Cannes 2024 Finale – The 8 Best Films to Watch Out For From the Fest | FirstShowing.net

Cannes 2024 Finale – The 8 Best Films to Watch Out For From the Fest

by Alex Billington
June 4, 2024

What are the best films out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After diving into cinema for 12 days at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, after watching a total of 40 films, it’s time to present my 2024 list of my Top 8 Favorites. This was my 14th year back to this festival (I also handed out 4 signed books), and I still love being there right in the middle of all the buzz and excitement, watching new cinema every single day. As I usually say – there’s always more to see, always more to take our breath away. These eight favorites listed below are the ones that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope you’ll consider watching a few when they arrive in your neighborhood. They are worth the wait – each one distinct and memorable. It might have been another lackluster Cannes overall, for the most part, though I am happy I caught a few bangers by the end. This is my very final recap of Cannes 2024 – don’t skip a chance to watch any of these with an audience.

My goal at film festivals nowadays is to watch, watch, watch and keep watching as much as possible. I don’t want to miss anything that might be good, and I prefer to get a look at anything just to see what each one is about. The Cannes 2024 line-up looked promising at the start, but ended up one of their most unimpressive selections in a long time. Even though I also said that 2023 was a “weaker year”, the all-timers from last year stand out even more than these 8 favorites below. I do not care for Caught by the Tides, Rumours is mediocre, The Shrouds is overrated, Parthenope is a disaster, Motel Destino is terrible, Beating Hearts is trash (here’s my review). Many other films I saw were instantly forgettable – I don’t know whether to blame the filmmakers, or the festival for programming all these films. I missed a few that others are raving about, including Viet and Nam and An Unfinished Film. There’s never enough time to see everything, and it’s hard enough to watch films over 12 days and still work on the site, too. I’m always relieved I could see this many.

I won’t delay any further with my Top 8 films of Cannes 2024, as these are the films that I loved the most, or left the greatest impact on me, and they all deserve to gain recognition outside of France. My favorites:

Anora – Directed by Sean Baker

Cannes - Sean Baker's Anora

The best film of the fest actually won the Palme d’Or this year! Huzzah! 🍾 Congrats to Sean Baker and the entire cast & crew of Anora. This film is going to become an instant classic, beloved favorite of many once it drops in theaters later this year. It absolutely deserves to win the Palme! I loved this film! Easily the best film of the entire 2024 Cannes Film Festival line-up, impressive in every single sense – from the filmmaking to the cinematography to all the performances to the story itself. I could rewatch this right away, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. Anora is funnier than expected, making me laugh more than almost any other film this year so far. While also still remaining an intelligent, layered, authentic, clever, riveting story about a melange of people getting into trouble in New York City. Mikey Madison is unforgettable as Ani, aka Anora, with a perfect Brooklyn accent. But the best part of this film is Yura Borisov as Igor, who you’ll discover when you watch the film (he was also in the excellent Cannes 2021 film Compartment Number 6).

Black Dog – Directed by Hu Guan

Cannes - Hu Guan's Black Dog

Of course I love a dog movie! But this one is really something special. Black Dog is one of two major dog movies at Cannes this year – the other one is the Swiss comedy Dog on Trial (my review here). Co-written & directed by filmmaker Hu Guan – Black Dog stars celebrated Chinese actor Eddie Peng as Lang, a man who returns to his dusty, aging, industrial hometown after being released from prison. The town is overrun with stray dogs after everyone moved away to find more work, and he befriends one smart, funny, skinny black dog that lives on its own. His friendship with the doggie (and all of the animals around town) changes him and the entire town in the process. Not only is it a magnificent film about dogs, Peng actually adopted a few of the dogs from the film after the shoot. And the film took great care to treat every animal with respect, including a title card at the end about how they handled them and never mistreated any of them on the set.

The Girl with the Needle – Directed by Magnus von Horn

Cannes - Magnus von Horn's The Girl with the Needle

Another controversial pick from the Cannes line-up (some of my friends did not like this film, while others loved it). This film screened on the second day of the festival, one of the very first films to premiere. It’s an especially unsettling, almost gothic horror tale of a young woman living in a very dirty Copenhagen in the early 1900s. Vic Carmen Sonne stars in the brave lead role as Karoline, a poor, working-class woman who ends up getting pregnant while her husband is missing in The Great War. That’s just the start of her story as she tries to survive and make a living while struggling with her pregnancy, then she meets an older woman named Dagmar (played by Trine Dyrholm) who helps find new homes for unwanted babies. Aside from striking cinematography by Polish DP Michal Dymek, and the dark, disturbing screenplay that has some seriously unexpected twists & turns, the best part of this film is the score. Created by musician Frederikke Hoffmeier (aka by her stage name Puce Mary), this atmospheric, moody, actually freaky score has never left my mind. It stayed with me throughout the entire fest which is no easy feat while viewing so many films.

Emilia PĂ©rez – Directed by Jacques Audiard

Cannes - Jacques Audiard's Emilia PĂ©rez

This movie became the “you either love it or hate it” of Cannes 2024. And yep, I love it! I think it’s ambitious and bold and entertaining and something we’ve never seen before. The whole concept is a great example of “wait, what?!?!” Can he actually pull this off. Yes he can!! I’ve been a huge fan of French filmmaker Jacques Audiard ever since I first started attending Cannes and fell in love with A Prophet in 2009. Emilia PĂ©rez is a totally unbelievable creation – a full-on musical about a Mexican cartel kingpin who transitions from man to woman to become “Emilia PĂ©rez”, her true identity, while hiding from his past. All this happens in the first half, then the movie becomes a story about how she tries to reconcile with her violent past and all she did, and whether or not she can change anything in Mexico. Zoe Saldana also co-stars in a fierce role as her lawyer / friend Rita Moro Castro, who joins the cause in trying to make a difference while also getting caught up in her past as well. Spanish trans actress Karla SofĂ­a GascĂłn won the Best Actress award, and deserves the acclaim for this challenging role. I’m a big fan of this one – I think Audiard really did pull it off.

The Substance – Directed by Coralie Fargeat

Cannes - Coralie Fargeat's The Substance

Brutal! Shocking! Gross! Loud! This is THE horror movie of the festival! Everyone was raving about it! The audience loved it and went wild at the end! It was one of the best screenings of the festival! Even if The Substance doesn’t have universal praise from everyone who saw it (some don’t like it at all), it is still one of Cannes 2024’s big breakouts that will have an impact on cinema once it hits theaters. Guaranteed. It’s a tad too long at 2 hours & 20 minutes, but the bat-shit, is-this-really-happening finale is worth the wait. Plus it’s exciting watching Demi Moore rock this lead role as “Elizabeth Sparkle”, taking her down weird alleys to places I wound never expect. Before the fest began, I had a feeling Coralie Fargeat would be the talk of the fest that’s pretty much what happened – rightfully so with such a gnarly, gory, spectacular body horror film. I had such a great time watching & talking about this one, it’s this year’s Titane (even though it didn’t win the Palme like that one), and proves that Fargeat is going to have a strong and illustrious career in film.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig – Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof

Cannes - Mohammad Rasoulof's The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Essential cinema! This nearly 3-hour Iranian film from award-winning filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof screened on the second to last day of the film festival, arriving just at the last minute to win us over. I was impressed and moved by most of it – a powerful film about Iranian society’s current descent into madness. The story of a family living in Tehran that begins to fall apart. Iman, played by Missagh Zareh, is a loving father of a family of Iranian women living in a very nice apartment – his wife is Najmeh, played by Soheila Golestani, and they have two teenage daughters named Rezvan and Sana, played by Mahsa Rostami and Setareh Maleki, respectively. All four of these performances are exceptionally strong, building this film into a powerful treatise on how paranoia and fear bring about madness. The film’s title, The Seed of the Sacred Fig, seems obscure though it’s actually connected to the many themes within the film and the story of what’s happening with Iran right now – with a healthy nation being strangled by fanaticism and dogma.

Eephus – Directed by Carson Lund

Cannes - Carson Lund's Eephus

Who would’ve thought that a baseball movie from America would end up being one of my favorite films from the 2024 Cannes Film Festival this year? I am so glad I took the chance to watch and discover and enjoy this clever comedy about old timers playing a game of baseball. Eephus premiered in Directors’ Fortnight (aka Quinzaine des CinĂ©astes) sidebar, marking the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Carson Lund. It’s a remarkable debut, boasting a super smart script full of wise cracks, jokes, and baseball lingo aplenty that will probably go over the heads of anyone who doesn’t already know the game by heart. The cinematography is my favorite part about it, shot by DP Greg Tango, with perfectly composed shots focusing more on close-ups & various players than wide shots of the actual game. It’s a compelling film about dudes getting older, with their time fading away; yet it’s also a baseball movie, unlike any I’ve seen before. I thoroughly enjoyed it, laughed my ass off. Hopefully ends up becoming an indie hit whenever it opens in theaters later this year.

Flow – Directed by Gints Zilbalodis

Cannes - Gints Zilbalodis' Flow

The most adorable and heartwarming film of Cannes 2024! What a wonderful surprise. Another animated stand out from Cannes, similar to Robot Dreams last year. After making his feature directorial debut with Away in 2019, Latvian animation filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis spent five years working on his next feature called Flow. It’s the story of a black cat and his group of friends stuck together on a boat. The dialogue-free story is a beautifully animated tale of animals trying to survive in a magnificent world that is being flooded. As the water gets higher and higher, they journey onward deeper into their realm and meet other animals good and bad. The score by Rihards Zalupe & Gints Zilbalodis, along with the stunning animation work in harmony with this mesmerizing story of companionship. It may be hard to convince anyone else to sit and watch this, but I will do my best as it truly is a rewarding animated tale worthy of the big screen experience.

A few other films from the festival I want to mention even though they didn’t make the list. First, I need to mention The Surfer, the new film from director Lorcan Finnegan (of Vivarium) starring Nicolas Cage as a dude who confronts some suffer assholes on an Australian beach. I was considering including it on the list above, but it barely didn’t make the cut – though I still keep thinking about it. Not only Cage’s character, but the whole concept and commentary baked into it. I also think Andrea Arnold’s new film Bird is quite good, with powerful performances by Barry Keoghan & Franz Rogowski; however it’s not strong as I hoped and compared to these others it didn’t end up as one of my faves. I also enjoyed the stop-motion animated film Savages (aka Sauvages) from Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras, an endearing & touching tale of some kids who rescue a baby orangutan on the island of Borneo. I also enjoyed the Indian film All We Imagine As Light, it’s a tender and touching story, but I don’t believe it should’ve won the Palme d’Or. And I have to shout-out the kooky, weird French comedy Plastic Guns for being so menacingly hilarious in its absurdity.

And that’s it for Cannes 2024, ending our coverage of this film festival. Sean Baker’s film Anora ended up winning the Palme d’Or prize this year – find the full list of 2024 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and all my other reviews from the fest. I’m always looking forward to returning to Cannes again, it’s one of my favorite fests and I always enjoy going back hoping to discover masterpieces.

