Best Movies/TV to See in Nov.: 'Hillbilly Elegy,' 'Saved by the Bell' 2.0, 'I Am Greta'
In an ordinary year, November would find both the movie awards season and TV’s fall premieres kicking into high gear. This, as you might have noticed, is no ordinary year. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of stuff to check out over the next month, including two highly anticipated animated projects, an innovative adaptation of a landmark memoir, the sort-of return of a beloved teen show from decades past, a post-Halloween horror comedy and a doc on the young face of climate-change activism. We’re getting hillbillies, nuns, royals and teachers, too! And there at least a few prestigious films likely to be remembered around Oscars time, whatever form that takes in 2021. Here’s what you need to see this month.
Ammonite (In Theaters, Nov. 13)
A tale of passion, repression, and paleontology, this second film from writer/director Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) stars Kate Winslet as Mary Anning, a 19th-century fossil hunter whose accomplishments have gone largely overlooked, forcing her to scrape together whatever money she can from selling souvenirs to tourists and taking odd jobs. The latter includes looking after Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. With Mary, however, she finds she’s still capable of finding love and connection. Lee’s film won acclaim at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with special notice going to Winslet’s performance. You’ll be hearing a lot about this one.
Between the World and Me (HBO, Nov. 21)
Structured as a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book won instant acclaim for its unflinching, autobiographical account of the challenges of growing up Black in America. A Pulitzer finalist, this cri de coeur took on a second life as a theatrical production staged at the Apollo Theater — and this HBO adaptation combines elements from that project with documentary footage of Coates and readings performed by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Mahershala Ali to Angela Davis.
Big Sky (ABC, Nov. 17)
Fall used to be the season for networks to trot out dozens of new shows in the hopes some would spark a fire with viewers. That’s changed a lot over the last few years thanks to the increased presence of streaming services and other outlets — yet ABC’s still hoping this new mystery series, set in rural Montana and produced by David E. Kelly, will feel like an event. No telling whether this adaptation of C.J. Box’s 2013 novel The Highway will be the breakout success that Kelly’s take on Big Little Lies was, but it’s cool to see character actor John Carroll Lynch in a prominent role. And is it time for a Ryan Phillippe comeback? Sure. Why not?
Black Narcissus (FX, Nov. 23)
Based on a 1939 novel by Rumer Godden, this FX/BBC co-production follows a group of nuns as they attempt to set up shop in the abandoned palace of an Indian Raja in the Himalayas. Complicating matters: the presence of Mr. Dean (Alessandro Nivola), a handsome Englishman who inspires some of them to think unchaste thoughts — none more than Sister Clodagh (Gemma Arterton). The book was previously adapted as a film, unforgettably, by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1947; the network has opted for a miniseries approach that will stretch the story across three installments. One great reason to tune in: the impressive cast includes one of the last performances by Diana Rigg.
The Crown, Season 4 (Netflix, Nov. 15)
The award-winning Royal Family saga returns for a fourth season, this one covering the span between 1977 and 1990 — eventful years in Britain that saw a royal wedding, a war in the Falklands, the rise of Margaret Thatcher, and the final seasons of Are You Being Served? (No word on whether the series will address that last one, however.) Olivia Colman returns for a second, and final, go-around as Queen Elizabeth II (she’ll be replaced by Imelda Staunton in the fifth and sixth seasons), and Emma Corrin and Gillian Anderson join the cast as Princess Diana and Thatcher, respectively.
Freaky (In Theaters, Nov. 13)
What if Freaky Friday was a horror movie? That’s the intriguing central premise of this new Blumhouse-produced film starring Kathryn Newton (Blockers) as a high schooler who swaps bodies with a serial killer (Vince Vaughn). Director Christopher Landon struck just the right balance between comedy and scares with his Happy Death Day films, so this looks pretty promising.
Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix, Nov. 24)
Subtitled A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance’s 2016 account of growing up poor among Appalachian transplants in Ohio became an unexpected bestseller and, in the year that elected Trump, the object of considerable political debate. In this Ron Howard-directed adaptation, Gabriel Basso (Super 8) plays Vance, the son of an addict mother (Amy Adams) who finds support from his tough, eccentric grandmother (Glenn Close). Will Howard, never one to risk upsetting audiences, keep the book’s argument that a lack of personal responsibility is the real problem plaguing those with whom Vance grew up that made the book a conservative favorite? Will Adams finally pick up an Oscar for what looks like a demanding performance? Is this the film that will to become the subject of the annual heated Thanksgiving-dinner debate with your relatives?
I Am Greta (Hulu, Nov. 13)
An up-close look at teen climate-change activist Greta Thunberg, Nathan Grossman’s documentary charts her rise from obscurity to her current status as a symbol for a new save-the-environment movement (and a lightning rod for denialists). Don’t expect much in the way of criticism, but the documentarian been following Thunberg for years — so the film should provide some insight as to how she came to mean so much to so many.
Industry (HBO, Nov. 9)
It’s rough out there for recent grads trying to break into the ultra-competitive world of London banking — or at least that the message depicted in this new series from first-time creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay. The cast is full of new names, too, including Myha’la Herrold who plays Harper, an American trying to navigate an unfamiliar culture. At least one HBO veteran will show up behind the camera, however: Lena Dunham directs the pilot.
