2013 Fall Film Festival Recap: The Verdict on Films Screening at TIFF, Telluride, and Venice

  • Publish Date: September 17, 2013
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Below are summaries of the responses from professional critics to the notable films screening at this fall's three major film festivals: Telluride, Venice, and the Toronto International Film Festival. Each year, these three prestigious events are where many Oscar best picture nominees first premiere, and you can expect to see most (though not all) of these films in theaters before the end of the year.

We have excluded Enough Said, which opens in limited release tomorrow, as well as Prisoners and Rush, which open Friday; all three films are beginning to collect reviews from our usual critics outside the festival circuit. Note that films that first debuted at other major festivals earlier this year (such as Blue Is the Warmest Color and The Great Beauty) are also excluded; you can find reviews for those films in our Cannes Recap and our Sundance Recap.

TIFF People's Choice Winner
12 Years a Slave Watch trailer
October 18 | Drama | Directed by Steve McQueen

Recent TIFF People's Choice winners:

81 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
60 Where Do We Go Now? (2011)
88 The King's Speech (2010)
79 Precious (2009)
86 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Based on the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery, Steve McQueen’s third feature (following Hunger 82 and Shame 72) received almost unanimous praise for its director and star. The Telegraph calls McQueen’s work “compellingly humble but also majestic, because his radical showmanship is turned to such precise, human purposes.” Variety also believes McQueen is at the top of his game, noting, “Composition, sound design and story all cut together beautifully,” but adding that “the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor.” The Playlist adds, “It has the strokes you’d expect out of a studio picture but also some moments few other directors would have attempted.” Indiewire finds the film to be “a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics” while Film.com focuses on Ejiofor, who gives the film “its bruised, beating heart with every scene.” Time believes Slave is McQueen’s “most approachable, emotional film,” while The Guardian calls it “stark, visceral and unrelenting.” The Dissolve’s Noel Murray likes this “major motion picture, by an actual artist” that is “pitched just about perfectly throughout, with varying tones, and a narrative that pulls the viewer along.” His counterpart at The Dissolve, Scott Tobias, writes that it “accomplishes the Schindler’s List-level feat of treating the gravest of subject matter with the right tone while also functioning as an expressive, impassioned, devastating work of art.”

The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd finds McQueen’s “best” and “most conventionally satisfying” film “a triumph of storytelling, one less concerned with inspiring awe through aesthetics than investing viewers in its narrative,” but Ben Kenigsberg of the The A.V. Club gives minor demerits for “a few distracting cameos and an overwrought Hans Zimmer score.” Least enamored with McQueen’s direction is Slant Magazine: “McQueen, as is his wont, is largely content to craft images and sounds that strongly convey atmosphere and evoke great horrors, but are less visualizations of human feeling than artistic posturing.” Lastly, while many think the film is the front-runner in the best picture race, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis believes “this strong work of cinema” is exceptional not for the awards it will pick up, but for “how effectively and, for the most part, unsentimentally Mr. McQueen reveals slavery’s machinery of terror.”

August: Osage County Watch trailer #1 Watch trailer #2
December 25 | Drama/Comedy | Directed by John Wells

Tracy Letts provided the screenplay to this adaptation of his own award-winning play, and director John Wells cast plenty of Oscar winners and nominees in the ensemble, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Chris Cooper, to name but a few. So why weren't critics jumping at this bit of Oscar bait about a feuding family? THR finds August “intellectually and emotionally engaging moment to moment but slightly lumpy in terms of overall flow.” The Guardian believes Wells is “respectful to a fault,” and Film.com thinks the film, despite some good scenes, wastes “great” performances by Streep and Roberts. The Playlist also praises the lead actresses but rejects the film as “an exhausting, screechy drama, in which a lot of very good actors work very hard, and yet produce so little as a result.” While Time’s Richard Corliss is not as enamored of Streep’s “meticulous overplaying,” he believes Roberts’ work “may well put her in the Best Actress competition.”

The A.V. Club's Ben Kenigsberg believes “compression and an added sheen of earnestness mar” this “adequate” film adaptation, but Indiewire thinks “Wells deserves credit for juggling countless subplots without deflating the vitality of the material.” The highest praise comes from Scott Foundas of Variety, who calls it a “splendid film version” of the play. And The Telegraph applauds the film as well, but wonders if “the original, full-blown ending” should have been used. Interestingly, Vulture (beware of spoilers in the article) reports that Wells is still trying to convince The Weinstein Company to allow him to change the film's ending before its theatrical release this Christmas.

Bad Words
U.S. release tbd | Comedy | Directed by Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman’s directorial debut—about a man entering a spelling bee as an adult after losing as a child—has more in common with Bad Santa than just the first word of its title. The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd gives Words a “C” noting that “the jokes, while sometimes bracingly mean-spirited, aren’t half as good” as those in Bad Santa. Liking the film even less is The Playlist, admitting that Bateman “proves he can put together 90 minutes of a story tightly and cohesively. It's just too bad it had to be this material.” Indiewire believes “Bateman's performance is even more relevant to the merits of Bad Words than his largely straightforward direction.” Film.com feels that “a handful of truly amusing sequences” compensate for Bad Words being “a little too dopey,” but Variety is an unequivocal fan, calling Andrew Dodge’s 2011 Black List script a “veritable treasure trove of withering one-liners and pungent putdowns” and the two lead performances by Bateman and Rohan Chand (as his 9-year-old competition) “winning enough to warmly invite the viewer’s emotional investment the whole way.” Bad Words will be released by Focus Features, though a date has yet to be set.

