Which films impressed at this year's major festivals?
Even in a year in which Steven Spielberg brought a film to Toronto for the first time, it was a relatively lackluster festival season. The trio of overlapping festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto are typically where many eventual best picture nominees are first unveiled to the public, yet this year's Oscar race looks to be wide open after only a few standouts emerged from the three fests.
The reason it seemed like an off year (especially compared to the 2021 slate)? Surprising critical disappointments from directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu, Sam Mendes, Peter Farrelly, and Florian Zeller, whose recent films have all collected Oscar nominations (or wins), and relatively lackluster entries from Noah Baumbach, Darren Aronofsky, Stephen Frears, and other directors who typically score much higher than they did this month.
Not among those disappointments, of course, was Spielberg, whose semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans now looks like a best picture favorite after the film impressed audiences and critics at its Toronto premiere en route to taking home the top prize at TIFF: the People's Choice Award. That award is voted on by audiences rather than a jury, unlike many other major festivals, but is nevertheless a key predictor of an eventual Best Picture Oscar nomination—so consider it a lock.
Another almost certain best picture nominee and high-scoring festival entry, The Banshees of Inisherin, came from Three Billboards director Martin McDonagh. Todd Field's first film in 16 years, TÁR, Rian Johnson's Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, and Sarah Polley's harrowing drama Women Talking (perhaps Telluride's buzziest film) could also wind up in the best picture race after notching excellent festival reviews, even if their awards-season fates are far less certain. But there's no uncertainty about TÁR star Cate Blanchett, who could very well win her third Oscar early next year.
Below, we recap the reactions of critics to all of the major films (and a few TV shows) debuting at this year's Telluride, Venice, and Toronto festivals. Several festival titles have already been released to the public over the past week and are not included below because they received additional reviews outside of the festival setting. This group includes Pearl, Athena, the latest season of The Handmaid's Tale, and The Woman King. In addition, any titles that first screened at previous festivals this year (including Sundance and Cannes) are also omitted.
The standouts, including the major award winners
Venice Golden Lion (1st Place) Winner
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Documentary | USA | Directed by Laura Poitras
Acquired by HBO (airdate tbd)
|2017||The Shape of Water|
The latest documentary from Oscar winner Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) centers on artist Nan Goldin, and in particular, her ongoing protest against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family. There's a connection between the family and the art world—they have long used some of their pharmaceutical riches to fund major museums—and Goldin, a recovering opioid addict herself, has focused her activism at those institutions. Poitras's film intertwines those efforts with compelling biographical information about Goldin's family life and art career.
And she does so "successfully and stylishly" in the eyes of The Film Stage critic David Katz. The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden has even stronger praise, arguing that "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed takes her work to new aesthetic heights and wrenching emotional depths ... The way Poitras and Goldin have brought the threads together, into the light, is a distillation likely to shake you to the core." And IndieWire's Sophie Monks Kaufman gives the " a rare "A+" grade as a "towering and devastating work of shocking intelligence and still greater emotional power," concluding, "This is an overwhelming film."
HBO Documentary Films snapped up the rights to the surprise Golden Lion winner—just the second documentary in the Venice Film Festival's 90-year history to take the top prize—shortly after its Telluride and Venice screenings but has yet to announce an HBO/HBO Max premiere date for the film.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)
Action/Drama | USA/Germany | Directed by Edward Berger
Streams on Netflix October 28
Edward Berger (Deutschland 83) directs this adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 novel about the horrors of World War I. If the title sounds familiar, it's because Lewis Milestone’s 1930 adaptation won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. This German-language production might not reach those heights, but it’s “the ultimate anti-war war film,” according to Sarah Milner of /Film, adding that it’s “masterfully shot and paced, offering crisp, evocative World War I images.” The Playlist's Marya E. Gates also believes, “Berger and his crew have crafted a faithful and heart-wrenching adaptation that fully realizes the novel’s trenchant anti-war themes.” And Fionnuala Halligan of Screen Daily praises the “impressively-staged battle sequences” in this “wrenching, visceral adaptation.” For TheWrap's Steve Pond, it’s “visually spectacular but by turns infuriating and heartbreaking,” both “hard to watch and hard to shake.”
Argentina, 1985 Watch trailer
Drama | Argentina/USA | Directed by Santiago Mitre
Opens in theaters September 30 + streams on Prime Video October 21
The new film from Argentinian writer-director Santiago Mitre (The Student, Paulina) dramatizes the Trial of the Juntas from the perspective of prosecutors Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darín of The Secret in Their Eyes and Truman) and Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani of The Clan) as they try bring a military dictatorship to justice. It’s a “rousing political thriller” and “courtroom drama with a committed, awards-worthy performance from Ricardo Darín,” according to Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan. Variety critic Guy Lodge believes it’s a “people’s film about people’s justice, balancing tear-jerking historical catharsis with touches of droll domestic comedy, and set to draw crowds on enthusiastic word of mouth.”
The Banshees of Inisherin
Drama | UK/Ireland/USA | Directed by Martin McDonagh
Opens in theaters October 21
The latest from playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Guard) picked up two awards from the Venice jury: Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for Colin Farrell. McDonagh pits the stars of his breakout film In Bruges—Farrell and Brendan Gleeson—against each other as lifelong friends who have a falling out when Gleeson’s Colm asks Farrell’s Padraic never to talk to him again.
Thanks also to strong supporting performances from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, IndieWire's David Ehrlich believes “its constant undercurrent of humor affords the story’s most pressing questions an appropriately ridiculous context, one that speaks to the absurdities of all existence,” resulting in McDonagh’s best film since In Bruges. Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist also finds Inisherin to be “certainly McDonagh’s cinematic magnum opus so far, his best since In Bruges, if not better, and surely more complex and morally mysterious.” Time's Stephanie Zacharek praises Farrell’s ability to bring “extra layers of depth and mournfulness to the classic McDonagh pattern,” giving the film “its soul and its beauty.” And John Bleasdale of CineVue adds in his 5/5 star review, “The Banshees of Inisherin is a beautifully-shot and deftly-played comedy. It is at once masterful, surprisingly poignant, and profound. Its portrait of a friendship faltering ultimately proves how vital friendship actually is: how vulnerable and naked we are without it.”
Bones and All
Drama/Horror | USA | Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Opens in theaters November 23
Luca Guadagnino won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for this adaptation of the Camille DeAngelis novel about Maren (Taylor Russell of Waves, who won Best Young Actor in Venice), a teenage cannibal who meets more of her kind (including Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg—Call Me By Your Name reunion—and Mark Rylance) during her journey across 1980s America to find her mother. Maren forms a special relationship with Chalamet’s Lee, and their chemistry is "off the charts,” according to Luke Hicks of The Film Stage. In The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney agrees, writing, "Everything they do is easy, unforced, underplayed to subtly stirring effect, and the filmmakers’ unstinting empathy for Maren and Lee is contagious.”
One of the film’s detractors, Variety critic Owen Gleiberman, claims Bones and All to be a "concept in search of a story” and “one of the sketchiest, emptiest, most meandering road movies in memory.” Time's Stephanie Zacharek is more positive, finding it “artful and tender, if occasionally almost too tense and brutal to bear.” And in his 5/5 star review Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes, “Bones And All is a macabre horror, an emo adventure in revulsion, a tale of young and forbidden love, and a parable for that terrible secret thought, scary but also euphoric, that enters into everyone’s head in their teen years: I am different.”
A Compassionate Spy
Documentary | USA/UK | Directed by Steve James
The latest documentary feature from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, Life Itself) examines the life (especially the marriage) and decisions made by Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, who shared classified nuclear secrets with Russia. Using reenactments (a stylistic change for James), newsreel footage, archival interviews of Hall, and a new interview with his now 90-year-old wife, Joan, James tells a “love story, an espionage drama and a mini-history of the Cold War,” in a documentary that is “ intimate and modest, more about a marriage than geopolitical tensions,” according to Tim Grierson of Screen Daily. For Variety critic Guy Lodge, the “film demonstrates its director’s characteristic nose for strong material and knack for gripping, straightforward storytelling.” And while The Playlist's Charles Barfield admits “the editorial choices are leading in their execution,” he still deems Spy “a moving, thoughtful documentary.”
