As the City of Brother Love prepares for the Halloween season, this special time of year means something a little bit different to local film lovers and enthusiasts. At the end of every October the Philadelphia Film Society brings many of the awards season's hottest titles to its annual film festival (for more information and tickets click here). This 26th annual crop of selections is no different from years past, loaded with potential Oscar contenders, festival circuit darlings and cinematic achievements from all across the globe. In preparation for Opening Night festivities that begin in one short week, here's a look at some of the biggest titles that I'm most excited to catch at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival (September's list).
Honorable Mention: Borg/McEnroe, Breathe, Most Beautiful Island and Where is Kyra?
Carol and Far from Heaven helmer Todd Haynes offers his latest adapted feature Wonderstruck. This tale of parallel timelines follows the lives of a present day young boy living in the Midwest and a young girl from New York fifty years prior, as they both seek out a similar mysterious connection. Early buzz has been generally positive and Haynes owns a decent track record of finding his movies in the Oscar conversation.
Having already had the opportunity to attend the film's World Premiere at 2017's SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, I can certainly vouch for Aaron Katz's new crime mystery Gemini. With sleek direction and a crafty story that highlights the darker side of Los Angeles, the friend and personal assistant (Lola Kirke) of a prominent movie star (Zoe Kravitz) becomes the primary suspect after a grisly murder takes place. Gemini won't end up in any awards season discussion, but the film packs a nice and compact punch with its entertaining and brisk 90-minute run time.
#8. The Square
Winner of this year's prestigious Palm d'Or award at the Cannes Festival in France, Ruben Ostlund's The Square will take to the big screen twice during this year's Philadelphia Film Festival. The uber-talented Elisabeth Moss co-stars in this satirical drama that follows the curator of a contemporary art museum (Claes Bang) whose life is flung into an existential crisis following the ill-advised PR campaign for his latest feature. The Square could very well end up as this year's Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film.
Following a World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and enjoying a successful run on the festival circuit, Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds makes its way to Philly prior to its March 2018 release date. Teaming up a pair of well rounded young actresses, The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's Olivia Cooke, the film highlights the upper-class suburban murder plot of two teenage girls. In what's now the late Anton Yelchin's final film, Thoroughbreds brings together a crop of gifted young actors and an intriguing tale of murder and betrayal.
#6. The Florida Project
After the wildly successful debut Tangerine, Sean Bakes returns with another journey into the human soul with his upcoming release, The Florida Project. Willem Dafoe stars as a motel owner who watches as a permanent customer and mother inadequately raises her outspoken 6 year-old daughter (Broklynn Prince) in one of the rooms. The Florida Project has garnered immense praises and some have even labeled Dafoe as a possible Oscar contender in this examination of youthful innocence and familial heartbreak.
#5. Darkest Hour
It's no secret that veteran performer Gary Oldman is deserving of Oscar immortality, yet the elusive actor has somehow dodged the big win throughout his career. Perhaps those complaints will be put to rest with Oldman's trans-formative turn in Joe Wright's Darkest Hour. Oldman stars as the strong-willed Winston Churchill during the bleak days of World War II when England finds its back against the wall from the powerful and imposing forces of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Darkest Hour has been described as typical Oscar fodder and if Oldman's on board, then count me in.
#4. Lady Bird
While Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Ladybird may not carry the same Oscar clout as some of the other titles on this list, a strong theatrical trailer and a versatile lead actress have me eager for a viewing. Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan stars as the self-nicknamed "Lady Bird", an outspoken teenage outcast who dreams of leaving her California home town and venturing to a more cultured east coast destination. Gerwig has shown a strong ability to deliver bold characters throughout her career and I have the utmost confidence that she's created another one with her screenplay for Lady Bird.
#3. I, Tonya
Without a trailer to fully understand its tone and delivery, Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya made quite a splash with its Audience Award runner-up debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Margot Robbie stars as the controversial sports figure, Tonya Harding, who was notoriously involved in the attack of fellow U.S. Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan during their Olympic run in the mid 90s. The film tackles Harding's harsh upbringing and her journey from the bare minimum to a world of class and privilege that she struggles to compete with. As this year's Opening Night selection, I, Tonya should be on every festival-goer's list of "must-see" films.
#2. Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater has been an established visionary and filmmaker for quite some time now, but his more than a decade-long work on the Best Picture Nominee, Boyhood, placed him in a whole other class of director. Linklater returns in 2017 with the emotional road-trip comedy, Last Flag Flying. On the long drive to visit the dead body of his soldier son, a Vietnam vet (Steve Carell) enlists the emotional support of estranged fellow veterans Sal and Richard (Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, respectively) as he comes to grip with the painful loss. Linklater possesses a rare talent that beautifully molds together drama and hilarity, which we can expect in large doses with Last Flag Flying.
#1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Finally, if there's one film I'm itching to see more than anything else at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, it's undoubtedly Martin McDonagh's hysterical crime comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. From the same brilliant mind that brought In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths comes the story of a distraught small town mother (Frances McDormand) who buys a trio of billboards on a major road that shines a light on local law enforcement who still haven't solved her daughter's murder. McDonagh re-teams with the always phenomenal Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in this comedy-infused drama that have many industry insiders calling it a serious Best Picture contender. Three Billboards has all the makings of an instant classic and it will surely sell out the house as this year's Closing Night selection.