Tag: AFI Film Festival

AFI Fest 2010: A Biased Preview


*slow connection warning – many videos embedded*

Festival season for 2010 is starting to wind down now, but there’s at least one more big one in Los Angeles – the American Film Market and its less-industry-insidery sister the AFI Film Festival. I find myself more drawn to the mind-set of the AFI Film Fest side, both because it’s more cost-effective to attend (read: free, thanks to Audi’s sponsorship which allows them to offer free tickets to every screening) and because it has more of a goal of sharing the best films of the festival season with people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to festivals at all, as opposed to AFM’s goal of buying and selling indie films for distribution.

In any case, the AFI Film Fest is going down November 4-11 in Hollywood; they released the full schedule today and will start releasing those free tickets on Thursday, so if you’re in LA, figure out your picks and get ready to jump on the AFI website and reserve tickets for the ones you’re interested in. Don’t be alarmed if the things you want don’t show tickets available when you look – they release tickets throughout the festival week, so get what you can and keep checking with the box office once the festival starts.

Following is a list of all the films playing along with all the trailers I could find, in an extremely biased order – basically, the things I want to see the most down to the things I don’t care about or am avoiding. This doesn’t exactly correlate to what I’ll be seeing, because my press credentials don’t actually let me into the big-name gala screenings at all (without special credentials for which I did not bother to apply), so stuff near the top like Black Swan and Blue Valentine I probably won’t see here, but if last year is any indication, it was definitely possible for ordinary moviegoers to get into these big films via the rush line on the night of, so don’t let my decisions to not go to most of the galas stop you if that’s what you want to see.

My reviews of the films I see will be going up on Row Three first, probably only crossposted here later, or else crossposted as an excerpt with a link. So check over there for coverage once the festival starts.


dir: Xavier Dolan; starring Xavier Dolan, Niels Schneider, Monia Chokri, Anne Dorval. Canada.

Xavier Dolan’s debut film I Killed My Mother was my favorite film of last year’s AFI Film Fest, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting this follow-up, which evokes so much Nouvelle Vague style I can hardly wait. AFI Film Guide


dir: Quentin Dupieux; starring Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Jack Plotnick. USA.

A rubber tire develops sentience and goes on a homicidal killing spree. Yes. A rubber tire. Sentience. Homicidal killing spree. Add into that a meta-level commentary provided by a sort of Greek chorus that, based on what I’ve read, turns the film into an absurdist inquiry into filmmaking itself, and I am there. Sounds like the perfect cult film for me. AFI Film Guide

Black Swan

dir: Darren Aronofsky; starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis. USA.

I’m always interested in what Darren Aronofsky comes up with, and this is no exception. Just watch the trailer below. This looks trippy and intense as all get-out, and the reviews from TIFF have been almost uniformly glowing. This is the closing night gala film at AFI, so it will likely be difficult to impossible to get into, but still. I’m tempted to try, even though it’ll be out in a few weeks anyway. AFI Film Guide


dir: Mike Ott; starring Atsuko Okatsuka, Rintaro Sawamoto, Cory Zacharia, Roberto Sanchez. USA.

I always like to pick a few poetic indie-looking films, and this looks to be the best bet this year. A look at someplace fairly recognizable to movie audiences (rural California) through the eyes of a couple to whom it is utterly unfamiliar – two Japanese tourists. It comes with recommendation from Row Three-er Marina, so I’m definitely keeping this near the top of my list. AFI Film Guide

Blue Valentine

dir: Derek Cianfrance; starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams. USA.

This premiered at Sundance, so it’s been hitting the festival circuit for a while and getting great reviews the whole time, both for its unflinching yet tender look at a failing marriage and stunning performances from both Gosling and Williams. I can already tell you it’s likely to hit a few top ten lists at Row Three this year. AFI Film Guide

Julia’s Eyes

dir: Guillem Morales; starring Belén Rueda, Lluis Homar. Spain.

Any time Guillermo Del Toro’s name is attached to a project, even as producer, it’s worth getting excited about, and with the main star from The Orphanage back on board for this atmospheric chiller, I’m totally there. AFI Film Guide


dir: Ivan Engler, Ralph Eter; starring Anna Katharine Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Michael Finger. Switzerland.

I’m always interested in indie sci-fi, especially if it’s from another country – this is Switzerland’s first sci-fi movie ever, and I’m totally down for that. The story, set in world after Earth ceases to be habitable, follows a young woman who agrees to an 8-year contract on a cargo ship to try to make enough money to move from an overcrowded space station to the utopian planet RHEA. But all isn’t as it seems on the cargo ship. AFI Film Guide

Blank City

dir: Céline Danhier; featuring Lizzie Borden, Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Debbie Harry. USA.