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Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains

by Alex Billington
February 5, 2024

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up after another invigorating 10-day in-person event held up in the Utah mountains, along with an online counterpart during only the second half. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list from the 2024 selection. I was able to catch a total of 51 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City & SLC, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 18th year covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films – a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever it’s possible. Watching all of these with an audience really makes a difference. I also recorded a podcast talking about many of the Sundance films (good and bad). Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me the most and have remained on my mind all the way up to the end of the fest.

It’s always my priority while at Sundance to go see as many films as I can. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just curious to see what makes each of them so unique. Some other films that I missed and still need to catch up with: Love Lies Bleeding, Ponyboi, Girls Will Be Girls, Reinas, Frida, In a Violent Nature, Handling the Undead, and Winner. This fest always programs some of the most innovative and interesting films ready to watch each year. I appreciate how much they try to focus on the most creative work by new filmmakers. I also encourage all movie lovers to make time for documentaries – don’t ignore them, they’re all too often lost in the mix. They deserve to be seen, too! There’s a few I’ve added to my picks below, but I also recommend: Gaucho Gaucho, Devo, Luther: Never Too Much, As We Speak, Daughters, Never Look Away, and Union. I’m always grateful to Sundance for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an exciting time that makes me happy every year. Glad to be back…

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 51 here), there are always some I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year’s fest from those that I did see.

Alex’s Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2024~ Films:

The Outrun
The Outrun
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt

Saoirse Ronan – still making my heart flutter. Still delivering phenomenal performances. The Outrun was my last film of the festival and it ended up being my favorite of the festival. All I want to do is talk about how this film is the epitome of what cinema can and should be. The way it utilizes precise sound design as part of the plot, the way the editing represents her scattered, fragile mind; the way the cinematography is a part of the healing process; the way Ronan’s performance must be everything all at once, yet still feel like there’s an arc to it. She must grow by the end, yet we can only understand that growth by understanding more about her, and we can come to understand her through this editing that can seem a bit overwhelming at times. But there’s a point to it. What German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt pulls off is breathtaking – all aspects of filmmaking playing in harmony to tell a riveting, exhilarating, touching story of a woman growing up and trying to let go of the addictions that have given her comfort but kept her restrained most of her life.

It’s What’s Inside
It's What's Inside
Directed by Greg Jardin

THIS FILM!! Blew me away. It’s one of the best sci-fi / horror / genre creations in a long time. Featuring an ingenious concept, near perfectly executed, along with a fun cast of newcomers all doing their best playing multiple roles. I can’t say what happens or what the trick is, I won’t even say “what’s inside” the suitcase, there’s nothing more I want to discuss regarding the plot. You just HAVE to wait and see for yourself. Don’t ruin the experience! Don’t read anything more about it! The only thing I can talk about here is how amazing the world premiere screening experience was. The audience went wild! Everyone was losing it! This is what great cinema is all about. These are the kind of moments I live for at festivals. I’m still thinking back to that night at Sundance, all of us sitting down about to see a film shot in secret that no one knew anything about. What would it be? THIS kick ass sneaky, tricky mystery thriller that instantly earned its place in Midnight film history. Whenever you see this, bring as many friends as you can over for an unforgettably good time.

Dìdi (弟弟)
Dìdi
Directed by Sean Wang

Another Sundance coming-of-age classic. Another film I can say I thoroughly loved from start to finish. And it’s also the big moment when filmmaker Sean Wang confirms he is a totally kick ass new filmmaker who is about to go on to have an extraordinary career. Before that happens, though, it is absolutely worth taking the time to watch and enjoy Didi. It may be “yet another coming-of-age” film but it’s filtered through Sean Wang’s lens and thus becomes something unique in the pantheon of great cinema. I loved watching Izaac Wang’s performance as Chris Wang, though everyone in the cast is memorable. I admit I’m a sucker for good coming-of-age stories (especially from Sundance) and this one really hit the spot. Though beyond my personal bias, it’s nonetheless still an exceptionally well-made film that not only nails the performances, the humor, and the honest emotions, it’s also is an amusing time capsule back to the days of AIM and MySpace.

Will & Harper
Will & Harper
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

A wonderful documentary film that has the potential to change the world. This received the biggest standing ovation out of any film that I saw at Sundance this year, and I’m always moved being in the audience during these genuine moments at the film’s premiere. Will & Harper is the story of Will Ferrell and his good friend Harper as the embark upon a road trip driving across America. The film is a watershed moment for the trans community, as Will tells the story of how his friend of 27 years – a comedy writer from “SNL” – revealed that she was a trans woman just a few years ago. Filled with questions and a bit of uncertainty, Will decided to ask her if she would join him on a drive around America, so that they could catch up, he could ask his dumb questions, and learn about what life is like for her now. They also got a filmmaker, director Josh Greenbaum, to join them. And away they went – topped off with a great soundtrack of road trip songs, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever encountered about buddies and life and everything else inbetween.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian BonhĂ´te & Peter Ettedgui

Another documentary that left me a mess after watching it – I was wiping away tears almost the entire time. This one is so moving because it’s not just a story about a great actor, it’s a story about a family man, about someone who was extraordinarily brave – about a real hero. Everyone knows about Christopher Reeve, what happened to him, and how he spent half of his life in a motorized wheelchair after ending up paralyzed from an accident while riding a horse. This beautiful documentary doesn’t try to build this up, it opens with this moment – the rest of the film is spent exploring his life before & after, his two great loves, his incredibly lovely family, and everything else he accomplished in his life. It’s a wholesome, uplifting, encouraging story about tenacity and strength, about perseverance and generosity. I’ve been thinking about it almost every day since watching, because it had such a strong emotional impact on me and everyone else who saw it during Sundance. Don’t miss this one whenever it gets released, a must watch doc about a hero on and off screen.

