The Must-See Movies of September

September 6th

Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frechevile, Ben Mendelsohn

Adore has gone through multiple titles since debuting at this past Sundance, and while producers aren't going to admit it, the reason probably has to do with the film becoming something of a joke. Once titled The Grandmothers and Two Mothers, the film stars super actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as best friends who enter into sexual relationships with the other's son. Yeah, so it's a little creepy on its face, and some early reviews say it's hard to get beyond the premise even as the two leads are play their roles honestly. 

Hell Baby
Directors: Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant
Cast: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Key, Thomas Lennon, Rob Heubel, Paul Scheer

Horror comedies are a tough nut to crack. Seriously. What was the last really good one, and don't you dare say The Cabin in the Woods. No, mostly we get stuck with Scary Movie crap or something along those lines. But Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the guys behind Reno 911, are hoping to change that with Hell Baby. The film stars Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb as a couple who discover that their new house is haunted, and that the child she's about to birth may be the spawn of Satan. Oops. I caught it at Sundance and found it a little uneven, but the parts that work are hilarious.

Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Nolan Funk, Bokeem Woodbine, Jordi Molla, Karl Urban

You have to give it up to Vin Diesel. Nobody's going to call the guy a thespian or anything, but when it comes to staying loyal to his fans, dude is A+. It's the only reason why we've now hit the fourth chapter in his cult favorite Chronicles of Riddick franchise (that's including the animated film Dark Fury), by listening to what they want. And based on the trailers they want a return to the gritty, R-rated style of Pitch Black. The story this time has Riddick trapped on a desolate planet with a squad of mercenaries sent to kill him, only for some of the native creatures to become a much bigger concern.

Touchy Feely
Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy

Sundance favorite Lynn Shelton returns with another human dramedy that made a big splash at the festival, earning a Grand Jury Prize nomination. Touchy Feely stars Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist who suddenly becomes averse to human contact, while her brother's dental practice takes off when he develops healing powers. Sounds crazy, but those who have seen Shelton's last two features (Your Sister's Sister, Humpday) know she can take even the wildest concepts and find the emotional truth within.

Winnie Mandela
Director: Darrell J. Roodt
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard

Idris Elba's Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom isn't the only story on the legendary freedom fighter emerging this season, but it's certainly the one with better Oscar prospects. The Jennifer Hudson-led Winnie Mandela has been sitting on the shelf for awhile, which probably isn't a good sign. The story is exactly what you expect, focusing on the strong, capable woman who kept the fight for freedom alive once he was captured and imprisoned.

September 13th

Blue Caprice (review here)
Director: Alexandre Moors
Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson

The danger in making a film about the DC sniper John Allen Muhammad is to make him a man who is an unquestioned monster someone worth making an emotional investment in. That's the challenge for first-time director Alexandre Moors, whose film made a splash at Sundance thanks to a career-defining performance by Isaiah Washington. Blue Caprice explores the unusual thinking that led to Muhammad's killing spree that terrorized DC and the country a decade ago. It also looks at the relationship between his mysterious student, Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), a relationship that was more like father and son.

The Family
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo

Robert De Niro knows a thing or two about family comedies, but thankfully this one isn't another Meet the Parents sequel. The Family (formerly Malavita) is directed by Luc Besson and has De Niro as starring alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as the heads of a crime family relocated to France in the Witness Protection Program after snitching on the mob. Tommy Lee Jones gets to be old and cranky as their CIA liaison forced to keep them toeing the line, and then keeping them alive when the mafia comes looking for revenge. Besson has done some great work (The Professional, La Femme Nikita) but his track record recently has been spotty at best. Hopefully working with De Niro, still basking in the Silver Linings Playbook afterglow, can help change things around.

Insidious Chapter 2
Director: James Wan
Cast: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

It's been a hot year for horror films already, and nobody has been a bigger beneficiary of it than James Wan. His smash hit The Conjuring was another in a string of small budget success stories, which includes 2011's $100M-grossing Insidious. Now he's hoping to match or surpass it with the sequel, bringing back stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as the beleaguered Lambert family who continue to be haunted by a demonic spirit. Only now it's not the son who is possessed, but the father.

Jayne Mansfield's Car
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Ray Stevenson

For his first time behind the camera in twelve years, Billy Bob Thornton is taking on the sort of personal ensemble drama that generally have a tough time finding space at the multiplex. And as expected, Jayne Mansfield's Car has been playing the festival circuit for more than a year before finally landing a solid release date. The art house film is set in 1969 and follows an Alabama family experiencing a severe case of culture shock when London ancestors arrive in town. The cast is superb, and Thornton has clearly put a lot into making this film happen, but will it be able to find an audience?

Mother of George
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Cast: Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankole, Yaya DaCosta Alafia

Oh, so you only know Danai Gurira as when she's slicing up zombies as Michonne on The Walking Dead? She's been a fearless actress for years (check out her amazing debut in The Visitor), and she turned a lot of heads at Sundance this year with Mother of George. Starring Isaach De Bankole (The Limits of Control) and reteaming Gurira with her Restless City director Andrew Dosunmu, the ethnic drama follows a Nigerian-American couple dealing with pressures from nosy in-laws and struggles with fertility. 

