While the sheer power of Taylor Swift scared off a number of October releases to flee further into the year, this month still offers no shortage of heavy hitters. From one of the most-anticipated films of the last many years to acclaimed documentaries to the final feature from a legendary director, there’s plenty to seek out.

13. Beyond Utopia (Madeleine Gavin; Oct. 23)

One of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year, Madeleine Gavin’s Sundance audience award winner Beyond Utopia tracks the intense, harrowing journey of a handful of individuals who attempt to flee North Korea. Considering how few dispatches we see from inside the country, this promises to be a rare, vital look at the costs of freedom.

12. Once Within a Time (Godfrey Reggio & Jon Kane; Oct. 13 in theaters)

Godfrey Reggio, the legendary director of the Qatsi trilogy, is back with Once Within a Time, co-directed by Jon Kane. Along with original music composed by Philip Glass with additional music and vocals by Sussan Deyhim, it boasts quite the synopsis: “a bardic fairy tale about the end of the world and the beginning of a new one, tinged with apocalyptic comedy, rapturous cinematography, unforgettable vistas, and the innocence and hopes of a new generation.” Check back for our conversation with Reggio and more on the film soon.

11. The Pigeon Tunnel (Errol Morris; Oct. 20 in theaters and on Apple TV+)

Before novelist John le Carré (aka former British spy David Cornwell) passed away in late 2020, he opened up about his thrilling, strange life to one of the greatest documentary filmmakers, Errol Morris. While the film certainly doesn’t break any new formal ground for the accomplished director, it’s impressive how much he’s able to probe in what is likely the author’s his final will and testament.

10. The Royal Hotel (Kitty Green; Oct. 6 in theaters)

After her harrowingly precise feature The Assistant, Kitty Green is back with Julia Garner to tackle similar themes of misogyny with a slightly bigger scope in The Royal Hotel. As C.J. Prince said in his TIFF review, “Like with Green’s previous film The AssistantThe Royal Hotel benefits from the strength of her direction and ensemble, reuniting with Garner to harness another great, expressive performance. A different director might have leaned into the horror elements more; Green opts to focus on the potential for violence so that Hanna’s concerns might be easily rationalized or explained away.”

9. Strange Way of Life (Pedro Almodóvar; Oct. 4 in theaters)

One of the major short films of the year, following Wes Anderson’s quartet, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest work is a stylish 30-minute western melodrama of heartbreak starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as their characters reunite after a 25-year absence. Marking the Spanish master’s first foray into the genre, it’ll thankfully get a substantial theatrical release from Sony Pictures Classics, paired with his Tilda Swinton-led short The Human Voice. As one may recall, Almodóvar was attached to Brokeback Mountain before Ang Lee took over, but now the director finally got to make a gay western with this Saint Laurent-supported project.

8. Silver Dollar Road (Raoul Peck; Oct. 13 in theaters and Oct. 20 on Prime Video)

Following his ambitious series Exterminate All the Brutes, Raoul Peck is back with a new documentary this fall. Soham Gadre said in his TIFF review, “If Raoul Peck’s previous two films––the sweeping essay documentary I Am Not Your Negro and the painterly authorial portrait The Young Karl Marx––set aims to national and global-scale politics, then his new documentary Silver Dollar Road pulls the microscope out and offers a far more intimate, distinct example of the grander sociological themes he’s been excavating throughout his filmography. His latest forgoes the landmark figures and events of racial and class history. Instead our sights are set on an extended Black family in North Carolina and the white developers who aim to steal their rightful, generationally owned property known as Silver Dollar Road.”

7. Divinity (Eddie Alcazar; Oct. 13 in theaters)

Unless Taylor Swift’s concert film truly surprises, we imagine the trippiest film to arrive this year will just so happen to land October 13. Eddie Alcazar’s Divinity premiered at Sundance Film Festival, backed by executive producer Steven Soderbergh, to claims of instant cult-classic status; it’s now arriving this month. Michael Frank said in his review, “Divinity can best be described as a “brain trip,” a film that acts as an upgraded ’80s B-movie. Eddie Alcazar’s futuristic, violent drama follows two brothers as they hold a scientist, the man who helped invent an everlasting-life drug called Divinity, hostage in his mansion. At times it’s beautiful to watch, shot in a shadow-focused black-and-white and set amongst a deserted landscape recalling Mad Max. Other times it’s grotesque, highlighting the disgusting physical and financial greed of a drug that’s been flooded across the world. Always, Acalazar’s film is inventive and singular.”