Drama | UK | Directed by Frances O'Connor
Opens in theaters tbd 2023
Actress Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park) makes her debut as a writer-director with this imagined biography of Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë, played by Sex Education star Emma Mackey. Little is known about Brontë’s life, but O’Connor “adroitly manages the feat of making a 19th-century period piece burst with contemporary feeling,” in a film that "captivates until the end,” according to Christopher Schobert of The Film Stage. Writing for The Guardian, Radheyan Simonpillai is impressed by the way the film “empowers Brontë’s sometimes turbulent emotions, setting environments according to the author’s moods in ways that can be riveting.” The Playlist's Jason Bailey believes O’Connor has “crafted a first film that feels like the work of an accomplished master,” and in her review for Variety, Jessica Kiang writes, “As well as a doomed romance, the film is also a singularly moving investigation into the mechanisms of sibling relationships that are forged in soulmate-style love, but tinged with rivalry and spite.”
Bleecker Street will release the film in theaters in the U.S. next year.
TIFF People's Choice Winner
Drama | USA | Directed by Steven Spielberg
Opens in theaters November 11
|2017||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri|
Steven Spielberg brings his childhood memories to cinematic life in this tribute to his mother and father that now looks certain to be a major player during awards season. Written by Spielberg (his first screenwriting credit in 21 years) with frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, the TIFF People's Choice-winning film follows Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as the younger, Gabriel LaBelle as the teenager), his artistic mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), his scientific father Burt (Paul Dano), and Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen), Burt’s best friend, as Sammy’s passion for filmmaking grows. That adds up to an "infinitely tender, sometimes misty ode to the people who raised him and the singular passion for cinema that shaped him,” writes EW's Leah Greenblatt, who adds, “As much as it is Spielberg's personal history, The Fabelmans is also a fervent, hand-on-heart testament to the eternal lure of movies, made by one of the foremost magicians of the craft.”
LA Times critic Justin Chang believes The Fabelmans “might be more precisely understood as a uniquely confessional work, in which a great artist freely and happily acknowledges the manipulation inherent in the art form he was born to master.” And Kenji Fujishima of Slant is thankful the film is “more than just yet another ‘love letter to cinema,’ but also an intermittently provocative investigation of the medium from one of its great masters.” For Collider's Ross Bonaime it’s simply “one of the most moving, honest, and poignant films of Spielberg’s already impressive filmography.” And in his review for Polygon, Robert Daniels writes, “This isn’t a confessional story. It grants the real-world figures a necessary grace, the kind people only find after coming out on the other side of a lifetime of processing. And it features a brand of craftsmanship — from deliberate blocking to controlled, ingenious camera movements — that only occurs when you’re, well, Steven Spielberg. Above all else, it’s an empathetic message from the director to his mother.”
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Watch trailer
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Rian Johnson
Opens in theaters fall tbd + streams on Netflix December 23
Rian Johnson’s sequel to his 2019 hit Knives Out finds detective Benoit Blanc (a returning Daniel Craig) on a Greek island owned by billionaire tech guru Miles Bron (Edward Norton). The guests include a former supermodel (Kate Hudson), her assistant (Jessica Henwick), a conservative media influencer (Dave Bautista), the governor of Connecticut (Kathryn Hahn), a scientist (Leslie Odom Jr.) employed by Miles, and Miles’ former business partner (Janelle Monáe). When a murder mystery game turns into an actual murder (or more), you know who can solve it. But there's no longer any mystery about whether or not Glass Onion can live up to the prior film: It's another winner.
In fact, Collider's Ross Bonaime thinks it’s an “even bigger, more ambitious, and, somehow, even more entertaining whodunit than the previous film,” and Chris Evangelista of /Film agrees: “Not only does Johnson recapture what made the first flick so special, he actually outdoes himself. Yes, Glass Onion is even better than Knives Out.” For Screen Rant's Mae Abdulbaki, “Glass Onion is wildly entertaining, endlessly charismatic, and somewhat ridiculous. Combined with a fabulous ensemble cast, this whodunit follow-up to Knives Out (which takes a dig at the beloved Clue game) is deeply enjoyable.” To Jason Bailey of The Playlist it “feels, frankly, like something of a miracle” in its ability to “recapture the magic” of the first film “without resorting to replication or imitation.”
Icarus: The Aftermath
Documentary | USA | Directed by Bryan Fogel
With 2017’s Icarus, Bryan Fogel (The Dissident) took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Five years later, Fogel has made the rare sequel that is even better than the original. Unable to be with whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov due to security protocols, Fogel embeds cameraman and producer Jake Swantko with Rodchenkov as he constantly moves to avoid detection and retaliation from Russian agents. More is learned about Russia’s doping schemes and more is learned about Rodchenkov’s personal life and what his courage has cost him. TheWrap's Steve Pond believes The Aftermath is the “work of a stronger and more assured director,” and Christian Gallichio of The Playlist agrees that “Fogel has evolved as a political documentarian in the intervening years,” resulting in a film that “successfully adapts the genre of espionage thriller to the documentary form with riveting results.” For THR's Sheri Linden it’s a “story of immense bravery and unspeakable sadness,” In his review for IndieWire, Robert Daniels calls Aftermath a “poignant and powerful document about the unpredictable burdens of heroism,” while Variety's Peter Debruge finds it “incredible and enraging in equal doses.” The first film streamed on Netflix, but the sequel has not yet lined up a distributor.
Drama | Iran | Directed by Jafar Panahi
Awarded a Special Jury Prize in Venice, the latest from now imprisoned Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi is another slice of piercing meta-fiction in which he finds a version of himself making a film in the Iranian village of Jabbar and causing a bit of trouble for the locals after they accuse him of taking a photo of a pair of young lovers, which he denies. It’s another success for the director, who has now made five films (This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, Taxi, 3 Faces) since he was banned from filmmaking in 2010. “Deceptively simple at first, and then accumulating increasingly complex layers by almost imperceptible degrees,” the film “would be a forceful statement even without the limits imposed” on Panahi, writes David Rooney of THR. “Panahi is a director who has always mingled fact and fiction, and here the distinction is more addled than ever,” according to IndieWire's Sophie Monks Kaufman. For Screen Daily critic Jonathan Romney it’s a “complex work of novelistic density . . . among the boldest and most accomplished statements from one of the world’s exemplary filmmakers.” And TheWrap's Ben Croll proclaims No Bears a “flat-out stunner.”
Other People's Children (Les enfants des autres)
Drama/Comedy | France | Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski
French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski’s follow-up to An Easy Girl stars Virginie Efira as Rachel, a 40-year-old high school teacher in a relationship with Ali, the divorced father of a four-year-old daughter. From this set up, Zlotowski confirms “her gift for investing familiar formulas with freshness and charm, smarts and sexiness,” according to Jon Frosch of THR. At CineVue, John Bleasdale notes that the “acting is top-class across the board but Efira’s astounding performance is particularly fascinating.” And in her "B+" review for The Playlist, Rafaela Sales Ross writes, “Other People’s Children is a moving rumination on the pains caused by the unbudging pillars of traditional parenting. It is a rare offering in its enlightened kindness, and a heartbreaking one, too.”
Venice Grand Jury Prize (2nd Place) Winner
Drama | France | Directed by Alice Diop
|2021||The Hand of God|
|2019||An Officer and a Spy|
After collecting awards on the international festival circuit for her 2021 documentary We, Alice Diop came to Venice with her first narrative feature and took home the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize as well as the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for best debut. Working from actual trial transcripts, Diop and co-writers Amrita David (who also edited), and Marie N’Diaye take a shocking true 2016 event and show the complex humanity of those involved. The film follows Rama (Kayije Kagame), a young novelist attending the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga), a woman accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter by abandoning her to the rising tide on a beach in northern France.
For Variety's Jessica Kiang, it’s “deceptively austere, extraordinarily multifaceted,” a film that “inhabits a shockingly strange and sad story from the inside.” Lovia Gyarkye of THR notes that “Diop does not stray too far from her documentary roots. The film maintains a sense of naturalism even during its most tense moments.” CineVue's John Bleasdale believes Saint Omer to be “a deeply intellectual film [...] but it’s also heartfelt. There is a compassion to the dispassion: an empathy.” And in his "A–" review for Playlist, Robert Daniels describes the drama as a “captivating, soul-shattering work overflowing with gentle sympathy.”
Neon's sub-label Super acquired the distribution rights to Saint Omer following its Venice debut, but a release date has not been set (though the film will continue to tour the festival circuit through the fall).
Squaring the Circle
Documentary | UK | Directed by Anton Corbijn
For his first non-concert documentary feature, director Anton Corbijn (Control) has turned to a subject he knows more about that virtually anyone else alive: album cover art. A longtime photographer, Corbijn has seen his work grace the covers of albums by artists including Depeche Mode, U2, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, and Cabaret Voltaire, among others. (That Joshua Tree cover? That's Anton Corbin!) In Squaring the Circle, he turns his focus on Hipgnosis, a London-based design group responsible for some of the most memorable album covers in rock history from the late 1960s through the early '80s. (That prismatic logo for Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon that has graced every dorm room since 1973? That's Hipgnosis!)
