As much as we hope you check out some of these films over the next month, we also hope you find the time to vote in this upcoming election. You can find out here if early voting is now available in your state and if you haven’t yet registered, that information is here.
Have you ever wanted to program your own film festival?
In one of the few silver linings of 2020, a number of regional festivals are making their films available to the entire U.S. virtually this October, democratizing the experience of being the first to see some of the year’s most exciting new comedies, dramas and documentaries in the comfort of your own home. Whereas the cost of travel may have been prohibitive to experience the exquisite curatorial taste of Indie Memphis or the Camden Film Fest if living in the West or the chilly Midwestern fall may have discouraged a trip to the legendary Chicago Film Festival for those in the South, these festivals, along with Austin, AFI Fest, Buffalo, Denver, Double Exposure, Hamptons, Heartland, Hot Springs, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest, Middleburg, Mill Valley, Milwaukee, Montclair, Newfest, Savannah, Woodstock and the ongoing New York Film Festival, are collectively offering the chance to pick and choose your own lineup from the best films out there at a cost comparable to your average movie ticket with the extra incentive that the revenue will be going back to arts organizations at a real time of need.
While we leave the selections to you, we humbly offer these 25 suggestions for a start and where you can find them to create your own cinematic adventure.
This bewitching directorial debut of Christos Nikou bears the influence of Yorgos Lanthimos, for whom he served as an assistant director on “Dogtooth,” and Charlie Kaufman, but has a distinctive charm all its own as he imagines a not-so-distant future in which mass memory loss spreads across the globe like the plague, leaving those unable to remember what their lives were once like to readjust under the guidance of those who were unafflicted. Keeping the story on a small scale, Nikou explores big ideas with sly humor through following an amnesiac who finds a fellow traveler and hardly knows whether what they have together is love or something else when he has no frame of reference besides the doctors that have been assigned to him. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Nicholas Bell at IonCinema.
Festivals: Nightstream (Oct. 8-11)
Amelia Moses would’ve made enough of an impression with just one feature this fall, but she’s debuting two — the latest, “Bloodthirsty” is making its world premiere on October 1st through the free-to-all virtual edition of Fantastic Fest. But her first trip to a snowy cabin in the woods, which was previously for Canadian eyes only at Fantasia Fest, is being made available as part of Nightstream, an exciting partnership between the esteemed genre tests Boston Underground, Brooklyn Horror, North Bend, Overlook, and Popcorn Frights running through October 8-11. Presenting a number of fresh new voices in horror, the festival is bound to be full of surprises and discoveries, with Moses’ chilling debut at the top of the list, concerning two friends from work (Lee Marshall and Lauren Beatty) whose weekend retreat holds less danger outside the house than inside of it when one shows a bit of bloodlust. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Kaiya Shunyata at Obscur.
Festivals: Chicago (available to stream Oct. 14-25)
A roaring return to form for the director who once took the world by storm with “Runaway Train,” the latest from Andrei Konchalovsky reminds of recent work from “Cold War” and “Ida” director Pawel Pawlikowski in revisiting the Novocherkassk massacre in 1962, a tragic event in Russian history that few knew about when the KGB and the Army were able to successfully suppress word of the workers’ strike gone awry from getting out by compelling an entire city of witnesses to say it never happened. This proves to be an even bigger burden on one of the city’s Communist officials (Yuliya Vysotskaya) when her daughter can’t be found after the attack and is met with silence from those she works with in this riveting drama that follows her search for the truth. Our full review is here, but for another perspective, check out Vadim Rizov at Filmmaker.
While no one could’ve seen how the racial tensions in America exploded the way they have this summer, director Ursula Liang was better prepared than most, having tracked the aftermath of the NYPD shooting of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man found dead in his own apartment building, in 2014. The case sparked outrage in the Black community, but the Asian-American community as well when Officer Peter Liang (no relation to the director) became the rare cop prosecuted for his involvement in the shooting when charges had rarely, if ever, brought against Caucasian officers in such cases, and the filmmaker takes a dynamic look at how racism and xenophobia have made its way into the criminal justice system and the wellspring of activism that seeks to undo it, making it infuriating and inspiring in equal turns. Our interview with Ursula Liang is here, but for another perspective, check out Ashley Jones at Vox Magazine.
