The fall festival marathon has come to a close. This year, the FSR team broke sound barriers and chugged untold amounts of caffeine to bring y’all the international scoop on incoming cinematic offerings. As the old saying goes: it takes a village to cover multiple, dove-tailing festivals. We have that embroidered on a throw pillow somewhere…
Between the lot of us, we’ve been around the festival circuit, and with awards season on the horizon (menacing, like some silhouetted castle in a Hammer horror), we thought it would be fun to step back and have a little fun. Sure, we could weaponize our hive mind to predict this year’s Oscar winners, but most festivals have their own awards that try and telegraph just that: Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best in Show—you get it.
While big dog award brackets have their place, we come to you today with the real goods. An expanded playing field, full of categories that really matter. And, more to the point, that do a better job of giving y’all a sense of how your brain starts to melt after you’ve seen nothing but c i n e m a all day, every day for multiple weeks. Some things stand out like an Uncut Gem in a haystack, but you also start to notice patterns, galaxy brain connections between films that will wind up with completely different release dates. Keeping those to ourselves would be selfish!
Without further ado, we’ve assembled the team, taken stock of the season, and… here are this year’s fall festival superlatives:
Best Performance by a Young Actor
Young performers really turned it out at this year’s fall festival circuit, not only going toe-to-toe with their adult co-stars but frequently surpassing them. We’ve added a fair amount of new names to our “breakout folks to watch” list and can’t wait to see what these youngins do next.
Winner(s): Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz in The Vast of Night
Yes, technically we are awarding this accolade to two performers but listen: when you see The Vast of Night, you’ll understand. Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz are two halves of one fast-talking, spunky coin. The Vast of Night is a film replete with long takes, monologues, and one-ers that require our two leads to captivate and keep us interested. Mark our words: we haven’t seen the last of these two. (Meg Shields)
Honorable Mentions: Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit; Orlando Schwerdt in True History of the Kelly Gang; Serafin Mishiev in The Audition.
Anticipation is a helluva drug. Impossible to resist, often poisonous, and destined to spread through #FilmTwitter at an alarming rate. We all do what we can to keep our expectations calm, cool, and collected, but most movies collapse under the weight of their hype. Then there are those films that prove not to be deadly to the community. In fact, they inject a newfound sense of life into our bloodstream and renew our spirits so we can take on the next festival stronger and more resilient.
Yo, let the hype train continue for Bong Joon-ho. It turns out there is a reason he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and had an Alamo Drafthouse rechristened with his name during Fantastic Fest. Parasite is a frickin’ masterpiece, and we will happily keep slathering on the love here at FSR. It’s one of those films that once you see you cannot shut up about, but it also elicits a great fear that you’ll say too much and ruin the good time of the next viewer. The film is a clock of a movie, requiring many tiny mechanisms within to achieve operation, but simply stunning on the outside if observed without too much critical thought. The wall of praise surrounding the film may appear annoying to the uninitiated, but once scaled, it’s a party on the other side. Join us. (Brad Gullickson)
Honorable Mentions: The Lighthouse; Uncut Gems.
Special Achievement in Being Very Fucking Pretty
Like we said, we’ll happily keep slathering on the love for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which is, in earnest, a masterpiece across the board. But, my god, who found that house? That sleek, modern, minimalist, teak-stone wonderland of 90-degree angles, warm yellow light, and vast space belongs in a museum. There’s a location scout out there somewhere that has the right to feel more pride in their one Parasite find than the average director should feel in an entire career. Of course, the house is merely a prop without Kyung-pyo Hong’s gorgeous cinematography (in tandem with Joon-ho’s precise, mathematical direction), and the house is not Parasite’s only aesthetic marvel. But going any further would breach spoiler territory. (Luke Hicks)
Honorable Mentions: The Lighthouse; A Hidden Life, Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Joker; Martin Eden.
Biggest Scene Stealer
Winner: Nicholas Hoult in True History of the Kelly Gang
This award has to go to a man who not only steals scenes but steals babies, and looks devilishly delightful while doing so. Nicholas Hoult turns in one of his finest performances as a villainous British officer in True History of the Kelly Gang, a buck wild Australian crime odyssey. He’s maniacal and captivating; a slick, smarmy antagonist for the ages. As much as the film is Ned Kelly’s story, Hoult makes it feel like it’s his film, and he absolutely runs away with every moment he’s onscreen. I’m not complaining. (Anna Swanson)
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Craig in Knives Out; Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit; Paul Raci in Sound of Metal; Laura Dern in Marriage Story; The Cow in First Cow.
Best Worst Criminal
Winner: Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) in Uncut Gems
There have been some beautifully inept criminals on film this year, but the king of them all has to be the ultimate endearing doofus: the Sandman himself. As the jeweler and compulsive gambler Howard, Adam Sandler is a blundering swindler who is prepared to scheme his way into success at any cost. He’s a philandering fool, a manic mess, and, against all odds, impossible to not love. He fails time and time again and continually finds himself out of his depth, but he never stops trying to score big. Bless his heart. (Anna Swanson)
Honorable Mentions: Harry Power (Russell Crowe) in True History of the Kelly Gang; Kim Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) in Parasite; Kase (Shôta Sometani) in First Love; Cookie (John Magaro) in First Cow.
Toronto International Film Festival
Most Manic Performance by a Man Named Nic
While this may seem like an oddly specific bracket, let me assure you that it was, in fact, quite competitive. So what is it that draws actors named Nic to these banana pants roles? Coincidence? Something more primal and esoteric? Do they have a quota to fill? Some dark obligation to Old Nick himself? Either way, go Nics!
Winner: Nicholas Hoult in True History of the Kelly Gang
It’s wild how Nicholas Hoult invented acting in True History of the Kelly Gang, right? How every eeeevil British colonial character from now on will have to measure up to the nudist, scene-chewing, sexpot that is Constable Fitzpatrick. He holds a baby at gunpoint. He wears sock garters and nothing else. He has all the sass and slink of an animated Disney villain. What was his process, I wonder? “Hi, I’m Nicholas Hoult, and I’m going to play this villain like your jilted high school girlfriend had access to a military force.” More antagonist bits for Mr. Hoult, please!
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Cage in Color Out of Space.
Again, this is another award that works for a very specific niche, but it was born from a trend that emerged at TIFF: men who can’t open jars and need their wives to handle the task for them. In Lucy In The Sky, the Natalie Portman astronaut drama, Lucy’s beta-male husband, Drew, played by the marvelous Dan Stevens, remarks with the feeble tone of an exasperated cartoon mouse that he relies on his wife because he has weak hands. This is the line delivery of the year, but Stevens wasn’t the only meager man in this year’s festival circuit.
Winner: Adam Driver in Marriage Story
As fantastic as Stevens is, Adam Driver in Marriage Story takes the insufficiently muscled cake. As Charlie’s (Driver) relationship with his wife falls apart, so does his ability to obtain anything stored in a jar. Noah Baumbach works this into the film, showing that Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) instinct is always to help Charlie, that this small task is baked into their interactions to the point that she opens jars for him absentmindedly. It’s a sweet aspect of their relationship in a film rich with minor but meaningful details. It’s also wonderfully hilarious to watch Driver, a man so regarded for being Big™, struggle with a tiny jar.
Honorable Mention: Dan Stevens in Lucy in the Sky.
Best Dance Sequence
From Joker’s interpretive stairway can-can to A Hidden Life’s beer-fueled rug cut, to Robert Patterson and Willem DeFoe’s manic Lighthouse jig, this year’s TiFF saw dance numbers aplenty. And we should be so lucky! Cinema and dance have a longstanding relationship, a kinetic match made in heaven that can elevate mood, hammer home points, and convey sentiments words just can’t capture.
Winner: Dogs Don’t Wear Pants
How else should a heartwarming Finnish BDSM flick about trauma therapy conclude but in DANCE? By the end of Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, Juha (Pekka Strang) looks like he’s been run over by a car. He’s banged up and missing a couple of bits but he’s happy for the first time in years. More than that, his self-destructive self-discovery journey has led him to community. To this club, and to these other banged-up souls. A couple of shots later, Juha makes his way to the dance floor and lets loose. His flailing is messy, free, and ecstatic, like Beau Travail’s kinkier twin. It’s pure joy, and not only is it the best dance sequence of the festival season but maybe the best final scene, period.
Honorable Mentions: Ema, …I was at home but.
The Golden Doughnut Award
Ok, so, here’s the thing… throughout TIFF, Meg and I were constantly discussing the fact that there were at least five films that referenced doughnuts. It was a trend we couldn’t help but pick up on. We knew within the first few days of the festival that we would have to comment on the proliferation of doughnuts in an article at some point. And then, when it came time to write superlatives, we promptly forgot about all the films with doughnut references. We remember the clear winner, but trust us that there were a lot more runner ups. Allow us to be a lesson to everyone else: write down your ideas. Don’t be left at the end of a festival wishing you had heeded the words of J. Walter Weatherman telling you to always leave a note.
Winner: Knives Out
Knives Out, a Rian Johnson whodunnit according to the film’s marketing campaign, is really more of a whodonut. The film’s shining star is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, a private detective with a honey-tinged Southern drawl and a penchant for explicating his cases through doughnut metaphors. Craig’s whole performance — from his mannerisms to his pitch-perfect delivery of every single line — is something to be celebrated, and I can’t think of a better way to reward him than with a Golden Doughnut, except for maybe a Golden Doughnut within a Golden Doughnut.
Honorable mention, from what we remember: True History of the Kelly Gang.
Venice Film Festival
Brought to you by Luke Hicks.
Best Pensive Cover Art
Winner: We’re all winners when it comes to pensive cover art
For whatever reason, 2019’s Venice Film Festival saw an abnormal amount of posters in which a major character—comprising an overwhelming majority of the cover art space—sat center stage in meditative thought. It’s a relatively uninteresting trend until one realizes what it gave us. First, a sweet, swooning, aqua-eyed Brad Pitt in pique dad-era beauty (Ad Astra). Next, a folksy, silvery-toned Gong Li surrounded by a just-puffed haze of thick cigarette smoke overlaid with minimalist design (Saturday Fiction). Then, a life-sized frame (not the final poster art, but what we were given nonetheless) of goddess Elizabeth Debicki slouching upright on satin sheets, as if you woke up to find her in your bed, cooly smiling at you, a cigarette in one hand, your breath in the other (The Burnt Orange Heresy). And finally, the quaint, pensive glow of Eliza Scanlen splashed with vibrant color, rocking a turquoise wig, feet dipped in the pool, eyes pining for meaning in the clouds and longevity in the sky (Babyteeth). Unlike the other awards, there are no losers here, only an ensemble of winners.
The Moment You’re Most Likely to Think About for a Month Straight
You might expect the most memorable scene from a movie about a high school girl with cancer to revolve around the obvious: death, decay, sorrow. But Shannon Murphy doesn’t cave to the obvious. Or, at least, she doesn’t settle for a lack of complexity in appealing to her audience. For as closely as we confront death in Babyteeth, we embrace life. Not long after Milla (Scanlen) loses her hair as a result of chemo, she finds herself at a house rave, eyes wide open, swimming in lasers. The arpeggiated kinetic challenge of Tune-yards’ “Bizness” leads her through the maze of rooms/dance floors in which she finds a bizarrely costumed woman who’s bald by choice, an implicit wave of fashion diversity flooding the scene, lyrics “don’t take my life away” echoing all around as Milla gapes in awe. The donning of the relativity of beauty set to the surrounding music, along with the priceless look on Milla’s face when she sees the cool, confident woman with a shaved head, is pervasive enough to make a home in any viewer for at least a month, if not a lifetime.
Honorable mentions: Ema.
Most Fucked Up Family Reckoning
We’ve witnessed many-a-fucked-up-family in film history, but the boiling marital misery that comes with the returning of an adopted (pyro) child is new to the scene, and it comes with its own fresh iterations of bitterness, cruelty, and tears, courtesy of Pablo Larraín. Moreover, the central family of Ema is unconventional in nearly every sense, intentionally provoking our concept of what defines and fills a family unit. Fierce arguments are set to wildly choreographed dance routines, spewing diatribes indict the artistry of reggaeton as feverishly as its opposers, and flames run rampant before the maze-like finale lands with a heart-pounding revelation.
Honorable mentions: The Domain; (half of) The King; Babyteeth.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Honorary Medal
Winner: The Painted Bird
No one tortures children on screen and gets invited to compete at a major fall festival without some trailing significance or legitimacy to their project. Whether you find The Painted Bird repulsive or revelatory, it’s proven it’s worth talking about, and that isn’t something we can say often of a film this vile in nature.
Brought to you by Brad Gullickson.
Best Life-Affirmation Through Violence
Life holds no meaning without death. The finish line might not define the journey, but it gives your travel purpose. Throughout Fantastic Fest, I saw a number of films where violence rekindled vigor in its participants. From the absurd whirlwind of carnage that propels the dopes in Why Don’t You Just Die to Tammy and her robo T-Rex (in Tammy & the T-Rex), close encounters with mortality encouraged many characters to press forward or maybe even appreciate the beauty in their miserable existence. The pain hurts, but it feels oh so good when you live to see it fade away.
Winner: First Love
Takashi Miike returns to the yakuza drama to dish out a comical collision of dimwits and madmen. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, a boxer stumbles out into the night under a haze of despair. A chance collision with a drug-addicted prostitute decimates his selfish feelings and awakens newfound energy. He’s gonna die. Fear holds no meaning. This is a superpower. He can take on the Japanese mob, the Chinese mob, and any other gangsters that dare to get in his way. Through a hail of bullets and severed limbs, the boxer reaches his destination and discovers the glory of life he had not previously known.
