October was an odd month. Filled as it was with relatively average 3 star films. It’s a weird middle month between the slew of fall blockbusters and award worthy films of Nov/Dec and the end of the summer movie season. Luckily it was saved by a few decent films, and the stellar Doctor Strange. Plus the two I got to see at the London Film Festival ended up being in my top fave of the year so far, one of which is out this month. November is shaping up to be similar to Oct though, with only one real massive blockbuster and a somewhat drip feed of Oscar films (most of those tend to open in Jan over here), let’s have a look at what you should or maybe shouldn’t see as the cold nights draw in!

1st November

The Light Between Oceans

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Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Why you should see it: Adapted from the 2012 novel by M.L Stedman by Blue Valentine director Cianfrance, this woozily romantic and tear jerking tale looks to feature a sterling double performance from two of the best performers currently working. The story of a couple who are left devastated by repeated miscarriages find a baby washed up on the beach by their lighthouse (yes that most romantic and whimsical of locations) and raise it as their own. Years down the track they come across Rachel Weisz’s grief stricken mother, who lost her young baby and husband at sea, and realise this child may in fact be hers. Even the plot seems well orchestrated to elicit tears, and judging by the trailer it will be full of soft lit romantic moments and music swelling emotional tortures. Although it may end up being incredibly manipulative, with these performers and the capable eye of Cianfrance we can expect at least a well-made and effectively acted dramatic piece. Early reviews suggest it’s perhaps a little too heavy on the tear-jerking but I’ve always been a sucker for a good movie cry. Not to mention the continual rise of the luminous Vikander.

Hangover Potential: 4/5

4th November

A Street Cat Named Bob

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Starring: Luke Treadaway, Joanne Frogatt, Anthony Head

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Why You Should See It: This just looks dull. Based on a true story of a washed up, drug abusing busker who finds help from Joanne Frogatt’s social worker and the arrival of a wandering cat named Bob. From the looks of the trailer that’s about all you get for plot momentum. It appears to be a series of ‘heart-warming’ moments of Treadaway’s James Bowen learning to find new meaning through this delightful cat. Oof just writing that is making my eyes roll so much that they may have disappeared into my skull! I am all for lighthearted whimsical tales but this just feels like a short story stretched out to feature length. I am a fan of all the cast involved, Anthony Head is always a welcome presence, but the direction appears basic and the plot immeasurably slight.

Hangover Potential: 2/5

The Accountant

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Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, JK Simmons

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Why You Should See It: An action thriller involving an autistic genius who does the finances for some very shady characters. A suitably odd but rare original concept, it is silly, funny, exciting and well-acted. Notably a quiet detailed performance from Affleck. Whether or not this results in an ongoing franchise the evidence displayed here is encouragingly solid, and I’d be happy to see more from this character. To read more of my thoughts, click here

Hangover Potential: 3/5

Nocturnal Animals

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Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Director: Tom Ford

Why You Should See It: Fashion designer Tom Ford shocked everyone with his debut film A Single Man in 2009, yes it was very well dressed, but with huge directorial style and Colin Firth in a never better performance. Then he disappeared. Now he returns with a self-penned adaptation of a 1993 novel. Concerning Amy Adams’s LA art gallery owner who receives the manuscript of her exes book (Jake Gyllenhaal), opening up old wounds as to what caused their split. What marks this out is these events are simultaneously played out with a dramatic re-telling of said book’s story. A head-scrambling concept but weighted down with a group of fantastic actors.Of course the costumes are fantastically gorgeous and the production design looks finely crafted, but Ford seems to be balancing that with effective themes of love, regret and loneliness. Similar somewhat to A Single Man but markedly different with the crime thriller aspect brought by the story within a story. Plus Michael Shannon makes everything 117% better!! Its deliberate sensibility and odd plot won’t be for everyone but if you can’t take that just look at all those nice clothes!

Hangover Potential: 4/5

10th November

Arrival

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Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Why You Should See It: Bold, audacious, emotional and full of breathtakingly ingenious ideas. Villeneuve continues his impressive run with another genre classic. A intellectual sci-fi in the realms of Bob Zemckis’s Contact, but with an unexpected emotional core. The first 10mins are akin to Up, with the consequences of time and death weighing heavily. It almost feels annoying when the aliens show up. But the way Villeneuve, working from Eric Heisserer’s terrific adaptation of short story The Story of your Life, incorporates these themes into the larger mystery of why the aliens are here is impeccable. Managing to be thrilling when it involves nothing more than two characters discussing language, helped along by the beautiful cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s brooding score. I could wax lyrical but I’ve already done that here Go see one of this years best!! With this and Nocturnal Animals, November is the month of Amy Adams.

Hangover Potential: 5/5

11th November

American Pastoral

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Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning

Director: Ewan McGregor

Why You Should See It: Phillip Roth’s classic novel has been a somewhat difficult challenge for Hollywood. Adaptations have been attempted throughout the years, but as with other adaptations of his work such as The Human Stain, many fail to successfully grasp Roth’s ruminative lyrical work. Pastoral went through numerous directors before actor McGregor offered himself up for his debut film. Based on reviews though he may not have been overly successful. It tells of McGregor’s Seymour (as with a lot of actors turned directors in casting themselves in the lead role) in 60s America who is rocked to the core when his daughter (Fanning) is accused of a violent crime. It is good to see Dakota Fanning back in the limelight, she showed huge promise in her earlier child roles, and Connelly is always good at emotional fraughtness. It all looks handsomely made and reeks of stately precision. Whether McGregor can capture the hidden rage and volatility underneath it all remains to be seen, but I’m always excited to see an actor’s leap to filmmaking.

Hangover Potential: 3/5

100 Streets

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Starring: Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Ken Stott

Director: Jim O’Hanlon

Why You Should See It: Three people, three interconnected stories, all told within the confines of 100 streets in London. London made and London backed, this is lo-fi but anchored by two terrific actors in Elba and Arterton. It all looks very slight, but it is nice to see home-grown films filmed in authentic locations. The individual stories conceit is not particularly original but with a smaller cast, and gritty scenarios it at least appears to be a nice counterpoint to the insipid America anthology films such as Mothers Day. Oddly there has been no official trailer released but here is a brief clip.

Hangover Potential: 2/5

18th November

Dog Eat Dog

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Starring: Nicholas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook

Director: Paul Schrader

Why You Should See It: A low-budget gritty thriller centring around Cage and Dafoe’s ex-cons who are hired by a mob boss to kidnap a baby and ransom it for a large sum. This marks the return of director provocateur Schrader, writer of the seminal Taxi Driver and 3 other Scorsese epics, after a long hiatus when his last film flopped and got critically mauled. It looks to be a delightfully deranged palate cleanser. Cage and Dafoe have been responsible for some of the most mental performances of the last few years (watch Bad Lieutenant and tell me Cage isn’t from another planet of crazy), but this time Cage defers the more unhinged role to Dafoe. Dirty, ridiculous and utter fun, this looks nothing more than a great time at the cinema. Let’s hope it gives Schrader the cinematic bug again and we see some more great works from a legendary american auteur.

Hangover Potential: 3/5

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell

Director: David Yates

Why You Should See It: The big blockbuster for Nov is this prequel to the massively successful Harry Potter franchise. Springing from the mind of JK Rowling directly, she also scripted, it offers a different slant on the familiar magic universe. Opening in 1926 New York, we follow the adventures of Newt Scamander (Redmayne) a Magizoologist who arrives carrying a briefcase full of magical creatures. After one escapes Newt ends up falling into the world of American witches and wizards as a war brews. I must admit to feeling a little underwhelmed by everything shown so far. I love the cast, full of up and coming American actors as apposed to the British centric Potter series, and the return of director David Yates (he helmed the last four Potter movies) is encouraging. The production design continues the breathtaking work of the HP films (how many franchises have a dedicated museum attraction of props and costumes) and with this sort of budget the effects will be predictably brilliant. But it all feels a little thin. The plot doesn’t seem to be able to contain enough momentum to justify one film let alone the 5 (!!) recently announced by Rowling herself. I’m sure a lot has been kept secret, and in fact recent trailers have hinted ties to Deathly Hallows (the fabled wizard Grindelwald seems integral to the plot, if you forgot he is a precursor to He Who Must Not Be Named), and we have Colin Farrell’s auror, with his secretive ulterior motives. Warner Bros are pushing hard on this one, after Potter ending and the fledgling DC universe, they are in desperate need of a consistent money generator. So far early box office tracking has been not as high as to be expected but with three weeks to go that should rise. A unwieldy title and confusion around its place in the Potter world has probably triggered some of that, but if WB continue to utilise familiar Potter tropes such as the legendary music in their marketing and if reviews are strong then another magic success is guaranteed.

Hangover Potential: 4/5

Indignation

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Starring: Logan Lerman, Tracey Letts, Sarah Gadon

Director: James Schamus

Why You Should See It: A talky (and I mean very talky, the main set-piece is a 20min conversation between Letts and Lerman) drama set in the 1950s. Logan Lerman plays a young Jewish student who falls for a young woman (Gadon) and clashes with his dean (Letts) doesn’t sound like thrill a minute moviemaking, but with delicate stable direction and a witty insightful script, both by James Schamus, it looks to be an interesting character piece. Lerman has turned into a capable young actor, and Tracey Letts has a rich background in the theatre, allowing him to really chew on the stagy dialogue. Not exactly one to challenge the juggernaut that is Fantastic Beasts, but a nice quiet alternative.

Hangover Potential: 3/5

25th November

Allied

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Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Why You Should See It: Back to the Future supremo Bob Zemeckis has drifted somewhat recently. Focusing more on visual revolutions such as 3D, performance capture and IMAX, rather than effective stories and character work. Flight and The Walk, his last two, both featured terrific central performances and singular scenes of stunning effect work; the opening crash in Flight and the titular walk in the latter film. But they suffered from thin stories, cliched characterisation and a general dullness. Zemeckis returns with a film that for once does not rely on multiple dimensions or actors in green leotards. Directing someone elses script rather than his own, Locke director Steven Knight scripts, Allied focuses on an intelligence officer (Pitt) and a French Resistance fighter (Cotillard) in WW2. After returning from a dangerous mission on foreign soil they land in Britain and marry. However Pitt’s Max Vatan learns that his new wife may in fact be a spy, thus commences a game of who can believe who. I love me a good old fashioned WW2 story, and with these two in the lead roles it will at least be a well acted slice of espionage. Zemeckis shoots the war locations with a classical style, intertwined of course with some modern day effects sequences (note the bombing scenes in the trailer), but I am aghast at some of the truly awful background effects. Numerous scenes are evidently shot in a studio, notably in a desert scene glimpsed in the trailer which looks utterly terrible. I’m hoping it’s simply a case of early effects work but it definitely ruins the otherwise handsome period setting.

Hangover Potential: 3/5

Bad Santa 2

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Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Christina Hendricks, Kathy Bates

Director: Mark Waters

Why You Should See It: Arriving well over 12 years since the crudely heartwarming original, Thornton’s wilfully un-PC Santa Claus returns for another Xmas heist. Once again joined by Tony Cox’s dirty mouthed dwarf and the now very much grown Brett Kelly as Thurman Murman (the beating heart of the first film). Kelly piled on the pounds in order to convey a grown up Thurman. Along for the ride is Hendricks and Bates as a sexually voracious teacher and Thornton’s mum accordingly. Bates in particular looks to be having a wicked time, cursing up a storm and going toe to toe with the Bad Santa. The only concern this time is the trailers thus far haven’t been that funny, and the directors chair being filled by Mark Waters, replacing the talented Terry Zwigoff. Waters had a huge success in Mean Girls, but since has churned out fluffy YA guff like Vampire Academy and Freaky Friday. Whether he can deliver the necessary gross out and heart tugging shifts of the first film remains to be seen, but we can at least be safe in the knowledge that Thornton has slipped back into the dirty costume with ease.

Hangover Potential: 3/5

Paterson

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Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Kara Hayward

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Why You Should See It: A hard-working bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, writes heartfelt poems every day before his shift begins. Oh god that sounds so utterly twee and pretentious. But stay with me here. For one Jarmusch is the king of low-key indies that pack hidden depths, the inclusion of Driver who is fast becoming one of the best actors working, and the hugely rapturous reviews coming out of the festival circuit. It is refreshing to see a story that focuses on a happy couple, just going through the motions of daily life, rather than some overwrought melodramatic series of events. Jarmusch is effective at finding the euphoria in the everyday. His Only Lovers left Alive revealed basic human truths in a fantastical tale of vampires. Not for everyone, Paterson could well be the lo-fi revelation of the year.

Hangover Potential: 4/5

A United Kingdom

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Starring: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton

Director: Amma Asante

Why You Should See It: Opening the London Film Festival to a muted but positive critical response, A United Kingdom is a true story of a Prince of Botswana (Oyelowo) who shocks both sides when he marries a white British woman in the 1940s. A culturally relevant story told by impeccable cast members and sturdy direction from relative newcomer Asante. A United Kingdom smacks of familiarity but it is a story demanding to be told. Oyelowo is a phenomenal performer, always regal and always immersive. Rosamund Pike tends to give relatively cold performances but she looks to be a little more warm in this one, her chemistry with Oyelowo appears unshowy and grounded. It looks too stately to trouble Oscar but should be a decent art-house hit.

Hangover Potential: 4/5

30th November

The Edge of Seventeen

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Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Why You Should See It: Let’s face it we’ve had so many young adult coming of age films it can become hard to distinguish yourself from the pack. For every Diary of a Teenage Girl, we get The Duff. It is always the usual, a boy or a girl, discovering themselves sexually, facing troubling questions about what to do with the rest of their lives, and attempting to fit in to a socially impenetrable school structure. I genuinely quite enjoy them, especially if they happen to feature decent performers and no small measure of humour. Plus we can all relate to the issues faced, and if anyone says they don’t then do not believe them. This year we get The Edge of Seventeen. Steinfeld showed promise in the Coens True Grit but has subsequently churned out similar jumpy awkward characters like in Pitch Perfect 2 or Barely Lethal. Coupled here with a glint in the eye performance from Woody Harrelson (a man who we’d all like to get life lessons from) she still seems the same but with an added dose of fragile vulnerability. Reviews have been strong so far and it does appear to be an honest, candid and funny look at growing up, with some perceptive dialogue.

Hangover Potential: 4/5

That’s it for November, a pretty thin month but with some real potential for a few breakout surprises. So far Arrival MUST be seen, Fantastic Beasts will be HUGE and A Street Cat Named Bob is STUPID!

December features new Disney, a JLaw/Chris Pratt sci-fi and a little film called Rogue One!!

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