This documentary about early ’70s “No Wave” filmmakers, somewhere on the cusp of avantgarde and art and punk and DIY, looks absolutely fascinating. I’m going to miss it due to a scheduling conflict, but I’m certainly going to try to seek it out later. AFI Film Guide

13 Assassins

dir: Takashi Miike; starring Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya. Japan.

I’ve never seen a Takashi Miike film, but running in genre circles like I do now, I hear his name a lot. This seems like quite a fine introduction, a samurai film about a band of hired killers tasked with assassinating the Shogun’s brother against overwhelming odds. Buzz from other fests has been positive. AFI Film Guide

Chico & Rita

dir: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando; starring Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Mario Guerra. Spain/UK.

Last year’s AFI Fest was chock-full of stop-motion animation, and I think I went to all of them; this year, there’s only this one animated film, not stop-motion, but I’m still going to make an effort to get to it. I’m a sucker for animation, especially if it promises a different look and theme from most American kid-oriented efforts, and this one does. AFI Film Guide


dir: Hong Sang-soo; starring Kim Sang-kyung, Yu Jun-sang, Moon So-ri. South Korea.

A filmmaker and a friend meet for drinks and discuss some of their past experiences – as they do in flashback, it becomes clear only to the audience that their memories are of the same place and the same people. This kind of structural playfulness and audience awareness hits a perfect sweet spot with me, and though it’s difficult to parse much from the non-subtitled trailer, the mood looks delicious as well. AFI Film Guide


dir: Alex Stockman; starring Matthia Schoenaerts, Tine Van den Wyngaert. Belgium.

You can never have too many films about internet-age paranoia. Okay, actually you can, but this one looks pretty intriguing, about a couple who communicate long-distance online, but things turn sinister when the guy finds out his wifi is compromised – and by something perhaps more sinister than an ordinary hacker. Advance buzz is already good for this. AFI Film Guide

Clip on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pulsar/148426905168951?v=app_2392950137

The Myth of the American Sleepover

dir: David Robert Mitchell; starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer. USA.

Not sure I could articulate exactly what about this trailer is pulling me so much, but I really want to see this film – perhaps because of that almost ineffable quality it seems to have in capturing the little quiet moments that end up defining young lives even as they search for the big events. AFI Film Guide


dir: Thomas Vinterberg; starring Jakob Cedergren, Peter Plaughborg, Morten Rose, Patricia Schumann. Denmark.

I’m never entirely sure about festival films that look as bleak as this one does, being about two brothers who underwent a trauma as children and are now struggling as adults with addiction, less-than-supportive friends, custody trials, and caring for a young son – but there’s something very compelling about the trailer, and though I’ve not seen many Danish films, Vinterberg’s name is still one I recognize and want to explore. AFI Film Guide


dir: Nick Simon; starring Billy Burke, Mark Kelly, Kelly Brook, Emma Caulfield. USA.

A couple of times through this trailer has me more and more intrigued by this little thriller – is the main guy crazy? Did his employer kill his wife? What’s going on here? I don’t know, but I want to find out. Also, Emma Caulfield is in it, and I haven’t hardly seen her since BtVS. AFI Film Guide

Free Radicals: The History of Experimental Film

dir: Pip Chodorov; featuring Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Hans Richter, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs. France.

This one had me from the opening shot of the trailer, which is from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, an avant-garde film I come back to again and again. I don’t watch very much avant-garde film, and I may like the idea of it more than actually watching it, but I’m still fascinated by it in general, and this doc looks like a great introduction/overview of it. AFI Film Guide

trailer here: http://www.nouveaucinema.ca/video-podcast?vid=109


dir: Taika Waititi; starring James Folleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi. New Zealand.

A coming-of-age story with a precocious boy named “Boy”, his brother Rocky, and the absentee father who uenxpectedly rolls back into their lives – I’m not always huge on coming-of-age stories, but this looks sweetly funny, plus, Kiwi accents. I’M SHALLOW. SUE ME. AFI Film Guide

Certified Copy

dir: Abbas Kiarostami; starring Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. France/Iran/Italy.

I have yet to see anything by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, and I’m not sure I want to start with his first non-Iranian-produced film, but this does look mighty intriguing – talky, but with the conversation focusing on the nature of orginality, a topic that intrigues me on its own, with or without a supporting story about an art scholar and his admirer (played by Juliette Binoche in a performance that won her an award at Cannes). AFI Film Guide

Oki’s Movie

dir: Hong Sang-soo; starring Lee Sun-kyun, Jung Yimi, Moon Sung-keun. South Korea.

