Including a Harry Styles and Florence Pugh-fronted psychological horror, a biopic of Marylin Monroe, and Viola Davis in a period epic, Nicholas Barber lists September's unmissable releases.
Blonde is one of the year's most hotly anticipated films – and as one of its most controversial. Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, it's a sprawling biopic of Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas), but it mixes fact and fiction. It also has enough sexual content to have earnt an NC-17 rating in the US. Some commentators have accused the film of being exploitative, but its director, Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford), makes no apologies. "It's a demanding movie – it is what it is, it says what it says," he told Ben Dalton at ScreenDaily. "And if the audience doesn't like it, that's the audience's problem. It's not running for public office... Blonde is the best movie in the world right now. Blonde is a knockout. It's a masterpiece."
On Netflix from 28 September
2. Don't Worry Darling
Harry Styles and Florence Pugh play Alice and Jack, a couple living a seemingly-perfect life in 1950s America: they're young, beautiful and happily married, Jack has a well-paid job, Alice is friendly with the area's other far-from-desperate housewives, and they live in a Californian desert town designed to be a utopia. But, of course, something is very wrong – and Jack's smug boss (Chris Pine) could be behind it. The second film directed by Olivia Wilde, Don't Worry Darling is a psychological horror with unnerving echoes of The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and The Matrix. Plot details are tantalisingly scarce, although Pugh has mentioned its connection with her other films. "I guess all of my movies have that element of women being forced into a corner, forced into an opinion, forced into a way of life," she told Andrea Cuttler at Harper's Bazaar. "And then finally, something cracks."
Released internationally from 23 September
Amazingly, this is the first major Hollywood romantic comedy to have an almost entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast. Nothing to do with the British pop group, Bros is co-written by its star, Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street) and its director, Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement). Eichner plays a neurotic New Yorker who is proudly single until he meets a disarmingly sincere and hunky lawyer (Luke Macfarlane). A key point, Eichner told Brian Hiatt at Rolling Stone, is that neither of the leading men is a cartoonish stereotype. "There's an archness to so many of the gay male characters we get. And one of my goals with Bros was, I wanted to lose that archness. I wanted the characters to feel like fully fleshed-out, complicated, funny, sad, three-dimensional people."
Released on 30 September in the US and Canada, and 28 October in the UK
4. The Woman King
From Ben-Hur and Spartacus to Braveheart and 300, we're used to seeing historical epics about well-muscled white men fighting for freedom. But well-muscled black women? Not so much. Now at last we have The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. A gym-honed Viola Davis stars as Nanisca, a general who trains the all-female band of warriors that protect a West African kingdom in the 19th Century. "I've never had a role like this before," Davis told Krystal Brent Zook at Vanity Fair. "It's transformative. And to be a producer on it, and to know that I had a hand in bringing it to fruition... I knew what it would mean for black women sitting in that movie theatre. The responsibility is really high."
Released on 16 September in the US and Canada and 4 October in the UK
5. Catherine Called Birdy
Lena Dunham, creator and star of hit TV series Girls, makes the jump from 21st-Century New York to 13th-Century England in Catherine Called Birdy. Adapted from Karen Cushman's young adult novel, Dunham's feminist period comedy stars Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as a spirited teenager who wishes she could be as independent as her brothers. When her cash-strapped parents, Andrew Scott and Billie Piper, decide that it's time for her to marry a wealthy aristocrat, however old and unsuitable he may be, she is determined to upset their plans. "While it feels very far away that a 13-year-old is being asked to marry a 50-year-old," Dunham told P Claire Dodson at Teen Vogue, "we still have plenty of barbaric customs that control the way people's bodies are dealt with. There's so many aspects to modern life that still speak to themes of the book."
Released in selected US cinemas on 23 September, and then on Prime Video worldwide from 7 October
6. Moonage Daydream
Moonage Daydream is no ordinary rock documentary – but then, David Bowie was no ordinary rock star. Writer-director Brett Morgen doesn't try to catalogue every part of his subject's stellar life and career. Instead, he concentrates on Bowie's personal and philosophical development – and in particular his determination to keep learning and experimenting and getting the most out of every day. The result is a joyous, immersive 140-minute portrait which leaves you woozy with admiration for Bowie not just as a musician, actor and style icon but as a human being. "At every turn, Morgen's film is a bombastic, overstimulating, poignant, life-affirming, and risk-taking summation of the artist's ethos and maturation as a person," says Robert Daniels at RogerEbert.com. "In short, Moonage Daydream is the film Bowie would've proudly made."