Can A Song Save Your Life?
U.S. release tbd | Comedy/Drama | Directed by John Carney

Once 88 writer-director John Carney has returned to the world of music with his latest film, the story of a struggling music executive (Mark Ruffalo) who discovers a talented singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley). Critical opinions seem to vary depending on how much reviewers enjoy the original songs by Gregg Alexander of New Radicals. The Playlist warns that “the songs just aren't that good,” and the film is “decent enough on a first listen, but won't have you hitting replay immediately afterward.” The Guardian also dislikes the music, having kind words only for Mark Ruffalo as the film’s “sole saving grace.” While Film.com finds the songs to be “legitimately good,” they don’t “add up to a good film.” Indiewire feels a few of the songs “stand out” in a film with “a light touch but plenty of entertainment value.” The Dissolve’s Noel Murray likes the way Carney “structures the movie so that the story takes a backseat to the many scenes of musicians making magic in New York.” Also in the plus column, Variety writes, “Gregg Alexander’s music is undeniably the best thing about Can a Song Save Your Life?,” and THR believes “Carney demonstrates that the disarming emotional candor and intimacy of Once was no fluke.”

Dallas Buyers Club Watch trailer
November 1 | Drama | Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

In this true-life tale, Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a homophobic Texas electrician who was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1986 and went on to supply fellow AIDS patients with alternative treatments he smuggled into the country. Critics embraced director Jean-Marc Vallée’s film thanks to a solid screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, and, according to Variety, “terrific performances” by McConaughey and Jared Leto. Indiewire is impressed by “McConaughey's complex achievement,” and THR believes this is “a full-bodied characterization that will take McConaughey’s already impressive career regeneration several steps further.” Time calls his performance “a bold, drastic and utterly persuasive inhabiting of a doomed fighter” and also praises Leto’s “superb performance” that “shares, and almost seizes, the film’s emotional center.” Film.com agrees, “It’s all about the performances of McConaughey and Leto,” and The Telegraph finds that McConaughey’s “air of physical decrepitude is totally convincing” while praising Leto’s ability to resist “every tragic-sidekick cliché that comes within reach.” The Dissolve’s Noel Murray agrees “that the two leads are riveting” despite the film being “too slick and crowd-pleasing” for his taste. The Playlist likes the “smartly entertaining tale” highlighting “what is often a scene-stealing performance” by Leto, while The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd also gives the film a “B” for its moving “trajectory, which allows McConaughey to blossom into an empathetic figure.” Despite generally liking the film as well, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times believes “there’s something disconcerting about how this ghastly chapter in American history, with its multitudes of dead and government inaction, has been so neatly packaged.”

Devil's Knot
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Atom Egoyan

Critics were clearly not fans of Atom Egoyan’s dramatization of the West Memphis Three case. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, the film covers the same ground—only not as well—as the three Paradise Lost documentaries (the most recent being 2012's Purgatory) and West Of Memphis 80. Scott Foundas of Variety believes “what’s onscreen in Devil’s Knot almost always feels like a poor substitute for what was there in real life.” The Playlist feels it’s a missed opportunity “because there is a great ensemble here who could've made this a powerful piece of material, but they are simply given nothing to work with.” The Guardian writes, “The plotting and pace are so scratchy as to deflate a story which, on paper, abounds in amazing revelations and horrible ironies. This is a morbid, mawkish misfire, and the worst film at Toronto so far.” The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd gives the film a “D+,” finding it “only interesting for the questions it provokes about all such dramatizations,” and The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg gives the “unfocused and inert adaptation” a “D,” believing that “anyone who’s seen the documentaries will be hopelessly distracted. Those who watch it as a first exposure to the case won’t even be getting a digest of a digest.” Finally, Noel Murray of The Dissolve admits that there are a “few strikingly Egoyan-esque scenes here and there” but the director “doesn’t make this material his own so much as he haphazardly re-stages what a few good documentarians have already shot.” The film currently stands as the lowest-scoring work in Egoyan's filmography by a wide margin.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby [Him & Her]
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Ned Benson

Ned Benson’s debut feature—actually divided into two separate films—tells the story a couple, played by James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, who have been together for seven years until Chastain’s Eleanor decides to leave the relationship and asks McAvoy’s Connor not to contact her. Benson expands on this basic premise by looking at the relationship from the perspective of “Him” and “Her.” Each 90-minute film played back to back in Toronto, where the order of the films was reversed for a second screening. How the film will be distributed by The Weinstein Company, either as separate films or a single package, is unknown at this time. What is known is that critics were generally bullish on the result. Giving the film a “B,” Eric Kohn of Indiewire believes, after watching “Her” first, that “while both pieces of the entire package generally work independently of each other, they have just enough ingredients to necessitate a viewing of the whole thing.” Having watched “Him” first, The Playlist gives the film an “A-,” calling it “a finely tuned and tenderly detailed love story of two people told on a cosmic scale.” The Dissolve’s Noel Murray admits that “while the gimmick is frequently affecting, it’s rarely illuminating, because the two leads spend so much of their respective movies apart that their ways of seeing the world and each other aren’t contrasted much. That said, the few shared scenes between 'Him' and 'Her' are brilliantly written, staged, and performed, with subtle differences in each depending on the perspective of the protagonist.” THR believes it’s a “sensitive, talented debut that makes the gimmick of telling the same love story twice, from his & her viewpoints, almost work,” and Scott Foundas of Variety calls the film a “curious and mostly absorbing investigation of the bust-up of a marriage as seen through the eyes of both respective parties.”