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Emily Browning, Xavier Samuel, Cam Gigandet, Frances Fisher, Dawn Olivieri
After kicking off her directing career promisingly with Thirteen and The Lords of Dogtown,

Catherine Hardwicke traded in searing teen dramas for glittery vampires and bad fairy tale adaptations. Now the Twilight and Red Riding Hood director is back and doing what she does best with Plush, an erotic thriller starring Emily Browning as a rock star unable to move on after the death of her brother and bandmate. Hardwicke's not totally leaving her Twilight dalliance behind, casting hunks Xavier Samuel and Cam Gigandet as the guys who help pull Browning out of her funk, although one may not be who he claims to be.

Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Cast:  Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Algohani

The first film ever by a female Saudi Arabian director, Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda has been a powerhouse on the festival circuit, winning numerous awards and establishing itself beyond its place in cinematic history. Waad Mohammed stars as 10-year-old Wadjda, a girl who wishes to challenge Saudi traditions and buy her own bicycle. When she's unable to come up with the money, she enters a Qu'ran reciting competition in a last ditch effort to achieve her dreams.

September 20th

A Single Shot
(review here)
Director: David M. Rosenthal
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Jason Isaacs, Joe Anderson, William H. Macy

Those who only just saw Sam Rockwell as the life of the party in The Way Way Back, may need a little time to adjust seeing him in such a downbeat, violent backwoods thriller. A Single Shot has Rockwell as a West Virginia hunter who comes across a stash of money after a deadly accident, only to have some really nasty folks come looking for it. As the threats mount and the bodies start to pile up, he must find a way to get out of a situation that threatens to consume everything he's ever loved.

Battle of the Year
Director: Benson Lee
Cast: Josh Holloway, Chris Brown, Josh Peck, Laz Alonso

The Battle of the Year is an international b-boy competition that has been running ever since 1990. Director Benson Lee helmed what was a terrific documentary on it a few years ago, and it did so well he figured why not turn it into a feature film? But rest assured, even though Lost star Josh Holloway leads the cast, it will be Chris Brown and Josh Peck doing all of the headspins. Holloway plays a basketball coach hired by a hip hop mogul to help carry his dance crew to the championships. We've seen this story a lot, and it seems like Brown is always somewhere hanging around, but maybe Lee can add an authentic touch to make it seem fresh?

Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Troian Bellisario, Corey Stoll, Denis O'Hare, Casey Wilson

The many works of humorist and "rock star writer" David Sedaris have earned him legions of fans and even Grammy nominations, but it has taken Hollywood a long time to take notice. That changes with the arrival of C.O.G., Kyle Patrick Alvarez's adaptation of Sedaris' short story about the life changing summer he spent in the Northwest working on a farm. Glee star Jonathan Groff will attempt to capture Sedaris' dry wit and sense of humor, and if the film is a success don't be surprised if producers come calling for more.

Enough Said
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener

Real characters, emotional and imperfect, navigating their way through love and life, that's what writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) has been providing us with her many films for years, and her latest could be her finest yet. Featuring the penultimate performance by the late James Gandolfini, and a rare cinematic turn by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said follows Eva, a divorced single mom who who begins a reluctant relationship with a man in a similar situation. But when one of her most important clients also turns out to be his ex-wife, and begins to point out all of his flaws, Eva starts to doubt her feelings for him.

Director: Peter Landesman
Cast: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, Jeremy Strong

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy remains a favorite subject for Hollywood filmmakers, perhaps because after all these years the actual events surrounding it remain in question. Now as the 50th anniversary of his death approaches, you can expect a flurry of new projects tackling the subject, including Peter Landesman's ensemble drama, Parkland. The film doesn't actually investigate the killing, but details the chaotic events at the Parkland Hospital on that fateful day, and the impact Kennedy's death had on numerous people. In his first feature, Peter Landesman has assembled a remarkable cast with Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder (of the famous Zapruder Tapes), Jeremy Strong as Lee Harvey Oswald, and Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Agent Forrest Sorrels.

Plus One
Director: Dennis Illiadis
Cast: Rhys Wakefield, Logan Miller, Ashley Hinshaw, Natalie Hall

What do you get when you combine Project X with an episode of The Twilight Zone? You get Plus One, a bizarre film that was earning raves on the midnight festival circuit. Starring Rhys Wakefield (that creepy kid from The Purge) and Ashley Hinshaw (About Cherry), it centers on a group of friends at a massive party each is hoping to get something different out of. When a strange phenomenon occurs and multiple clones emerge, the party goers get a chance to correct past mistakes. All seems fine until the clones start to take over.

