Best of the Fall Film Festivals 2023

Our festival correspondents have brought back a little something for everyone this year: the music of Maestro, high-octane Hindi-language action, “squelchy” stop-motion and so much more in their twenty best.

List: Our twenty best of the 2023 fall film festivals

This story was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, many of the films covered on Journal wouldn’t exist.

We love film festivals! Big or small, global or local, we’ve found ourselves in many corners of the world this year, sitting in the dark with other lovers of cinema, meeting minds with filmmakers over red-carpet velvet ropes—and maybe meeting you in the process. But there’s been a noticeably different tone to proceedings this season, as industry creatives continue their picket-line labor action. With star-power out, ticket sales are down, a trend that continues across subsequent releases (and delays) of films.

Even though it’s a fact of marketing life, it is still worrying that so much of the publicity push is invested in audiences seeing familiar faces—and that when those faces are absent in order to fight for the right to a fair contract, festivals and cinemas suffer. Off the back of the pandemic and with unfathomable grief and humanitarian crises in the headlines, it is an undoubtedly challenging year for folks at every level of the film industry. But when it comes to what we saw on screens, it only proves the point: we need boundary-pushing art from the world over, we need showcases for that work, and we need to commune around that work. 

Be that at the world premiere of Hayao Miyazaki’s out-of-retirement The Boy and the Heron in Toronto with Best in Show bestie Guillermo del Toro in attendance on intro duties, or by going deeper with Letterboxd member Martin Scorsese’s career-spanning Screen Talk with Edgar Wright in London, or, heck, even just learning about the sheer vibes of Aggro Dr1ft with masked-up director Harmony Korine in Venice. We’ve seen the movies, but we also saw many of the good folks who helped bring them to life, too.

Kambole Campbell, George Fenwick, John Forde, Brian Formo, Gemma Gracewood, Ella Kemp, Leo Koziol, Katie Rife, Rafa Sales Ross and Adesola Thomas have sifted through the good, the great and the good-luck-trying-to-find-a-star-rating for that one! from festivals including Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York, London, Austin and Beyond. 

All of Us Strangers

Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, from a novel by Taichi Yamada. Seen at: Telluride, NYFF, Beyond Fest, BFI London Film Festival, AFI Fest.

After chronicling the 48-hour romance of Weekend and a calcified marriage in 45 Years, British filmmaker Andrew Haigh returns with All of Us Strangers, a swooning, queer love story that’s been breaking hearts since its Telluride premiere. Sad-eyed screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) lives alone in a deserted high-rise, nursing an unfinished project about his long-dead parents. His cocoon of loneliness is shattered by hot mess Harry (Paul Mescal), who knocks on his door offering whiskey and sex. Slowly, Adam’s heart is pried open as he and Harry fall in love —beautifully realized by Scott and Mescal whose chemistry burns up the screen. In a daring leap into magic realism, Adam also meets the ghosts of his parents (the excellent Claire Foy and Jamie Bell, in scary 1980s jumpsuits).

Harsh truths are shared and the traumas of Adam’s childhood are lovingly soothed, achieving the kind of catharsis only possible in our fantasies. Letterboxd members have fallen hard for Strangers: Ash writes that “Haigh’s blurring of lines, and incorporation of slight horror elements… creates for a cathartic and moving journey of learning to move on through the embrace of love and the self,” while Pate Duncan declares it “the most touching examination of internalized homophobia I’ve seen in ages.” Take tissues and get ready to ugly-cry: it’s a knockout. JF

American Fiction

Written and directed by Cord Jefferson. Seen at: TIFF, AFI Fest.

Effective satires often make it difficult to determine when the story is no longer winking at its audience. In American Fiction, writer-director Cord Jefferson sets his gaze on representation in the publishing and film industries. Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 book Erasure, this modern-day adaptation centers on Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeremy Wright), a prolific Black author who uses a pseudonym to publish a satirical novel in response to the literary world’s conflation of authentic Black life with criminality and strife. When the novel becomes a sleeper hit, Monk contends with the costs of his parody.

