Fall Film Festival Recap: Best & Worst of TIFF, Telluride, and Venice

  • Publish Date: September 15, 2019
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Which films impressed at the big three fall festivals?

Berlinale 2019

The back-to-back-to-back film festivals in Telluride, Venice, and Toronto herald the start of Oscar season each fall, as the bulk of each year's eventual nominees typically screen at one or more of the three festivals. And a poor reception at the festivals can signal an end to a film's Oscar dreams.

With that in mind, we have summarized critics' responses to over 70 key films (and a few upcoming TV shows) screening at the three festivals. To help you sort through the winners and losers, we have divided the films into three sections. First come the films that wowed critics (and/or won awards), followed by additional noteworthy films that proved to be good rather than great (though could still be in awards contention), followed by a final group consisting of this year's festival flops.

A few movies which have opened in theaters prior to the end of TIFF (most notably, this week's newcomers The Goldfinch and Hustlers) are excluded since they have already been reviewed outside of the festivals. Also excluded are films which previously screened at other festivals (including Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, and Cannes) this year, including buzzy titles like Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Pain and Glory, and A Hidden Life.

The standouts and award winners

Venice Silver Lion (Best Director) Winner
About Endlessness (Om det oändliga)
Drama | Sweden/Germany/Norway | Directed by Roy Andersson

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If you’re a fan of Roy Andersson’s previous three films (2014 Golden Lion winner A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, You the Living, Songs from the Second Floor), fear not. The exacting and unique style of the Swedish filmmaker, who won the Silver Lion for Best Director in Venice, has not changed for his latest, a series of vignettes described by CineVue's John Bleasdale as “New Yorker cartoons scripted by Samuel Beckett.” IndieWire's David Ehrlich thinks it Andersson’s “least funny and most tender” film, while Variety’s Guy Lodge notes, “If we’ve been here before, the immaculate, somehow tender-hearted execution of About Endlessness ensures this is not a complaint.”

Ad Astra Watch trailer(s)
Sci-fi/Adventure | USA | Directed by James Gray

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Writer-director James Grey’s follow-up to The Lost City of Z is a space adventure starring Brad Pitt as Roy McBride, an astronaut tasked with traveling to the outer edges of the solar system to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who might hold the key to a mystery that threatens the planet. CineVue’s John Bleasdale finds it “derivative,” with scenes that “come and go with a weightlessness that has nothing to do with zero gravity.” But other critics enjoy the film more. One of those, to an extent, is Justin Chang of the LA Times, who claims it’s “somber, stirring, ridiculous and just shy of sublime.” But IndieWire's David Ehrlich believes it does reach that sublime level, calling it “awe-inspiring” and “one of the most ruminative, withdrawn, and curiously optimistic space odysseys this side of Solaris. It’s also one of the best.” And many other critics agree, including Xan Brooks of The Guardian, who praises it as "an extraordinary picture," and The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez, who deems it "deeply personal, thought-provoking, and thrilling." You won't have to wait long to form your own opinion; Ad Astra opens nationwide on Friday.

Bad Education
Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Cory Finley

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Director Cory Finley’s follow-up to his debut feature, Thoroughbreds, tells the true story of the Roslyn School District embezzlement scandal. Written by Mike Makowsky (I Think We're Alone Now), who was a student in the school district when the scandal broke, this “tidy and engrossing corruption drama” allows Hugh Jackman to “explore the profundity in the petty” and makes for a “gripping character study,” according to Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair. Jackman leads the cast as Frank Tassone, the beloved superintendent who must cover his tracks after the spending of his assistant (Allison Janney) catches the eye of a student reporter (Geraldine Viswanathan). The Guardian's Benjamin Lee believes Finley’s latest is “the work of someone still finding their footing, a few degrees away from something worth truly shouting about,” but in his review for The Playlist Charles Bramesco claims, “Finley did exactly what a director’s supposed to do when he has a buzzy first film; he leveled up, both in terms of his production’s scale and the maturity of his critiques.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Marielle Heller

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Following The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, director Marielle Heller looks to have her third critical success in a row with this Tom Hanks-starring tribute to the power of Fred Rogers. Based on journalist Tom Junod’s Esquire article on the beloved children’s television host, the film also stars Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel, an emotionally stunted writer assigned to profile Mister Rogers. It’s “one of the year’s most entertaining films, and the one that might elicit the most weeping,” writes Jordan Raup of The Film Stage. Variety's Owen Gleiberman thinks Hanks “isn’t just good — he’s transporting. He takes on Mister Rogers’ legendary mannerisms and owns them, using them as a conduit to Rogers’ disarming inner spirit,” and adds that Heller has “a gift for flooding seemingly straightforward scenes with emotion.” Minor grumbles come from A.A. Dowd of the AV Club, who describes it as a “pretty safe movie, pushing a rather boilerplate redemption-recovery story,” and THR's Todd McCarthy, who admits Hanks is “perfect in the role,” but wishes he was put in a “few more varied situations.” The film heads to theaters on November 22nd ahead of what is sure to be a significant "for your consideration" campaign.

TIFF People's Choice Winner (Documentary)
The Cave
Documentary | Syria/Denmark/Germany/USA/Qatar | Directed by Firas Fayyad

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Director Firas Fayyad follows his Oscar-nominated documentary Last Men in Aleppo with a return trip to his native Syria, this time to focus on a woman pediatrician who treats wounded children in a secret subterranean hospital and must battle rampant sexism in addition to dealing with the horrors and devastation of the ongoing war. Critics are impressed with what could be another Oscar nominee. Film Threat's Andy Howell claims, "It is as moving as it is possible for a film to be." In his "B+" review, IndieWire critic Eric Kohn describes The Cave as "a frantic, unnerving window into Syria’s collapse, and a nerve-wracking thriller that alternates between acts of courage and utter despair." And The Hollywood Reporter's Caryn James thinks it "perhaps more wrenching and even more ambitious in its visuals" than Last Men. (Note, however, that those visuals are often tough to watch; Variety's Tomris Laffly notes of an otherwise "miraculous" film, "'The Cave' doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to graphic images, many of them involving severely wounded children.") National Geographic will bring the film to theaters beginning October 18.

TIFF People's Choice Winner
Jojo Rabbit Watch trailer(s)
Comedy/Drama | USA | Directed by Taika Waititi

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2018 Green Book 69
2017 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 88
2016 La La Land 93
2015 Room 86
2014 The Imitation Game 73
Recent People's Choice Winners

Can Taika Waititi follow in Charlie Chaplin's footsteps and succeed where Jerry Lewis and (arguably) Roberto Benigni could not? The Thor: Ragnarok director's first original film since 2016's Hunt for the Wilderpeople occupies that rarest, riskiest of film genres: the Holocaust comedy. An "anti-hate satire" set during WWII, and based very loosely on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit centers on a 10-year-old German boy (widely praised newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) who discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home, and has only his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself), to confide in. The film's Toronto debut proved to be just as divisive as you would expect—though it obviously had enough admirers among TIFF audience members to win the coveted People's Choice Award, which is usually a guarantee of an Oscar best picture nomination. (In fact, you have to go back to 2011 to find the last time a People's Choice winner did not get a best picture nod.)

What's it like? Twee, for one thing. According to Owen Gleiberman in Variety (and others elsewhere), "It’s like a Wes Anderson movie set during the Third Reich." His chief concern, however, is that the film "pretends to be audacious when it’s actually quite tidy and safe"—a sentiment also voiced by numerous critics. One of those is Screen's Tim Grierson, who is disappointed to find the result "so meagre" and also "a little too safe, a little too scattered, and a little too inconsequential." IndieWire's Eric Kohn sees a "bizarre mishmash of cinematic ingredients" that makes 'Life is Beautiful' look like 'Shoah.'" He also finds the director's approach "misconceived," since skirting around the issue of the Holocaust and making the Nazis so cartoonish is "not only crass but disingenuous." And Slant's Keith Uhlich dismisses the film as "spectacularly wrongheaded" and "shamelessly offensive" (which he means as severe criticisms but could wind up on the movie poster nevertheless), adding, "It doesn’t help that this misguided monstrosity is utterly devoid of laughs." Hannah Woodhead agrees with the latter conclusion in Little White Lies, calling the film "woefully unfunny," though she does admit to some "brief flashes of something worthwhile" in the film.

But The Wrap's Steve Pond finds a successful film that works as "a twisted piece of grandly entertaining provocation," while Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt thinks that Waititi "takes a big, wild swing" and mostly connects, save only for a slightly wobbly ending. And Slashfilm's Chris Evangelista praises a "remarkable" film that "is both a magic trick and a high-wire act." So despite the major criticisms, you'll still see Jojo Rabbit on some year-end top-10 lists. You can decide for yourself when the film opens in theaters on October 18.

Venice Golden Lion (1st Place) Winner
Joker Watch trailer(s)
Action-adventure/Thriller | USA | Directed by Todd Phillips

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2018 Roma 96
2017 The Shape of Water 87
2016 The Woman Who Left 83
2015 From Afar 73
2014 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 81
Recent Golden Lion winners

Only the Joker could cause this much chaos. Writer-director Todd Phillips’ Golden Lion winner is either a masterpiece or an irresponsible, incel-inciting disaster; a comic book movie or a character study; a triumph of craft and acting or a waste of talent and sweat. Or it’s none of those things, or all of them, or somewhere in between. One thing people who have seen it agree on is that this story of Arthur Fleck’s transformation into the Joker is heavily influenced by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. The other is that Joaquin Phoenix stars in it.

Time's Stephanie Zacharek believes “Phillips may want us to think he’s giving us a movie all about the emptiness of our culture, but really, he’s just offering a prime example of it.” Slightly more positive (especially about Phoenix’s performance) but arriving at roughly the same conclusion, Alissa Wilkinson of Vox contends, “It has nothing to say about the Joker himself or what he represents, or even about the world in which his brand of evil exists. Go ahead and crack open the movie. It’s hollow to the core.”

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson thinks the film’s “provocative ambivalence” eventually “gives way to veneration.” And in his "B–" review for the AV Club, A.A. Dowd declares it an “operatic and fashionably nihilistic smear of comic-book mythmaking,” with Phillips doing a “dorm-room approximation” of Scorsese’s classics, “swiping their alienation without quite keying into their humor or occasional warmth,” despite a “riveting” performance by Phoenix.

Agreeing with the Venice Jury, Empire's Terri White praises this “bold, devastating and utterly beautiful” reinvention of the comic book movie, and John Bleasdale of CineVue goes as far as calling it a “cracked masterpiece” with a “masterful performance” by Phoenix. Critic opinions likely won't matter much, however; brisk early ticket sales suggest a record-setting debut for this October 4 release.