Jiayan “Jenny” Shi may detail a tragedy in this documentary concerning the disappearance of a Chinese grad student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, but the director refreshingly resists ever framing it in the sensationalized terms you typically see for true crime tales, reaching for something deeper and more rewarding as the film examines how the young woman’s absence, particularly in a case where there’s no sense of closure, has affected her loved ones who had such high hopes for her when she moved to America. As deep as sorrow runs in “Finding Yingying,” Shi creates a loving portrait of someone who deserves to be known for far more than the worst thing to have happened to her. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read David Ehrlich at IndieWire.
Festivals: Nashville (available to stream Oct. 1-7), Heartland (available to stream Oct. 8-18), Mill Valley (available to stream Oct. 9-18), Montclair (Oct. 17-25), Indie Memphis (available to stream Oct. 24-29), Buffalo (available to stream Oct. 8-12)
It was going to take something pretty special for Krisha Fairchild to throw herself into another film as fearlessly as she did in Trey Edward Shults’ debut feature “Krisha,” but co-directors Mario Furloni and Kate MacLean were up for the challenge. Looking for someone both a little wild and plenty wise to join them as a pot proprietor in California’s Humboldt County who falls on hard times when the recent legalization of marijuana introduces corporate competition into a land run with hippie values of the ‘60s, the co-directors build a ferocious feature debut around Fairchild’s whirlwind of a performance that’s been taking the festival circuit by storm, recently picking up a Special Jury Recognition for the actress at the Sidewalk Film Fest. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Christopher Reed at Hammer to Nail.
Two really good things came of the news that Jess Weixler was pregnant with her first child, the obvious being the child itself and then the push it gave to Joshua Leonard, her co-star and director on “The Lie,” to conceive and shoot a new film around this blessed event. Only a month before she was due, Weixler found herself on the set of this endearingly scrappy comedy where there may not have been much time to think things through, but proves unexpectedly thoughtful in telling the story of expectant parents (Weixler and Leonard) who aim to shake out all their immature impulses — and there are quite a few — before having to become role models for their newborn, unlike their own parents were for them. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read John Fink at The Film Stage.
Festivals: Nashville (available to stream Oct. 1-7)
Although any fan of “It’s the End of the Fucking World” could tell you this already, 2020 was supposed to announce Jessica Barden as a force to be reckoned with. At SXSW, the versatile actress was set to be the talk of the festival with not one, but two star-making turns in “Pink Skies Ahead,” the eagerly anticipated directorial debut of Twitter quick wit and author Kelly Oxford (which is now debuting at AFI Fest), and this heartrending drama from first-time writer/director Nicole Riegel. Drawing on personal experience for the story of a young woman from a downtrodden industrial town in Ohio, the film executive produced by Paul Feig is as stirring a study of the pull the community has on her as it is a thriller when she starts to make ends meet with the not-exactly-legal collection of scrap metal with her brother (Gus Halper). Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Kayleigh Donaldson at What to Watch.
Festivals: New York Film Fest (available to stream Oct. 2), Mill Valley (available to stream Oct. 9 between 6-10 pm PST and Oct. 10 between 2-6 pm PST), AFI Fest (available to stream Oct. 20-22), Hamptons (geoblocked to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts on Oct. 10 and 13 at 7 pm)
As if Heidi Ewing hasn’t been working hard enough already to make this year tolerable, working with longtime co-conspirator Rachel Grady on the irresistible Showtime true crime series “Love Fraud” and the joyous portrait of comedians recalling the biological basis for their sense of humor “Call Your Mother,” she’s bringing a lot of love into the world with this enthralling romance. Unfolding across two countries and multiple decades, the film charts the incredible journey of Ivan, an aspiring chef who sees greater opportunity to start a restaurant in the U.S. than his native Mexico, if only he could get there with his boyfriend Gerardo by his side. Naturally, Ewing’s narrative feature debut involves nonfiction elements as she weaves in footage of the real-life Ivan shot collected over the better part of a decade, but even without that, truths that can be difficult to articulate shine through in one of the very best films of the year. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Carlos Aguilar at Remezcla.
