The fall movie season is finally upon us, and with it comes the big film festivals that help steer our expectations. Audiences are presently in Venice and Telluride and will soon be in Toronto and New York checking out premieres of titles the rest of us will eventually get to see in the coming months.

There are already a few bona fide must-sees of the season, namely La La LandNocturnal Animals and Arrival, all of them starting out with perfect or near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes scores. Find out how people are positively and comparatively describing them each below. 

 

La La Land 

Damien Chazelle's follow-up to Whiplash proves he's truly one of the greatest new talents in Hollywood. La La Land is an old-fashioned musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and critics are going mostly gaga for its charms. Here is some of the more notable praise for the movie, which opens in limited release December 2: 

On the opening number: "It's as if the dancers from West Side Story have walked onto the set of a Shane Black movie." – Rory O'Connor, The Film Stage

"A love letter to anyone that grew up on musicals of the ’50s and ’60s, from Singin’ in the Rain and Bye Bye Birdie to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg … an achingly romantic movie-musical that makes the old new again." – Marlow Stern, The Daily Beast

"Carved from the legacies of Vincente Minnelli, Jacques Demy, and so many others, La La Land is magically in tune with its reference points even as falls a few notes short of their greatness." – Eric Kohn, Indiewire

"Chazelle nods to the likes of Top Hat, Singin’ in the RainThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg and An American in Paris… [But] La La Land goes one better than many of its influences by being actually about something." – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

 

Nocturnal Animals 

Tom Ford, best known as a fashion designer, has made one other film, 2009's A Single Man. And like Chazelle with La La Land, he shows with his sophomore effort that he's a great filmmaker, too, one we want to see more from. The multilayered new film stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and hits limited release November 18, and word from almost everyone here is that it's pretty solid:

"Imagine The Hours, but in this version Julianne Moore's character, instead of reading Mrs. Dalloway, reads an airport thriller, a Lee Childs or James Patterson." – John Bleasdale, Cine Vue

"The kind of down-and-dirty West Texas revenge thriller that calls to mind Sam Peckinpah." – Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

"Draws its lurid, heavy-breathing elements from deep inside the well of pulp and noir and soap opera. … [Yet Ford] strives to turn pulp into art." – Owen Glieberman, Variety

"The Cormac McCarthy-esque story-within-a-story plays out without pushing deeply enough … Surely this section should feel like more of a Hitchcockian dream than it does?" – Dave Calhoun, Time Out London

 

Arrival 

Amy Adams also stars here as a linguist in this thinking person's alien-invasion movie from Sicario director Denis Villeneuve. After the kind of summer we've had, it sounds like just what we genre fans need while additionally making us even more excited for Villeneuve's Blade Runner sequel. Here are some takes on Arrival, which arrives November 11:

"More or less the anti-Independence Day … asserts its place among far more nuanced interplanetary explorations such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact and the more ponderous (and far less humanistic) Interstellar. – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Plays like a more mainstream filmmaker got his hands on Jonathan Glazer's experimental alien masterpiece Under the Skin." – Dave Calhoun, Time Out London

"The film exists in the desaturated, chilly 'now' and the nostalgic, honeyed 'then' — the latter coming to the fore in montages that will inevitably and rather tiresomely invoke Malick comparisons." – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

"Dreamy, freaky, audacious … and it includes a big flourish in the manner of early films by M Night Shyamalan." – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian