(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest 2019, day one. In this entry, Guns Akimbo is Scott Pilgrim for assholes, First Love is the best Takashi Miike film in years, and Sweetheart is a thrilling creature feature.

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night has come review

If Terrence Malick and Franz Kafka decided to get married, and then adopted an old wooden crate full of reels of stock footage as their baby, that offspring would look something like Night Has Come. Director Peter Van Goethem has cut together a plethora of Royal Belgian Film Archive stock footage to tell the story of a dystopian society plagued with a memory-erasing virus. Making use of overly poetic, often vague narration, Night Has Come unfolds like a memory of a fever dream, burning its way through your brain as you drift in and out of consciousness.

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TIFF 2019 Unsung Gems

The festival scene rolls on past Toronto, with Fantastic Fest kicking off this week and New York Film Festival gearing up for next week. It’s easy to focus on the big winners – Joker, Jojo Rabbit – and the losers – The Goldfinch, Lucy in the Sky – and completely lose sight of why these festivals exist in the first place. In a crowded media environment, film festivals represent one of the last bastions that provide platforms to emerging or under-the-radar filmmakers. They are a spot where a film, freighted with few expectations, can come out of nowhere and surprise unsuspecting viewers.

The following three films represent some of the best of this side of TIFF. Their journeys do not end at the festival, either. Unlike well-funded studio projects using TIFF as a launch pad for release, these films are all seeking U.S. distribution and will likely continue touring the worldwide festival circuit. Keep an eye out for them if they arrive at a fest near you.

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Female Directors at TIFF

Like many time periods preceding it, the fall film festival circuit of 2019 has been a mixed bag of results for female filmmakers. The Venice Film Festival spared a measly two slots in its competition for films directed by women and, as if to thumb their nose at those decrying their regressive attitudes, awarded their Best Director prize to convicted rapist Roman Polanski. All this from a festival that signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge for gender parity just last year, to boot. As Katrin Gebbe, director of Pelican Blood told me, “In the past few years, we’ve started to put our finger into the wound.”

Meanwhile, at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the programmers paid more than lip service to their commitment on equality. Female directors comprised 36% of this year’s selection at TIFF, with percentages even higher in sections like Contemporary World Cinema and the high-profile Galas. Look beyond the numbers, too, and it’s clear that quantity did not come at the expense of quality.

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saint maud fantastic fest

The slow, burning, ever-mounting dread. A scenario that always seems slightly off, as if the world itself has somehow become askew. And a climax that cranks the terror up to 11. These are the familiar trappings of the A24 horror movie – The WitchIt Comes At NightEnemy, HereditaryMidsommar, even the upcoming The Lighthouse. Now the indie distributor has added another slow-burn terror to their cannon: Saint MaudRose Glass‘ sensational creeper that puts the viewer entirely within the mind of its religion-obsessed protagonist. From the very first shot it becomes clear that horrible events are lurking in the shadows of Saint Maud, and by the time the shocking final frame arrives, we’re left with nothing but unrelenting nightmares.

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Fantastic Fest is in its 15th year and ready to celebrate! The world-renowned genre fest kicks off today and cinephiles couldnt be more excited to let chaos reign. We’re going to get things started a little early by debuting the poster for one of the films premiering at this year’s festival: Night Drive, a thrilling dark comedy that has been compared to the work of the Coen brothers.

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Fantastic Fest, the Austin, Texas-based, Alamo Drafthouse-hosted film festival celebrating the wildest and most unique genre movies from around the world, turns 15 this year. As someone who has been attending this event for literally a decade, I can say with utmost confidence that it is my favorite week of the year, every year. It’s eight days of shocks and surprises, with bold new discoveries lurking around every corner. It’s where I go to rekindle my love of movies. It’s where I go to discover gems that I continue to spring on friends and family to this day.

But not everyone can attend Fantastic Fest, so we wanted to give you a taste of what this festival is so you can play along at home. I teamed up with /Film contributors Meredith Borders, Matt Donato, Marisa Mirabal, Rafael Motamayor, and Meagan Navarro to list the movies that are essential to understanding what the fest is all about. We came up with 86 titles, all ranked based on our votes.

These are the most essential Fantastic Fest movies, the titles that sum up with the most exciting film festival in the world is all about.

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The Twentieth Century Review

The biopic genre is one of the more predictable out there. Even outside the musical-biopic subgenre, now so heavily coded that films functionally identical to parodies still get nominated for Academy Awards, there are expectations, and most of them are filled most of the time. Chief among them is fanatical reverence for their subjects, painting them as the most important figures in their respective fields through slick, gauzy, prestige-project filmmaking.

Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century, a biopic of legendary Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, doesn’t do any of that. It’s among the least-conventional biopics in existence – and it’s all the better for it. If you didn’t know the backstory, you’d never guess it’s even based on a true story, and if you do know the backstory, you might be furious at the liberal treatment of the subject. But The Twentieth Century being a biopic is merely the icing on the cake of Rankin’s incredible artistry, craft, and utterly bonkers comic and visual sensibility.

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It’s been over ten years since Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine instructed audiences that the “Nazi ain’t got no humanity” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inlgourious Basterds. In the decade that followed, we watched as a quaint, yet uproarious tale of obliterating Nazis turned from celluloid fantasy to real-world nightmare. Various films have tackled the real-world threat of the revival of insidious ethnonationalist ideology, most notably Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman in 2018, which drew a direct parallel between the inability to fully extinguish the insidious threat of white nationalism in the 1970s to the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville that claimed the life of Heather Heyer.

Whether past is prologue or merely an instruction manual to navigate recurring and unresolved social tensions, it was hard to ignore the spectre of Nazi Germany at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, a bleak story of a young Jewish boy wandering Eastern Europe after being separated from his parents during World War II, reportedly prompted mass walkouts. Dan Friedkin’s Lyrebird, acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, made fewer waves with its story of how a member of the Dutch resistance investigated art stolen by the Nazis.

But by far the most notable films to grapple with the Third Reich came from Fox Searchlight’s two most pedigreed ponies for the fall season, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. On the surface, these films could not appear more different. Waititi’s energetic, irreverent style is at one formal extreme, and Malick’s reverential, brooding aesthetic represents another. Yet the films share more than just their obvious similarity of depicting characters quietly resisting the authoritarian impulses of Nazi Germany. Both, in their own way, celebrate the power of the individual to make a difference in the fight against evil regimes.

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Guns Akimbo Review

“You like this?!” asks Daniel Radcliffe’s Miles to a covert camera live streaming his misfortunate adventures as he fights for his life. It’s a breaking point for him as a character in Guns Akimbo, and he launches into quite the screed about the cowardice of the viewers who cheer on imperiling people from behind the remove of their screen but could never face a similar situation in their own lives. In a smarter movie, Miles might also be addressing us, the audience, with his impassioned rant. After all, haven’t we, too, been watching his plight voyeuristically and getting a kick out of his misery?

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