Synopsis: A Florida journalist (Matthew McConaughey), his brother (Zac Efron) and a colleague (David Oyelowo) set out in 1969 to investigate a potential miscarriage of justice involving a death row inmate (John Cusack), with the help of the con's would-be lover (Nicole Kidman).
Our Verdict: Having been totally scorned with his feature debut "Shadowboxer," producer-turned-director Lee Daniels found new respect with his follow-up, the Oscar Best Picture-nominated "Precious." Could he continue the upswing with his third film, especially given that it was a one-time Pedro Almodóvar project and that it's toplined by McConaughey, who's having a serious resurgence of late? Not so much, according to James Rocchi, who saw the film at its Cannes premiere for us. Calling it "one of the worst films of the year," it seems that Daniels shoots "everything to look like an Instagram photo set on some new yellow-muck filter called 'Southern Scuzz' " while the script has "no coherency or constancy of plot, tone, character or direction." James' full-review summed up by saying the film was "a lurid, florid, humid, flaccid and insipid waste of time and money for the audience and for everyone who made it," so it's probably best to steer clear.
When? Plays at TIFF and NYFF, and opens on October 5th.
Synopsis: Expansive, based-in-fact period drama about the love triangle between the insane Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard), his queen (Alicia Vikander) and a German doctor (Mads Mikkelsen).
Our Verdict: Something of a surprise hit in Europe, "A Royal Affair," directed by Nikolaj Arcel (who wrote the original Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and executive produced by Lars von Trier (of all people), has been building buzz for a little while, particularly after winning Best Actor for Følsgaard, when the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Playlister Jessica Kiang was there, and while she found it a little staid, "a comfortably-rendered period drama," she found a lot to like in the acting, writing that Vikander is "positively worshipped by the camera," Følsgaard gives "an outstanding performance," and Mikkelsen is phenomenal, including one moment "so beautifully rendered, they should use the scene in acting classes." Read her full review here.
When? Plays TIFF and opens on November 9th.
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson's 2005 short story involving a killer-whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in a freak accident, and the nightclub bouncer (Matthias Schoenhaerts) who she begins a curious relationship with.
Our Verdict: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. And for the most part, he cemented that status in Cannes this year with "Rust & Bone." The talk of the film was a "predictably fantastic" performance from Cotillard, according to Kevin Jagernauth's review from Cannes, but it seems to be a star-making turn for "Bullhead" lead Schoenhaerts too, given that he's got "acting chops to spare, finding the vulnerability beneath his character's exterior that helps us understand him, even when he's at his selfish worst." And Audiard's no slouch, either. By the end, "you know you are in the hands of a master who is directing with the confidence and command that few possess." Kevin found the film to be "a towering picture we can't wait to see again" -- you can read his full review here for more.
When? Plays TIFF and opens on November 16th.
Synopsis: Polio-afflicted writer and poet Mark O'Brien decides, at the age of 38, to lose his virginity, and hires a sex surrogate to help him do so.
Our Verdict: John Hawkes has become a bit of a Sundance favorite over the years, but after two brilliant but deeply sinister turns in a row -- his Oscar-nominated performance in "Winter's Bone" and last year's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" -- he arrived in 2012 with something lighter, with the festival's biggest crowd-pleasing hit, "The Sessions." And it looks to put him on track for another Oscar nod, with potential awards season heat for his co-stars Helen Hunt and William H. Macy as well. According to James Rocchi, who saw the film for us in Sundance (when it was still titled "The Surrogate"), all three are terrific, noting the roles are "neither melodramatic nor too underplayed, not without humor and not without gravity." But at the same time, the film is "at best, talky and static," without the imagination of something like "The Diving Bell & the Butterfly." But the film's "intelligence and humanity" means that it should be worth checking out all the same. Take a look at the full review here.
Release Date: Hits TIFF before opening on October 26th.
Synopsis: A true-crime author moves his family to a new home, only to find reels of Super-8 footage that shows a series of murders, including those of the house's previous occupants.
Our Verdict: We're honestly struggling to remember the last mainstream horror film we really, truly enjoyed. But "Sinister" seems to be one of the rare exceptions (at least until any sequels come along), a genuinely unsettling film with a cunning skew on the found footage trope, and a strong performance from Ethan Hawke in the lead. According to Todd Gilchrist, who saw the film for us at SXSW, "there’s an elegant simplicity to the film’s synthesis of truth-seeking and haunted-house shock," with the picture proving "a satisfying old-school thrill ride." There are certainly issues, including a soundtrack "that overpowers a lot of the material," and and an ending that "lets slack the tension they've been creating." But it's certainly an above-average horror, and it'll be interesting to see how it goes down with the public in general. Read Todd's full review here.
When? It hits Fantastic Fest and opens in October 5th.