Below, we reveal the highlights and lowlights of the fall festival circuit by gathering the responses from professional critics to films screening at the just-completed Toronto International Film Festival, as well as festivals earlier this month in Venice and Telluride. Each year, these prestigious events are where many Oscar best picture nominees first premiere, and you can expect to see many of these films in theaters before the end of the year.
This year's notable festival films
The Age of Shadows Watch trailer
September 23 | Foreign/Drama/Thriller | Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Three years after the release of his first English-language film, The Last Stand, director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, The Bad, The Weird) returned to Korea to make this fictional wartime spy thriller based on events surrounding the 1923 bombing of the Seoul police headquarters. By combining a story about double agents during Japan’s occupation of Korea with inventive action set-pieces, the film earned South Korea’s slot in the Oscar race for best foreign-language film and CineVue’s approval as a “bloody and breathtaking piece of filmmaking.”
All I See Is You
date tbd | Drama/Thriller | Directed by Marc Forster
Described as a “thrill-deprived thriller” by THR, the latest film from director Marc Forster (World War Z) stars Blake Lively as a blind woman whose marriage suffers when she gets her sight back. Jason Clarke plays Lively’s husband, but neither actor (nor Forster’s occasionally inventive visual and aural representations of blindness) can save “the bumpy plot and underwhelming ending,” according to Screen Daily.
American Pastoral Watch trailer
October 21 | Drama | Directed by Ewan McGregor
With his feature directing debut, Ewan McGregor set himself a difficult task: adapting Philip Roth’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Roth has been notoriously difficult to translate to the big screen, but James Schamus found success earlier this year with Indignation, so there was some hope that McGregor might accomplish the same. Unfortunately, many critics think the troubles with this story of a successful Newark Jew (McGregor), his shiksa wife (Jennifer Connelly), and their radicalized daughter begin with McGregor casting himself in the lead role. Nor does his direction escape criticism, with the A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd calling it a “bafflingly tone-deaf directorial debut.”
Arrival Watch trailer
November 11 | Sci-fi | Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Director Denis Villeneuve’s success with this sci-fi story about a language expert (Amy Adams) brought in to work with a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) in communicating with an alien species bodes well for sci-fi fans looking forward to the director’s Blade Runner sequel. Both A.A. Dowd and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the A.V. Club give the film a “B+” with Dowd praising Villeneuve’s ability to go “sentimental without losing his chilly craftsmanship.”
The Bad Batch
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In reviewing writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, almost every critic mentions how great and suspenseful the first 20 minutes of the film are, though their opinions split on the success of the rest of the film. As in her first film, Amirpour (who won a Special Jury Prize in Venice) creates a unique world for her main character—a girl (played by Suki Waterhouse) who is cast out into a desert wasteland populated by bodybuilding cannibals (including one played by Jason Momoa), a cult leader known as The Dream (Keanu Reeves), and a mute scavenger played by Jim Carrey. THR’s David Rooney writes, “Even when the dramatic momentum slackens, the movie's grindhouse world remains vividly rendered and immersive.” And Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com deems it his “favorite American picture of 2016.”
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Vikram Gandhi
Written by Adam Mansbach and directed by Vikram Gandhi, this biopic looks at 20-year-old Barack Obama’s first year as a transfer student at Columbia University. Like Southside with You, Barry is a glimpse at the man before he became president, but as portrayed by Australian actor Devon Terrell (in a lauded performance), he’s still searching and still calling himself Barry as he tries to find his place in 1981 New York City. The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy plays Charlotte, a composite of three women Obama dated in college, and Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane shows up as Obama’s roommate. Justin Chang of the LA Times praises the film, writing, “Barry is the rare biographical drama that, rather than giving us a bland recitation of accomplishments, takes the formation of identity as its very subject — and has the confidence to acknowledge that the process of formation will continue well past the closing credits.”
The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez
date tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Wim Wenders
Adapted from Peter Handke’s stage play, the latest feature from Wim Wenders received a similar reception as 2015’s Every Thing Will Be Fine. (That's not a good thing.) Like that film, Beautiful Days is a 3D drama about an author, who is seen creating the movie’s dialogue as two characters talk (and talk and talk) in a garden. Variety claims the film has “less of a pulse than the already inert Every Thing Will Be Fine,” and the A.V. Club believes it “seems to exist only to prove that Wenders can do worse than Every Thing Will Be Fine.”
