It’s a very big weekend at the movies, but on two different tracks: one of the surest bets of the fall will certainly dominate the box office, while two of the year’s best films open quietly in limited release, knocking out audiences and critics (this one, certainly) alike. In other words, if you’re in a “major market”—and let’s don’t get started on that—there’s plenty to see this weekend beyond Bond.
—The 800-pound gorilla is, of course, Spectre, the latest James Bond effort from returning director Sam Mendes and returning star Daniel Craig. It’s sorely lacking the crispness of their Skyfall (or Craig’s earlier Casino Royale), running a good half hour too long and occasionally dragging in its dive to the depths of Bond’s psyche. But those explorations are also what make it interesting, a mark of ambition in a series that rarely tries anything all that daring. (In wide release.)
—Equally patchy is the Bryan Cranston-fronted Hollywood biopic Trumbo, from director Jay Roach, the Meet the Parents and Austin Power director who’s been experimenting with this kind of semi-serious true-story political filmmaking for years over on HBO (he helmed Recount and Game Change). Alas, its politics—and dramatization of them—are maddeningly simplistic, reducing a complicated conflict down to the barest of bones. That said, it’s worth catching (eventually, at least) for its many fine performances, particularly scene-stealing John Goodman as a schlocky Poverty Row producer and Louis C.K., bang-on as a sad-sack screenwriter. (In limited release.)
—Movie lovers would be better served to check out Sembene!, a fine new documentary in which directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman tell the story of Sembene Ousmane, “the father of African cinema,” from his humble roots crafting home-made movies out of short ends with non-actors to becoming one of the region’s most respected (and controversial) filmmakers. Read more about it in this month’s indie guide. (In limited release.)
—And there’s another treat for documentary lovers this week: In Jackson Heights, from the legendary Frederick Wiseman, 85 years old and still crafting thoughtful, fly-on-the-wall nonfiction films on an almost yearly basis. His latest is a three-plus hour immersion in the quintessential New York neighborhood, an admirably diverse Queens area feeling the pressure of gentrification. More in the indie guide. (In limited release.)
—Since it rolled out at the early-fall festivals, Spotlight has become the must-see movie of the season, and for good reason: it’s a whip-smart, gripping, electrifying muck-racker movie, patiently tracking a Boston Globe investigative team as they crack open the sex scandal that rocked their city—and the Catholic Church around the world. There’s not a weak link in its ace cast, and Tom McCarthy’s direction is both patient and thrilling. Our rave review is here. (In limited release)
—But the week’s best movie—just barely—is Brooklyn, John Crowley’s powerful adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel (screenplay by Nick Hornby), as heart-wrenching and evocative a portrait of home-sicknesses, first love, and second-guessing as I’ve ever seen. I saw this one at Sundance all the way back in January and wondered if I’d see a better movie in 2015; so far, I haven’t. (Full review here; in limited release.)