Making its world premiere at AFI Fest before heading to Chicago in mid-October (where it will be accompanied by “An Evening with Rachel Brosnahan” chat), we haven’t yet seen the fourth feature from Julia Hart, but after her sparkling previous collaborations with co-writer and co-producer Jordan Horowitz — “Miss Stevens,” “Fast Color” and “Stargirl” — we feel confident in recommending this ‘70s set thriller giving the “Marvelous Ms. Maisel” star her first juicy big-screen lead as the wife of a career criminal (Bill Heck) who suddenly is thrust into his world when all the men charged with protecting her go missing.
Festivals: AFI Fest (available to stream Oct. 20-22), Hot Springs (geoblocked to Arkansas on Oct. 9-17), Camden (geoblocked to New England from Oct. 2-13), New Orleans (geoblocked to Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky)
There is likely no greater cinematic achievement this year than Jessica Earnshaw’s bracing three-year chronicle of the 26-year-old of its title, introduced inside a detention center in Maine where her mother Rosemary has also been held for reasons relating to their shared drug addiction. With extraordinary access to her subject, Earnshaw comes to show life doesn’t get any easier on the outside when she tries to reclaim her relationship with her ten-year-old daughter and stay away from the bad habits that led her behind bars in the first place, yielding a harrowing and exceptionally rewarding look at what it takes to break a cycle. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Amber Wilkinson at Eye for Film.
What becomes staggering in Cecilia Aldarondo’s brilliant and invigorating look at the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico isn’t looking at what’s already been lost, but what the island stands to lose in the years ahead as opportunists flock to take advantage of people who have been completely been undone by the natural disaster. Sitting in on pitches from cryptocurrency companies and observing the protests against a nakedly corrupt government, Aldarondo not only lays out a compelling case for how outsiders have long stymied Puerto Rico’s economic progress throughout its history by swooping in during vulnerable times, but, despite completing the film before the pandemic, predicts a future in which this craven capitalism will only get more shameless and legion around the world in places thought to be stable. Our full review is here, but for more perspective, check out this conversation between Aldarondo and “The Hottest August” director Brett Story for Filmmaker.
Set for a robust festival run this spring, David Osit’s rousing profile of Ramallah mayor Musa Hadid could only work its magic on one big in-person audience at True/False where it became one of the most talked about hits of the festival before the coronavirus took hold. A marvelous and surprisingly amusing look at a politician caught between a rock and a hard place, the film follows Mayor Hadid’s attempts to bring stability and progress to Palestine’s capital city when it remains under siege from Israel, observing him literally blow off steam at the end of every tough day he has in office with his vape pen. Osit’s compassionate portrait manages to be both lighthearted and weighty as it places audiences in one of the most difficult political positions on earth. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Mary McNamara’s column on the film in the L.A. Times.
Festivals: Heartland (available to stream on Oct. 14), Hamptons (geoblocked to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts on Oct. 10 and 11 at 3 pm EST), Savannah (Oct. 26 at 7:30 pm), Montclair (October 20th at 7:30 pm EST)
Winner of both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance this year, Lee Isaac Chung’s breakout feature was loosely inspired by the Korean-American’s upbringing in rural Arkansas, watching his parents struggle in starting a sustainable farm while acclimating to a new lifestyle in more ways than one. Although the film has drawn comparison to subtle yet powerful films of Ozu, “Minari” has some major firepower both behind and in front of the camera, with a cast led by “The Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun as the family’s patriarch and the backing of Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and A24, whose previous collaborations yielded Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.”
