The Moviegoer's Guide to the 25th Philadelphia Film Festival

Staff - October 24, 2016

For those of you who don't know, the 25th Philadelphia Film Festival is now upon us! Running from October 20th to October 30th, this festival is the highlight of moviegoing in the City of Brotherly Love, and The Moviegoer is covering it all. Our writers are going to a wide range of films, both films that have already sent shock waves through the film festival circuit, like Lion, The Salesman, and Personal Shopper, and films that are making their first screenings ever, like Spa Night and My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

We thought we could share a list of all the films we're really looking forward to at this year's festival, which is certainly the biggest that we've seen so far. This list was compiled based on what's been generating the most buzz and what has the potential to deliver on its potential. We think everyone will find a film that fits their tastes, and don't forget to tune in to the website every day for the next couple of weeks for all of our coverage.

Here's the list, in no particular order:

Toni Erdmann Director: Maren Ade Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn Synopsis: Ines and her father Winfried do not have the best relationship, but that doesn’t stop him from visiting her as a surprise. Winfried is an eccentric joker who loves practical jokes and creating alter egos, clashing with Ines who is struggling to succeed as a woman in a corporation. Why It's Important: Toni Erdmann made such a splash at its premiere at Cannes earlier this year that it was recently voted as one of the 100 greatest films of the 21st century in a BBC survey of critics from all over the world. It has continued to receive rave reviews as it has played at other festivals this year. Screenings: Saturday, October 22, 2:00 PM

Natalie Portman in <i>Jackie</i>

Jackie Director: Pablo Larrain Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Caspar Phillipson, Greta Gerwig Synopsis: Cutting between the major events of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s time as First Lady - from her tour of the White House to her organizing of John F. Kennedy’s funeral - Jackie depicts the devastating loss experienced by a grieving widow. Why It's Important: Director Pablo Larrain also has Neruda showing at the festival, but the real focus of the film is Natalie Portman’s powerhouse performance as Jackie. Supported by an outstanding cast, Portman has been getting much praise, positioning her as one of the frontrunners for the upcoming awards season. Screenings: Friday, October 21, 7:15 PM

The Handmaiden Director: Park Chan-wook Cast:Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo Synopsis: In 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, Sook-hee, a pickpocket, is recruited to rob Japanese heiress Lady Hideko. The story of secrets, double-crossing, and dramatic revelations takes a turn when the two develop feelings for one another. Why It's Important: Park Chan-wook takes his remarkable touch that made him famous with thrillers like Oldboy and transports it to a period setting without sacrificing any of his craftsmanship or dark humor. Screenings: Saturday, October 22, 10:15 PM; Sunday, October 30, 8:35 PM

The Salesman Director: Asghar Farhadi Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti Synopsis: Married couple, Rana and Emad, struggle to keep their relationship under control after an assault by an unknown man puts Rana in the hospital and sets Emad on a manhunt. The tension in the relationship begins to hurt the professional actors, who are putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Why It's Important: The Salesman won Best Screenplay and Best Actor at Cannes this year. Farhadi’s A Separation won Best Foreign Film and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2011 Oscars, so this is surely to be a contender come awards season. Screenings: Sunday, October 23, 7:05 PM; Saturday, October 29, 2:30 PM

La La Land Director: Damien Chazelle Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons Synopsis: An ambitious jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) fall in love in the classic old-fashioned Hollywood style. Why It's Important: After premiering in this year’s Venice Film Festival, where Emma Stone won the Best Actress prize, and subsequently playing at Toronto as well, there is no film which has swept the critics off their feet as cleanly as La La Land has, making this one of the hottest films of the fall. Produced by Penn alum Fred Berger, La La Land also stars John Legend (another Penn connection!) and Rosemarie DeWitt. This might just be the film that brings the musical genre back in a big way to the cinema. Screenings: Thursday, October 20th, 8:00pm

Arrival Director: Denis Villeneuve Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker Synopsis: A linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications after mysterious pods land on Earth. Why It's Important: After making the transition to Hollywood in 2012 with Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve has crafted a unique niche for himself in the industry with arthouse fare that has managed to be highly commercial as well. His latest film finds him in a sandbox similar to his more high-profile upcoming production, Blade Runner 2. Coming off its Toronto premiere, Arrival is tipped to be this year’s Interstellar: a smart and challenging sci-fi film with a ton of heart. Screenings: Friday, October 28th, 8:00PM