The second film in the fest for director Hong Sang-soo (see also Hahaha), and sounds like from the description this also has a lot of play with structure, showing in four sections various occurrences involving a filmmaker, his professor, and the woman they both love. I think scheduling is making me miss this one, but I’ll be sure to check it out later. AFI Film Guide

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

dir: Werner Herzog. USA.

Herzog takes on 3D to take us inside the Chauvet Cage to look at some of the oldest prehistoric paintings in existence. I’m still on the fence about 3D (mostly sliding toward disliking it intensely), but I’m curious to see what filmmakers like Herzog and Scorsese do with it, and a documentary like this may be exactly the right use for it. AFI Film Guide

Some Days are Better Than Others

dir: Matt McCormick; starring Carrie Brownstein, James Mercer. USA.

This could be really good or really crappy – it falls into that category of American indie films that are almost impossible to judge based on a trailer, because the edge that it walks along between profound and pseudo-profound is so fine. I’m intrigued by it starring Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney, as well as her own comedy team) and James Mercer (of The Shins), plus I’ve seen some good stuff coming out of the Portland filmmaking scene, so I’m hopeful, but not naively so. AFI Film Guide

The Weather Station

dir: Johnny O’Reilly; starring Alexey Gus’kov, Anton Shagin, Egor Pazenko, Marina Alexandrova. Russia.

Parallel narratives tell of a pair of isolated weather station attendants in frozen Russia and the detectives who come to investigae when they disappear – it’s easy to name-check Hitchcock when talking about a thriller, as the AFI Film Guide does, but I must admit, it’s still a pretty good way to catch my attention. AFI Film Guide

Rabbit Hole

dir: John Cameron Mitchell; starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest. USA.

I’m used to seeing John Cameron Mitchell do completely off-the-wall stuff like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, not adaptations of Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas, but such is the case here, and I’m actually pretty excited to see what he does with it, and with this cast. I steadfastly hold that in the right parts, Nicole Kidman is fantastic, and this looks like the right sort of role for her. AFI Film Guide

Film Socialisme

dir: Jean-Luc Godard; starring Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean Marc Stethle. Switzerland.

I’m not at all sure I want my first post-1967 Godard film to be this apparently indecipherable film that has utterly split audiences assunder at every festival it’s screened at so far, but I also have an undeniable burning curiousity about it, and it looks like the scheduling is making it all-too-easy for me to get to it. AFI Film Guide


dir: Takeshi Kitano; starring Ryo Kase, Jun Kinimura, Tomokazu, Beat Takeshi. Japan.

This trailer is very unconvincing, what with it basically being guys yelling at each other the whole time. But based on Takeshi Kitano’s reputation (I’ve yet to see one of his films) and the description expanding the yelling guys into a full-on yakuza story, I’m looking forward to checking this out. AFI Film Guide

Putty Hill

dir: Matthew Porterfield; starring Sky Ferriera, Zoe Vance, James Selebor Jr. USA.

When a young man overdoses on heroin, his friends and family gather for his funeral, each with a different point of view on who he was – those views begin to form a fragmented picture of the boy. I like this sort of storytelling, and I do like the thoughtful quality of the trailer, but I can’t say I’m wholly convinced by it. AFI Film Guide


dir: Lee Chang-dong; starring Yun Jung-hee, Lee David, Kim Hira. South Korea.

I ranked this a little higher initially on just seeing the trailer, but now that the description is out, I might knock it down a little. This one, about a grandmother turning to poetry in the aftermath of a horrific scandal involving her grandson, looks very aptly poetic, but doesn’t sound quite as interesting as some of the other Korean films in play this year, and I don’t want to out-Korean myself. AFI Film Guide

Made in Dagenham

dir: Nigel Cole; starring: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike. UK.

Stories about labor disputes aren’t really my thing (unless it’s The Pajama Game and I’m expecting Bob Fosse to break out into “Steam Heat” any second), but the classy feminist angle here and the very solid cast have me intrigued – I’ve also read some positive advance reviews. AFI Film Guide


dir: Diego Luna; starring: Christopher Ruíz-Esparza, José Marí Yazpik, Karina Gidi. Mexico.

