Venice and Telluride: 5 Films to Watch

By  · Published on September 7th, 2016

Five of the Best from this Weekend’s Fests

Rounding up buzz from Venice and Telluride.

This weekend, legions of cinema aficionados trekked to Telluride, Colorado; Venice, Italy; and Deauville, France for the cities’ respective film festivals. With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on the horizon, film fanatics are knee deep in a flood of festival coverage. The endless talk of audience reactions and awards contenders can be overwhelming, but don’t fret! I’ve waded through the deluge of reviews and reports to profile five of the most talked about films from Venice and Telluride (Sorry Deauville).


I first heard of Moonlight in Max Covill’s piece on the magic of A24's trailers. I was captivated by the riveting string orchestra that underlays the trailer’s glances into the life of Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), an African-American man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. The movie employs a three chapter structure to depict Chiron’s coming of age with Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders playing him as a child and teen respectively.

A24 and the Art of the Movie Trailer

The film is writer/director Barry Jenkins’ first since his 2008 indie darling, Medicine for Melancholy. Its premiere at the Colorado festival is fitting for Jenkins, who has spent many years working at Telluride since he served as a dog, an affectionate name for TFF interns, in 2003. The movie, A24’s first fully financed production, topped IndieWire’s Telluride Film Festival Critics Poll and is set to screen at a few more festivals before its release on October 21st.

FSR’s own Tomris Laffly, writing for Film Journal International, noted the film received the most enthusiastic and heartiest standing ovation of those she experienced at this year’s festival. She also commends James Laxton’s cinematography, which “gives the film its dreamy touch and his often times close framing connects the audience with Chiron’s journey at the most intimate imaginable level.” I admired these qualities in the trailer, so it’s heartening to hear they carry over to the final product.

But a unique aspect of the movie is its dedication to depicting perspectives often neglected on the screen. In an interview with A.O. Scott of The New York Times, Jenkins elaborates on his aims for the project:

“In a perfect world, when people see the film and spend time with these characters, they want to actively find more ways than I can even put into the film to empathize with them, and to have a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be black in America, black and poor in America, black and gay and male in America.”

If the critical response is any indication, then Moonlight is a resounding success. Let’s hope it resonates as well with audiences as it has with festival goers.

La La Land

If you haven’t heard of La La Land yet, then I’m not sure what to tell you. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning film, Whiplash, was one of the most anticipated premieres of the Venice International Film Festival. It chronicles the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress whose burgeoning romance struggles under the weight of their artistic successes. Did I mention it’s a musical?

The film was a close runner-up in IndieWire’s Telluride Critics Poll as well, garnering praise from The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy and Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashaway. In her response to the poll, Tomris Laffly wrote why she considers the movie the best new one of the festival:

“It’s an exhilarating film ‐ one that transports you to a different universe of beauty and romance. Damien Chazelle has pulled off something quite special that is both melancholically informed by the glorious musicals of the past and freshly new.”

Perhaps the most striking endorsement of the film came from Tom Hanks, who interrupted the Q&A for his own film, Sully, to praise the movie’s originality and bold vision:

“When you see something that is brand new, that you can’t imagine, and you think ‘well thank God this landed’, because I think a movie like La La Land would be anathema to studios. Number one, it is a musical and no one knows the songs.”

And if that wasn’t enough, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the audience at the film’s Telluride screening accorded the film two mid-movie ovations. It’s almost needless to say, but I’m stoked to see La La Land when it opens on December 2nd.


Clint Eastwood’s newest film is a docudrama about Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the pilot who saved 155 passengers in 2009 by landing U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Though it received two standing ovations at its Telluride screening on September 3rd, our own Christopher Campbell had a more grounded take on the picture:

“It has its share of extreme highs and lows, but while it does offer some real thrills, ultimately it’s an unsuccessful flight. As a historical dramatization of Flight 1549, it’s a smash. As a movie, it crashes.”