Things to Come

Things to Come Director: Mia Hansen-Løve Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Roman Kolinka Synopsis: Nathalie’s life is unraveling: she is on her own as she deals with her recent divorce, her mother’s poor health, and being fired. As she experiences an existential crisis, she is reunited with one of her former students, Fabien. Why It's Important: Mia Hansen-Love (Goodbye First Love, Eden) continues her development as a unique, interesting voice in film with her fifth feature, as she teams up with Isabelle Huppert, one of today’s finest working actors. Screenings: Friday, October 21, 12:10 PM; Monday, October 24, 7:00 PM

The Net Director: Kim ki-duk Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum, Kim Young-min, Lee Wong-gun Synopsis: After a fishing accident results in North Korean Nam Chul-woo getting picked up by South Korean border police, Nam is suspecting of being a spy. He must endure interrogation as his fervent ideology conflicts with the equally dogmatic beliefs of his interrogator. Why It's Important: Kim Ki-duk has been a successful, though divisive, director with films like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, Pieta, and Moebius. His latest offering is a spy thriller, which looks at the large scale conflict between North and South Korea from the perspective of a poor fisherman. Screenings: Sunday, October 23, 9:40 PM; Saturday, October 29, 6:30 PM

Lion Director: Garth Davis Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman Synopsis: A young Indian man (Dev Patel), separated from his family as a child and adopted by an Australian couple, sets out to find his parents using Google Earth, 25 years later.
Why It's Important: After premiering in this year’s Toronto Film Festival to strong reviews, Lion is being hailed as this year’s feel-good film, along the lines of The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. With the backing of film studio executive Harvey Weinstein, its broad appeal and a cast that includes Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, Lion looks poised to be a big player in this year's Oscar race.
Screenings: Wednesday, Oct. 26, 7:00pm

Graduation Director: Cristian Mungiu Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici Synopsis: A moral conflict emerges when a physician's daughter is sexually assaulted, causing her to perform poorly in school right when she needs to secure a scholarship for her future, and her father has to decide whether he should use his influence to help her. Why It's Important: A mainstay of the Romanian New Wave with 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days and Beyond The Hills, Mungiu's work in Graduation has been praised for its structure and tonal strength. Writes Leslie Felperin for The Hollywood Reporter, "Mungiu has a technical mastery of his craft which is so effortless, so subtle, and so insidiously naturalistic that less observant viewers can easily fail to spot the skill and think it’s nothing more than a bunch of Romanians babbling while the camera jerks around a lot." This film looks like a lot like Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt in its content, but should be another strong entry into the Romanian cinematic corpus. Screenings: Saturday, October 22, 2:00 PM

Personal Shopper Director: Olivier Assayas Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz Synopsis: A young American in Paris works as a personal shopper for a celebrity. She seems to have the ability to communicate with spirits, like her recently deceased twin brother. Soon, she starts to receive ambiguous messages from an unknown source. Why It's Important: Personal Shopper is the second film to feature the actor-director team up between Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart, both of whom worked together previously on the critical hit Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). The film sharply divided audiences at this year's Cannes Film Festival, but Assayas is a director whose work is always interesting to watch. Screenings: Saturday, October 22nd, 4:55pm, and Sunday, October 30th, 6:30pm.

Age of Shadows

The Age of Shadows Director: Kim Jee-woon Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Um Tae-goo Synopsis:Set in the late 1920s, The Age of Shadows follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them. Why It's Important: The Age of Shadows is Kim Jee-woon's return to South Korea after his foray in the States with the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner The Last Stand, and it looks like he's operating in fine form with this spy-thriller. Reviews have been strong from Venice and Toronto, with praise for the action scenes, but criticisms have been made at the flimsy plot. Screenings: Friday, October 21st, 9:00pm and Sunday, October 30th, 1:45pm

The Unknown Girl Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne Cast: Adélé Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Yannick Renier Synopsis: The Dardenne Brothers are a Belgian duo of filmmakers whose work has consistently rocked film festivals since 1999, when they won their first Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for their film Rosetta. Their latest is an arthouse procedural that divided audiences at this year's Cannes, after which they re-edited the film. The overall impression is that The Unknown Girl is another strong entry in their oeuvre, albeit a less major one. Screenings:Friday, October 21st, 4:20pm and Saturday, October 29th, 7:25pm