Kneecap
Kneecap
Directed by Rich Peppiatt

An Irish rap musical comedy! F*&k yes! This knocked me out and then lifted me right back up for another round. What a blast! While it may not be as good as what Sundance regular John Carney creates, it’s pretty close, with as much style and substance and great music. Writer / director Rich Peppiatt proves he’s got a knack for energetic, stylized, localized filmmaking that seriously kicks ass. I laughed so much watching the music teacher guy fall in with these youngsters and become a part of their hip hop group as “DJ PrĂłvaĂ­“, rolling right into their reckless ways and realizing the best way to express himself as an Irishman is loud and proud. The most unique and impressive part about this film is how it acts as a love letter to Ireland and the Irish / Gaelic language, shamelessly defending it and fiercely proclaiming it is something to be proud of and feature. Maybe even some people who don’t care for musicals will still enjoy watching this one. It’s possible.

A Real Pain
A Real Pain
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg

One of the most endearing & thoughtful discoveries of Sundance 2024 is the film A Real Pain, the second feature written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg (following his directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World from Sundance 2022). Perhaps one key reason why this film is particularly good is that it’s a very personal film for Eisenberg – he has Polish roots and the film is about two cousins who reconnect on a tour in Poland starting from Warsaw. They eventually try to find their grandmother’s old house in a small town in Poland, and Eisenberg revealed during a Q&A during the festival that this is actually the very real house this his own grandmother used to live in, too. The two lead performances in the film, featuring Kieran Culkin as Benji Kaplan and Eisenberg as David Kaplan, are two of the most memorable and impressive of any at Sundance this year. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, its power is in how it remains on your mind well after viewing – I kept thinking about it over & over, always wanting to talk about it with others.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

This absurdly bizarre, utterly hilarious, one-of-a-kind nature documentary is unquestionably a highlight of the festival. Sitting in the big Eccles Theater venue with 1000+ people watching this play out goes right up there with some of my all-time favorite Sundance experiences. The latest creation of the Zellner Brothers, Sasquatch Sunset is a dialogue free story of a Sasquatch (aka “Big Foot”) family, following them as the roam around, forage, sleep, eat, crap, fight, and get into trouble with other animals in the forest. It’s as crazy and as wild and as funny as it sounds, though of course it won’t be for everyone… I already got into arguments about it during the festival, which actually only made me love the film even more. The Zellners’ commitment to making this as realistic and as believable as possible, including shooting in real forests with full-on, hand-made, hairy Sasquatch suits, is part of its brilliance. Hiring actual actors including Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, and Christophe Zajac-Denek to play the main roles is also what makes it amazing. This film is another example of how hysterically bonkers cinema can be when you let filmmakers do whatever they want.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

June Squibb is the best!! Thelma ended up being one of the most popular and beloved Sundance 2024 hits – deservingly so because it’s wonderfully wholesome and amusing. Step aside Tom Cruise, 93-year-old actor June Squibb is the new Ethan Hunt in this heartfelt story of an old-timer getting back at scammers. When she gets caught up in one of these tricky phone scams and loses all her money, she teams up with her friend Ben (played by the late Richard Roundtree in a fantastic supporting role) to find them and take them down. Even though it takes some time because she’s rather old and slow and doesn’t know how to work a computer or much else anymore. Not only is the screenplay perfectly enjoyable and so delightful, there are filmmaking flourishes that give this adventure comedy a serious edge. Even if it’s not as innovative as some of the other films at Sundance, all that matters is it’s still a good film that will leave you smiling by the end.

Presence
Presence
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh! He’s still got it! The more I think back over the festival and which films really stood out, this one continues to stay on my mind. Presence is Steven Soderbergh’s version of the Sundance 2017 favorite A Ghost Story. It’s told entirely from the POV of a mysterious ghost haunting a house who is trying to tell the new residents something, though that’s hard when you can’t say anything or even be seen by anyone. It’s eerie and chilling, with a few incredible tense moments, though it’s not that scary and that’s not a bad thing. It’s still as compelling to watch even if the ghost isn’t some evil monster that wants to kill everyone. Lucy Liu leads the cast, though the best performances are from the actors playing her two kids in this: Callina Liang and Eddy Maday. Yet another Sundance film from this year that is best experienced if you know nothing about it going in, saving the reveals and everything else for that moment when you begin watching. The most chilling part of this film is not knowing where it’s going next or what will happen to the characters.

I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast – listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.

For other Sundance 2024 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these other websites: The Verge’s AI afterlife, robot romance, and slow-burn slashers: the best of Sundance 2024, Harpers Bazaar’s 16 Must-See Movies Out of Sundance Film Festival 2024, THR’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2024, NPR’s 14 New Films to Look Forward To, Rolling Stone’s 10 Best Movies From the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, and Vulture’s 15 Best Movies We Saw This Year at Sundance. Our list isn’t the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for any/all of the films. I always recommend watching any film from the Sundance line-up if it sounds interesting to you, and many of these will likely show up at other festivals before playing in art house theaters. Make time for as many as you can.

You can find all our Sundance 2024 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, our 18th year in a row at this festival. We’ll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on many films posted on my Letterboxd. Another year of many fantastic films.

