×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Variety Critics Pick the Best Films of Venice, Telluride and Toronto

Our top reviewers agree on at least one thing: 'Birdman' is one of the early triumphs of the fall movie season

JUSTIN CHANG

“Birdman”
Even when his choice of material has been suspect, Alejandro G. (formerly Gonzalez) Inarritu has never given us reason to doubt him as one of the most purely gifted filmmakers of his generation. For him, no less than for Michael Keaton, this ferociously inventive plunge into the corroded soul of American celebrity represents a career-reigniting comeback; for that wizardly cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, it’s the latest in a steady stream of digital long-take miracles, like “Black Swan” as directed by Max Ophuls. (Venice, Telluride, New York)

“From What Is Before”
The extreme length is inseparable from the power and conviction of Lav Diaz’s historical epic about the devastation of a small Filipino barrio amid the political and military unrest of the early 1970s. As a slow-burning study of social decay, this winner of Locarno’s Golden Leopard prize is both a thematic companion piece to Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” and an improvement upon it, slipping beneath the ruins of a lost world to uncover a complex tangle of good and evil, mysticism and Christianity, stark horror and indelible beauty. (Locarno, Toronto)

“Rosewater”
With its coolly intelligent assembly and skillful performances, Jon Stewart’s dramatization of the harrowing 2009 imprisonment of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a fine debut feature by any measure. What makes it a singular one is Stewart’s bracing sense of the absurd, as evident here as it is on any given episode of “The Daily Show.” “Rosewater” isn’t satire, but it recognizes that hilarity as well as horror is a perfectly sane response to the human-rights violations on display. (Telluride, Toronto)

“Seymour: An Introduction”

It’s been a banner year for Ethan Hawke the actor, outstandingly versatile in “Boyhood,” “Predestination” and the Venice-premiered duo of “Cymbeline” and “Good Kill.” But it was Ethan Hawke the director who pulled off one of the year’s great revelations with this lovely and luminous documentary tribute to Seymour Bernstein, a classical pianist whose ideas about artistic purpose and integrity achieve the graceful expression and revivifying clarity of a well-played Chopin etude. (Telluride, Toronto, New York)

“Time Out of Mind”
A remarkably nuanced, vanity-free performance by Richard Gere forms the centerpiece of Oren Moverman’s gripping study of a vagrant slowly grasping the depths of his despair, mapping one man’s tortured inner landscape as sensitively and assuredly as it navigates the dense urban labyrinth of present-day Manhattan. Bleak, challenging and completely sustained, it’s a film with the compassionate soul of Vittorio De Sica and the patience and concentration of Frederick Wiseman. (Toronto)

PETER DEBRUGE

“Birdman”
Like Kryptonite to comicbook movies, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s quicksilver satire of what’s become of Hollywood — skewering the way vfx bonanzas have all but displaced adult dramas on American movie screens — reveals a totally new side of Michael Keaton, who delivers the standout performance of the fall movie season opposite ex-“Hulk” Edward Norton. In a year crowded with showbiz satires, this one soars to the ranks of “All About Eve” and “Sunset Blvd.” (Venice, Telluride, New York)

“Gyeonju”
It’s not easy to dramatize a character’s internal search for self (I was mostly bored watching Reese Witherspoon hike her way to enlightenment in “Wild,” for example). That said, I found Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lu’s curious quest movie, in which a still-young professor putters around a city from his past, to be wonderfully poetic in the way it deals with “what if’s” — those lingering doubts we have about the roads not taken. (Locarno, Toronto)

“The Imitation Game”
The backlash has already begun against this beautifully written, elegantly mounted and poignantly performed historical drama, which focuses on the enigma of Alan Turing, whose landmark work in the field of artificial intelligence was inextricably entwined with his then-illegal homosexuality. The complaint seems to be that this is the sort of movie that wins awards (indeed, it just earned Toronto’s audience prize), and while critics may prefer subtler fare, I was blown away by how emotionally accessible such a film could be. (Telluride, Toronto)

“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”
Like his American namesake Wes Anderson, Swedish expressionist Roy Andersson crafts meticulous dioramas in which every detail serves to convey his droll view of human nature. Concluding the trilogy begun with “Songs From the Second Floor,” this Venice-winning satire seems all the more eccentric at a moment in cinema when so few helmers seem to understand composition and framing. My favorite shot: servicemen lining up to kiss their peg-legged hostess at Limping Lotta’s Bar. (Venice, Toronto)

“While We’re Young”
Nearly 20 years after “Kicking and Screaming,” Noah Baumbach still finds no shortage of material satirizing his generation’s ongoing resistance to acting their age. Serving up the sort of keen character insights more typically found in novels, Baumbach zeroes in on the insecurities faced by a mid-40s married couple (who would’ve thought Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts would have such great chemistry?) after they befriend a pair of hipper-than-thou twentysomethings. (Toronto)