Manchester by the Sea Director: Kenneth Lonergan Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams Synopsis: When his older brother dies unexpectedly, Lee (Casey Affleck) is made legal guardian of his late brother's teenage son and is forced to move back to his hometown in Massachusetts. There, he is confronted with memories from his past, including those of his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community. Why It's Important: Manchester by the Sea premiered early this year at Sundance, where it drew raves for its direction, screenplay, and performances. A sure-fire Oscar heavyweight, this is a film that will leave you filled in awe thanks to a powerhouse lead performance by Casey Affleck. Here's Ritwik Bhatia's review on the film from the 54th New York Film Festival. Screenings: Saturday, October 22nd, 7:30pm

Moonlight

Moonlight Director: Barry Jenkins Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Andre Holland Synopsis: The film spans three distinct periods in the life of a young black male, focusing on the struggles of his dysfunctional family, his faith, and his sexuality while navigating 1980s Miami. Why It's Important: Barry Jenkins successfully grappled with race relations in his previous film Medicine for Melancholy, so this film should be no exception. Also, stories about African-American teenagers exploring their sexuality are especially rare, making this even more of a standout film. The reviews from Toronto have called it a masterpiece, and it continues producer/distributor A24's unique choices in the industry. Screenings: Monday, October 24th, 7:10pm

Aquarius Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho Cast: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos Synopsis: Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, vows to live in her apartment until she dies after a developer buys all of the units around her. Why It's Important: The film has garnered rave reviews and Oscar buzz for lead actress Sonia Braga, and staff writer Ritwik Bhatia saw the film at this year's New York Film Festival. He agrees with previous assessments with the film, citing it as a searing familial drama with a pitch-perfect performance from its lead role. Screenings: Thursday, October 27th, 2:10pm, and Saturday, October 29th, 4:35pm.

I Am Not Your Negro Director: Raoul Peck Cast: N/A Synopsis: Samuel L. Jackson brings the words of James Baldwin to life in Raoul Peck’s stunning, sobering cinematic essay, in which Baldwin reflects on his murdered friends and the legacy of racial hatred in America. Why It's Important: After screening at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, I Am Not Your Negro has been heralded as a powerful, timely documentary. Amidst a period of racial tension in the United States, the documentary will be screening at an important time in our country's history. Screenings: Saturday, October 22nd, 5:15pm and Saturday, October 29th, 9:30pm.

I, Daniel Blake Director: Ken Loach Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy Synopsis: When an ill carpenter finds himself in need of state welfare, he meets a desperate single mother who needs the same thing. Together, the duo discovers that negotiating through the red tape is a challenge. Why It's Important: Signs have pointed to I, Daniel Blake as British maestro Ken Loach's final film. If so, Loach is ending his career with a bang, as the film won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film promises to provide strong social commentary and tug at your heartstrings at the same time. Screenings: Sunday, October 23rd, 4:45pm and Saturday, October 29th, 5:05pm.

Trespass Against Us Director: Adam Smith Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson Synopsis: Struggling to disentangle his family ties, a lifelong criminal seeks a better life for himself and his loved ones. Why It's Important: Adam Smith is known for his vibrant music videos, and he brings his signature flare to Tresspass Against Us. Although not warmly received at the Toronto International Film Festival, this should be a well-done genre exercise buoyed by Fassbender and Gleeson. Screenings: Sunday, October 23rd, 9:30 pm

Paterson

Paterson Director: Jim Jarmusch Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farhani, Kara Hayward Synopsis: In this comedy-drama, "Paterson" follows the life of a bus driver (Adam Driver) and his prolific poetry. Why It's Important: Director Jim Jarmusch has made a significant impact in the indie film scene for decades. His films often contemplate on the complexities of the mundane, and "Paterson" is no exception. If you want to see an intriguing film that does not hold itself to the restraints of traditional narrative structure, definitely consider checking this one out. Screenings: Thursday, October 27th, 6:40pm

This guide was compiled by staff writers James Sheplock, Ritwik Bhatia, and Nikhil Venkatesa.