Our top ten movie picks for fall | Movie Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Our top ten movie picks for fall 

Margaret, The Ides of March, The Skin I Live In, and more

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Margaret

Kenneth Lonergan made an auspicious directorial debut with You Can Count on Me (2000), starring Laura Linney as a single mother and Mark Ruffalo as her drifting younger brother. I've been waiting on his second feature ever since, and there were times I thought I'd never see it. Margaret stars Anna Paquin as a teenager who witnesses a bus crash with profound implications for everyone involved; among the cast are Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Olivia Thirlby, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Lonergan finished shooting the movie in late 2005, but his relationship with the distributor, Fox Searchlight, soured over his inability to produce a cut inside the 150-minute parameter of his contract. Multiple lawsuits followed, and the movie has been tied up in court for so long that one of the producers, Oscar winner Sydney Pollack, has since died. The movie now scheduled for release runs 149 minutes, which proves that Lonergan is capable of some discipline after all. —J.R. Jones Opens September 30.

The Ides of March

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Beau Willimon worked for Howard Dean during the 2004 presidential race and later drew on his experiences to write the play Farragut North, which he's now adapted to the screen with cowriters George Clooney and Grant Heslov. One can hardly be encouraged by the fact that the play's nicely prosaic title, referring to a subway station in the heart of Washington's lobbying district, has been replaced by one that alludes to the murder of Julius Caesar. But I suppose when George Clooney tells you something is a good idea, you're inclined to grin and nod your head. In any case, this tale of treachery in the Democratic primaries sounds like a good fit for Clooney and Heslov (whose last screenplay collaboration was Good Night, and Good Luck), and the cast is an embarrassment of riches: Clooney as the candidate, Ryan Gosling as his young press secretary, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign's chief strategist, Paul Giamatti as a cunning rival, Evan Rachel Wood as a nubile intern, Marisa Tomei as a prying reporter for the New York Times. When that many great actors sign on to a project, you know it's hot stuff. Either that, or George Clooney told them it was a good idea. —J.R. Jones Opens October 7.

The Skin I Live In

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I've always appreciated Pedro Almodovar's movies more than I've liked them, but when a filmmaker starts dropping names like Fritz Lang (specifically, his low-budget psycho thrillers from the 1940s) and Georges Franju (director of the eerie French classic Eyes Without a Face), I'm all ears. This Spanish import stars Antonio Banderas as a deranged surgeon who's invented a synthetic skin, Elena Anaya as the captive woman he uses as his guinea pig, and Jan Cornet as the violent young man who tried to rape the doctor's daughter and wound up the victim of forced sex-reassignment surgery. If Almodovar had made this movie 20 years ago, it probably would've been some kind of midnight-movie freak show. But his more recent maturation into a master stylist in the Hollywood tradition of George Cukor or Vincente Minnelli promises something much more haunting and thoughtful. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing this two weeks before Halloween, hoping perhaps to pick up a few intrepid gore hounds along with the usual arty-farty crowd—whether the film will bring Banderas's career back from the grave is another matter. As the Invisible Man once said, "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." —J.R. Jones Opens October 14.

The Room—Live

Released in 2003, Tommy Wiseau's The Room has vaulted to the top of the bottom rank, challenging Ed Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 From Outer Space for the title of worst movie ever made and, even more impressive, dislodging the venerable Rocky Horror Picture Show as America's most popular audience-participation ritual. I'm not about to watch The Room again—ever—so I'll just quote from my original review: "Wiseau stars as an eerily placid and good-natured banker whose live-in girlfriend is secretly getting it on with his best friend, though the filmmaker often strikes out in different directions, only to bump into the wall and come back. As someone who's watched more bad movies than you can imagine, I'm mostly immune to the so-bad-it's-good aesthetic, though I can see how, viewed in a theater at midnight after a few drinks, this might conjure up its own hilariously demented reality." For this live event, Wiseau will reprise his role from the movie, abetted by a cast of local players. —J.R. Jones Opens October 21.

