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The Best Films at the 2019 Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and Locarno Film Festivals

Written by on September 16, 2019 

With the Toronto International Film Festival concluding this past weekend 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.

The Best

About Endlessness (Roy Andersson)

“What should I do now that I have lost my faith?” is the question that animates About Endlessness; this being the new film by Roy Andersson, it is delivered in a doctor’s waiting room, over and over again, in a creaky voice, by a dumpy man in late middle age who continues his plaint even after the doctor and his receptionist gruntingly force him outside into the hallway, from whence they can hear him scratching at the door like a zombie. About Endlessness is Roy Andersson’s fourth film of this century; it looks much like the previous three, and nothing like anything else ever made. – Mark A. (full review)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

It sounds almost too perfect: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, the beloved children’s entertainer. Of course, who else could it be, really? It is so seemingly predestined, in fact, that Hanks’s first onscreen appearance as Fred Rogers elicits knowing laughter from the audience. Yes, Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers looks and sounds exactly how you would imagine. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, however, is much more than an obvious biopic. It’s not really a biopic at all. Nor is it a rehash of 2018’s much-heralded documentary profile of Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Instead, this 2019 Toronto International Film Festival world premiere is a deeply felt story of friendship and forgiveness. Truly, what makes Neighborhood such a tremendous success is that it is not a film about Mr. Rogers. Rather, it’s a film about the impact of Mr. Rogers. – Christopher S. (full review)

Calm with Horses (Nick Rowland)

To cross the Devers family is to earn retribution. This is a known fact to all in the rural Irish town of Glanbeigh. Some strangers arrive and overstep their bounds without knowing (as if getting involved with drug dealers was an act whose danger can be unknown), but most everyone knows everyone else’s name and where to find them. So when it’s Fannigan’s (Liam Carney) turn to “make good” on a transgression, he doesn’t try to run. He sits in his chair as Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) enters and simply requests that it be “done quick.” Arm obliges without hesitation since he earns no pleasure from what’s become his job. Friend and “brother” Dympna Devers (Barry Keoghan) merely points him in the right direction and says, “Bite.” – Jared M. (full review)

The Fever (Maya Da-Rin)

By any conservative approximation, in the week that spanned the moment I left the Locarno screening of Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever and the minute I began writing this piece, an area as vast as 100 million square meters has been wiped away from Brazil’s Amazon basin. Over that seven-day window, President Bolsonaro has rushed to oust scientists unaligned with his regime, the international community promised sanctions against Brazil, and the Twitterverse rallied to the paean #PrayforAmazon, all while a surface as large as a one-and-a-half soccer field continues to disintegrate to flames each and every minute. The Fever, director-cum-visual artist Da-Rin’s first full-length feature project, puts a human face to a statistic that hardly captures the genocide Brazil is suffering. This is not just a wonderfully crafted, superb exercise in filmmaking, a multilayered tale that seesaws between social realism and magic. It is a call to action, an unassuming manifesto hashed in the present tense but reverberating as a plea from a world already past us, a memoir of sorts. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Hope (Maria Sødahl)

Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) was married with three children when Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) met him. She didn’t want to fall in love, but twenty years and three more kids later show that’s exactly what happened. When Anja raised their babies, Tomas worked—a lot. When it was time for her to go back to work, she did too—a lot. Both alternated their career-motivated traveling so one could stay home and watch the family, a promise to be present at night with the kids honored by just her. Still unmarried (life always got in the way) and barely together emotionally, even their youngest (Alfred Vatne’s Isak) is aware their mutual affection has grown cold. And while a cancer diagnosis bridged the gap last Christmas, that distance quickly returned. – Jared M. (full review)

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

As an elevator pitch: it’s Kramer vs. Kramer for the 21st century, with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver–both in career-best form–in the Streep and Hoffman roles, respectively. Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) are partners on the verge of a break-up and parents to young Henry (Azhy Robertson), their only child. Charlie, a soon-to-be recipient of the MacArthur grant, is a playwright on the cusp of real fame, and the head of a successful theater group that is about to make the jump to Broadway. Nicole is a Los Angeles native who once starred in a frat house comedy but left the Hollywood path in order to act in Charlie’s plays. You might spot where the tensions eventually lie. – Rory O. (full review)

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)

Sound of Metal opens with Riz Ahmed’s Ruben sitting at a drum kit while guitar distortions deafen us. Eventually, Olivia Cooke’s Lou starts screaming as his sticks connect for a steady beat until all hell breaks loose. We’re in this venue with them, the in-close camerawork proving Ahmed’s lessons paid off because he is in a groove and rocking out (not that he needed help on the second part considering his rap career as Riz MC and one half of Swet Shop Boys). With line drawn tattoos covering his chest, bleach-blonde hair, and that screaming, you’re probably assuming the after show will consist of booze and drugs before the visuals cut to a new day of health shakes and eggs in an RV. Appearances can be deceiving. – Jared M. (full review)

Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)

There are two consistently pervasive ideas in the films of New York filmmaking duo Josh and Benny Safdie. The first is their clear affection for the art and craft of hustling. From their autobiographical drama Daddy Longlegs to their verité junkie film Heaven Knows What there’s a reliable focus on the often thrilling process of social manipulation and coercion to point where stretches could briefly be mistaken for a con man film if it weren’t for how they never lose sight of how these actions intersect with economic class. For people on the margins of society it is not just a skill but a tool of survival, which is especially true in their moody and expressive 2017 feature Good Time which saw Robert Pattinson’s Connie spend an entire evening engaging in increasingly desperate transactional interactions all across New York in attempt to bail his brother out of prison. That desperation is precisely what forces them to hone their craft. – Josh L. (full review)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

A dark back-alley drowned in shadow; towering concrete walls on either side; on the top right a row of headstones overlook; the glimmer of a walking stick emerges in the distance, and then a funeral procession. 15 minutes later a women disembarks from an airplane and is greeted not by family but by the airport’s cleaning staff. “There is nothing for you in Portugal, Vitalina,” they say. Welcome—or perhaps welcome back—to the world of Pedro Costa, the austere Portuguese director behind Colossal Youth (2006), In Vanda’s Room (2000), and other haunting works with which to grapple. – Rory O. (full review)

Waves (Trey Edward Shults)

The first few minutes of Trey Edward Shults’ Waves are positively dizzying. Amidst a throbbing Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score, a high school wrestler, Tyler, drives with his girlfriend (Alexis, played by Alex Demie), hits wrestling practice, goes to class, works out, hangs with friends, and lives out a normal school day. It’s the type of schedule that seems exhausting to anyone older than their mid-20s. But this, Shults is saying, is the reality of life for a young man being pulled in seemingly endless numbers of different directions. As we watch this intense opening and dive deep into Tyler’s day-to-day, questions emerge. How is it possible for a teenager like Tyler—one with an entire future mapped out and waiting—to not make mistakes? And what if these mistakes led to others? Waves is a film that truly understands how dominoes start to fall in a young life. Just as importantly, it visualizes what happens afterwards. – Christopher S. (full review)

The Rest

Note: Also includes reviews of films that played at fall fests, but premiered prior.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (A)

Bacurau (A-)
A Hidden Life (A-)
Liberté (A-)
The Lighthouse (A-)
Pain and Glory (A-)
Parasite (A-)
Sorry We Missed You (A-)
Varda by Agnès (A-)
The Wild Goose Lake (A-)

Antigone (B+)
Atlantics (B+)
The Australian Dream (B+)
The Climb (B+)
Color Out of Space (B+)
Crazy World (B+)
Diego Maradona (B+)
Echo (B+)
Family Romance, LLC (B+)
First Love (B+)
Ford v Ferrari (B+)
Hala (B+)
Heimat is a Space in Time (B+)
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (B+)
Knives Out (B+)
The Laundromat (B+)
Les Misérables (B+)
Overseas (B+)
The Rest of Us (B+)
Son-Mother (B+)
Synonyms (B+)
The Tree House (B+)
The Twentieth Century (B+)
A Voluntary Year (B+)
A White, White Day (B+)
Wilcox (B+)

1982 (B)
Anne at 13,000 ft (B)
An Officer and a Spy (B)
Arab Blues (B)
The Audition (B)
Bad Education (B)
Clemency (B)
Corpus Christi (B)
The County (B)
Days of the Bagnold Summer (B)
Deerskin (B)
Ema (B)
Fire Will Come (B)
The Giant (B)
Guest of Honour (B)
Hearts and Bones (B)
Honey Boy (B)
I Am Not Alone (B)
I Was at Home, But… (B)
The King (B)
Jallikattu (B)
Jojo Rabbit (B)
Joker (B)
Just Mercy (B)
Love Child (B)
Maria’s Paradise (B)
Pelican Blood (B)
Proxima (B)
The Report (B)
Saturday Fiction (B)
To the Ends of the Earth (B)
Weathering with You (B)
While at War (B)
White Lie (B)
Zombi Child (B)

Ad Astra (B-)
Blackbird (B-)
Castle in the Ground (B-)
Clifton Hill (B-)
Coming Home Again (B-)
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (B-)
Endless Night (B-)
Greed (B-)
Guns Akimbo (B-)
How to Build a Girl (B-)
Knuckle City (B-)
Love Me Tender (B-)
Maternal (B-)
Resin (B-)
The Scarecrows (B-)
Sea Fever (B-)
Synchronic (B-)
Tammy’s Always Dying (B-)
This Is Not a Movie (B-)
True History of the Kelly Gang (B-)

7500 (C+)
Disco (C+)
Dolemite Is My Name (C+)
Frankie (C+)
A Girl Missing (C+)
Harriet (C+)
The Last Porno Show (C+)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (C+)
Sibyl (C+)
The Whistlers (C+)

Entwined (C)
My English Cousin (C)
Nobadi (C)
Seberg (C)
The Truth (C)

It Must Be Heaven (C-)
Motherless Brooklyn (C-)
The Vigil (C-)

Lucy in the Sky (F)


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