Bleed for This Watch trailer
November 4 | Drama/Sports | Directed by Ben Younger
Miles Teller stars as boxer Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza in this biopic from director Ben Younger (Boiler Room). After a successful start to his career, Vinny gets in a near-fatal car accident and suffers a broken neck. Against doctors' orders, he attempts a comeback with the help of trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). A solid but not spectacular boxing movie, Bleed for This is being compared by some critics to the recent Southpaw, but Variety liked it a bit more, praising Teller’s “terrific” performance. Just don't confuse it with the other new boxing movie with a similar title ...
date tbd | Drama/Sports | Directed by Philippe Falardeau
The success of this biopic about Chuck Wepner, “The Bayonne Bleeder” and inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, succeeds as a “boxing movie” because it doesn’t focus on the boxing. CineVue writes, “This affectionate portrait in failure is more in the tone of Darren Aronofsky's Venice winner The Wrestler, carried mainly by a brilliantly swollen performance by [Liev] Schreiber.” Director Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie) also gets excellent performances from Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts as Wepner’s second and third wives.
date tbd | Comedy | Directed by Susan Johnson
Based on a 2003 novel by Caren Lissner, Susan Johnson’s debut feature stars The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley as another precocious teenager. Her titular Carrie Pilby is a genius who graduated from Harvard at 14. Now 19, Carrie, with the guidance of her therapist (Nathan Lane), sets out to get her life together. Crossing paths with characters played by Jason Ritter, Vanessa Bayer, and Colin O'Donoghue, Powley shines, but the film as a whole is not as successful as Diary. The Guardian comments, “Carrie Pilby the film is 100% Carrie Pilby the character, a living quirk machine that in a lesser actor’s hands might be insufferable.”
date tbd | Comedy/Action | Directed by Onur Tukel
Ever wanted to see Anne Heche and Sandra Oh beat each other until they’re bloodied? Then Catfight is the film for you. In fact, writer-director Onur Tukel (Summer of Blood) has them fight three times in this ungainly combination of ferocious physical comedy and savage satire. According to THR, both women give “balls-to-the-wall performances,” while Amy Nicholson of MTV News calls them “the best action stars of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.”
date tbd | Action/Sci-fi/Thriller | Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
The latest from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) stars Anne Hathaway as hard-partying woman who discovers a strange connection between herself and a monster destroying Seoul, South Korea. This tantalizing set-up doesn ’t quite pay off for most critics (despite a good performance by Hathaway), but in his “B+” review, Eric Kohn of Indiewire praises the “director’s anarchic approach, which dares to blur the lines between silliness and genuine behavior.”
Deepwater Horizon Watch trailer
September 30 | Drama/Thriller | Directed by Peter Berg
On April 20th, 2010, the world’s largest man-made disaster occurred on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil-drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico—events that are chronicled in this new thriller. With a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, and Dylan O’Brien, director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) once again shows his ability to capture solid performances amidst spectacular action, but some critics wish for more depth and substance in a film based on a tragedy that impacted so many.
Denial Watch trailer
September 30 | Drama | Directed by Mick Jackson
Rachel Weisz stars as Deborah E. Lipstadt in this adaptation of her book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. Timothy Spall plays David Irving, who accused Lipstadt of libel when she called him a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. This courtroom drama is earning mixed reviews due to Mick Jackson’s uninspired direction and a rare differing of opinion on the performance of the usually strong Weisz.
The Edge of Seventeen Watch trailer
November 18 | Drama/Comedy | Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
In the feature debut for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, the life of high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) only gets worse when her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). This standard coming-of-age story is “full-hearted and graced with a beautifully modulated lead turn by Hailee Steinfeld,” according to THR, and is a “wryly hilarious and unflinchingly honest film,” in the eyes of Indiewire’s David Ehrlich.
date tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by François Ozon
The latest from writer-director François Ozon (The New Girlfriend, Young & Beautiful) is a loose adaptation of a play by Maurice Rostand, which was also used as the basis for Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby. Paula Beer was named best young actress at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Anna, a German woman mourning the death of her fiancé in the aftermath of World War I. When a Frenchman arrives at her fiancé’s grave, she is pulled into a mystery involving her lost love. It’s another intriguing film in the director’s eclectic filmography; one that Screen Daily calls “intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying.”