Members of Pink Floyd, along with other rock royalty like Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, and Robert Plant, are among the talking heads seen and heard throughout Circle, which blends new interviews shot in Corbijn's trademark high-contrast black-and-white with archival color footage and even animation to trace the eventful rise and fall of the design firm and detail how some of their most notable photoshoots were assembled. Critics at Telluride enjoyed the result. The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez deems it "a must-watch for rockologists everywhere," while The Wrap's Steve Pond calls the film "a treat for anyone with a taste for rock, for rock imagery and for the glories that can be found in that piece of cardboard wrapped around a record." IndieWire's Christian Baluvelt admits that the doc is "conventional," but adds, "[I]t’s at least a sturdy story-delivery mechanism for telling how Hipgnosis themselves did revolutionize album covers."
TÁR Watch trailer
Drama | USA | Directed by Todd Field
Opens in theaters October 7
Now that's a comeback. Todd Field’s third feature, following 2001’s In the Bedroom and 2006’s Little Children, explores our changing world through the fictional life of iconic musician Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra. Blanchett won Best Actress in Venice and is the favorite to take home more statues as awards season approaches. Her Tár is a mercurial figure, prone to affairs with younger proteges despite her loving relationship with her partner (Nina Hoss), with whom she has a daughter. “How Blanchett navigates this role is a wonder. It’s her finest 2.5 hours in a very long time, and even when the film wobbles in its final third, the landing feels right,” writes Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. In Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt deems Tár a “towering monolith of a movie rooted in an extraordinary, shattering performance by Cate Blanchett.” According to David Rooney of THR, it’s a “transfixing movie that feels like no other,” a “mesmerizing character study, its fine-grained details extending with needling precision into the shadowy recesses between its oblique scenes.”
And there's yet more praise for what could ultimately wind up as 2022's highest-scoring film, or at least come close. In the eyes of Variety critic Owen Gleiberman, “it’s the work of a master filmmaker,” in which Field "enmeshes us in a tautly unfolding narrative of quiet duplicity, corporate intrigue, and — ultimately — erotic obsession. Yet he does it so organically that for a while you don’t even realize you’re watching a ‘story.’” After 16 years, “Field has come back to us with a savage yet acutely sincere character study that’s slathered in a million shades of gray,” writes IndieWire's David Ehrlich, who declares it “one of the boldest and most exciting new American movies” he’s seen in years.
Drama | USA | Directed by Sarah Polley
Opens in theaters December 2
Writer-director Sarah Polley’s fourth feature, following Away from Her, Take This Waltz, and the award-winning documentary about her family, Stories We Tell, is an adaptation of Miram Towes’ 2018 novel about a group of women (played by Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, and others) in a cloistered religious colony struggling to decide how to respond to years of abuse from the men they trusted. Do they do nothing, stay and fight, or leave? Based on horrific real events from a secluded Mennonite community in Bolivia, where eight men used bovine anesthetic to paralyze and then rape multiple women, Polley’s film is a “rewarding exploration that addresses not just the characters' predicament but the existential questions that face any contemporary woman navigating patriarchal setups,” writes THR's Sheri Linden. In Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt praises the “deep vein of humor and humanity that Polley and her actors mine from the text.” And in her review for TheWrap, Tomris Laffly similarly admires how “Polley strikes a hypnotizing rhythm amongst the women, who attack despair with cheeky humor (Women Talking is unexpectedly funny in parts) and uncertainty with astute deliberation.” LA Times critic Justin Chang adds, “As sharply honed and concentrated as it is, Women Talking has a remarkable formal and conceptual fluidity,” resulting in a film that “gathers extraordinary emotional force, and also something more: genuine spiritual weight.”
In addition to generating quite a bit of buzz at its Telluride debut, Women Talking also finished as the first runner up in voting for Toronto's People's Choice Ward.
Other notable debuts with generally positive reviews
Drama/Thriller | Canada/USA | Directed by Mary Nighy
Written by Alanna Francis (The Rest of Us), Mary Nighy’s feature directing debut stars Anna Kendrick as Alice, a woman in a psychologically abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick). When she goes on vacation with her best friends (Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku), Alice gains the space and perspective she needs to see her relationship for what it is. According to THR's Lovia Gyarkye, it’s an “emotionally disquieting debut,” in which “Kendrick transfixes, affirming that she has always had depth and range.” In her review for The Playlist, Marya E. Gates also notes that “Kendrick gives a phenomenal performance, with her insides so twisted that the tension is visible in every limb, in every move she makes.” And The Guardian's Benjamin Lee agrees, calling Kendrick “exceptionally, hauntingly effective” in her “finest performance to date, and while their characters aren’t given that much beyond the basics, Mosaku and Horn are both excellent, their every line and decision made to ring true, an authentic dynamic that leads to an incredibly moving moment of extreme protection in the last act.”
Blonde Watch trailer
Drama | USA | Directed by Andrew Dominik
Streams on Netflix September 28 (and technically in theaters now, but good luck finding it)
After a couple of well-regarded documentaries on Nick Cave (One More Time with Feeling, This Much I Know to Be True), filmmaker Andrew Dominik returns to narrative filmmaking for the first time since 2012’s Killing Them Softly with this adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel about the inner life of Norma Jean Baker, aka Marilyn Monroe. Concerns about Ana de Armas’ casting as Monroe now seem unfounded as her performance is the one universally praised aspect of what is turning out to be a divisive film. Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan admits Blonde is a “technically-skilled, well-acted” film, but she doesn’t hold back on the director: “Blonde doesn’t quite dance on her grave, but Dominik, who adapted, does jump on it, covering everyone, audience included, in a grubby film of voyeurism.” Equally unimpressed is Phil de Semlyen of Time Out, who writes, “For all its freedom to reimagine her life and rescue her from cultural victimhood, Blonde is just a bit too willing to chuck her overboard and watch her flounder.” Slightly more forgiving, The Guardian’s Leslie Felperin finds it “by turns ravishing, moving and intensely irritating” and “all a bit much – in every sense.” And in her review for Empire, Catherine Bray sees an “elusive” film, “more interested in sensual surfaces than interior lives.”
Even critics who praised the film admit to it being a difficult watch. In her 5/5 star review for Total Film, Jane Crowther acknowledges Blonde as “uncomfortable viewing,” but also praises the film as “engaging, unbridled cinema that will prompt discourse and divide opinions.” And for Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri “Blonde is beautiful, mesmerizing, and, at times, deeply moving. But it’s also alienating — again, by design — constantly turning the camera on the viewer, sometimes with Marilyn directly addressing it. That’s going to be a tough sell, especially for a film that’s so nonlinear and elliptical.” That Metascore has been wavering between green and yellow all week as reviews have continued to come in, but for now it appears to have support from a slight majority of critics.
Rom-com | USA | Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Opens in tehaters September 30
Billy Eichner has taken his act from the street to the cinema as the leading man of the first major-studio gay rom-com featuring a main cast of all out LGBTQ+ actors. Eichner, who co-wrote the script with director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, Neighbors), plays a cynical podcaster who begins to question his commitment to singledom when he meets Luke Macfarlane’s Aaron. It “immediately joins the ranks of the great rom-coms,” according to Ross Bonaime of Collider, who finds it “hilarious, sexy, and undeniably charming […] from beginning to end.” /Film's Sarah Milner believes this “hilarious” and “unconventional love story” feels “honest and real for anyone with experience in LGBTQ+ spaces.” And Benjamin Lee of The Guardian admires how it’s “big and clever in a way that so few films of this scale are these days, a pleasure to be shepherded through the easy motions of a romantic comedy by people who know what they’re doing for once."
Western | USA | Directed by Gabe Polsky
After three sports documentaries (Red Penguins, In Search of Greatness, and the Metacritic Must-See Red Army), director Gabe Polsky returns to narrative filmmaking with this adaptation of John Edward Williams’ 1960 novel about Will (Fred Hechinger), a Harvard dropout in 1874 Kansas who joins Miller (Nicolas Cage), a buffalo hunter, and his pals Fred (Jeremy Bobb) and Charlie (Xander Berkeley) on an expedition to the Colorado Territory. Things do not go well. For IndieWire's David Ehrlich “this undercooked tale of a buffalo hunt gone wrong doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to capture the Emersonian flavor of its source material.” But Chris Evangelista of /Film was “ultimately taken with Butcher's Crossing and all its horrors. Taken with the committed performances of the small cast, and the untouched landscape.” Also positive on the film, William Bibbiani of TheWrap praises Cage’s “characteristically wild, wholly effective performance from an actor who excels — perhaps more so than any other — at making bizarre acting decisions seem bizarrely natural.”
