Hollywood Reporter Critics' 20 Favorite Films From the Fall Festivals

7:00 AM 9/15/2019

by THR staff

A geriatric sex epic, a career high for Noah Baumbach, first-rate star vehicles for J. Lo and Riz  Ahmed and a shocking Golden Lion winner are among the best movies from Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

Clockwise: 'Marriage Story,' 'First Cow,' 'Sound of Metal' and 'Collective.'
Clockwise: 'Marriage Story,' 'First Cow,' 'Sound of Metal' and 'Collective.'
Courtesy of TIFF
  • 'The Cave'

    Toronto

    'The Cave'
    'The Cave'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Feras Fayyad’s deeply moving companion piece to his Oscar-nominated doc Last Men in Aleppo follows a doctor in an underground hospital outside Damascus as she treats victims of the Syrian conflict. The director, his cinematographers and his editors wield the cameras and shape the scenes so beautifully that the result is both intensely real and an ambitious, carefully wrought work of cinema. — Caryn James

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Collective'

    Venice, Toronto

    'Collective'
    'Collective'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    A sports newspaper in Romania launches an investigation into shocking hospital corruption — dangerously diluted disinfectant that contributed to the deaths of dozens of patients in the wake of a Bucharest nightclub fire — in Alexander Nanau’s standout documentary. Tense, tightly edited and emotional, this observational exposé will be ringing bells and sparking outrage long after its festival run. — Deborah Young

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Coup 53'

    Telluride

    'Coup 53'
    'Coup 53'
    Telluride Film Festival

    Taghi Amirani's remarkably researched documentary focuses on the crucial but poorly understood 1953 Anglo-American-engineered regime change in Iran. It’s a passionate, bracingly clear-minded and fearless work that has the air of something that grew from an impudent home movie into a magnum opus, one bearing mysterious strands that demand further investigation. History and doc buffs will be enthralled. — Todd McCarthy

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Devil Between the Legs'

    Toronto

    'Devil Between the Legs'
    'Devil Between the Legs'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Seventy-six-year-old Mexican auteur Arturo Ripstein’s bold, deep dive into the very specific sexual impulses and activities of a rather unkempt married couple in their 70s dazzlingly goes where few have dared to tread. It’s an extraordinarily confident, complex work — nearly as explicit as Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris and perhaps even more psychologically astute. — T.M.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'First Cow'

    Telluride

    'First Cow'
    'First Cow'
    Telluride Film Festival

    Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) again goes off the grid in the Pacific Northwest — this time in 19th century Oregon — in her hypnotic, delicately beautiful depiction of male friendship (adapted from a novel by Jon Raymond). Tracing the unlikely bond between a cook for a party of fur trappers and a Chinese immigrant, it’s a superb entry in the narratively spare but expressive filmography of an essential American auteur. — David Rooney

    Read the full review here

  • 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Telluride, Toronto

    'Ford v. Ferrari'
    'Ford v. Ferrari'
    Telluride Film Festival

    The characters can seldom compete with the cars in auto racing movies, but that’s not the case with James Mangold’s full-bodied and exciting true-life drama about Ford Motor Company's efforts to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fronted by terrific lead performances by Christian Bale and Matt Damon as, respectively, racing legends Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, this is an extremely well-built vehicle in every respect. — T.M.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Hustlers'

    Toronto

    'Hustlers'
    'Hustlers'
    STX

    Based on a New York magazine article, Lorene Scafaria’s dramedy about New York strippers conning their rich clients is a blast but also offers incisive commentary on women in the workplace — including single mothers — navigating an economy that disadvantages them. Jennifer Lopez steals the show with a nuanced stunner of a turn as the leader of the pack, a tough cookie who keeps it light. — Beandrea July

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Joker'

    Venice, Toronto

    'Joker'
    'Joker'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    The clown prince of crime is alive and mentally unwell in Gotham City in Todd Phillips’ rivetingly atmospheric supervillain origin story (which snagged the top prize in Venice). What’s most noteworthy about this gritty entry in the DC canon and Joaquin Phoenix’s sensational, highly physical lead performance is the pathos brought to a pathetically disenfranchised character. — D.R.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'The King'

    Venice

    'The King'
    'The King'
    Netflix

    David Michôd directs Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton and Robert Pattinson in a free adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry plays. The result is a stirringly lucid drama that balances its muscular and contemplative sides with unerring judgment, harnessing quietly commanding performances (Chalamet’s portrayal of Henry V is whip-smart and fine-grained) to reflect on the vainglorious folly of power and "the doleful weight of war." — D.R.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Knives Out'

    Toronto

    'Knives Out'
    'Knives Out'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Daniel Craig plays the wily detective trying to untangle the truth when a best-selling mystery writer is found with his throat slit the morning after his 85th birthday party in Rian Johnson’s ingeniously plotted, gloriously irreverent old-fashioned whodunit. Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas and Toni Collette are standouts in the utterly delicious ensemble. — D.R

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Marriage Story'

    Venice, Telluride, Toronto

    'Marriage Story'
    'Marriage Story'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play a director and actress navigating a bicoastal divorce in Noah Baumbach’s wounding, masterly film. It’s a tough work, steeped in pain that feels wincingly immediate and unsparing in its willingness to observe — at sometimes startling emotional proximity — good people at their worst. It’s also funny and, when you least expect it (and most need it), almost unbearably tender thanks in large part to the leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned turns of their careers. — Jon Frosch

    Read the full review here.

  • 'No.7 Cherry Lane'

    Venice

    'No. 7 Cherry Lane'
    'No. 7 Cherry Lane'
    Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

    Love breaks down societal barriers in Hong Kong filmmaker Yonfan’s spellbinding, superbly imagined work of adult animation. Its love triangle, in which a college boy falls for a mother and her daughter, is set during the 1967 pro-China, anti-British student uprising — a mirror image of today’s protests against China. But the real revolution for these characters passes through the film’s vivid erotic charge. — D.Y.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Ordinary Love'

    Toronto

    'Ordinary Love'
    'Ordinary Love'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    As quiet and thoughtfully composed as a Dutch master’s painting, Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Lyburn’s Belfast-set drama builds a deeply moving, nuanced portrait of a marriage under strain after a cancer diagnosis. (Liam Neeson plays the low-key husband, and Lesley Manville his tiny but fierce wife, who falls ill.) It’s an emotional wringer that’s never manipulative. — Leslie Felperin

    Read the full review here.

  • 'The Painted Bird'

    Venice, Toronto

    'The Painted Bird'
    'The Painted Bird'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about an unnamed boy wandering around Eastern Europe at the close of World War II is stunningly adapted for the screen in Czech director Vaclav Marhoul’s grim and violent reflection on the cruelty of human nature. Making explicit the protagonist’s Jewish background, the heart-wrenching black-and-white film brings to life the horrors of the Holocaust through the dark, somber eyes of extraordinary newcomer Petr Kotlar. — D.Y.

    Read the full review here

  • 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'

    Toronto

    'The Personal History of David Copperfield'
    'The Personal History of David Copperfield'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Veep creator Armando Iannucci spins Charles Dickens’ beloved tale of a writer’s origins into a fast-moving yarn, often hilarious and always entertaining. A smart, sparkling crowd-pleaser, it boasts an ideal lead in Dev Patel and a delightful ensemble including Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Laurie. — John Defore

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Proxima'

    Toronto

    'Proxima'
    'Proxima'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    Eva Green plays an astronaut preparing for a mission — and for a long separation from her child — in Alice Winocour’s superbly crafted yet intimate drama. The film is so realistic in its setting and technical specificity that it sometimes feels like a documentary, but the moving mother-daughter story at its core gives it a steady emotional grounding — one that builds to a powerful liftoff in the closing reel. — Jordan Mintzer

    Read the full review here.

  • 'A Son'

    Venice

    'A Son'
    'A Son'
    Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

    Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s intense, emotionally complex debut stars the exceptional Sami Bouajila as an upper-middle-class Tunisian man whose son is gunned down by terrorists. Probing delicate questions of parenthood, masculinity and ego within the specific context of the Arab world, the film suggests the director has a bright future. —Boyd van Hoeij

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Sound of Metal'

    Toronto

    'Sound of Metal'
    'Sound of Metal'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    A fantastic Riz Ahmed plays a heavy metal drummer dealing with the sudden onset of deafness in Darius Marder’s stunning debut fiction feature. A deeply felt exploration of loss and renewal, the movie is so attentive to specifics of character and setting that it never even comes close to feeling like a rote disability drama. — J.D.

    Read the full review here.

  • 'The Two Popes'

    Telluride, Toronto

    'Two Popes'
    'Two Popes'
    Peter Mountain

    The new film by Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) traces how the startling 2013 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) led to the appointment of the first pope from Latin America, Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Anchored by the two outstanding leads — as subtle as they are charismatic — this is a triumph of un-preachy writing and unostentatious filmmaking. — Stephen Farber

    Read the full review here.

  • 'Waves'

    Telluride, Toronto

    'Waves'
    'Waves'
    Courtesy of TIFF

    The latest from director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) is a tender, exuberant drama about the lead-up to and aftermath of trauma for an African American Florida family. A serious, visually bold work about compassion and forgiveness, the movie is split into halves — the first focused on a strutting high school athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr., extraordinary), the second on his introspective younger sister (a revelatory Taylor Russell), who comes to define the very soul of the story. — Sheri Linden

    Read the full review here.