Free Fire Watch trailer
date tbd | Action/Drama | Directed by Ben Wheatley
Filmmaker Ben Wheatley (High Rise) kicked off the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival with this violent/comedic take on a weapons deal gone wrong. Starring Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, and Sam Riley, the film is finding success with critics thanks to its offbeat comedy and zany action. But those fans expecting something a bit more perverse (or substantial) from Wheatley may be left wanting.
Hacksaw Ridge Watch trailer
November 4 | Drama | Directed by Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort since 2006’s Apocalypto is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun at the battle of Okinawa in WWII. As an army medic, Doss became the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Gibson’s obsessions—faith, violence, courage—are in abundance here. The result is a gory work that The Telegraph calls “fantastically moving and bruising,” but finds to be “less a celebration of humanist convictions than a glorification of religious intransigence and a declaration of the moral superiority of the faithful over the faithless.”
I Called Him Morgan
date tbd | Documentary/Music | Directed by Kasper Collin
Critics are universally praising Kasper Collin’s (My Name Is Albert Ayler) documentary about the legendary and tragic relationship between the remarkable trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen. The Film Stage claims I Called Him Morgan “hooks you from the first moments and glides effortlessly toward an emotionally impacting and enigmatic conclusion,” and The Guardian calls it “spellbinding, mercurial, hallucinatory, exuberant.”
December 9 | Drama | Directed by Pablo Larraín
After premiering the unique biopic Neruda at Cannes earlier this year, director Pablo Larraín (No, The Club) debuted his first English-language film, Jackie, at Venice, where writer Noah Oppenheim won the best screenplay award. The film follows Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. Universally praised by critics (though some differed on the use of Under the Skin composer Mica Levi’s score), the film will have a chance to contend for further awards later this year—especially for Portman, whose performance was described as “astonishing” by The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter.
TIFF PEOPLE'S CHOICE WINNER
La La Land Watch trailer
December 2 | Musical | Directed by Damien Chazelle
Recent TIFF People's Choice winners:
2015: Room *
2014: The Imitation Game *
2013: 12 Years a Slave **
2012: Silver Linings Playbook *
2011: Where Do We Go Now?
2010: The King's Speech **
2009: Precious *
2008: Slumdog Millionaire **
* later an Oscar best picture nominee
** later an Oscar best picture winner
Emma Stone was named best actress in Venice for her performance as an aspiring actress opposite Ryan Gosling’s jazz musician in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s ode to classic musicals past. According to critics, the chemistry between the leads and Chazelle’s energetic and inventive direction carry the musical (even for those who find it a bit too long overall). One of the best-reviewed films of the fall festival season, La La Land is almost certain to be in play for awards in multiple categories at the end of the year. It certainly doesn't hurt that the film was just named this year's winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Award, the festival's most prominent award, which is determined by audience members rather than a jury.
date tbd | Drama | Directed by William Oldroyd
In his feature debut, director William Oldroyd relocates Nikolai Leskov's 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District to 19th century Northumberland, England. The story concerns Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman forced to marry the middle-aged heir to a coal mine fortune. As the title hints, violence soon creeps into what Screen Daily calls a “superbly acted and executed” piece of storytelling in which lead actress Pugh is a “revelation.”
Lion Watch trailer
November 25 | Drama | Directed by Garth Davis
Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, the debut feature of director Garth Davis (Top of the Lake) stars Dev Patel as Brierley who, at the age of 5, found himself lost in Calcutta. Unable to find his family, Brierley was adopted by an Australian couple, portrayed in the film by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. Twenty-five years later, Brierley began his search for his family back in India. While The Weinstein Company might have Slumdog Millionaire aspirations, critics are much less excited by this Indian orphan story. THR finds Dev Patel’s performance “tremendously moving,” but The Film Stage and The Guardian think only the first act is effective.