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Venice 2023 Recap: My Top 8 Favorite Films – Lanthimos & Linklater | FirstShowing.net

Venice 2023 Recap: My Top 8 Favorite Films – Lanthimos & Linklater

by Alex Billington
September 19, 2023

Each year, I am honored to have a chance to return to the beautiful city of Venice in Northern Italy to attend the Venice Film Festival and catch the latest films premiering there. This year’s festival is now finished, so it’s time to present my picks of my favorite films from Venice 2023. I’ve chosen 8 of the best of the fest films that deserve to be highlighted. This was my seventh year returning to Venice, I even stopped by back in 2020 during the pandemic as I didn’t want to miss it. In total, I watched around 32 films at Venice this year, and while it wasn’t the most spectacular line-up, I am always glad to have the chance to dive into this entrancing selection of new cinema every year anyway. The best of the festival this year, Poor Things, is also the same film that went on to win the Golden Lion top prize, awarded by a jury featuring the filmmakers Damien Chazelle, Jane Campion, Mia Hansen-Løve, Martin McDonagh, and Laura Poitras. I always do my best to watch as many films as I can, hoping to find the hidden gems and surprises amidst a diverse line-up.

As always, I keep my Letterboxd page updated with screenings and comments daily. And I have also been posting thoughts, photos, and more updates on my main Twitter account @firstshowing during the fest. And I’ve been writing reviews for a number of the films as well, already published over the last few weeks. Digging into the 2023 film selection, I prefer Priscilla over Maestro, despite both films being quite strong. Michael Mann’s Ferrari is good, at least I liked it quite a bit, though with time I have forgotten it. Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land with Mads Mikkelsen is also really good, though quite depressing. I don’t think RyĂ»suke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist is that good, it’s half of a film with a bad ending. I did not care for the Ross Brothers’ film Gasoline Rainbow at all, it’s junk. The Hungarian film Explanation for Everything is a surprising revelation, an underrated discovery, worth a watch even though it’s quite long. And Timm Kröger’s The Theory of Everything is a fascinating Austrian film, but too confusing to be great. I’m always up for chatting about any of the films from the festival, even the ones I didn’t like can be discussed further.

Below are my Top 8 films from the 2023 Venice Film Festival; these are the films that I enjoyed the most, or those that I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I hope everyone else gives them a look, too. My favorites:

Poor Things – Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Venice - Poor Things

This certified Golden Lion winner is also my #1 film of the 2023 festival. And it’ll most likely find a spot somewhere on my Top 10 of the year as well. Yorgos! Yorgos! Yorgos! Everything about this film is fresh and fun and spunky and sultry. It’s witty and bold, a remarkably powerful modern feminist fable. It borrows from Frankenstein at the start, but it’s much more of an Alice in Wonderland-esque journey through the different realms of sex and satisfaction. I wrote in my glowing review that “it might be the raunchiest film of the entire decade…?!” With all the pointless debates on social media about sex scenes & nudity in cinema, Lanthimos has decided to dance in & decidedly say – screw that, sex is an important part of life and here is my glorious film taking us on a grand journey of sexual awakening & womanly emancipation. Emma Stone is outstanding, another unforgettable role in her remarkable oeuvre (she might end up winning a second Oscar for this performance). And the wickedly distinct score from Jerskin Fendrix adds another layer of mad genius to the cinematic experience. All-in-all a truly marvelous work of art from Greek maestro Yorgos.

Hit Man – Directed by Richard Linklater

Venice - Hit Man

Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is THE surprise hit of the festival this year. It was so exciting to experience this press screening, it’s rare to ever see a big crowd of tough European critics laugh this much and this loudly at an American comedy. But that enthusiastic vibe with the audience all in on this one is part of why it was such a delightful movie to discover late in the festival. Co-written by both Richard Linklater and Glen Powell, and directed by the masterful Richard Linklater, the story is actually based on a real guy named Gary Johnson. It’s yet another one of these bonkers how-is-this-true stories about an undercover cop. Aside from reminding the audience that “hitmen don’t really exist”, it flips a few of the tropes around, and borrows others but is playful with them in a way that enhances the entertainment. Best of all, Powell’s performance in this is one for the ages. It’s going to cement him as a massively talented movie star, capable of performing any role – serious, geeky, charming, sexy, weird, or wacky. He pulls off so many little roles in this, and he’s a perfect match with co-star Adria Arjona. Sexiest couple on screen this year? Yep, it’s true.

Daaaaaali! – Directed by Quentin Dupieux

Venice - Daaaaaali!

Dali! C’est un fou!! Absolutely loved Quentin Dupieux’s Daaaaaali!, such a delight. And it’s only 77 minutes long!! Mad crazy genius filmmaking from one-and-only Quentin Dupieux remixing the myths of Salvador DalĂ­, using different actors to play the quirky artist as he bumbles around for an interview. Or rather, as he tries to avoid an interview. It’s hilarious in about 100 different ways. Everyone at my Venice press screening laughed & laughed & laughed. I don’t even know what the point of the whole film is, but who cares, I just know I enjoyed it immensely. One of Dupieux’s best wacky films, with an unforgettable set of performances. Still chuckling thinking about him and all the crazy lines he has. You’ll never forget the way he pronounces his own name. You’ll never forget the mustache, or all the kooky things he does in this film. It’s not really a biopic, it’s more of an experimental let’s-fuck-around-like-Dali-did creation meant to make us laugh at how absurd and eccentric genius artists can be. I want to watch it again!! It plays so well with an engaged crowd.

