8. Falling (directed by Viggo Mortensen, UK/Canada)
Viggo Mortensen comes out swinging in his feature length directorial debut, which he also wrote, about a gay man, John Peterson (Mortensen) whose strained relationship with his bigoted father (Lance Henriksen) becomes even more complicated as he begins showing signs of dementia.
This rather intimately small-scale production looks to be a big hearted passion project that had its premiere earlier this year at Sundance where Variety’s Peter Debruge praised it as “unpretentious and perfectly accessible to mainstream audiences,” adding that Mortensen has a “way with the actors and a trust in [the audience’s] intelligence that is not unlike late-career Eastwood.” Would we expect anything less from Aragorn himself? Personally I’d follow Mortensen to Mount Doom or anyplace else so let’s go!
Bonus points for past collaborator and erudite iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg, who shows up in front of the camera (something he’s done more of in recent years) in a small role as a proctologist. There’s definitely another joke in here about that maybe, but we’ll just let it go for now.
7. Jumbo (directed by Zoé Wittock, France/Luxembourg/Belgium)
After a string of award-winning short films, Belgium-born writer-director Zoé Wittock makes the leap to feature length fare with Jumbo, a strange love story that pretty much guarantees future cult adoration, and we’re here for every oddball moment of it.
Noémie Merlant, so wonderful in last year’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, here stars as Jeanne Tantois, a socially awkward woman who is working a go nowhere gig at an amusement park and finds herself falling head over heels in love with Jumbo, the new tilt-a-whirl ride. Yes, you read that right, Jeanne has the hots for a hydraulic-powered, flashy light festooned midway ride.
Their love story, something like “girl meets ride, ride meets girl, etc., etc.,”, in Merlant’s oddly capable hands, promises star-crossed courtship, surreal sexiness, and more. Admittedly it does sound a little like a cross between David Cronenberg’s Crash crossed with something spicy from Quentin Dupieux and an added dash of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Either way, Wittock’s debut looks wholly original and entirely out to lunch.
6. Siberia (directed by Abel Ferrara, Italy/Germany/Mexico)
Abel Ferrara and Willem DaFoe are at it again, this time on an “exploration into the language of dreams”, so who doesn’t want to come along for this ride?
5. Yalda, A Night of Forgiveness (directed by Massoud Bakhshi, France/Germany/Switzerland/Luxembourg
Already the recipient of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2020, Massoud Bakhshi’s suspenseful new drama is packed with promise. Inspired by startling real-life incidents aired on Iranain television, Bakhshi’s film concerns a live talk show wherein Maryam (Sadaf Asgari), a convicted killer, must beg for all to see for her own life to be spared. The law stipulates that her fate is left to Mona (Behnaz Jafari), the victim’s daughter. Of course there’s more to the story than this bare bones description suggests and mysteries will deepen, truths will be revealed, and the suspense and tension will build to fever pitch.
As much a social protest as it is a thriller, Yalda, A Night of Forgiveness will dive deep into gender and class politics while exploring social mores and Sharia law in the landscape of present day Iran.
4. Summer of 85 (directed by François Ozon, France)
Festival favorite François Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool, By the Grace of God) returns with what’s sure to be another intriguing and resonant drama, this time adapting the 1992 YA novel from Aidan Chambers, “Dance on My Grave”. And while the source material isn’t Ozon’s own, it’s obvious that the subject matter is very personal to him, being a gay teen in the mid-80s and coming out, which is at the crux of this hotly anticipated film.
Félix Lefebvre stars as 16-year-old Alex, who sadly finds himself a suspect in the murder of his 18-year-old BFF and lover, David (Benjamin Voisin), but that’s only where this airy, nostalgic, and deeply moving story begins.
3. Undine (directed by Christian Petzold, Germany/France)
A new film from German auteur Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Transit) is always cause for celebration, that it’s a magical-reality infused modern day fairy tale ups the ante even more, and to win the entire kitty it just so happens that Petzold’s most recent muse, Undine’s star attraction Paula Beer is already winning raves (including Best Actress at Berlinale 2020). Not to be outdone, the other really heavy-lifter in the acting department in this one is Germany’s answer to Joaquin Phoenix himself, Franz Rogowski.
Undine (Beer) is a historian living in Berlin where she lectures on the urban development going on there, and it’s in the lecture hall where her recovering romantic failings may be in for an uptick after she meets Christoph (Rogowski). An ancient myth enfolds Undine and her latest lover, and while ambiguities unfold, so too does dizzying romance, underwater revelry and a lot more in this fantastical diversion from a great filmmaker.
2. Possessor (directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Canada/UK)
Genre fans have been eagerly awaiting Brandon Cronenberg’s latest, a brilliant and brutal body-horror head trip like no other. Futuristic technologies meld with a worn, vintage esthetic in this chilling sci-fi shocker that is guaranteed to haunt the viewer, with some of that credit going to Cronenberg’s crack crew (cinematographer Karim Hussain and production designer Rupert Lazarus outdo themselves) and some jaw-droppingly nasty practical effects, too.
Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) is contract killer Tasya Vos, a corporate agent who works under Jennifer Jason Leigh’s icy Girder, who uses state-of-the-art brain-implant technology to assassinate their targets. As a murder for hir, Vos inhabits her subject’s bodies against their will, committing the murders through them before forcing said subjects to bloodily cash in their own chips. Holy hell does this one ever excitedly go off the rails. Horror fans, you can’t afford to miss this awesome (albeit traumatic) experience!
1. Another Round (directed by Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
VIFF and Taste of Cinema favorite Thomas Vinterberg reteams with his muse from 2012’s The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen, for a socially irresponsible black comedy about perpetual boozing, Another Round. Working from a screenplay Vinterberg co-wrote with Tobias Lindholm, this much buzzed-about project promises to be a festival highlight and is certainly the one we’re most intrigued about.
Martin (Mikkelsen) and his three closest pals, all high school teachers, foolishly decide to test out a highly questionable academic thesis that basically states that they will improve all facets of their lives simply by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood. What could go wrong?
This subversive and provocative premise strongly suggests Vinterberg has gone back to tap the riotous vein of his Dogme 95 glory days, when his breakthrough picture, The Celebration (1998), had us all in an ecstatic tizzy. Now that’s an era worth recapturing and raising a glass to!
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.