The Magnificent Seven Watch trailer
September 23 | Western | Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges' 1960 film (itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic The Seven Samurai) brings together a diverse cast (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier) for what ultimately ends up being a generic film in the eyes of critics. Disappointment with a lack of character depth and camaraderie, as well as the lack of energy and style from Fuqua, are recurring themes in a number of reviews.
October 13 (Netflix) | Comedy | Directed by Christopher Guest
Premiering at TIFF before it lands on Netflix next month, Christopher Guest’s new comedy is mildly disappointing when compared to previous mockumentary gems like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, or as ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer puts it, “Mascots isn’t as good as Best in Show but it’s definitely better than For Your Consideration.” With many of the same performers (Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley, Jr., Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins) and a few newcomers (Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods is a standout), this look at sports mascots competing for the Golden Fluffy is, according Screen Daily, “full of reliable pleasures and silly laughs, but it also shows signs of a formula that’s not as fresh as it once was.”
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Aisling Walsh
Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis’ life comes to the big screen in a biopic that is receiving a lukewarm reception from critics. Sally Hawkins, in a performance that is earning praise even in negative reviews of the film, plays the titular character, a woman suffering from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis who overcomes her affliction to become a success in the art world. Ethan Hawke, in a rare performance that fails to find the right notes for most critics, plays her complicated husband, Everett Lewis, who initially hires her as his housekeeper but soon falls in love with her. In the opinion of Variety’s Peter Debruge, “What little dimension Maudie offers is a direct result of Hawkins’ contributions.”
A Monster Calls Watch trailer
December 23 | Drama/Fantasy | Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
The latest from Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) is an adaptation of the award-winning children’s fantasy novel by Patrick Ness. In a highly praised lead performance, Lewis MacDougall plays 12-year-old Conor, who is struggling with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness and bullies at school. Nightly visits from a tree-shaped storytelling monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) help Conor deal with these difficulties. The Playlist finds the film to be a “beautifully structured fable,” but Screen Daily claims “the film’s overwrought tone can grate.”
Moonlight Watch trailer
October 21 | Drama | Directed by Barry Jenkins
The best-reviewed film of the year so far is Barry Jenkins’ first feature since 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the three-part film examines the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of Chiron, a gay black man growing up in Miami’s inner city. The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd claims that “like most great movies, Moonlight rewards on multiple levels: as an immersion in a particular environment, as a gorgeous mood piece, as a romance unfolding with sweet, almost painful hesitancy.” Peter Debruge of Variety calls it a “socially conscious work of art as essential as it is insightful,” and Joshua Rothkopf believes Moonlight “is, without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.”
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
date tbd | Animation | Directed by Dash Shaw
Graphic novelist Dash Shaw makes his directorial debut with this animated mash-up of high school comedy and disaster movie featuring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Susan Sarandon, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, and Alex Karpovsky. Best friends Dash (Schwartzman) and Assaf (Watts) are sophomores at Tides High when an earthquake sends the campus into the Pacific Ocean. Who will survive? Despite a slight story, most critics think the film is worth seeing to find out, but Variety’s Owen Gleiberman is not so sure, writing, “It’s a paradox: a light-spirited, fast-moving 72-minute endurance test. It should be shown—minus the soundtrack—in a never-ending loop in a coffee bar in Portland, where it could be enjoyed as the revolutionary wallpaper it is.”
VENICE GRAND JURY PRIZE (2ND PLACE) WINNER
Nocturnal Animals Watch trailer
November 18 (nationwide on December 9) | Drama/Thriller | Directed by Tom Ford
After the success of A Single Man, writer/director/fashion mogul Tom Ford waited seven years to return to Venice with his second film, an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan. Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the winner of the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival is a romantic thriller that follows two stories. In one, Susan Morrow (Adams), a Los Angeles art dealer, receives a novel written by her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal) titled Nocturnal Animals. As she reads the novel, Ford dramatizes the action, a violent tale of revenge about a husband and father (also Gyllenhaal) whose wife and daughter are kidnapped as the family drives across West Texas. Most critics believe Ford successfully weaves the multiple narrative threads, showing that, as THR puts it, he’s “both an intoxicating sensualist and an accomplished storyteller, with as fine an eye for character detail as he has for color and composition.” Others, including Time’s Stephanie Zacharek, find the film “beautiful—or at least arresting—every minute,” but are unclear about what it was trying to say about its characters.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
date tbd | Drama/Thriller | Directed by Joseph Cedar
Footnote director Joseph Cedar's latest examination of Jewish life stars Richard Gere as the titular character, a hustler whose gesture to an Israeli politician makes this rarely successful fixer an influential figure in the New York-Israeli community. As the title reveals, it’s not all roses for Gere’s Norman, but it could be for the actor, who gives an “exemplary performance” according to Screen Daily. He’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, including Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, Josh Charles, and Hank Azaria.
date tbd | Foreign/Drama/Thriller/Fantasy | Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski
Rebecca Zlotowski's third film, following Belle Epine and Grand Central, might be her first to get a release in the U.S., but it won’t be because it’s her best film. It will have more to do with the presence of Natalie Portman as the lead in this story of sisters who perform as mediums in 1930s Paris. Lily-Rose Depp plays the more gifted of the sisters, whose exhibitions of supernatural powers draw the attention of a film producer (Emmanuel Salinger). CineVue’s John Bleasdale finds the film “spell-binding and enigmatic,” but most critics aren't falling under it’s spell. David Ehrlich of Indiewire dismisses the film as a “beautifully appointed bore,” while Variety’s Owen Gleiberman similarly deems it a “listless hodgepodge.”
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Terry George
Based on the strength of Hotel Rwanda, many expected director Terry George’s latest film to be another powerful drama about the horrors of genocide. Instead, this look at the still-unacknowledged extermination of Armenians by Turkish authorities fails to live up to his previous work. Oscar Isaac stars as Michael, an Armenian studying to be a doctor; Christian Bale is Chris, a reporter or the Associated Press; and Charlotte Le Bon is the woman who comes between them. For critics, it is George’s misguided emphasis on this melodramatic love triangle, instead of the horrors happening around the characters, that ultimately sinks the film.
Queen of Katwe Watch trailer
September 23 | Drama | Directed by Mira Nair
Mira Nair (The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist) directs Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and newcomer Madina Nalwanga in this true story based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy. Oyelowo plays missionary (and retired soccer player) Robert Katende, who discovers Phiona’s affinity for the game. Phiona’s success leads to difficulties with her hard-working mother (Nyong’o), but this is an inspirational Disney film, and as TimeOut London critic Cath Clarke writes, “If you’re the person who watches weepies with a cynical curl of the lip, this isn’t the film for you. Everyone else, prepare to have your heartstrings plucked.”
date tbd | Action/Thriller | Directed by Walter Hill
Originally titled Tomboy, this confused mash-up of pulp noir, comics, and gender politics from director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Bullet to the Head) elicited strong reactions from critics. Unfortunately, most of them were negative. Dismissed as “incompetent, incoherent and incomprehensible” by The Guardian, the film stars Michelle Rodriguez as a hitman who is turned into a woman by a revenge-seeking surgeon played by Sigourney Weaver. Matt Singer of ScreenCrush found the film “clueless” about gender and filmmaking, but praised Weaver’s performance, as did THR’s Tom McCarthy, who championed the film as “Hill’s most entertaining and, on the terms it sets for itself, accomplished film in some time.”