Catherine Called Birdy Watch trailer
Comedy/Adventure | UK | Directed by Lena Dunham
Opens in theaters September 23 + streams on Prime Video October 7
Starring Games of Thrones breakout Bella Ramsey in the title role, the second feature from writer-director Lena Dunham to premiere at a festival this year (following Sharp Stick's less-admired Sundance unveiling) is an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 YA novel about a rebellious teenage girl in a Medieval English village whose father (Andrew Scott) hopes to marry her off to cover his debts. For Screen Daily critic Tim Grierson, it “ends up being a superficial attack on the patriarchy, failing to be as biting or delightful as one might hope,” despite an “endearingly impudent turn” by Ramsey.
But Adrian Horton of The Guardian finds this adaptation “thoroughly enjoyable,” and Vulture critic Alison Willmore believes it liberates Dunham, as if “tempering her distinctive creative impulses gives her rein to make a movie that’s tender and more broadly crowd-pleasing, while still very much her own.” IndieWire's Kate Erbland believes this “wildly entertaining coming-of-age comedy” captures both “Dunham’s spirit and the thrust of Cushman’s novel,” resulting in the director’s best film. And Jason Bailey of The Playlist agrees, “It’s a delightful step in Dunham’s artistic evolution, a work that both feels like something new and bears her distinctive voice.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Opens in theaters and streams on Apple TV+ November 4
In this debut feature from Broadway director Lila Neugebauer, Jennifer Lawrence stars as a soldier struggling to adjust to life back home in New Orleans after a traumatic brain injury. She finds a tentative friendship with a mechanic (Brian Tyree Henry) recovering from a major car accident. For C.J. Prince of The Film Stage, it’s “lucky that Neugebauer has such strong talent to elevate what she’s working with, as it helps rescue Causeway from a forgettable collection of indie-drama cliches into something more respectable.” Similarly, THR's David Rooney believes the “chemistry between these two excellent actors, each of them quite distinct in style, sneaks up on you and enriches this modest drama about bruised people lowering their guard enough to seek comfort.” Vulture's Alison Willmore echoes those sentiments: “Lawrence and Henry have a warm, natural chemistry, and that rapport really seems to guide where the movie ends up, instead of the other way around.” And in The Playlist, Charles Bramesco has similar thoughts, writing, “Together, they build a pair of utterly real people, nonetheless confined to a dramatic universe more prone to contrivance. But the pleasures of the former generally outweigh the irksomeness of the latter, with Lawrence and costar Brian Tyree Henry joined in as a super-generator of onscreen magnetism.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Stephen Williams
Written by Stefani Robinson (Atlanta and What We Do in the Shadows) and directed by Stephen Williams, who returns to features after directing episodes of Watchmen, Westworld, Lost, and many more over the past 25 years, this period biopic stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Waves) as composer Joseph Bologne, dubbed Chevalier de Saint-Georges by Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). Unable to contain his whole, incredibly impressive life, the film focuses on his time striving to become the head of the Paris Opera, when he falls for the married (and white) opera singer Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving). Writing for The Playlist, Charles Bramesco claims it’s a “well-meaning tribute that loses the melody while riffing on the given notes,” but Consequence critic Erin Brady thinks the “incredible performances of Harrison and Adékoluẹjo, the smart screenplay by Robinson, and Williams’ direction” save it from its “reliance on biopic tropes.” THR's Lovia Gyarkye sees a “ebullient but tottering biopic” that “lifts Saint-Georges from the annals of music history and transforms him into a rockstar — a classical Jimi Hendrix, if you will.” And Kate Erbland of IndieWire believes “even when it’s hitting false notes, Chevalier dazzles because of the untapped magic of its central character.”
Drama | USA/France | Directed by Frederick Wiseman
The legendary 92-year-old filmmaker Frederick Wiseman changes gears from lengthy documentaries (City Hall, In Jackson Heights, National Gallery) to short narrative features with this 64 minute portrait of Sophia Tolstoy, inspired by her diaries and letters to her husband of 36 years, Leo Tolstoy. Shot in La Boulaye Garden on Belle Île, the film is a monologue delivered by Nathalie Boutefeu as Sophie, recounting the joy, passion, acrimony, and dysfunction of her marriage. Screen Daily's Wendy Ide finds Couple “theatrical” and “somewhat inert” as cinema, and in his review for The Playlist, Marshall Shaffer claims the film “never quite manages to transcend its origins as a precious pandemic project.” Among its admirers, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw believes it’s a “a kind of working-through and pacification of emotional agony” and a “valuable and insightful pen-portrait,” while Leslie Felperin of THR praises Boutefeu’s “intense, galvanic performance,” and the “strangely pregnant and weighty hour or so of entertainment” it produces.
The Eternal Daughter
Drama | UK | Directed by Joanna Hogg
Writer-director Joanna Hogg adds a somewhat less successful coda to her very personal and critically acclaimed duet—The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part II—with this ghost story starring Tilda Swinton in dual roles as Julie (originally played by Swinton’s daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne) and her mother Rosalind. Set in contemporary times, Daughter follows Julie as she takes her widowed mother to a deserted hotel in Wales, hoping to make a breakthrough on a film about her mother. It’s a “minor” work from Hogg, according to The Telegraph's Robbie Collin and John Bleasdale of CineVue, who adds “It’s cosy, inoffensive and, at less than ninety minutes, satisfyingly short, but sadly doesn’t have a particularly strong argument for its own existence.” Writing for Variety, Jessica Kiang notes, "The double casting of Swinton, who is predictably excellent in both roles, is certainly the key to The Eternal Daughter, but whether it frees the film or locks it further away is debatable.” Praise for the film comes from Carlos Aguilar, whose review for TheWrap describes it as an “atmospheric labyrinth of reflections and projections” with a “doubly astounding Swinton.” And Time's Stephanie Zacharek writes, “The Eternal Daughter isn’t just a ghost story but a song, sung by a daughter to her mother across a small table at dinner, or across the space that remains when the people we love have left us.”
Good Night Oppy
Documentary | USA | Directed by Ryan White
Opens in theaters November 4 + streams on Prime Video November 23
Documentary filmmaker Ryan White (Assassins, Ask Dr. Ruth, The Case Against 8) has directed an “endearing and emotional documentary” about the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, one that is a “lively celebration of unabashed nerdiness and enthusiastic problem-solving,” according to Daniel Fienberg of THR. Using NASA’s vast archive, new interviews, and effects from ILM, “Good Night Oppy is more than just a documentary; it’s an animated film as well — and a hugely entertaining one at that,” writes Variety's Peter Debruge. For Screen Daily critic Tim Grierson, it’s “perhaps too aggressively feel-good in its approach, and yet it’s hard to resist what’s stirring about this tale of space exploration.” And IndieWire's David Ehrlich agrees, concluding, “Good Night Oppy renders the rovers’ journeys with such oppressive sentimentality terms that it can be hard to feel the full weight of the awe and wonder the movie drops into your lap.”
The Good Nurse Watch trailer
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Tobias Lindholm
Opens in theaters October 19 + streams on Netflix October 26
Danish director Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking, A War) makes his English-language debut with this adaptation of Charles Graeber’s book The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder about serial killer Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), who killed at least 29 people in the 1990s and 2000s. Jessica Chastain plays the titular good nurse who tries to work with the police to bring Cullen to justice. It’s a “mixed bag of shock, horror and frustration,” according to The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, while a similarly disappointed Chris Evangelista of /Film finds it “strangely flat.” On a more positive note, THR's John DeFore thinks Nurse to be a “gripping but refreshingly unmanipulative true-crime tragedy." And in her review for Screen Daily, Wendy Ide is happy to report that this “superbly acted thriller – Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne both shine – is every bit as textured and knotty as his previous work.” For a differing opinion on Chastain and Redmayne, read Charles Bramesco’s review for The Playlist in which he asserts that a viewer will feel “more than secure in naming [Redmayne] the worst living actor to hold an Oscar.”
