Fall’s crop of films is here, many of which played at the various festivals that kick off the season. Some are on the road to awards season; others are seeking fun-loving holiday audiences. Most of them steer away from the IP-driven fare that clogs up the rest of the season. Keeping on top of the glut can be a challenge.
But I’ve seen most of them, so I’m here to help. Here are 29 films from the fall season — most of which will be out by the end of the year — that are worth looking for and talking about afterward, whether at your regional film festival, your local cinema, or your home streaming service. Some are great; others are merely buzzy. I think they’re all worth your notice.
I’ll see you at the movies.
The great filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has made nearly 50 documentaries since the 1950s, but once in a great while he plunges into something a little more fictionalized. A Couple is such a movie, adapted by Wiseman and actress Nathalie Boutefeu from the letters of Sofia Tolstaya, wife of Leo Tolstoy. The film (which comes in just over an hour) is entirely performed by Boutefeu, who walks through gardens and forests as she narrates a letter to Tolstoy, reminiscing and reflecting upon both their relationship and the idea of marriage in general. It’s haunting and odd, and also mesmerizing.
How to watch it: A Couple is awaiting a US release date.
One of the year’s breakouts is Aftersun, from first-time director Charlotte Wells and starring Normal People heartthrob Paul Mescal. In the 1990s, 11-year-old Sophie (first-timer Francesca Corio) is on holiday with her father, Calum (Mescal), and for a long time Aftersun seems like it’s merely about the memories of a happy childhood. But we slowly come to realize that we’re seeing those memories as an older Sophie tries to process her relationship with her father, who, while loving and supportive, is fighting his own demons. Aftersun is directed with a sure, empathetic hand by Wells. We’re all just trying to do our best; what is left in Sophie’s memories is immense grace.
How to watch it: Aftersun opens in theaters on October 21.
Delhi’s rapidly worsening air quality and religious violence form the backdrop for All That Breathes, Shaunak Sen’s lyrical portrait of two men who work to save injured and sick birds in the city. Their quest to find resources for their perpetually underfunded operation winds together with meditations on the nature of the birds, particularly kites — birds of prey that have been forced to adapt to the changing city. “Delhi is a gaping wound, and we’re a Band-Aid on it,” one of them says. Their work stands as a metaphor for the huge task that bringing healing to the city’s human residents might be, too. After all, we all breathe the same air.
How to watch it: All That Breathes opens in New York theaters on October 21, and in Los Angeles theaters on October 28.
Photographer and artist Nan Goldin rose to fame in part for her raw, intimate images of her friends, often in the midst of addiction, in museum works like The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1985). But in recent years, she’s risked her reputation to protest art world institutions that have accepted money and named spaces for the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, which for decades has produced opioids that have been routinely overprescribed, causing an acute addiction crisis. For All the Beauty and the Bloodshed — only the second documentary ever to win the famed Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival — Goldin and director Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) weave together her family’s story with the larger cultural narrative. Deceptively simple, All The Beauty and the Bloodshed is a movie about the things we prefer to leave unsaid, and the true cost of dragging them into the light.
How to watch it: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed will open in theaters on November 23.
“A lot of this really happened,” Amsterdam’s opening titles announce. Presumably the parts that didn’t happen are what furnish the core of the tale: Three people, a nurse (Margot Robbie) and two soldiers (Christian Bale and John David Washington) meet and form a close friendship that’s interrupted when World War I ends. But 12 years later, the trio are reunited when they find themselves in the middle of a plot linked to the rising tide of fascism in Europe (that’s the true part). With an absurdly stacked cast and a caper-like vibe, David O. Russell’s film is mostly diverting, rather than profound. But when the pieces come together, it really sings.
How to watch it: Amsterdam opens in theaters on October 7.
James Gray’s Armageddon Time is a semi-autofictional story of a sixth grader named Paul (Banks Repeta) growing up in Queens in the 1980s who, after some trouble in his public school, ends up at a private academy at the behest of his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins). The film features a jolt of a cameo with political implications that appear midway through — I don’t want to ruin it — but the film’s broader aim is to excavate the layers of privilege that the protagonist, whose ancestors fled the Holocaust, is slowly coming to realize. Paul’s family is navigating the gluey border between being the target of antisemitism and enjoying the opportunities and social standing that their Black neighbors will never have. Meanwhile, Paul is caught between his left-leaning family and the children at his new school who casually drop racial slurs, or pump their fists and chant “Reagan! Reagan!” at the mention of an upcoming election. It’s a truly poignant, troubling, and ultimately brilliant work of memory and self-implication.
How to watch it: Armageddon Time opens in limited release on October 28 and wide on November 4.
Damien Chazelle’s film hasn’t been shown yet, so everything we know at the moment is still speculative. But here’s what we know. It has an enormous cast (including Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart, Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Max Minghella, Tobey Maguire, Katherine Waterston, Spike Jonze, and many more). It weaves together stories from Hollywood’s early decades, which were rather debaucherous. And it looks wild. Chazelle’s previous outings (including Whiplash, First Man, and La La Land) have been kinetic and thoughtful on the nature of fame, and it seems likely he’s poised to continue in the same vein.
How to watch it: Babylon is set to open in theaters on Christmas Day.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson previously teamed up for director and writer Martin McDonagh’s riotous and sneakily profound In Bruges. Now they’re back in a thoroughly Irish outing. Set on a remote island off the Irish coast a century ago, The Banshees of Inisherin is about two best friends whose relationship is ripped apart when one of them decides he just can’t stand the other, and expresses it in the most unhinged way possible. The story plays like a fable, the sort of thing you’d hear recounted late at night at the pub. And while it’s thoroughly comical, it’s also got a serious core — the ongoing fights between friends and brothers that have been such an integral part of Irish history are always lurking around the edges.
How to watch it: The Banshees of Inisherin opens in theaters on October 21.
Timothée Chalamet re-teams with Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino for Bones and All, but the real star is Taylor Russell. She plays Maren, a teenager who has since birth harbored an unignorable desire to consume human flesh. Alone and on the run across the Midwest, she meets a number of others like her, including Lee (Chalamet). Though Bones has acquired a reputation as “the cannibal movie,” it’s less about that than about looking for a community as an outsider. (Set in the 1980s, it’s also clearly a veiled allegory about being queer in Reagan’s America.) The film leans into being overwrought and overly sentimental, sadly; its metaphor seems muddled. But it’s true that the romance at its heart is touching, and Russell is a revelation.
How to watch it: Bones and All opens in theaters on November 23.
Lena Dunham’s sensibility proves a perfect match for this adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 young adult novel — wry, a little rude, and a great deal of fun. Bella Ramsey stars as the 14-year-old protagonist, a girl in medieval England whose parents (Andrew Scott and Billie Piper) need to marry her off to save their financially insolvent estate. Catherine loves her knight uncle (Joe Alwyn) and her friends, but mostly she just wants to be herself, and nobody’s wife. It’s romping and hilarious, with 13th-century fart jokes and terrific performances from Scott and Ramsey. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.
How to watch it: Catherine Called Birdy opened in theaters on September 23 and begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 7.
One of the festival’s most blistering and brilliant documentaries, Descendant tracks the attempt to find and surface the Clotilda, the last ship carrying enslaved people to arrive in the United States, long after the slave trade (but not slavery itself) was made illegal. Director Margaret Brown weaves together the stories of the descendants of those who arrived on the Clotilda with the history of the region, and of the powerful family that’s tried to bury and deny its story for so long. It’s an engrossing, often thrilling story with implications that echo across America today.
How to watch it: Descendant premieres on Netflix on October 21.
It’s the 1980s, and in a seaside town on the British southern coast, Hilary (Olivia Colman) manages the concessions at a once-great cinema. Now owned by Mr. Ellis (Colin Firth) and in a mild state of disrepair, the movie theater is Hilary’s main source of community, especially in the wake of some mental health difficulties. One day, Stephen (Micheal Ward), who’s much younger than her and the son of an immigrant mother, arrives looking for a job, and Hilary’s life changes. But unrest is roiling just outside the walls. Written and directed by Sam Mendes, Empire of Light is one of the year’s most anticipated dramas. Despite a characteristically great performance from Colman, the story takes some baffling turns and ends feeling tin-eared. But if you want melodrama, you’ve come to the right place.
How to watch it: Empire of Light opens in theaters on December 9.
Tilda Swinton stars in Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir follow-up, but she’s playing Julie, Hogg’s avatar from those movies. Brain broken yet? Swinton also plays Julie’s mother. The pair have gone on a nostalgic vacation to a hotel housed in an estate that used to belong to a family member. Memories fill the place; you might even say ghosts. But mostly, The Eternal Daughter is a movie about Hogg’s trepidation regarding the idea of making a movie about her own mother. It feels like a chamber piece, tight and restrained, full of devastating feeling.
How to watch it: The Eternal Daughter will open in theaters in December.
Steven Spielberg, no stranger to drawing on his own life for his films, has finally just made a memoir with The Fabelmans, exploring his parents’ divorce and his youthful attempts to understand the world, and his own fears, through movies. Starring Paul Dano and Michelle Williams as his parents, as well as Seth Rogen as their close family friend, it’s best viewed as a memory piece, Spielberg trying to recreate not just what happened but what it felt like to live through it. Throughout the tale is his struggle to confront his fears — of losing the security of his childhood, of being the only Jewish family in town — through the medium of moviemaking. It’s funny, and weepy, and it winks to his future occupation. For a modern master of the form, it’s a perfect memoir.