The Secret Scripture
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Jim Sheridan
Jim Sheridan adapts Sebastian Berry’s acclaimed novel in what many had hoped would be a return to form for the director of In the Name of the Father and In America. A quick glance at that Metascore reveals that, sadly, it is not. Sam Fragoso of TheWrap believes the film is “roughly the antithesis” of Sheridan’s previous work, “settling for mediocrity, then devolving into something even more insidious.” Set in Ireland during the 1920 and '30s, Scripture follows Rosanne McNulty (played in different time periods by Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrave) as she recounts her troubled life to a psychiatrist (Eric Bana) at the mental institution she has called home for 50 years.
date tbd | Comedy | Directed by Lone Scherfig
An Education director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Gaby Chiappe adapt Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half and, in his "A–" review, Noel Murray of The Playlist explains, “There’s a reason why the title of Evans’ novel has been truncated here. Their Finest no longer refers to a single 90-minute movie, but to the millions of ladies it aimed to inspire.” Focusing on a group of filmmakers tasked with making an inspirational film during the Blitz, Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton as a scriptwriter who is matched up with Sam Claflin to produce a film starring a pompous actor played by Bill Nighy, who delivers a performance praised by every critic regardless of their feelings toward the film in general.
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Benedict Andrews
Based on David Harrower’s play Blackbird, recently performed by Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels on Broadway, Una stars Rooney Mara as a young woman who confronts the man (Ben Mendelsohn) who sexually abused her when she was 13. Director Benedict Andrews, making his feature debut, expands the two-hander by adding flashbacks to the initial relationship (Ruby Stokes plays the young Una) and complicating Ray’s life with a work colleague (Riz Ahmed) and wife (Natasha Little). Critics are split on the film's success. THR thinks the adaptation is “very much a potent piece of cinema,” but The Guardian warns that it “fails to engage and the argument for its existence as a film is a sadly unsuccessful one.”
A United Kingdom
date tbd | Drama | Directed by Amma Asante
Director Amma Asante’s follow-up to Belle is another true story. Based on Susan Williams' book Colour Bar, A United Kingdom chronicles the interracial romance between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), a prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). TimeOut London finds the film “a little too cosy and sentimental for its own good,” but The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw claims, “With terrific warmth and idealism – and irresistible storytelling relish – director Amma Asante gives us a romantic true story from our dowdy postwar past.”
date tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Amat Escalante
The provocative Mexican director Amat Escalante (Heli) brought his latest, a realistic family drama intertwined with a sexual extraterrestrial twist, to Venice, and walked away with the festival's best director award. Examining the homophobia and misogyny of Mexican society through a sci-fi lens, Escalante has created a “hyper-real erotic mystery” with “something dark and wonderful lurking” inside it, according to the The Film Stage. The Guardian, however, doesn’t believe the film goes “anywhere special. But connoisseurs of oddness may cherish it.”
Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey
date tbd | Documentary | Directed by Terrence Malick
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience
October 7 | Documentary | Directed by Terrence Malick
Like many of his films since The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s new look at the origins of the universe is proving to be divisive in the critic community, and not just because there are two versions of the film. The longer of the pair, subtitled Life’s Journey and narrated by Cate Blanchett, premiered in Venice. There, critics praised the visuals, but the “insipid narration,” as Indiewire’s Ben Croll labels it, was too much for some reviewers. Deborah Young, who reviewed both films for The Hollywood Reporter, admires both films but prefers the longer version, while admitting that the 45-minute IMAX version narrated by Brad Pitt “is not surprisingly the more visceral physical experience. It also is far less magical and mystical than the longer version.... Pitt’s matter-of-fact narration is stripped of spiritual connotations and seems aimed to dazzle a younger audience of children and students. As the history of the universe speeds by in spectacular full-screen images, the eerie, intimate, urgent need to know why, which was so unique in Life’s Journey, dissolves into a pure documentary and writer-director Terrence Malick’s voice is muted beneath all those superb visual effects.”
VENICE GOLDEN LION (1ST PLACE) WINNER
The Woman Who Left
date tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Lav Diaz
Lav Diaz (Norte, the End of History) won the Golden Lion in Venice for this tale of Horacia, a former school teacher who spent 30 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Finally released, she seeks revenge against her wealthy ex-boyfriend who framed her. It's inspired by Tolstoy’s short story, God Sees the Truth But Waits. The film, running "only" 228 minutes, is much shorter than Diaz’s 485-minute opus A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery that premiered in Berlin earlier this year, and in THR’s opinion, it is also much better: “The Woman Who Left is a taut exercise in which every shot burns with condensed emotions and human empathy.”
What do you think?
Which of these festival films are you looking forward to seeing? Let us know in the comments section below.