Knives Out Watch trailer(s)
Drama/Comedy/Thriller | USA | Directed by Rian Johnson

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Rian Johnson’s intermezzo between Star Wars projects is “an ingenious sleight-of-hand crowdpleaser” that “stacks surprises on top of surprises, springing them so early and often,” writes A.A. Dowd of the A.V. Club. This original whodunit with elements of Agatha Christie stars Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, a Southern detective enlisted to solve the mysterious death of wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombrey (Christopher Plummer). With a cast that also includes Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield, Johnson has produced an “ingeniously plotted, tremendously entertaining and deviously irreverent crowd-pleaser,” according to David Rooney of THR. But be forewarned: Due to its many twists, this is a film best seen cold, and while Charles Bramesco admits in his review for The Playlist “so little of it can be discussed,” it’s a “triumph, both as gratuitously enjoyable entertainment and the first film to take on the significance of a President Trump without lapsing into corny preachiness.” Knives Out heads to theaters over Thanksgiving weekend.

Marriage Story Watch trailer(s)
Comedy/Drama | USA | Directed by Noah Baumbach

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1 Marriage Story 96
2 Portrait of a Lady on Fire 93
3 The Souvenir 92
4 Parasite 91
  For Sama 91
Highest-scoring films of 2019 so far*


* at time of article publication. Go here for a constantly updated list.

Meet your new leading contender for the title of 2019's best film. Emerging from the three festivals with the highest Metascore of any movie this year so far, the latest from increasingly acclaimed writer-director Noah Baumbach boasts a simple premise that belies its surprising impact. Charlie (Adam Driver), a theater director, wants to stay in New York. His wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), an actress, gets a coveted role in Los Angeles. This change, an eight-year-old son in the middle, and lawyers are all their tenuous relationship needs to begin its ending.

The AV Club's A.A. Dowd finds Marriage Story “woundingly perceptive,” a “deeply thoughtful and empathetic” film about “how difficult it is—logistically, on top of all the messy feelings—to end a marriage.” A key to the appeal of the film for many critics, including CineVue's John Bleasdale, is the film’s ability to find “humour and humanity in the mutually assured destruction of a messy divorce.” The comedy and tragedy are played brilliantly by Driver and Johansson in a “pair of devastating performances … that rank as their very best,” according to IndieWire's Eric Kohn. In her review for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang adds to the praise of the film’s ability to capture all of life’s complexities: “Piercingly uproarious and still sometimes hard to watch, Baumbach brilliantly captures so many elements of relationships and breakdowns, but the grotesque absurdity of civility is some marvelous next level shit.” Wrapping it all up, The Wrap's Alonso Duralde writes, “It’s devastating, essential, and destined to be remembered long after this awards cycle ends.”

The Netflix film, which finished second in voting for the People's Choice Award at TIFF, will head to theaters on November 6 prior to its streaming debut one month later on December 6.

Venice Grand Jury Prize (2nd Place) Winner
An Officer and a Spy [J'accuse]
Drama/Thriller | France/Italy | Directed by Roman Polanski

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At this point in Roman Polanski’s career, moviegoers may find it difficult to separate the artist from the art. But Lucrecia Martel’s Venice jury didn’t seem to have a problem, awarding Polanski's latest film, a dramatization of the imprisonment on Devil’s Island of Jewish French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus (Louis Garrel) and subsequent investigation into that sentence, the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. Jean Dujardin stars as Georges Picquart, the head of the military counter-intelligence unit, who comes to suspect Dreyfus is innocent. Screen Daily's Tim Grierson believes the film chronicles the “Dreyfus Affair not with passion and fury but, rather, sober deliberation, meticulous detail and emotional restraint.” But Alonso Duralde of TheWrap claims the film “just ticks off each story development in a rote and flatly uninteresting manner,” and Robbie Collin The Telegraph's Robbie Collin labels it a “sober, stiff-collared procedural, handsomely shot but also oddly bloodless until the more conventional paranoid-thriller rhythms of its final act kick in.” Lastly, David Ehrlich of IndieWire claims it “has the moldy whiff of C.S.I.: Belle Époque.” In other words, this one might be for Venice jury members only.

Saint Maud
Horror | UK | Directed by Rose Glass

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First-time director Rose Glass impressed critics at Toronto with her brisk psychological horror two-hander about an overly pious nurse (Morfydd Clark) who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of her terminally ill cancer patient (Jennifer Ehle). CineVue's Christopher Machell raves, "Saint Maud is the dive into obsession, isolation and urban deprivation that you need right now." THR's Leslie Felperin is also a fan, calling Maud a "striking and auspicious feature debut," though she points out an "ambiguity of genre" that "may frustrate some viewers" wishing for something more straightforward. IndieWire's David Ehrlich thinks it a "slender but unholy cross between 'First Reformed' and 'The Exorcist'” that makes for a "severe and wickedly crafted debut feature." Variety's Guy Lodge also thinks it's "one hell of a debut," while Slashfilm's Meredith Borders admires how "Glass creates something utterly her own, a female-forward examination of trauma, religion, sexuality and shame."

Sound of Metal
Drama | USA | Directed by Darius Marder

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Riz Ahmed stars as the drummer of a noise metal band who is forced to reexamine his life when he loses his hearing in this narrative directorial debut for Darius Marder (co-writer of The Place Beyond the Pines, whose director, Derek Cianfrance, is an executive producer here). It's an impressive start for the clearly talented Marder and another terrific showcase for The Night Of's Ahmed, who learned both drumming and American Sign Language in preparation for the role. Metal is "a powerhouse character study" according to NOW's Norman Wilner, while IndieWire's Eric Kohn calls it a "mesmerizing debut" built on "the best use of sound design in recent memory" and a "brilliant performance" by Ahmed. In The Playlist, Charles Bramesco admires how "Marder believes devoutly in the power of actors and acting, preferring to get out of the way and let them show their stuff. Ahmed returns the favor by delivering career-best work by a wide margin, letting out all his ferocity and vulnerability as if from a freshly lanced boil," adding, "In the ‘70s, this would be Oscar-caliber stuff." Screen's Wendy Ide similarly finds a "remarkably assured debut" that "uses the medium of cinema to its fullest extent, both visually and aurally."

Amazon acquired the film at Toronto and will release it in theaters, though no date has been set.

True History of the Kelly Gang
Drama/Western | Australia | Directed by Justin Kurzel

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After directing Macbeth and Assassin's Creed, Justin Kurzel returns to the Australian roots of his debut feature, The Snowtown Murders, with this adaptation of Peter Carey’s 2000 Man Booker-winning novel about legendary outlaw Ned Kelly. George MacKay stars as Kelly, leading a strong cast that includes Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, Essie David, and Charlie Hunnam. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw believes Kurzel “detonates a punk power-chord of defiance and anarchy with this brutally violent and unflinchingly stark tale that unfolds in a scorched, alien-looking landscape.” Adding to the praise, Guy Lodge writes in his review for Variety, “Kurzel’s roughhousing, ripely acted interpretation does full justice to the book’s rugged dirt-poetry vernacular and rich biographical particulars, while staging Kelly’s criminal rise and fall as a vision all its own: a wildly gyrating sensory assault of blood, velvet and strobe lights.”

The Two Popes Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA/UK/Italy/Argentina | Directed by Fernando Meirelles

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Not to be confused with HBO's The New Pope, which also screened at Venice, The Two Popes finds director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) imagining what traditionalist Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the reformist future Pope Francis discuss behind Vatican walls. “Anchored by two outstanding performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the film is a triumph of writing as well as unostentatious filmmaking,” writes Stephen Farber in his review for THR. It’s a sentiment echoed by Variety's Peter Debruge, who claims it’s a “brilliant two-hander,” an “extraordinary piece of writing,” and an “even more impressive showcase for its actors." It's also yet another Netflix film, and it'll play in theaters beginning November 27 before heading to the streaming service on December 20.

Uncut Gems
Drama/Comedy/Thriller | USA | Directed by Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie

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If you expected the Safdie brothers to take it easy after Good Time, you’d be mistaken. This manic crime thriller follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, in a performance that rivals his work in 2002's Punch-Drunk Love, pretty much his last good film prior to this one), a New York City jeweler always on the hustle. IndieWire's Eric Kohn calls Uncut Gems a “riveting high-wire act, pairing cosmic visuals with the gritty energy of a dark psychological thriller and sudden bursts of frantic comedy.” And while Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist thinks it “dizzying, but engrossing and entertaining,” he also warns that it's “not for the faint of heart.” Lastly, in his review for Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins writes, “Gems occupies a larger, more terrifying world than the Safdies’ previous films, and it also wears us down with much less inhibition, if you can imagine that.” A24 will release the film in theaters on December 13.

Waves Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Trey Edward Shults

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The latest from director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night, Krisha) is a bifurcated narrative about a family in crisis. The first half focuses on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr. from this year’s Luce), a senior in high school in love with his girlfriend (Alexa Demie) but also a star wrestler pushed to achieve by his father (Sterling K. Brown). The second half shifts to Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell), and her romance with Tyler’s teammate, Luke (Lucas Hedges). This structure challenged critics like The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, who notes, “there are two films here: one is frightening and poignant and the other tender but slight. The first one will haunt me even if the second will fade.” But for Barry Hertz of The Globe and Mail, the film as a whole is “operatic, immersive and overwhelming.” And, in his review for Variety, Peter Debruge contends that “movies of this caliber come along seldom to never,” it’s a “rare sort of cinematic achievement that innovates at every turn, while teaching audiences how to make intuitive sense of the way it pushes the medium.” Waves will head to theaters on November 1st.

Western Stars Watch trailer(s)
Documentary/Music | USA | Directed by Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny

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Co-directed by Bruce Springsteen and his longtime collaborator Thom Zimny, this unique concert film includes all 13 songs from Springsteen’s latest album performed at his farmhouse in New Jersey for an intimate group of family and friends. In between the performances, Springsteen talks about what inspired the songs while images of him in Joshua Tree appear on the screen. It’s a “gorgeous tone poem that both deepens and personalizes the audio recording, creating a satisfying emotional arc that isn’t as apparent in the collection of 13 fully-orchestrated country-tinged songs,” writes Michael Rechtshaffen in his THR review. Variety's Owen Gleiberman echoes that sentiment: “Springsteen spins his confessions into a beautiful and haunting tone poem, yet he remains every inch a showman.” And Steve Pond of TheWrap claims it’s “essential viewing for Springsteen fans … but it has the grace and humanity to connect outside his devoted fan base as well.” The film will head to theaters on October 25th.