Festivals: Chicago (geoblocked to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri from Oct. 14-25), Double Exposure (Oct. 16), Heartland (Oct. 18), Savannah (Oct. 29 at 11 am), Hot Springs (Oct. 15-18), Middleburg (Oct. 16)
Ever since producing episodes of the Civil Rights movement miniseries “Eyes on the Prize,” Sam Pollard has been one of the preeminent chroniclers of Black American life and his latest is perhaps his most revelatory to date, uncovering recently declassified documents from the FBI regarding their surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his rise as an internationally renowned civil rights leader. A half-century after his assassination, the filmmaker uses the power of the medium to combat the years of positive media portrayal of the FBI that gave credibility to an otherwise specious investigation into King Jr that began with claims of having ties to communists and grew into potential blackmail material with evidence of his marital infidelity. A damning portrait of the invisible ways racism has shaped history, the doc may cover events from 1960s, but it can tell us an awful lot about the present. Our full review is here, but for more on the film – read Rebecca Keegan’s interview with Pollard for the Hollywood Reporter.
Festivals: Hamptons (available to stream from Oct. 9-14)
The rare film to win the top prize from both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, Chloe Zhao’s follow-up to “The Rider” doesn’t disappoint as the director brings an unforgettable Frances McDormand into the fold for this lively drama adapted from Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction chronicle of three years on the road spent with those living off the land, moving from job to job to get by in mobile homes. With the gorgeous cinematography of Joshua James Richards capturing the beauty of the open skies on the frontier and Zhao engaging those who live there in real life to act opposite McDormand, the film exudes the exhilaration of having the freedom of living without commitments while provocatively questioning the societal circumstances that have led people to lead such a difficult way of life.
To kick off the year following her first Oscar win for “If Beale Street Could Talk” and filming her eventual Emmy-winning role in “Watchmen,” Regina King used her cache to get her feature directorial debut off the ground and it’s been flying ever since, touching down in Venice and Toronto where it was received as warmly as anything she’s starred in. Adapted from Kemp Powers’ from his own play, the film imagines Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay in unguarded conversation about the civil rights movement and what they see as their role in it as African-American icons, with King recruiting a cast of burgeoning heavyweights to play in quartet in Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree, respectively.
Festivals: AFI Fest
After making a series of celebrated shorts, Angel Kristi Williams’ feature debut was already eagerly anticipated before its planned premiere at SXSW was scuttled earlier this year, making the wait feel especially cruel. Then again, there might be a bit of poetry in having a different timeline than was expected for this romance between an artist (Kofi Siriboe) and a law student (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing) who fall for each other at a moment when they’re unsure they can commit fully as their careers take them in different directions. Now making its first public appearance at AFI Fest, the love story co-starring Michael Ealy, Uzo Aduba and Naturi Naughton arrives with the honor of the SXSW jury, which carried on even after the festival was cancelled, awarding it with its Best Narrative Feature prize from a lineup that looks more and more like one of its strongest ever.
Festivals: Heartland (available to stream Oct. 8-18), AFI Fest (available to stream Oct. 16-22), Camden (geoblocked to New England from Oct. 2-12), Double Exposure (geoblocked to District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware on Oct. 14), Hot Springs (available to stream Oct. 9-17)
As tempting as it may be to resist any films related to the coronavirus these days as it continues to rage on all around us, Hao Wu’s startling and seemingly impossible peek inside a hospital in Wuhan during the earliest days of the pandemic’s spread is an eye-opener, with the “People’s Republic of Desire” director coordinating with two on-the-ground reporters (Weixi Chen and Anonymous) to bring the chaos of treating a disease without any known precedent to the screen. Inevitably, “76 Days” will be seen as a critical piece of documentation to make sense of how COVID-19 was handled initially, but it acts now as a remarkable piece of cinema that reminds of the extraordinary human capacity for compassion and ingenuity that emerges in a crisis. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Robert Daniels at RogerEbert.com.
