With the first flush of fall festivals behind us — we’re talking the triple whammy of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto — and the New York Film Festival just on the horizon, we’re taking stock of the best films of the circuit so far. And while it’s easy to use the fall fests as a window into this year’s awards contenders, of which many debuted over the past few weeks, including Venice winner “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” and TIFF People’s Choice hit “The Fabelmans,” the festivals have also provided us with some of the best films of 2022, full stop.
These standouts include everything from the aforementioned winners from Laura Poitras and Steven Spielberg, plus new features from perennial favorites Sarah Polley, Martin McDonagh, Luca Guadagnino, Rian Johnson, Joanna Hogg, Kōji Fukada, and Todd Field. Rising stars aren’t in short supply either, including first narrative features from both Elegance Bratton and Alice Diop that seem likely to endure for years to come. Amongst this selection, words like “gem,” “masterpiece,” and “crowd-pleaser” are thrown around with regularity, but not without real consideration.
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Ahead, we’ve picked out the fifteen best films of the fall festival season we’ve enjoyed in recent days. Many of these films are arriving on a screen, big or small, near you soon, and those release dates are indicated, too. In short: clear your calendars.
Sophie Monks Kaufman and Leila Latif also contributed to this article.
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”
That title. Even before it screened, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” cast a shiver across the Venice Film Festival competition (which it eventually won), sounding more like a line from a Yeats poem than the latest documentary from the director of “CITIZENFOUR.” The big news: the film lives up to it. Already a robust director, Laura Poitras has leveled up with a towering and devastating work of shocking intelligence and still greater emotional power.
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is about the life and art of Nan Goldin and how this led her to found P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), an advocacy group targeting the Sackler Family for manufacturing and distributing OxyContin, a deeply addictive drug that has exacerbated the opioid crisis. It is about the bonds of community, the dangers of repression, and how art and politics are the same thing. As the film progresses, the line between them melts away to nothing.
The event that led Goldin to found P.A.I.N was her own overdose. She nearly died but came back, and stays clean with the help of a drug called buprenorphine that she maintains is more difficult for doctors to prescribe than OxyContin. I won’t spoil the confrontation that “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” suddenly offers up, except to say that, as it happens, Nan is holding the hand of her friend, a tiny gesture that underlines how community has been the ballast that allowed this extraordinary woman to survive. When the origin of the phrase “All The Beauty and the Bloodshed” is revealed, it offers a fitting and furious elegy for those on the other side. This is an overwhelming film. —SMK
Neon will release “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” at a later date.
Searchlight Pictures, exclusive to IndieWire
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
Every afternoon — for as long as anyone on the tiny, fictional Irish isle of Inisherin can remember — two friends have sat together at the only pub in a town for a few pints of Guinness. This shared ritual might be the only thing these men have in common. Pádraic Súilleabháin (a magnificently forlorn Colin Farrell) is a sweet and simple type who doesn’t ask for much from life, and gives it exactly that in return. If he died five yards from where he was born, that would suit him just fine. Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) is cut from a more intense cloth. An amateur but obsessive fiddler who’s in his 60s and convinced that he has exactly 12 years left to live, Colm is prone to a certain resentment over the smallness of his existence.
One idyllic day in 1923, as the local birds chirp loud enough for the people of Inisherin to ignore the bombs exploding across the water and a world away, Colm suddenly announces that he won’t be friends with Pádraic anymore. “You didn’t do anything,” the older man insists with the calm demeanor of a doctor offering a diagnosis and its treatment in the same breath. “I just don’t like you no more.”
And so, not six minutes into Martin McDonagh’s deliciously mordant “The Banshees of Inisherin,” the seeds of a new enmity are sown — not a metaphor for the Irish Civil War so much as an absurd kind of microcosm for it. The result is (by far) the writer-director’s best film since his similarly haunted “In Bruges,” which also found the same lead actors trading sublime jabs of existential despair with all the bruised grace of a heavyweight bout. It’s a stirring tragicomedy in which one man’s sympathetic but uncompromising lust for freedom sparks an escalating series of reprisals that can only end in a stalemate or self-immolation. Or both. And worse. —DE
Searchlight Pictures will release “The Banshees of Inisherin” in theaters on Friday, October 21.
