Coinciding with Halloween this year, the Denver Film Festival (DFF41) launches with a tantalizing coup: Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, one of the season’s most buzzed-about films. Trick? Or treat? We’re eager to find out. This deliciously provocative costume drama starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz strikes the perfect note for the venerable DFF41, a festival known for bold and adventurous choices. Before closing on November 13 with Vox Lux, Brady Corbet’s Faustian pop diva tale (with a ferocious Natalie Portman), moviegoers will have the chance to sample some of the 260 homegrown and international features, documentaries, and shorts on tap.
Along with red carpets for Oscar aspirants, previews like Neil Burger’s The Upside (finally!) and Green Book (a Viggo Mortensen–Mahershala Ali performance tour de force), and scores of festival-circuit favorites, DFF41 celebrates the national cinemas of Italy, Hungary, and Latin America, among others. Cinema Q showcases new LBGTQ works including Wanuri Kahiu’s brave and bright Rafiki, banned in its native Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal. Once again, the festival spotlights a strong documentary slate, including Meow Wolf: Origin Story, anticipating the art collective’s 2020 Denver debut. VR experiences and topical panels ranging from Blockchain to the Columbine tragedy 20 years on round out the DFF41 experience.
Listed in alphabetical order, here are six not to miss:
Imagine a Grimm-like fairytale that presents not as a horror film but as a contemporary adult drama-mystery exploring a forest of ideas: the other, “wild” versus “civilized,” sexuality and love, true nature, lies, and family. In Ali Abbasi’s weird and wondrous Border, Tina is a customs agent whose unique ability to smell emotions leads to a chance encounter with an unsettlingly mysterious stranger. To say more would spoil one of the year’s most affectingly original offerings and Sweden’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission. Our advice: If the trailer beckons, follow.
The Front Runner
With the climax of another American election cycle upon us, the story of a 30-year-old political scandal proves grippingly relevant in the hands of director Jason Reitman. The Front Runner captures with riveting immediacy the fast-paced, complex intensity of Colorado senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign. Leading a stellar ensemble cast, Hugh Jackman captivates as Hart—a charismatic policy-wonk politician who’s suddenly thrown into the media’s frenzied shark tank when the hint of private-life impropriety arises. This film for our times intentionally raises more questions than answers as it examines the week the rules of engagement between politics and press changed forever.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Following his Oscar triumph Moonlight, Barry Jenkins further plumbs the intimate space of African American family life in his poetic, quietly devastating adaptation of James Baldwin’s early 1970s-era If Beale Street Could Talk. This tenderly played romantic drama centers on a young Harlem couple (beautifully acted by KiKi Layne and Stephan James) whose dreams are abruptly shattered by actions beyond their control.
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men) performs a dazzling 180 in his deeply personal ode to growing up in 1970s Mexico City. Limpid, moving, and cinematically luminous. Roma is also masterful storytelling. Told largely through the eyes of a domestic worker (remarkable newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), this family saga transcends the confines of Cuarón’s childhood calle. Roma is a Netflix production that’s a big-screen must—filmmakers (including Barry Jenkins), critics, and audiences have been swooning since its Venice Film Festival debut in September.
United Skates is a high-spirited immersion into a unique skating community. Long mainstays of African American neighborhoods, roller rinks are going the way of local movie palaces and small independent businesses. Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler travel the country—L.A., Chicago, the East Coast, the South—to celebrate a thriving, multi-generational phenomenon including each region’s full-tilt, hip-hop inflected style. Filled with rollicking action and fascinating history, the filmmakers ground their bittersweet portrait in the lives and stories of passionate skaters, rink owners, and fans determined to keep this endangered culture alive.
Woman at War
In Woman at War, Benedikt Erlingsson (Of Horses and Men) offers another idiosyncratic confection, though one with an urgent message at its center. This wry observer of human behavior anchors his flair for playful storytelling in Halla, the twinkly-eyed protagonist who harbors a secret identity: determined defender of Iceland’s austere wilderness. Her clandestine feats of archery-powered sabotage set off a far-reaching cascade of consequences, intended and not. Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir’s emotionally nuanced sleight-of-hand performance as Halla and musicians who pop up in the most unlikely places are just a few of this eco tale’s inventive delights. The film is also Iceland’s Oscar submission.
Presented by the Denver Film Society, the Denver Film Festival runs October 31–November 13. Full program and ticket information is available here.