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9 October movies that could be awards-season contenders

Dance horror, noir, family dramas, and more movies that are looking for glory.

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The Hate U Give, Suspiria, and Burning are all awards contenders releasing in October.
The Hate U Give, Suspiria, and Burning are all awards contenders releasing in October.
20th Century Fox; Amazon Studios; CGV Arthouse
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

October represents a crucial moment in Hollywood’s awards cycle: It’s when most of the year’s major film festivals have wrapped up, and it’s when the films that premiered in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto start releasing in theaters. It’s the beginning of “prestige season,” when the public is finally able to see some of the critically lauded or otherwise buzzy films that are hoping to remain in the awards conversations all the way until February, when the Oscars will conclude the marathon season. (For a movie to qualify for the Oscars, as well as many critics and guild awards, it must premiere in New York and Los Angeles at least a week before the year ends.)

But even setting awards prospects aside, this October in particular offers a little bit of something for every type of moviegoer: a movie-musical remake, a crazy remake of a dance horror film, a documentary from one of America’s greatest documentarians, a father-son drama about addiction, a family drama based on a bestselling YA novel, and much more.

To prepare you for the oncoming onslaught of awards-season prognostication, here are eight films premiering in theaters — and one on Netflix — this October that you can expect to be hearing more about in the months to come.

A Star Is Born (October 5)

For his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper took on the much-adapted narrative of A Star Is Born, which first appeared in 1937 and then was remade in 1954, 1976, and now 2018. Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga in the latest version, a love story about a fading music star who gives a talented newcomer the push she needs to break through — and then she begins to eclipse him. Laced with instantly memorable songs and outstanding performances, 2018’s A Star Is Born is hurtling itself into awards season and gunning for the biggest awards. It’s the kind of movie that tries to harness all of its cinematic possibility to make your heart burst, and it more or less succeeds.

Private Life (October 5)

Eleven years after the debut of her highly acclaimed feature The Savages, Tamara Jenkins returns with the Netflix film Private Life, a funny, moving film about a couple’s maddening and harrowing struggle with infertility.

With an outstanding original screenplay by Jenkins, it features strong, funny, and heartbreaking performances from Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, alongside a stellar supporting cast. It achieves a tricky tonal balance by irreverently locating the humor in the suffering — injecting hormones into buttocks, having to deliver semen samples for IVF, readying the house for a home visit from an adoption agency — without making light of those experiences. The result is an accessible and complex portrait of two people whose ardent shared desire for a child leads them in some unconventional directions, and it’s a joy to watch, whether or not you can relate to their experience.

The Hate U Give (October 5)

Amandla Stenberg leads a truly outstanding cast in The Hate U Give, an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s best-selling novel. The film has a great deal to say and no apologies to make about its outspoken message, even as it presents itself as a straightforward family drama. But The Hate U Give strikes a perfect balance between being a coming-of-age story on the one hand and a social drama on the other. And in never sacrificing either of those two interests, it becomes a strong example of both.

Beautiful Boy (October 12)

Beautiful Boy stars Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, and Amy Ryan in a drama about a teenage boy struggling with an addiction to meth and the father who desperately wants to help him. It’s the first English-language drama from Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen, based on the best-selling memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff. It’s a moving story that shows the complicated ways that addiction affects family relationships, and it doesn’t give any easy answers.

First Man (October 12)

First Man, from director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight), is less concerned with delivering a triumphalist portrayal of the 1969 moon landing — which has been done before, we’ve all seen it — and more with telling the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) the way he saw himself. The film was met with some controversy after its festival debut, but with outstanding, understated performances by Gosling and Claire Foy and a visceral, moving story, it’s most likely rocketing toward a number of awards nominations this fall.

Can You Ever Forgive Me (October 19)

Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) directs Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name. McCarthy plays Israel, a successful celebrity biographer who falls into dire financial straits and later turns to literary forgery and theft. Richard E. Grant earned plaudits at the film’s Toronto premiere this fall for his role as Israel’s curmudgeonly best friend. By turns lighthearted and cringeworthy, the film probes the darker side of trying to make a living as a writer while also depicting a kind of delightfully misanthropic friendship.

Burning (October 26)

Burning, from Korean director Lee Chang-dong, has been one of the most critically lauded films at this year’s film festivals, topping many critics’ lists and drawing nearly universal praise. It’s loosely based on Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” which was first published in the New Yorker in 1992 — and thus, though it’s rare for a non-English language film to be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, it could be eligible, along with Best Foreign Language picture. The film is gripping and unnerving, a noir-style mystery that goes in entirely unexpected directions (and harbors a hint of William Faulkner), and it features a cast that includes The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun. If you love a haunting mystery, it’s one to watch for.

Suspiria (October 26)

Luca Guadagnino follows up last year’s critically lauded Call Me by Your Name with a remake — of sorts — of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult horror film Suspiria, one of the most visually wild horror films ever made. Guadagnino has said in interviews that his film is less of a literal adaptation (which would be hard to do) and more of a recreation of his experience watching it and “being obsessed by it.” Set in a modern dance company and starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, and Chloë Grace Moretz — and clocking in at a cool two hours and 32 minutes — it’s already one of the most talked-about films of the fall, even before it opens.

Monrovia, Indiana (October 26)

For his 41st feature, celebrated documentarian Frederick Wiseman chose the agricultural town of Monrovia, Indiana, as a way to explore small-town America. Wiseman has often trained his camera on American institutions, frequently in large cities, to wryly and wisely show how we live with one another; Monrovia, Indiana is a vital addition to his canon in a time when many Americans are thinking and talking about “real America.”

The film gently and humorously watches Monrovia residents as they go about their everyday lives, from town council meetings, Freemason meetings, and middle school band performances to weddings, funerals, and morning hangouts at the local diner. Though he’s one of the most important figures in documentary filmmaking, Wiseman has never been nominated for an Oscar — and while he’s likely a long shot in the category again, given the Academy’s proclivity for documentaries with more overt narrative drive, some observers are hoping it may, at last, be his time.