With so many great flicks at Fantasia 2023, we wanted to do some quick hits. Below are several films to watch in the next year as they continue to break out in the mainstream. Among them is an incredible movie about LGBTQ+ revenge, a gorgeous animated fantasy, and a look back at Star Wars’ deep dark secret. We also include our favorites from previous festivals that screened at Fantasia 2023.

Femme 2023

Femme – Directed by Sam H. Freeman & Ng Choon Ping

Among the best films of the festival, Femme explodes onto the scene. Directed by Sam H. Freeman and Choon PingFemme bristles to life with its visual nuance. The story of a young LBGTQ+ performer taking revenge on their attacker recalls the masterful My Beautiful Laundrette. The struggles depicted make Femme a must-watch feature.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Femme are Nathan Stewart-Jarrett‘s and George Mackey‘s performances. Stewart-Jarrett’s complicated turn is one of the year’s best performances. Stewart-Jarrett delivers a titanic performance that combines emotion, physical transformation, and vulnerability. When the camera focuses on him, you are chilled to your core. Mackey once again proves to have surprising depth. The role of a closeted, self-hating gay man is always tricky. Yet Mackey plays him with a raw intensity that never once makes him feel like a stereotype. He is a complicated person, and Mackey gives the character the respect he deserves, even as the film reminds us of his terrible actions.

Femme deserves to be shown on the biggest stages and is one of the year’s most captivating feature debuts. Expect this directing duo to tower over the industry in the years ahead.

Alan’s Rating: 9/10

Deep Sea Fantasia 2023

Deep Sea – Directed by Tian Xiaopeng

During a thunderstorm, a young girl steps on the deck of a ship. However, the power of the storm is greater than she expected, and Shenxiu is thrown overboard. When she reawakens, Shenxiu finds herself in a magical world run by the enigmatic Hyjinx. The “cruise” they embark upon features unique creatures, wonderous adventures, and otherworldly images. However, Shenxiu uses the experience to right a wrong from her past. Her mother left long ago, and now she has a chance to discover the truth.

It would be easy to write off Deep Sea as a combination of various Miyazaki films. However, Tian Xiaopeng creates a work that shines on its own. The incredible animation is impossible to ignore throughout. It’s already difficult enough to animate water in a CG environment, but Xiaopeng pushes the limits on what is possible. Blending color, refracting light, and dozens of “slippery” creatures make every sequence wondrous.

Beyond the beautiful images, Deep Sea takes on an impressionistic visual palette. For a CG animated feature, there are a few features that feel wonderfully visually creative. While Xiaopeng still adheres to some standard animation archetypes, what he does with their physicality feels unique. The animation of how they move and react to the environments adds to the magical realism. Unfortunately, the animation only takes us so far. The story is messy on its own terms, even when you ignore similarities to other animation masterpieces.

Deep Sea highlights how impressive CG animation can become when the right artist uses the medium. However, weak storytelling prevents Deep Sea from reaching its potential. While visual wonders can take a movie far, that missing foundation becomes too difficult to overcome.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

Fantasia 2023 A Disturbance in the Force

A Disturbance in the Force – Directed by Jeremy Coon & Steve Kozak

In 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special was released to an unsuspecting public. While Star Wars was still the pop culture event of the previous eighteen months, many were concerned it would lose its presence in the culture. The resulting show was embarrassing to most, but most specifically, George Lucas. As the car flew off the tracks, it might have been lost to obscurity. However, Lucas’ instance of burying the film made it a pop culture phenomenon. Star Wars fanboys sought out the copies that escaped Lucas’ grasp, and a cult fandom exploded around the variety show.

Directors Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak suck you in on the silly premise and quickly establish their bonafides as filmmakers. They utilize many talking heads to provide perspective, and given the number of fanboys from the world of comedy, A Disturbance in the Force is much funnier than it has any right to be. Perhaps most helpful to their film is the inclusion of those who worked on the special. Coon and Kozack demystify the process behind the creation of the show. Instead, they make it seem like a commonplace occurrence that only feels weird because of the property that spawned it.

This context, particularly that of the 1970s variety show, creates a different legacy for the Holiday special. Rather than making it the joke in a sea of television, A Disturbance in the Force allows those who worked hard on the project to voice the passion they put into its creation. A few years ago, The Room was given a similar opportunity with The Disaster Artist. For the artists behind this show, Kozak and Coon remind us all of a simple truth: making art is a complicated process. Even when the best intentions are in place, the power of a creative disappears once the art enters the world. These writers and craftsman did not set out to make a bad show.

This can further be seen in how the Holiday Special has still cracked into pop culture. As A Disturbance in the Force points out, elements of these stories have snuck their into Star Wars lore today. Lifeday is celebrated at the theme parks. Boba Fett became an icon. Other aspects have found their way into The Mandalorian and Clone Wars shows. While Lucas may not have intended these to become canon, Coon, and Kozak ensure that the creators get their due. This is not a documentary that punches down, even when it’s at its most ridiculous. Instead, it invites the creative team to laugh along and still earn their laudits.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

Talk to Me Fanatasia

Talk to Me – SXSW Review

” A wild time with an excellent performance at its center, Talk to Me stands out for its sleek visuals and stunning craftwork. There’s no doubt that Talk to Me will make waves when it lands in theaters. One of the most violent and grotesque films of 2023 is sure to churn a few stomachs as it scares the shit out of the audience.”

‘Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls’ – Sundance Film Festival Review

“What Bowser does next will be intriguing. There’s a certain horror streaming service that should be the perfect landing place to help Onyx find a long-term audience. After genuinely enjoying this good-hearted comedy, turning this into a franchise would be a welcomed surprise. If the cast is down, Bowser seems like the type who may build a cult franchise. While it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is likely the film from Sundance 2023 that I’m most excited to work into the Halloween rotation.”

WIth Love and a Major Organ Fantasia 2023

With Love and a Major Organ – SXSW Review

With Love and a Major Organ feels like the big swing one would expect from an indie sci-fi feature. Strong performances help elevate the screenplay, which itself is already focused on complex relationships. The direction stands out above all, and Albright proves she can handle otherworldly ideas with care. Building on an emerging trend of strong lo-fi sci-fi, With Love and a Major Organ asks you to open your heart and mind to something special.”

Raging Grace Fantasia 2023

Raging Grace – SXSW Review

“With good scares and political commentary, Raging Grace delivers as a very powerful statement. As the stories of undocumented workers continue to come to light, there’s power in understanding the forces that seek to hold them back. Oppression does not take one face, but systemically attacks from many places. Raging Grace hopes to restore some balance to the equation.”

Mad Cats – Slamdance Film Festival Review

Mad Cats fluctuates between absurdity that goes overboard and one of the funniest movies at Slamdance in years. Somewhere between the two lies the truth, but one will never be bored watching the martial arts comedy. Keep an eye on Tsuno, who should continue to embrace his vision. At worst, we know he will make some of the most creative, if not outrageous, movies of each year.”

Which was your favorite film of Fantasia 2023? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our Fantasia Fest reviews, previews, and interviews here!

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