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11 must-see movies at 2023 fall film festivals, from Bradley Cooper's “Maestro” to major Oscars contenders

Half of Hollywood is on strike, blockbuster franchises continue to implode at the domestic box office, and the Emmys have vacated the current calendar until at least January — but, one thing endures through it all: film awards season, and the fall festivals are here to shepherd the best films and acting contenders of the year into the race for Oscars glory.

Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla; Bradley Cooper in Maestro; Colman Domingo in Rustin; Emma Stone in Poor Things
Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Priscilla; Bradley Cooper in Maestro; Colman Domingo in Rustin; Emma Stone in Poor Things

A24 / Netflix / Searchlight Pictures Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in 'Priscilla'; Bradley Cooper in 'Maestro'; Colman Domingo in 'Rustin'; Emma Stone in 'Poor Things.'

Across the next several weeks, the Venice International Film Festival (Aug. 30-Sept. 9), Telluride Film Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 4), Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 7-17), and the New York Film Festival (Sept. 29-Oct. 15) will host a wealth of world-premiere screenings for top titles in the hunt for awards, and EW has rounded up all of the must-see movies debuting at the festivals in the weeks ahead. From potential crowd-pleasing spectacles to Academy Awards-bound hopefuls, check out the best movies heading to the fall film festivals ahead.

The Boy and the Heron
The Boy and the Heron

Studio Ghibli 'The Boy and the Heron'

The Boy and the Heron

Playing at: Toronto, New York

Festival season can be excruciatingly stressful, so a new, dreamy Hayao Miyazaki movie feels like the perfect cinematic balm to cleanse weary souls suffering through long ticket lines and those excruciating audience Q&As. The 82-year-old mastermind behind Japanese animation classics including My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away returns to direct his first feature in 10 years, since he last helmed The Wind Rises to an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2013. Here, the filmmaker follows a teenager who comes of age with the help of a talking bird, so expect more of the "typical" emotionally hard-hitting fantasy fare from a legend whose filmography is anything but ordinary — and will likely earn another nod from the Academy's animation branch in early 2024.

FERRARI
FERRARI

Everett Collection Adam Driver in 'Ferrari'

Ferrari

Playing at: Venice, New York

Two years after fronting House of Gucci as the ill-fated head of the 2021 film's titular fashion house, Oscar-nominated superstar Adam Driver continues to be a fierce ally and champion for the Italian people — particularly famous, rich meatballs who heavily influenced the modern landscape of consumer capitalism. Driver takes the — ahem — driver's seat at the center of Michael Mann's Ferrari, a biopic following the rise of influential automobile mastermind Enzo Ferrari. Surrounded by an A-list cast (including Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, and Patrick Dempsey) and directed by the four-time Oscar nominee responsible for Collateral, The Insider, and Heat, expect Ferrari to finish its race to theaters in both audience and critical favor.

THE KILLER, Michael Fassbender
THE KILLER, Michael Fassbender

Everett Collection Michael Fassbender in 'The Killer'

The Killer

Playing at: Venice

The drab black-and-white dressings of Mank are but a cobweb in awards season history, as David Fincher roars back to Venice with a new film based on Alexis Nolent and illustrator Luc Jacamon's graphic novel The Killer. Starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton, the Netflix thriller is about an assassin who battles threats from multiple fronts — including from his employers — as he embarks on an international manhunt. It could be a technical awards player, or it could be a pulpy popcorn flick that tucks you into bed on a weary Friday night. Either way, we have a new entry into the ever-expanding Fincher filmography, so, let's celebrate that.