6. Anatomy of a Fall (Justin Triet; Oct. 13 in theaters)

Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall gives quite a showcase to Sandra Hüller in this exacting story of the secrets in a relationship totally unknowable to the public. In his review, David Katz said, “The ensuing days after a romantic breakup, even if it isn’t a cataclysmic one, are an uncanny time. Perhaps once the spell of verbal conflict and sparring’s ceased, suddenly your sole companion for the most intimate thoughts is yourself once again, but it’s an opportune moment for contemplation: how did it really go wrong? Or, can I be honest with myself and acknowledge my own partial responsibility for its demise? For Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and Samuel (Samuel Theis), the key onscreen and offscreen players in Anatomy of a Fall, are enduring this quagmire, although their inevitable breakup was enforced––the latter has just tragically died.”

5. The Delinquents (Rodrigo Moreno; Oct. 18 in theaters)

Taking the concept of a heist movie to entirely new, more ruminatively philosophical territory, Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents was a major discovery at Cannes and now it’s arriving this month. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Near the halfway point of The Delinquents, a funny, existential epic from Argentina, a banker dips into an arthouse cinema. Though almost all the seats are free he can’t decide which one to choose. What’s the point of all those options, the film asks, if you’re always left wanting more? In another moment the elder statesman of a prison yard explains that the only advantage a cellmate holds over those outside is having all the time in the world to think. (What’s the point of freedom itself if you’re a slave to the algorithm?) “There wasn’t more freedom,” another man explains, reminiscing about an objectively worse era in Argentinian history, “but you could smoke anywhere.”

4. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (William Friedkin; Oct. 6 on Showtime)

William Friedkin’s final film is a fitting send-off for the director, showcasing his expertise at pacing even in the smallest of settings. As David Katz said in his review, “Friedkin excelled with action (which I use as a term of endearment), often sublimating everything in his films to spectacle (which I note with more skepticism). The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is an action film with words, its cutting and command of space as sharp and rhythmic as the continuity edits splicing wides and close-ups in his car chases. What’s crucial is that there is no flashback to the tumultuous circumstances onboard; we receive alternating glosses on what happened, and who was responsible––especially regarding Maryk’s growing skepticism of Queeg and his possible mental instability across the ship’s whole campaign. It forces the unseen past events––a tense naval drama, in actuality––to vividly play in our head.”

3. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne; Oct. 27 in theaters)

After teaming for Sideways two decades ago, writer-director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti have reunited The Holdovers, and while it’s not a return to form (Downsizing defender, reporting in), it’s already been rightly embraced as a triumph for the duo. Certainly set to be a recurring sad Christmas classic, Ethan Vestby said in his TIFF review, “[for] how it captures the ambiance of walking out of a liquor store and down a wintry street a few days after Christmas, The Holdovers makes for the ideal annual holiday revisit. If far from revelatory, it nonetheless contains a good deal of likability and honesty.”

2. The Killer (David Fincher; Oct. 27 in theaters and Nov. 10 on Netflix)

Following his black-and-white passion project Mank, David Fincher returns to the world of vibrant, slick thrillers with The Killer. An adaptation of Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel series, the Netflix neo-noir marks a reteam for Fincher with his Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, with Michael Fassbender leading the film as a cold-blooded assassin and joined by Tilda Swinton. Rory O’Connor said in his review that “it brings together a perfect marriage of director and source material, offering a reminder of his signature brooding style. Fincher has always been at his best with characters who understand his own meticulous attention to detail.”

1. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese; Oct. 20)

Considering it was over six years ago that Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro first became attached to Killers of the Flower Moon, it’s hard to believe the film finally arriving. Thankfully, the wait was worth it as Scorsese’s epic is a (fittingly) emotionally exhausting epic about the betrayal of a marriage and American greed. Luke Hicks said in his review, “Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon makes no mistake about who is at the center of its tragedy: the Osage Nation. Shot primarily on location on the reservation in Oklahoma, the film opens and closes with Osage ceremonies, one mourning death and the other celebrating life, in that order. The story in-between, however, takes the opposite arc, tracing some of Scorsese’s most memorable characters through a period of gut-wrenching prosperity that was always bound to rot.”

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