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The Best Films at the 2018 Toronto, Venice, and Telluride Film Festivals

Written by on September 16, 2018 

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With the Toronto International Film Festival concluding today and Telluride, Venice, and Locarno in the rearview, the first phase of fall film festivals have concluded. Ahead of the New York Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, AFI Fest, and more we’ve rounded up our favorite films seen over the past month or so, resulting in a selection of premieres to have on your radar.

Stay tuned over the next months (or years) as we bring updates on films as they make their way to screens.  One can also click here for a link to all of our festival coverage, including news, trailers, reviews, and much more. As always, thanks for reading, and let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments below. Also, for a more substantial look at what’s coming to theaters this season, check out our fall preview, which also includes titles from Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, and more. (And, no, we didn’t get a chance to screen TIFF’s top winner, Green Book.)

The Best

Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja)

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The title shares its name with a city-size spacecraft ferrying humans from Earth to Mars in barely three weeks. It’s a routine trip that’s never run into problems with many passengers already having family on the red planet to greet them upon arrival. But there’s a first time for everything as a small field of debris forces Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) off course. Unfortunately a screw breaches their hull anyway, pushing their nuclear fuel supply to critical mass. Expelling it may save them for the moment, but without it they cannot steer. So despite having enough self-sustaining electricity and algae (for air and food), there’s no way to return onto their necessary trajectory. Either a celestial body interrupts their path to slingshot back or they simply drift forever. – Jared M. (full review)

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

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The English royals populating Yorgos Lanthimos’ rollicking period drama The Favourite may not know much about the country’s ongoing war with France, but they’re formidable connoisseurs in duck-racing and pineapple-eating. A year after The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the Greek director ventures into a starkly different terrain with a period feature chronicling internecine feuds among early-18th-century English bluebloods. And as if the plunge was not remarkable enough for an auteur known for his bleak and absurdist dystopias, The Favourite marks the first time Lanthimos is not credited as writer. – Leonardo G. (full review)

First Man (Damien Chazelle)

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“When you get a different vantage point, you get a new perspective,” says Ryan Gosling to a group of NASA officials recruiting astronauts early into Damien Chazelle’s majestic First Man. At once cosmic and domestic, the director’s La La Land follow-up zeroes in on a man struggling for success with an unshakable, otherworldly willpower. In that, First Man is unmistakably Chazelle: Gosling’s Neil Armstrong fits nicely in the universe of career-driven, uber-determined workaholics the 33-year-old director has been following since Whiplash. But in its tragic undertones, complex psychological edifice, and claustrophobic visuals, First Man stands out, in both content and form, as a remarkable, jaw-dropping departure from anything Chazelle has previously made. – Leonardo G. (full review)

High Life (Claire Denis)

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While High Life has understandably drawn all kinds of comparisons to the 60s and 70s cerebral sci-fi canon (notably Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey), for both its abstract use of space imagery and its minimalist ship design which more often than not resembles an artificially-lit hospital filled with dated technology, its soul is firmly in the sensibilities of its filmmaker, French master Claire Denis, who mines the genre for a deeply sensorial and moving portrait of the misery and horror parents are willing and perhaps responsible to endure so their children might not have to. – Josh L. (full review)

Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)

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“He’s hardly a real auteur,” says a woman of an arthouse director in Hong Sangsoo’s achingly melancholic Hotel by the River, “and he does ambivalent stuff.” Hong’s acolytes have reasons to rejoice in the Korean’s latest feature: beautifully shot in crisp black and white by Kim Hyung-koo – reminiscent of his work in Hong’s The Day After (2017) and Grass (2018) – and packed with a few of the director’s recurrent casting choices (including muse Kim Min-hee and Kwon Hae-hyo) Hotel by the River is imbued with the self-irony that permeates much of Hong’s ever-growing filmography, only this time the mockery is mixed with a tragic aftertaste that adds to the drama an unsettling and refreshing aura. – Leonardo G. (full review)

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (Radu Jude)

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Inverted commas withstanding, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” seems like an awfully long and pretentious thing to call a film. Indeed, it might even suggest that something long and pretentious will be awaiting any viewer of Radu Jude’s latest creation but thankfully, in this case at very least, only one of those adjectives is true. At 140 minutes, Barbarians (as it will be referred to from here) is indeed rather long, especially when considering that one could easily describe it as a drawn-out dialectic on the responsibility of nations to confront whatever atrocities their government and populous committed in the past. So how on earth is Barbarians so funny and compelling? Well, one reason might be that it’s a movie by Radu Jude, a Romanian New Wave filmmaker who has managed to operate just outside the main spotlight of his gilded colleagues, occasionally departing from their stark contemporary realism while always sharing in their brand of gallows humor. – Rory O. (full review)

If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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Comparing a director’s latest film to his or her previous effort is almost always unwise, or at least, a bit foolish. When both films are extraordinary achievements, however, pondering the works in tandem seems fruitful. This is certainly true when looking at Barry Jenkins‘ newest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, and his last, Moonlight. The latter deservedly took home an Oscar for Best Picture, and heralded Jenkins as a filmmaker whose empathetic touch knows no bounds. Now comes his James Baldwin adaptation, which reaches the same magnificent emotional register as Moonlight. Jenkins has written and directed an exquisite, timeless film about a place and historical period—Harlem in the 1970s—that feels painfully connected to the present. – Chris S. (full review)

The Killing (Shinya Tsukamoto)

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Shinya Tsukamoto introduced his latest film Killing at the Toronto International Film Festival as a “desperate scream.” The writer, actor, director, cinematographer and editor is terrified of modern Japan’s (and thus the world’s) move “closer to a state of war after 70 years of peace” and has chosen to express that anxiety by returning to the tumultuous end of Japan’s Edo period; bringing the samurai picture of cinema’s past into the world of his uniquely violent, psychosexual, raw-nerve style of cult filmmaking. – Josh L. (full review)

La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

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I am starting this review of La Flor from a segment that in the film’s Borgesian labyrinthic narrative would probably go unnoticed, because I think it goes some way toward making sense of that early remark Llinás had made in the prelude, his head bent over a notebook, his hands sketching La Flor’s structure through an intricate series of lines and arrows merging into a skeleton flower. This film is about its four actresses in the sense that it is a testament to how their craft developed through time. And the feeling of awe that transpires from that late montage, the feeling of having watched four artists grow, is indissolubly contingent on the film’s colossal length. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

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Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale features some of the most atrocious on-screen violence in recent memory. It is a cauldron of blood, murders, and rapes so unflinching in vividness and brutality as to make it impossible to go through its 136 minutes without ever turning away from the screen, let alone to come out of it untouched. But it is also, in a way that’s indissolubly bound to role that violence plays in Kent’s work, and to the depiction she offers of it, one of the most memorable works in its genre – a parable that never turns violence into a spectacle, but is resolutely committed to expose the poisonous double prism of racism and sexism it feeds upon. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

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The Wind follows legendary US director J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (John Huston) as he returns from a self-imposed exile in Europe to Los Angeles, where he plans to finish his much-awaited comeback film. Packs of admirers, reporters, critics, old-time friends and colleagues flock to Hannaford’s villa on the night of July 2nd, where the director throws an alcohol-fueled 70th birthday party that stretches all throughout the night. Marooned between a critique of Hollywood studios, the New Hollywood voices, and the revered European maestros (everyone getting their fair share of mocking) The Wind is a chronicle of that feast. Very little action happens (with a few notable exceptions, one involving Huston, plenty of drinks, a rifle and some mannequins), and plot points are scarce: people chat, get drunk, argue, and drink more. – Leonardo G. (full review)

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