Maestro
Maestro

Netflix Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper on the set of 'Maestro'

Maestro

Playing at: Venice, New York

Early controversy over his prosthetic transformation aside, Bradley Cooper triumphantly returns to the awards race and the director's chair for the first time since A Star Is Born to the sounds of literal orchestral fanfare as he plays famed composer Leonard Bernstein in his hotly anticipated pseudo biopic Maestro. Representatives for the Netflix film are adamant about not classifying the project as a full-on biographical film, but the pieces are there: Cooper's latest follows Bernstein's relationship with Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), from the early days of their courtship in 1946 through their 25-year marriage and three children. Outside of the film's inherent narrative appeal, there's a lot of awards weight riding on it, as Cooper is one of the most-nominated actors in Oscars history (he has nine nods for acting, producing, writing, and directing to his credit), and Mulligan has long been underserved on the awards trail with unconsummated nominations for Promising Young Woman and An Education, too. All eyes will be on this title in New York to see if it can finally sing Cooper & Co. into the Oscars' winners' circle.

Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures
Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures

Searchlight Pictures Michael Fassbender in Taika Waititi's upcoming soccer movie, 'Next Goal Wins'

Next Goal Wins

Playing at: Toronto

If you watch RuPaul's Drag Race, you know the phrase, "Losing is the new winning." That's a prime setup for Jojo Rabbit helmer (and, coincidentally, Drag Race Down Under guest judge) Taika Waititi's directorial follow-up to his 2019 comedy hit, which dramatizes the real-life story of the 2001 American Samoa soccer team — once known as one of the worst collective of players in the world after suffering a 31-0 loss to Australia. With an impressive cast (Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Oscar Kightley) and a script co-written by Waititi and Flight of the Conchords' Iain Morris, expect the film to tee up another fruitful blend of comedy and emotionally moving drama that should speak to both commercial audiences and awards voters alike.

Origin
Origin

J4A Jon Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis in Ava DuVernay's 'Origin'

Origin

Playing at: Venice

It's been a while — five years, to be exact — since Ava DuVernay directed a major movie. A far cry from the colorful spectacle of her Disney blockbuster A Wrinkle in Time, the Selma filmmaker gets back to her dramatic roots with Origin, the first film she's written, produced, and directed since her 2012 breakout Middle of Nowhere. Based on Isabel Wilkerson's book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the long-awaited film stars Jon Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis in a film adapted from a non-fiction text that observes hierarchal structures that enable racism in the United States. Just like her acclaimed documentary 13th did in 2016, Origin will quietly enter the race at a high-profile festival (this time it's Venice over New York), and if past reception to her work is any indication, the project should build healthy buzz as it expands over the weeks ahead.

Emma Stone in 'Poor Things'
Emma Stone in 'Poor Things'

Searchlight Pictures Emma Stone in 'Poor Things'

Poor Things

Playing at: Venice, Telluride, New York

Yorgos Lanthimos? Hollywood's most sought-after weirdo. The poster for his latest film, Poor Things? It's weird. That pre-release still of bare-faced Emma Stone strapped to a metallic machine? Yeah, it's freaking weird — and we couldn't be more excited for the Favourite and Lobster director's latest foray into surreal cinema via an adaptation of Alasdair Gray's novel of the same name. Stone portrays Bella Baxter, a dead woman who's brought back to life by a peculiar scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). If you haven't gathered, you need to be fully prepared for the film to be an oddball fantasy — but, as The Favourite's Oscars success proved in 2019, not too out there for even more traditional awards voters. While it's difficult to replicate the kind of triumph Olivia Colman had with Lanthimos' last major feature, Stone — an Oscar-winning star herself — seemingly has juicy material to explore here, so be on the lookout for her to make waves in the Best Actress race as Poor Things waltzes from Venice to New York.

Priscilla | Official Trailer HD | A24
Priscilla | Official Trailer HD | A24

A24/Youtube Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny in Sofia Coppola's 'Priscilla'

Priscilla

Playing at: Venice, New York

A master of framing stories about celebrity culture (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), young womanhood (Virgin Suicides), and, sometimes, both in one movie (Marie-Antoinette), Sofia Coppola feels like the perfect choice to bring the story of Priscilla Presley's (Cailee Spaeny) famed relationship with Elvis Presley (Euphoria's Jacob Elordi) to life. Amid a sea of bombastic, Oscar-embraced biopics about famous music men of yesteryear (Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody, last year's Elvis, etc.), audiences will catch an alternative glimpse at a story most think they know already in Priscilla, as Coppola dives deep into the central couple's dynamic through her signature, subtle style — seemingly with a keen focus on examining her titular subject over the glitzy sheen of Elvis' blinding presence in the spotlight.