 

Other notable festival debuts

The Aeronauts Watch trailer(s)
Drama/Adventure | UK | Directed by Tom Harper

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The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite for a hot air ballooning adventure set during one day in 1862, when a daredevil pilot and a meteorologist team up to attempt to set an altitude record. (It's very loosely based on actual events.) Critics emerged from a Telluride screening slightly more uplifted than deflated. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy enjoys what he deems "an unusual, borderline eccentric story." In IndieWire, Eric Kohn compares the suspenseful aerial action to both Free Solo and Gravity, though he admits that, "It’s not as immaculately constructed as either movie, but at its best, it echoes their visceral intensity," and he also warns that detours into "random tangents on the ground" detract from the film's momentum and interest. The Playlist's Gregory Ellwood concurs, writing of "a hodgepodge of a story that only really works when Glaisher and Wren are in the sky," though he adds that, "When they are it’s absolutely gorgeous." But Screen's Fionnuala Halligan thinks the crowd-pleasing film soars, noting, "Fans of the classic, old-style British adventure epic are certainly in for a treat."

Though it's an Amazon production, Aeronauts was filmed partially in IMAX and will get a theatrical release beginning December 6 (though it looks like it will no longer hit IMAX screens) before heading to Prime Video on December 20.

The Assistant
Drama | USA | Directed by Kitty Green

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Julia Garner (Ozark) plays the assistant to a powerful film industry executive—who remains unseen and unnamed and is ABSOLUTELY NOT Harvey Weinstein (one assumes the production's lawyers are shouting)—in the first narrative feature from Casting JonBenét director Kitty Green. THR's Todd McCarthy compares this day-in-the-life snapshot to a "concentrated, minimalistic theater piece," but warns that it might be a little too inside baseball and that "the central character never develops in an interesting way." IndieWire's Eric Kohn is more enthusiastic, calling the film "a significant cultural statement in cinematic form" and praising Garner's performance as "a masterclass of small, uncertain gestures." The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez also raves about Garner's work and calls the film as a whole "provocative and challenging," but cautions that it "might be too muted and remote for some audiences." In fact, it's too muted for Variety critic Peter Debruge, who laments, "This is no time for subtlety, and yet Green’s film feels so restrained, you’d think she was afraid of being sued for slander." The film is still seeking distribution after its Telluride premiere.

Babyteeth
Drama/Comedy | Australia | Directed by Shannon Murphy

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Australian stage and TV director Shannon Murphy's debut feature stars Eliza Scanlen (Amy Adams’ sister on Sharp Objects) as Milla, a seriously ill teenager who falls in love with Moses, a junkie played by Toby Wallace, who was awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at Venice. Working from Rita Klanejais’ adaptation of her own play and enlisting Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis to play Milla’s parents, Murphy attempts to strike the right balance between humor and pathos. For THR's David Rooney, the film takes a “maddening route to a satisfying destination.” However, David Ehrlich of IndieWire finds it “off-kilter but always raw; delicate, but never precious,” and in his review for Variety, Guy Lodge declares it a "wickedly perverse and, in time, intensely moving variation on familiar coming-of-age themes that marks an arresting feature debut.”

Briarpatch Watch trailer(s)
TV/Drama/Anthology | USA | Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (ep. 1) and Steven Piet (ep. 2)

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Created by critic/writer/podcaster Andy Greenwald and produced by Mr. Robot's Sam Esmail, Briarpatch is an upcoming anthology series (which will debut in early 2020 on the USA Network) that will follow a different story each season with something akin to Fargo's darkly comedic, neo-noir tone. Season 1 adapts the 1984 Ross Thomas novel of the same name and stars Rosario Dawson as a political fixer who returns to her small Texas hometown to investigate her sister's suspicious death. Jay R. Ferguson (in a scene-stealing performance), Kim Dickens, Alan Cumming, Chris Mulkey, and Ed Asner also star.

Critics saw the first two episodes at TIFF and offered somewhat tentative enthusiasm for the series. Though IndieWire's Ben Travers notes a slight dropoff after episode 1, which featured the perfect match of material to director (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night's Ana Lily Amirpour), he still finds that the combined two hours set up "a slick, colorful, one-off anthology season that could very well be worth the 10-hour investment." Den of Geek's Nick Harley is impressed by a show that "threads the needle so deftly between quirky ensemble dramedy and pot-boiler mystery," and Variety TV critic Daniel D'Addario claims, "Anchored by a strong Rosario Dawson performance and flavored with wit and a real sense of place, 'Briarpatch' is a charmer." But while THR's Dan Fienberg admires the "superb and quirky cast," he thinks that the first two hours aren't "twisty or funny or sexy or brazen enough" to make him look forward to the full series, though he admits that it's "not without potential" should the series find its footing in subsequent episodes. Similarly, ShowBuzzDaily's Mitch Salem sees "a relatively conventional murder mystery stretching for oddness," adding, "Imposing David Lynchiana on a straightforward mystery feels so far like an affectation."

Clifton Hill
Drama/Thriller | Canada | Directed by Albert Shin

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The third feature from Canadian director Albert Shin is an off-kilter psychological thriller about a woman (Tuppence Middleton) who returns home to the titular tourist neighborhood in Niagara Falls after the death of her mother, only to become obsessed with the hazy memory of a kidnapping she believes she witnessed as a child. Hannah Gross plays her estranged sister, and director David Cronenberg appears in a supporting role as a podcaster who may have clues to the case. The result may have too many twists for its own good. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico dismisses the film as "convoluted and flat," and Variety's Scott Tobias echoes the "convoluted" tag, comparing the film (unfavorably) to Chinatown, thanks to a similar conspiracy involving a town's water supply. For The Playlist's Andrew Bundy, David Lynch is the comparison of choice thanks to a bit of weirdness present in Clifton Hill, though he mostly finds the result "tonally confusing" and "too tame and tepid to truly work as weird noir."

Color Out of Space
Sci-fi/Horror | USA | Directed by Richard Stanley

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It could be your next midnight movie obsession. The first narrative feature in 25 years for South African director Richard Stanley (perhaps best known for being fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau) is a trippy, humorous, and liberal adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, and serves as a showcase for Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged. Cage plays the patriarch of a New England family that gradually begins to lose touch with reality after a colorful (but, as it turns out, sinister) meteorite lands on their alpaca-filled farm. Looking for something "fun, messy, [and] deliberately over-the-top?" Well, that's exactly what it is, says Variety's Dennis Harvey, though he also notes that Cage delivers "one of his less inspired gonzo-style performances." But The Playlist's Charles Bramesco finds Cage "the ideal candidate to star in this eldritch head trip," and he also declares that "Stanley still has the chops" after his lengthy hiatus. In The Film Stage, Josh Lewis seems to admire the director's "true sense of wackiness," adding, "No people would act the way they do in this film and each of the actors honestly feels like they’re in a different film from one another, creating this disorienting, meta comedic effect which might seem like an odd choice for horror but if anything, it is so strange it registers as if we are watching a transmission beamed in from another planet." He seems to mean that as a compliment. Slightly less complimentary is CineVue's Christopher Machell, who writes, "If there is any real complaint to be levelled at Color Out of Space, it’s that it has more ideas than it knows what to do with. ... The result is a conceptual melange that is heavy on flavour but light on cohesiveness."

Color was acquired by RLJE Films at the start of TIFF, so a theatrical release should be forthcoming.

Dolemite Is My Name Watch trailer(s)
Comedy/Drama | USA | Directed by Craig Brewer

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Eddie Murphy's first film in three years finds him playing late musician, comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore, who gained fame in the 1970s portraying the foul-mouthed hero Dolemite in several no-budget Blaxploitation films (as well as on his comedy records). Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, and Kodi Smit-McPhee also star, and Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) directs from a screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood).

There have been plenty of comparisons to Ed Wood as well as the recent film The Disaster Artist, though critics seem to like Dolemite slightly less even as they have plenty of praise for what appears to be Murphy's best role and performance in years. IndieWire's David Ehrlich observes, "By the time it’s over, 'Dolemite Is My Name' feels like as much a tribute to Eddie Murphy as it is to Rudy Ray Moore." USA Today's Brian Truitt thinks that "Dolemite fits right in with his best work as a multidimensional comedian." In The Playlist, Jason Bailey states, "In playing a man who was so clearly among his comic ancestors and influences, we see, for the first time in a long time, Murphy’s sheer joy of performance, the thing that made his early work in films like '48 HRS.' and 'Beverly Hills Cop' so electrifying." But THR's John DeFore is disappointed to find such a "conventional-feeling biopic" that lacks "the enduring strangeness" of the real Dolemite. (Bailey actually notes the same observation in his otherwise positive review.) Variety's Owen Gleiberman, on the other hand, appears to be all-in, labeling the film "a total motherf—kin’ blast." (His only quibble is the film's excessive length.) Vanity Fair's K. Austin Collins splits the difference, citing 30 Rock to opine that "It feels at times like a Tracy Jordan spoof of a movie, and not always for the better," but adding a major caveat: "[T]hat doesn’t stop Dolemite from being funny, or from giving Murphy room to do the things he likes to do."

Netflix will open the film in theaters on October 4th before debuting it on the streaming service on October 25th.

Ema Watch trailer(s)
Drama | Chile | Directed by Pablo Larraín

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The new film from Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Jackie, The Club, No) focuses on the eponymous reggaetón dancer and pyromaniac (Mariana di Girolamo) and her quest to get her 12-year-old adopted son back. Gael García Bernal plays Ema’s choreographer husband. Writing for The Playlist, Robert Daniels declares it “one of the most ambitious and visually stunning films of the year,” and Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage claims it’s “Larraín at his most freeform.” But while the majority of critics enjoy this departure for Larraín, THR's David Rooney disagrees: “The insurmountable issue with Ema is its cold disconnect between form and content. Any heart the story might have accessed is sacrificed to directorial fussiness and characters both remote and unsympathetic. Coming from such a consistently strong filmmaker, it's a maddening disappointment.”

First Cow
Drama | USA | Directed by Kelly Reichardt

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The latest minimalist drama from noted indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) loosely adapts Jon Raymond's novel The Half-Life about a pair of frontiersmen in the early days of the Oregon Territory—familiar territory for the director, though First Cow is set (except for a present-day framing scene) in 1820, a few decades before Meek's Cutoff. Reichardt's films are not for everyone, but they usually are for critics, and this one appears to be no exception, though it doesn't quite rank among her very best work. IndieWire's Eric Kohn compares this "hypnotic, unpredictable movie" to Old Joy, writing, "Once again, Reichardt has crafted a wondrous little story about two friends roaming the natural splendors of the Pacific Northwest, searching for their place in the world." And while The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez warns of "faint, deliberately paced filmmaking" that boasts only "a sketch of a plot," he still admits, "In its tiny way, the modest and gentle little film is moving and poetic." A24 is not expected to release the film in theaters until March.

Ford v. Ferrari [aka Le Mans '66] Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by James Mangold

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In this true-story racing film from director James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line), Matt Damon plays car designer Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale is race car driver Ken Miles. Together, with the backing of the Ford Motor Company, they take on the dominant Ferrari team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1966. THR's Todd McCarthy believes the engine of this “well-built vehicle” is the acting: “Bale and Damon seem enthusiastically immersed in the colorful characters they play here and they spar well together very engagingly, both when in cahoots and at odds.” Variety's Peter Debruge agrees that acting is where the movie “excels,” while Eric Kohn of IndieWire adds, “When Ford v Ferrari eventually settles into a striking recreation of the 24-hour race, Mangold’s expert filmmaking really takes charge.” A theatrical run begins on November 15.

Giants Being Lonely
Drama | USA | Directed by Grear Patterson

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Writer-director Grear Patterson’s debut feature is a “formally assured, dramatically wobbly coming-of-ager about golden-limbed teens playing ball, sexing it up and generally having lots of feelings,” writes Jon Frosch. His review for THR laments the “frustratingly fuzzy” storytelling, “It’s never quite clear what, exactly, Patterson is getting at, or why, and the things that do come through carry a distinct whiff of the over-familiar.” Focusing on three high school seniors—baseball players Bobby and Adam (Jack and Ben Irving), and their potential love interest and classmate Caroline (Lily Gavin)—the film “introduces an intriguing new voice whose sense of mood, at this point anyway, is surer than his storytelling skill,” according to Tim Grierson of Screen Daily. In his extremely positive review for TheWrap, William Bibbiani feels like it belongs in the “coming-of-age canon, as it bridges that vital, rarely discussed space between stories told by youths and stories told about them.”

Harriet Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Kasi Lemmons

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Considered a potential Oscar contender prior to its TIFF premiere, the latest from Eve's Bayou director Kasi Lemmons is an action-filled biopic about famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman starring Cynthia Erivo (Widows) in the title role. Is it still a contender now that critics and audiences have seen the film? Well, Erivo certainly is, though the film as a whole may not be best picture material. The Wrap's Monica Castillo is disappointed by a film marred by "technical flaws and paint-by-numbers clichés." In The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney cautions, "Despite Erivo's tenacity in the role, the drama feels more stately and impressive than urgent and affecting," though he adds, "It's never uninvolving." IndieWire's Eric Kohn notes a "by the book" adherence to the "generic tropes" of the biopic genre, though he does admire Erivo's "poignant turn" in the role. And Variety's Owen Gleiberman—one of several critics with complaints about the film's music—also thinks Harriet slightly lets down its heroine by failing to let audiences connect with her; the result, for him, is "a conventional and rather prosaic piece of filmmaking."

But other critics are more forgiving. Screen's Allan Hunter deems Harriet "a thoughtful biopic that grows more involving the more it shrugs off its tendency towards the reverential." And Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw finds the film a "winning combination" of "a slave-escape drama, an action thriller, a western and even an unexpected kind of superhero film." The film opens in theaters on November 1st.

How to Build a Girl
Comedy | UK | Directed by Coky Giedroyc

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Beanie Feldstein already starred in one festival hit this year: Booksmart, one of the highlights of SXSW. Another coming of age comedy, her latest film How to Build a Girl casts Feldstein as a decidedly uncool working-class teen who attempts to reinvent herself as a music critic for an NME-like magazine in early 1990s London despite little knowledge of the subject. Coky Giedroyc's briskly paced adaptation of Caitlin Moran's semi-autobiographical book (written for the screen by Moran as well) also stars Paddy Considine, Emma Thompson, Alfie Allen, and Chris O'Dowd, while Elbow provides original music. Is it another hit? Perhaps not, but critics certainly like what The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw deems "a thoroughly likeable and funny film." THR's Leslie Felperin praises the film's smarts and says of its star: "The lines are all Moran's but the sexy gutsiness, the twinkly peepers with their Cleopatra eyeliner and the naughty laugh are Feldstein's to own." In The Film Stage, Jared Mobarak similarly finds Feldstein "a delight," even if the movie as a whole "can feel a bit cutesy at times." Screen's Fionnuala Halligan claims that "Feldstein has never been so endearing – and that’s saying something," though she notes a lack of "edge" in the film that could have made it even more compelling. And IndieWire's Kate Erbland thinks Girl "a smart twist on the coming-of-age comedy" thanks to its refusal to follow the genre's usual formula. But Variety's Amy Nicholson, who thinks "the film’s fairy-tale first half is magical," also notes that "the final product feels like if the greatest musician in the world tried to write a classic in 15 minutes." And RogerEbert.com critic Brian Tallerico disapproves of a "manipulative" film that "just never clicks."

Judy Watch trailer(s)
Drama | UK | Directed by Rupert Goold

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Get ready for the Renée Zellweger Oscar campaign to kick into high gear thanks to a standout, certain-to-be-nominated performance in an otherwise lackluster biopic about Judy Garland. Zellweger portrays the actress and singer in a drama set mostly near the end of her tragic life—particularly, during her five-week, sold-out nightclub run in London in early 1969 when she also began a whirlwind romance with the man who would become her fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock). Rupert Goold (2015’s True Story) directs from a screenplay by Tom Edge (adapting Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow).

THR's Stephen Farber cautions, "Goold’s movie sometimes stumbles, but it made one indispensable choice in finding the right actress to channel the diva." Nearly every critic seems to agree with that sentiment, though some like the overall film a bit more than others. While Billboard's Mara Reinstein sees a "fresh and intimate" portrait, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw dismisses the film as "a standard-issue biopic," and The Wrap's Sasha Stone writes, "Judy isn’t a film that has much else going for it except [Zellweger's] performance." But what a performance. Stone herself labels it "easily the best performance of Zellweger’s career," a sentiment echoed by other reviewers, including Vanity Fair's K. Austin Collins, who feels that "Zellweger’s performance ... is a spectacle in itself, too unpredictable and idiosyncratic to be called an impersonation—and thank goodness for that."

Catch Judy in theaters beginning September 27.

Just Mercy Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

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Destin Daniel Cretton's crowd-pleasing drama tells the true story of Harvard-educated lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who heads to Alabama to represent a wrongly convicted man on death row (a widely praised Jamie Foxx) with the help of a local assistant (Brie Larson, who previously starred for Cretton in Short Term 12). That may sound like Oscar bait, but it remains to be seen whether Academy voters will be biting after surprisingly unenthusiastic reviews for what many critics see as an overly formulaic film with a dearth of subtlety.

In The Wrap, Steve Pond writes, "Just Mercy is the kind of film that poses the question, 'Is it OK to be preachy if you’re doing it for a very good cause?'" (He tentatively suggests the answer is yes, even if the film moves down a familiar path.) The Film Stage's Christopher Schobert speaks for many reviewers when he writes, "It is impossible to walk away from Just Mercy unmoved. ... Yet Destin Daniel Cretton’s third feature also feels a bit predictable, a bit obvious, and never quite as compelling as one might expect." In The Guardian, Benjamin Lee thinks the fault lies not with the actors or the material but with Cretton, who makes "the dullest, safest decision at every turn." But Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson thinks, "It’s a rousing and moving enough film that one is compelled to excuse the limits of its artistry."

The film will get an Oscar-qualifying release beginning Christmas Day before opening nationwide on January 10. And Cretton will be moving on to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2021's Shang-Chi.

The King Watch trailer(s)
Drama | UK/Hungary | Directed by David Michôd

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Screening out of competition at Venice, the latest from Animal Kingdom director David Michôd is a very loose adaptation of three Shakespeare plays (both Henry IV works and Henry V) starring Timothée Chalamet as Prince Hal/King Henry V, Ben Mendelsohn as Henry IV, Robert Pattinson in a mostly comedic turn as The Dauphin, and Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the script with Michôd) as Falstaff. Critics are somewhat mixed on the result, though more than a few like it well enough.

Much of the attention has been focused on Chalamet, whom CineVue's John Bleasdale describes as seeming "crushed by the weight of the role." In The Guardian, Xan Brooks appears to be rooting for Chalamet but wonders "if he is entirely fit for the task," while Screen's Jonathan Romney bemoans a "one-note" performance and the BBC's Nicholas Barber labels his overly "delicate and sensitive" character as "Emo Hal." But The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney seems to approve of the actor's "whip-smart" and "fine-grained" performance, and the film as a whole, which he deems "a large-canvas treatment both epic and intimate in scale." Similarly, Time's Stephanie Zacharek likes Chalamet's "winsomely solemn" performance and admires a zippy film that "never feels like a slog, though it still has a satisfyingly hefty dramatic weight." But IndieWire's David Ehrlich laments that the film "loses sight of the rich coming-of-age story at its core" while offering "nothing especially new or insightful to say" about the burdens of power.

The King heads to theaters on October 11 before debuting on Netflix on November 1.

The Kingmaker
Documentary | USA/Denmark | Directed by Lauren Greenfield

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The latest documentary from Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles, Generation Wealth) takes on another wealthy subject, former Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos. Exploring her and her husband’s disturbing legacy, it’s an “engaging, appalling but inevitably partial portrait,” according to Todd McCarthy of THR. Tim Grierson of Screen Daily believes the film to be more successful at capturing the danger Marcos represents, calling it an “enraging portrait of entitlement, opulence and corruption.” And Variety's Peter Debruge feels it’s “the juiciest insider look at a corrupt world leader since Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait.” Showtime will air the documentary in early 2020 following a theatrical run this fall.

Limetown
TV/Drama | USA | Directed by Rebecca Thomas

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Jessica Biel and Stanley Tucci star in Facebook Watch's series adaptation of the scripted fiction podcast of the same name. As in the podcast, the television series (which begins on October 16) finds a public radio host (Biel) investigating the 15-year-old disappearance of over 300 people at a neuroscience research facility in Limetown, Tennessee. Critics saw the first two half-hour episodes at TIFF and generally like them, though they weren't blown away. Variety's Caroline Framke finds it a "straightforward adaptation" that nevertheless "feels slightly off-kilter in a way that suits its thriller roots." In IndieWire, Ben Travers similarly labels the series a "faithful retelling" in which "the transition from an audible-only story to one with added visual components goes rather smoothly." Less approving is The Hollywood Reporter critic Dan Fienberg, who deems Limetown "a bit dull and insufficiently expansive," and is frustrated that it brings nothing new to the experience. And Slashfilm's Abby Olcese warns that "Limetown the show struggles to establish solid footing," mainly because the expanded story of the TV version "doesn’t really seem to know what to do with" Biel's character.

