October 12, 2023
WRITTEN BY: QUENTIN
I’m not going to lie to you. Even as a person who tracks these things, I had never heard of Zurich Film Festival until about two weeks ago. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t get anywhere near the same press coverage as the other festivals, which is wild because its lineup was on par with all the major fests, including screenings for Maestro, Poor Things, May December, and Priscilla (as well as some other major titles you’ll see below).
So, considering my late awareness of its existence, the fact that I just spent ten days at Venice Film Festival (making it hard to travel for another full week), and the number of movies on the Zurich slate that I had already seen, I was only able to make it to Zurich Film Festival for its final weekend. However, despite the quick turnaround, I still was able to view seven movies, nearly all of which were anticipated titles that didn’t screen at Venice.
As for the festival itself? It was leaps and bounds better than Venice. The city was better, the logistical aspects of the festival were better, the people were nicer, and it was just more accessible. My hope is that next year, I’ll make it to Cannes Film Festival for the first time, but if that doesn’t come to fruition, Zurich should by no means be considered a consolation prize. It just might be the best film festival I’ve attended in person so far.
Now, let’s talk about those movies….
With this being one of the few films I missed in Venice, I was happy to get a second chance at it in Zurich. Sadly, I learned that I didn’t actually miss anything worthwhile. Sure, it has decent performances from Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard (the latter of which won Best Actor in Venice somehow), but neither are performing at the top of their game. Most importantly, though, the story sets up several fascinating pathways for it to explore, but then never follows through. In fact, it leaves so many intriguing plot threads dangling that one must wonder if this final product is the director’s true vision, or if the studio made cuts to remove some potentially controversial story beats.
Despite tremendous era-specific production design and terrific performances from Anne Hathaway and especially Thomasin McKenzie (with a great Boston accent), this slow-burning, twisty, coming-of-age thriller is just a tad too slow for its own good, while also featuring a third act that almost feels as if it’s from a completely different movie. Still though, at only 96 minutes, the chemistry and psychosexual tension between Hathaway and McKenzie, not to mention a great supporting turn from Shea Whigham, are more than enough to keep viewers mostly engaged until the end.
5. DUMB MONEY
When one considers how recent the events of Dumb Money are, as well as the film’s very surface-level exploration of said events, it almost feels like the team behind this movie were in such a hurry to push it out to theaters before people forgot about the GameStop short squeeze that they weren’t terribly focused on making it interesting. Yeah, it’s shiny, features an all-star cast, and has a bangin’ soundtrack, but the characters aren’t really developed at all. They are essentially NPCs, only there to navigate the viewer through the highlights of this topic’s Wikipedia page. Overall, this feels like algorithmic filmmaking at its most money-grabbing.
4. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
Look, I’m as surprised as you are. Going into the festival, I fully expected Killers of the Flower Moon to be the easy number one choice, but here we are. Broadly speaking, it features all the things you’d expect from those involved: great cinematography, powerhouse performances, strong themes, important messaging, and interesting directorial flourishes. However, at 3.5 hours, it has massive pacing issues. Some parts are extremely rushed while others are incredibly sluggish, not to mention some questionable editing that makes it hard to recognize over how many years this story takes place. All in all, it’s good, but it’s far from great…and it’s definitely not the masterpiece I heard about coming out of Cannes.
Saltburn, writer-director Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to the excellent Promising Young Woman (her feature directorial debut, for which she won Best Original Screenplay), ultimately feels like the result of a filmmaker being given creative control too soon after a breakout. Despite outstanding performances, beautifully shot scenes, and a tremendously engaging setup, the second half simply has too much going on. It’s overstuffed, rushed, and underdeveloped. It’s still very good, mind you, and Fennell is an amazing talent; however, it may have been better as a miniseries in order to flesh out the back end a bit more. Or maybe Fennell just needed someone to give her some honest notes to rein it in a bit.
2. WICKED LITTLE LETTERS
If Flower Moon is the festival’s surprise disappointment, Wicked Little Letters is the surprise overachiever. I’ve often been accused of not liking “lady movies,” but this cheeky little gem is raunchily (in language only) delightful. Admittedly, a charmingly crass Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman simply doing what Olivia Colman does can cover for a lot of flaws, but it’s not like this easy-going mystery has many flaws to begin with. It may feel slight, especially pertaining to the mystery aspect, but it’s an enjoyably simple watch that ultimately entertains. Think of it as the movie version of a good “beach read.”
1. DREAM SCENARIO
I know what you’re thinking: “Of course, your top ranked movie is the Nicolas Cage movie.” And, yeah, I get it. That said, I didn’t plan this. I already told you that I fully expected Flower Moon to be here. In any case, Dream Scenario is part absurdist comedy and part surreal horror, which gives Cage multiple opportunities to show his impressive range…and show it he does. He nails what is asked of him on both sides of that coin, while the story delivers timely messages on the consequences of fame and cancel culture, even as it struggles to fill the entire 100-minute runtime adequately. More interestingly, though, it’s an incredibly layered metaphor for the Memeification of Cage, touching on the idea in a more intelligent and cerebral way than The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival