Virginia Film Festival 2023: Maestro, American Fiction, Origin, The Holdovers, and More!
By Dylan McKercher
VAFF Audience Award for Narrative Feature Winner: Origin
Day 2 Film: Rustin
Day 3 Films: They Shot the Piano Teacher & Sleep
Day three commenced with a pair of films: They Shot the Piano Teacher and Sleep. I thought They Shot the Piano Teacher was a mixed bag. While the film had some colorful eye-popping animation, a discomforting Jeff Goldblum voiceover, a messy pace, and an uneventful payoff left me disappointed.
On the other hand, Sleep is probably my surprise of the festival. The Korean horror film kept me on the edge of my seat, anxious, and never knowing where we were heading next. Sleep is headlined by two great leading performances, creative direction, and immersive sound design.
Day 4 Films: Perfect Days, Terrestrial Verses, Four Daughters, & The Holdovers
Final Day Films: The Taste of Things & May December
Finally, it was the last day of the festival. This day was my personal favorite, since I was able to see The Taste of Things, France’s International Feature submission, May December, Todd Haynes’s Netflix-acquired film, and American Symphony. The Taste of Things captures the innocent magic of the culinary world and is enhanced by scrumptious cinematography that mesmerizes the audience with extreme close ups, long takes, and tracking shots of our cooks baking delicious dishes. Mix in two terrific lead acting performances and you have a deserved shoo-in for an International Feature nomination.
Speaking of terrific performances. May December had three of them. Natalie Portman has mastered her craft as she plays an actress named Elizabeth attempting to embody Julianne Moore’s Gracie. She portrays Elizabeth perfectly, keeping you constantly guessing at her true colors and intentions. Meanwhile, Julianne Moore is intensely magnetic as Gracie, a woman you can’t empathize with but are fascinated by nonetheless. Portman and Moore would be the clear MVPs in most other films. However, the true standout of May December is Charles Melton. While he is more reserved in the first act, he eventually astounds in multiple captivating scenes throughout the film, bringing much-needed heart to a fairly cynical film. Behind the camera, Todd Haynes’s creative directorial vision, Samy Burch’s witty writing, and excellent pacing kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat.
Closing Night Film & Directorial Achievement Award Winner: American Symphony
I ended my festival experience with Closing Night Film and Directorial Achievement Award Winner American Symphony. Matthew Heineman returns to the directing chair to showcase another impactful story. However, instead of covering a life-threatening event on a grand scale, American Symphony focuses on a life-threatening disease affecting someone close to renowned music artist Jon Batiste. The documentary does a brilliant job at taking a peek behind the curtain to observe the immensely talented Jon Batiste’s personal life. It brilliantly showcases how someone as seemingly on top of the world as Jon Batiste, who had just won 4 Grammys (including Album of the Year), could be struggling with devastating events behind the scenes. After the Q&A, Batiste concluded the fest with a bang, gifting us with an electric performance singing, dancing, playing instruments.