Jefferson’s directorial debut has been compared to Hollywood Shuffle and Bamboozled, both conversation-starting films in which Black artists critique their industries. But what distinguishes the Emmy award-winning writer’s work from that of Robert Townsend’s and Spike Lee’s is its existence as a response to a prescient, popular discussion. On screen, white patrons repeatedly congratulate themselves for supporting authentic Black stories. Meanwhile, Everett published Erasure more than two decades before the phrase “representation matters” could even be purchased on a t-shirt. Jefferson’s adaptation seems aware of—and perhaps amused by—that tension and the cultural context the film exists within.

American Fiction won the 2023 TIFF People’s Choice Award. If you ask me, it’s also won the 2023 White People Showing Their Ass award. As Amreen writes, “A white woman sitting in front of me was actively Googling who Tyler Perry was during the credits.” I, too, left a press screening of the film and was asked by a white critic to explain Jefferson’s movie. AT

The Beast

Directed by Bertrand Bonello, written by Bonello, Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Charbit, based on a short story by Henry James. Seen at: Venice, TIFF, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival.

“Any description of the actual content of this film would make it sound like garbage and I can’t really figure out why and how it slays this hard… Beyond ballsy,” says Letterboxd member Keith Christen of Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast. And how could one summarize The Beast? It is a sci-fi, yes, and a period film. And a disaster movie. Oh, and a sobering cautionary tale. Most of all, it is a love story. We begin this sprawling journey in a near future where human emotions have become a threat, and Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) agrees to wipe her mind clean through a process that has her reliving highly emotional moments from past lives.

From the inside of a bathtub straight out of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, the young woman sees herself meeting Louis (George MacKay) time after time, from the French Belle Époque to a post-apocalyptic future, their love story acting as the catalyst for Bonello’s mind-bending investigation of how technology has eroded the human ability for empathy and compassion. It is a film that requires not only patience but commitment, and those willing to sit down and enjoy the ride are in for quite a spectacular time. Buckle up! RSR

The Boy and the Heron (君たちはどう生きるか)

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Seen at: TIFF, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival.

Before The Boy and the Heron took on its current, more literal name,  it was called How Do You Live?, a reference to the title of Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel. This very book appears in Hayao Miyazaki’s would-be final film, its title pointed like a question at its young, bereaved protagonist, Mahito, an auto-fictional representation of his creator as a young man. I won’t divulge more detail, even though this isn’t exactly a story that can be “spoiled”, partially due to its shared DNA with Miyazaki’s past work, and because of its almost purely observational first third, devoted to Mahito’s silent struggling with his mother’s loss. (In case you missed it, Studio Ghibli’s American distributor GKIDS recently announced an English dub, featuring the voices of Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as the titular heron.) 

Though so much of the hand-drawn anime rings familiar—a line of ships resembles the planes flown by dead men in Porco Rosso, the esoteric rules and porous boundaries with other worlds as in Spirited Away, the existential introspection of his previous film, The Wind Rises—you could hardly call it derivative. If anything, it opens on one of the most strikingly different sequences of Miyazaki’s career, an impressionistic and frenzied blur of fire and smoke. It’s such moments of emotive craft that make The Boy and the Heron stand out among the fall-fest offerings. There’s so much to unpack thematically that I’ll be thinking about it for years to come, but for now, my thoughts echo those of director Daniel Goldhaber: “What bird hurt Miyazaki?” KC

Evil Does Not Exist (悪は存在しない)

Written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Seen at: Venice, TIFF, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival.

After the widespread success of Drive My Car—including an Oscar win for Best International Feature—Ryusuke Hamaguchi returns with Evil Does Not Exist. Even as it conducts itself with reserve and good humor, the eco-drama feels markedly different from his past work, and not just because of its interest in the countryside over urban malaise. That change is ever-present in regular collaborator Eiko Ishibashi’s outstanding score, which takes a more sparse, ominous turn. Together, they continually build a sense of sickening unease, even amidst long takes of calm woodlands and the rhythmic labor of local odd-job man Takumi (Hitoshi Omika). Maria highlights how this technique “lulls you into [a] meditative groove and bleak laughter until it pulls the rug from under you.”

