Critics' Picks: 10 Best Films of the Major Fall Festivals (So Far)

9:00 AM 9/14/2016

by Todd McCarthy and Boyd van Hoeij

After hitting Toronto, Telluride and Venice, THR's film critics collectively rank their favorites — from a portrait of a gay black man to biopics of Jackie O and Barack Obama to a Stones doc that rocks.

Critics' Picks: 10 Best Films - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF (3); Dale Robinette/Lionsgate; A24; Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures
  • Moonlight

    A haunting, exquisitely made reflection on African-American masculinity, writer-director Barry Jenkins' intimate character study traces the life of a black gay man from his troubled Miami childhood to maturity. The film pulls you in to its introspective protagonist's world from the start and transfixes throughout as it observes, with uncommon poignancy and emotional perceptiveness, his roughly two-decade path to find a definitive answer to the question, "Who am I?" Three remarkable actors play the main figure at different ages: Alex Hibbert as a young boy, Ashton Sanders as a teen and Trevante Rhodes as an adult. — D.R.

  • Jackie

    Extraordinary in its piercing intimacy and lacerating in its sorrow, Chilean director Pablo Larrain's English-language debut is a raw portrait of iconic first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, reeling in the wake of tragedy while at the same time summoning the fortitude needed to make her husband's death meaningful and to ensure her own survival as something more than a fashionably dressed footnote. The movie is powered by an astonishing performance from a never-better Natalie Portman in the title role. — D.R.

  • Nocturnal Animals

    David Lynch meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Douglas Sirk in Tom Ford's second directorial outing, a sumptuously entertaining and fabulously acted noir melodrama laced with psychological suspense. Amy Adams stars as a woman forced to reflect on how she treated her ex (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) when he sends her a manuscript for his new novel, which comes to vivid life in her head — and before our eyes. The movie demonstrates that Ford is an intoxicating sensualist and an accomplished storyteller. — D.R.

  • La La Land

    Damien Chazelle's daring and beautiful follow-up to Whiplash is an original L.A.-set musical starring Ryan Gosling and a glorious Emma Stone as a couple of Hollywood strivers — he a musician, she an actress — who fall in love. The director's feel for a classic but mostly discarded genre is instinctive; he knows how to stage and frame dance and lyrical movement, to transition from conventional to singing scenes, to turn naturalistic settings into fantasy backdrops. Musical lovers, and many others, will be swept away. — T.M.

  • Arrival

    Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play academics enlisted by the military to establish contact when alien spacecraft land on Earth in Denis Villeneuve's magisterial new movie. How refreshing to watch a film of this type in which no cities are destroyed or monuments toppled, and no squabbling distracts the human team from the challenges of their interspecies encounter. Anchored by Adams' internalized but deeply emotional performance, this is grown-up sci-fi that sustains tension while striking affecting chords on love and loss. — D.R.

  • Frantz

    French filmmaker Francois Ozon's latest (inspired by Ernst Lubitsch's Broken Lullaby) is a richly imagined and superbly assembled black-and-white drama centering on a German woman (Paula Beer) after World War I who becomes involved with a handsome French stranger (Pierre Niney) she sees laying flowers on her beloved's tomb. The film continues the director's penchant for masterfully spinning complex material into highly accessible but sophisticated fare. — B.V.H.

  • Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

    Richard Gere delivers an impressively self-effacing turn as the title character — a well-connected New Yorker who uses special relationships and behind-the-scenes skills to work his way into Israel's power circles — in Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar's compellingly unsettling and complex first English-language feature. It's a stylish and intricately detailed portrait of the web of political, financial, social and religious affiliations that has everything to do with how the world works. — T.M.

  • Lion

    A moving performance from Dev Patel is the resilient soul of this enthralling feature debut from Garth Davis that tells the true story of Saroo Brierley and his tenacious quest to find the family from whom he was separated 25 years earlier. Tempering its sentimentality with authentic feeling, the film is a stirring contemplation of roots, identity and home. Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a 5-year-old in the opening chapter, and Nicole Kidman, as Saroo's adoptive mother, give beautiful performances. — D.R.

  • Ole! Ole! Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America

    To those who thought they'd seen enough Rolling Stones concert documentaries for one lifetime, the old geezer rock 'n' roll band proves otherwise in this live performance film directed by Paul Dugdale. The rock group's 2016 tour of Latin America, culminating in its unprecedented concert in Cuba on the heels of President Barack Obama's trip there, provides an exhilarating fresh angle, while resourceful contextual footage smartly sets the scene. The movie has more to offer than most of its kind, including an unexpected shot of emotion. — T.M.

  • Barry

    The second good Obama movie of the year, Vikram Gandhi's consistently engaging and confidently made low-budget film charts the U.S. president's tricky first year at Columbia University. Led by Australian actor Devon Terrell's convincing lead performance as a 20-year-old struggling with his mixed identity and a troubling local environment, it's a very thoughtful and credible portrait of a smart young man with a good deal of growing and learning yet to do. — T.M.