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial – Directed by William Friedkin

Venice - The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

I can’t stop thinking about how incredible this screenplay is (let’s talk about it!!), and how amazing all of the performances are bringing it to life on screen. I already wrote about this in my full review. Yes, it’s a story told many times before in a few other films (based on based on Herman Wouk’s 1953 play of the same name, also based on the novel The Caine Mutiny by Wouk). And it doesn’t do anything new or different in terms of style or cinematography. But I will continue to talk about William Friedkin’s version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial as one of the best plays as a film I’ve ever seen. It all takes place in one room, and it’s all about this one court martial, yet it’s as riveting and as smart (even moreso) as any Hollywood movie with massive sets and gigantic budgets spent on CGI or wardrobe. Kiefer Sutherland is exceptional as Queeg, Jason Clarke is also great again as another attorney (after Oppenheimer), Jake Lacy is unforgettable as Maryk. Whenever it gets released, I think it’s important to read between the lines with what’s really going on (and what Friedkin is actually commenting on) and analyze the final scene for more than only what is said.

Woman of… – Directed by Michal Englert & Malgorzata Szumowska

Venice - Woman of...

Another gorgeous film I can’t get off of my mind. I was profoundly moved by Michal Englert & Malgorzata Szumowska’s Woman of…, originally known as Kobieta z… in Polish. It is not easy to tell the entire life story of one person, nor is it easy to capture their heart and soul and feelings and sufferings and joys and experiences in a coherent and captivating story that anyone can connect with. Yet that is what this film has done, and even though it may not be as completely impactful in the end as it could be, it is still a superbly groundbreaking, elegant film about a trans woman in Poland. Starring a vibrant Malgorzata Hajewska as Aniela. Above all, the film deserves special praise for the astonishing cinematography, shot by co-director MichaĹ‚ Englert. Every single shot is lovely, but there are a few that took my breath away, framed perfectly with light shining through in just the right way. It’s awe-inspiring work that should be studied in great detail. It compliments the story by allowing a few stunning rays of light to shine in to Aniela’s life, to remind us how even in the toughest moments, expressing yourself honestly is always beautiful, always enlightening.

Priscilla – Directed by Sofia Coppola

Venice - Priscilla

This is one film where the more I think about it, the more it remains in my mind – even a week after first watching it. While they can’t rightfully be compared, along with Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, this film really stands out. Sofia Coppola’s film is an elegant, intimate retelling of the Elvis story – but it’s not really about Elvis of course. It really surprised me, better than I was expecting, though of course Coppola has this same light touch with her films when I think back about everything she’s made. Priscilla is actually quite light and sweet, all solely from Priscilla’s perspective, never drifting off to anything else with Elvis or anything that isn’t about her own experience with him while at Graceland. Cailee Spaeny as the young “Cilla” Beaulieu is tremendously good, deserving of the Best Actress Award from the festival. Jacob Elordi is also fantastic as Elvis Presley, in a role that is the complete opposite of Austin Butler in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie; never grandstanding or overwhelming, only playing the part as the sweet Elvis who seems to have a wild side that we (or rather Priscilla) never actually gets to see. It’s another highlight within Sofia Coppola’s filmography.

The Killer – Directed by David Fincher

Venice - The Killer

Even though pretty much everyone agrees that David Fincher’s assassin film The Killer doesn’t really try to do anything new or different, it’s still a damn good film. It’s hard to deny that. There’s just something about Fincher’s refined, meticulously precise filmmaking that fits nicely with a story about a refined, meticulously precise hitman. Plus it has Michael Fassbender being a slick, calculating badass who is always trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I just want to drift into the cinematography by DP Erik Messerschmidt and admire the perfectly shot, perfectly lit scenes. I’ll fully admit this is the main reason I am looking forward to rewatching The Killer, even if it’s at home on Netflix (so be it). There’s an impressive amount of gripping tension as “The Killer” makes his way around the world (and back) pulling off kills and staying ahead of everyone else every step of the way. Even if his killing isn’t your jam, watching him meticulously control & manage evidence and figure out how to outsmart all those that think they might outsmart him is engaging. I am choosing this one because it’s still better than a number of other bad films I saw at the festival this year.

Love Is a Gun – Directed by Hong-Chi Lee

Venice - Love Is a Gun

One of my favorite discoveries at the 2023 festival was this Taiwanese film, marking the feature directorial debut of a Taiwanese actor named Hong-Chi Lee. He has starred in many acclaimed Taiwanese films, but this is his first time behind the lens making one. There’s something about his style and his minimalistic filmmaking choices that really impressed me. Love Is a Gun tells the story of a young reformed gangster known as “Sweet Potato”, who returns to his small town after finally getting out of prison. As with every story about this kind of person returning, he’s quickly whisked back into the gangster lifestyle, even though he’s hoping to not fall back into his old ways. However, this film makes some subversive choices and allows him to pushback against this, going in some unexpected directions. It’s also just a beautiful film, with some seriously stunning cinematography. I hope Hong-Chi Lee keeps making more films, as I’m certain he’ll only get better and better with everyone he makes – and will probably end up winning the Palme d’Or or Golden Lion or some other major prize one day soon. Keep an eye out for this film – here’s the festival promo trailer.

Recapping the entire festival, it was another good year but I actually prefer the 2022 line-up more. There were a number of iconic all-timer films in 2022 (last year’s favorites here), with only one or two in 2023. Poor Things and Hit Man have earned their place in cinema history, but how many other films have? Venice programs such a wide variety of exciting cinema that of course they’ll inevitably have a few duds in the mix. Not everything that is super artsy turns out good, and some filmmakers are more interested in confounding experimentation than anything smart. I did enjoy watching most of the 2023 selection, though I found a few of the more prominent films to be mid – Ava DuVernay’s Origin, Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano, Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro. They’re not the truly incredible films they could be, but they’re also not bad films either. I did hate Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast, which is some incomprehensible trash. And the Opening Night Italian submarine film Comandante was also terrible. I’m still sad that Luca Guadagnino had to pull Challengers, because that would’ve been the perfect film for the festival to kick off with. I’m always so lucky to cover this festival as press every year anyway. Thanks for reading my thoughts.