Acclaimed Mexican actor Diego Luna’s first time behind the camera, and the story looks fairly interesting, about an eccentric nine-year-old boy who makes himself the de facto patriarch of his family in the absence of his father. I’d actually be more interested in it, though, if it WEREN’T a gala screening, for some obviously contrarian reason. AFI Film Guide

Adrienn Pál

dir: Agnes Kocsis; starring Izabella Hegyi, Eva Gabor, Akos Horvath. Hungary/Austrlia/France/Netherlands.

The description evokes long-take master Bela Tarr, and judging from the trailer (and the running time), I can see that – this looks like quite the meditative experience, following a terminal ward nurse through her daily life and then on a journey as she seeks a friend she hasn’t seen in ages. The trailer also suggests that not everything is as it seems, which intrigues me, but I have to be in just the right mood to watch Tarr-like stuff. AFI Film Guide

Two Gates of Sleep

dir: Alistair Banks Griffin; starring Brady Corbet, David Call, Karen Young. USA.

I’m intrigued by the gorgeous cinematography and deliberate pacing of the trailer, but the description (brothers in the rural South prepare for their mother’s death and then make an arduous trek for her burial) doesn’t really sound at all like my thing. There are comparisons to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which I’ve never successfully read, either. AFI Film Guide

The Housemaid

dir: Im Sang-soo; starring Jeon Do-youn, Lee Jung-jae, Seo Woo. South Korea.

A remake of a famed 1960 Korean film (playing back to back with this one at the festival), with an affair between a rich man and his housemaid spiraling into an erotic thriller of ever-growing cruelty. Sounds like a good time, right? I’d see it (cinematography looks beautiful), but I’m not going out of my way for it. AFI Film Guide

Barney’s Version

dir: Richard J. Lewis; starring: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver. Canada/Italy.

Paul Giamatti is always worth watching. Always. I’m not rushing right out at this festival to see this one, about a man just trying to find the right woman, instead marrying wrong ones (apparently) three times. With Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver as two of the exes and Dustin Hoffman as Giamatti’s father, plus a script that sounds pretty witty, I’m definitely going to check it out on DVD, though. AFI Film Guide

Shit Year

dir: Cam Archer; starring Ellen Barkin, Luke Grimes, Bob Einstein. USA.

Despite the lack of trailer for this one, and the sense from a few reviews I’ve read that this is a bit more on the pretentious side than I’d like, I’m still intrigued by the concept and the experimental style. AFI Film Guide

trailer not on YouTube – info here http://www.the-match-factory.com/films/items/shit-year.html

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul; starring Natthakam Aphaiwonk, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Geerasak Kulhong. Thailand.

I’ve seen the trailer for this a few times, and I’ve read a few descriptions of it, but I still don’t really have idea what to expect from it – a dying man, spirits of dead wives and children, wooly Yetis, endless forests, Boonmee’s soul? I don’t know – but it did win the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, and even if none of those other things intrigued me, I’m interested because of that.

The Princess of Montpensier

dir: Bertrand Tavernier; starring Mélanie Thierry, Lambet Wilson, Grégoire Leprince. France.

Sometime along the way I’ve lost my taste for period films, which is kind of a shame. This sounds like it could be good, with political intrigue paralleling the forbidden love story, but the period setting added to a 139 minute running time made me gravitate toward other films on the schedule. AFI Film Guide

Norwegian Ninja

dir: Thomas Cappelen Malling; starring Mads Ousdal, Jon Oigarden, Trond-Viggo Torgersen. Norway.

This falls into the “what the hell did I just see” category. I totally can’t tell from that trailer whether this is going to be an awesome piece of cult filmmaking or an utter train wreck of horrible badness. It could so easily go either way. AFI Film Guide


dir: Pablo Trapero; starring Ricardo Darin, Martina Gusman, Carlos Weber. Argentina/Chile/France.

Anything described as a “noir thriller” has my attention, and I’d probably watch and enjoy this film, but it doesn’t seem to have too much to set it apart from any other third-world-set thriller that takes corruption and ethical dilemmas as its theme. AFI Film Guide

His & Hers

dir: Ken Wardrop. Ireland.

The idea of focusing a documentary solely on women (women drawn almost solely from a single county in Ireland) talking about the men in their life is kind of fascinating in both its rigid exclusivity and possibility for widely ranging experience. I’m not a documentary fan, and I feel like this one could easily turn into little more than a sentimentalist feel-good film, but I might check it out on DVD later. AFI Film Guide

I Will Follow

dir: Ava DuVernay; starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Omari Hardwick, Tracie Thoms, Blaire Underwood. USA.

This tale of loss and grieving looks to have a great deal of humanity and tenderness in it, judging by the trailer, and it was on my long “yeah, I’d watch that” list, but not high enough to win the scheduling wars. AFI Film Guide

The Housemaid (1960)

dir: Kim Ki-Young; starring Lee Eun-sim, Joo Jeung-nyeo, Kim Jin-kyn. Souh Korea.

A “classic of Korean noir drama” this is, the basis for the remake that is also playing at the festival. It’s nice that they’re showing both films back to back (they did that at TIFF also). Neither one is high on my list to see here, but I’d like to see both eventually. AFI Film Guide


dir: Kitao Sakurai; starring Larry L. Lewis Jr, Darren Branch, Jessica Cole. USA/Argentina.

The blurbs for this so far have made a big deal about the fact that a man blind from birth is playing a man blind from birth. That’s cool, but using that to try to sell the film isn’t working for me – beyond that gimmick, it looks fairly routine. AFI Film Guide


dir: John Sayles; starring Chris Cooper, Garret Dillahunt, Ronnie Lazaro. USA.

Sayles draws thematic parallels between the Philippine-American war of early 1900s to our current situation in the Middle East, exploring the difficulties of living under and commanding an occupying force. AFI Film Guide

Nothing’s All Bad

dir: Mikkel Munch-Fals; starring Bodil Jorgensen, Henrik Prip, Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt. Denmark.

Four parallel stories of lonely people, each with a different reason for despairing of finding love – that sounds like an upper of a time, doesn’t it? No, more seriously, this film is probably well worth watching, but I’m probably not going to be into it this festival. AFI Film Guide

trailer here http://storytellertrailers.blogspot.com/2010/08/smukke-mennesker-nothings-all-bad.html (wait through the guy talking, then the actual full trailer starts)

The Human Resources Manager

dir: Eran Riklis; starring Mark Ivanir, Guri Alfi, Noah Silver, Rozina Cambos. Israel/Romania/France/Germany.

When a Romania worker is killed in a bombing at the Jerusalem bakery where she works, the bakery’s Human Resources Manager embarks on a journey to make things right with her family in Romania. This looks like one of those little films that are too self-consciously heartwarming for their own good. AFI Film Guide

A Screaming Man

dir: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun; starring Youssouf Djaoro, Diouc Koma, Emil Abossolo. Belgium/Chad/France.

The bits of this trailer that focus on Chad’s civil war interest me; the bits that focus on the aging pool attendant and his relationship with his son less so. The whole doesn’t intrigue me enough to seek it out. AFI Film Guide


dir: Oren Kaplan; starring Russell Harvard, Raymond J. Barry, Shoshannah Stern. USA.

As overcoming-adversity sports stories go, this one about a deaf boy who became a UFC fighter (a true story) looks like a pretty decent one. But it’s still an overcoming-adversit sports story, which is pretty much my all-time least favorite genre.AFI Film Guide


dir: Jaap van Heusden; starring Oscar Van Rompay, Halina Reijn, Leon Voorberg. Netherlands.

This story about a geek whose prowess with numbers and patterns has him sitting pretty with insider trading seems like it could be entertaining enough, but I’m not drawn in enough by the premise or the style to do much about it. AFI Film Guide

The Four Times

dir: Michelangelo Frammartino; starring Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano. Italy/Germany/Switzerland.

One of my cowriters at RowThree wrote this up from TIFF, or I never would’ve heard of it before – sounds like it’s an almost narrativeless meditation on an Italian village, taking its time just showing the rhythms of life there. I’m torn between “that sounds unique, let’s do it!” and “that sounds kinda boring, let’s not,” but I think scheduling dictates not. AFI Film Guide

trailer not on YouTube

Pink Saris

dir: Kim Longinotto; featuring Renu Devi, Niranjan Pal, Sampat Pal Devi. UK.

Longinotto is known for a series of documentaries highlighting women’s fight for justice around the world, and now she heads to India, following a group of female activists. This is a great cause, I’m glad she’s making films to draw attention to it, but it’s just not personally my thing with so many great narrative films here. AFI Film Guide

I Saw the Devil

dir: Kim Jee-woon; starring Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Oh San-ha. South Korea.

I quite liked Kim Jee-woon’s previous film The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and there are probably parts of this I would like, but some reviews I’ve seen report that this one goes a little far with its sadistic bloodlust, and it sounds like it might be a bit much for me. AFI Film Guide

The Company Men

dir: John Wells; starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Kevin Costner. USA.