My Week With Marilyn

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Some movies you want to see because you think they'll be good, and some you just want to see. For me, this one falls into the latter category. Directed by British TV veteran Simon Curtis, My Week With Marilyn dramatizes the stormy relationship between Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) when they costarred in the British romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). At that point the imperious Olivier was among the most revered actors in the world, while Monroe was considered a dizzy lightweight so fragile she had to be treated like an exotic flower. Olivier, who also produced and directed the movie, took an instant dislike to Monroe, and he really hit her where she lived when, setting up a scene, he suggested she "try and be sexy." Most actors crash and burn when they try to portray icons of the silver screen: for every modest success (say, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator) there are a hundred trainwrecks (Rod Steiger in W.C. Fields and Me, James Brolin in Gable and Lombard). When such portrayals work, it's usually because the actor shares some elemental quality with the star being portrayed, a good omen for the delicate Williams and the vainglorious Branagh. —J.R. Jones Opens November 4.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Kal Penn, who played one of the title stoners in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) and Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008), retired from show business in April 2009 to become an associate director at the White House Office of Public Engagement. Then, in June 2010, he retired from public life to appear in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Then, in November 2010, he retired from show business again to return to his post in the Obama administration. Then, in July, he retired from public life again to join the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. You know there's a problem when you're working for the Office of Public Engagement but you're not publicly engaged. Anyway, this third installment in the comedy franchise brings back Penn and John Cho for another stoned quest, this one a trek through New York City in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Neil Patrick Harris returns in the role he was born to play—Neil Patrick Harris—and the supporting cast includes Patton Oswalt, Danny Trejo, Elias Koteas, and Thomas Lennon. —J.R. Jones Opens November 4.

Melancholia

A mysterious planet heads straight for earth, threatening to destroy all human life. Hey, isn't that the one with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, where they journey through space on a mission to blow the thing up before it hits? No, this is the one written and directed by Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Dogville), where the characters sit around brooding as they wait for the inevitable. Von Trier says he came up with the idea when his shrink pointed out to him that depressed people often react more calmly to a crisis than happy ones, because no one needs to tell them that life is nasty, brutish, and short. Kirsten Dunst stars as a bride trying to enjoy her wedding day—the happiest day of a woman's life, don't you know—but sliding headlong into misery. Charlotte Gainsbourg is her older sister, whose cheery façade begins to crumble once her blue skies are dominated by the rogue planet. The movie premiered in May at the Cannes film festival, where von Trier caused a fracas by stating during a press conference that he understood and sympathized with Adolf Hitler. The festival kicked him out, deeming his remarks to be Nazi, brutish, and short. —J.R. Jones Opens November 4.

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J. Edgar

In the public mind there have been two J. Edgar Hoovers, each of them a cartoon. For decades Hoover was the relentless, squeaky-clean crime fighter who founded the modern FBI; after his death and the publication of Anthony Summers's book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, he became the cross-dressing, closeted homosexual who blackmailed powerful people with evidence of their private sexual exploits even as he carefully concealed his own. This biopic, an unlikely collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), has already been pulled in both directions in the media. Asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter about Hoover's alleged homosexuality, Eastwood replied that the screenplay "didn't quite go down that road." But Black assured the website afterelton.com that Hoover wasn't being "de-gayed" for the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the title character, and Armie Hammer, best known for his dual role as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, plays Clyde Tolson, the associate director of the FBI whose intimate friendship with Hoover became the primary basis for all the rumors. With Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, and Judi Dench. —J.R. Jones Opens November 9.

A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg has delved into so many dark corners of the human psyche—bloodlust (A History of Violence), drug addiction (Naked Lunch), the eroticism of death (Crash)—that a drama about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud seems right up his dimly lit alley. Adapted from a play by Christopher Hampton, which itself dramatized a nonfiction book by John Kerr, A Dangerous Method covers the six-year relationship between the two doctors, which began as a warm professional collaboration but eventually soured into mutual loathing. Biographers disagree about what exactly happened, but Kerr argues that Jung strayed into a romantic affair with his patient Sabina Spielrein (who later became a psychoanalyst in her own right), Freud tried to use this ethical breach to blackmail Jung into endorsing his theories, and Jung threatened to retaliate by exposing Freud's own dalliance with his sister-in-law. Now, that's what I call transference. With Viggo Mortensen (as Freud), Michael Fassbender (as Jung), and Keira Knightley (as Spielrein). —J.R. Jones Opens November 23.

Hugo

Given his forays into multiple genres—crime, thriller, horror, comedy, biography, music documentary, music video, historical drama, spiritual drama—you may think Martin Scorsese has done it all. Think again. Here comes his first 3-D children's fantasy, an adaptation of Brian Selznick's Caldecott-winning illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The title character is a boy living inside the walls of a Parisian train station at the turn of the 20th century (moved up to the 1930s in the film), and his adventures involve an automaton and a mysterious toymaker. That might sound like a tale more appropriate for Steven Spielberg than the director of Cape Fear and The Departed, but it also must have spoken to Scorsese's abiding love of film history: the character of the toymaker was inspired by Georges Méliès, the brilliantly innovative fantasy filmmaker of the 1890s and early 1900s. John Logan (The Aviator) wrote the screenplay, and the cast includes Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Michael Pitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, and 89-year-old Christopher Lee, who may turn out to be immortal after all. —J.R. Jones Opens November 23.

Read our profile of documentarian Debra Tolchinsky or check out the rest of our Fall Arts coverage

Also this fall . . .

SEPTEMBER

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame Hong Kong master Tsui Hark directed this period mystery about a detective (Andy Lau) summoned by the empress to solve a series of murders during the Tang Dynasty. Opens September 23.

Moneyball Adaped from the nonfiction best seller by Michael Lewis, this is the true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who revolutionized Major League Baseball by using complex statistics to evaluate players more accurately. Bennett Miller (Capote) directed. Opens September 23.

50/50 Writer-director Jonathan Levine follows his coming-of-age drama The Wackness with this comedy about a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and counseled to live it up by his hard-partying best friend (Seth Rogen). Opens September 30.

Machine Gun Preacher Gerard Butler stars in this biography of Sam Childers, a biker who converted to Christianity, gave up drugs, and set off on a crusade to free Sudanese children conscripted by the Lord's Resistance Army. Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) directed. Opens September 30.

OCTOBER

Puncture Action hero Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Captain America: The First Avenger) plays it straight in this fact-based drama about a drug-addicted lawyer who files suit against a health-care supplier. Opens October 7.

Take Shelter Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, The Runaways) stars as a midwestern man whose visions of a cataclysmic storm strain his relationships with his wife (Jessica Chastain of The Tree of Life) and daughter. Opens October 7.

Thunder Soul Mark Landsman's documentary tells the true story of Conrad Johnson, an inspiring music teacher at Houston's predominantly black Kashmere High School in the 1970s who turned the school's jazz band into a hard-charging funk outfit. Opens October 7.

Adaptation and Rin Tin Tin Susan Orlean, a staff writer for the New Yorker, will appear in person at the Music Box for two progams: a screening of Spike Jonze's Adaptation (2002), in which a fictional screenwriter struggles to adapt Orlean's real-life book The Orchid Thief, and a discussion of her new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, about the German shepherd who became a movie superstar during the silent era. October 8.

The Black Power Mixtape Directed by Goran Hugo Olsson, this documentary draws on recently discovered footage, shot by Swedish journalists, to track the Black Power movement from 1967 to 1975. Opens October 14.

Lowlands Peter Thompson will appear in person at two local premiere screenings of his essay film about the wife of Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer. Writing in Film Comment, Jonathan Rosenbaum called the movie "a marvel by Chicago's best filmmaker." October 14 and 19.

Music Box Massacre 7 Legendary gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Gore Gore Girls) is the guest of honor at this year's installment of the long-running horror marathon. October 15.

Boys Don't Cry and The Godfather Music Box presents the second edition of its series "Films That Changed My Life," with director Kimberly Peirce introducing Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) as well as her own film Boys Don't Cry (1999). October 16.

Chicago 8: A Small Gauge Film Festival Chicago Filmmakers presents a festival of Super-8 films, to include both submissions by local artists and a contest in which 20 people will each shoot a movie in Super-8, with all editing in-camera. October 16.

The Man Nobody Knew Carl Colby directed this documentary about his father, the CIA director WIlliam Colby, who faced congressional hearings to defuse criticism of the agency. Opens October 16.

Classic Horror Films of Universal Studios Music Box presents a six-day series of horror classics, including Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1940), and Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). October 22 through 26.

The Rum Diary Johnny Depp, who became a personal friend of journalist Hunter S. Thompson after playing him in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, stars in this adaptation of Thompson's early, long-unpublished novel about a reporter experimenting with LSD on a Caribbean island. Opens October 28.

Jamie and Jesse Are Not Together Gene Siskel Film Center presents the Chicago premiere of this lesbian romantic comedy by local filmmaker Wendy Jo Carlton, about two young roommates toying with the idea of a more serious relationship. Opens October 28.

NOVEMBER

Le Havre The latest comedy from Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismaki (The Man Who Wasn't There) centers on a kindly old shoe shiner in Le Havre who tries to help out a young African boy in the country illegally. Opens November 4.

Tower Heist Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) directed this comedic answer to Ocean's Eleven and the Bernard Madoff scandal, in which victims of a Ponzi scheme (including Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, and Gabourey Sidibe) take revenge by robbing the perpetrator's house. Opens November 4.

Found vs. Found Old VHS tapes take center stage for this one-night event at Music Box, as members of Found Magazine and the Found Footage Festival display the best of their collections. November 11.

The Immortals Tarsem Singh, director of the visionary adventure film The Fall (2006), returns with this sword-and-sandal epic based on the Greek myth of Theseus; the cast includes Mickey Rourke (as King Hyperion) and John Hurt (as Zeus). Opens November 11.

The Descendants Alexander Payne—director of Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), and Sideways (2004)—returns with his first feature in seven years, starring George Clooney as a middle-aged man forced to take a more active role in raising his daughters after a boating accident leaves his wife comatose. Opens November 18.

Arthur Christmas Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy supply some of the voices in this yuletide animated feature from Aardman Animation, the outfit that created Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit shorts. Opens November 23.

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Performing Arts
August 26
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Christina Aguilera, Big Boi Chicago Theatre
October 16

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