And that’s it for Venice 2023 (aka #Venezia80), wrapping up our updates from the fest for this year. As already mentioned before, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things won the Golden Lion – find the full list of 2023 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and final thoughts on the films this year. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Venice again in 2024, one of the best festivals in the world. I’m always ready to spend more time in this iconic Italian city and immerse myself in the latest films.

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Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

by Alex Billington
February 3, 2023

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week after returning to a 10-day in-person event in Utah running alongside an online counterpart. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list. I was able to catch a total of 50 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 17th year in a row covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films – a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever they show up at your local theater. I also wrote another editorial about how much Sundance 2023 focused on discoveries & first-time filmmakers, returning to their roots as a launching ground for so many wonderfully talented storytellers. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind all the way through the 10 days of the fest.

It’s always my priority during Sundance to watch as many films as I can, mainly just to see them. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just happy to see what they’re all about and learn about what makes them so unique. This festival always programs some of the most innovative and authentic films you’ll watch all year. Some of the others that I missed and still need to catch up with: The Starling Girl, Fancy Dance, Fremont, The Persian Version, Rotting in the Sun, Run Rabbit Run, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, and Sorcery. I also encourage all movie lovers to make time for documentaries – don’t ignore them, they’re all too often lost in the mix. They deserve to be seen, too! There’s at least three important ones from this year that I recommend: The Disappearance of Shere Hite (read my review), Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, and Deep Rising (read my review) – in addition to the two others I talk about below. I’m always grateful to the Sundance Film Festival for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an invigorating experience that brings me joy year after year after year.

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 50 here), there were a few more I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year’s fest from those that I did see.

Alex’s Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2023~ Films:

The Deepest Breath
The Deepest Breath
Directed by Laura McGann

An unforgettable screening experience at Sundance; I was wiping away tears at the end, along with everyone else. The Deepest Breath is a doc film about the extremely dangerous, extraordinary sport of free diving – holding your breath for extended periods of time while diving underwater. Everyone at this was collectively holding their breath while watching everyone in the film holding their breath in these intense free diving competitions. I love this film and I think it’s one of the most exhilarating and emotional extreme sports docs all year, instantly joining the ranks of Free Solo and 14 Peaks and all the others. The story follows two iconic free divers – Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan. I wish many others could have the same big screen experience watching this with a mesmerized audience as I did at Sundance, but it will be out on Netflix so most will probably just watch at home on their own TVs. The score by composer Nainita Desai makes this film the emotionally gratifying experience that it is, and the storytelling kept my focus from start to finish.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Oh wow. Easily one of the best actor biopic docs since the Val Kilmer doc Val a few years back. It’s not about every moment in his life (though it’s exciting to see all the key moments play out), but that’s not the point, it’s concise and gives us just the right emotional shot in just around 90 minutes. Michael J. Fox bears all and let’s us into his life and struggles being an actor / husband / father living with Parkinson’s disease. It’s impressively cinematic in an endearing way, combining clips from all of his film & TV work to tell his story and make us feel closer to him. In the intro, director Davis Guggenheim said he couldn’t really put into words how he feels about Michael because this film is how he feels about him. And you can certainly sense that in it, absolutely. Not easy to capture the heart and soul and optimism of someone, yet he does it with grace and love. And I feel like that’s what the beauty of this film really is – giving us a sense of who he is and his optimism and uplifting spirit – inspiring all of us to overcome, be better, and to live the best lives we can.

Rye Lane
Rye Lane
Directed by Raine Allen Miller

The romantic comedy of the year! So fresh and exciting and new and inventive. Everyone will instantly fall in love with Yas and Dom! I want to chill with them more! I want to know how they’re doing after this story ends! Rye Lane is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Raine Allen Miller, who utilizes funky wide angle cinematography, all the gorgeous vibrant colors of South London, and a radical one-of-a-kind score by the artist Kwes to make this film one of the most instantly lovable and empowering romcoms if the 2020s. Then there’s the two delightful lead performances by David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah as Dom and Yas, respectively, and their magical chemistry as they make their way around London, taking down bad exes and eating tasty food all along. One critic friend said this is one of his favorite romantic comedies ever, which should be more than enough praise to make sure this ends up being a big hit when it opens this year.

Fair Play
Fair Play
Directed by Chloe Domont

Might be my #1 of Sundance 2023 – also a phenomenal screening experience. This is why I go to festivals, to sit in a crowd and be amazed by cinema. The completely packed house at the Eccles Theater erupted into a standing ovation as soon as it was over, with cheers of “bravo! bravo!” and non-stop applause. Fair Play is an exceptional Wall Street thriller about a stock broker couple falling apart thanks to the misogynistic hate that bubbles up when an ambitious woman gets promoted to the coveted job that all the men want. It’s as gripping as Uncut Gems, with even better performances. A film that will get people talking, just because it’s so brash and bold and challenges the status quo. I wrote in my review: “Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor are exceptional. Especially in the second half, these two unleash the kind of performances that will be remembered forever. I’m convinced, I’ve seen enough, it’s time to step back and hand over the keys to Hollywood to Chloe Domont. It’s her world now, I’m just another analyst who wants to help her succeed.”