How to watch it: The Fabelmans opens in limited theaters on November 11 and wide on November 23.
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) returns with a new mystery in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion, a hilarious movie about how much a certain sort of rich person sucks. Boasting a stacked cast — including Ed Norton as a kind of Elon Musk type and Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, and Dave Bautista as his annoying friends — it’s a movie that once again plays on the old-school detective mystery with confidence and aplomb. Filled with puzzles and loaded with charm, Glass Onion all but ensures we’ll be following the adventures of Detective Blanc for a long time to come.
How to watch it: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery opens in limited theaters in November and begins streaming on Netflix on December 23.
Staggeringly bleak and gorgeous, the Danish film Godland follows a late-19th-century priest named Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), sent to Iceland to build and pastor a church there. Guided by a gruff Icelander named Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurðsson), he opts to cross the country on foot, assuming it will help him gain a pious understanding of its inhabitants. What he discovers is a land as fearsome as God, full of physical trials far beyond his imagining. And when he finally arrives, the limits of his devotion are sorely tested. Reminiscent of recent films about presumptuous clergy (like Martin Scorsese’s Silence), Hlynur Pálmason’s film is brilliantly shot and as deadly as a poison pill.
How to watch it: Godland is awaiting a US release date.
Zarifa Ghafari was Afghanistan’s youngest woman mayor, elected in the months before the Taliban’s recapturing of Afghanistan. Filmmakers Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen start out by chronicling the challenges she faced in governing, advocating for women’s equality — and then geopolitics intruded. In Her Hands (executive produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton) follows Ghafari and her associates through the fallout, especially as they try to decide, in the face of impossible circumstances, whether it’s prudent to leave the country or if it’s their duty to remain.
How to watch it: In Her Hands premieres on Netflix on November 16.
Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) is a soft-spoken bureaucrat who spends his days pushing around paperwork in a 1950s London office and finds out that he has a terminal illness; that realization changes his life. Living is based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece Ikiru, which was itself based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Directed by Oliver Hermanus with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, Living — which looks like it was made in the 1950s, all film grain and vibrance — is an immensely moving memento mori, anchored by Nighy’s breathtaking performance, and a call to live a life with purpose.
How to watch it: Living opens in theaters on December 23.
The Menu lands flatter than you might hope from a film aiming to satirically skewer the rich in the world of fine dining. Ralph Fiennes, playing a world-renowned chef, runs a restaurant situated on a remote island; Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) goes there with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) for a once-in-a-lifetime meal, along with an assortment of the wealthy and terrible. Of course, danger lurks around every corner. The Menu feels both weirdly out of touch with the culinary world and strangely half-assed in the end; it’s very bent on making sure you know the manner and details of the bad people’s badness. On the other hand, if you just want a burn-it-down movie, then it does the job nicely.
How to watch it: The Menu opens in theaters on November 18.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film) is currently imprisoned by his government, a state he’s endured, in various iterations, for decades now. The reasons why are apparent when you see his films, and No Bears might be one of his best. Panahi tirelessly throws himself (sometimes literally, as he often appears in his own movies) in the way of criticizing traditions and institutions that oppress those without power in his country. In No Bears, he plays a version of himself, a filmmaker who can’t leave the country because he’s not allowed, but is trying to direct a film just across the border in Turkey. It’s characteristically sardonic and spot-on, particularly about the ways traditions hamper real freedom.
How to watch it: No Bears is awaiting a US release date.
In a quietly devastating expose, Sinéad O’Shea explores religious abuse in her native Ireland by telling the stories of people from her small hometown who mounted resistance against the powerful. What does it look to stand up to longstanding policies of separating unmarried pregnant women from their families, or allowing children to be the target of brutal corporal punishment in school? In so doing, she dismantles the mythologization and fetishization of Irish society by outsiders, and still manages to show immense love for the people she came from.
How to watch it: Pray for Our Sinners is awaiting a US release date.
A kind of modern-day adaptation of the story of Medea, Saint Omer is the rare fiction film from celebrated French documentarian Alice Diop. It’s a courtroom drama in which journalist Rama (Kayije Kagame) travels to observe the proceedings in the case of Laurence Coly (a devastating Guslagie Malanda), who is accused of having killed her 1-year-old daughter. The story mostly unfolds in testimony, as Laurence responds to questioning from the judge. But her tale starts to dig into Rama’s personal fears — and take apart assumptions of the nature of guilt, innocence, and motherhood.
How to watch it: Saint Omer is awaiting a US release date.