Despite its setting at a wake, the only tears you’ll shed in Emma Seligman’s dazzling debut will be a result of laughing too hard as a day that may be bad for the deceased is somehow even worse for Danielle (Rachel Sennott), whose private side hustle intersects with her personal life when she accompanies her parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) to sit shiva for a friend of the family and finds herself navigating a crowded house where her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon), the man (Danny Deferrari) she’s currently sleeping with, and his wife (Dianna Agron) are making it feel even more cramped. A zippy 77-minute comedy where the punchlines are as unrelenting as the feeling of shame that washes over Danielle, it evolves into one of the most unexpected feel good movies in recent memory. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Danielle Solzman’s interview with Seligman at Solzy at the Movies.
Festivals: Indie Memphis (available to stream Oct. 24-29)
The kind of charming story that’s only uncovered through the knowledge and trust of a personal connection, Daniel Hymanson’s documentary debut enters the home of his art teacher Jackie Seiden and her longtime husband Don for an unvarnished look at a marriage that appears to built more around a passion for art rather than for each other, making the golden years that have increasingly robbed Don of his abilities widening a chasm between him and his ever-productive wife. While the union may be a risk, the film is a loving portrait of two fiercely independent people that have carved out a life for themselves that they can take pride in as being distinctly their own. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Alissa Wilkinson at Vox.
Festivals: Heartland (available to stream Oct. 8-18)
The lovely result of a collaboration between cousins Jessica Barr and Jessie Barr, who both lost parents at the age of 16, the latter’s disarming directorial debut transforms their grief into a life-affirming coming-of-age story of a young woman (played by Jessica Barr) attempting to reconcile the new and unusual feelings she’s having in wake of her mother’s death with the equally confusing sensations of suddenly active hormones. With the blessing to executive producer Nicole Holofcener, this recent Deauville Film Fest selection is a low-key charmer that summons big emotions. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Lena Wilson at The Playlist.
One of the under-the-radar gems of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Eugene Ashe’s swoon-worthy throwback to Douglas Sirk-style melodramas of the 1950s features a radiant Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as lovers whose passion for one another is undeniable but find that they’re always entangled either personally or professionally when they want to make a go of it together. Inspired by the lush, lighthearted Doris Day-Rock Hudson romances that he loved growing up but could never see himself in as an African-American, Ashe delivers a tender drama that feels refreshingly modern in presenting a world that was largely pushed off screen while letting you get lost in all the richness and love there. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Aramide Tinubu at Shadow and Act.
Festivals: Camden (geoblocked to New England and New York from Oct. 3-12), Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (geoblocked to Southern California from Oct. 8-11), Hot Springs (available to stream Oct. 9-17), Double Exposure (Oct. 13), New Orleans (available to stream Nov. 9-16)
As the senior vice president for programs at Firelight Media helping other documentarians get their visions to the screen, Loira Limbal could surely relate to the impossible time management situation that parents putting their children in the care of Dee’s Tots Childcare in New York have when trying to find the hours to make this arresting doc on the side as she attended to her day job. That personal touch is all over this empathetic portrait of Deloris “Nunu” Hogan, who runs the 24-hour babysitting service with her husband and whose clientele has largely had to sacrifice the time they can spend with their kids to work multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads, bringing to light a crushing reality has been all but made invisible in American life. Our full review is here, but don’t take our word for it – read Phylecia Miller at Hi, Phelycia.
From the moment Ashley O’Shay’s urgent profile of two female African-American activists opens, with a mass protest disrupting a brunch service in an otherwise quiet greasy spoon in Chicago, you know you’re in for something special. Well before the unjust killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked renewed national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement nationally, the filmmaker turns the camera on her hometown to show the groundwork being laid to turn protest into practical action for systemic reform through the response to the deaths of Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald, following the spoken word artist Bella BAHHS and academic Janaé Bonsu take different but intersecting paths to progress. Our interview with Ashley O’Shay is here, but for another perspective on the film, read Hanae Mason at Broad Street Review.