Released internationally on 16 September
7. The Silent Twins
June and Jennifer Gibbons were identical twins who grew up in a small Welsh town in the 1970s. The only black children in the area, they were bullied at school, eventually withdrawing from society to the point where they created their own vivid fantasy world, and refused to communicate with anyone except each other. The sisters have already been the subject of a memoir, a TV drama, a play, and the inspiration for the Manic Street Preachers song Tsunami. Now they're the subject of the first English-language film from Poland's Agnieszka Smoczyńska. Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and Tamara Lawrance (Kindred) play the lead roles. "The film looks (subtly) at the role of race and gender in the way the Gibbons sisters were written off by the system," says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. "And Smoczyńska illustrates their fantasy world with stop-motion puppet animation sequences that manage to convey the strangeness and loneliness of their imaginings... This is an engrossing, well-acted story – disturbing but also tender and sad."
Released on 16 September in the US and Canada
8. Both Sides of the Blade
Claire Denis has been one of the most revered figures in French cinema for decades, but Both Sides of the Blade is "one of her best films yet", says Randy Myers at The Mercury News. Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon star as Sara and Jean, a radio presenter and a former professional rugby player who have been blissfully married for a decade – or so it seems. But when Sara spots her ex-lover François (Grégoire Colin) on a street in Paris, their marriage begins to crack and crumble, and when François offers Jean a job as a sports agent, both husband and wife fall under his spell. Denis' erotic drama is "a sly, disquieting triangulated romance that fires up old grudges and desires and metaphorically mirrors tangled political relationships in the Middle East," says Myers. "This is shrewd, distinctive filmmaking that challenges your own perceptions throughout."
Released on 31 August in France, and 9 September in the UK and Ireland
9. See How They Run
While we're waiting for the sequel to Knives Out, here's another knockabout whodunnit, this one directed by Tom George and written by Mark Chappell (British TV comedy veterans making their big-screen debuts). It's the 1950s, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan play a jaded police inspector and his over-eager protégée who are assigned to investigate a brutal killing in a London theatre. Adrien Brody is the crewmember who meets a grisly end just as a play's producers are planning to turn their hit show into a film. And the suspects / potential next victims include David Oyelowo, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Shirley Henderson and Harris Dickinson, who plays a young Richard Attenborough. Everything else about this farcical murder mystery is, well, a mystery, but, as with Knives Out, the less you know beforehand, the more fun it should be.
Released on 9 September in the UK and Ireland, and 30 September in the US and Canada
Let the battle of the Pinocchios commence! Matteo Garrone made a wonderful Italian adaptation of Carlo Collodi's classic novel in 2019, but that hasn't stopped two big-name directors pitching in with their own versions. In November, we're due to see Guillermo del Toro's darkly satirical stop-motion animation. But first we have Robert Zemeckis's live-action / CGI remake of the Disney cartoon. Tom Hanks stars as Geppetto the lonely carpenter, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth voices the wooden boy he carves, Cynthia Erivo is the Blue Fairy who brings Pinocchio to life, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices the animated Jiminy Cricket. Judging by the trailer, Zemeckis has followed the cartoon closely, but whether he includes the scene in which Pinocchio smokes a massive cigar remains to be seen.
On Disney+ from 8 September
11. Do Revenge
If the crime-swapping plot of Strangers on a Train was relocated to the high school from Clueless, the result might be Do Revenge, a black comedy-thriller co-written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Drea (Camila Mendes) is the queen bee whose image is ruined when her boyfriend leaks their sex tape; Eleanor (Maya Hawke) is the indie kid who is ostracised when a classmate accuses her of being a predatory lesbian. And so, the two girls conspire to bring down each other's arch-enemies. Robinson told Erica Gonzales at Elle that her film explores cancel culture, accountability and shifting adolescent identities – but that's not its main purpose. "We want you to have a great time," she says. "We're not trying to solve world peace. This is not some big political statement. It's just a really fun movie that looks cool and stars a bunch of really excellent actors who are at the top of their craft, and are also just gorgeous."
On Netflix from 16 September