TV/Drama | USA/Canada | Directed by Clea DuVall
Streams October 14 on Amazon Freevee
Freevee's 1990s-set high school drama is based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by twin sisters and Grammy-nominated indie pop artists Tegan and Sara Quin, who are played in the show by TikTok stars Railey and Seazynn Gilliland. While most reviews will arrive next month prior to the show's streaming debut, a few critics weighed in on the first three (of eight) episodes that debuted in Toronto. Directed by Clea DuVall (Happiest Season), who also serves as showrunner alongside Laura Kittrell (Insecure), High School is "an immersive watch" that is "[f]ull of likeable characters and intensely relatable moments of drama and disappointment," accoridng to Exclaim's Alex Hudson. Mashable's Kristy Puchko also has praise for a series that is "sweet and quietly devastating," while IndieWire's Ben Travers admires a show that not only "takes its teen heartaches and hang-ups seriously" but also works as a "thoroughly enjoyable series that’s far from just a Tegan and Sara origin story."
The Inspection Watch trailer
Drama | USA | Directed by Elegance Bratton
Opens in theaters November 18
Elegance Bratton’s debut feature follows Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) as he joins the Marines to escape homelessness and reconnect with his mother (Gabrielle Union). Inspired by his own life, Bratton chronicles Ellis’ struggle to hide his sexual identity as his attraction to a drill instructor (Raúl Castillo) grows. For Ethan Vestby of The Film Stage it’s a “work of emotional maturity,” and a “flawed, if highly compelling promise of a new talented dramatist in American cinema.” The Inspection is also a “bracingly tender movie” and an "accomplished narrative feature debut,” according to David Rooney of THR. And Screen Daily's Tim Grierson sees an “emotionally charged drama with familiar contours but a perceptive eye about masculinity and the military.” Peter Debuge argues that “Pope gives a career-igniting performance,” in his Variety review, and that feeling is seconded by Chris Evangelista at /Film: “Pope's performance is so raw, so honest, that we're with him every step of the way.”
The Kingdom: Exodus
TV/Drama | Denmark | Directed by Lars von Trier
Streams on MUBI (tbd fall 2022)
Rivalling only David Lynch's Twin Peaks (a clear influence) for its blend of supernatural horror, dark comedy, and out-and-out strangeness, Lars von Trier's Danish hospital TV series The Kingdom ran for two seasons in 1994 and 1997. (It was later remade in America by no less than Stephen King, but not successfully.) But if Lynch could bring Peaks back for another round, why can't von Trier do the same with The Kingdom? And so we have Exodus, a third (and said to be final) set of five episodes, all directed by von Trier and featuring a mix of old and new faces (including, respectively, Udo Kier and Alexander Skarsgard), with the latter group mostly replacements for actors who have died since the prior miniseries. This time, the director gets, well, "meta" as he opens the series with a woman angered by watching that previous Kingdom season and winds up entering the hellish hospital herself.
Count The Playlist's Charles Bramesco among the biggest fans of Exodus; he admits that the "long shadow of David Lynch" looms over the series but admires how the new episodes "mak[e] conversation with its own past as well as the sinister penumbra of history itself," adding, "The sitcom-adjacent emphasis on levity ... does nothing to detract from the noxious vibes radiating out of every single scene." Variety critic Peter Debruge also notes that Exodus is jokier than fans might expect, but that the levity "sure makes this over-the-top return ... a lot more fun." In The Guardian, Xan Brooks has a bit less fun with the show; he cautions that "the old black magic isn’t as potent this time around" but adds, "The Kingdom: Exodus contains enough wildness and weirdness to satisfy the fanbase." The Wrap's Martin Tasi sees "a worthy entry in an iconic series" and agrees that longtime fans will find it "entertaining and well worth the quarter-century wait." But The Telegraph's Robbie Collin sees only "a thin nostalgic wallow, with old running jokes revived and not much in the way of the soul-shredding showmanship and blistering image-making the Antichrist and Melancholia director has since mastered."
The new Kingdom—as well as the normally impossible-to-stream first and second seasons—will be made available to MUBI subscribers in the U.S. and U.K. at some point in the next few months.
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Drama | USA/UK | Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Streams on Netflix (date tbd)
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (The Mustang) directs this latest adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel of class, love and sex. Emma Corrin (The Crown) plays Lady Chatterley, a woman of privilege who begins an affair with the the gamekeeper (Jack O’Connell) on the estate where she lives with her disabled husband. LA Times critic Just Chang finds the new Chatterley to be “vibrant and intelligent,” and IndieWire's Kate Erbland believes it’s a “gorgeous, dreamy, very sexy take on the material,” noting “this is still Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (And, not to be crass: The sex scenes are damn hot indeed).” In her review for TheWrap, Tomris Laffly claims “there is both loyalty and freshness in this take for those who are already deeply familiar with Lawrence’s book. And to those who aren’t: you are in for a handsome introduction to this feminine saga of sexual awakening, laced with both something old and something new, and plenty of frank, tastefully choreographed and actually steamy eroticism dearly missed in today’s increasingly sterile mainstream cinema.”
The Lost King Watch trailer
Drama | UK | Directed by Stephen Frears
True story: In 2012, the remains of King Richard III—killed in battle in 1485—were discovered beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, thanks in no small part to the long-term efforts of a group of amateur historians and one of their officers, Philippa Langley (played here by Sally Hawkins, whose performance is an unequivocal highlight). The latest from acclaimed director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) dramatizes—with a bit of fantastical flair—the much-derided Langley's journey and the numerous obstacles along the path to her ultimate triumph. King also reunites Frears with his Philomena collaborator Steve Coogan, who again co-stars and writes the screenplay (along with an also-returning Jeff Pope). Their latest underdog tale isn't resonating as highly with many critics, though some certainly like it. Collider's Ross Bonaime, for one, thinks "The Lost King works because of the compelling cast on hand. And Screen Daily's Wendy Ide calls King a "a winning, if whimsical, account of an ordinary woman achieving the extraordinary." But Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw sees a "peculiar, tonally uncertain" film that he deems "a misfire," while IndieWire's Kate Erbland warns of "a rather mirthless affair" that is only partially salvaged by its more lively final act.
The film will open in theaters in the UK next month but does not yet have a North American release date.
Drama | Japan/France | Directed by Kôji Fukada
The latest from Japanese writer-director Kôji Fukada (Harmonium, The Real Thing) is a drama about how different members of a family deal with grief after a tragic accident. In his review for Variety, Guy Lodge acknowledges that “it’s impossible not to be affected at some level by its characters’ hellish plight,” but he feels the “predominant softness of tone here tends toward the wispy.” Writing for TheWrap, Elizabeth Weitzman is more impressed by Fukada’s filmmaking: “Each careful frame and uncomfortably long take is composed with infinite patience. He then builds these out into weighty, ironic juxtapositions, as his cramped settings fill up with people separated by deep emotional chasms.” IndieWire's David Ehrlich gives this “enormously poignant melodrama told at the volume of a broken whisper” a B+, and Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage does as well, writing, “Fukada’s film is at its best when walking this fine line between seriousness and absurdity. The knife-edge turns, navigated deftly by both director and cast, are what make it—after a while, at least—really tick.”
The Menu Watch trailer
Comedy/Horror | USA | Directed by Mark Mylod
Opens in theaters November 18
Director Mark Mylod has a few features under his belt (Ali G Indahouse being one), but he is best known for directing TV, including episodes of Entourage, Game of Thrones, Shameless, and most recently Succession. The latter makes him a good fit for this darkly comedic thriller that skewers the rich customers at an isolated restaurant run by a domineering chef played by Ralph Fiennes. Guests at the dinner are played by Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, and Nicolas Hoult, whose last-minute date is Anya Taylor-Joy (an unanticipated presence that disrupts the chef’s plans). The Guardian's Benjamin Lee believes there are “some fantastically ridiculous moments,” and while the “plotting around them might feel reheated, there are enough Michelin star performances from both ends of the spectrum to chew on with a scarily self-possessed Hong Chau coming out on top.” In her review for THR, Lovia Gyarkye writes, “It indulges in opportunities to strip the emperor of his clothes, and while that doesn’t necessarily translate to the most revelatory social commentary, it does make for an amusing ride.” And in her review for Screen Daily, Wendy Ide admits The Menu is not subtle, but it is a “bracingly spiteful and very funny picture.”
Drama | USA/Italy | Directed by Andrea Pallaoro
Inspired by his own experience in dealing with an ailing mother, writer-director Andrea Pallaoro's third feature centers on the titular Monica (Transparent's Trace Lysette), a trans woman who has been estranged from her Midwestern family for years but returns home after learning that her mother (Patricia Clarkson) is dying. The drama's intimate portrait of its lead character is enhanced by Pallaoro's stylistic decisions, including shooting the film in a square "Academy" ratio. But that choice doesn't work for THR critic Jon Frosch, who welcomes the casting of Lysette but dismisses Monica as "a sluggish exercise in formalism" that "plays like something we’ve seen countless times before decked out in auteurish accoutrements." Most critics, however, have kinder things to say about Monica. Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan mostly admires "a quietly thoughtful and impressively acted drama" buttressed by Lysette's "powerful, internalised performance," even if it's a bit too languorous at times. And IndieWire's Jude Dry praises a "spare but poignant" film that "raises the bar for trans stories onscreen."
