Way Too Indie’s 20 Essential Fall Films

By @DJansick
Way Too Indie’s 20 Essential Fall Films

With the Oscars looming on the horizon, it’s time for filmmakers, actors, and studios to bring out the big guns and fight to nab one of those wee golden fellows. For cinema-goers, the fall season is the best time of year: With the summer blockbuster melee out of the way, our focus is shifted to the foreign dramas, auteur showcases, and breakout performances that will populate theaters through to the winter. It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty, and with so many excellent films to look forward to in the next few months, we’ve compiled our list of 20 must-see films of the fall. Some we’ve seen, and some we haven’t, but all in all, this fall season is shaping up to be one to remember.

20 Essential Fall Films

#20 – Force Majeure

Force Majeure

Ruben Östlund made a splash at Cannes back in 2011 with Play, a controversial film based on real-life incidents of a group of children elaborately mugging other kids their age. This year, Östlund returned to Cannes with a different kind of film. A family vacationing at a ski resort in the Alps has a close call with an avalanche, and an impulsive fight-or-flight action by the father causes the family unit to break down. Like it or hate it, Play showed that Östlund has remarkable directorial skills, and the praise from Cannes only has us more excited for his follow-up. After a bow at TIFF, Magnolia will release Force Majeure in October. Keep your eyes on this one, as it’s been one of the more buzzed about foreign films this year. [C.J.]

#19 – Tusk

Tusk 2014 movie

In 2011, when Kevin Smith released his last feature film, Red State, he announced (with his usual long-windedness) that he’d be retiring from film directing after completing one more film. Since then he seems to have calmed down. At Comic-Con Smith did his usual “Evening with Kevin Smith” where he spent a lot of time talking about the new Star Wars film, before revealing the first trailer for his upcoming film Tusk. Based on a conversation Smith had on his podcast discussing a craigslist ad a man posted offering a free place to live to someone willing to dress as a walrus while there, Smith’s always-buzzing brain of course ran free with the very dark way such a scenario could play out. And the trailer indicates the film is just as creepy, dark, and (because it’s Smith) funny as his imagination could make it. Starring Justin Long as a podcast host investigating a reclusive old mariner in Canada, and playing up Smith’s offbeat sense of humor in lieu of Red State’s politically-charged tension, it seems like Smith may finally have found his perfect style of horror. Release date is September 19th, just in time for some pre-Halloween fun. [Ananda]

#18 – The Two Faces of January

Two Faces of January

A throwback to ‘60s romance thrillers (and appropriately set in the ‘60s itself), Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January throws three excellent actors—Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst—into a dizzying, dangerous love triangle set in sun-drenched Greece. An adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, the film is rife with deception, jealousy, and murder, a treat for those of us with a taste for such noir-ish goodies. The film has gotten some decent buzz on the festival circuit, though it’ll likelier to please retro lovers than the mainstream masses when it hits in early October. [Bernard]

#17 – The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

I’m pretty much a sucker for anything involving Stephen Hawking. While he is most known for his brilliant advancements in physics, The Theory of Everything appears to center more around his personal life. Before being diagnosed with a fatal illness at 21 years old, he fell in love with his first wife while studying at Cambridge. Dealing with this tragedy, the film aims to be both heartbreaking and inspirational. Based on the trailer and the award season release date of November 7th, it seems that Eddie Redmayne (who plays Hawking) could be in early contention for an Oscar nomination. We hope to catch its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, so stay tuned for our coverage. [Dustin]

#16 – The Interview

The Interview 2014 movie

The Interview received a good amount of unexpected publicity thanks to North Korea’s decision to file a complaint with the United Nations over the movie’s plot; TV personality Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) become involved in a secret CIA plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). This film, the 2nd from Rogen & his writing partner Evan Goldberg as directors following This Is The End, finds the Pineapple Express duo partying hard, rescuing puppies and manning DPRK tanks. Despite Sony’s decision to digitally alter aspects of the movie and (supposed) cutting of a rumored “face melting” scene, reuniting Rogen with Franco in this premise seems absurdly promising. [Zach]

#15 – Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip film

Because Alex Ross Perry had already mesmerized us with his previous no-budget film The Color Wheel, his newest film Listen Up Philip has been on our radar since its announcement. Then overwhelmingly positive reviews flew in from its Sundance premiere. Combine all of this with the fact Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss star in the film and you’ve got our full attention. Schwartzman playing an arrogant novelist seems like a perfect role considering his character from HBO’s Bored to Death. Perry is quickly becoming an independent director to keep an eye on, so mark your calendars for when Listen Up Philip opens in theaters on October 17th—we already have. [Dustin]

