From 'Birdman' to 'Gone Girl' to 'Eden' - It's Time for the Fall Festivals
by Alex Billington
August 27, 2014
This is the moment it all begins. The awards season (if we have to give this time of year a label) starts now, right here at the end of August, at the beginning of September. While officially it doesn't become "autumn" until September 22nd, the "fall film festivals" kick off this week - with the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals underway. Next we head right up to the Toronto Film Festival, with its 300-film line-up, and then we head to the always entertaining Fantastic Fest down in Austin, before continuing with the New York Film Festival throughout October. It's an exciting time of year - especially with the line-up for 2014.
Every time I start writing about the awards season, I usually get to a point where I want to say: you know… just go read Awards Daily and what Sasha writes, she captures the feeling of this time so much better. In her blog post titled "A Brief Recent History Telluride and How It's Become So Influential in the Oscar Race" about the Telluride Film Festival's history, she eloquently sums up my own excitement as we head into the fall festival season. And, admittedly, I can't put it any better so it's better to just repost what she's written.
Two weeks from today the Telluride Film Festival begins. It is an exciting time of the year because this festival, more than any other, heralds the arrival of the Oscar race. In the years I’ve been attending Telluride, the Best Picture winner has screened there, either premiering or part of the schedule. The last two Best Picture winners debuted there, with their directors bringing the films along to showcase, 12 Years a Slave and Argo. The Artist was the film everyone was talking about in 2011.
Tomorrow I depart for Telluride, my 7th time back to that fest. Very, very few press attend Telluride - it's expensive, it's hard to get to, and there are no press passes so everyone has to buy a badge. No problem for me, it's worth every last penny, even for a quick weekend - I wouldn't miss it, I couldn't miss it. Over the years I've come to love Telluride because the atmosphere at the festival is incomparable, and they keep the line-up a secret. It's frustrating for those on the outside, but I trust they'll choose great films in the end… for the most part. They always have something I just have to see, that always makes it worth it. Right after that I'll make my 8th trip to TIFF, and my 5th visit to Fantastic Fest. Bring on the festivals. Bring on the films.
Over the many years I've been covering film festivals, and the awards season, I've learned that it's best not to over hype, to go in with limited expectations and find whatever leaves us in awe. That could be some film we had no idea was coming up, or that could be the one we're all expecting to be amazing (PTA's new film? Birdman?). But only time (and a screening) will tell if it's actually any good. Which is what I'm most excited about - queuing up, entering the theater, the lights going down, then it's time… Time to find out if this film will change the world forever, or leave us bewildered, or bore us to sleep. Ya, we always see a few of those.
So what am I most excited about? What films are my own most anticipated at the these four festivals? Well, there's too many to list because there's so many that I've barely heard about, or I've only heard the title for, and I'm waiting to check out more once I arrive. However, I can name a solid 14 films that I am expecting to stand out this season. From PTA to Reitman to Baumbach, here's my fall 2014 most anticipated picks:
Birdman - Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu - Michael Keaton stars as washed up actor Riggan Thomson, who once played the superhero "Birdman", preparing for his big comeback performance in a show on Broadway. Shot entirely in long takes by Emmanuel Lubezki. This is going to be good. [Watch the trailer]
Eden - Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve - From the French director of Father of My Children & Goodbye First Love comes this story set during the 90s when electronic dance music was taking over Europe. Follows the life of the French DJ credited with inventing "French house", played by Félix de Givry.
Gone Girl - Directed by David Fincher - Adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel about a woman, played by Rosamund Pike, who disappears, and the aftermath her husband, played by Ben Affleck, must deal with when everyone starts to think he murdered her. [Watch the trailer]
Inherent Vice - Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson - Adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel starring Joaquin Phoenix as stoner private detective Doc Sportello in 1970's Los Angeles, who gets wrapped up in investigating the disappearance of a former girlfriend. This should be tons and tons of fun.
Rosewater - Directed by Jon Stewart - The Daily Show host Jon Stewart's feature directing debut about Iranian journalist/satirist Maziar Bahari, played by Gael García Bernal, who was detained and tortured in prison for 100 days after trying to film and cover the 2009 election protests.
Men, Women & Children - Directed by Jason Reitman - Adaptation of the Chad Kultgen novel from acclaimed filmmaker Jason Reitman, back after Labor Day. An ensemble look at the sexual frustrations young teenagers and adults face in today's modern, technologically connected world. [Watch the trailer]
The Imitation Game - Directed by Morten Tyldum - Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and logician who helped crack the Enigma code during World War II. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, chemically castrated, and passed away at 41. [Watch the trailer]
Nightcrawler - Directed by Dan Gilroy - Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a young man who stumbles upon the underground world of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles in the 90s. Dark, dirty, VHS camera, nasty crime wackiness. [Watch the trailer]
The Look of Silence - Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer - The follow-up from Oppenheimer and the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, another documentary from Indonesia about a family that survived the genocide confronting the men who killed one of their brothers.
Manglehorn - Directed by David Gordon Green - The latest from eccentric filmmaker David Gordon Green starring Al Pacino as a locksmith in a small town in Texas who never got over the love of his life.
Wild - Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée - Starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, a woman who took a 1,100-mile solo hike as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe. Similar to 127 Hours or Tracks, but not exactly the same. [Watch the trailer]
While We're Young - Directed by Noah Baumbach - The latest from NY-based Baumbach, about an uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife who find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple. Starring Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts, with Adam Driver & Amanda Seyfried as the younger couple.
The Cobbler - Directed by Thomas McCarthy - Starring Adam Sandler as a lonely New York City shoe repairman who stumbles upon a magical heirloom that allows him to step into the lives of his customers and see the world in a new way. This sounds trippy - think Being John Malkovich.
99 Homes - Directed by Ramin Bahrani - The latest from talented filmmaker Ramin Bahrani starring Andrew Garfield & Michael Shannon as a family that struggles to get back the home they were evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker who's the source of their frustrations.
There are hundreds of films programmed at TIFF, Telluride, Venice, Fantastic Fest and NYFF, and there's so many to discover and fall in love with that no one has been talking about yet. I've been lucky to attend the Cannes Film Festival and Locarno Film Festival this summer (not to mention Berlin and Sundance earlier in the year) which has given me a head start on a lot of the films that are playing at the fall festivals. What else should attendees been looking out for? Below is my list of the best of what I've seen so far at other festivals that I would highly recommend seeing at any of these upcoming festivals (or on a big screen). All of these films are superb, and definitely worth seeing when/if you get the chance to check them out. They are:
Mommy - Directed by Xavier Dolan - A powerful story about a troubled teen going home to live with his mother in Montreal, one of the best films of Cannes, and perhaps Dolan's best work yet. [Watch the trailer]
Force Majeure - Directed by Ruben Östlund - Dark comedy about a freak avalanche in the French Alps made by a Swedish ski movie director that is genius in so many ways. Love this film. [Watch the trailer]
Blind - Directed by Eskil Vogt - A brilliant, original Swedish film about a gorgeous woman going blind and her experiences (physically, sexually) that become increasingly surreal. A very beautifully made film.
In Order of Disappearance - Directed by Hans Petter Moland - Another dark comedy about a father who turns into a vigilante cleaning up a Swedish drug ring. Stellan Skarsgård is badass. [Watch the trailer]
'71 - Directed by Yann Demange - Riveting film set in Belfast, Ireland during the uprising in the early 1970s, following a soldier (played by Jack O'Connell) abandoned in the city. Must see. [Watch the trailer]
Foxcatcher - Directed by Bennett Miller - Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play Olympic wrestlers recruit by the wealthy John Du Pont, played by Steve Carrell, who eventually murders one of them. One of the best films of Cannes, a carefully crafted portrait of Americana. [Watch the trailer]
Coming Home - Directed by Yimou Zhang - A beautiful, made-with-love story set deep in China starring Chen Daoming & Gong Li about a man who tries to rekindle the loving relationship with his wife who has amnesia. [Watch the trailer]
Two Days, One Night - Directed by Dardenne Brothers - At a brisk 90 minutes, this gripping drama is about a woman (Marion Cotillard) who must convince her workmates to vote to keep her job, at the cost of losing their own bonus. Tremendous film that achieves so much with so little. [Watch the trailer]
Whiplash - Directed by Damien Chazelle - Intense, inspiring, fascinating storytelling about a drumming prodigy played by Miles Teller who must deal with a hard ass, foul-mouthed pain in the ass teacher played by J.K. Simmons. Awesome, awesome, awesome film. [Watch the trailer]
From here it's just a matter of finding out what's good, what's bad, what's amazing, what's horrible, what's transcendent, what's disastrous. I'm always anxious to get into the fall festivals because there are so, so, so many good films coming up. Sight unseen, I can guarantee they're going to be good, there's going to be at least one (or hopefully five or ten) films that blow us away. More of those, please. Last year we had Spike Jonze's Her, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, and Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity leading the awards season. What will be the best of the bunch in 2014? Which films will everyone be talking about? Or better yet, which films will no one be talking about that they should be talking about? How many of those will we discover?
Let's find out together. That's why I'm here, to report back on the films that I love (or don't love), to start a discussion, to cinematic encourage exploration and discovery. So that all of us, everyone who loves movies big or small, can enjoy the kind of movies that make our lives better. I'm honestly not here to crticize and bash films and nitpick them, I'm here to fall in love with them. So that we can all be reminded, day in and day out, as tough as life if there is something to enjoy or appreciate or admire or despise or inspire or love. And that is worth living for – the endless search for those little moments that make our hearts beat faster.