‘Poor Things’ and ‘All of Us Strangers’ Make Searchlight Pictures an Early MVP of the Fall Season

If there is one distributor starting its fall festival season with a bang, it’s Searchlight Pictures. While others like A24 and Neon are still touting their big Cannes acquisitions, providing films like “The Zone of Interest” and “Anatomy of a Fall” a second wave of praise, a Venice premiere for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” and a Telluride premiere for Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” has made the Disney subsidiary the talk of both towns this weekend.

Focusing on Telluride specifically, with select tastemakers having seen the film beforehand, “All of Us Strangers” quickly shot to the top of attendees recommendation list to their fellow festivalgoers after its opening day premiere. The fantastical romantic drama is the British director’s third film at the Telluride — a fact festival director Julie Huntzinger pointed out in the press briefing. However, the word she used to describe “All of Us Strangers” was “transcendent.”

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Andrew Scott takes lead, giving his most notable film performance to date as screenwriter named Adam, who has a chance meeting with his young neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal), and then suddenly finds a way to reconnect with his long-dead Mum and Dad, still the same age as they were before their fatal car crash, played by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell. Between his moving familial conversations with his parents, who did not live long enough to see him come out as gay, and the sensual, heart-wrenching romance Adam and Harry have, this is a film that had a deep emotional impact on many viewers.

Coincidentally, Scott has a shot at a Best Actor nomination much in the same way his scene partner Mescal did with “Aftersun” last year. The 27-year-old star himself could be back at the Oscars a second year in a row, melting audience’s hearts with his wistful, piercing blue eyes and disarming demeanor. He and Bell, excellent in his own right as a stoic father, are proper options for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, as is perennial Best Supporting Actress contender Claire Foy, in a mother role that is more on the whimsical side.

Jamie Bell and Claire Foy in ALL OF US STRANGERS. Photo by Chris Harris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
“All of Us Strangers”Chris Harris

Best Picture and Best Director nominations are not completely out of the question for Haigh’s film. Graham Broadbent, a Best Picture nominee last year for “The Banshees of Inisherin” is the lead producer of “All of Us Strangers.” But the race it feels most primed for is Best Adapted Screenplay. At a festival Q&A moderated by Chloe Zhao, Haigh talked about turning Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel “Strangers” into a modern-day queer love story that does away with the book’s more melodramatic conclusion, but keeps key aspects. “It’s quite different, but that central conceit [with the parents] is definitely the same thing,” said the filmmaker. “I just didn’t want to make them feel like they were ghosts. I wanted them to feel very present in his life, just like our understanding of our parents and our memory of our parents, if they’re still around or whatever, or anybody that we’ve loved and lost is always still there. And I wanted ’em to feel really, really present.”

After a rousing “Poor Things” debut at Venice Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos came to Colorado to premiere the film stateside, as well as receive a Telluride tribute and silver medallion. In conversation with director Karyn Kusama, the Greek auteur gave insight into his filmmaking process, saying he’s learned “no matter how much money you have, it’s never enough.” But coming from a country that did not have a real film industry until the time he started making movies, he has found success by sticking to his roots. “You just have to maybe accept that that’s part of filmmaking,” said Lanthimos. “What we’ve been trying to do over the years, is just go back to that kind of simplicity, even if there have to be a hundred trucks outside and a hundred other people that do other stuff that when we were on set, it’s just the absolutely necessary people.”

That extended to production on “Poor Things,” where to keep set a safe space for lead Emma Stone and co-stars during intimate scenes, he did not even have a sound person. “We just rigged mics and it was just the three of us. And it was very intimate and safe and comfortable.It is very important for me no matter how much the scale of the film changes that I try to retain that kind of atmosphere on set,” said the director.

“Poor Things,” about a re-animated woman making her way back into society with the freshest of eyes, is a surefire Oscar contender across the board, allowing Lanthimos to go even further into his trademark style and invention. Stone and Mark Ruffalo in particular are comedic phenoms destined to be in conversation for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

Ramy Youssef and Willem Dafoe in POOR THINGS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
“Poor Things”Courtesy Yorgos Lanthimos/Searchlight Pictures, exclusive to IndieWire

But the whole cast of characters, from Willem Dafoe and Ramy Youssef to Jerrod Carmichael and Margaret Qualley all are top of their game, even with the most absurd tasks thrown at them, from a script penned by Oscar nominee Tony McNamara, adapted from the 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray.

Lanthimos is known for putting his cast through many exercises and games before shooting starts, which he said makes them “feel comfortable to make a fool of themselves in front of the others. [The] making [of] films is not something too serious.” Though, whether it is Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, or Holly Waddington’s costume design, “Poor Things” is the most serious Oscar contender so far that premiered out of a fall film festival.

Additional reporting by Anne Thompson.

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