Alissa Wilkinson for vox.com, | October 1, 2021

October’s must-see movies, from delayed blockbusters to arthouse gems

From Dune to duels, Wes Anderson to James Bond, October is a huge movie month..

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Peak movie season kicks into gear this October, with long-delayed blockbusters finally hitting the big screen and the ramp-up to awards season in full swing. If you’re headed to the theater — and even if you aren’t — there’s plenty to choose from.

From giallo-inspired horror to epic science fiction blockbusters, sensitive dramas to long-awaited sequels, the month is loaded with new movies to take in. There’s a Sopranos prequel, a new Wes Anderson movie, and a documentary about a daring rescue. And as films from the year’s festivals start to come out, some of today’s most promising emerging auteurs are returning to the cinema.

Here are October’s 14 buzziest new films to see in the theater and at home.

Release date: October 1

As a film, this prequel to HBO’s The Sopranos leaves a lot to be desired; it’s unwieldy and marred by a number of performances that feel more like impressions of the series’ characters than actual acting. But that’s unlikely to matter to real Sopranos fans (a group that’s grown precipitously over the past year). Series creator David Chase wrote the story, which centers on Dickie Moltisanti (an excellent Alessandro Nivola), who will one day be the father of Christopher. The film follows Dickie as he navigates the twisty connections of his many relatives and mentors his nephew, young Tony Soprano, who’s played by Michael Gandolfini, son of James Gandolfini. Leslie Odom Jr., Corey Stoll, and Vera Farmiga also give standout performances. Despite its flaws, the movie will undoubtedly hit the spot for those yearning for more Sopranos.

How to watch it: The Many Saints of Newark will open in theaters and stream on HBO Max.

Release date: October 1

This year’s winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival is the explosive, bizarre, weirdly cathartic Titane, from Julia Ducournau (director of Raw). A young girl is in a car accident and, as a result of the injuries she sustains, has a titanium plate inserted into her head. That plate, coupled with the trauma of the accident, leaves her troubled and erratic well into adulthood; among other things, she both develops a deeply erotic attachment to cars and becomes a serial killer. Starring Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon, the film is body horror, with plenty of inexplicable and shocking elements, and midway through it takes a sharp left turn into something equally strange.

How to watch it: Titane will open in theaters.

Release date: October 1

The 2018 movie about the alien symbiote named Venom was a campy blast, starring Tom Hardy as a down-on-his-luck journalist named Eddie Brock who becomes inhabited by Venom. Brock and Venom are back in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, along with Woody Harrelson (and his own symbiote) as the serial killer whom Brock has sort of befriended. Directed by Andy Serkis, this installment is far less satisfying than the original; whereas Venom felt like accidental genius, the sequel is trying too hard. But if what you’re after is a loud, fun, silly movie — or if you just love the comics — then Venom: Let There Be Carnage is what you want. (It also features a bombshell reveal in its end credits scene.)

How to watch it: Venom: Let There Be Carnage will open in theaters.

Release date: October 8

Mass is absolutely devastating, but don’t let that keep you from watching it. Directed and written by Fran Kranz, it’s a contemplative film that feels more like a play and earns its viewers’ attention. Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney play two couples who have agreed to meet at a church to have a conversation. The subject of the conversation unfolds slowly — one couple’s son murdered the other’s in a school shooting years earlier, but that’s not exactly what they’ve gathered to discuss. Mass leaves plenty of breathing room for characters to have authentic moments of emotion and puts a gentle, grace-filled frame around an almost unspeakable tragedy. It’s a showcase for its performers, but it’s also a valuable experience for its audience.

How to watch it: Mass will open in theaters.

Release date: October 8

James Bond returns in a much-delayed film (thanks to the pandemic). It’s Daniel Craig’s final turn as the character he’s been playing since 2006’s Casino Royale and, on the whole, a satisfying one, bringing the five-movie cycle to its conclusion. Bond is once again hauled out of retirement to confront an imminent threat to the world, this time one that could have horrible repercussions for his personal life, too. The fittingly goofy globe-trotting plot — which feels at times like an homage to the Bonds of yesteryear — also serves up some touching moments and cool set pieces, with great performances in particular from Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ana de Armas, and Jeffrey Wright.

How to watch it: No Time to Die will open in theaters.

Release date: October 8

The directors of the Oscar-winning Free Solo return with a documentary about the daring, heart-pounding rescue of a Thai soccer team from an underwater cave in 2018. Using interviews with some of the rescuers and lots of footage shot inside the cave, The Rescue explores how the boys and their coach got stuck inside, why it was so difficult to get them out, and what it meant for the world to stop and take notice of what was happening. It’s a straightforwardly informative documentary, with plenty of tension and surprise.

How to watch it: The Rescue will open in theaters.

Release date: October 15

An early contender for one of my favorite films of 2021, Bergman Island is a layered and lovely film about the tension between making art and living real life, and how the two feed one another. Vicky Krieps stars as Chris, a filmmaker who travels with her partner Tony (Tim Roth), a more commercially successful filmmaker, to Fårö island for a creative retreat. Fårö is where the great director Ingmar Bergman lived and made his later work. As the pair spend time on the island, they start to be drawn apart; then, Chris’s new film starts to take shape, and we start to understand how life experience filters into her art. Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve — and presumably based, in part, on her own experiences with former partner Olivier AssayasBergman Island is like a diamond that you can turn over and over, seeing the light refract through each facet in new ways.

