Three Under-the-Radar Fall Films

November 2, 2014 Updated: November 2, 2014

By all means, see David Fincher’s gloriously pulpy “Gone Girl,” the elegant, surreal comedy “Birdman,” the percussive and intelligent idie “Whiplash,” and the staggering Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour.” But before Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Interstellar” arrives and wipes everyone’s brains, here are three films not to forget amid the increasingly crowded fall movie season:

 

‘Force Majeure’

If ever there was a shot to make Alfred Hitchcock jealous, it’s the one that makes “Force Majeure.” A family on vacation in the French Alps lunches at a mountaintop restaurant. They and the other skiers, sunning on a deck, gaze at an avalanche deliberately set off high above.

But as the rolling cloud of white comes closer and closer, the spectacle becomes a terrifying threat. How the family—a handsome couple with two young children—reacts and the aftermath to that moment are the substance of “Force Majeure.”

Whereas Hitchcock might have set such a moment in an alpine thriller, Swedish director Ruben Ostlund situates it in a wry portrait of a shamed patriarch—a black comedy about a dissolving marriage on the (snowcapped) rocks.

Now showing at the Angelika Film Center.

‘Listen Up Philip’

The narration starts with a kick, from the first frame, as Philip Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) trudges angrily past slower sidewalk pedestrians. He’s an up-and-coming New York novelist whose story is narrated from the outside in a particularly bookish way (voiced by Eric Bogosian).

Philip is an ambitious young author whose extreme self-obsession is repellent to all (including the viewer) except for his mentor, the accomplished Philip Roth-like writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce).

The film is a curious combination of the close-up intimacy of Cassavetes, yet narrated from an arch, literary remove. Writer-director Alex Ross Perry has said he wanted to write a screenplay as might have been penned by Roth, who hovers over the film like Obi Wan Kenobi. But Perry excels in capturing the toxic, self-defeating egoism of a driven, talented jerk—and the damage he leaves behind.

Now playing at the IFC Center, Nitehawk Cinema, and Film Society of Lincoln Center.

 

‘White Bird in a Blizzard’

It is the late 1980s. Eve Connor (Eva Green), the ostensibly perfect homemaker, makes her family miserable, particularly her husband, Brock.

Their daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) tries to stay out of the fray, preferring to hang with her hipster outcast friends and hook up with Phil, her pseudo-boyfriend, who lives across the street. Yet, she still notices her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior in the days leading up to her mysterious disappearance.

Told in retrospect, “White Bird” examines the ways Kat Connor deals with her mother’s absence—a process that definitely includes resentment and denial.

“White Bird” represents quite a richly realized accomplishment of mise-en-scène. Somehow director Gregg Araki maintains a vibe that is simultaneously nostalgic and insidious, getting some suitably cagey work from his cast.

Now playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

With contributions from Joe Bendel, jbspins.blogspot.com