Indie Spirit

Dispatches from the Fall Film Festival Circuit, Part Two

Our new resident film columnists, George Eldred and Laura Thielen, share even more picks, including ones you can see at the 39th Denver Film Festival next month.

By George Eldred and Laura Thielen October 18, 2016

Emma stone la la land dff qvbyi8

Emma Stone stars as the hopeful actress and playwright Mia in Damien Chazelle's La La Land. The 39th Denver Film Festival will welcome them both for Opening Night on November 2.

Editor’s Note: Last month, we introduced George Eldred and Laura Thielen as Aspen Sojourner’s official film columnists, who provided us with an in-depth report from Telluride and Toronto—two of the world's most prestigious international film festivals. But after taking in more than 60 features over the course of both, they had even more picks to share, all of which will be coming soon to a streaming service or theater near you. 

And if you're still looking for a quick off-season getaway, save the dates for November 2-13, when the Denver Film Festival celebrates its 39th edition as a venerable showcase for new fall previews as well as features, documentaries, and shorts from around the world. Here, you can also catch four of Thielen and Eldred's picks: Jackie, La La Land, Things to Come, and Toni ErdmannOn Wednesday, November 2, the Opening Night Red Carpet presentation of La La Land will welcome director Damien Chazelle along with actress Emma Stone, who will receive the 39th Denver Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award at the historic Ellie Caulkins Opera House. For the full program, visit  

From directorial debuts to starry biopic portrayals, here's another round of cinematic gems that caught our columnists' eye:

Manchester by the Sea

Manchesterbythesea oo3gc3

Still waters run deep, and sometimes violently erupt, in Lee Chandler, a loner handy man compelled by family news to return to his New England hometown. Casey Affleck gives a beautiful, award-worthy performance as a man nearly entombed by self-imposed silence and solitude who suddenly finds himself in an unexpected position. An expert observer of seemingly ordinary people and places, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan stitches together fragments from Lee’s past and present to tell an affecting—and at times wrenching—story of family and community. His uniformly stellar cast (Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, and Lucas Hedges) brings textured life to those ties that bind: the daily, sometimes awkward, sometimes annoying tenderness, bickering, caring, fractious humor and love that, for better or worse, define who we are.

Release: November 18, 2016 (Roadside Attractions)
Trailer: Click here 

Things to Come

Thingstocome riopz8

There’s a lot of deserved Oscar talk about Isabelle Huppert, who is having another incredible year. Louder Than Bombs and Valley of Love, the Gerard Depardieu two-hander, opened this past spring. This fall, she stars in three new films: Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle (France’s submission for Oscar consideration); Bavo Defurne’s Souvenir; and Things to Come. Masterful in the intelligence of her script and delicacy of touch, French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve has made elegant cinema. Huppert inhabits its exquisite center as Nathalie, a Parisian philosophy professor, who, when we meet her, is living a contented life full of family, teaching, and publishing. But as the ramparts that have defined her—wife, daughter, mother, professor—begin falling apart, she must find a new way. Thoughtful, wryly funny, warm, and soulful, Things to Come gracefully skates through a life in transition, gently plumbing private moments with quiet, dispassionate eloquence and moving forward ... because that’s what Nathalie does. Replete with a chubby cat named Pandora and one of the loveliest final scenes we’ve seen in a while, Things to Come is the kind of sublime cinematic experience that’s increasingly rare these days. 

Release: December 12, 2016 (IFC Films/Sundance Selects)
Trailer: Click here 

Toni Erdman

Tonierdmann 02 efahrw

Writer-director Maren Ade’s third feature is proving an unlikely but thoroughly captivating hit with festival audiences and critics for its unique blend of off-kilter humor and touching human drama. This richly nuanced tale centers on the efforts of Winifred—a divorced, retired piano teacher with a fondness for costumes and inappropriate practical jokes—to rekindle a connection with his workaholic daughter, Ines—an intense, hyper-focused young professional based in Bucharest. When Winifred decides to visit unannounced, he launches a string of bumbling and increasingly emotionally loaded forays into his daughter’s business world. To further divulge the story is to deprive readers of the delight in discovering Ade’s singular mixture of family-relationship dramatic comedy and pointed social satire. Germany’s Oscar submission heralds virtuoso performances from Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller, along with one exhilarating musical moment. 