Hamaguchi manages this multiple times: with the film’s jaw-dropping ending, and in its humanist portrayal of those on the other side of an existential threat to a rural village. Characteristically of the director’s naturalistic style, the threat itself is rather unassuming: a land purchase. It’s for a tourist attraction so silly that, at first, it doesn’t seem menacing (I could do without hearing “glamping” for the rest of my life), but a strange and abrupt response to it during that aforementioned ending chilled me—a mystifying and opaque bow that I didn’t expect, and an encouraging sign that Hamaguchi is in no way content to rest on his laurels. KC


Directed by Christos Nikou, written by Nikou, Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner. Seen at: Telluride, TIFF, BFI London Film Festival, AFI Fest.

It was 2020 and the world had come to an eerie standstill when Greek director Christos Nikou released his excellent feature debut Apples, a strangely prescient sci-fi where lonely people can sign up for an experiment to have their personalities reset. For his English-language debut, Nikou again investigates technology’s prescient possibilities with Fingernails, set in an undisclosed near future that nevertheless takes place in our world (the characters attend a Hugh Grant film retrospective as part of a romance exercise). Here, love can be tested through a grueling yet quick procedure: a fully plucked fingernail placed in a nifty contraption capable of deciding if both partners, neither or only one, are in love.

Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are one of the lucky couples to get a 100 percent match, but the moroseness of their routine has the schoolteacher turned love-tester slowly floating towards her new work colleague, Amir (Riz Ahmed). Nikou employs this love triangle—and how it exposes the structures of the test at the heart of the film—to investigate how science surgically separates love and passion in a “perfect allegory for rejecting an algorithm that tells us who we can and cannot love,” as put by Ben Shane. The result is a lulling yet piercingly effective snapshot of tenderness and desire within a romantically sterile society. RSR

His Three Daughters

Written, directed and edited by Azazel Jacobs. Seen at: TIFF.

Even having carefully built a festival schedule based on rumors, one’s existing knowledge of the filmmakers and how lyrically the programmers have written up their entries, there is always a film that slips through the cracks—which inevitably becomes the one thing people won’t shut up about. At this year’s TIFF, Azazel Jacobs’ His Three Daughters was that picture. Starring dream blunt-rotation trio Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Olsen and Natasha Lyonne as sisters who have gathered to next-steps their ailing father’s looming death, it is exactly the sort of indie “emotional chamber piece” (Matt Neglia, four stars) that might get skipped over at a big fest in favor of Miyazaki’s latest (guilty!).

But that’s also a good thing: His Three Daughters deserves to be watched with patience and attention, rather than as film number three on day five of a festival—particularly because it will hit very close to home for anyone holding fresh grief. Tyler Watts, who “saved the best for last”, adores how “Jacobs explores in a very controlled manner the painful truth of how we don’t ever really have control of our grief even though we create the illusion that we can… Coon, Olsen, and Lyonne are absorbing from the second each of them first step into the frame. I opened myself up to them and trusted them to take my hand to walk me through all the ugly beauty that grief is.” As Arojo says, “sisterhood is beautiful.” GG

Hit Man

Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Seen at: Venice, TIFF, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival.

Let’s be honest: great romantic comedies don’t come by as often as they used to in the ’90s and early ’00s. Gone are the days of anxious Meg Ryan meeting average-looking guys who come to sweep her off her feet through a mix of persistence and wit; in are the days of formulaic, bland rom-coms (and Meg Ryan-directed nostalgia) that can only graze the greatness of what once was. This is why, reader, Hit Man is so special.

Richard Linklater returns to the comedy days of School of Rock and Dazed and Confused to put a twist on the real-life story of Gary Johnson, a philosophy professor turned undercover cop played with such charm by Glen Powell one can almost hear the swooshing of rockets ready to catapult the Top Gun: Maverick alum into the arms of stardom. Powell, who also co-wrote the film with Linklater, is joined by the equally great Adria Arjona in a romantic pairing not only sizzling with physical chemistry (I’m sweating just typing this) but boasting a rare comedic rhythm that makes Hit Man, as neatly put by Letterboxd friend and filmmaker Chandler Levack, “an actual fucking delight.” RSR

Housekeeping for Beginners (Домаќинство за почетници)

Written and directed by Goran Stolevski. Seen at: Venice, BFI London Film Festival.

Australian Macedonian filmmaker Goran Stolevski has landed an astounding hat-trick with his first three films; the beguiling folk-horror You Won’t Be Alone, the beautiful coming-of-age drama Of an Age, and now his found-family dramedy Housekeeping for Beginners. The winner of the Queer Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Housekeeping explores the nuances and idiosyncrasies of queer families through Dita, a woman in North Macedonia who reluctantly finds herself raising her girlfriend’s two daughters. Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca—who captivated in Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—reunites with Stolevski to play Dita.

With Housekeeping marking a departure in tone from both of Stolevski’s previous features, __j0nny_R_ loved “the streak of humour that runs through the film, and the imperfect but quietly lovely resolution to the film’s central conflicts”; T1nka, meanwhile, appreciated the “raw portrayal of queerness in the Balkans, especially its representation of the Roma community.” Other Letterboxd members have compared it to Tales of the City, Shoplifters and L’immensità, but I think Ajespe summarizes it best, as a “singular storm of emotional outrage, lust, humor, and heart. It has some solid sting, but eventually settles like a big gay crazy hug in the end.” GF

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (Vampire humaniste cherche suicidaire consentant)

Directed by Ariane Louis-Seize, written by Louis-Seize and Christine Doyon. Seen at: Venice, TIFF.

Vampires are like water. They’ll fill whatever container you put them in. Ariane Louis-Seize’s sophomore feature fits the quirky comedic mold of What We Do in the Shadows, blended with the adolescent loneliness of Let the Right One In and just a touch of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The title of this Québécois coming-of-age vampire rom-com is striking and memorable—in English and in French—as are Sara Montpetit and Félix-Antoine Bénard as the ultimate “goth gf” (i.e, a 68-year-old teenage vampire) and the sensitive boy who willingly offers up his throat so that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about murdering him.

Noémie O’Farrell brings a freewheeling energy as Sasha’s (Montpetit) bohemian cousin, whose misadventures with the dumb jock she accidentally turns into a vampire provide some of the movie’s funniest bits. Stylistically, Humanist Vampire is more disciplined, utilizing a lush and subtly anachronistic aesthetic epitomized by the scene where Sasha and Paul (Bénard) dance to Brenda Lee’s ‘Emotions.’

Letterboxd reviewers who saw Humanist Vampire at its world premiere in Venice and at subsequent showings (it has since screened across Canada in limited release) are caught up in the romance: “If I had seen this as a teen, I would’ve been obsessed,” Kylie Burton writes. Olivier Lemay expresses a similar sentiment, writing, “30 minutes in I was ready to make this film my entire personality for the next two months.” KR

Janet Planet

Written and directed by Annie Baker. Seen at: Telluride, NYFF.

In her stage work, American playwright Annie Baker finds ways to make everyday New England settings like the local movie theater or inn sites of exciting dramatic action. Those narrative tendencies translate with ease in her feature debut, Janet Planet, set in 1991. As eleven-year-old Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) traverses the last weeks of summer ahead of middle school, Baker calls us to witness the domestic, peopled life that she shares with her mother, Janet (Julianne Nicholson) in their rural Massachusetts town, equipped with sprawling woodlands, light-bathed nature scapes, and clay-baked figurines who Lacy tucks in at night with felt cloth.

Janet Planet belongs to that category of films where not much happens, but the vibes. There’s something palpably affectionate about its make: the ebbing in and out of Janet’s friends and lovers, the flirtations with local subcultures and their sacred pastimes. As David writes, “I knew Annie would be able to bring her pregnant pauses and perfect, understated characterizations to the screen I just didn’t know she’d also be able to capture exactly how the air feels and sounds in late August.” AT


Directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, written by Bhat and Ayesha Syed. Seen at: TIFF.

Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s ultraviolent Hindi-language action movie Kill caused a ruckus at this year’s TIFF, where it premiered as part of the festival’s legendary Midnight Madness sidebar. Letterboxd’s screening at Fantastic Fest a few weeks later was just as animated, prompting giddy laughter and dumbstruck applause.

Lakshya Lalwani (a.k.a. Laksha) stars as Amrit, an elite special-forces type whose clandestine love affair with a woman who’s promised to another is just an excuse to get the plot moving. Clocking in at a relatively lean 115 minutes (this is an Indian film, after all), Kill commences the fisticuffs at the 30-minute mark after Amrit’s lady love is kidnapped by a group of bandits aboard an express train to New Delhi. Here, Bhat pulls a winking trick on the audience: As Shak Lambert writes, “for the first 30-40 minutes, I was like ‘there’s a lot of ass-kicking, but it’s not as wild as they were hyping up.’ Then the title card dropped.”

That title card comes 45 minutes into the movie. The remaining 70 are a nonstop parade of violence that, as Justin Decloux notes, “escalates to slasher film levels of splatter” as Amrit slashes, smashes and crushes his way through a seemingly endless line of disposable goons. Iko Uwais and Gareth Evans, whose The Raid is an acknowledged influence on this film, would be proud. KR


Directed by Bradley Cooper, written by Cooper and Josh Singer. Seen at: Venice, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival, AFI Fest.

Good for Bradley Cooper: who else can boast a one-two of a talking raccoon into one of the greatest composers and conductors who ever lived? The actor, director, writer and producer’s eclectic filmography has come to define his electric body of work, with his directorial debut, A Star Is Born, shining a light on Cooper’s greatest strength: his heart, almost certainly three times the size of anyone else’s. If it sounds logically impossible, it’s because it is, and that’s what so much of Maestro is, Cooper’s non-biopic of West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein colored by the loves of his life and the beats of his favorite melodies only.

Kristen Yoonsoo Kim says the film “should be seen and felt and heard LOUD,” which I wholeheartedly agree with, adding: “don’t let it get lost on a Netflix stream if you can help it.” But then, she also nods to the way Cooper’s Bernstein portrait is “marked by memories of the heart”, distilling the intentionally patchy series of events for all their shimmer and shine. Classical music scholar and fellow Journal contributor Fran Hoepfner also identifies the imperfect brilliance of the movie, debating her own 3.5 or 4.5 rating, saying that in not too long she may well say: “‘wellll I had caveats initially but it’s also a masterpiece.’”

But my favorite review celebrating the unabashed earnestness of Cooper, his Bernstein and Bernsteins own loves (nobody has ever acted more than Carey Mulligan in this movie—and good for her!) comes from, uh, Michael Mann Facts: “If his whimsy is too loud then take your sensitive ass back to an estate-unapproved biopic which does not feature Maestro drumming on butt cheeks like bongos.” That photo is in the dictionary next to the definition of “love letter”, right? EK

Poor Things

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, written by Tony McNamara from a novel by Alasdair Gray. Seen at: Venice, Telluride, NYFF, BFI London Film Festival.

With film discourse fighting through a puritan era when it comes to sex scenes, that will be the explosive conversation around Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things. Bella Baxter (a wonderful, darkly humorous Emma Stone), is on a journey of self-discovery. Her journey, which sends her beyond the walls of a mad scientist (Willem Dafoe) who has re-animated her body and mind from separate beings, begins with sexual exploration. Self-love, then her first actionable choice of taking a lover (Mark Ruffalo back in horny and unhinged In the Cut mode, mustache and all), and from there oh, the places she’ll go!