Raymond & Ray
Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Rodrigo García
Streams on Apple TV+ October 21
The latest from writer-director Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives, Albert Nobbs, Four Good Days) stars Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as the half-brothers of the title. Estranged for years, each suffered under the cruelty of their father, but they come together for his funeral, discovering others (Maribel Verdu and Sophie Okenodo) who knew him differently. The Playlist's Maya E. Gates finds little to praise besides Hawke and Okonedo in this “deadpan dark comedy, which is miscalculated on almost every level.” Writing for Variety, Tomris Laffly claims this “curiously alienating” film has “little original to offer,” but Screen Daily's Allan Hunter thinks it’s “always engaging and boosted considerably by the efforts of an excellent ensemble cast.” Also positive on the film is Michael Rechtshaffen of THR, who declares it “as tenderly observed as it is laugh-out-loud funny.”
Theatre of Thought
Documentary | USA | Directed by Werner Herzog
When he's not sharing screentime with Grogu or writing novels, the now 80-year-old Werner Herzog can be found behind the camera, more often than not directing a documentary. His latest nonfiction feature finds the German hitting the road with Spanish-American neurobiologist Rafael Yuste to explore the cutting edge of brain research and illuminate not just the science but also the ethical and philosophical questions raised by neurotechnology. (And the subject of Man on Wire makes a surprise appearance.) The result is slight—and all over the [neural] map—but fun, according to reviewers. The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden is certainly a fan, calling Thought "one of his most piercing inquiries yet." IndieWire's David Ehrlich deems it "a characteristically playful documentary," while Collider's Ross Bonaime thinks, "[I]t’s [Herzogs] childlike wonder that truly makes Theatre of Thought work." But The Playlist critic Jason Bailey is not entertained; he feels "Herzog’s latest is one of his weakest" and complains of surprising "amateur missteps" in the filmmaking.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Watch trailer
Comedy/Music | USA | Directed by Eric Appel
Streams on The Roku Channel November 4
According to IGN's Rafael Motamayor, director Eric Appel’s debut feature “does for the music biopic what the real Weird Al did for many a hit pop song: it makes fun of it, reveres it, remixes it, makes it weirder, and improves it.” Appel wrote the screenplay with Yankovic, and while it’s not Walk Hard, as Ross Bonaire of Collider (and other critics) note, “it is an absolutely charming and often hilarious look at the world’s greatest parody musician, packed with an excellent cast that wants to pay tribute to this weird man.”
Voted the winner of the Midnight Madness section by audiences at TIFF (edging out the recently released horror prequel Pearl), Weird stars Daniel Radcliffe as Al, while Evan Rachel Wood plays Madonna as a psychotic, fame-hungry girlfriend in a film that THR's John DeFore believes “is a kindred spirit to his songs without being so gag-hungry it forgets how to tell a story.” In his review for The Playlist, Charles Bramesco adds, “This whoopie cushion of a film raises the concept of the lowest common denominator up to the highest highs of esoteric tastes and in doing so, gets closer to the essence of artistry than all of its self-important, straight-faced forebears.” Sounds like a film that dares to be stupid and is all the better for it.
Wendell & Wild
Animation/Family | USA | Directed by Henry Selick
Opens in theaters October 21 + streams on Netflix October 28
The latest stop-motion wonder from director Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas) tells the story of Kat Elliot (voiced by Lyric Ross) and her demons Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele). Written by Selick and Peele, the screenplay tackles a lot of topics—including coping with grief, juvenile rehabilitation, the prison industrial complex, and the scourge of corrupt capitalism—and some critics, including Screen Daily's Tim Grierson, admire the films ambitions, “while wishing that its myriad narrative strands were more streamlined.” IndieWire's Emma Stefansky echoes this sentiment, thinking the film "might have been better served by picking one or two themes,” but she still gives it an "A–", claiming it’s a “giddy joy, hilariously gross, and earnestly heartfelt, with the kind of icky-gooey attention to detail that makes Selick’s movies such a visceral experience.”
Collider's Chase Hutchinson finds the Kat’s journey “more than a little anarchic and all over the place while still being grounded in a sentimental yet sharp emotional experience.” And Vanity Fair critic Esther Zuckerman agrees: “The saga is slightly too convoluted with some world-building short-changed, but it twists and turns to a place of genuine emotion and a rousing call to take down the ghouls of the real world rather than the demons of the underworld.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Opens in theaters December 9
With his follow-up to mother!, Darren Aronofsky has directed another film that will generate plenty of conversation. Written by Samuel D. Hunter (adapting his own play), The Whale stars Brendan Fraser (in a much lauded performance) as a severely obese English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Stranger Things' Sadie Sink) as his health continues to deteriorate. In her review for Polygon, Katie Rife addresses the film’s divisive reception, writing, “To be fair, some people enjoy this kind of miserabilism. But these viewers are also warned that not only is this film difficult to endure and likely to be actively harmful to some audiences, it’s also a self-serving reinforcement of the status quo — which is one of the most boring things a movie can be.” The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw saves his positives for Fraser and Hong Chau as his friend/nurse, but when it comes to the film as a whole, it’s a “vapid, hammy and stagey movie,” and a “surprising disappointment: the writing clunks; the narrative is contrived and unconvincing and the whole film has a strange pass-agg body language, as if it is handling its own painful subject matter with kid gloves and asking us to do the same.”
Similarly, Sarah Kurchak of Consequence fears that Fraser is “so good — so utterly human — in the role that it might obfuscate the extent of the problems with this film for many viewers. Any feelings that you are able to connect to Charlie, beyond disgust or pity, are 100 percent due to Fraser’s efforts. Those substantial efforts aren’t enough to overcome the rot at the heart of this film, though.” Variety's Owen Gleiberman agrees the film “simply isn’t as good as Brendan Fraser’s performance,” but believes it “deserves to be seen.” Defenders of the film include Telegraph critic Robbie Collin, who claims it’s a “piercing, compassionate parable about grace and reconciliation, told with truly Biblical force,” and CineVue's John Bleasdale, who states, “Alongside The Wrestler, The Whale is Aronofsky at his most compassionate. It’s a gargantuan invitation to empathy and understanding.”
What's Love Got to Do With It? Watch trailer
Rom-com | UK | Directed by Shekhar Kapur
With his first feature in fifteen years, director Shekhar Kapur moves from prestige drama (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) to romantic comedy with the story of a filmmaker (Lily James) who decides to document her best friend’s (Shazad Latif) journey toward arranged marriage. Working with a script from Jemima Khan, Kapur has produced a film that “looks and feels big, gliding between continents and cultures, location upon location upon location,” but, according to The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, while it never reaches "emotions of the same size [...] its ease is hard to resist.” For THR critic Michael Rechtshaffen, “Kapur’s soulful touch [...] hits all the desired marks,” and “serves as a master class in how to adhere faithfully to the classic romantic-comedy template and yet still emerge with something that delivers delightfully on both sides of the hyphen.”
White Noise Watch trailer
Comedy/Drama | USA | Directed by Noah Baumbach
Opens in theaters November 25 + streams on Netflix December 30
Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed Marriage Story reunites him with one of that film’s stars, Adam Driver, for an adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable—and possibly still unfilmable, as some critics seem to imply—1985 novel by Don DeLillo. Driver plays Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler Studies and husband to Greta Gerwig’s Babbette and father to her teenage daughter Denise (Raffey Cassidy), her younger sister Steffie (May Nivola), his own teenage son, Heinrich (Sam Nivola), and the youngest son, who is their sole child together. This nuclear family is forced to flee their home after an “airborne toxic event” and grapple with the possibility of happiness in the midst of death, drug addiction, infidelity, and consumerism.
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson believes it’s a “respectful, and respectable, film to a fault,” wondering what the “animating why” of the film is. That thought is echoed by Stephanie Zacharek of Time, who writes, “It’s hard to know exactly what Baumbach is going for here, other than perhaps reminding us that the key to living is just going about your life.” Vulture's Bilge Ebiri admits the film is “certainly uneven — wildly so, probably by design — but it’s also never boring, always eager to throw something new at the viewer, and it’s eager to entertain.” And in her review for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang praises the “uniformly great” cast and describes the film as an “amusingly curated museum of pre-millennial neurosis – one that’s undeniably enjoyable to walk around, freakishly well-made and weirdly dedicated to making the viewer feel like the last forty years or so never happened.” Giving the film 5/5 stars, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls White Noise a “fascinating, invigorating spectacle,” while John Bleasdale of CineVue claims it’s “one of the best contemporary political comedies of recent years.”