The Moneychanger
Drama/Comedy | Uruguay/Argentina/Germany | Directed by Federico Veiroj

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The latest from Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj (The Apostate) is an adaptation of Juan Enrique Gruber’s 1979 novella about an inept money launderer in 1970s Uruguay. For THR's Keith Uhlich it comes across as a “lightweight dark comedy,” and Barry Hertz The Globe and Mail agrees, dubbing it a “sometimes swift, sometimes funny but mostly middle-of-the-road thriller.” Giving the film a "B" in his review for The Playlist, Joe Blessing has a more positive take on the film, writing, “It’s an engaging character study of a man with little character, elevated by Veiroj’s unusual eye.”

Motherless Brooklyn Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Edward Norton

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Edward Norton writes, directs and stars in the major reworking of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel. Moving the story from the 1990s to the '50s but layering on a new, resonant-to-our-times conspiracy, Norton stars as Lionel Essrog, a private investigator with Tourette Syndrome whose attempt to solve the murder of his mentor (Bruce Willis) leads him to the most powerful man in New York City. The result is on the cusp of being a good movie. Or, it’s an “overlong, turgid mess” with “baffling” creative choices, according to Josh Lewis of The Film Stage. In THR, a slightly more approving Todd McCarthy finds it “stylishly made, politically driven, musically arresting, narratively confusing and, at nearly two-and-a-half hours, far too long.” But Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian believes that despite “its flaws, it is a substantial and distinctive drama, unlike anything around in the cinema right now.” And in his "B+" review for Original-Cin, Jim Slotek claims this film-noir “Chinatown-East” checks “all the genre-boxes with style and flair and makes a solid, subliminal statement about things that haven’t changed in our society.”

Mrs. Fletcher Watch trailer(s)
TV/Comedy | USA | Directed by Nicole Holofcener and Liesl Tommy

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Tom Perrotta (Election, The Leftovers) adapts his own best-selling novel into a comedic, seven-episode HBO miniseries (which debuts October 27) that finds two people exploring their newfound personal freedom: a 40-something single mother (Kathryn Hahn) dealing with an empty home for the first time, and her son (Jackson White), who enters his freshman year of college. Critics saw the first three hours (including the opener directed by Nicole Holofcener) at TIFF, and didn't quite come to identical conclusions. Hollywood Reporter TV critic Tim Goodman thinks that the limited nature of the series does the material a disservice, writing that the result feels "truncated and underwhelming," "unfinished and rushed." And The Playlist's Jason Bailey identifies "a structural miscalculation"—namely, the amount of screentime given to White's character, who is "a little shit"—but otherwise calls it "a solid series overall, comprised of sharp, witty, unapologetically sexual scripts, crisply directed and convincingly acted." But IndieWire's Ben Travers deems the series "sweet" and "charming," and finds Hahn "an absolute joy to watch" (which, by this point in her career, goes without saying). Variety's Daniel D'Addario similarly thinks it a "comfortable, pleasing character study" boosted by "a major performance by an actress who should be in the top ranks of television stars." And The Guardian's Benjamin Lee is delighted to find "a funny, often daring, and never less than entirely believable series" that "promises to become something rather special."

My Zoe
Drama/Thriller | Germany/France | Directed by Julie Delpy

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The seventh directorial effort for French actress Julie Delpy finds her diving into atypical genre territory for a story about a recently divorced geneticist and mother (Delpy) whose love for her daughter finds her resorting to extreme measures after a tragedy. Yes, that's an intentionally vague description—don't click through to read the reviews if you wish to avoid spoilers—for an English-language film that touches on the thriller and sci-fi genres and also stars Gemma Arterton, Daniel Brühl, and Richard Armitage. The film isn't an unequivocal success, but some reviewers seem to like this new look from Delpy (who also penned the script). In a spoiler-free review, IndieWire's Kate Erbland sees a "fascinating" film that "may not stick the landing, but by the time the screen goes black one final time, Delpy has left enough to think about for another three acts." The Playlist's Jason Bailey is similarly impressed, but disagrees about the ending: "There are moments in 'My Zoe' that are hard to watch, unthinkable in their emotional brutality. That Delpy finds her way to the ending she does—and earns it is—no small accomplishment." But while Screen's Tim Grierson praises Delpy's passionate performance, he believes the film "takes daring risks which don't always pay off." And The Hollywood Reporter's Jon Frosch thinks the "dour" My Zoe "lacks the spark of urgency, suppleness of tone and freshness of insight that would make it truly compelling."

No. 7 Cherry Lane
Animation/Drama | Hong Kong | Directed by Yonfan

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The first feature in a decade as well as the animation debut from Hong Kong-based photographer and director Yonfan utilizes a unique process that transforms 3D illustrations into hand-drawn 2D images on rice paper. Set in 1967 Hong Kong against the backdrop of a series of leftist, anti-Britain riots, the erotically charged story (which doubles as an homage to 1950s/60s cinema) finds an English literature student caught in a love triangle with the woman he is tutoring—and her mother. While everyone loves the animation, critics are a bit more mixed on the overall success of the film (though the Venice jury did award it best screenplay). The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young calls the film "a spellbinding love letter to Hong Kong and the movies." In Variety, Guy Lodge is more cautious: "Many will be left bewildered by the sheer, deranged obsessiveness of Yonfan’s nostalgia head-trip — indeed, there were whistles and walkouts at its first Venice press screening — but accustomed Yon-fans and patient adventurers will fall madly for its madness." Similarly, TimeOut's Phil de Semlyen warns, "To call ‘No 7’ unhurried would be a major understatement," but he feels that it rewards viewer patience "with a similarly narcotic effect."

Ordinary Love
Drama | UK | Directed by Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa

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Liam Neeson returns to low-key drama and stars with Phantom Thread's Lesley Manville as a long-married Northern Irish couple who find their lives disrupted when she receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, a story culled from playwright-turned-screenwriter Owen McCafferty’s own life. Critics approve. Screen's Wendy Ide sees an "achingly intimate portrait of a marriage weathering a storm," while NOW's Glenn Sumi thinks "the two actors bring depth and compassion to their characters," elevating what could have been an ordinary drama. Similarly, Variety critic Amy Nicholson appreciates "Neeson and Manville’s superb chemistry" in a film where "very little happens on the surface," leaving a film that "has space to notice the details." And THR's Leslie Felperin praises a moving drama "that's never for a second manipulative or sentimental."

The Painted Bird
Drama | Czech Republic/Ukraine/Slovakia | Directed by Václav Marhoul

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The second WWII-set drama from Václav Marhoul (Tobruk) is a nearly three-hour, black-and-white adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński's 1965 Holocaust novel about the episodic journey of a young Jewish boy (newcomer Petr Kotlár) through Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during the war. (Dialogue is mostly in an invented Interslavic language.) Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård, Barry Pepper, Julian Sands, and Udo Kier also star. Filled with cruelty and graphic violence against humans and animals, it's not exactly an enjoyable, or even tolerable, watch. (Yes, there were many walkouts at its festival screenings.) In CineVue, John Bleasdale introduces his review with an explanation: "Sometimes there are films that you feel people must see – and mustn’t see at exactly the same time." What The Wrap's Robert Abele sees is a "starkly compelling" film that is neither "the wallowing miserablist parade you might fear" nor "the Holocaust-themed masterpiece it wishes to be." In The Guardian, Xan Brooks disagrees with the latter point, to an extent: "I can state without hesitation that this is a monumental piece of work and one I’m deeply glad to have seen. I can also say that I hope to never cross its path again." But Screen's Lee Marshall isn't impressed by a "brutal" film that "takes a strange relish in charting the descent of simple country folk of a never-named country into sexual depravity and joyless cruelty" which feels "gratuitous" and lacks a purpose.

The Perfect Candidate
Drama | Saudi Arabia/Germany | Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

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After the success of Wadjda, director Haifaa Al-Mansour received mixed reviews for the English-language films Mary Shelley and Nappily Ever After. With her latest, she returns to her native country to tell the story of a Saudi female doctor who decides to run for office in her local elections. Variety's Jay Weissberg laments that Al-Mansour “methods are so blatantly premeditated that you can practically see the most basic of script development notes in every scene.” But other critics are a bit more positive. Singing its praise, Xan Brooks writes for The Guardian, “The Perfect Candidate is a simple story, told without frills or even much in the way of nuance. But it’s socked through with great power, conviction and an underlying hope for a better world.” Similarly, The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young thinks, "What The Perfect Candidate lacks in sophistication it makes up for in intuition."

The Personal History of David Copperfield
Comedy/Drama | UK | Directed by Armando Iannucci

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Veep creator Armando Iannucci returns to film (following The Death of Stalin) and attempts to translate his love of Dickens’ classic novel to audiences around the world with this adaptation that received a range of opinions from critics, though reviews are certainly more good than bad so far. Writing for The Playlist, Robert Daniels claims the “film’s tone jarringly shifts,” resulting in an “earnest yet meandering reworking.” More appreciative, the AV Club's A.A. Dowd believes “the film’s charms are real and nimble, provided by the author but also by Iannucci, whose affinity for silver-tongued exchanges proves a surprisingly compatible bedfellow to Dickens’ signature generosity of characterization.” Fully onboard with Iannucci’s enterprise, Allan Hunter of Screen Daily finds the film “riotously funny,” and impressive in the way it “never loses sight of the underlying central themes of poverty, class, the tonic of compassion and the need for community.”

Proxima
Drama | France/Germany | Directed by Alice Winocour

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One of two TIFF entries about female astronauts, this drama from Alice Winocour (Disorder, Augustine) centers on a French astronaut (Eva Green) who begins training for a yearlong stay aboard the International Space Station—a mission made even harder by the fact that it will require her to be apart from her 7-year-old daughter. The result doesn't soar, exactly, but has some admirers. In The Film Stage, Jared Mobarak concludes, "This is a very quiet and contemplative film driven by characters above plot," though he is especially impressed by Green, whom he calls "spectacular in the role." Slant's Jake Cole is unimpressed by the film, but he, too, likes Green, noting, "When Proxima does click, it usually does so on the strength of Green’s performance, namely the actress’s expert use of minute facial expressions to communicate the depths to her character." But Screen's Fionnuala Halligan likes both the actress and the film, saying the former "has never been as good as she is here," and calling the latter "a significant, ambitious and entirely impressive film by a dazzling young French director in full command of her ship." She also admires the film's authenticity, as does THR's Jordan Mintzer, who writes, "This superbly crafted yet intimate family drama is so realistic in terms of its setting and technical specificity, it sometimes feels like a documentary."