Dom Hemingway
April 4, 2014 | Comedy/Drama | Directed by Richard Shepard

Jude Law stars as Dom Hemingway, a foul-mouthed safe-cracker recently released from prison, in Richard Shepard’s first feature film since 2005’s The Matador 65. Todd McCarthy at THR admits the film “is far from dull,” but adds that Hemingway “feels more like a pretender, a self-conscious and strained attempt to create an iconic criminal figure.” Most critics, however, embraced the film in general and Law’s lead performance in particular. The Playlist likes seeing Law at his “most outrageous and loutish,” and Film.com calls it “a career best performance.” Variety enjoys the dialogue that “comes fast and dense, layered with expletives and false bravado,” and over at The Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo believes it “might be the most sheer fun TIFF 2013 had to offer.”

The Double Watch trailer
U.S. release tbd | Comedy | Directed by Richard Ayoade

For his second feature, actor-turned-director Richard Ayoade (Submarine 76) adapts Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella The Double with Jesse Eisenberg playing Simon James, a nebbishy worker bee at a nondescript company, and his doppelgänger, James Simon, who has much more confidence. (Sadly, the double is not played by Michael Cera). Fully embracing the film, The Guardian describes it as a “moody, gloomy comedy" and "a taut study of self-identity that comes up with no easy answers.” Also a fan, The Playlist believes The Double confirms Ayoade “as one of the brightest rising talents behind the camera, it's completely his own and unlike anything you've seen in cinemas in quite some time.” Indiewire also likes this “grimly amusing picture” that “arrives at a satisfying emotional conclusion with wonderfully thoughtful ramifications.” Less enamored is Variety’s Justin Chang who is impressed by Ayoade’s “ambition and panache” but feels that, ultimately, it’s a “rigid, one-joke movie.” The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg gives the film a “B-” and admits, “There’s not a whole lot to this version of The Double, but its visual comedy and offhand surrealism make it a mild pleasure.”

U.S. release tbd | Thriller | Directed by Denis Villeneuve

While Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut Prisoners has received mostly good reviews in advance of its opening this Friday, his other feature to show in Toronto received a more mixed response. Enemy is an adaptation of José Saramago's The Double (not to be confused with Dostoyevsky's The Double, above) starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a teacher who believes he has found his perfect twin. It certainly wasn't all bad news. The Playlist calls it “first-rate filmmaking... profoundly unnerving” and “a transfixing grand slam that certifies Villeneuve as the real deal.” Film.com believes the film “might have the scariest ending of any film ever made,” but also writes, “Brimming with borderline ridiculous portent from the very beginning, Enemy’s wry hold is a thoroughly unexpected one, as though the film’s self-seriousness is deliberately intended to disarm the viewer into taking it less seriously.” THR finds it to be “as hauntingly strange as it is inconclusive and frustrating,” noting that the “oppressive tone never lets up.” For The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias, this “impenetrable twaddle” was the “low point” of TIFF, and A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club gives the film a “D+” dismissing it as a “ludicrous psychodrama” that is “tiresomely bombastic.” U.S. audiences will be able to form their own opinion on the divisive film when A24 brings it to theaters, though a date hasn't been set.

The F Word
U.S. release tbd | Comedy/Drama | Directed by Michael Dowse

Director Michael Dowse's follow-up to hockey comedy Goon 64 is a romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe as a med school dropout who falls for Zoe Kazan. Unfortunately for both of them, Kazan already has a boyfriend, played by Rafe Spall. Scott Tobias of The Dissolve embraced a “bright and utterly disarming” rom-com that’s “both funny and romantic.” His fellow critic at The Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo, is a little less enthusiastic, believing it’s “often very funny, with Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe giving great banter, but considerably less successful when striving for emotional resonance.” The L.A. Times’s Betsy Sharkey considers it “the best, and sweetest, of the filmmaker’s work yet,” while Film.com enjoys how “Kazan and Radcliffe elevate the potty-mouthed patter into veiled expressions of hope, doubt and devotion.” THR contends that “Kazan and Radcliffe don't have physical chemistry so much as an innocent, cheerful alignment of personalities.” While Variety finds the “sparkling performances” of Radcliffe and Kazan winning, Indiewire believes Radcliffe and Kazan give “formidable performances” that “manage to sustain the material in certain key scenes but can't liven it up.” One dissenting voice comes from The Guardian, complaining, “It's pulled this way and that by a hiddly-fiddly soundtrack, spun senseless by scene after scene of Radcliffe and Kazan trading flirtatious banter.” CBS Films will release The F Word in the U.S.