“Bones & All”
Anton Chekhov once wrote to a colleague that “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” So when Michael Stuhlbarg describes to a pair of young cannibal lovers the transcendental experience of consuming someone “bones and all,” he loads carcass-shaped bullets into Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic gun.
The lovers comprise Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), both “eaters,” with a hunger for human flesh passed down their respective family’s bloodlines. The chemistry between the two leads is lovely, but the greatest love story still appears to be between Chalamet and Guadagnino as the director shoots his face so adoringly it’s hard not to be moved by their bond.
The story plays clear tribute to Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” as the two insatiable kids traveling across the country through golden-hour vistas, but the film is far more tender toward its leads, shooting everything from a tentative first kiss in a slaughterhouse to a swim in a Kentucky lake with a childlike sense of wonder. Most striking is when our two lovers sit at the edge of a valley in Nebraska, where Chalamet shows off his near-peerless ability to gently weep. There’s nothing unconventional in showing two lonely souls falling in love by having them gaze into each others’ eyes against a sprawling landscape, but Guadagino still gifts us with sweeping romance that is impossible to resist. —LL
MGM and United Artists Releasing will release “Bones & All” in theaters on Wednesday, November 23.
“Catherine Called Birdy”
Who could have possibly anticipated that, nearly a decade ago when “Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham announced in an early episode of the ground-breaking HBO series that her Hannah Horvath might “be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation” that she really meant that she was the voice of…medieval tweens?
Dunham’s fourth film adapts Karen Cushman’s lauded 1994 YA novel “Catherine, Called Birdy” (Dunham’s title does away with the comma, one of many smart changes she uses to freshen up the story) into a wildly entertaining coming-of-age comedy that captures both Dunham’s spirit and the thrust of Cushman’s novel. Starring “Games of Thrones” breakout Bella Ramsey in the title role, the film — set in medieval England — follows young Catherine (called “Birdy,” of course) as she navigates her way through a world uninterested (and unaccustomed) to caring about the whims and wishes of its women.
If this sounds at all staid to you, you really must read Cushman’s novel, which is fresh and funny in so many ways. And then, you really must see Dunham’s film, which is her best yet, and proof that even Hannah’s most maligned declarations (as penned and delivered by Dunham) have proven to be true. —KE
Amazon will release “Catherine Called Birdy” in theaters on Friday, September 23 and streaming on Prime Video on Friday, October 7.
“The Eternal Daughter”
Tilda Swinton has been down for shapeshifting performance trickery ever since she starred in “Orlando” 30 years ago, but “The Eternal Daughter” is her most ambitious undertaking yet. Reteaming with her “Souvenir” director (and childhood pal) Joanna Hogg, Swinton stars as both mother and daughter in a haunting two-hander based on the filmmaker’s own life.
As a middle-aged director spending vacation with her mother at a remote, gothic hotel, the younger character grapples with her troubled relationship to her mother as they talk through their history together and consider the future. Both eerie and emotional, Hogg’s murky narrative style keeps viewers guessing on the mysterious nature of the circumstances even as it renders the complicated mother-daughter bond in crystal-clear terms. —EK
A24 will release “The Eternal Daughter” at a later date.
Steven Spielberg’s career has gone through many phases, but “The Fabelmans” stands out his most contained and intimate movie, a semi-autobiographical drama about ambitious teen Sammy Fabelman (newcomer Gabriel LaBelle) as he discovers his love for movies in tandem with the divorce of his parents (Paul Dano and Michelle Williams). As late-period looks in the mirror go, this one stands out from the rest because Spielberg has never gotten so personal.
Co-written with Tony Kushner, Spielberg’s sincere drama follows his alter ego as Sammy’s obsession with the camera helps him uncover the hidden tensions within his own family. That revelation adds deeper meta layers about the nature of storytelling at the root of America’s most prominent practitioners, and brings his entire legacy into focus with renewed emotional depths. A truly unique cultural event movie for lovers of the medium. —EK
Universal Pictures will release “The Fabelmans” in limited theaters on Friday, November 11, with expansion to follow on Wednesday, November 23.
Check out more of the fall festivals’ best films on the next page, including a new Rian Johnson whodunit and Sarah Polley’s return to narrative film.
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