Director: Denis Villenueve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano

Between Argo and The Town, Warner Bros. knows a thing or two about dropping a late season drama-bomb on the Oscar race, and this year that film to keep an eye on is Prisoners. The long-developing mortality tale finally came together with a terrific cast led by Hugh Jackman as a small-town Dad whose daughter and best friend are kidnapped. Jake Gyllenhaal is the hot shot cop assigned to the case, but when he can't make any progress, Jackman takes the law into his own hands. 

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde

One doesn't normally think of a Formula One racing flick as a potential Academy Award winner, but Rush has too much golden pedigree to be ignored. Two-time winner Ron Howard reteams with Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan, in chronicling the fierce rivalry between F-1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. The competition between the two went beyond the track, and turned deadly when Lauda was critically injured during the 1976 Grand Prix.

Thanks for Sharing
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Alecia "Pink" Moore, Patrick Fugit, Tim Robbins

Whether one agrees that sexual addiction is a real medical concern, at least to the people affected by it, and we've seen Hollywood approach the issue seriously (Shame) and comically (Californication) Thanks for Sharing seems to have its feet in both worlds, with Mark Ruffalo playing a sex addict who, in true Hollywood fashion, has Gwyneth Paltrow prancing around his bedroom half-naked. At the same time there do seem to be a few sobering insights, and a light-hearted touch captured by Josh Gad and Pink as addicts who grow closer while confronting the disease. Whether it all comes together evenly is the big question.

September 27th

As I Lay Dying
Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, James Parrack, Tim Blake Nelson, Logan Marshall-Green, Danny McBride, Ahna O'Reilly, Scott Haze

Never let it be said that James Franco is either lazy or lacking in ambition. As both an actor and filmmaker he's consistently taken on a diverse and challenging array of projects, mostly on a smaller scale and certainly not designed to put himself in the spotlight. His latest, As I Lay Dying, is an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel, which boasts a complicated narrative many thought could never work on the big screen. Franco co-wrote and stars in the story of a Mississippi family making the difficult journey to fulfill their mother's wish to be buried elsewhere.

Baggage Claim
Director: David E. Talbert
Cast: Paula Patton,  Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott, Boris Kodjoe, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou

There's no denying that Paula Patton is one of the most beautiful and charming actresses around, and it's a large reason why rom-coms Jumping the Broom and Just Wright were able to find an audience. Now she's back tackling the genre again in Baggage Claim, from writer/director David E. Talbert, the guy we can all hold responsible for First Sunday a few years ago. Adapting his own 2005 novel, Talbert tells the story of a flight attendant determined to get engaged before her sister's wedding, and jets off around the globe to find "Mr. Right".

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2
Directors: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn
Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Terry Crews

Sony broke the break with Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs when few expected them to do so, and now they're hoping to keep the gravy train (food puns!!!) going with the anticipated sequel. While prior directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord have moved on to bigger things, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have stepped in and not missed a beat. Bill Hader is back to voice inventor Flint Lockwood, who has learned his famous invention is now creating mutant food/animal hybrids.

Don Jon
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Glenne Headley

Love, sex, religion...porn. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut has it all, but at its heart its a Nick Hornby-esque look inside the mind of a modern day "Don Juan". Gordon-Levitt, who pulls quadruple duty as writer, director, star, and producer, plays the titular character, a guy whose porn obsession has affected his ability to have meaningful relationships. Everything he thought he knew changes when two very different women, played by Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, enter his life.

Metallica: Through the Never
Director: Nimrod Antal
Cast: Dane DeHaan

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what Metallica: Through the Never really is. Part 3D concert experience with live performances by the legendary rock band, part narrative feature involving Dane DeHaan as a young roadie sent on an urgent mission, the film has been described as a more of a "visceral experience" than a story to be understood.

Muscle Shoals
Director: Greg Camalier
Cast: Aretha Franklin, Bono, Greg Allman, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Alicia Keyes

Playing a crucial role in the American soul and rock scene, Muscle Shoals studio stands right alongside more famous sites, such as Chess Studios, Motown, and Abbey Road. Greg Camalier's rousing new doc Muscle Shoals focuses on producer Rick Hall and studio band The Swampers, the latter having backed hits by the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, and The Wrecking Crew. As racial tensions continued to boil over in Alabama, Hall overcame his own personal struggles to help create a unique sound that would unite the people. Bono, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steve Winwood, Clarence Carter, Duane Allman,  and Alicia Keys are all counted amongst the greats recounting how the "Muscle Shoals sound" influenced in their careers.

Director: Charlie Stratton
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Tom Felton

Let's see...an adaptation of Emile Zola's 19th century erotic novel Therese Raquin, featuring two of today's hottest stars in Elizabeth Olsen and Oscar Isaac? Yeah, those are pretty good reasons to be excited about Therese, which has Olsen as the titular woman in a boring, loveless marriage to her sickly cousin (Tom Felton). Isaac plays her husband's alluring best friend, who she embarks on a passionate, illicit affair with, only to have it end in tragedy.