Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

The time is upon us to get all immersed in two weeks’ worth of movies as the Vancouver International Film Festival kicks off which will be my fifth year covering it. Obviously it’s very different this year with the COVID-19 pandemic still in effect so for the most part we’re going virtual with a few limited in theater screenings with a reduced crown.

While I am definitely bummed out that I won’t get that full festival feel, talk movies in-depth with filmgoers, have that anticipation of sitting in the theater and waiting for a film to hit the screen that I have been waiting for all year, I am still excited that there is SOMETHING this year to see and I have a five movie highlight of the top picks heading into this year’s festival.

Possessor – Let’s mess you up right out of the gate as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

The Father – I love Academy Award winner Olivia Colman with all of my heart and if you don’t or find yourself on the fence with her then I don’t believe you have really seen her before because the feelings for her are infectious with everything she does. This new drama sits her opposite another Oscar winner, Anthony Hopkins, as a man who refuses all assistance from his daughter, played by Colman, as he ages. Trying to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality as he descends into his advancing illness. The buzz on this movie is huge as both stars are gunning for another statue for their mantle, giving stellar performances and the adept direction from French writer and director Florian Zeller might just land him on the A-list as well.

Falling – Viggo Mortensen is a man that can really do no wrong. He’s freaking Aragorn, the king of Middle Earth, for one thing, and all of the projects he has taken since, whether it was for David Cronenberg, a Disney adventure film or the must-see Captain Fantastic, all it does is endear him to us more. Now he steps behind the camera for this film that he wrote and starred in about a conservative father, played by legendary actor Lance Henriksen, who gives up his rural farm life to move to Los Angeles to live with his gay son and his family. The film is described as a beautifully paced melodrama about understanding and relationship rebirth and hopefully will be a kickstart of Lance Henriksen back into the spotlight, although us horror fans know he’s been kicking serious ass for decades in the genre. I have big hopes for this movie.

Black Bear – Christopher Abbot makes his second appearance at the festival and on this blog with this new drama featuring Aubrey Plaza, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and Under The Dome’s Alexander Koch. written and directed by Wild Canaries filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine. The story follows a filmmaker with a severe case of a creative block who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. Again, this is another film that has all of the critics raving about it, just like the other festival-goers who have seen it and I’m very intrigued to see Plaza, usually a comedic actress, tackle something with a deeply dramatic heart and a film that I hear deconstructs the way melodramas are represented. This is one of those films that make the whole festival worth it.

NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE YET

Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslett and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and now I am just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. The acclaimed writer and director of another festival favorite God’s Own Country from a few years back returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to convalesce by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favorite films of last year and I’m really happy that this LGBTQ+ movie is getting such a grand festival release as one of the draws this year. I’m really excited about this one, as I have been about the rest of these picks, and the critics have been crazy about it already.

Be sure to check if films are streaming or in theater screenings only at viff.org and be sure to chat with me on Twitter about it as well!

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