Fading Gigolo Watch trailer
U.S. release tbd | Comedy | Directed by John Turturro

Written and directed by and starring John Turturro as a paid escort and Woody Allen as his pimp, this comedy won over a few critics, with Ty Burr of the Boston Globe calling it the “slightest” but “loveliest” film he saw at the festival, and The Guardian naming it the “most charming film at Toronto this year.” Variety believes “Turturro brings sensitivity and intelligence to a subject that could have gone terribly awry,” while THR labels it an “oddball, sentiment-tinged comedy.” The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg feels that Gigolo is “in its own Martian way, a pretty tender film about loneliness and the need for human connection,” but The Playlist, while admitting the film is “engaging,” believes that “ideas for what would've been two really good separate films are combined into one merely adequate picture.” Millennium Entertainment will release the film in the U.S.

The Fifth Estate Watch trailer
October 11 | Drama | Directed by Bill Condon

Critics couldn’t keep themselves from mentioning the The Social Network when reviewing this fictionalized look at WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The Telegraph praises the actor's “technically ingenious performance which may be his juiciest ever,” but The Guardian thinks that Cumberbatch is “so magnetic” that the film’s attempt to also focus on his cohort, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), is “redundant.” THR likes the film’s “vision of Assange,” but believes it pales in comparison to The Social Network’s portrait of Mark Zuckerberg. Variety actually dislikes Cumberbatch’s performance, calling it a “somewhat one-dimensional turn, hemmed in by an overall sensibility that just can’t stop to probe deeper.” And, in giving the “slick and superficially entertaining” film a “C+,” the A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg dismisses Cumberbatch as giving “the kind of mannered, imitative performance best perfected through repeat viewings of 60 Minutes.” Other publications with reservations about The Fifth Estate include Film.com, which thinks the film “feels awfully familiar,” and Indiewire, which complains that “Condon's take messily oscillates between ham-fisted ideological sermons and the ingredients of a cyber thriller.” Lastly, The Dissolve’s Noel Murray notes it is “an entertaining film” that, unfortunately, “Condon frames as a brooding, nail-biting cautionary tale.”

Gravity Watch trailer Watch clip #1 Watch clip #2 Watch clip #3
October 4 | Sci-Fi | Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Along with 12 Years A Slave, Gravity made the most noise on the fall festival circuit. Beginning in Venice, continuing in Telluride and ending in Toronto, Alfonso Cuarón's follow-up to Children of Men 84 was roundly praised as a must-see cinematic experience. Here's a sampling of just some of the superlatives: the Village Voice calls it “both lyrical and terrifying”; Time, “a nail-gnawing space flight”; The Telegraph, “a science-fiction thriller of rare and diamond-hard brilliance"; THR, “so dazzlingly told as to make it a benchmark in its field”; Variety, “a work of great narrative simplicity and visual complexity”; The Playlist, “visceral, knuckle-chewingly tense stuff”; Film.com, “breathtaking, dizzying filmmaking"; The New York Times, “terrific”; and The Guardian, “brilliantly tense and involving.”

While reviews were generally as enthusiastic as the above quotes suggest, some critics expressed some minor complaints. The A.V. Club and The Dissolve will provide official reviews upon the film’s release, but their critics weighed in with their preliminary thoughts. The former's A.A. Dowd gave the film a relatively low “B-” writing, “Cuarón’s camera may seem weightless, floating as it does through the digital cosmos, but his clunky dialogue weighs Gravity down.” His colleague, Ben Kenigsberg, also gives the film a “B-” noting, “In narrative terms, though, it’s somewhat lacking, essentially counting on viewers to be so lulled by gorgeous refractions of light and insane long takes à la Children Of Men that they won’t care about dramatic anemia or missed opportunities for tension.” Over at The Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo asks for a double bill of All Is Lost and Gravity, calling the latter “one hell of a ride” despite it faltering in its use of “dialogue... backstory, and any sort of ‘character arc’.” Scott Tobias doesn't like the film as much as fellow festival hit 12 Years a Slave but feels “critics have overemphasized how much the dialogue and backstory intrudes on what’s primarily a staggering piece of spectacle.” Lastly, Noel Murray writes, “I think I liked Gravity a little more than either of my roommates, but... I also love task-oriented adventure movies, where people have to do a thing so that they can do another thing. And Gravity is relentless in that regard.”

The Invisible Woman
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Here's another festival film that went over extremely well with critics. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Charles Dickens in this true tale of Dickens’ affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, played by Felicity Jones. THR’s Todd McCarthy has high praise for the film as well as Jones, calling her “simply superb in a complex role.” Indiewire believes Fiennes “coaxes a fantastic performance out of Felicity Jones as Ternan,” and Variety’s Scott Foundas writes of Jones, “It is a performance of such fierce emotional control that, on the two occasions when the actress cracks something resembling a half-smile, it is as if a tremor has passed underneath the cinema.” Film.com adds to the kudos, writing, “Jones’ perfectly taciturn performance captures well her concerns over whether the need to feel wanted outweighs the possibility of being forgotten or, worse yet, remembered by others for all the wrong reasons.” The Telegraph believes Abi Morgan's script is better “than her work on either Shame or The Iron Lady – elegantly straddling two timelines to illuminate a deliberately obscured life." And Ty Burr of The Boston Globe writes, “The movie's a hushed and hesitant thing, extremely beautiful in its camerawork, lighting, and editing, and extremely British in its repression.”

