Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick Festival Favorites

Eye-opening roles for Oscar Isaac, Penélope Cruz and Benedict Cumberbatch, a slightly bonkers Princess Diana biopic, and gems from Palestine, Mexico and the Philippines are among THR critics’ fall faves.

Another World (Venice)

Cannes best actor laureate Vincent Lindon reteams with The Measure of a Man director Stéphane Brizé for another exploration of the demise of France’s working class. In this nerve-racking look at a factory boss obliged to make layoffs, Lindon channels the tremendous strain faced by a solicitous man who’s been backed into a corner beneath the crushing weight of global capitalism. — JORDAN MINTZER

The Box (Venice, Toronto)

This quietly devastating drama from Lorenzo Vigas (From Afar) recounts the reckoning of an orphaned teenager (Hatzín Navarrete) with a man he’s convinced is his father (Hernán Mendoza). Set against the badlands and manufacturing plants of northwestern Mexico, the slow-burn coming-of-age story draws its sorrow from the dehumanizing supply chain of cheap labor. It’s an acutely observed chamber piece played out by two exceptionally well-cast actors. — DAVID ROONEY

The Card Counter (Venice)

Paul Schrader’s brooding redemption drama centers on a professional gambler who’s haunted by his past as a military interrogator in Iraq. The highly controlled feature ponders the limits of punishment and the limbo between sin and salvation and stars a remarkably compelling Oscar Isaac, who plays the anguished protagonist with the dangerous magnetism of Pacino in his Michael Corleone days. — D.R.

The Forgiven (Toronto)

In this first-rate dramatization of the friction between ancient mores and modern privilege, Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain portray rich Westerners who treat Morocco like their playground, scarcely noticing the poverty and disapproval surrounding their opulent parties — until an accident leaves a local boy dead. John Michael McDonagh’s drama is a morally alert drama, scripted, directed and acted with intelligence and panache. — JOHN DeFORE

The Hand of God (Venice)

Looking back at his formative experiences in the 1980s, Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino has crafted a love letter to Naples in this searingly poignant film. An immersive mosaic of family life more than a traditional narrative, it’s propelled by a zesty ensemble that includes Toni Servillo. Filippo Scotti, as the filmmaker’s teenage fictionalized stand-in, provides the indispensable glue with an affecting performance. — D.R.

Happening (Venice)

Audrey Diwan’s Golden Lion winner is the harrowing, urgent chronicle of a young woman’s fight for control of her body. Anamaria Vartolomei delivers a performance of astonishing emotional transparency as a bright college student in early 1960s France facing an unplanned pregnancy with no legal avenues for abortion. Brutally honest and sometimes a tough watch, this compassionate work of social realism requires no recent headlines to make it relevant or gripping. — D.R.

Huda’s Salon (Toronto)

Based on real events, this tightly conceived political thriller by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) follows the interconnected fates of two women (Manal Awad, Maisa Abd Elhadi) and the resistance figure (Ali Suliman) who interrogates one of them. Abu-Assad heightens the stakes of questions about selfhood and loyalty by applying them to Palestine’s women, whose oppression under Israeli occupation is compounded by patriarchal forces within their community. — LOVIA GYARKYE

The Humans (Toronto)

Existential dread has rarely felt so intimate and visceral as in Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his Tony-winning play, a real-time depiction of a family’s Thanksgiving in a run-down New York apartment. The performers — Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Amy Schumer, June Squibb and an especially stirring Jayne Houdyshell — plumb subtle depths in this insightful portrait of the human condition. — FRANK SCHECK

Last Night in Soho (Venice)

Edgar Wright’s dark and wickedly entertaining psycho-thriller shimmies between the glamour and the gutter, with Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy playing what might be polar-opposite versions of the same young woman. Their characters are brought together in alarmingly real dreams set in London’s Swinging ’60s, and as Wright blurs the line between observation and transformation, there’s a sense of a filmmaker having a cracking good time. — D.R.

The Lost Daughter (Venice, Telluride)

In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sensitive yet sharp-edged adaptation of the novel by Elena Ferrante, Olivia Colman plays a divorced academic whose Greek island encounter with a vacationing family evokes acute memories of her own parenting choices. The uncompromising character study is illuminated by performances of jagged brilliance from Colman and Jessie Buckley, as her younger self, and puts first-timer Gyllenhaal on the map as a writer-director graced with maturity and restraint. — D.R.

On the Job: The Missing 8 (Venice)

With sublime tension, go-for-broke style and a bracingly righteous anger that transcends borders, Philippine director Erik Matti’s sprawling crime thriller details the political and journalistic fallout from an assassination gone awry. In a performance that received Venice’s best actor honors, John Arcilla portrays a radio host who tries to bring harsh truths about government corruption to light, his heedless energy shifting into hunched-shoulders sorrow. — KEITH UHLICH

Parallel Mothers (Venice)

Pedro Almodóvar’s ravishingly crafted melodrama gives Penélope Cruz one of the best roles of her career. Named best actress by the Biennale, she plays a photographer and single mother whose life becomes entwined with that of a teenager (Milena Smit). Cruz exposes her character’s yearning and shattering pain as traumas of the past — relating to the Spanish Civil War — and the present are unearthed. — D.R.

The Power of the Dog (Venice, Telluride, Toronto)

Twelve years after her previous feature, Jane Campion makes a thrilling return with an idiosyncratic work that echoes classic Westerns while providing a bracingly modern take on the genre. A study of blistering family tensions, the drama is alive with psychological complexity and driven by transfixing performances from Benedict Cumberbatch — in his best role in years — Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and, in a stunning breakout turn, young Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee. — D.R.

Spencer (Venice, Telluride, Toronto)

Pablo Larraín, who upended biopic conventions with Jackie, examines another iconic woman in crisis, this time as the last illusions of Princess Diana’s fairy-tale marriage crumble. The audacious work, written by Steven Knight, is billed as “a fable from a true tragedy” and focuses on a single Christmas weekend. An incandescent Kristen Stewart commits to the film’s slightly bonkers excesses as much as to its moments of delicate illumination. — D.R.

Three Minutes — A Lengthening (Venice)

In 1938, vacationing New Yorker David Kurtz visited his hometown in Poland, most of whose Jewish residents would die in the Treblinka death camp a few years later. The souvenir footage he captured was discovered by Kurtz’s grandson in 2009 and restored. Bianca Stigter’s debut documentary turns those few minutes of amateurish film into an eloquent meditation on loss, memory, and how film can shape them. — CARYN JAMES

This story first appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.