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Film festivals are not for the faint of heart. Those who hate small dark places, people who need to eat three square meals a day, those who don’t like popcorn, those who can’t imagine seeing three or four movies in one day should stay away.

The Philadelphia Film festival is the only “Film Festival” we have attended regularly. We do so in part because it’s a time to catch up with long-standing friends who live there and helped found the festival, but also because the film curation – which is broad and deep and reflects a diversity of subject matter and world view – is superb. There is an ease of access to the films you want to see, and the convenience (and necessity) of walk ability between the three theater complexes where the films are shown.

We were joined by one of our BFFs from Atlanta — Donna Pollet — for this movie marathon. And while most of the time we saw the same films, our choices sometimes diverged. Donna selected as her Top Five three films that Richard and I didn’t see.  Richard’s and my Top Five lists matched nearly identically and included three films that Donna didn’t see. Sometimes we just had to choose between several films being shown at the same time.

We saw 20 films over our 6 1/2 days in Philly. You are lucky because we’re not going to review each movie, but we will provide a brief summary of the ones we really thought were memorable. We’ve provided links so you can read more about them. Watch for these to appear in your local theaters or on one of the various TV formats.

All three of us listed the opening night feature film as a Top Film:

American Fiction. Described as a “hilariously biting satire” in the Film festival program, this is the story of a serious, but disillusioned, author who comes to terms with being ignored by the publishing industry in an outrageous and indeed, very funny commentary.

Richard and I had three foreign films as our Top Films:

Perfect Days. A Japanese film in which there is absolutely no dialogue for the first 30 minutes. The film is an homage to the ordinariness of one man’s life, a man who cleans public toilets for a living. It’s charming and enlightening.

The Taste of Things. A French commentary on love and food with exquisite sentiment, story, acting, photography, and Julliete Binoche.

Goodbye Julia. A touching and engaging Sudanese civil war story focusing on two women from different classes.

Donna had three foreign films on her Top Films list too, but they were different than ours:

Monster. A poignant story of two troubled young boys whose intense relationship is revealed in a “Rashomon-like” structure to unveil what actually transpired in a series of incidents involving their teacher and parents with distressing consequences for all.

Green Border. A dramatic and harrowing portrayal examining the refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian boarder viewed from several perspectives, the plight of a Syrian family, a Polish psychologist turned refugee-aid activist, and a sensitive and ambivalent Polish border guard.

The Teacher’s Lounge. A German drama of a devoted and well-intentioned teacher whose independent investigation of a series of thefts occurring in the “teacher’s lounge” immediately goes awry creating ethically dubious and disastrous, unintended consequences for the entire school. 

The fifth film on our mutual Top List was not one offered at the Film festival, but it was playing in Philadelphia. So we took the time (3.5 hours!) to see the just-released Killers of the Flower Moon. We had all read the book, and while different in some respects, we found the movie equal parts fascinating and horrifying. It provided fodder for many long discussions. You can find the mixed reviews easily.

Suffice it to say, our Top Films mentioned above have some combination of great acting and direction, powerful narratives, and terrific cinematography.

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In addition to these films, here’s a list of other films which we saw and enjoyed and would also recommend. Of course there were a few films that just didn’t work for us. but we don’t want to scare you away from something by listing them, because maybe they would work for you.

Other films worth considering:

Evil Does Not Exist. A taut Japanese film that pits countryside residents against corporate encroachment with tragic consequences.

Fancy Dance. A ‘real life’ story of a Native American woman (played beautifully by Lily Gladstone) trying to hold her family together in a very strong family drama.

La Chimera.  A funny Italian film, described as “Felliniesque,” that throws together grave robbers illegally digging for and selling priceless antiquities to gallery owners and their wealthy patrons. A highly entertaining “caper” with amusing twists and turns.

Maestro. A “big” film in which Bradley Cooper plays various stages in the life of Leonard Bernstein, celebrating his genius and his family life. See this one in a theater with a good sound system.

Rustin. A soaring biographical drama of civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, an often-overlooked leader in the Civil Right movement.  Extremely well-done and adds yet more details to the history of the Civil Rights Movement. This will be opening soon in a theater near you.

The Monk and the Gun. The film program described this as a “gently satirical comedy.” It is a story about  a village in Bhutan learning to mesh the old ways with the new.

Richland. A vivid documentary which explores a city forged by the Manhattan Project and both the pride and concerns that engendered.  Highly recommended for those who enjoyed Oppenheimer.

Upon Entry. Described as a “socio-political” film that digs deeply – and relentlessly — into a Spanish couple’s personal past as they try to enter the United States. 

Plenty of choices here for your consideration.

We can’t wait to return to Philadelphia next year!