SYNCHRONIC
Sci-fi | USA | Directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson

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The latest genre oddity from the duo behind The Endless stars Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie as New Orleans paramedics who are called to a series of violent but unusual scenes, all seemingly connected by the use of a new designer drug (the titular "synchronic"). But the drug doesn't exactly work like other narcotics—remember, it's a sci-fi film. (The less you know about the specifics in advance, the better.) It's definitely not the pair's best work, but some critics still like elements of the movie. Variety's Dennis Harvey is among the most disappointed, thinking it a "misfire" that represents the duo's "M. Night Shyamalan moment, in which the bag of tricks suddenly looks empty." Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore notes that Synchronic isn't quite a sell-out, but thinks "the film takes a more prosaic approach to its sci-fi premise than its predecessors did, presumably in an attempt to reach viewers who need more hand-holding." The Film Stage's Jared Mobarak complains of a lack of character development which leaves him "wanting more" overall, writing, "Where I could forget the details of the genre element in Spring and The Endless to really latch onto the people therein, the opposite proves true here. What lingers are the wild set-pieces and sci-fi theories."

But The Playlist's Jason Bailey admires the directors' "tremendous sense of cinematic confidence" and enthusiastically endorses the "egghead indie sci-fi" film as "the kind of brainy, absorbing, all-out thrilling cinema that’s in dangerously short supply these days." And RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico describes it as "a fascinating blend of 'Bringing Out the Dead' and 'Inception,'" adding, "It’s the kind of ambitious filmmaking I want more of from my genre directors." The film does not yet have a release date.

The Truth (La vérité)
Drama | France/Japan | Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

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Shooting for the first time outside of Japan and in the English (and French) language, director Hirokazu Kore-eda enlists an impressive cast to explore the relationship between Fabienne, a star of French cinema played by—who else—Catherine Deneuve, and her daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche). Upon the release of Fabienne’s memoir, Lumir and her husband (Ethan Hawke) return from New York to Paris, where old resentments bubble up to the surface. No, it's not of the same caliber as his previous film, last year's Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters. Nevertheless, “The Truth contains sprinkles of the reliable Kore-eda magic and throws in just enough curveballs to keep the story honest, even if it does pander to certain genre cliches,” according to Xan Brooks of The Guardian. TheWrap's Alonso Duralde is impressed how Kore-eda still “captures the intricacies of the human condition” despite “working in another language and on another continent.” And in his "B+" review for IndieWire, David Ehrlich writes, “The Truth lacks the tear-jerking dramatic oomph that swells beneath so many of Kore-eda’s best films, but it gingerly eases forward with the kind of sensitivity and emotional intelligence that only a master storyteller can bring to the table. The film does not yet have a U.S. release date.

Weathering With You Watch trailer(s)
Animation/Drama | Japan | Directed by Makoto Shinkai

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Japan's first anime submission in the Oscar best international (formerly "foreign language") film category since Princess Mononoke in 1997, and already a box office hit in its home country, Weathering With You is Makoto Shinkai's first film since his global 2016 anime hit Your Name. It's another romance, and it follows a high school boy who runs away to Tokyo where he meets an orphan girl who has the ability to manipulate the weather. Critics think it lacks some of the magic present in Your Name, and part of their hesitation is the new film's somewhat unsuccessful attempt to relate its story to the climate change crisis. Screen's Wendy Ide sees a "visually stunning" film whose fantastical approach to weather issues "does seem a little out of kilter with current environmental concerns." She thinks it also "lacks some of the sinuous inventiveness of its predecessor." In IndieWire, David Ehrlich feels much the same way, generally liking a "stunningly beautiful" film but adding, "This may be a thoroughly modern fable about volatile storms and a young girl who has the power to stop the rain, but — for better or worse — it’s too soaked in raw teenage emotions to puddle into a simple tale about how we need to treat the Earth like we have a crush on it." And Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft notes, "When Weathering With You is compared to Your Name, it reveals more of the latest film’s weaknesses."

The film will get an awards-qualifying run in late 2019 before heading to North American theaters in 2020 in its original (subtitled) version as well as a new English-language dub.

White Lie
Drama | Canada | Directed by Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis

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Written and directed by Canadian duo Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, this psychological thriller follows Katie (Kacey Rohl), a celebrity on her university campus thanks to her ability to convince everyone she has cancer. As her elaborate lies begin to unravel, Thomas, Lewis, and Rohl pull off a deft trick themselves—making Katie sympathetic and relatable. Film Threat's Andy Howell believes Rohl’s “extraordinary performance” is the key, “She’s in every scene and transforms the film from an interesting idea to something truly special.” Carly Lewis of The Globe and Mail concurs, writing, “Rohl’s ability to play a character so committed to hideousness without playing a villain, per se, is an incredible feat of showcasing the complicated scramble that is being alive.” Not quite as enthusiastic as other critics, THR's Stephen Dalton argues that the “nervy and kinetic” film “feels a little too narrow in focus, staying in single-viewpoint mode from start to finish, without opening up the broader emotional hinterland that might have given Katie's story more dramatic shading.”

The disappointments and duds

Abominable Watch trailer(s)
Animation/Family | USA | Directed by Jill Culton

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The latest from DreamWorks Animation follows Yi and her friends Jin and Peng as they try to help a young Yeti with magical powers return to his family. As they travel across the globe, they are pursued by Burnish (Eddie Izzard), a wealthy man intent on capturing a Yeti, and zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson). Screen Daily's Tim Grierson believes their journey has “little sense of wonder,” and, writing for Variety, Amy Nicholson claims it’s “wondrous for the characters, less compelling for the audience.” However, Kate Erbland of IndieWire finds Abominable “well worth the trip” despite its “predictable elements.” The film opens in theaters on September 27.

American Skin
Drama | USA | Directed by Nate Parker

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The low-budget second feature from the controversial director of 2016 festival hit turned flop The Birth of a Nation tells a timely present-day story which follows a black veteran turned janitor (played by the filmmaker himself) who seeks revenge after a white cop kills his son and avoids standing trial for the shooting. By most accounts, Parker's new film—which, amazingly, takes the form of a found-footage student movie—is a misfire and possibly the worst Venice debut this year. How bad is it? Well, IndieWire's David Ehrlich brings up the name of The Room director Tommy Wiseau in his review, which can't possibly be a good sign. (It's not: Ehrlich also labels the film "asinine and self-serving.") Screen's Tim Grierson calls Skin "infuriatingly manipulative and insufferably preachy," and marred by "simple speechifying and wooden characters," while The Wrap's Alonso Duralde thinks it a "heavy-handed" film that "combines the worst features of a clumsy '12 Angry Men' knock-off and a direct-to-DVD thriller." In the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang also notes Parker's "heavy hand" and calls the film "a jagged symphony of false notes, each one struck with a sledgehammer." But the film has one defender: Variety's Owen Gleiberman, who calls it "a good movie" that's "tense, bold, angry, empathetic, provocative, observant, morally engaged. And also, to be honest, a trifle gimmicky."

Blackbird
Drama | UK | Directed by Roger Michell

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The latest from Notting Hill director Roger Michell is a vehicle for Susan Sarandon, who stars as a terminally ill woman who gathers her extended family at their country house for one last weekend together before she takes her own life. A remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart, Blackbird also stars Kate Winslet, Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson, and Mia Wasikowska. But despite the talent on hand (including cinematography by Mike Eley that critics seem to enjoy), the result is rather lifeless, according to reviewers. The Guardian's Benjamin Lee says the nice cast is just "window dressing" that can't disguise a "perfunctory script that doesn’t go anywhere or do anything we haven’t seen many times before." Similarly, THR's Leslie Felperin notes an overly tasteful film in which "there almost isn't a single shot in it where every member of the cast isn't Acting," resulting in a film that feels "insufferably pleased with itself." (Felperin also finds the lifestyles of the rather well-off characters unrelatable: "Does anyone outside of mid-period non-comic Woody Allen films live like this?") Writing for The Playlist, Jason Bailey praises a "sharp, intimate script" and "refreshingly experimental" visuals but cautions that the film is "so mellow it occasionally veers into inertia." But while IndieWire's Kate Erbland admits the film feels "stagey" and "tips into melodrama," she is a bit more approving of the result, writing, “Blackbird may be a tearjerker, but it’s also a reminder that there’s more to tears than tragedy, even in the midst of personal loss."

The Burnt Orange Heresy
Action/Drama/Thriller | USA/UK | Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi

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The English-language debut of Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi (The Double Hour) stars Claes Bang (The Square) as an art critic who meets a vacationing American, played by Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), in Italy. Together, they visit the Lake Como estate of a rich collector with a strange request. The noir vibes of the film come from the source material, a 1971 Charles Willeford novel set in the Everglades, but despite extended cameos from Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland and the best efforts of Bang and Debicki, Lee Marshall of Screen Daily thinks “their characters never really emerge as autonomous beings from the faintly preposterous story they’re trapped in.” Variety's Guy Lodge finds the film “never less than watchable,” even though it “works best as a kind of screen test for a star pairing in search of something friskier.”

Dirt Music
Drama | Australia/UK | Directed by Gregor Jordan

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Tim Winton's novel comes to the big screen in an adaptation from Ned Kelly director Gregor Jordan and screenwriter Jack Thorne (whose other new film The Aeronauts, above, received a better festival reception). The Western Australia-set melodrama that finds Kelly Macdonald playing Georgie, a woman stuck in a loveless relationship with a fisherman (David Wenham) who begins an affair with a loner (Garrett Hedlund). Things take a turn for the worse from there, both in terms of the story and, well, the movie itself, despite some nice scenery and the actors' best efforts. The Playlist's Robert Daniels admits that the film's "first 45 minutes is actually exciting," but quickly devolves into "a Nicholas Sparks book" filled with "'Notebook'-level cheese." At IndieWire, Kate Erbland thinks the overly "knotty" adaptation "winnows down the lyrical love story into a gritty romance that only translates some of the source material’s poetic bent to the big screen." Similarly, Hollywood Reporter critic Leslie Felperin warns, "The corny, eventually rather contrived result doesn't end up doing justice to either its cast's talents or the quality of Winton's acclaimed prose."

Endings, Beginnings
Drama | USA | Directed by Drake Doremus

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Writer-director Drake Doremus (Zoe, Newness, Equals, Breathe In, Like Crazy) continues to explore fraught romantic relationships to diminishing returns with his latest, the story of a woman (Shailiene Woodley) who drifts into a love triangle with a bad boy (Sebastian Stan) and his more bookish best friend (Jamie Dornan). Despite another strong cast, Doremus’ collaboration with novelist Jardine Libaire is a “ponderous, semi-improvised self-realization exercise” and a “wilted kale salad of a movie,” according to THR's David Rooney. Jason Bailey of The Playlist doesn’t have a whole lot of nice things to say about this “snoozy affair” either, diagnosing the problem to be that “Doremus never bothers to give us a compelling reason to care about a single one of these people, other than the fact that movie stars are playing them.” But Screen Daily critic Wendy Ide is a bit more positive, claiming Endings to be “solid, a little conventional but effective in directorial approach,” and lifted by a “sensational performance from Shailene Woodley.”

The Friend
Drama | USA | Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

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Based on a true story (chronicled in an Esquire article), this nonlinear drama from Megan Leavey director Gabriela Cowperthwaite stars Jason Segel as a man who moves in with his college friends, a couple (Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck) with two children who find themselves in need of assistance after she is diagnosed with stomach cancer. The long film continually jumps back and forth over a 15-year time period—a structure not loved by critics. In The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young bemoans the film's "false cheer" and thinks "the story feels out of touch with the very emotions it desperately tries to evoke." The Guardian's Ben Lee is also more enemy than pal to The Friend, warning of a "sanitised" and gimmicky approach, and advising, "Try reading the article instead." IndieWire's David Ehrlich calls the film "scattershot," warning that the erratic time jumps make it "difficult to get any sort of emotional foothold." The Playlist's Ella Kemp is a bit more supportive; while she admits the film "flits between time periods for no discernible reason," she also feels that the "sensitivity of these performances, particularly from Affleck and Segel, offers a reckoning on sincere friendship and the limits of devotion that remains with the viewer." And Vanity Fair's Katey Rich finds it "an extremely effective tearjerker" that is buoyed by "by sticking closely to the important specifics" of the trio's story.

Greed
Comedy/Drama | UK | Directed by Michael Winterbottom

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Prolific director Michael Winterbottom re-teams with his frequent star, Steve Coogan (The Trip, Tristam Shandy) for a mockumentary-style satire poking fun at the 1% and the fashion industry. Coogan plays the billionaire owner of a major retailer (a character seemingly inspired by Topshop head Philip Green) who heads to the Greek island of Mykonos for his 60th birthday celebration with a television crew and biographer in tow to capture every moment of the extravagant, Roman Empire-themed festivities—which happen to take place near a beach where Syrian refugees have set up camp. The film (co-written by frequent Armando Iannucci collaborator Sean Gray) has its entertaining moments but pulls its punches, according to reviewers. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds Coogan unchallenged by such a "shallow" role and thinks, "Greed isn’t especially penetrating about money or power." The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore sees a "wobbly but amusing" film, while IndieWire's David Ehrlich feels "its broadside attacks on the ultra-rich are too obvious to draw any blood or raise our hackles." But Screen's Allan Hunter praises a "heady cocktail of absurdity and profundity, laced with a generous measure of cutting one-liners in a film that builds into a scathing commentary on a world where the rich keep getting richer and the poor are merely collateral damage."

Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film after its Toronto premiere, though a release date has not been set.

Guest of Honour
Drama | Canada | Directed by Atom Egoyan

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Atom Egoyan still hasn’t gotten his groove back. Since 1997’s terrific The Sweet Hereafter the Canadian director has struggled to get back in the critics’ good graces, especially lately (Devil's Knot, The Captive, Remember). His latest TIFF entry, an investigation of the complicated relationship between a restaurant inspector (David Thewlis) and his high-school music teacher daughter (Laysla De Oliveira), earns praise from Kate Taylor of The Globe & Mail for its “extravagant imagery” and from Stephanie Watts of The Playlist for its “quiet, steady performances.” But Variety's Guy Lodge thinks it’s a “hopelessly muddled, murky blend of family melodrama and investigative thriller,” and David Rooney of THR agrees, calling it a “hopelessly convoluted and solemnly silly melodrama.”

Guns Akimbo
Action/Comedy | Germany/New Zealand | Directed by Jason Lei Howden

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For his follow-up to Deathgasm, writer-director Jason Lei Howden enlists Daniel Radcliffe to play an online troll who is forced to fight to the death in a deadly, televised competition called Skizm. Ready or Not's Samara Weaving plays the ruthless current champion of the game. IGN's Chris Tilly believes Radcliffe is a “likable action lead, but it’s Samara Weaving who truly shines” in this “rollercoaster of a movie.” In his review for THR, John DeFore expresses surprise that the film is “somehow exhausting but not exhilarating,” and Dennis Harvey of Variety has an even harsher assessment, “This undeniably slick, energetic contraption plays somewhere between grating and numbing.”

Hope Gap
Drama | UK | Directed by William Nicholson

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Annette Bening (adopting a British accent) and Bill Nighy star as a couple reaching the acrimonious end of their 33-year marriage in this drama from veteran novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator), who adapts his own Tony-nominated play, The Retreat from Moscow. It's just his second-ever directorial effort, following 1997's Firelight. Surprisingly, it's not Nicholson's directing but his writing that is most problematic for some reviewers. This group includes The Wrap's Robert Abele, who notes "a conspicuous lack of galvanizing human detail in the contours of this story," and The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, who warns that "Nicholson fails to give his film the specificity and emotional depth required to make it seem necessary," especially in light of all of the similar films that have come before it. In Screen, Tim Grierson seems to be a bit more approving of this "modest, tasteful" film and finds that the lack of originality is overcome by the leads' strong performances, which are marked by a refreshing lack of "showboating." A theatrical release should come in 2020.

Human Capital
Drama | USA | Directed by Marc Meyers

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This English-language remake of Paolo Virzi's 2014 drama (itself an adaptation of Stephen Amidon's novel) comes from My Friend Dahmer director Marc Meyers and stars Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Marisa Tomei, and Alex Wolff. As in the original, the remake finds the lives of two families intertwined following a tragic accident, telling their stories in three distinct parts. Film Threat's Alan Ng has plenty of praise for the cast, adding that "Meyers does fantastic work managing every performance and interaction with the right pace." But that's not enough for THR's John DeFore, who writes, "Engrossing on a moment-to-moment scale thanks so some very fine performances, the film doesn't click together in the transformative way such stories occasionally do, and does less with themes of wealth and class than it surely intends to." Screen's Allan Hunter is similarly unenthused, noting that it "lacks the flair and substance" found in the earlier film. Variety critic Dennis Harvey agrees, opining, "This time around, 'Human Capital' feels less ingenious than a bit gimmicky, less a set of sharp if schematic collisions between oppositional interests than an overloaded pile of crises á la 'Crash.'"

Jungleland
Drama | USA | Directed by Max Winkler

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The third feature from Max Winkler follows a struggling bare-knuckle boxer (Jack O'Connell) and his brother and manager (Charlie Hunnam) on a cross-country road trip to take one last fight in order to get out of debt. But their unwanted travelling companion (Jessica Barden) drives a wedge between them. (Yes, the actors are all Brits, but the story takes place in the States.) Does Winkler have the first good reviews of his film career? Not exactly. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney sees an "absorbing enough" drama that "never quite escapes its whiff of cliché." Variety's Dennis Harvey agrees, writing, "It’s the kind of enterprise that has everything but a single fresh idea, or even moment," resulting in a "stylized homage" of a movie that "takes on an almost abstract quality of ritualized imitation." Screen's Wendy Ide, however, notes a "scrappy, live-wire energy" that does help it rise above its overly familiar story beats, resulting in a "compelling piece of storytelling." But in The Playlist, Jason Bailey finds the film "well acted" but is frustrated by the characters' repetitive self-defeating actions, which makes the story "monotonous."

The Laundromat Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Steven Soderbergh

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Steven Soderbergh’s second film for Netflix is a surprising disappointment considering the talent involved and the critical success of High Flying Bird earlier this year. Working again with writer Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!, Side Effects, Contagion), who adapted Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite, Soderbergh has attempted to make a comedy about the global tax evasion scam perpetrated by the Panamanian law firm headed by Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas). For Time Out's Phil de Semlyen, it’s a “rare Soderbergh misfire,” and Fionnuala Halligan of Screen Daily declares it a “poorly-conceived and -executed film which steals from The Big Short as brazenly as its tax-dodging subjects do from their governments.” Among the supporters, Time's Stephanie Zacharek writes, “Much of the movie is bitterly funny; some of it just amusingly droll. But the finale, a rallying cry that’s both galvanizing and wistful, is a wrap-up worth waiting for.”

The Laundromat is a Netflix exclusive, but it will get a limited theatrical release on September 27 prior to heading to the streaming service on October 18.

Lucy in the Sky Watch trailer(s)
Drama | USA | Directed by Noah Hawley

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Noah Hawley was able to take time out of his busy TV schedule (Fargo, Legion) to make his feature film debut with this story of an astronaut (Natalie Portman) who faces an existential crisis—or, at least, a relationship crisis—after she returns from a shuttle mission and finds herself longing to return to space while also being drawn to her fellow astronaut (Jon Hamm) rather than her husband (Dan Stevens). (It's loosely based on the real story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was famously arrested for attempted kidnapping in 2007 and forever will be associated with the phrase "adult diaper.") Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, and Tig Notaro also star in a film that heads to theaters on October 4.

The film's world premiere at Toronto on Wednesday was met with surprising disapproval from critics, many of whom question Hawley's directorial choices—most notably, a tendency to shift aspect ratios with an all too noticeable frequency. Variety's Peter Debruge labels Lucy "distractingly over-directed" and warns of a "big and campy" final act, while The Playlist's Jason Bailey dismisses the film as "a wildly misbegotten mess, a goulash of incongruent tones and unclear motives" as well as "a fine example of the damage that can occur when an auteur tries to imprint his style on material that doesn’t support it." Several critics note the film's failure to understand its subject, including Screen's Tim Grierson, who writes, "But for all this movie’s stylistic curlicues, it fails to present a convincing psychological portrait," adding, "Hawley’s cinematic tricks start to feel like the reason why he told this story — as opposed to a means by which to sympathise with the real astronaut whom Lucy is based on."