Sully Review: A Sometimes Thrilling Movie That Never Takes Flight

The film’s 96-minute run-time, the shortest of any Eastwood-directed movies, is a testament to its barebones plot. There’s not much more to it than the admittedly breathtaking segment depicting the flight’s landing, which the film displays from multiple perspectives. Despite these misgivings, an Entertainment Weekly compilation of reviews indicates that the movie should play well to general audiences. If you’re going to see the film, then endeavor to see it in an IMAX theater. It’s one of the first films shot almost entirely using IMAX cameras and the spectacle of the landing, probably the movie’s best aspect, benefits from that choice. Sully opens this Friday, September 9th.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson is back! The director‘s first film since Apocalypto (2006) had its red carpet world premiere in Venice this weekend. Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to receive the American Medal of Honor. A Seventh-Day Adventist, Doss saved 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa without ever firing or carrying a gun.

In true festival form, Deadline reported that the film received a ten-minute standing ovation, even more impressive because they are “not as common a happenstance [at Venice] as they are at some other festivals.” Audience impressions aside, the film has received its fair share of acclaim in the days following its screening.

/Film published a summary of reviews from the festival, noting that its “incredible, harrowing” battles scenes are undercut by a general lack of subtlety. Many of the critics they cite praise the film’s action sequences, with at least one comparing them to those in Saving Private Ryan. The more cliched aspects of the film take away from these strengths. Desmond’s father (Hugo Weaving) is a caricature of the shell-shocked veteran and Desmond’s drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) is a caricature of a drill sergeant. Of course, the denouement occurs in a courtroom, and the motivations behind Desmond’s prohibition on fighting are established one too many times. There is, however, near universal praise for Garfield’s performance, an aspect of the film that carries its heart and compensates for its more overt moralizing.

The story of a man who maintains his conviction in spite of overwhelming odds mirrors Gibson’s own attempts at redemption. After the commercial failure and accompanying personal turmoil of his last directorial effort, Gibson has a lot riding on this film’s success. It remains to be seen if he will experience the same results as Desmond did. If he can’t with this film, then I have my doubts about his The Passion of the Christ sequel.

The Lord Shall Bringeth a Passion of the Christ Sequel, and Thy Lord Be Mel Gibson

Hacksaw Ridge releases in theaters on November 4th.


Fresh off his success with Sicario, Denis Villeneuve has festival-goers enamored with his next feature, Arrival. The film premiered in Venice on September 1st and focuses on Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a world-renown linguist tasked with deciphering the language of extra-terrestrials whose spacecraft have landed across the globe. When the movie’s first teaser dropped a few weeks ago, Colton Ledford wrote that he hoped it would circumvent the “Let’s kill some aliens” tropes endemic to extra-terrestrial encounter films.

Arrival and the Non-Killing Types of Alien Movies

Luckily, the buzz from the festival indicates his optimism was well-founded. In the second line of his review, Richard Lawson from Vanity Fair confirms one of Ledford’s predictions:

“It’s not a big alien invasion thriller the way its trailers might suggest. Instead, it’s more akin to Contact, Robert Zemeckis’s sprawling, underrated drama that used alien communication as a metaphor for faith.”

In another positive sign, Alonso Duralde from The Wrap notes the film is akin to “last year’s The Martian, it’s about smart, driven people using their know-how to solve seemingly insurmountable problems and to answer the toughest questions.” Many critics drew comparisons between Arrival and Interstellar, though most, Duralde included, consider the former a more graceful attempt at playing personal concerns against intergalactic ones. Despite glowing praise for Adams’ performance, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter worries the film “may be a touch too subdued for the mainstream.” In a world of faux-frenetic flicks like Independence Day: Resurgence, I appreciate a more measured approach to science fiction. Plus, if this film is any indication of Villeneuve’s predisposition towards the genre, then I’m even more excited for his Blade Runner sequel in 2017. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with aliens. Arrival opens in theaters on November 11th.

These films are only a small assortment of the festival darlings from the past couple weeks. Werner Herzog’s Into The Inferno; Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals; and Philippe Falardeau’s The Bleeder are a few honorable mentions that didn’t make it into this list. That being said, brace yourself for even more reports as journalists head to Toronto today for TIFF, North America’s biggest film festival. Rest assured, Film School Rejects has you covered.

Related Topics: