Once again, AFI Film Fest brings L.A. the highlights of film festivals from around the world, in addition to overlooked indies that have flown under the radar. Of the 118 films in the fest, here are 10 that our critics think are worth watching:


If you aren't already familiar with Jack O'Connell, you will be soon. The wunderkind 24-year-old has delivered stunning turns in Starred Up and now '71, while his upcoming role in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken seems likely to fall into the “career-making” category. He stars as a young soldier who gets separated from the rest of his platoon on a routine mission gone awry in Yann Demange's breathless thriller about the Troubles, which takes place during one tumultuous night in Belfast, as a few set out to rescue him and several more try to do him in. On the rare occasion of a moment's pause, the only thing you'll have time to contemplate is the power of O'Connell's performance as chaos erupts around all him. —Michael Nordine

The Duke of Burgundy

Set in a mysterious alternate world populated exclusively by women (all of whom appear to be amateur lepidopterists), Peter Strickland's follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio at first appears to be just a clever homage to '70s European lesbian soft-core. As the film observes its central couple (played by Chiara D'Anna and Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen) engage in outré BDSM scenarios, however, it gradually, unexpectedly deepens into one of cinema's most incisive and strangely touching portraits of a long-term relationship. This isn't merely the film of the year — it's sure to be one of the films of the decade. —Mike D'Angelo

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

In this incendiary drama about a defiant wife, marriage is a literal trap: a small, windowless white courtroom where the miserable missus appears week after week trying to convince three apathetic rabbis to grant her a divorce. According to Jewish law, they don't have to unless her husband agrees. And he won't. The months, then years, tick past like a furious farce — except for many women, this legal nightmare is all too true. Directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz never leave the courtroom, giving the film a caged claustrophobia. At least we know we can leave in two hours. Wives like Viviane are stuck. —Amy Nicholson

Heaven Knows What

Movies about junkies can often be a drag, but brothers Josh and Benny Safdie found a mesmerizing real-life subject in Arielle Holmes, a 19-year-old homeless heroin addict they encountered on the streets of New York. They then proceeded to develop a quasi-fictional movie around her, based on the harrowing existence she was still enduring at the time. For all its scuzzy realism, though, Heaven Knows What is hardly a documentary, with the Safdies employing various methods (most notably an abrasive electronic score) to create an immersive, utterly gripping cinematic depiction of self-destructive chaos. —Mike D'Angelo

It Follows

David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) has come up with a uniquely unnerving premise for a horror film: a sexually transmitted curse that sees the victim relentlessly stalked by a shape-shifting, malevolent force — one that moves only at a brisk walk but never, ever, ever stops heading straight for you. As targeted heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) struggles to find some expendable guy she can sleep with in order to pass the curse along, it's impossible not to constantly scan the frame for signs of any random walking extra who looks as if (s)he might be on the correct murderous trajectory. —Mike D'Angelo


It seems a minor miracle that Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan was selected as Russia's submission to the Academy Awards. The Book of Job–inspired story of a man having his land forcibly seized by corrupt bureaucrats hardly shines a positive light on the current regime, though it does showcase the uniquely beautiful peninsula near the Barents Sea on which it's set. The pale light and low temperatures provide a striking backdrop for slowly escalating arguments and acts of betrayal. First shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Screenplay award, it's an affecting reminder that politics is always personal no matter what country you're in. —Michael Nordine

Love Streams

Indie icon John Cassavetes' masterpiece (screening in honor of its 30th anniversary) comes at viewers in disconnected vignettes of eccentric drama. Characters and conversations separate and overlap in a patchwork of pathos that builds to a mesmerizing, surreal finale. A successful but self-destructive writer (Cassavetes) cavorts with younger women in his bachelor-pad mansion, and a frenetic and unstable woman (Gena Rowlands) separates from her husband and ambles through life in an attempt to prove she's not insane. Their chaotic lives with one another and their estranged families provide a lingering meditation on love and identity in a highly unpredictable narrative that oscillates between comedy and tragedy. —Doug Cummings

Mr. Turner

If you've heard anything about Mr. Turner, it's that Timothy Spall (who won Best Actor at Cannes) gives a memorable performance as the “painter of light” in Mike Leigh's unconventional biopic. Less attention-grabbing but just as important is the dark-yet-beautiful milieu of 19th-century England. Many are sick or dying, and everyone else seems struck with survivor's guilt for outliving their loved ones. This may be a world of untimely death and pervasive disease, but such hardships give rise to rich inner worlds that aren't always best expressed in words. Spall's performance is a master class in grunts and other semiverbal forms of communication, his permanent scowl belying just how attuned he is to that beauty. —Michael Nordine

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

After making enemies of Courtney Love and Suge Knight, British documentarian Nick Broomfield definitely isn't scared of a South Central serial killer — not even Lonnie Franklin, who may have murdered up to 180 women. To understand how Franklin evaded police for 22 years, Broomfield befriends the neighborhood car thieves, hookers, addicts and creeps who knew the alleged killer well, and uncovers a whole web of victims and witnesses, none of whom was ever interviewed by, the cops even after Franklin's arrest. (L.A. Weekly broke the story of his existence. Four years later, he's yet to go to trial.) This funny yet infuriating film stops just shy of fingering LAPD as accomplices, but Broomfield boldly reminds us that, like Franklin, they approved of ridding prostitutes from the streets. —Amy Nicholson

Two Days, One Night

Job loss, being cast adrift, ignored by peers who furtively guard their pieces of a dwindling pie — the stellar Dardenne brothers plunge into these pervasive feelings with this riveting story of Sandra (the phenomenal Marion Cotillard), whose co-workers must choose between laying her off (and getting a hefty bonus) or keeping her on. Fighting fears and insecurity, Sandra visits each of them to ask for support. It's a highly sensitive but unsentimental film, a cauldron of emotions, keen character sketches and a deep awareness of the frictions and bonds that exist between people: a resonant cinder box for our age of austerity. —Doug Cummings

AFI FEST | Various locations in Hollywood | Through Nov. 13 | (866) 234-3378 | afi.com/afifest

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