From Birdman to Whiplash: Five Must-See November Movies Before The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Hits Theaters

Us Weekly's film critic Mara Reinstein rates this season's can't-miss movies, including Miles Teller's unforgettable performance in Whiplash. Credit: Daniel McFadden/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

And now, a fall movie season recap: Gone Girl thrills until the ludicrous ending. Interstellar thrills until the ludicrous ending. And Fury. . . Just. Never. Ends.

All we have to do now is watch Katniss lead the rebellion against the Capitol in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (out November 21), and we’ve successfully transitioned into holiday shopping and marathon TV airings of Elf. But wait! There’s still time to catch a few wonderful cinematic must-sees. These gems don’t feature the Girl on Fire, but they sure do spark. Us Weekly’s film critic Mara Reinstein breaks down the five can’t-miss fall movies to see before Katniss hits the big screen.

Whiplash

4 stars (out of 4)

(out now in theaters)

Movies set in a Juilliard-like music school aren’t supposed to make your heart race in nervous anticipation. Yet that’s exactly why this taut drama is one of the year’s best. Two Oscar-worthy virtuoso performances lead the way: Miles Teller as an indefatigable jazz drummer who pounds the sticks until his fingers bleed, and J.K. Simmons as his barbaric instructor. (You’ll never think of the latter as the caring dad from Juno ever again.) With every syncopated beat, the conductor pushes his star pupil to excellence — and the brink of madness. Their relationship culminates in a staggering crescendo worthy of a standing ovation. 

The Theory of Everything

3 ½ stars (out of 4)

(out now in theaters)

You may already know about the mathematician Stephen Hawking’s beautiful mind. This stirring biopic focuses on his loving but bittersweet 25-year marriage. Surefire Oscar nominees Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones share terrific chemistry as the couple who try to overcome unshakable odds. Soon before their wedding, Stephen is diagnosed with a neurological disease and is given two years to live. As his physical condition deteriorates, he still has the amazing mental capacity to devise scientific theories and author 1988’s A Brief History of Time. No doubt his life is extraordinarily inspiring — and yet the drama rarely goes the sappy and sentimental route. (Heavy burdens are placed on his wife on a daily basis). Though the marriage eventual crumbles, what a joy to see a relationship that’s anything but formulaic.

PHOTOS: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones hit the red carpet

Birdman

3 stars (out of 4)

(out now in theaters)

Twenty years after Michael Keaton last put on his Batman costume, the actor gives a fearless nod to his-Caped Crusader career in a brazenly off-kilter comedy. He’s Riggan Thomson, a former movie franchise star who tries to Go Serious by staging a dramatic Broadway play. Still, despite his most valiant, manic efforts — and this is where Keaton really captivates — Riggan can’t shake his Birdman alter ego. Shot via a handheld camera in what appears to be one singular swooping take, the film offers a blistering look at how an industry rat race can decimate a man’s self-worth. (Emma Stone is sublime as his judgmental, newly rehabbed daughter). As a snarky Hollywood takedown, however, its message — art good! Blockbusters bad! — is a bit pedestrian.

St. Vincent

3 stars (out of 4)

(out now in theaters)

The curmudgeon with at the heart of gold teaches a wide-eyed boy about life! The story is more worn out than a pair of bowling shoes. But when Bill Murray is the one doling out the lessons, resistance is futile. The actor brings wit and humanity to Vincent, a crusty blue-collar Vietnam vet. His stagnancy is upended when a recent divorcee (Melissa McCarthy, admirably toned down) and her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door. She works crazy hours, leaving Vince to become the kid’s babysitter. Soon, he takes Oliver on field trips to the horse track, the bar — and aww, the nursing home where he cares for his wife. What’s next, a colorful Irish priest? A kindly prostitute? Check and check! (They’re played by Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts, respectively). Still, while the film is stuffed with cliches, at least they’re the warm and fuzzy kind.

Laggies

3 stars (out of 4)

(out now in theaters and VOD)

How nice to see Keira Knightley out of those stuffy corsets. She leaves her comfort zone in this indie comedy, playing a pouty American in the throes of a quarter-life crisis. After her cute boyfriend proposes, she seemingly has it all — yet, deep down, wants none of it. Her plan: Run away, bunk with her new teen buddy (Chloe Grace Moretz), and like, gossip and stuff. The regression becomes complicated when she starts hooking up with the girl’s single and lonely dad (Sam Rockwell, utterly appealing). The film gets by on its amiable charm, though don’t expect any arresting developments in Knightley’s arrested development.

PHOTOS: Keira Knightley promotes Laggies

Tell Us: What movies are you planning on seeing this November?