U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green’s latest is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel about an ex-con (Nicolas Cage) who forms a fatherly relationship with a young boy (Tye Sheridan) who joins his work crew. While Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice and Scott Tobias of The Dissolve agree that the film is not a success, they differ on Cage’s performance, with Zacharek claiming “Joe doesn't give him much to work with,” and Tobias believing Cage “shows you why he’s one of the greatest actors on earth.” Other reviewers agree with Tobias. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn writes, “As Joe, a portly, stone-faced alcoholic with good intentions but an equal amount of uncontainable rage, Cage makes a surprisingly believable screen presence,” and The Guardian posits that Joe “stands as a reminder of what a terrific actor Cage can be when he is able to harness and channel his wilder impulses.” Film.com declares, “Cage, not one known for subtlety of late, is truly great in this sad, funny and tender role,” and Variety adds, “Cage bristles with unpredictable energy yet still allows Joe’s fundamental decency to shine through in an aces performance.” Lastly, The Playlist calls the film “a good story told very well,” and THR praises the “raw yet expertly measured performances from Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan.”

Labor Day
December 25 | Drama | Directed by Jason Reitman

Described as a major change of pace from his last feature (2011's Young Adult 71), Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel earned mixed reviews. The story takes place over a long weekend in 1987, leading to the titular day as a woman (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) are held captive and then quickly won over by an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). The L.A. Times’ Betsy Sharkey believes Labor Day is “right up there with [Reitman's] best,” and THR’s Todd McCarthy writes, “The film emits frequent pangs of emotion and tension, which enable it to prevail over threats from the cliches and inevitabilities of the story’s format.” Indiewire is also positive toward this “classical, melodramatic tearjerker that's also a sincere coming-of-age story,” and Film.com thinks it’s “as consistently assured a piece of filmmaking” as any we’ve seen from the filmmaker and very much in keeping with the decreasingly glib nature of his output.” Despite “tackling a project with such a major inherent hurdle,” Variety feels “what emerges is a powerful — if implausible — romance.” The Guardian writes, “Reitman must be aware of the potential for innuendo, and the leap of faith such earnestness asks of its audience. He dares us to care.”

Unfortunately, some critics couldn’t make that leap. The Telegraph praises the lead performances by Winslet, Brolin and Griffith but not the “sun-kissed emotional monotone” and “dreamy sincerity” of the film. The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg gives the film a “C-,” noting, “Reitman has taken a stab at bald-faced melodrama, trolling viewers with an almost comical onslaught of cliché.” And Noel Murray of The Dissolve laments, “All the ripe metaphorical qualities of Labor Day quickly rot, leaving only a typically strong Brolin performance, some gorgeous shots of a quaint New England small town, and what ultimately amounts to the craziest, longest “So how’d you learn to make pie?” story ever told.”

Life of Crime
U.S. release tbd | Comedy/Drama | Directed by Daniel Schechter

Supporting Characters 62 director Daniel Schechter’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1978 novel The Switch stars Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) as Ordell Robbie and John Hawkes as Louis Gara. If those character names sound familiar, you might be a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (or Leonard’s novel Rum Punch), because Ordell and Louis were played in that movie by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro. This Tarantino-less “prequel” also stars Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, and Isla Fisher. Variety thinks Aniston is “terrific” in this “sly, cleverly plotted caper,” and Indiewire agrees, claiming “Aniston tops any of her recent performances” while “the cast strengthens the material with a noticeable investment in its vivacious qualities.” The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg notes, “More stylish directors have tackled [Leonard's] work, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had,” and The Guardian calls the film “an unexpectedly winning take from one of the less splashy directors to have attempted Leonard.” Less enthusiastic are The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias, who labels it a “middle-of-the-road adaptation,” and THR, which concludes, “Daniel Schechter's Life of Crime starts promisingly and ends with a smile but underwhelms in between.” Finally, A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club admits “the main pleasure here is seeing younger versions of the characters from Jackie Brown.” Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions will release the film in the U.S.

U.S. release tbd | Thriller | Directed by Kim Ki-duk

Kim Ki-duk’s previous film, Pieta 72, won the Golden Lion in Venice despite moments of extreme violence and incest. His latest provocation features such pleasantries as severed penises (yes, plural), masturbation with rocks, and rape. As you may have guessed, it's a comedy. Actually, it's a wordless, very black, comedy, with no dialogue but plenty of grunts, groans, and screams. Most critics were in on the joke, but Film.com warns, “No one but the heartiest of filmgoers should even attempt Moebius, the words are all missing, the methods are largely obtuse, and the degree of difficulty in even stomaching the whole thing is profound.” THR’s chief complaint is “how the shock-and-awe narrative devices in Moebius basically rehash many a trope from Kim’s previous films.” Liking the film a bit more, The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo praises Kim’s “complete tonal control” of a film with “some truly classic moments in world cinema,” even though he feels “Kim’s efforts to make Moebius poignant as well as funny are considerably less successful.” Eric Kohn at Indiewire enjoys the “surprising combination of shocking behavior and keen visual storytelling.” Robbie Collin of The Telegraph writes, “Kim rattles you with this family’s bizarre and pitiful plight, and only then, from a place of agonised discomfort, does the laughter follow, in great whoops and roars,” and Variety concurs, “There’s no doubt the film is meant to be funny, an extreme black comedy, and neither is there any doubt that he also wants us to feel for these poor, broken, batshit-crazy people.” Lastly, The Playlist believes it’s “superior in every way to the dull Pieta.”

Night Moves
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Director Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff 85, Wendy and Lucy 80) moves into genre territory with this eco-terrorism thriller about three radical environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard) planning to blow up a dam. The Playlist believes that it’s “Eisenberg’s film,” even though his co-stars are “impressive” too, and THR agrees that “Night Moves is anchored by a performance of bristling intensity from an uncharacteristically taciturn Jesse Eisenberg, with excellent support from Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard.” The Guardian admires the way Reichardt “elects to remove the usual moral signposts and let us figure that out for ourselves,” and The Telegraph describes her film as an “unthriller; although it’s as tightly wound and gripping as a thumb-screw.” Variety thinks Reichardt “blends her lucid observational approach with a topical-thriller format to engrossing effect,” while Indiewire notes, “No stranger to crafting excessive anticipation, Reichardt has funneled that skill into thriller clothing. However, like all of her output, nothing is as simple as it looks." On the other hand, The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo is disappointed that “the characters feel like they’re at the mercy of the narrative rather than driving it,” and complains that while there are shocking events, “they carry little weight, because they seem imposed from without.” But his counterpart at The Dissolve, Scott Tobias, disagrees, finding the film “agonizingly suspenseful and thoughtful.” At The A.V. Club, Ben Kenigsberg gives the film a “B-” and writes, “The suspense is built exquisitely... But the movie’s upshot is banal.” And A.A. Dowd, in assigning a “B,” posits, “To say that we get to know any of these characters, or to really understand their motives, would be a stretch.”

Palo Alto Watch trailer
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Gia Coppola

Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola) makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of James Franco’s collection of short stories starring Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer (son of Val) and Nat Wolff as disaffected teens. It's a debut that The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis calls “promising,” and one that is also earning generally positive marks from other critics. Film.com praises Palo Alto as “one of the best movies ever made about high school life in America,” and THR’s Todd McCarthy believes it’s the “best feature film directed by someone named Coppola in a number of years.” Indiewire singles out the three leads, noting, “The movie's mainly valuable for the discovery of its talent, and that extends beyond its director.” Variety thinks Coppola “proves to have quite the eye, if not quite the natural storytelling instinct of her cinematic kin.” The Playlist admits the film “overstays its welcome a touch and ultimately feels fairly disposable, simply due to how well-trodden the territory is. But it's still a strong and soulful debut from Coppola.”

Parkland Watch trailer
October 4 | Drama | Directed by Peter Landesman

Peter Landesman’s debut feature received some harsh reviews when it played in competition in Venice, but a few critics came to the defense of this latest JFK assassination tale, which focuses on the events around Parkland Hospital on the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. Both The Playlist and The Telegraph reserve their only praise for James Badge Dale as Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert. The A.V. Club Ben Kenigsberg gives the film a “C+” and also likes Billy Bob Thornton, but warns, “Tolerance for variable acting is a must ... Jacki Weaver, as Oswald’s mother, gives perhaps the shrillest performance since the Kennedy administration.” Film.com believes Parkland is “more of an interesting concept than a fully rendered and effective film.” The Guardian calls the film a “smart little tale from the sidelines of history,” and The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo advises to “disregard the folks claiming it’s exploitative and vapid—it’s actually a serviceable (if little more than that) [film].” A much more positive THR labels Parkland “engrossing, quietly revelatory, and often profoundly moving as it retells a story we only thought we knew.”

TIFF People's Choice Runner-Up
Philomena Watch trailer
January 10, 2014 * | Drama | Directed by Stephen Frears

Adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Steve Coogan (who also stars) and Jeff Pope, this Stephen Frears film earned plenty of cheers at its Venice premiere, and impressed audiences in Toronto as well. Coogan plays Sixsmith, an ex-BBC correspondent doing a human-interest story on Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a woman searching for the son she gave up for adoption (with a strong push from the Catholic Church) as a young, unwed mother. The Guardian calls Philomena a “confounding delight,” and praises the “startling chemistry” between Coogan and Dench. Time Out London is happy that “Frears sidesteps easy melodrama in favour of a reserve tempered by mild comedy,” and Variety believes this “undeniable whopper of a yarn” is Frears’ “most compulsively watchable” film since The Queen. Time finds Dench to be the key to the film’s “poignancy and profundity,” and The Playlist notes, “If Philomena is Oscar bait... then it's Oscar bait done right.”

* The film will also have a LA/NY Oscar-qualifying run beginning December 25.

The Railway Man Watch trailer
U.S. release tbd | Drama | Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

This true story of a World War II veteran still haunted by his time building a railroad for Japan while a POW stars Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine (as Firth’s character during war times), Nicole Kidman (as Firth’s wife) and Stellan Skarsgård (as Firth’s friend and fellow soldier). Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man 53) directs this adaptation of Eric Lomax’s autobiography that has been picked up by The Weinstein Company for a U.S. release, which makes sense considering The Telegraph compares it to The Reader, calling the new film “polished and diagrammatic, with a slightly nervous degree of dutiful prestige.” Both Variety and THR label the film “stodgy,” though Variety concedes it is “tenderly acted by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.” The Playlist believes the film is “somewhat safe” with “very little in way of edge or even, surprisingly, emotion.” Liking it the most is The Guardian, which finds The Railway Man to be an “extremely affecting and accomplished drama.”

Stray Dogs
U.S. release tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Tsai Ming-liang

Tsai Ming-liang (Good Bye, Dragon Inn 82, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone 78) directs his first feature in four years with this look at an impoverished family in Taipei. His long takes and disregard for conventional narrative earned the film plenty of walkouts in Venice, but plenty of supporters as well. The Playlist calls Stray Dogs “one of the most distinctive and beguiling films” to play Venice and “a masterclass in directing,” but concedes that “while the form is undeniable, the content isn't quite as transcendent.” Variety believes the film’s stripped-down style leaves a “certain pictorial grace,” but worries that Tsai’s sense of humor is sadly missing. THR thinks it’s “an uncompromising work that is as much an art installation as a film, and, as is typical with Tsai’s work, “some will find the film’s unblinking intensity emotionally penetrating while others will dismiss it as taxing self-indulgence.” One critic who loves the film is Robbie Collin of The Telegraph: “Every shot of Stray Dogs has been built with utter formal mastery; every sequence exerts an almost telepathic grip. This film could have been beamed to Venice from another planet.” The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias names the “astonishing film” as one of his favorites of Toronto, and his fellow critic at The Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo, while not loving it quite as much, believes it’s “a powerful vision of surrealistic despair.” The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd is also a fan, giving the film an “A-” for its “cumulative power” as a “fiercely humanistic movie.”

Under the Skin
U.S. release tbd | Sci-fi | Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast 79) returns to feature filmmaking for the first time since 2004’s Birth 50 with this loose adaptation of Michel Faber's 2000 science fiction novel about an alien (Scarlett Johansson) tasked with capturing humans for her home planet. In Venice, where it played in competition, the film garnered both boos and cheers, and The A.V. Club's Ben Kenigsberg, giving the film an “A-” predicts a similar response for the life of the film, writing, “The movie is bound to be a polarizing experience, likely to at times irritate even viewers who admire it.” Those reviewers who admire it include Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, who calls the film “astonishing,” and Dave Calhoun at Time Out London, who describes Skin as “creepy, mysterious and bold” as well as an “intoxicating marvel, strange and sublime.” The Playlist likes Johansson’s performance, as does Film.com, writing “The actress works wonders with the sparse dialogue and an often passive demeanor.” Detractors include THR’s Todd McCarthy, who sees a film “more pictorially arresting than intellectually coherent, and Scott Foundas of Variety, who calls the film an “undeniably ambitious but ultimately torpid and silly tale.” The Dissolve’s Noel Murray raves that it’s a “classic” as well as a “visionary, extraordinary, unsettling mash-up of Species and Morvern Callar that the world never knew it needed,” and The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo concurs, having been convinced for an hour that he was seeing one of his “favorite movies of all time,” and one that is still “a fundamentally mindblowing experience.” In summation, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn writes, “Under the Skin, no matter its faults, certainly will get under yours.”

We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) Watch trailer
U.S. release tbd | Foreign/Drama | Directed by Lukas Moodysson

Director Lukas Moodysson returns to the more welcoming tone of his earlier work (Show Me Love 73, Together 84) with this adaptation of his wife’s graphic novel about three 13-year-old girls who form a punk band in 1982 Stockholm. The film was met with universal praise from critics, including all three from The Dissolve, even though Noel Murray wants the “more satisfying fullness” of Together and Lilya 4-Ever to go along with the “rough and true” portrayal of “punk fervor and female friendship.” Variety calls the film an “eccentric, authentic and utterly delightful evocation” of early teenage life, with “Moodysson’s unimpeachably sensitive hand” guiding the three leads to performances that are “aces.” THR believes that “the unforced charm of this limber, infectiously chaotic movie is due in part to its looseness, not to mention the empathy and affection of Moodysson’s regard for his characters.” And in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis praises the “joyous, heart-swelling story” as a “delightful return to form” for Moodysson.

The Wind Rises Watch trailer
February 21, 2014* | Animation/Drama | Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki’s 11th—and, thanks to his just-announced retirement, final—feature is a fantastical portrait of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s A6M Zero WWII-era fighter plane. Most critics were swept away by Miyazaki’s brilliant animation, but some were troubled by his handling of the difficult subject matter. The Guardian calls the film “genteel to a fault,” bemoaning, “It's too polite, it needs more bite.” Indiewire’s Eric Kohn likes the film more but admits, “The grim subtext of The Wind Rises goes largely unacknowledged, leading to a gaping hole in this otherwise beautifully realized narrative.” Though the story might be conventional, The Playlist believes that “the way it's told is anything but,” and THR sees “a very honest film from a great Japanese artist.” While admitted Miyazaki “agnostic” A.A. Dowd of the The A.V. Club suggests that the film is “more pleasant than transporting” despite the film being a “marvel of craftsmanship,” The Telegraph finds that Miyazaki “continues to astonish." And Scott Foundas of Variety calls The Wind Rises an “elegiac, hauntingly beautiful historical drama.” Finally, The Dissolve’s Noel Murray writes, “This is a beautiful, philosophical film about impossible choices, which sees life as complex but ultimately endurable.”

* The film will have a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in LA and NY beginning November 8.

You Are Here
U.S. release TBD | Comedy | Directed by Matthew Weiner

Unfortunately, Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner’s debut as a feature writer-director pales in comparison to his TV work. The film, a project in the works long before Mad Men hit, stars Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis as stoner best friends who travel to Galifianakis’s home after he inherits a goodly sum of money from his deceased father. While they are there, Galifianakis battles it out with his sister (Amy Poehler) and Wilson falls for the dead father’s young widow (Laura Ramsey). Even if you like those actors, this sounds like a film to avoid. The Playlist declares that You Are Here is a “shockingly inept comedy” that, among other problems, has “easily the worst” score in recent memory. Variety also harps on the score, which “overcompensates throughout by attempting to bolster every second with bouncy energy.” THR finds it “puzzling how a writer with such compelling insights into the complexities of human behavior and relationships could think this wishy-washy indie dramedy had anything interesting to say.” The A.V. Club’s Ben Kenigsberg gives the “baffling “ film a “C” for, amongst other things, its “terrible” comic timing. The Guardian believes the “sporadically funny but awkward” film “suffers from a problem of tone. It wants to be a stoner bromance, a pastoral romcom and an incisive drama about mental illness.” Lastly, Noel Murray of The Dissolve writes, “So much about You Are Here is misjudged that I’m not sure there ever was a point in the whole pre-production, production, and post-production process when the film could’ve been good.”

The Zero Theorem
U.S. release tbd | Drama/Sci-Fi | Directed by Terry Gilliam

Directing from an original screenplay by first-time feature writer Pat Rushin, Terry Gilliam’s latest tells the future-set story of an eccentric computer genius (Christoph Waltz) who is asked to solve an unsolvable problem. Unfortunately, The Telegraph feels Zero Theorem is “another noble failure” along the lines of Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, Tideland and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. THR also thinks this “facetiously wacky tale” doesn’t “add up to much,” and Variety calls it “a sci-fi confection that ... ends up dissolving into a muddle of unfunny jokes and half-baked ideas, all served up with that painful, herky-jerky Gilliam rhythm.” While The Guardian also sees a “sagging bag of half-cooked ideas,” that publication believes the film still has a “ragged charm"; similarly, Time Out London finds it “sometimes amusing” and “intermittently tedious.” While the film has plenty of problems, The Playlist also thinks “there’s much to like, from Waltz’s performance to the typically rich production and costume design.” And Time writes, “The new film may not possess the grand view and crazed narrative propulsion of Brazil, but Gilliam crams a similarly dense, repressive and visually splendid nightmare of totalitarian glitz on the screen.”

A few more worth noting

Click on any of the links below to find a few published reviews for each film.

  • Gianfranco Rosi‘s Sacro GRA, the first documentary to ever win the Golden Lion (the top prize) at the Venice Film Festival and the first Italian winner since 1998, looks at the people who live and work around Rome’s gigantic ring road.
  • Alexandros Avranas won the Silver Lion for best director for Miss Violence, the story of a Greek family dealing with the aftermath of a child’s suicide.
  • Starring Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Breillat’s autobiographical Abuse of Weakness tells of the filmmaker’s stroke and subsequent swindling at the hands of a known con-man.
  • The Armstrong Lie, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, looks at the cyclist’s 2009 comeback and the 2013 fallout after he admitted using drugs.
  • Child of God, James Franco’s third film to have a festival screening this year, is an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man’s descent into depravity.
  • Eli Roth brings Amazonian cannibals to the torture porn party of The Green Inferno.
  • Kevin Macdonald’s adaptation of Med Rosoff’s How I Live Now stars Saoirse Ronan as a 15-year-old girl whose life changes when a nuclear bomb explodes in London.
  • With Locke, writer-director Steven Knight proves that all you need to making a riveting film (according to most critics) is Tom Hardy, a BMW, and a phone connection.
  • Writer-director Götz Spielmann follows his critical hit Revanche with October November, the story of a family reunion that opens old wounds.
  • Donald Rumsfeld avoids the fog of war in Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known.

What do you think?

Which of these festival films are you looking forward to seeing? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (2)

  • MarcDoyle  

    August: Osage County was an incredibly good play I'm so fired up to see the film. That's a truly heavyweight cast.


    My must see film is not on the list Only Lovers Left Alive seems to be getting great reviews at all the festivals and has sold out for the London Film Festival. But following that 12 years a Slave, The Railway Man, Philomena, Blue is the Warmest Colour and Dallas Cowboy. Most disappointing is Fifth Estate. I was looking for ward to it but the general focus and some of the publicity around it has put me off. Planning to see the documentary We Steal Secrets instead..I also like the sound of Fading Gigolo but despite the hype Osage County is just not grabbing me.

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