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Looking back at film festival favorites from the past year

Can you catch the running theme?

Things did not get completely back to normal in 2021, but some film festivals showed there were signs it was headed that way. Even those that did not return in person were better prepared to handle things. There were in person, virtual, and hybrid events to satiate film fans. AIPT was able to cover a number of events both virtually and in person. Here are some of our favorites.

Sundance Film FestivalPleasure

pleasure

Sofia Kappel appears in Pleasure by Ninja Thyberg, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

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This story about a young woman navigating the porn industry (Sofia Kappel) was graphic without ever being sexy. Bella Cherry is a fascinating character whose change over the course of is engaging. The story itself has an improvisational film that plays into the industry it is depicting. Instead of focusing on the faux glitz and glamour of the industry, the movie is much more grounded and even relatable.

South by SouthwestThe Feast

holiday

SXSW was home to some of the best movies of the year. The Feast was the best of them. The film is folk horror at its finest and has a setting that is atmospheric and engaging. Add that the entire film is spoken in Welsh and it adds a dreamy/nightmarish quality that is hard to replicate. Uncomfortable, frightening, and brutal, The Feast is one of the most memorable watches of 2021.

Chattanooga Film FestivalMy Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

my heart can't beat

This intimate horror movie will catch you off guard. It is more about the story than the fear, except that story intentionally does not tell the audience everything, plus it involves violent and bloody acts that are inherently scary. It sounds like it should not work, but it does so with ease. The hows and whys become secondary in this tale of grief and moral struggle.

TribecaAccepted

accepted

A documentary that asks whether the ends justify the means, Accepted follows a prep school that boasts a 100% college acceptance rate. The rural Louisiana school is predominantly Black and underprivileged. The documentary poses interesting questions about race and class without ever taking a side. The ending puts an exclamation point on one of the country’s biggest problems.

Cannes Film FestivalTitane

Looking back at film festival favorites from the past year

One of the most indescribable movies of the year is also one of the best. After winning the Palme d’Or, all the talk centered around the sex scene involving a car. Juli Ducournau’s film is so much more, tackling gender, identity, family, and loneliness. It is a visceral watch ends with as many questions as answers. The serial killer plot takes backstage to a much more personal story that will remain with you.

Fantasia International Film FestivalThe Sadness

the sadness

Director Rob Jabbaz’s zombie film may not sound like anything special. It has the social commentary and gore normally found in these movies while having a threadbare plot. So, why does it stand out so much? The Sadness never claims to be deep, but it will have audiences asking questions about human nature. The movie has a realism that is not normally a part of this genre. Everything comes together in a way that is terrifying.

New York Asian Film Festival – Escape from Mogadishu

escape from mogadishu

This South Korean action movie is a reminder of the odd couple stories that used to dominate the genre. The film takes things to a higher level – it is based on a true story about diplomats from South Korea and North Korea having to work together to survive – but its core will be very familiar. There are the misunderstandings and humor that you would expect to find. Everything culminates in an amazing car chase scene that is the best of any movie this year. It is an exciting and thrilling conclusion to a story that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats the whole time.

Fantastic FestThe Beta Test

the beta test

The Beta Test may well be the best movie of the year. The movie pulls no punches as it takes on Hollywood, toxic masculinity, and identity issues. Jim Cummings is fantastic and the writing is a highlight. The characters are used to enhance the mystery and the final monologue by Cummings is one of the cinematic highlights of the year.

Toronto International Film FestivalSilent Night

Looking back at film festival favorites from the past year

Another movie with great storytelling that builds to its powerful conclusion. The film has a great cast that navigates the emotional ups and downs required. Though the movie was written before COVID, it manages to mirror many of the world’s current problems, making this even more topical and frightening. The ending will be polarizing, but the lead up will have anyone watching wondering what will happen next.

Nightstream Film FestivalPoser

Looking back at film festival favorites from the past year

Sylvie Mix makes a compelling debut in a thriller that will sneak up on you. Taking place in the Columbus music and art scene, the movie is an intimate tale that slowly builds to its shocking finale. The decision to build characters and locations while letting the story simmer in the background may not work for everyone, but the music and acting is top notch. One of the most genuine films to come out of the film festival circuit this year.

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