danger — the movie's beauty doesn't hit you straight on so much as quietly sneak up on you. CB

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