And this is where I ghettoize the big name films that I don’t have much interest in seeing at all, and REALLY have no interest in seeing at a film festival. Seriously, this is going to be out in theatres in a hot minute, why would I see it here? Though I will say, I’m not a fan of Ben Affleck in front of the camera, but he seems to be doing well here. AFI Film Guide


dir: Marian Crisan; starring Hathazi Andras, Yalcin Yilmaz, Elvira Rimbu. Romania/Hungary/France.

A Romanian man is faced with a difficulty when he comes across an illegal, needy Turkish man – humanity conflicts with the law that would indict him for helping an illegal immigrant. This is obviously a story that applies to borders beyond Romania/Turkey/Hungary, but I’m rarely in the mood for such obvious social dramas. AFI Film Guide

Love & Other Drugs

dir: Edward Zwick; starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer. USA.

Okay, this might be a slight step above your average dumped-in-the-multiplex romantic comedy, but I’m still not falling over myself to see it. AFI Film Guide

Barbershop Punk

dir: Georgia Sugimura Archer, Kristin Armfield; featuring Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Janeane Garofalo. USA.

A documentary on net neutrality and freedom of speech in the information age is certainly timely, and I won’t deny an interest in many of the topics raised here. Am I rushing right out to see it though? No, probably not. I blame documentary-bias. AFI Film Guide

The King’s Speech

dir: Tom Hooper; starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush. Australia/UK.

This is the most blatant piece of Oscar-bait I’ve seen in a while. I don’t actually care that much if it turns out to be a good movie – I’m too busy being made physically ill by the groveling to the Academy. AFI Film Guide

Precious Life

dir: Shlomi Eldar. Israel.

Here again, another documentary about something obviously important – the life of a child in Gaza, whose medical condition requires Israeli and Palestinian doctors to put aside differences to save him. It’s important, I’m glad there’s a film about it, but I’m not particularly anxious to see it. Geez, I feel like such a jerk expressing disinterest in documentaries like this. AFI Film Guide


dir: Xu Xin. China.

I feel a little more justified in expressing disinterest in watching nearly six hours worth of this documentary, which chronicles the aftermath of a theatre fire that claimed the lives of 300 people, many of them children who were obediently waiting for government officials to get out safely first – certainly there’s a valid critique here to be made, but for six hours? Really? AFI Film Guide

Casino Jack

dir: George Hickenlooper; starring Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz. Canada.

A narrative film based on the true story of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff; just doesn’t strike any interest in me at all. AFI Film Guide


dir: Jang Cheol-soo; starring Seo Young-hee, Ji Sung-won. South Korea.

I’m coming around more and more to liking horror and gore flicks, but I’m not all the way there, and this revenge tale of a woman who turns savage in retaliation to her own mistreatment sounds, from all reports, a bit too extreme for me. AFI Film Guide

AFI Film Festival Wrap-Up


I spent most of the first week of November (October 30-November 7) at the AFI Film Festival which, for the first time ever and thanks to sponsors Audi and others, was completely free. It was my first real film festival, and it was an incredible experience – sixteen films in ten days. I exhausted myself a few times during it, but it was completely worth it just to be in that atmosphere of film, filmmakers, film critics, and filmgoers. I posted my immediate thoughts during the festival on Twitter with the hashtag #afifest and full reviews over on RowThree, but I wanted to provide a more personal view of my festival experience here.

The AFI Festival positions itself as a “festival of festivals,” bringing the best of the earlier festivals (Toronto, Sundance, Cannes, etc.) to LA, and capping it off with five days of gala premieres of Oscar-bait studio films at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I avoided the gala premieres because it was difficult to impossible to get advanced tickets and getting there early enough to join the rush lines (where people waited to take any seats left-over after pass-holders and ticket-holders took their seats) was problematic, plus the one night I was outside the Chinese theatre before a premiere, it was INSANE and I remembered why I generally avoid the tourist-ridden Hollywood-Highland area.

Instead, I spent my time catching foreign and smaller films, and it was well worth it – I found several films that will easily make my best of the year list, and saw a few that may not even get distribution, which I feel fortunate to have been able to see in a theatre. I’m not sure what to make of the fact, actually, that all three films with well-known actors (in the US, anyway – some are major stars in their home countries) are near the bottom of my list.

Festival Highlights

SIX FILMS IN ONE DAY, BABY. Yeah. Films from 10am through 2am the next morning, that’s what I call a good day. And still plenty of time to stretch my legs and get food in between.

grauman's.jpgSeeing a film in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That thing is SWANK. Screen the size of an IMAX, just about, I swear, and really ornate decorations everywhere. The seats, though, weren’t quite as comfortable as the regular Mann theatre next door. So perhaps it’s good that only one of the six films I saw that day was in Grauman’s.

Checking out the changing crowd over Halloween – normal tourists in the morning, families with costumed kids in the afternoon, then costumed 20-30somethings overnight. They were still out in force when I left at 2am, though the rest of the nights thinned out fairly rapidly approaching midnight. Possibly a weekend thing as well as a Halloween thing; I haven’t spent too much time in Hollywood.

Meeting Karina Longworth, one of my favorite film critics (founding editor of Cinematical, then editor-in-chief of Spoutblog, now freelancing), albeit briefly. I knew she was at the festival from Twitter, but she doesn’t know me from Eve, so I didn’t want to be all “hey, @karinalongworth, I’m here too, come meet me!” so I just hoped I’d run into her and recognize her. And I did! She came in and sat right in front of me for Woman Without Piano, and we chatted briefly about the Chabrol film she’d just come from. And I dropped my end of the conversation completely because I realized that the only Chabrol film I’d seen was his first one, from 1960. Oops.

A completely full house for Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. I was a fan of her debut feature Red Road, and it was so great to see such a good turnout for her second feature. With that kind of audience, in that atmosphere, the film crackled. It was the epitome of a perfect festival screening.

Being at the front of the After.Life rush line when Justin Long and Christina Ricci arrived. I’m not a celebrity watcher, but it’s still fun to have a good view when people come to the premieres of their films. Christina Ricci is TINY. And she was funny in the Q&A section, as well.

Festival Lowlights

Not knowing where to park or go the first night. I ended up having to walk way around to avoid the gawkers checking out the Fantastic Mr. Fox premiere. That’s one I would’ve really wanted to go to, but considering how much difficulty I had getting to the one I was going to on time, I would’ve had little chance at rushing it, plus I was already annoyed just walking around all the tourists, much less making my way through them to find the rush line. It wasn’t worth the hassle for a film that came out only a few weeks later (I’ve already seen it now, as a matter of fact). And that decided me against trying for any of the other gala premieres later in the week.

Having to miss the Troll 2 documentary Best Worst Movie, due to a scheduling conflict. It was the only serious scheduling conflict I had, aside from ones that involved gala premieres, which as I said above, I had decided to skip anyway.

Following the amazing I Killed My Mother with the lackluster The Messenger – the latter film opened in theatres last week to quite positive reviews, which leads me to think that at least part of my dislike of it was due to seeing it so soon after one one of the best films of the year, hands down. The downside of double-features and seeing so many films in close proximity to each other.

Not having anything to see on Wednesday. It was good in one way, because I was so physically beat by Tuesday night that I needed a day off, but I had withdrawal, too, like coming down off a high. I mean, I guess it was like that. I’ve never actually…moving on now.

Changing venues to Santa Monica for Saturday’s shows. I love Laemmle cinemas, and that’s not a bad one at all (and I did enjoy the chance to hang around the Promenade in between shows), but it has nowhere near the atmosphere of Grauman’s/Mann’s. Plus I parked in the wrong place the first time, which was a super-pain.

Being really disappointed with After.Life. I wanted to like it so much, and it was so mediocre. I didn’t even review it for Row Three, because I couldn’t bear to think about it that much.

The Films, Best to Worst

I have a few reviews by other Row Three writers linked in here (I didn’t write about them again if someone else had already covered them at TIFF or elsewhere). If there’s no link, none of us wrote a full review.

i_killed_my_mother_006.jpgI Killed My Mother
Right now, this Canadian film (Canada’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award) is sitting in my #2 spot for the whole year, second only to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. I Killed My Mother is a coming of age tale, a coming out tale, a teenage rebellion tale, and an artistic freedom tale, but it’s more than all those things. I literally came out of the theatre too overwhelmed to do anything but sink against the wall and breathe. The fact that the writer/director/star Xavier Dolan was only 19 when the film was made (he’s 20 now, one of the youngest recipients of a Cannes award) only makes an incredible film that much more amazing. Every note, every look, every line of dialogue is perfect. FULL REVIEW