Bella’s sex drive steers her to self-reflection. And it takes her across a European continental fantasia, full of unusual characters and horizon-bright landscapes. Though sex might dominate the discourse, what I like most about Poor Things is its throwback picaresque structure. The picaresque novel came at the end of the Enlightenment period. It centers on a roguish but appealing character who gets by on their wits in a corrupt world via an episodic adventure of constant change in their surroundings. But if you’d like a more recent pop-culture comparison than something from 1810, look no further than all the loving comparisons of Poor Things to Barbie, Letterboxd’s most popular film of the year. Lara lovingly calls it “Barbie for mentally ill people,” while Sara raves that it’sBarbie if Weird Barbie was the lead.” Make no mistake, while Stone is playing a Frankenstein Barbie, Ruffalo is himbo canon as a Ken. BF

The Queen of My Dreams

Written and directed by Fawzia Mirza. Seen at: TIFF and BFI London Film Festival.

This charming and assured debut feature by Canadian writer-director Fawzia Mirza follows Azra, a queer Toronto-based actress whose father’s sudden death prompts a return to Pakistan and her semi-estranged mother, Miriam. Based on Mirza’s play and short film of the same name, The Queen of My Dreams premiered at TIFF and was nominated for Best First Feature at the London Film Festival. The sensational Amrit Kaur has a blast in dual roles, playing Azra and the younger Miriam, whose coming-of-age in swinging 1960s Karachi is replayed in vivid Bollywood-style flashbacks.

Cinematographer Matt Irwin’s fluid camera is alive to the textures and colors of Karachi and Nova Scotia, while Mirza’s generous storytelling makes us equally invested in Azra and Miriam (played affectingly in later life by Nimra Bucha). The gorgeous Hamza Haq also provides stellar support as Azra’s kindhearted (and impressively mustached) father. Queen understands the inexorable pull of the past you no longer belong in, the clash between tradition and self-determination and how Tupperware can bring families together. Marta Corato praises Mirza’s “earnest and fresh take on the intersection of identities”, while Emily Gagne calls it “[a] loving ode to Bollywood fantasy and family history that will make you want to call your mom.” JF


Directed by George C. Wolfe, written by Dustin Lance Black and Julian Breece. Seen at: Telluride, TIFF.

Colman Domingo shines as the lead in this biopic of Bayard Rustin, an openly gay Black civil-rights leader who dedicated his life to racial equality and led the organizing of the 1962 March on Washington. Rustin was unapologetically out and he paid a high price—his achievements were struck from the annals of history, a wrong that this urgent and important Barack Obama-produced Netflix feature seeks to put right.

Props must go to the film’s all-queer creative team: Lance Black wrote the activist-life script for Oscar-winner Milk and does it again with co-writer Julian Breece, and George C. Wolfe helms another queer-themed work after Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Having already won the TIFF Tribute Performer Award, there’s Oscar buzz for Domingo, a gay actor in a gay role (quelle surprise!).

Letterboxd members have given the film a mixed reaction as a somewhat paint-by-numbers biopic (light on personal life; heavy on activism story). It is uplifted by Domingo, with strong support from the likes of Jeffrey Wright (“unstoppable at this point in his career, [Wright] is a vicious highlight as the homophobic Rep. Adam Clayton Powell,” says Robert Daniels). Meanwhile, Nate Richard writes, “What really makes Rustin work is the absolutely incredible lead performance from Colman Domingo, [giving him] the spotlight that he's long deserved, and he nails every single scene.” LK

The Rye Horn

Written and directed by Jaione Camborda. Seen at: TIFF, BFI London Film Festival.

It’s been a fast rise for Jaione Camborda’s The Rye Horn. After the world premiere at TIFF, Camborda went home to win the Golden Shell for Best Film at San Sebastián International Film Festival (the director is a San Sebastián native and the film is almost entirely spoken in Galician). Set in 1970s fascist Franco-run Galicia, The Rye Horn is a stark yet hopeful female-centered story of the challenges of womanhood. María (Janet Novás) makes a living collecting shellfish as well as being a community midwife. It is the latter work that sets in train a tragedy (involving the aforementioned rye horn, a toxic rye mold that induces birth) leading María to desperately flee to Portugal.

The film sets a tone of intimacy from its powerful opening birthing scene. The cinematography of Rui Poças is applauded by Letterboxd members, including mapleleaf: “A beautiful and terrifying exploration of what women go through… the cinematography is wondrous, and the story is enthralling.”

“Pays homage to the care, labor and knowledge of women that history has swept under the rug. A tale of feminine solidarity in the informal underground networks of fascist resistance,” says shmillaume. The film is visceral and constantly surprises—I can only agree (spoiler alert) with Rock: “Didn’t expect a lactation fetish scene in my somber Spanish abortion drama.” LK


Written and directed by Emerald Fennell. Seen at: Telluride, Fantastic Fest, BFI London Film Festival.

Saltburn has already been compared by many to The Talented Mr. Ripley and Brideshead Revisited, and though not totally inaccurate, both references fail to reveal its true nature. Although Emerald Fennell’s sophomore feature borrows heavily from its influences, it surprises on several levels. At once, it’s a gleefully nasty tale of obsession, a hilarious skewering of upper-class Britain and an examination of how friendships at university can somehow feel like the whole world, not enough and entirely artificial—all at the same time. (It may also be our first great period film about the late 2000s, adorned with hardback Harry Potter copies and MGMT’s ‘Time to Pretend’ needle drops.)

Oliver (Barry Keoghan) and Felix (Jacob Elordi) meet at Oxford, but Saltburn kicks into high gear once they arrive for a summer on the titular estate, where Fennell pulls her trump card (Rosamund Pike!) and barrels towards a relentless third act in which her most twisted ideas come to life. AldossRaine sums it up in three perfect words—“horny, hot, and harrowing”—and, despite its shocking twists, Diana nails the tone: “everything about this film is so yummy. there’s no other way to put it. I want to eat it.” GF

Sky Peals

Written and directed by Moin Hussain. Seen at: Venice, BFI London Film Festival.

It’s not an easy feat to portray the neurodivergent existence within cinema, and an even tougher ask to do so in a feature debut. Still, this is precisely what Moin Hussain does with Sky Peals, which follows service-station worker Adam (Faraz Ayub) in the immediate aftermath of the death of his estranged father as he navigates reuniting with long-lost family and realigning old notions of identity. Adam, although not openly described as neurodivergent, experiences the world through a heightened sensorial experience, aggravated here by the overbearing weight of grief.

This tricky intersection is expertly translated by Hussain through a sharp mix of often disorienting sound design and cinematography, with the service station standing as an eerie limbo that connects the film’s ideas of identity and belonging to its eerier, sci-fi adjacent themes. Nardisty writes about how much he loved seeing his “own brain on the big screen,” after beautifully describing Sky Peals as “sudden grief through the lens of neurodivergence, rendered through an appeal to the semi-literal extraterrestrial, all set in the odd spaceship purgatory of the motorway services. A proper slow burn that treats your attention with respect and assurance.” RSR


Directed by Robert Morgan, written by Morgan and Robin King. Seen at: Fantastic Fest, BFI London Film Festival.

Stopmotion director Robert Morgan is himself a stop-motion animator, with a number of award-winning short films with creepy titles like The Cat with Hands in his filmography. That brings a personal feel to Morgan’s feature debut as a director, which combines live-action and animation in visceral and disturbing ways. (These are enhanced by sound design best described as “squelchy.”) The result is a film that, as Jordan King describes it, “[invokes] The Quay Brothers and Jan Švankmajer… [its] influences may be myriad, but its execution is singular.”

The Nightingale’s Aisling Franciosi stars as Ella, the daughter of a famous stop-motion animator who’s taken over as her mother’s hands now that the elder woman is crippled with arthritis. Ella desperately wants to make a film of her own, away from her narcissistic mother’s criticism. Her attempt to do so turns grotesque rather quickly—think puppets made of raw meat, mortician’s wax and human blood—culminating in an intense scene of body horror that shocked even the jaded audience at Fantastic Fest.

In Morgan’s film, creativity is a curse, and imagination leads only to madness. “This film has a lot to say, and is totally unrelenting in how it says it,” Nicolas Nadeau says in a rave review. “It’s the work of a true artist, who has succeeded in crafting a nightmare so darkly potent that I will probably never watch it again.” KR

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