Madison's movie calendar plumps up in the fall as Sundance's screening room announces its offerings, the UW Cinematheque starts its semester, and the Spotlight Cinema and Duck Soup Cinema series return to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and Overture Center.
Here are 20 screenings and other delights movie buffs should catch this season, including classics, foreign gems, English-language indies and filmmaker visits.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Sept. 12
Part of the UW Cinematheque's series of films by Hollywood heavyweight William Friedkin, this Oscar-winner blurs the line between cop and criminal in intriguing ways. Friedkin guides you through the gritty streets of early-'70s New York, where two detectives (Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider) hunt for a French drug lord. The pace is fast and furious, and there's tons of action, from a train hijacking to a high-speed car chase. For more of Friedkin's brilliance, catch Bug at 4070 Vilas Hall on Oct. 3 and The Exorcist at the UW Union South Marquee Theater on Oct. 8.
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Sept. 27
The fall portion of Overture's silent-film series, Duck Soup Cinema, begins this month with a free screening of Harold Lloyd's seldom-seen 1924 film Hot Water, which features lots of in-law humor and a turkey in a street car. Played by the fleet-fingered Jelani Eddington, Overture's Grand Barton Organ is another star of the screening, providing a soundtrack that helps the film come alive without spoken dialogue.
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Oct. 18
To commemorate Andrew Lloyd Webber's megahit musical, which was performed at Overture in its first season, Duck Soup presents a silent-film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel, with Lon Chaney as the phantom. The unveiling of his face is an iconic moment in American film history. Jeff Weiler's organ accompaniment should make the scene even more dramatic -- if that's even possible.
Chazen Museum of Art, Oct. 19
Though Alfred Hitchcock is best known for thrillers like The Man Who Knew Too Much (Chazen Museum, Oct. 12), he was also a master of dark comedy, and this film was one of his personal favorites. As autumn visits a small New England community, a boy (Leave It to Beaver's Jerry Mathers) discovers a corpse in the woods, much to the chagrin of his mother (Shirley MacLaine, in her big-screen debut), who worries that she may have killed the man. Before long, nearly all of the townspeople worry that they've somehow contributed to his death. Then there's the issue of what to do with the body, which leads to all sorts of absurd antics.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Nov. 7
Billy Wilder's 1950 film is as merciless as it is beautiful, exposing the ugliness beneath Hollywood's glitzy facade. Two D-listers -- a washed-up movie star (Gloria Swanson) and a hack of a screenwriter (William Holden) -- team up to pen a movie script. This task could be difficult, in part because the leading lady is prone to delusions -- and perhaps murders.
UW Union South Marquee Theater, Nov. 17
John Carpenter's 1981 sci-fi film presents a troubling vision of the future: By the late 1990s, Manhattan has turned into a maximum-security prison full of outcasts, not the glamorous dating jungle depicted in Sex and the City in the actual late '90s. Fans of Quentin Tarantino's films and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver will find lots to like while watching a group of rebels use any means necessary to escape captivity.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Sept. 17
MMoCA's Spotlight Cinema series begins with Jim Jarmusch's recent vampire romance, partially set in blighted yet beautiful Detroit. A musician named Adam reunites with his longtime paramour, Eve (Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton), but the lovebirds can't spend time canoodling due to Eve's unruly younger sis (Mia Wasikowska). Listen carefully and you'll hear music by Zola Jesus, the reigning queen of dark indie pop, who got her start in Madison a few years ago.
Sundance, Sept. 26-Oct. 2
John Wellington Ennis departed from his usual subject matter -- reality television plots and famous musicians -- to film this searing documentary about the effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he explained that the 2004 presidential election inspired him to use video as a political action tool, noting that the "new era of digital video and social media didn't make citizen journalism possible, but mandatory."
Sundance, Oct. 17-23
William H. Macy makes his directorial debut with this film about an ad exec named Sam (Billy Crudup), who drops off the grid after his son's death. After discovering a demo tape of songs the boy wrote, he decides to learn them and perform one at a local bar. The experience leads to an unlikely friendship and an opportunity Sam never dreamed he'd have.
Sundance, Oct. 24-30
This offbeat comedy is stocked with talented actors, including Wes Anderson favorite Jason Schwartzman as a frustrated, self-centered writer named Philip and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss as his photographer girlfriend, Ashley, whom he can no longer stand. When Philip is invited to spend the summer at another author's vacation home, he jumps at the opportunity -- and becomes even more wrapped up in himself.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Nov. 21
Writer, director and lead actor Desiree Akhavan became a breakout star at the 2014 Sundance Film Fest when this witty film was deemed an audience favorite. The plot revolves around a young bisexual woman who tries to hide her sexual orientation from her conservative Persian family, even as she's reeling from a breakup.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Oct. 11
Attraction is dangerous is this Leos Carax film set in a futuristic version of Paris, where a strange disease is ravaging young people who have no-strings-attached sex. A treatment's in the works, but it's locked away in a government building. Alex (Denis Lavant) and Marc (Michel Piccoli) are desperate to retrieve it, but Alex is distracted by his feelings for two women (Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy) who could be the source of his demise. The scene where Alex flings himself down a street to the tune of David Bowie's "Modern Love," carefree for a blissful moment, is said to be the inspiration for a similar moment in 2013's excellent Frances Ha.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Oct. 24
Just in time for Halloween comes this spectacle about a trippy and terrifying search for a woman who has vanished into thin air. Directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani pay homage to Italian Giallo horror films while unveiling one fascinating set-piece after another.
UW Union South Marquee Theater, Oct. 27
One of the most bizarre cinematic opportunities of the fall, this Italian-made film is a blend of The Birds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and several other sci-fi and horror movies. The plot revolves around a young girl with telekinesis who may be the spawn of Satan and a character called "Space Jesus."
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Nov. 12
This Scandinavian film won the coveted Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for its provocative and witty portrayal of a family whose ski trip in the French Alps goes terribly wrong. See it in Madison for a pittance -- or for free if you're a museum member.
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Dec. 5
The final work by French film legend Alain Resnais is an adaptation of a comic play by Alan Ayckbourn. Three couples invite a friend to join their theater company when they find out he has only a few months to live. In addition to celebrating the life of a dying man, the film commemorates Resnais' powerful imagination with its lighthearted tone and surreal flourishes.
Other film-buff stuff
Stray Dog with Debra Granik and Ron Hall
4070 UW Vilas Hall, Sept. 28
Granik, the award-winning writer-director of Winter's Bone, shows her documentary skills in this moving portrait of Harley rider and Vietnam vet Ronnie "Stray Dog" Hall. As she highlights the many complexities of Hall's life, she also finds rich moments of humor and a generous spirit that belies his tough exterior. Granik and Hall will discuss the film with the audience at this screening.
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago with Lydia B. Smith
Sundance, Sept. 19-25
This documentary about a 500-mile hike to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the kind of inspiring travelogue that ought to attract fans of Cheryl Strayed's fantastic memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The screenings on Sept. 20 and 21 feature Q&A sessions with director and producer Smith.
Sundance, Oct. 31-Nov. 6
This is your chance to see Academy Award-nominated short films that rarely make their way to the multiplex. Sundance plans to offer two programs: one focused on fiction and documentaries and another focused on animated films. Though these movies don't have long running times, expect their impact to be anything but slight. Laughter, shrieks and tears have occurred at previous years' screenings.
Chazen Museum of Art, Nov. 16
The Academy Film Archive partners with the UW Cinematheque to present rare, archival selections from Hitchcock's career, including test footage from Kaleidoscope, his uncompleted '60s thriller. Cinephiles can also revel in screen tests, trailers and other ephemera.