While there’s always lots of attention paid to the film festivals that happen at the beginning of the year, particularly the Sundance Film Festival in January, late-summer/early-fall season brings with it a bundle of festivals that may actually outweigh Sundance in how much buzz they produce. Late August through mid-September sees three festivals happening back to back: Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival.

Why do these three carry with them as much if not more weight than Park City’s Sundance/Slamdance pairing? Because of their timing they draw a very clear line in the movie world between the fun and frivolity of summer and the award-season race of fall and winter. There are serious movies being debuted at these festivals, and the opinions that come out of screenings often shape what movie will win an Academy Awards and other honors later on.

So what are some of the movies that are benefiting from positive word of mouth? Here’s a sampling:

The Company You Keep: With Robert Redford directing and starring in a story that harkens back to the actor’s own political views and Shia LaBeouf as a journalist hot on the trail of Redford’s activist-in-hiding, this film is being touted as a well-constructed adult drama that features some great performances.

Looper: One of the most anticipated films of the festival season, this time-travel story has Bruce Willis as a man sent to the past who’s being hunted by his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick), this is being touted as a fun high-concept thriller.

 

On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s classic travelogue has always been held up as being essentially unfilmable. But now it’s been filmed and is coming out of its festival and other early screenings as being an interesting character study and look back at the beatnik era. Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Sam Riley (Control) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight saga) star.

The Master: It may or may not be an indictment of Scientology but, whatever it is, it’s getting a lot of positive word-of-mouth from critics at the festivals. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are getting lauds for their performances but some critics are calling Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as an early acolyte of Hoffman’s character a career defining one.

Frances Ha: The latest from writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), this is being called a wonderfully accurate portrait of young adults at a crossroads in life. Rising star Greta Gerwig is being called out specifically for an emotionally heavy performance.

To the Wonder: Did you think Terence Malick’s Tree of Life contained too much straightforward narrative? Then this latest, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and others, may be for you as it sees the filmmaker playing around with structure even more.

With some festivals wrapping up and some just getting started there’s sure to be plenty more movies with lots of buzz of both varieties. Stay tuned for more.

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