Writer and director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children) returns after a years-long absence from film with Tár, a stunner of a drama about world-famous conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), whose world is coming apart at the seams. Living in a tightly controlled world of her own making, Lydia is at her peak, but a chaotic revelation threatens to unravel it all, and unravel her as well. Tár demands your attention with scenes that often only reveal themselves in retrospect, and that’s what makes it great. Class anxiety, hidden secrets, and power struggles make for a potent combination; the result is explosive, deadly, and incredible to watch. Tár might be one of the best films of the year.
How to watch it: Tár opens in theaters on October 7 and will be widely released on October 28.
Werner Herzog loves nothing more than a giant unexplainable mystery (volcanoes, cave drawings, the internet), and the human brain might be the biggest one of them all. For Theater of Thought, he travels the world talking to experts in neuroscience, quantum mechanics, and various other disciplines who are plumbing the depths of what our minds can do. It’s not a stylish film, per se, but it’s a rather hypnotizing one, full of ideas that are so complex that Herzog occasionally pops in via voiceover to remind us that he has no idea what’s going on either. That makes it gently humorous, and a worthy tribute to the fantastic organ we’re all carrying around in our skulls.
How to watch it: Theater of Thought is awaiting a US release date.
Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker (the book about Robert Moses) and the ongoing Lyndon B. Johnson biography, has been working meticulously and tirelessly for decades. His editor, Robert Gottlieb, is one of the most legendary editors in the history of American letters. The two are old now, but still going, and in the documentary Turn Every Page, Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb gives an invaluable (and often hilarious) look into their mutual careers and working processes. You don’t have to be a writer or a nerd to love the movie, but it doesn’t hurt; Turn Every Page (named for advice given long ago to Caro as a young investigative reporter) dips deeply into how you write a book, the relationships you need to sustain a lifelong work, and why you’d do it in the first place.
How to watch it: Turn Every Page opens in theaters on December 30.
Brace yourself. The latest satire from Swedish director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, The Square) is uproarious, bleak, drenched in bodily fluids, and practically emblazoned with “Eat the Rich” in neon lights. It starts, briefly, in the world of modeling (the “triangle of sadness” being an area between the brows often tinkered with by plastic surgeons), but soon we’re on a luxury yacht populated by the worst people in the world. From there, things go nuts. Triangle of Sadness draws on everything from Roman vomitoriums to Lord of the Flies, skewering with equal force those who make their money without scruples and those who lack the courage of their convictions to do anything about it. It’s frequently gross, blunt as a battering ram, and very, very 2022.
How to watch it: Triangle of Sadness opens in theaters on October 7.
Brendan Fraser delivers a brilliant, gutting performance as Charlie, an online college professor who, out of great grief, has developed an eating disorder that has left him immobilized. He can’t leave his home; he can barely leave the couch, and he keeps the camera off when he teaches, afraid of his students’ gaze. He’ll be dead by the end of the week if he doesn’t seek medical attention, and that’s the one thing he refuses to do. Based on Samuel D. Hunter’s award-winning play and directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Whale is messy and tricky in places — but it also has something very wise to say about religious trauma.
How to watch it: The Whale opens in theaters on December 9.
Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel has been considered more or less unfilmable, and so it’s to Noah Baumbach’s credit that he’s proven the axiom definitively wrong. Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig star in the unconventional result, which veers — quite purposely — from family drama to disaster movie to noir without skipping a beat. The film exorcises much of the novel’s material dealing directly with media theory, preferring instead to focus on the assertion that every plot, whether it’s a plot to murder someone or the plot of a movie, eventually leads toward death. The white noise that surrounds us in omnipresent TVs and incessant advertising can only drown out our dread of mortality for so long. At times it’s tedious (that’s on purpose, too), but White Noise maintains a sense of humor as it tackles some of the hardest stuff we deal with as humans in what often feels like a slowly disintegrating society, and it ends by joyfully playing in the ruins.
How to watch it: White Noise opens in limited theaters on November 25 and begins streaming on Netflix on December 30.
The story of Women Talking springs out of a horrifying true story from 2011, in which seven men from an ultra-conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia (populated by the descendants of the Eastern Europeans who settled there in 1874) were convicted of drugging and serially raping over 100 women from their community. For the film version, writer and director Sarah Polley did what every good adaptation should do and found her version of the story inside the original. With a cast that includes Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand (in a tiny but thematically crucial role), she tells a story about learning to unlearn oppression, about embracing freedom after violence, as the women of the colony decide whether to stay, fight, or flee. It’s a skillfully made, conversation-forward movie that unpacks various ways women have responded to violence and abuse over centuries and across the world: living with subjugation, fighting it, fleeing it, or trying to reform society from within. It imagines a feminist future.
How to watch it: Women Talking opens in theaters on December 2.