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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.

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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

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’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

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‘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

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‘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

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‘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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