SCOTT FOUNDAS

“Birdman”
Much (deserved) attention has been paid to Michael Keaton’s comeback performance and the long-take acrobatics of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, but those are just two of the manifold pleasures of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s backstage Broadway death-dream farce. Emerging from the self-flagellating self-seriousness of his three previous features, the Mexican director himself seems reborn here, spreading his artistic wings and taking dazzling flight. (Venice, Telluride, New York)

 “The Duke of Burgundy”
A movie that fetishizes the analog pleasures of celluloid almost as sensuously as its characters fetishize one another, British director Peter Strickland’s straight-faced yet deviously funny homage to ’60s and ’70s Eurotrash erotica certainly isn’t for all tastes. But for sheer aesthetic overindulgence, nothing else on screens right now can touch it. (Toronto)

“Horse Money”
The Portuguese director Pedro Costa continues his two-decade exploration of Cape Verdean immigrants displaced from a Lisbon housing slum in this hallucinatory odyssey, which finds Costa’s nonprofessional muse, Ventura, wandering through a nocturnal landscape haunted by the phantoms of his  and his country’s  turbulent past. A fiercely political, formally audacious work by one of the world’s most original cinematic thinkers. (Locarno, Toronto, New York)

“Top Five”
The third time as writer-director proves the charm for Chris Rock in this howlingly funny but also rueful and wise movie about a successful comedian trying to get his creative mojo back after a stint in rehab and a flop historical epic. Rock himself has had his own ups and downs in the movie business, but “Top Five” puts him back on top with its canny, confident mix of the silly and the sophisticated, the urban and the urbane. (Toronto)

“While We’re Young”
In his astringent new comedy, Noah Baumbach puts his finger so acutely on the gap between generations X and Y that some members of both camps will surely recoil from the shock of recognition. But as usual, Baumbach proves an equal-opportunity satirist, with a hidden tenderness lurking just beneath. The presence of Ben Stiller as a creatively blocked documentarian gives the movie a glancing connection with Stiller’s own Gen-X urtext, “Reality Bites,” while Charles Grodin (as Stiller’s eminence grise father-in-law) forges a link with Albert Brooks’ seminal “Real Life.” (Toronto)

More Film

  • RYAN GOSLING as Neil Armstrong in

    Big Breakthroughs Seen in Below-the-Line Categories

    Is 2018 an anomaly, or is it a harbinger of things to come? The awards derbies of recent years have seen a predominance of indie films at the expense of big studio features — resulting in a slate of Oscar contenders devoid not only of genuine blockbusters but also of more modest mid-budget crowd-pleasers. This [...]

  • Fox Germany Veteran Vincent De La

    Fox Germany Veteran Vincent De La Tour Heading to Paramount Pictures

    20th Century Fox veteran Vincent de la Tour is joining Paramount Pictures in a role covering Austria, Germany and Switzerland. He will be executive vice president for theatrical and home media for those territories, overseeing the local teams and reporting to Cameron Saunders, Paramount’s EVP of international theatrical distribution, and Bob Buchi, president of worldwide [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    It's Time to Enjoy the Movies and Ignore the Oscar Noise

    For most of its 91 years, Oscar has been surrounded by hoopla. Now it’s surrounded by noise, which isn’t the same thing. For decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ attitude toward the media was: “Don’t talk about the organization; instead, talk about the creative members and their movies.” Related How 'The Hate [...]

  • Crazy Rich Asians

    Diverse Lineup of Actors Jostle for Awards Attention

    It’s been less than four years since #OscarsSoWhite became a hot topic at the Academy Awards after 2015 films like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” failed to land major nominations for people of color. (It actually began the year before but picked up steam when, for the second year in a row, no people of [...]

  • 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' Review: Thailand's

    Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower'

    At first, you can just about smell the jasmine wafting delicately off the screen in “Malila: The Farewell Flower,” a restrained, quietly sensuous study of gay desire, grief and spirituality from Thai writer-director Anucha Boonyawatana. A little more accessible than her 2015 debut feature “The Blue Hour,” but building on its enigmatic, opalescent queerness, Boonyawatana’s [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    Hollywood Studios Got Their Groove Back

    This awards season, the Hollywood studios’ Golden Boy, Oscar, stars in The Return of the Prodigal Son. This year’s lineup of studio contenders has opened screen doors to the top award after Oscar’s long affair with those wild young things called “the indies.” As the blockbusters became the more and more favored means of recoupment [...]

  • Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in

    Film Review: 'Vice'

    From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, the leaders of right-wing Republican politics have tended to be fire-breathers (or, in the case of Reagan, a saber rattler who could make snake oil taste like honey). But Dick Cheney broke that mold. Speaking in soft terse corporate tones, with the precision squint of someone [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content