Honorable Mentions: Jallikattu; Sweetheart.
Most Dread-full Tale
Oh god. What’s the point of it all? While I may have stumbled out of some rather bloody affairs with a new kick in my step, a few other films found a way to halt that bounce. These are the movies that drag you down. Deliciously so. They are the films that spend their time submerging their audience in painful anticipation, preparing them for a grim end they cannot halt. You watch. You can’t tear your eyes away, and part of you sickly enjoys the sensation. Make me suffer. Yes, please, may I have another?
Winner: The Last to See Them
Home invasion horrors are a subgenre of pleasurable pain unlike any other. We meet a well-mannered and loving family. We get to know them. We get to like them. Then, a pair of interlopers enter the frame, and the screen turns red with blood and screams. The Last to See Them opens with a title card informing us that the Duratti family will be dead before night’s end. We spend the next 80 minutes watching husband, wife, daughter, and son go through the last activities of their lives, unaware of their impending expiration date. Each mundane gesture is tainted with horror, and as the sun sets, we are nearly sick with dread. Then, writer/director Sara Summa does something astonishing. I won’t spoil it here, but The Last To See Them might be the only home invasion horror that skimps on exploitation, and such achievement is a commendable feat.
Honorable Mentions: The Lighthouse; The Death of Dick Long.
Best Cinematic Celebration Documentary
God damn, I love movies. Am I right? When I’m not watching them, I’m talking about them, writing about them, and thinking about them. There is no place I would rather be than hunkered down in the cramped dark with a giant, bright glowing screen blaring before me. The theater is the only place where I can go beyond the infinite and reach into the lives of every living thing on this planet, and it’s about as religious an experience as I can muster. Praise be, hallelujah. Fantastic Fest offered several documentaries this year to keep this sermon going and confirm my belief that cinema is a rejuvenating artform worth the time and money I’ve dunked into it my whole life.
Winner: Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks
Serge Ou’s doc starts out the way you would expect. A batch of talking-heads championing the genius of Wuxia cinema and tracing the ripples of the art through all the usual suspects. However, the longer the film goes on, Ou begins to track Kung Fu’s influence on a variety of surprising cinematic endeavors. These films were not just simply building to Bruce Lee, they were cruising down a river that would lead to parkour and Wakaliwood. To accentuate the kinetic wallop that these filmmakers had on multiple cultures, Ou cuts the film together at a frenzied pace, creating an editing style that kicks as hard as the masters battling onscreen.
Honorable Mention: You Don’t Nomi.
New York Film Festival
Brought to you by Emily Kubincanek.
Most Distracting Food
Winner: Al Pacino’s sundaes in The Irishman
There are plenty of delicious contenders, which made it hard to pick a favorite, but the winner had to go to all of the ice cream sundaes Al Pacino devoured and used as a weapon in The Irishman. They didn’t have much to do with the story, but the film would not be the same without them.
Honorable Mentions: Cookie’s oil cakes with honey in First Cow; Peaches in Parasite; Potatoes in Varda by Agnès.
Best Vintage Costumes
Winner: Motherless Brooklyn
Good vintage costumes are an art that can go unnoticed. Clothes are a huge part of making a film belong in a bygone era, and many NYFF films brought gorgeous vintage fits. Motherless Brooklyn outshined, though, with all of the cozy vintage cold-weather wear. The wool turtlenecks, wedge snow booties, and tweed suits were probably the best part of the film. Take from that what you wish.
Honorable Mentions: Martin Eden; Beanpole.
Winner: Evie the cow in First Cow
In a press conference about her film First Cow, Kelly Reichardt talked about how hard it is to work with animals on set but that she loves doing it. Apparently a lot of the other filmmakers from the films in the category agree because there was no shortage of animals in this year’s slate of movies. All of the animals made adorable characters as lively as their human scene partners, but we have to give this award to Evie the cow. Those big eyes charmed everyone at NYFF.
Honorable Mentions: Agnès Varda’s cats in Varda by Agnès; all of the farm animals in Young Ahmed; the dogs of Parasite.
Sweetest Old Man
Winner: Bert Spitz in Marriage Story
This one was a no-contest decision, but we still have to appreciate how cute Nino was in Martin Eden. As a devoted socialist, passionate journalist, and great father figure, he held his own against the most charming man alive, Luca Marinelli as Martin Eden. However, Alan Alda as the sweet divorce lawyer in Marriage Story was a delight to watch and is now everyone’s honorary grandpa from here on out.
Honorable Mention: Nino in Martin Eden