At Fantastic Fest, the Glitzy Fall Movie Season Comes with a Dose of Local Charm

Austin's annual genre festival continues to gain clout. This year's lineup includes a Timothée Chalamet cannibal romance, the Anya Taylor-Joy thriller 'The Menu,' and 'The Banshees of Inisherin.'

Rick Kern/Getty Images
Rick Kern/Getty Images
Rick Kern/Getty Images

Fall film festivals are among Hollywood’s most reliable customs. In scenic locales stretching from the canals of Italy to the mountains of Colorado, awards-season dreams are made and broken, celebrities become couture-clad tastemakers, and the industry staggers out of its summer blockbuster haze. As far as glamour goes, it’s impossible to compete with the three major players bookending Labor Day-the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals-but a late-September staple in Austin, Texas, has risen above the clamor.

Fantastic Fest, which kicks off its 17th edition at Alamo Drafthouse on Thursday, is a genre-focused alternative to the rarefied blowouts that launch the autumn and winter movie seasons. Its lineup comprises horror, science fiction, fantasy, outré comedy, and off-kilter curiosities with cult potential. Following a modest launch in 2005, the festival began picking up more and more zeitgeist-chasing Oscar hopefuls, positioning itself as a stop along the proverbial campaign trail. Previous lineups have featured Best Picture nominees Gravity, The Martian, Arrival, Jojo Rabbit, and Parasite, as well as art-house favourites (Melancholia, Force Majeure, The Lobster, Elle, Climax) and commercial hits (Cloud Atlas, Halloween, Dolemite Is My Name, Knives Out). In 2016, M. Night Shyamalan’s Split made its world premiere there, four months before opening theatrically.

This year includes plenty of awards-friendly showstoppers that have been buzzing their way through the festival circuit. There’s Bones and All, director Luca Guadagnino’s road-trip cannibal romance starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell; The Banshees of Inisherin, a Martin McDonagh dark comedy sparking chatter for a career-best Colin Farrell; Decision to Leave, the latest from Korean master Park Chan-wook; Triangle of Sadness, a class satire starring Woody Harrelson and Harris Dickinson; and The Menu, an amusing eat-the-rich thriller depicting Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, and Hong Chau at an exclusive remote restaurant.

United Artists Releasing
United Artists Releasing
United Artists Releasing

Recently appointed Fantastic Fest director Lisa Dreyer and her programming team attend many of the glitzier festivals that occur prior to September, including Sundance in January and Cannes in May. “We try to pick out the best from those big festivals, and then we really try to find smaller hidden gems,” she tells Thrillist. Just like Bones and All is making its way from Venice to Austin before screening again at next month’s New York Film Festival (it arrives in theatres November 23), some of those underdogs will go on to play such genre galas as the Brooklyn Horror Festival, Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, and the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans. Dreyer cites the folk-inspired The Nightmare, the vampire romp Blood Relatives, and the Spanish zombie flick The Elderly as this year’s possible breakouts.

The world-premiere offerings aren’t nearly as flashy as Fantastic Fest’s prestigious counterparts-the biggest this go-round is Smile, a Paramount Pictures film that opens September 30-but it has what A-list frenzies lack: regional charm. Ticket holders can attend parties, podcast recordings, and award ceremonies in a way they can’t elsewhere. “At film festivals, you usually have to wake up at some ungodly hour, go to some ticketing office, or wait in line for hours,” Dreyer says. “Our festival is so easy for the audience. We’re all based in one theatre. You can hang out in The Highball, which is our attached bar, and then 20 minutes before your film starts, they’ll call out that they’re seating for your film.”

Fantastic Fest also inspires a spiritedness familiar to Austin’s filmgoing community. You won’t see Keanu Reeves debating Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League about tai chi anywhere else. That happened in 2013 as part of an annual centrepiece called the Fantastic Debates, a cultural deliberation often followed by a planned boxing match. (Sadly, Reeves didn’t partake in the sparring.) Over the years, League has boxed Michelle Rodriquez and X director Ti West. Lord of the Rings co-stars Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan once “beat the shit out of each other” (Wood’s words) after arguing about World of Warcraft.

Gary Miller/FilmMagic
Gary Miller/FilmMagic
Gary Miller/FilmMagic

So-called secret screenings are another Fantastic Fest hallmark. Audience members who attend these don’t know what they’re about to see-and usually it’s something noteworthy. Remarkably, There Will Be Blood had its first public screening as a closing-night surprise back in 2007, after which it went on to win two Oscars. Since then, Paranormal Activity 3, The Skin I Live In, Goodnight Mommy, Crimson Peak, The Lighthouse, Suspiria, and Last Night in Soho have been classified selections. So was Split. This year’s will occur on September 25 and September 28. Dreyer says only she and two other Fantastic Fest staffers know what the films are. (My money is on the high-profile October release Halloween Ends, partly because director David Gordon Green grew up in Texas and attended college in Austin.)

As was the case with the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, 2022 will mark Fantastic Fest’s first proper in-person gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic began. With a wide-open Oscar race and some skepticism surrounding the elitism on display at the more paparazzi-eager festivals, further Fantastic ascendancy seems possible. “Every year, with our connections and the strength of our festival and the press that it gets and the deals that are made out of it, the bigger titles and the studios are coming to us more and more for those types of premieres,” Dreyer says. “We love to give our audience the first look at films that are going to be super relevant to the cultural conversation at large.”

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Matthew Jacobs is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @majacobs.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.