Martin Eden
Drama | Italy/France | Directed by Pietro Marcello

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Pietro Marcello directs an adaptation of Jack London's tragic 1909 novel about the titular working-class sailor (Luca Marinelli, winner of the best actor award at Venice) who attempts to reinvent himself as a writer and elevate his standing. Shot in 16mm, the tale is relocated from early 1900s California to Italy in an intentionally unspecified year that draws elements from various time periods later in the century, and it incorporates brief documentary segments inserted throughout the film. The result is a film with third-act problems and an iffy screenplay that detract from some great cinematography and acting. In The Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij praises Marinelli's "spectacular performance" and likes the film when it focuses on Eden's personal journey, but warns that some "weighty concerns capsize the entire enterprise in the final stretch, where the story runs aground on an iceberg of undigested ideas, barely developed themes and bad hair choices." IndieWire's David Ehrlich has similar problems, writing, "This spry yet increasingly bitter romantic drama is so vague and un-targeted that its social critiques feel less defined than ever. The anger is palpable, but its targets are hard to pinpoint." In Screen, Lee Marshall bemoans a "ham-fisted" ending but otherwise somewhat enjoys a "watchable" film "that is more interesting in its shape-shifting style and texture than in its rather conventional dramatic core."

Following the film's Venice debut, Kino Lorber acquired Martin Eden, which also won the juried "Platform" competition at TIFF (not considered a major award), so it will receive a theatrical release at some point.

Military Wives
Drama/Comedy | UK | Directed by Peter Cattaneo

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The latest crowd pleaser from The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo finds Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan starting a women's choir for their fellow UK military wives whose husbands are serving in Afghanistan. It's about as unsurprising as it sounds. Variety's Amy Nicholson advises, "If you’ve seen even one based-on-a-true-story British misfit hobbyists movie, you already know the tune." The Guardian's Benjamin Lee deems it a "slick," "formulaic," and "safe" film that "squeezes a well-known true story into the crowd-pleasing packaging of a feelgood Britcom." The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin is willing to admit that it's all "more than a little manipulative and formulaic," but she finds it "eminently entertaining" nevertheless, and boosted by "little flickers of authenticity throughout." Screen's Allan Hunter agrees, declaring that "resistance is futile" to this "worthy companion piece" to The Full Monty. On the other hand, IndieWire's David Ehrlich feels that "Cattaneo’s tone is too flat (and sobering) for this to become a genuine crowd-pleaser."

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
Documentary/Music | Canada | Directed by Daniel Roher

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The opening night film at Toronto—and somehow not directed by Martin Scorsese, who merely produces—this documentary from Daniel Roher traces the early career of Robbie Robertson, the Toronto-born songwriter and guitarist for legendary 1960s/70s rock outfit (and occasional Bob Dylan backers) The Band, ending with the group's 1976 farewell concert (famously chronicled by Scorsese in The Last Waltz). Robertson himself narrates the film (and he's joined by famous talking heads ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Clapton), and while THR's Michael Rechtshaffen notes that "the production follows a safely familiar path," he feels that it doesn't matter much when Robertson's life follows "a terrific storytelling arc." Similarly, Screen's Tim Grierson sees a "conventional rock-doc" that is "light on new insights" but "tells its story with considerable affection." Less affectionate about the film, IndieWire's Kate Erbland views it more as a hagiography plagued by "early, gaping holes" in The Band's story—the result, she feels, of virtually none of the other Band members being left alive to tell their versions of events coupled with an uncritical director. But, writing for Variety, Chris Willman finds Robertson "an articulate and ingratiating tour guide," even if his film starts slowly.

Radioactive
Drama | UK | Directed by Marjane Satrapi

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After directing her own graphic novel, Persepolis, to an Oscar nomination, Marjane Satrapi (The Voices) takes on Lauren Redniss’s award-winning graphic novel about two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike). Judging from the reception of the film, Satrapi hasn't made another awards contender. Kate Taylor of The Globe and Mail blames “Jack Thorne’s abysmal script.” While The Guardian critic Charles Bramesco doesn’t let Satrapi off the hook for the film’s failures, he also admits that she and Pike get no help from the script: “It’s as if a string hangs off of the back of her spine, and when a key grip offscreen pulls it, she recites one of a handful of inspirational catchphrases.” More favorably, Screen Daily's Tim Grierson declares it a “strikingly melancholy portrait — imperfect but churning with ideas.” Amazon will release the film in theaters sometime next year.

Saturday Fiction
Drama/Thriller | China | Directed by Ye Lou

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Shot in black-and-white, the latest from Lou Ye (Summer Palace) is set mostly in 1941, when a well-known Chinese actress (Gong Li) returns to Japan-occupied Shanghai to star in a play (the titular Saturday Fiction) directed by her occasional lover (Mark Chao). But her true motives—and those of the people she encounters—are unclear in a wartime city filled with spies on both sides, hidden agendas, numerous betrayals, and rumors of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. The story convolutions may be a lot to follow, but the film's atmospherics somewhat make up for it, according to reviewers. It may not sound like it, but CineVue's John Bleasdale actually likes a film that "starts as a mysterious murky mess and resolves itself into a bullet-riddled noir." The Hollywood Reporter's Boyd van Hoeij cautions that Fiction "only intermittently catches fire," adding, "Even though the story constantly intrigues because of its twists and revelations, its emotional pulse is finally quite low." IndieWire's David Ehrlich finds the film "mesmeric but frustrating," buoyed by "exquisite production design" and Gong's performance but hampered by a story that is ultimately "elusive and unsatisfying." Many critics think Gong turns in yet another strong performance, but Screen's Jonathan Romney feels that "the film doesn’t bring out her strengths." And Variety's Jessica Kiang sees few strengths in the film as a whole; she terms it a "grandiloquently incoherent misfire" with an ill-conceived framing structure (the events of the film Saturday Fiction and the play within the film blur together) that "keep[s] keep tripping the narrative up, like the play is a badly placed coffee table."

Seberg
Drama/Thriller | USA/UK | Directed by Benedict Andrews

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Benedict Andrews’ follow-up to his debut feature, Una, divided critics. Kristen Stewart stars as the actress Jean Seberg in this look at her time in Los Angeles when she became romantically and politically involved with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) and was targeted by the illegal FBI surveillance program COINTELPRO. Jack O’Connell plays an FBI agent assigned to Seberg’s case. CineVue's John Bleasdale believes “superficiality soaks the entire film,” and Xan Brooks of The Guardian also feels that Seberg has little to say: “It tells us that Seberg was wronged and that she looked really great in a bra – and not necessarily in that order.” On the positive side, THR's David Rooney contends that the “luminous Kristen Stewart keeps you glued throughout, giving a coolly compelling performance that becomes steadily more poignant as the subject unravels.” And in her review for Time, Stephanie Zacharek writes, “The picture is potent and engaging; even its fictionalized elements ring with the spirit of truth. And Stewart is off the charts, though that’s hardly a surprise. She’s among the greatest actresses of our day, though to call her ‘great’ does a disservice to her subtlety—maybe it’s better to call her the master of the small gesture. The flicker of her eyelids is a dialect unto itself.”

Waiting for the Barbarians
Drama | Italy | Directed by Ciro Guerra

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Set in the unnamed frontier colony of an unnamed empire in an unnamed year, when a rumor of an impending attack by the indigenous people (called "barbarians" by the colonists) triggers a state of emergency, the allegorical, English-language debut for Italian director Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent) stars Johnny Depp, Mark Rylance, and Robert Pattinson. It's an adaptation of J. M. Coetzee's award-winning 1980 novel (scripted by Coetzee himself), and it's not exactly an easy work to translate to the screen—hence no attempts prior to now. Does Guerra pull it off? Not quite. While THR's Boyd van Hoeij singles out Rylance for praise, he ultimately feels that "the lack of cultural specifics combined with the fact that the characters are archetypes finally leaves Waiting for the Barbarians somewhat stranded." Similarly, Screen's Jonathan Romney thinks the adaptation "has none of the parable-like resonance of Coetzee’s sparely poetic, politically charged creation." IndieWire's Ben Croll sees a film that lacks personality: "It’s all perfectly well-done, and it all recedes into memory the instant you leave the theater." But Luke Hicks of The Playlist is a bit more enthusiastic, praising "gorgeous" cinematography and writing, "The metaphors are a bit too numerous and on the nose at times, but Rylance’s unbelievable performance overshadows the minor downfalls."

Wasp Network
Thriller | France/Brazil/Spain/Belgium | Directed by Olivier Assayas

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It's a disappointment, but possibly only for the moment. This adaptation of Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five turned out to be the rare misstep for director Olivier Assayas, but he took it to heart. After its poor reception, he revealed that he will re-edit the film for its New York Film Festival premiere in October. According to THR's David Rooney, “On a scene by scene basis, Wasp Network can be riveting, but as a whole, it falls short,” resulting in the film’s excellent cast (Penélope Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Gael García Bernal, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas) getting lost in a “knotty tangle of endless back and forth between too many characters, situations and settings to make for satisfying storytelling.” Assayas hopes to clarify a few thing in the re-edit, and Christina Newland of The Playlist thinks that’s a good idea, “There’s intricate, and then there’s messy. In a story of unspooling complexity and multiple double-crosses, the biggest trouble with Wasp Network is that it can be flat-out confusing.” Hopefully, Assayas’ can apply his considerable skills to salvage what IndieWire's David Ehrlich calls a “scattered, staccato dramatization of Cuba’s most infamous spy ring” and an “overstuffed espionage thriller that bites off more than it can chew and never manages to find its footing.”

While at War (Mientras Dure La Guerra)
Drama | Spain/Argentina | Directed by Alejandro Amenábar

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The director of The Others follows his career-worst film (2016's appropriately titled Regression) with a drama set during the early days of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 that nevertheless comes with a still relevant anti-fascist message. The result is an improvement over Amenábar's previous film but still short of great. Variety's Dennis Harvey thinks the film "a worthy enterprise that errs on the side of caution, carrying the slightly stale whiff of awards-bait cinema in which greatness is frequently signaled but inspiration somehow lacking." Overall, he deems it "more a moderate disappointment than a misfire." THR's Jonathan Holland likes aspects of the film but too is slightly disappointed, concluding, "the final impression is of dramatic opportunities left unexplored." But Screen's Fionnuala Halligan praises "a complex, steady, deeply intelligent film with a chilling resonance today," though she admits it may be "a demanding watch for audiences outside the Iberian peninsula." But The Film Stage's Jared Mobarak suggests it might be worth the effort, noting, "The similarity of what Amenábar puts on-screen to the current state of American politics is legitimately horrifying."

Photos courtesy of Telluride, TIFF, and La Biennale Di Venezia. Mrs. Fletcher photo by Sarah Shatz/HBO.

 

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