PFF27: 8 of the Fall's Must-See Films

The Philadelphia Film Society kicked off its annual festival yesterday. Every year, the Philadelphia Film Festival celebrates art cinema in effort to draw attention to some of the year’s most provocative films.This year, the festival is screening over 100 films and these are the eight you cannot miss.

1. Widows: Five years after his Academy Award win for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen pivots to direct a heist-thriller about a group of widows who take matters into their own hands in order to repay the debt left behind by their deceased husbands. With a screenplay co-written by Gillian Flynn and an ensemble cast led by Viola Davis, it’s sure to be one of the year’s best movies.

2. Knife + Heart: Set in 1970s Paris, this genre-defying film follows Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn producer tasked with finding the murderer who has been killing off her crew. A stand-out at Cannes, Knife + Heart is one of the most stylistically interesting films in ages and boasts a killer score. The lush imagery and Paradis’ daring performance will make you happily forgive what is, at times, a flimsy plot.

3. Girl: Girl is a captivating and intensely personal film centered around Lara (Victor Polster), a teenage girl who was born in a boy’s body, as she pursues her goal of becoming a professional ballerina. The film excellently depicts both the rigors of the dance world and the intimate cruelty young women impose upon each other. In his feature-length debut, director Lukas Dhont successfully keeps you invested in every scene right through the film’s heartbreaking end.

4. Ash is Purest White: Keeping in line with his other work, Jia Zhangke delivers a bizarre, surreal film tracking the impact of globalization and the recent shifts in China’s economy through a sprawling, complicated romance. The film functions as a melodrama centered on Qiao (Tao Zhao), who finds herself in hot water after firing an illegal weapon to protect her mobster boyfriend, Bin (Fan Liao). Zhangke masterfully depicts Qiao and Bin’s heartbreak, while asking his viewers to examine the cruelty of time and the role of technology in modern life.

5. Dogman: Matteo Garrone’s film follows a dog groomsman (Marcello Fonte) who starts committing robberies with a former boxer (Edoardo Pesce). The film generated a lot of buzz at Cannes and quite polarizing among critics — some felt the film was too violent or masculinist. But given that the Palme d’Or contender was recently submitted as Italy’s candidate for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, it seems that the discussions about Dogman will continue well into award season.

6. Burning: Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami, the film depicts the complications that arise between Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) and his childhood friend Shin Hae-me (Jeong Jong-seo) when she brings home her mysterious new boyfriend (Steven Yeun). Burning is a gripping thriller with breakout performances from Ah-in and Yeun.

7.The Angel: The Angel was, by far, my favorite film that screened at Cannes this year. The biopic follows Argentina’s most notorious serial killer, Carlos Robledo Puch (played by excellent newcomer Lorenzo Ferro) — better known as “The Black Angel” because of his baby-faced good looks. What begins as petty thefts and some trouble at school quickly turns violent when Carlos takes the handsome Ramon (Chino Darin) on as his partner-in-crime. Director Luis Ortega wisely takes a nuanced approach to both his lead’s narcissistic sociopathy and sexual ambiguity. Part Rebel Without a Cause, part Tarantino flick, The Angel is an exciting approach to the true-crime genre.

8. Cold War: Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is an epic love story that traces the relationship between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. Through its artful cinematography and sentimental score, Cold War is able to make its well-trotted plotline feel fresh and exciting. The black-and-white film has all of the lavish sensuality of Hollywood Golden Age films, like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not. The film draws an interesting comparison between its political commentary and the romance at the center of the film. Cold War asks if all of the passion and tenderness found at the start of a relationship must eventually dwindle into the stagnance and anxiety of a cold war.