Jiu Jitsu (Theaters/VOD Nov. 20)
Largely shot in the budget-friendly country of Cyprus, this science fiction fantasy film stars Nicolas Cage as a martial arts master who has to recruit a team of expert fighters to battle hostile aliens (including Ong-Bak‘s Tony Ja and Captian America: The Winter Soldier‘s Frank Grillo). Our man Nic has been showing up in some creative, enjoyably nutty under-the-radar genre movies lately and, based on the long hair and crazy grin he sports in the trailer, this looks likely to be one to remember.
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Shudder, Nov. 19)
A massive, controversial hit in 1973, The Exorcist has become one of horror’s most enduring and influential movies. It’s also the sort of film that lends itself to endless discussion, and who better to add to that discussion than the man who directed it, William Friedkin? Documentarian Alexandre. O. Philippe’s previous films have gone deep on Psycho (78/52) and Alien (Memory: The Origins of Alien). Now he walks through this still-divisive, the-devil-made-me-do-it classic via a conversation with the always opinionated Friedkin.
Let Him Go (In Theaters, Nov. 6)
What can you do if your son’s widow marries into a violent family taking your grandson with her? If you’re George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret Blackledge (Diane Lane), you do whatever you can to get him back. Costner and Lane previously played Superman’s adoptive parents in Man of Steel. Here, however, they have to fend for themselves as they go up against the Weboy clan, a much-feared bunch headed by a mean-looking matriarch played by Phantom Thread’s Leslie Manville. Best of luck, folks!
The Liberator (Netflix, Nov. 11)
Using what’s being called “Enhanced Hybrid Animation,” this series adapts Alex Kershaw’s non-fiction book The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey, the story of one officer’s involvement in the long, bloody liberation of Europe. It’s an intriguing-looking hybrid approach, combining live-action footage with CGI for a four-part series that debuts, appropriately enough, on Veteran’s Day.
Moonbase 8 (Showtime, Nov. 8)
Tim Heidecker, Fred Armisen, and John C. Reilly are going to the moon! Maybe. In this six-part series, the trio play would-be residents of the first permanent moon base who have to prove themselves ready by living in a simulation of their possible lunar home in the Arizona desert. With that cast, the premise would sound promising under any circumstances — but it seems like an especially appropriate comedy to release in the middle of a pandemic that’s left most of us cooped up together longer than we’d probably like.
Run (Hulu, Nov. 20)
Originally scheduled to hit theaters on Mother’s Day weekend, this new thriller stars Sarah Paulson as a mom whose fierce dedication to her wheelchair-bound daughter (Kiera Allen) might not be exactly what it seems. It’s always a pleasure to watch Paulson tear into a meaty role, and the trailer suggests this one will offer a meal and a half. Aneesh Chaganty, director of the well-received 2018 film Searching, directs.
Saved by the Bell (Peacock, Nov. 25)
Created by 30 Rock veteran Tracey Wigfield, this sequel to the deathless teen sitcom returns some familiar faces to Bayside High. The schoo has changed a bit, however, thanks to the initiatives of California governor Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) who presides over the state with his first lady Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen). Elizabeth Berkely and Mario Lopez also reprise the roles they made famous, joined by a cast of newcomers playing the next generation of Bayside teens. Whether or not the new series will tackle the burning issue of caffeine pill addiction remains to be seen, but expect plenty of references to the old show from this new, tongue-in-cheek take.
Small Axe (Prime, Nov. 20)
What’s better than a new movie from Steve McQueen? How about five movie-ish installments of a McQueen-directed anthology series? With this long-in-the-works project, the 12 Years a Slave and Widows director tells stories from the post-war migration of Caribbean people to Great Britain. If the presence of John Boyega and Letitia Wright wasn’t reason enough to get even more excited, three installments (Lovers Rock, Mangrove, and Red, White and Blue) premiered to great acclaim at this fall’s New York Film Festival, suggesting this will be one of 2020’s must-see events.
Sound of Metal (Theaters Nov. 20; Amazon Prime Dec. 4)
Recovering addict Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) lives to make music with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) as part of the loud noise-metal duo Blackgammon. When he starts to lose his hearing, however, Ruben finds his whole world upended. To stop him from falling into the abyss, the musician reaches out Joe (Paul Raci), who brings him to a deaf community where Lou begins to piece his life back together. Darius Marder directs this drama informed by Raci’s own experiences in deaf-oriented theater and musical performance.
A Teacher (FX on Hulu, Nov. 10)
Hannah Fidell made her feature debut in 2013 with A Teacher, the story of a Texas English teacher who embarks on an obsessive affair with a student. With this new incarnation, Fidell blows the story up to miniseries size, bringing in Kate Mara to play the teacher and Nick Robinson (Love, Simon) as the high school senior with whom she embarks on an ill-fated relationship.
Wolfwalkers (In theaters, Nov. 13; Apple TV+, Dec. 11)
In an era in which virtually every animated film wants to look like Pixar, the films of Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon have consistently veered in a different direction. Based in Kilkenny, the studio makes animation that looks like storybooks brought to life — or, in the case of 2009’s Secret of the Kells, a famous medieval illuminated manuscript brought to life. Co-directed by studio co-founder Tom Moore and Ross Stewart, Wolfwalkers follows a young hunter who, while attempting to wipe out Ireland’s last wolf pack, encounters a tribe able to transform themselves into wolves and learns her job might be harder than she planned.
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