The 27th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival wrapped up Oct. 28, after having the closing night ceremonies Oct. 26. It was another great year for the festival, which held the Philadelphia premieres for such highly anticipated films as “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Roma” and “Widows,” almost all of which sold out quickly. Film fans also had the chance to catch early screenings of others from the festival circuit as well as some select indie films. All in all, 2018 is shaping up to be yet another great year for film.
I spent the 11 days of the festival attempting to see as much as possible. Sadly, I missed out on a few intriguing options (apologies to “River’s Edge,” “Pig” and “Little Woods”), but I saw several that vaulted their way up to the top of my year end lists. Here is a short list of the films I think are worth keeping an eye on as Oscar season begins. Some may not be coming to theaters soon, and a few have smaller distribution options, but all are worth a look in some capacity. Look for upcoming reviews of “The Other Side of the Wind” and “Cam,” which release on Netflix soon.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest is the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. The director behind “The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Dogtooth” returns with his most low-concept idea yet: set during Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) reign in 18th Century England, the film follows the power struggle that ensues between her closest confidante Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and interloper Abigail (Emma Stone). What follows is the most deliciously nasty sniping in any period piece, with the three leads all giving outstanding comic performances that rank among their best. It should be a major frontrunner at Oscar season, and for good reason.
“Knife + Heart”
Like having an extremely gay acid trip while watching the original “Suspiria,” the second film from Yann Gonzalez is a campy, queer take on the giallo slasher genre. Following a breakup from her girlfriend, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) endeavours to make the film that will win her back, and finds inspiration in a series of murders involving the stars of her studio. It’s the kind of movie that features a switchblade dildo, and it’s a pleasure to see a horror film starring queer people that doesn’t involve misery. As a plus, it’s scored by Yann’s brother Anthony, who you may know as M83, providing the perfect ’70s era synthesizer soundtrack.
People are going to hate this movie. Personally, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the second film from actor-turned-director Brady Corbet. The film follows the rise of a pop star, who was the sole survivor of a horrific school shooting when she was a teenager. Natalie Portman plays her as an adult, careening through addiction and yet another violent tragedy, this one potentially inspired by her art. Perhaps the most impressive bit is that Corbet never condescends pop music; all the songs featured were written by Sia, and they’re genuinely good tracks. It’s ambitious and unforgettable, you will not be able to shake it.
The most acclaimed film at Cannes this year adapts a Haruki Murakami Japanese short story to a Korean story and becomes a seductive, absorbing mystery. After reuniting with a friend from his childhood, a part-time worker named Jeong-su ends up watching her cat for her while she goes to Africa. She returns with a new friend, Ben, played to creepy perfection by Steven Yeun. Director Lee Chang-dong masterfully raises the tension in a subtle fashion, until before you know it you’re completely obsessed.
What if Cristiano Ronaldo was the face of a conspiracy to get Portugal to exit the European Union? Somehow, that’s not even the most insane part of this crazed satire that shoots wildly and hits its marks often. Tackling the rise of far-right nationalism, football, masculinity and the refugee crisis, it feels like someone threw the last few years into a blender and added fluffy puppies. Though it comes dangerously close to crossing the line in taste, it rights itself in the end, and is worth a look.
Another prize winner from Cannes, this time from Oscar winner Paweł Pawlikowski. It’s a love story spanning a decade, as a singer and a conductor engage in a love affair characterized with missed connections and torment, and wastes none of its 90 minutes getting there.
This year’s Palme d’Or winner from esteemed director Hirokazu Kore-eda is a warm slice of life about a poor family, who take in a five year old girl abandoned by her parents, resorting to petty theft in order to get by. It paints a warmly humanist portrait before tearing your heart up, despite a bit of a tangled plot.
“At First Light”
A sci-fi indie following two teenagers on the run after one of them is abducted by aliens. It’s a smart, taut piece of low budget filmmaking and a rare alien movie that features both sides genuinely wanting to help each other out.
It’s not that much different than your typical “indiewood” film: a woman going through a crisis after graduate school impulsively invites her ex-boyfriend to go camping with her over a weekend when her friend drops out. But the leads have great chemistry together, and it’s thoroughly charming without being precious. It doesn’t do anything new, but it’s a nice hangout movie.
A gothic western genre bender about a woman left to her own devices on the plains slowly succumbing to what might be madness or something more sinister. Emma Tammi’s directorial debut can occasionally be a bit confusing with its chronology, but it merges its various genres and scares well enough. Caitlin Gerard is great as the hardened pioneer woman.