Drama/Thriller | UK/Ireland | Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Streams on Netflix (date tbd)
Sebastián Lelio (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience) impressed critics yet again with this adaptation of Room author Emma Donoghue’s 1862-set novel about an English nurse (Florence Pugh in a performance described as “monumental” by THR's Stephen Farber) who travels to the Irish Midlands to observe an 11-year-old girl who has survived months without food, making her a saint to many in her tiny village. Co-written with Alice Birch, who penned Pugh’s breakout, Lady Macbeth, this psychological thriller is a “smart, subtle disquisition on the necessity of both skepticism and faith, with a particularly keen understanding of religion’s uses and abuses,” according to LA Times critic Justin Chang. IndieWire's David Ehrlich finds it “rich with small examples that serve an even greater one,” but wishes it was longer: “Impressive as it is that The Wonder is able to squeeze so much from its spartan trappings, the film still feels clipped at 110 minutes; there may not be a lot to chew on, but there’s almost too much to savor.” Also finding plenty to enjoy is TheWrap's Tomris Laffly, who proclaims this “deeply feminine tale of fortitude with heart and teeth” to be a “career-best” for Lelio, “a mournful and textured psychodrama that gently nurses one into hope and spiritual serenity.”
Drama | UK | Directed by Richard Eyre
Adapted by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas from Alan Bennett’s (The History Boys) 2018 play and directed by Richard Eyre (Iris, Notes on a Scandal, The Children Act), “this watchable, undemanding drama rolls along capably, enlivened by unmistakably Bennettian gags and drolleries which come along every minute or so,” writes The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Set at the geriatric unit of a small Yorkshire, England hospital threatened with closure, the film features a plethora of acting talent (Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders, Derek Jacobi, Jesse Akele, David Bradley), but, according to Gregory Ellwood of The Playlist “a great cast, a notable filmmaker, and fine source material don’t always coalesce.” Variety's Guy Lodge calls out the film’s inconsistencies when he writes, “It didactically calls out governmental hypocrisy while exposing corrupt elements and inefficiencies within the precious institution itself. It hedges its bets politically between nostalgic keening for a kinder, fairer Britain of old and advocating for a top-down socialist makeover. It wavers tonally between cozy comedy and head-on polemic.” But for Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, Allelujah is “wry, sly and rousing.”
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
Drama/Comedy | Mexico | Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Opens in theaters November 4 + streams on Netflix December 16
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first feature since consecutive Best Director Oscars for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant (yes, he won over Mad Max: Fury Road's George Miller) is currently his worst-reviewed film on Metacritic. Those previous films had their strong detractors, but they were always in the minority. Not this time.
For this story of Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles, who is compelled to return to his native country, Iñárritu has produced a “beautiful three-hour dullard, a study in inertia, its characters reflected all too faithfully by the film itself,” writes Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman claims Bardo is a movie “longer than its title, and maybe even more pretentious,” one that is “full of good things, but it’s three hours long and mostly it’s full of itself.” IndieWire's David Ehrlich finds it “insufferable and staggering in almost equal measure, and often at the same time,” a “cartoonishly indulgent film about the fact that he makes cartoonishly indulgent films.”
It wasn’t all bad news. Amongst the film’s defenders are Screen Daily critic Fionnuala Halligan, who calls it a “gorgeous, taxing, indulgent yet often touching film,” and Carlos Aguilar, who, in his glowing review for TheWrap, proclaims Bardo to be a “transcendent masterpiece lucidly woven from honest contradictions, painful self-awareness, and hard-hitting historical observations.”
Copenhagen Cowboy Watch trailer
TV/Drama | Denmark | Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Streams on Netflix (date tbd)
Redundantly described as "neon-drenched noir" in Venice's press materials—since when did Nicolas Winding Refn make anything but that?—the upcoming Netflix series Copenhagen Cowboy is the second TV project for the Danish film director, following his stylish but flabby 2019 Amazon series Too Old to Die Young. It's also his first project set in his native country since his Pusher trilogy concluded in 2005, though the location is more a product of necessity (thanks, pandemic lockdown) than anything else. The six-episode series centers on a mysterious woman (Angela Bundalovic) who navigates Copenhagen's criminal underworld, and reviewers are again underwhelmed by a director who appears to have peaked with Drive over a decade ago—though, to be fair, only a few critics have reviewed Cowboy so far. One of those is The Playlist's Rafaela Sales Ross, who complains in a "C+" review that "it all gets a bit too tired too quickly, the combined visual and mental hyperstimulation counterintuitive to the binge culture nurtured by streaming platforms. By episode three, this exercise in self-indulgence is clear in its purpose of serving its creator at the cost of the narrative itself, a much more forgivable sin when constrained to a tight two hours." Decider's Marshall Shaffer is a bit more open to the director's "sensory overload" but admits, "[A]t the end of the day, this is NWR for NWR-heads," cautioning, "Copenhagen Cowboy proves so bludgeoning the eyes and ears, especially if consumed as a binge, that it can dull the senses altogether."
Drama | UK/USA | Directed by Mary Harron
With this look at the marriage of Salvador Dalí (Ben Kingsley) and his wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa) in 1973 New York, Mary Harron (American Psycho, Charlie Says) can’t recapture the spark that made her previous dip into the art world (I Shot Andy Warhol) so unique. John Walsh’s script brings viewers into the world through the eyes of a young gallery assistant (Christopher Briney), but that choice doesn’t work for Screen Daily's Tim Grierson, who cautions, "Because Daliland’s protagonist is such a cipher, the film struggles to get us invested in his growing disillusionment at being around the needy, ageing Dali,” resulting in a film that “lacks the provocation and brilliance that defined Dali’s masterpieces.” In his review for The Playlist, Jason Bailey describes Daliland as a “drab, conventional biopic” and addresses the controversy surrounding Ezra Miller, who plays the young Dalí, “There has been some question about removing their scenes – and Harron should, not because of Miller’s behavior, but because they’re just bad scenes, and the film would be better without them.” Finding the performances of Kingsley and particularly Sukowa the key to the film’s success, THR's John Defore believes Harron has made an “enjoyable and enlightening” even if it’s “pretty familiar in its storytelling.”
Dead for a Dollar Watch trailer
Western | USA/Canada | Directed by Walter Hill
Walter Hill (48 Hrs., The Warriors, Streets of Fire) might not be making critical, box office, or cult hits anymore, but at the age of 80, the director of The Long Riders can still pull off a low-budget Western, something in the style of legendary 1950s director Budd Boetticher, to whom Hill dedicates his film. Christoph Waltz stars as a bounty hunter tasked with finding and returning a woman (Rachel Brosnahan) who her husband (Hamish Linklater) claims was kidnapped by a Black soldier (Brandon Scott). Aiding him in his search is a fellow soldier (Warren Burke) and lurking around to cause trouble are a bank robber played by Willem Dafoe and a Mexican outlaw (Benjamin Bratt).
For TimeOut's Phil de Semlyen, it’s “sluggishly paced, stodgily scripted and curiously edited, it’s not so much a bullet ballet as a creaky dance across an abandoned saloon.” But in his review for Screen Daily, Lee Marshall writes, “Dead for a Dollar is no western for the ages. But dang it, it’s an hour and three quarters well spent.” THR's Leslie Felperin adds, “Hill’s skills with action have not dimmed, and the cast and stunt crew throw themselves into combat with graceful aplomb.”
Action/Drama | USA | Directed by J.D. Dillard
Opens in theaters November 23
J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Sweetheart) directs this adaptation of Adam Makos‘s book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, the true story of Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first Black aviator to fly for the Navy, and his wingman, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). Brown and Hudner flew together in the Korean War, and “their hard-earned friendship makes for an inspiring profile in camaraderie,” in this “sturdy if unexceptional” film, writes Charles Bramesco for The Guardian. Dillard’s father was the second Black member of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels squadron, and his film “comes to life when Majors and Powell are in the air. Dillard and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt make the sky feel vast and alive, threatening to swallow up Jesse and Tom at any moment,” according to Jourdain Searles’ review in The Playlist. Vanity Fair's David Canfield is most impressed with Majors: “Devotion is thoroughly well-executed, but it’s rousing when Majors gets to play outside the box and show you something new.”
Don't Worry Darling
Drama/Thriller/Horror | USA | Directed by Olivia Wilde
Opens in theaters September 23
For most critics, Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to Booksmart was unable to transcend the hype surrounding it. Even the premiere added fuel to the already-burning gossip fire with #SpitGate. "It’s a handsomely assembled, increasingly transparent thriller that stomps when it should creep and drags when it should accelerate,” according to LA Times critic Justin Chang, who also cautions this “disappointingly heavy thud of a movie” mainly “reminds you of the many earlier, better pictures it consciously resembles.” Set in a 1950s utopian community where a housewife (Florence Pugh) begins to suspect that something disturbing is going on behind the perfect facade, Darling also stars Harry Styles as Pugh’s husband and Chris Pine as the mastermind of the community.
“Pugh, of course, is terrific, though she’s not just leading the film, she’s carrying it,” writes Tomris Laffly for the AV Club. Kate Erbland of IndieWire agrees about Pugh, who delivers one of her “best performances yet,” and also the film, which crumbles “into baffling storytelling choices made worse by the revolting intentions behind them.” Rolling Stone critic David Fear believes Darling “plays like a bad Op-Ed piece that wants you to believe its good intentions are more significant and righteous than they actually are,” adding “rarely has high-concept genre commentary been so gorgeous yet so barely coherent.” But Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson is slightly kinder: “Don’t Worry Darling glides along, its jumble of repurposed elements in lively enough harmony until it’s time to knuckle down and really get into what’s happening to Alice. It’s then that Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke’s screenplay begins to falter, as does Wilde’s direction.”
Empire of Light
Drama | UK/USA | Directed by Sam Mendes
Opens in theaters December 9
Sam Mendes’ follow-up to 1917 is a decidedly smaller affair. Set in 1981 at the fictional Empire cinema in the seaside town of Margate and shot by frequent collaborator Roger Deakins, Mendes’ first solo original screenplay brings together two lost souls who work at the theater—its manager (Oscar-winner Olivia Colman) and a new ticket-seller played by Michael Ward (Top Boy). For LA Times critic Justin Chang, Empire is a “nicely acted misfire,” while IndieWire's David Ehrlich finds it “scattershot and moribund,” as Mendes strands “his excellent lead actors to grasp at the straws offered by his patchy script.” In her review for THR, Sheri Linden notes that “nothing in the film has a fraction of the dramatic impact of the emotional roller-coaster Colman’s performance embodies. EW's Leah Greenblatt agrees about Colman, but likes the film a bit more overall, writing, “Colman, her eyes darting between hope and devastation, is so lit-up and specific (and funny, a quality that doesn't seem to get mentioned enough) that she lifts nearly every scene.” Higher praise for the film comes from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who thinks it’s “an engrossing, poignantly observed and beautifully acted drama about love, life and the fragile art of moviegoing.”
The Greatest Beer Run Ever Watch trailer
Drama/Comedy/Adventure | USA | Directed by Peter Farrelly
Opens in theaters and streams on Apple TV+ September 30
Peter Farrelly's previous directorial effort, Green Book, won the coveted People's Choice Award at Toronto four years ago (on its way to Best Picture, lest you forget), but his new dramedy isn't exactly one of the highlights of this year's festival. Based on a true story first chronicled in the book by John "Chickie" Donohue, the 1967-set film stars Zac Efron as Donohue, an ex-Marine in New York who drunkenly hatches a preposterous idea: He'll show his support for his friends still serving in Vietnam by traveling to the frontline himself to bring them some beer. Russell Crowe, Bill Murray, Jake Picking, and Will Ropp also star.
"Greatest," it's not. ("Good," it's not.) The Guardian's Charles Bramesco, for example, laments that Farrelly's film "commits itself to regurgitating every Vietnam cliche with the laziest possible visual diction, led by an emotionally overextended Zac Efron." In The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen describes a film engulfed by an "air of self-importance" that insists on "hammering home the Vietnam talking points as if there will be a test on it afterwards, and the didacticism keeps dragging down whatever energy the movie attempts to muster." Screen Daily's Tim Grierson finds a "manipulative and glib" film and warns that "Farrelly’s tendency toward simplistic bromides in Green Book is even more egregious here." And The Wrap's Steve Pond thinks that Beer Run "lurches from silliness to preachiness in a way that’s rarely satisfying."
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Paul Schrader
This third film in Paul Schrader’s most recent renaissance doesn’t quite hit the highs of the previous two—First Reformed and The Card Counter. Joel Edgerton stars as Narvel Roth, the head horticulturist with a secret at Mrs. Norma Haverhill’s (Sigourney Weaver) Gracewood Gardens. When he’s forced to taken Haverhill’s great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as his new apprentice, it disrupts Narvel’s purposefully lonely life. For Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, "It’s not without its moments," but "the central existential dilemma doesn’t feel as soul-scouring here as it did in First Reformed or The Card Counter.” And THR's David Rooney opines, “This is one of his weaker efforts.” But Screen Daily's Jonathan Romney believes Gardener is a “remarkably elegant, subtle piece,” and in her "B+" review for The Playlist, Rafaela Sales Ross proclaims this to be Schrader “at his tenderest.”
Drama | UK/USA | Directed by Michael Grandage
Opens in theaters October 21 + streams on Prime Video November 4
Michael Grandage (Genius) directs this adaptation of Bethan Roberts’ 2012 novel, which recounts a 1950s love triangle between a school teacher (Emma Corrin, then Gina McKee decades later), her policeman husband (Harry Styles, then Linus Roache in scenes set four decades later), and his museum curator boyfriend (David Dawson, then Rupert Everett). Written by Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, My Policeman is “fevered, lovely to look at, and at times deeply silly; a plush romantic drama that somehow manages to be both explicit and decorous, like horny Merchant Ivory,” according to Leah Greenblatt of EW. In her review for TheWrap, Katie Walsh complains that the “1990s framing device keeps pulling us out of the 1950s love story, sapping its power.” And The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw thinks it’s a “disappointingly drab and stridently straightforward love triangle saga overstuffed with furtive glances and maudlin moping while underpowered by a blank lead performance.”
Bradshaw is referring, of course, to Styles, and other critics were similarly unconvinced by the pop star's acting ability. Collider's Chase Hutchinson blames the “lack of depth in his performance” for some of the film’s failures, while Ryan Lattanzio of IndieWire labels it a “performance that registers as a blank beyond inscrutable gazes and sappy breakdowns. To play a repressed gay man involved in a steamy, behind-closed-doors affair requires levels of complexity and conveying inner turmoil that Styles can’t provide.”
Drama | UK | Directed by Florian Zeller
Opens in theaters November 11
Writer-director Florian Zeller’s follow-up to The Father brings back that Oscar-winner’s team—including writer Christopher Hampton, cinematographer Ben Smithard, editor Yorgos Lamprinos—but fails to capture that film’s excruciating magic. Once again adapting his own play, Zeller shifts from exploring dementia to examining teenage depression with a cast that includes Hugh Jackman as a successful lawyer whose life with a new partner (Vanessa Kirby) and baby is disrupted when his ex-wife (Laura Dern) asks for him to take their troubled son (Zen McGrath). The Telegraph's Robbie Collin believes The Son “contains deeply felt work by Hugh Jackman and Vanessa Kirby, but it’s an otherwise drab, simplistic, mechanical thing that wears its workings right on the surface.” David Rooney of THR feels it’s a “punishing slog,” and Total Film's Jane Crowther finds it “classy but curiously empty.”
It's not all bad news. Defenders of Zelelr's film include CineVue critic John Bleasdale, who admits it’s “not as original and accomplished as The Father,” but is nevertheless an “affecting, empathetic and intelligent drama,” and The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw adds, “The Son is a beautifully composed and literate drama with impeccable performances, especially from Jackman.”
The Swimmers Watch trailer
Drama/Sports | UK | Directed by Sally El Hosaini
Streams on Netflix November 23 (may also play in theaters, date tbd)
Sally El Hosaini (My Brother the Devil) directs this true story of sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini (played by sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa), who fled their war-torn home of Damascus to seek refuge in Germany with the hopes of ultimately competing in the Olympics. For The Playlist's Marya E. Gates, “much of the film’s failings start at the script” by El Hosaini and Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes), adding, “Sisters Manal Issa and Nathalie Issa do the best they can with the material, but the script rarely lets us truly understand who the sisters are as individuals, focusing mostly on the highlight beats of their shared story.” In his review for THR, Michael Rechtshaffen is kinder, calling it an “undeniably powerful if inescapably episodic drama” in which “El Hosaini demonstrates a strong command over imagery that is as poetic as it is potent.”
All images on this page courtesy of TIFF and La Biennale di Venezia.