Past Lives
Past Lives
Directed by Celine Song

A beautiful, warm embrace of a film. Past Lives is going to be one of the most adored films of 2023, for good reason. I’m in awe that this is the first featured made by Celine Song, she carefully tells this story with humility and empathy. This film deserves all the same love and attention as The Worst Person in the World, similar in many ways about a woman trying to figure out how she feels between two men. Greta Lee is exceptional in the lead role as Nora, with two lovely supporting performances from Teo Yoo and John Magaro. It’s obviously an autobiographical, explore-her-feelings-through-cinema creation but in this case it works wonders. The emotional ending and perfect final shots in the last few scenes hit me hard. I’m really looking forward to watching this again at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, where it’s playing in the Main Competition and has a good chance of winning the Golden Bear there. Most of all, I’m glad that so many other viewers really connected with this one, too, I’m not the only one putting it on my Best of the Fest list.

Flora and Son
Flora and Son
Directed by John Carney

John Carney can do no wrong!! Always making the best musicals. His latest original creation, titled Flora and Son, is wonderful, just wonderful. A story about a poor young Irish mother, played by Eve Hewson, who discovers the joy of creating music and reconnects with her loved ones through this newfound passion. I did not want it to end, I could easily keep watching all these brash Irish people learning to love making music and grow up and express their true selves. It really got to me, made me feel happy and optimistic. I want to watch again now! Give it to me! The mix of dance music and acoustic guitar worked well, somehow? I don’t even know how Carney keeps making amazing original musicals over & over. Yeah the ending wraps up too quickly, and it feels like it’s just getting going right when it’s over, but I still loved sitting through this. It made me extra mushy. It’s such a nice feel-good movie and we always need more of these right now.

Cassandro
Cassandro
Directed by Roger Ross Williams

Another favorite gem of Sundance! Gorgeous filmmaking about the “Liberace of Lucha Libre”. This excellent film features one the of the best Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal performances in a long while, his Lucha persona is a delight and the best part of the film. His emotions feel so real and come through the screen so powerfully. I’ve been a fan already since his 2016 Sundance doc Life, Animated, but director Roger Ross Williams is back with his first narrative feature and it’s even more perfect than I was hoping. I was moved to tears and all I want to do now is make sure this film gets the attention it deserves, because it really needs to find a loving audience worldwide. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, allows us to appreciate and spend time with all these character, including great supporting performances from RaĂşl Castillo, Bad Bunny, and Roberta Colindrez. I’m glad I watched this film late in the fest, it really is one of the highlights of Sundance 2023.

Radical
Radical
Directed by Christopher Zalla

One of the best films about a teacher, an inspiring story of breaking rules and going against the grain to encourage kids to grow up as free thinkers. I was not expecting to be so moved by this film, overwhelmed by the emotional impact of watching a teacher who cares fight for his students to learn. It’s such a generous, warm-hearted, beautiful story about a teacher and his students working together to overcome adversity and carelessness. Education matters, but teachers matter the most – this film proves that once again. Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez stars as Sergio, the “radical” teacher of the title, and he continues to impress with roles that are thoroughly entertaining yet still nuanced and genuine. All of the kids are fantastic, too. The whole film will leave anyone who watches it feeling encouraged by the power that great teachers can have to change the world. It may even make a few people want to be teachers and try out some innovative teaching?

A Thousand and One
A Thousand and One
Directed by A.V. Rockwell

One of the most impressive directorial debuts of Sundance 2023 – I have been telling everyone to watch this since the premiere. Mark my words, we will hearing a lot about director A.V. Rockwell from now on. I was at the world premiere screening of this film during the first weekend of the festival and it’s an outstanding slice of cinema. I was in complete awe with how she handles this Harlem story and brings it to the screen, spanning years of time while working in potent themes of gentrification and American racism. A Thousand and One tells the story of a tenacious mother named Inez, played with tremendous empathy and heart by newcomer Teyana Taylor, and her quiet son, a boy she calls Terry. They live together in an apartment in Harlem and struggle to make ends meet and live a simple life without getting caught up in all that’s going on down on the streets of NYC below. It is the quality of the filmmaking that really stands out, as well as the honest storytelling about how incredibly hard it is to stay clean and stay out of trouble. A superb discovery.

Theater Camp
Theater Camp
Directed by Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman

Theater Camp rules!! I couldn’t be happier with how this nerdy film turned out!! Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp is an instant classic. Truly. It goes right on the list of Top 10 mockumentaries, absolutely irrefutably joining the ranks along with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, This Is Spinal Tap, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and A Mighty Wind. It’s hilarious and heartfelt and pitch perfect in every way. Not a moment I wasn’t smiling all the way through, loved every scene of it and every filmmaking choice delivers exactly what is right to make this near perfect. The build-up to the final musical number(s), the twists and turns throughout, and the performances from all of the kids and the theater camp staff, are all as brilliant as they should be. A must watch with an audience film, preferably in the theater if you can, but even with friends at home – this helps makes it an entirely enjoyable laugh-your-ass-off comedy experience.

I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast – listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.

To find all of Alex’s Sundance 2023 reviews and updates:

For other Sundance 2023 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these websites: NPR’s Get these Sundance 2023 movies on your radar now, NY Times’ Sundance Standout Movies recap from Manohla Dargis, InsideHook’s The 15 Best Films at Sundance 2023, Variety’s 17 Must-See Movies From the 2023 Festival, Indiewire’s Here Are the Sundance 2023 Films You’re Going to Want to See, The Hollywood Reporter’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2023, Collider’s The 10 Buzziest Films To Keep On Your Radar, and CheatSheet’s 10 Best Sundance 2023 Movies to Keep an Eye Out For. Our list isn’t the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for all of these. I always recommend watching any film from the Sundance line-up if it sounds interesting to you, and many of these will likely show up at other festivals before playing in art house theaters. Make time for as many as you can.

You can find all our Sundance 2023 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, our 17th year in a row at this festival. We’ll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on many films posted on my Letterboxd. Another vibrant year of amazing films.

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