Audiences who have grown used to the year-round blockbuster culture at theaters are being offered something different in October. Fresh from generating big buzz while winning over critics and audiences during the fall festival circuit, both “A Star is Born” and “First Man” open this month. Sure we will have “Venom” and a new “Halloween,” but adults have a few options in the next week to escape to the movies as well.
If you enjoy watching high-quality mainstream fare, audiences have a chance to watch two movies earning serious acclaim and just in time for serious movie season (i.e. award season). American audiences can use a diversion during these stressful and divisive times. If you are looking for that, both “A Star Is Born” and “First Man” get the job done.
The fourth version of “A Star Is Born” is a dream come true. Bradley Cooper delivers a spellbinding performance as a lost, broken soul. Lady Gaga has a commanding on-screen presence. And their chemistry lights up every scene they share. This is an ideal date movie and will win over many people. Sam Elliott is featured in a smaller, but pretty effective role. The modern version of the classic love story felt very fresh and relatable to contemporary audiences.
Cooper makes an impressive directorial debut. The concert footage was a highlight, and his scenes with the drag queens was an amusing and playful culture clash. I didn’t know what to expect, but the very well constructed trailers gave me confidence going in, and the pre-release buzz lived up to expectation. The “I just want to take another look at you” moment has become a meme and will be remembered as one of the year’s best movie moments. A music drama needs solid tunes, and the songs are catchy and memorable.
Another movie worth watching is “First Man.” I attended the North American premiere of the based on a true story space drama at the Telluride Film Festival. The audio roared inside the Herzog Theatre, and I experienced some of the best use of sound in recent memory. “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle veered from his style to make a movie that looked like Paul Greengrass shot “Argo.” This pleasantly surprised me especially since music wasn’t a dominating force in his latest movie.
We learn a lot about the space program and the man Neil Armstrong was. “First Man” is a very well put together movie on a technical level but has an emotional core embodied by his relationship with his family. Weeks since watching it, the moments with his family stick with me the most. Claire Foy is stunning here and elevates the tired, old-fashioned “concerned-wife-at-home” trope. She knocked it out of the park in “Unsane” earlier this year and is a big screen force in both movies.
With both “A Star Is Born” and “First Man,” it seems appropriate that big studios are releasing medium budget movies primed for the Academy Awards again. Those awards were created to give kudos for the movie industry dominated by bigger studios and not necessarily celebrate art. During previous years, smaller studios won the Oscars with “prestige pictures.” In an era where streaming services finance auteur directors while figuring out their footing in the industry, it is refreshing to see two emerging directors finding their voice and opening movies wide theatrically.
“A Star Is Born” is now playing and “First Man” opens on October 12th. I expect several Academy Awards nominations for both movies and even some wins. Who needs a Best Popular Film Oscar category with two movies like this! Find a theater with a great sound system, grab your tickets ahead of time, call your babysitter (if you have younger kids), and enjoy your time at the movies.