Release: December 25, 2016 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Trailer: Click here

The Women’s Balcony

Thewomensbalcony kpf5tu

Israeli director Emil Ben-Shimon’s delightful debut, set in an older Jerusalem neighborhood, explores what happens when a new voice threatens the harmony of a contemporary Orthodox community. This warm-hearted film invites us into the winding alleys, active kitchens, and faith traditions of its denizens, all the while emanating humor, compassion, and topicality. Ben-Shimon and his wonderful ensemble cast have created a work that lovingly embraces and transcends its cultural specificity to express a larger truth about tolerance.

Release: 2017 TBD (Menemsha Films)
Trailer: Click here 

Lady Macbeth

Lady macbeth 2 rwj3bl

From the opening scene, when a bemused bride makes veiled eye contact with the camera, Lady Macbeth slyly announces itself as not your typical 19th-century manor and moors romp. British Gothic–tale conventions of gender, race, and class are thoroughly upended in British theater director William Oldroyd’s wickedly clever screen bow. With its formally precise palette—Lady M’s blue frock a constant marker of calm repose (not!)— screenwriter Alice Birch’s smart screenplay (itself adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 melodrama) is the portrait of the young lady as a vengeful force. Though the resolution is inevitable (read: predictable), what gives this lusty dark tale its vital spark is beguiling newcomer Florence Pugh as she transforms from spunky teenage wife into something quite unanticipated.

Release: 2017 TBD (Roadside Attractions)
Trailer: Not yet available

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

1240750 olli maki qeuwsa

Between Telluride and Toronto, there were at least three boxing movies to take in. But when it comes to the most original and satisfying, the champ is Cannes Film Festival winner The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. More reluctant pugilist study than punch-fest celebration, this Finnish Oscar submission showcases an exciting new voice. Writer-director Juho Kuosmanen has a gloriously playful sensibility that's far from gimmicky; his set design and black-and-white cinematography, reminiscent of the French New Wave, effectively steep you in an early ’60s idyll of simpler times. The charm of the two leads, Jarkko Lahti and Oona Airola, brings fresh authenticity to this droll, bittersweet true story of a boxer reluctant to assume the mantle of proto-nationalism foisted on him. The “Baker of Kokola” (his fighting ring moniker) has his eye on another, more enduring prize.

Release: 2017 TBD (MUBI)
Trailer: Click here


Arrival kswdjz

In Arrival, screened at both festivals, Denis Villeneuve expands his range as an intensely visual storyteller with this exploration of a perennial science fiction favorite: alien first contact. The Canadian director (Prisoners, Sicario) continues his fascination with tone as he shapes stories of complexly layered characters in complicated situations. Arrival is a subtle and satisfying addition to his body of work, anchored by Amy Adams’s delicately interior, Oscar-worthy performance as Dr. Louise Banks, a brilliant but troubled linguistics professor. When the appearance of an ominous fleet of hovering spacecraft strikes increasing terror around the world, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Dr. Banks and a theoretical scientist (Jeremy Renner) to communicate with the enigmatic visitors. Against this menacing backdrop, Arrival builds a sense of mystery and wonder as Adams’s character struggles to unlock the puzzles of the aliens’ language, as well as her own disquieting visions. As in the best of speculative science fiction, Arrival evokes intimations of the strangeness that underlies the everyday and questions our assumptions about the meaning of time, life, and the universe. 

Release: November 11, 2016 (Paramount Pictures)
Trailer: Click here

Show Comments