It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas, October. The weather is getting cooler, the leaves are turning golden brown, and the movies are growing increasingly wonderful. Here we are at the start of yet another "awards season", which has effectively become shorthand for denoting the time of year when Hollywood actually sees the value in releasing good films. Quality is raised across the board: The big-budget spectacles are more dazzling ("Gravity") the gritty thrillers are endowed with thematic heft and Hanks power ("Captain Phillips") and the lesbian love stories from France are three hours long and freshly minted with the Palme d'Or (
"Carrie" "Blue is the Warmest Color").
It's a great, and potentially even overwhelming time to go to the movies. Here are our picks for the 10 films you must see this month:
"Gravity" (Oct. 4)
Alfonso Cuarón's long-gestating space drama is finally reaching Earth's surface after a tumultuous post-production schedule spent perfecting the film's awe-inspiring visual effects. "Gravity" has divided the Film.com staff, though Cuarón's cinematic ambition can not be contested: This is a movie that demands to be seen and on the biggest screen possible.
In his Film.com review, William Goss wrote, "The fact that Cuarón’s film strives to be something more than thoroughly harrowing — no small feat in and of itself — solidifies its existence as a marvel of not just technical craft but sheer imagination as well." Read the full review here.
"Bad Milo" (Oct. 4)
From the assistant editor of "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" comes the story of… a demon who lives in a guy's butt. Not the greatest premise on paper (ed. note: yes it is), but "Bad Milo" turns out to be a surprisingly heartfelt entry into the horror comedy genre, with star Ken Marino selling both the down-on-his-luck husband working through daddy issues and a guy who forcefully blows a bloodthirsty critter out of his bum hole every few days. It's a gross out commentary on the male role in modern society, and well deserving of your month's midnight movie outing.
"Captain Phillips" (Oct. 11)
Film.com's David Ehrlich described the Tom Hanks docudrama as, "not only a masterful action movie that breathlessly and believably re-stages a tense standoff at sea, but a resonant portrait of systemized financial imbalance trickling down into the water" adding that it's arguably Greengrass’ best film and, perhaps, his most urgent. The true story of a shipping freighter overtaken by Somali pirates in 2009, Greengrass knocks this one out of the park with his signature vérité style (that's not too shaky) and a forceful, charming leading man at the helm. Hanks is working on so many levels in "Captain Phillips," it's inevitable that he'll go unnoticed come awards time.
"Zero Charisma" (Oct. 11)
"Rare is the film where you both care for and despise both the hero and villain. It is this dynamic, in addition to the truly painful family revelations, that elevate “Zero Charisma” from being just another jab at nerd culture," said Jordan Hoffman in his Film.com review of this SXSW 2013 audience favorite. The film is being backed and distributed by Nerdist, and in some ways, "Zero Charmisa" authenticates the brand. It's got a schlubby lead with emotional problems and a genuine investment in the storytelling of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a love letter to the game and a cautionary tale. To anyone who has set around playing tabletop games — or anyone who has wondered why people would — "Zero Charisma" offers a relatable emotional experience by peering into a fantasy world all too removed from reality.
"Adventures in the Sin Bin" (Oct. 18)
Writer Christopher Storer twists Billy Wilder's classic formula for "The Apartment" into a 21st century teen sex comedy in Billy Federighi's surprisingly sharp and hysterical directorial debut. The movie packs a fair share of notable actors — Jeff Garlin, Tim Blake Nelson, and Gillian Jacobs are among the comedic names — but their padding to help sell a great duo of young leads. Michael Seater plays Brian, a lowly high schooler who rents his van, the "Sin Bin," out to his classmates for their hanky-panky purposes. Bo Burnham plays Tony, the dapper kid everyone wants to be, who takes full advantage of his "friend's" offer. "Adventures in the Sin Bin" made festival rounds in 2012 and it's a rare standout in a sea of lowest-common-denominator National Lampoon DTD releases.
"All Is Lost" (Oct. 18)
Robert Redford returns in a leading role not under his own directorial eye and it's a tremendous effort. Man vs. nature has never been so cleanly, clearly presented, with Redford's unnamed character faced with small kinks in the boat — a tiny leak, for instance — that grow into cataclysmic oppositions. Speaking of Redford's performance, Hoffman says, "It takes a screen legend with whom all audiences have a preexisting relationship. Redford is in every single shot of the film and his performance is terrific. By and large he’s stoic, but he’s not inhuman."
"12 Years a Slave" (Oct. 18)
"Hunger" and "Shame" director Steve McQueen reunites with his go-to star Michael Fassbender for a haunting true story of a free black man enslaved during the mid-1800s. But, as one might predict from that setup, Fassbender sidesteps into a supporting role for this historical drama, paving the way for Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Children of Men") to dominate the screen with a gut-wrenching performance. "Ejiofor’s tightly clenched conviction perfectly embodies hope and righteousness against all odds," Goss says in his review from Telluride, where the film premiered before winning the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival. "He gives the best performance of his career to date, and what’s more, he gives 'Slave' its bruised, beating heart with every scene."
"Kill Your Darlings" (Oct. 18)
John Krokidas premiered his beat era biopic at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, many pointing to Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan’s one-two punch as Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr. The film's slick style and fiery beat energize the New York City-set drama, with Krokidas unflinching in his presentation of the sexual undercurrent that thrust Ginsberg and Carr through the their turbulent college experiences. "'Kill Your Darlings,' while certainly more of a straight narrative, might be the best Beat film since David Cronenberg’s 'Naked Lunch.' It is an all-around success," Hoffman said in his review from Sundance.
"The Counselor" (Oct. 25)
Only 20th Century Fox employees has seen Ridley Scott's latest — it's avoided the festival circuit so far — but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt. The "Prometheus" director is working from a script penned by author Cormac McCarthy and is cast matches the pedigree, with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, and Javier Bardem all sinking their teeth into the material. Word from the inside is this one is as sizzling as it promises to be. Blind faith gets our butts in the theaters for "The Counselor."
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" (Oct. 25)
Despite controversy surrounding its six-minute long lesbian sex scene, the other three hours of "Blue Is the Warmest Color" are some of the most touching, fragile filmmaking of the year. Following Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) from her high school days to her twenties, Abdellatif Kechiche’s film wanders into the revealing moments into the young female's life and even the tiniest moment of discovery or passion feels revelatory. "If you don’t see yourself in its fierce depiction of intense emotion I both envy and pity you," writes Hoffman from the Cannes premiere. "It is a masterpiece of the genre, a damn near perfect film."