#14 – The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins film

If someone wanted to convince me to watch Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins and began the sentence with “Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play twins,” I will most likely tune out anything else after that. Deep down I know my mind would already be made up: there’s no way I’m not watching this movie. Hader and Wiig have both grown out of their SNL multi-personas and transitioned into film; Wiig has been the more successful of the two thanks to Bridesmaids, but Hader’s small charming role in The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby hints at his untapped dramatic talent. In any case, The Skeleton Twins looks like a perfect showcase for both actors to show they have what it takes to be both funny and serious. Unveiled at Sundance to very positive response (it’s currently 100% fresh on the Tomatometer) the story deals with the reconnection of twins Milo and Maggie after they both manage to cheat death on the same day. [Nik]

#13 – Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

Over the past two decades, Pixar Studios has taken most of the shine away from Disney Animation, and rightfully so. Toy Story is coming up on 20-years-old. Think about that for a second. Disney has had its share of recent hits with Tangled and Frozen, but those are films that aren’t really catered to me. What about a super-hero film about a boy and his robot companion with flavors of Japanese anime? Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me. Big Hero 6 has a lot of potential as a unique entry in the overpopulated super-hero genre. It doesn’t hurt that Baymax looks to be an impossibly cute robot character, on the level of Wall-E and the Iron Giant. I don’t know if the film will be as good as those films, but if it can deliver on the fun premise, it has a chance to be one of the most satisfying films of the year. [Aaron]

#12 – The Overnighters

The Overnighters documentary

Earlier this year at Hot Docs I called The Overnighters “a roller coaster” that’s bound to be one of 2014’s best documentaries. My feelings haven’t changed since. Jesse Moss’ remarkable film follows a small town in North Dakota going through an oil boom. As people across the country flock to the town looking for work, a local pastor’s decision to let new arrivals sleep in his church (housing is next to impossible to find) triggers a surprising chain of events. With a narrative so cinematic the doc could easily be adapted into a drama, The Overnighters starts out riveting and never stops. Drafthouse will release the film on October 24th, and don’t be surprised if this one ends up becoming an Oscar nominee. [C.J.]

#11 – White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard

This novel adaptation looks to be a stylized coming-of-age story about a teenager (played by Shailene Woodley) whose mother (Eva Green) suddenly disappears one day. The early buzz from its Sundance premiere had people praising Woodley’s brave performance as she swears up a storm and spends a fair amount of time undressed. Perhaps her acting career is evolving from Young Adult hits like Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars to more serious and adult roles. Although Green doesn’t have as much screen time as Woodley because of her character’s mysterious disappearance, it’s been said she makes every minute count. White Bird in a Blizzard will be available on VOD September 25th and in theaters October 24th. [Dustin]

#10 – The Guest

The Guest 2014 movie

Adam Wingard is proving to be one of the most formidable directors in modern horror, with 2013’s excellent You’re Next infusing the tried-and-true slasher genre with a quirky style that’s both primal and electro-cool. The Guest, his latest offering, again takes an old-school set-up and kicks it in the teeth, straight into the new millennium. Dan Stevens plays a soldier who visits the Peterson family, claiming to have been a close friend of their son, who was killed in action. The family invites him to stay, but as random acts of violence begin to pop up throughout town, young Anna (Maika Monroe) suspects they may stem from their mysterious visitor. I’ve just come from a press screening of the film as I write this, and let me tell you—The Guest is bloody freakin’ brilliant. Go see it when it’s released on September 17th. [Bernard]

#9 – Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler movie

Dan Gilroy’s debut feature as a director burst onto the scene with a trailer full of frantic energy. Led by what looks like a batshit performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, he continually reiterates the motto, “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.” The actor looks increasingly unhinged as freelance crime journalist Lou Bloom, pursuing cop cars and moving bodies to get the perfect crime scene shot before that chill-inducing shot where he screams while grasping at the bathroom mirror. The director, Gilroy, has written several films including Tarsem’s The Fall; however, worthy of note he is the brother of Tony Gilroy (also a producer on Nightcrawler), whose debut as a director (Michael Clayton) became one of the most compelling adult dramas of the last decade. Nightcrawler debuts at TIFF in September before its October 31st U.S. release. [Zach]

#8 – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby movie

Most years when I sit down and think about the best films of the year, there is usually one or two picks near the top of my list that are unquestionably flawed, but incredibly daring in its writing and structure — last year’s The Place Beyond the Pines, for example. I don’t know a lot about The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, but the thought of one film basically splitting into two different films from the differing perspectives of a failed relationship has me beyond intrigued. The studios recent decision to theatrically release the film in three different version (labelled Them, Him, and Her) has me wondering if this is going to be cinema gold or a complete train wreck, but it definitely has my attention. [Aaron]