How to watch it: Bergman Island will open in theaters.

Release date: October 15

A haunting, funny, tightly written meditation on loneliness and connection, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is set up as a triptych. In the first story, one woman (Hyunri) tells her friend (Kotone Furukawa) about the man one of them recently met on a date; she doesn’t realize her friend is hiding a secret. In the second story, a young woman (Katsuki Mori) agrees to set a trap for her professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) at the behest of her boyfriend, but it doesn’t go as planned. And in the third story, a woman (Fusako Urabe) returns to her hometown for her high school reunion and meets with an old love, only to discover all is not as it seems. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi crafts each one as a sensitive and surprising tale, and the result is a film that asks how luck and fantasy operate in the love we preserve and the love we throw away.

How to watch it: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will open in limited theaters.

Release date: October 15

The Last Duel — the first of two Ridley Scott movies hitting the big screen this year — takes a Rashomon-like (or perhaps Rashomon-light) approach to telling a true story from medieval Normandy. Two friends, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), have fought together and been loyal to one another but drift apart as Le Gris begins to work for Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). Then, one day, Carrouges’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) says that Le Gris has raped her. The Last Duel tells the story from three perspectives (Carrouges, Le Gris, and Marguerite), culminating in the titular encounter, the last sanctioned duel in France. The screenplay (by Affleck, Damon, and Nicole Holofcener) is a bit of a clunker, insistently telling a story about believing women that is pointedly aimed at the present-day viewer rather than painting an accurate representation of the past. Still, there are some cool fights, and the film’s heart, at least, is in the right place.

How to watch it: The Last Duel will open in theaters.

Release date: October 15

Todd Haynes directs a highly satisfying documentary about the legendary Velvet Underground, the rock band that formed in New York City in 1964 and came to embody an important moment in the history of rock. (Plus, they rock.) Haynes is no conventional director, and while he takes a fairly standard approach to the story — beginning with Lou Reed’s childhood on Long Island and moving forward from there — he weaves together more of a tapestry than a clunky paint-by-numbers documentary. The Velvet Underground is as much about the culture of 1960s New York City, dominated by Andy Warhol’s in-crowd and the work they made at his Factory, as the band itself. That’s to the film’s benefit. Using the screen like a window and collaging together images and footage with audio from interviews, Haynes evokes a mood and a time; he reminds audiences that some success comes from talent and hard work, and some of it just comes from being in the right place at the right time.

How to watch it: The Velvet Underground will open in theaters and stream on Apple TV+.

Release date: October 22

Frank Herbert’s monumental 1965 science fiction novel Dune set the template for so many sci-fi stories that followed (including Star Wars). The book has been adapted for the screen before, including by auteur David Lynch, but none of those efforts were very good — until now. Director Denis Villeneuve proves to be an ideal match for the story, which is a sweeping tale of Duke Atreides (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and their son Paul Atreides (a perfectly cast Timothée Chalamet), who move to the desert planet Arrakis at the command of the emperor. There they find hostility and danger at every turn. Villeneuve’s cinematic adaptation strips out some of the ponderousness of the novel while preserving its political intrigue, mythic weight, and expansive visual imagination. It’s an epic in every sense.

How to watch it: Dune will open in theaters and stream on HBO Max.

Release date: October 22

The French Dispatch is peak Wes Anderson, which may be recommendation (or warning) enough for some audiences. On some level, it’s a loving homage to the New Yorker, reincarnated here as the French outpost of a Kansas-based newspaper, and set in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The publication is a passion project for its editor and writers, who are exacting, exasperating, and endlessly curious; the film is structured as a few of its “stories” plus a couple of tidbits, all of which make up the final issue. The French Dispatch plays like a lament for the glories of the 20th-century magazine writer’s life (big expense account, expansive deadlines, long contracts, private offices) but also, at least a little, like an argument for preserving the unwieldy joy of long-form journalism and financially precarious creativity. And its cast is stacked, featuring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.

How to watch it: The French Dispatch will open in theaters.

Release date: October 27

Rebecca Hall wrote and directed this adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, which is about two childhood friends who encounter one another again in adulthood. Irene (Tessa Thompson), who goes by Reeny, lives with her doctor husband (André Holland) and children in a stately Harlem house. Claire (Ruth Negga) is married to a racist businessman (Alexander Skarsgård), who has no idea that his wife is not white. The film feels almost dreamlike, evoking a world in which the lines that separate friendship from desire, love from hate, and white from Black are more permeable than you might expect — a world a lot like today’s.

How to watch it: Passing will open in limited theaters, then begin streaming on Netflix on November 10.

Release date: October 29

Directed by Edgar Wright, Last Night in Soho is a messy, thrilling dip into the horror that comes from simply being a young woman alone in the world. Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a young woman raised by her grandmother in a tiny English town who dreams of being a fashion designer. When she finally breaks through and heads to London to study fashion, she discovers that the city — which led her mother toward a downward spiral — is full of terrors. To escape, she dreams, literally, of living another life in 1960s London, as an aspiring singer (Anya Taylor-Joy), and her dreams and reality begin to mix in dangerous ways. Drawing on horror traditions ranging from noir to giallo, Last Night in Soho, unfortunately, does not really add up to much in the end, and its dip into some of the clichés that come along with those traditions seems at times thoughtless rather than subversive. But the film’s lurid, sensational ride is still a cathartic blast, and McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are, as always, terrific.

How to watch it: Last Night in Soho will open in theaters.