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin
Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin

David Lee/Netflix Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in 'Rustin'

Rustin

Playing at: Telluride, Toronto

The Best Actor race is off to a hot start as Colman Domingo emerges as a Toronto standout — all before the festival even begins. The Euphoria and Fear the Walking Dead actor was named a TIFF Tribute Performer Award recipient days before the event kicked off, aligning him with past TIFF Tribute Award-winning stars that went on to win Oscars, such as Joker's Joaquin PhoenixThe Father star Anthony HopkinsNomadland director Chloé Zhao, The Eyes of Tammy Faye performer Jessica Chastain, and The Whale's Brendan Fraser. Though Domingo earned the award for overall career achievement and his performance in the TIFF title Sing Sing, his appearance in George C. Wolfe's biopic Rustin — as the titular queer activist who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington — is the likely awards play going forward, so you won't want to miss its Toronto debut.

Saltburn
Saltburn

Courtesy of MGM and Amazon Studios Barry Keoghan in 'Saltburn'

Saltburn

Playing at: Telluride

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Emerald Fennell had very little dialogue in character as Midge in Greta Gerwig's blockbuster Barbie, but that all changes as the Promising Young Woman filmmaker takes up perch in the director's chair for what appears to be another biting, white-knuckle big-screen venture. Starring the chameleonic Barry Keoghan — hot off his Oscar nod for The Banshees of InisherinSaltburn takes place at an aristocratic university, where a peculiar student (Keoghan) becomes infatuated with his classmate (Elordi, in another major film role this year) all against the backdrop of early-aughts academia.

The Zone of Interest The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.
The Zone of Interest The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.

A24 'The Zone of Interest'

The Zone of Interest

Playing at: Telluride, Toronto, New York

Arguably the biggest potential awards contender of the festival circuit, Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest began its upward trajectory at Cannes in May, where it earned stellar reviews ahead of inevitably generating further buzz as it builds a solid fall platform at Toronto and New York. Films involving the Holocaust have long punctuated awards seasons of years past, but by all accounts, Glazer — who directs his first feature in 10 years, since 2013's Under the Skin — takes an alternative, complex look at World War II-era Germany through the lens of a Nazi family. The project centers on Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), as they attempt to build an idyllic home for their family on the outskirts of the concentration camp. With anticipation growing for Glazer's return to filmmaking (as well as overall sentiment tipping in Hüller's favor as she makes headway in the Best Actress race for Anatomy of a Fall), expect Zone to pique voters' interest as it snowballs through the season.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X

Rich Fury/Getty Images Lil Nas X performs at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards.

Other must-see films playing at the 2023 fall film festivals:

All of Us Strangers (Telluride, New York)
Anatomy of a Fall (Telluride, Toronto, New York)
Boy Kills World (Toronto)
The Burial (Toronto)
Close to You (Toronto)
The Dead Don't Hurt (Toronto)
Dicks: The Musical (Toronto)
Dream Scenario (Toronto)
The End We Start (Toronto)
Evil Does Not Exist (Venice, Toronto, New York)
Ezra (Toronto)
Hard to Love: Nickelback (Toronto)
In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon (Toronto)
Knox Goes Away (Toronto)
Lee (Toronto)
Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero (Toronto)
May December (New York)
NYAD (Telluride, Toronto)
North Star (Toronto)
Occupied City (Telluride, New York)
Pain Hustlers (Toronto)
Poolman (Toronto)
Reptile (Toronto)
Sly (Toronto)
Sorry/Not Sorry (Toronto)
Strange Way of Life (New York)
Wildcat (Telluride, Toronto)
Woman of the Hour (Toronto)

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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