#7 – Stray Dogs

Stray Dogs

I caught Ming-liang Tsai’s movie at last year’s TIFF, and was floored by its audacious nature and relentless control. It’s a very particular wheelhouse that Tsai’s movies play in, but if it happens to be yours then Stray Dogs will not disappoint. The central narrative storyline deals with a small impoverished family unity (a father and his two children,) as they move around the outskirts of Taipei and try to survive. Those familiar with Tsai’s won’t be surprised to hear about incredibly long takes of actors staring off into oblivion, or a slightly grotesque scene featuring cabbage, but Stray Dogs is nothing if not one of the year’s greatest examples of transcendental and deeply captivating works of cinematic art. The film is finally getting a theatrical release on September 12th courtesy of Cinema Guild. [Nik]

#6 – Foxcatcher


Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller returns with what many have described as his passion project, a film about the late John du Pont, whose attempt to support the US wrestling program in spite of declining mental health. The unlikely actor portraying du Pont is comedian Steve Carell in a part tailored for Oscars consideration, flanked by both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in strong roles. While the film was among our writer Nik’s Cannes disappointments this year, there are many touting not only the highly anticipated performances. After stops at TIFF and NYFF in September and October, Foxcatcher opens everywhere on November 14th. [Zach]

#5 – Dear White People

Dear White People movie

It’s about time a filmmaker set their sights on race in America, especially with people claiming the country is now living in a “post-racial” society. Justin Simien’s debut feature Dear White People is an ensemble following several black students at an Ivy League school, a premise Simien uses to open up a funny and probing insight into what race and identity means today. Back at the LA Film Festival, our writer Ananda said Dear White People is “sharply written” and “progressive and humorous”, and we can’t wait to see it once it comes out on October 17. [C.J.]

#4 – Whiplash

Whiplash movie

Whipping up a mighty buzz-storm at Sundance, Damien Chazelle’s drummer drama Whiplash stars Miles Teller as a young percussionist pushed to the breaking point by his vicious drum instructor, played by JK Simmons. Teller has been living up to expectations with each role he tackles, proving to be one of the most promising new faces in movies, and combined with Simmons’ veteran savvy, sparks should fly as their combative mentor-pupil story unfolds. Since Sundance in January, the excitement surrounding the film hasn’t fizzled in the slightest, a strong indicator that we’re in for a treat when it drops in October. [Bernard]

#3 – Interstellar

Interstellar movie

I’m partly tempted to explain Interstellar’s placement toward the top of our most anticipated Fall films list by simply stating “Because Chris Nolan” and “Because Matthew McConaughey”, but if you need qualifiers, I bet I can think of a few. For starters, the ambiguity surrounding the film for so long indicates (and it would be par for the course with Nolan) that Interstellar might be more than we yet know. The latest trailer gives us plenty to stew over. Dirt storms show a water shortage on Earth and Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper, is a father faced with the difficult decision of leaving his children to travel through a wormhole to find a new planet for humans to survive on. Along with fellow spacetraveler, Brand (Anne Hathaway), and a few others, Cooper and the small team travels through some gorgeously crafted foreign galaxies. Further motivation to see the film in IMAX. But knowing Nolan, who loves his late reveals and complicated relationships, we can almost guarantee that Interstellar will, ahem, take us further into space and story than we can even imagine. The film releases on Nov. 7th, which seems like forever. [Ananda]

#2 – Birdman

Birdman 2014 movie

Despite some slight foreboding after watching the trailer for Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film is still one of my personal must-see films of the year, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, Iñárritu has yet to truly disappoint me (yes, I even liked Babel) and perhaps I’m even more inclined towards his new film because his last one, Biutiful, was so undeservedly neglected by many. Secondly, this is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s first post-Gravity project to see release and he’s a guy who knows how to make pretty pictures, plus there’s reports of more long take wizardry in Birdman. Add to that the ensemble cast of Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts all lead by a resurgent Michael Keaton, and there’s really no need to go any further. The film will open the Venice Film festival, play the New York Film Festival, and then unspool for the public on October 17th. [Nik]

#1 – Gone Girl

Gone Girl movie

Top of the list is the latest from a perennial favorite, David Fincher. Not only is he master of the book to film adaptation, but he excels when working with crooked characters. And Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel Gone Girl is a character-study in marital crookedness. In the film, Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man whose wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing on their 5th wedding anniversary. When her disappearance goes public, Nick finds himself the primary suspect and the most hated man in the country, and as detectives uncover more around the case, Nick begins to question just how well he knew his own wife. I predict the sort of character mastery we’ve seen in House of Cards and Social Network combined with the nerve-fraying plot development of Se7en and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rumor has it the ending is slightly different than the book, co-written by Flynn and thus having her blessing, so even those of us familiar with the novel should be in for some new twists come October 3 when the film is released. It’s going to be a dark and twisty fall, and we can’t wait. [Ananda]

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