The fall movie season is usually the best time for the widest array of independent films to hit theaters. Sure, the spring has its indie hits and the winter is a hotbed for films campaigning for Oscars, but the fall is where some of the most interesting, low profile films come out. Few try for Oscars, while most succeed in being great films. With a fall movie season that featured box office juggernauts “A Star is Born,” “Venom” and “Halloween,” these are a few films you may have heard of that might peak some interest.
“The Sisters Brothers” had a limited release in late September and follows two sibling-assassins on a job in 1850s Oregon. Aside from being a pretty funny affair with excellent performances from the two leads, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix (who play Eli and Charlie Sisters respectively), the film is a stellar character study of Eli Sisters. After a rough situation leads to a fire in the brother’s barn, Eli begins to question the life he lives as one of the most renowned assassins in the west. Charlie is an outlaw by nature and believes there is no other life for them. These revelations and conflicts are represented subtly, adding to the realism of the experience.
Speaking of realism, the action scenes are filmed with a gritty realism that sucks the breath out of the audience. The gunfire is loud and imperfect, as weapons were about 170 years ago. The landscapes are beautifully captured and lighting is perfect in just about every frame. Make no mistake, this film is a realistic take of life in the west and a character showcase for Eli Sisters. Character decisions drive the plot and no scene ever feels out of place as a result. The only fault is that the pacing can drag just a little bit at the beginning and it takes a bit too long to bring the main conflict to the surface. There is also a side plot including Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, John Morris, and his affiliation with the man the Sisters Brothers are trying to kill, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). These scenes fail to be as interesting as the scenes that develop the relationship between Eli and Charlie, creating a choppy feeling to the first half hour of the film. These two plots come together in the end to create a satisfying conclusion, so the strange first act isn’t completely useless. Unfortunately, the film isn’t in theaters anymore, but check it out when it hits streaming.
“Mid90s” is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut and it does not disappoint. With a predominantly younger, unknown cast, Hill draws raw performances from the core group of actors, especially Sunny Suljic, who plays Stevie. Not only does Hill exercise the cheap, but effective tactic of utilizing 90s nostalgia in just about every frame, but he transported me back to what it felt like to be a kid. Stevie (Suljic) is constantly battling his abusive brother and trying to become independent and find his own path as a 13-year-old without any friends. He meets a group of skaters which become the family he has been searching for the whole time. It is a very simple story with a lot of simple conflict that isn’t anything new, but Hill’s script brings these characters to life. While the conflicts between the characters are classic film cliches that have been used time and time again, the emotional weight and attachment to the characters makes the conflict feel real and immediate. The film ends rather abruptly, but nonetheless, Jonah Hill absolutely has a career ahead of him as a writer-director and this film shouldn’t be missed.
“The Old Man and The Gun” is as enjoyable as it is a relaxing experience. The film doesn’t have any shocking twists, jaw dropping moments or a bloated runtime. It is overall a very sweet and calming movie with a fantastic final performance from Robert Redford. The film has a charm and likability to it, just as the main protagonist, Forrest Tucker (Redford), charms the employees at the banks he robs. Redford’s performance is key to liking a character that some may otherwise portray as an antagonist. His intentions behind robbing banks are also clearly never meant to be hostile or hurt anyone, but simply for Tucker’s own pleasure. It is an ode to living life to the fullest regardless of repercussions. Sissy Spacek as Jewel, an older woman whom Tucker befriends, is a great foil to Redford’s calm demeanor. While Jewel is never loud or overbearing, she asks all the questions Tucker would expect her to ask regarding his, creating a sense of understanding between the two. It leads to some of the sweeter moments in a film filled with scenes that will make you grin ear to ear. This film isn’t anything extraordinary, but I can guarantee it will make you smile.
“The Hate U Give” is kind of middle of the road for me. It follows Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), an African American high school student, reeling from the night when her friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), is shot and killed by a white police officer. This event leads Starr to question authority as well as many of the white people she goes to school with. This film provides a story that is absolutely worth telling. Stenberg steals the show with an incredible performance that I think should be in the running for Oscar consideration. There are several moments where she isn’t emoting, but the pain in the situation she is facing forces tears down her face. The film also made me see a different side to the story than the media usually portrays. This idea is touched upon in the film, with a scene of Starr’s family watching a riot on TV. My big issue with this film is that I think a director with more experience with this subject could have handled it better than George Tillman Jr., director of “Faster” and “Notorious.” The tone of some scenes feel inconsistent in relation to others. The filmmaking doesn’t particularly enhance the experience because a lot of the dialogue tells the audience exactly where everyone is coming from and how the viewer should feel about them. It came off as very lazy to me, with a lot of the more powerful moments ruined by a voiceover from Starr explaining what is happening in the scene. I think a director like Spike Lee (“Blackkklansman”) or Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) would have handled this film a lot better. Regardless, “The Hate U Give” is a story that needs to be seen.
“Beautiful Boy” was a film I was incredibly excited to see. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell with a powerful story surrounding a young man’s addiction, this film was shaping up to be an awards sweetheart. The performances are absolutely going to have awards success. Chalamet, who plays Nic Cheff, continues to prove he is an actor worth following for the rest of his career with a performance that will likely carry him to another Oscar nomination for his supporting role in this film. Carell’s chances are less likely, but he still delivers a harrowing and broken performance worthy of awards consideration. Aside from a few pulse-pounding moments, the film crumbles under its heavy narrative, struggling to balance several different story aspects while also feeling generic and repetitive. The script feels dry and slightly muddled with characters often saying exactly what you would expect them to, creating a predictable experience. The film is desperately trying to make the viewer cry, but the film simply isn’t constructed well enough to do so. If these actors were given better material to work with, I think this film would have been a more engaging watch. While I personally can’t recommend this film, anyone interested in great acting should certainly watch it.