Fish_Tank_2.jpgFish Tank
After being suitably impressed with Andrea Arnold’s first feature Red Road, I had extremely high hopes for this follow-up. And she actually exceeded my expectations, creating a film that is realistic and fanciful, personal and ambiguous, beautiful and ugly in all the right ways. 15-year-old Mia struggles with her lowerclass family, her grades in school, conflicts with neighbors, and her own rebelliousness – Katie Jarvis is a revelation in the role, imbuing Mia with just the right mix of tough exterior and wistful dreams. Through it all, Arnold managed to make me hope against hope that certain things wouldn’t happen (because I cared about the characters so much I didn’t want them to) and then when they did happen, convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the narrative couldn’t have gone any other way. That, my friends, is how you make a story. FULL REVIEW


intheattic01.jpgIn the Attic
One of three stop-motion films at the festival, from Jiri Barta, one of the masters of Czech stop-motion animation. The Czechs have excelled at the art form for decades, and if this is any indication, they’re not slowing down at all. The whole thing takes place among discarded toys and other items in an attic, but an attic transformed by imagination into a whole world. It’s a fantastic tribute to childsplay and the incredible innovation that children can bring to their world as they make up stories and use everyday items in new and unexpected ways. My jaw was dropping every few minutes at the sheer inventiveness. FULL REVIEW


loved_ones.jpgThe Loved Ones
I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about going to a midnight screening of a horror movie, even (especially?) one that got as much praise as this one got at TIFF’s Midnight Madness earlier this year. But I’m so, so glad I stayed. This was a riot from start to finish, a perfectly balanced mix of horror and comedy with a surprising amount of emotional depth (that never threatened to overcome the fun, though). Any fans of over-the-top horror (think Evil Dead meets Carrie) are going to love this one. FULL REVIEW (by Andrew James)


white_ribbon.jpgThe White Ribbon
Now, The White Ribbon is a better film than most of the ones above it (excepting I Killed My Mother and possibly Fish Tank), but it’s not one that I can really say I enjoyed watching. The film is set in a small German village in the years just before WWI, and everything seems to be pretty normal there, until a series of astoundingly violent and cruel events occur, and no one can figure out who caused them. But this is a thriller with few thrills, much more of a mood piece punctuated with both physical and verbal outbursts that are that much more powerful because the rest of the film is so subdued. Michael Haneke’s mastery of his art is clear from this film, and I expect it will take a few more viewings to even being to get all of the nuances in his themes (it’s not unimportant, for instance, that the children in this film will grow up to be the vanguard of Hitler’s regime). There’s definitely a LOT to chew on here. FULL REVIEW (by Mike Rot)


town_called_panic.jpgA Town Called Panic
In this manic and hugely entertaining stop-motion film, Cowboy, Indian, and Horse all reside together, until Cowboy and Indian make a horrible miscalculation when ordering Horse’s birthday present and end up burying their house in a huge pile of bricks. Then they rebuild the house, only to have it stolen. So they follow the thief, only to end up in a series of adventures too wacky to enumerate. I mean, I could enumerate them, but that would spoil the “OMG, WTF NOW” quality you’ll have when you see it. :) Let’s just say a snowball-hurling giant mechanical penguin isn’t the strangest part. If you’d like a taste, search on YouTube – the film is based on a Belgian television show, many episodes of which are on YouTube (mostly in English; the film is in French).


GuyandMadeline02.jpgGuy and Madeline on a Park Bench
I first heard of this on Getafilm, where Daniel Getahun described it as “as a “verite-style romantic musical dramedy” with a jazz score. That’s accurate, and his mention of both current mumblecore-esque and New Wave influences is as well – it definitely wears its influences on its sleeve, and since I love those influences (among which I’d include early Cassavettes and Jacques Demy), I loved this film. Meeting director Damien Chazelle after the film, I said how much I enjoyed the way the musical numbers just pop out of nowhere, and he said that he didn’t think musicals should apologize for being musicals. Exactly. FULL REVIEW


I don’t see too many documentaries, though I should probably actively try to see more. This one follows New York Times columnist Nicholas Cristof, well-known for his coverage of the Darfur humanitarian crisis, as he goes to the Congo in search of a story that will ignite his readers’ compassion. And really, that’s what the film’s about – how to overcome the psychic numbing that occurs when people are faced with the suffering of millions, and also, to what degree Cristof is compromised in his ideals by his need to find the most horrifying stories. FULL REVIEW


NoOneKnowsAboutPersianCats.jpgNo One Knows About Persian Cats
An Iranian underground film about an Iranian underground indie rock band trying to pull off performances and get visas to leave the country without getting arrested for performing with permits? Sign me up. Especially since it’s starring an actual pair of musicians (who are now in London, having successfully gotten the visas their alter-egos needed). I enjoyed the music a lot and hope to find some more of it. The story was pretty spare; it would’ve been nice to have a little more depth in it (and a little more clarity for those of us not familiar with Iranian laws). FULL REVIEW


redriding2.jpgRed Riding: 1974
Red Riding: 1980
Red Riding: 1983
England’s Channel 4 aired this trilogy as a miniseries last year; it’s due to release theatrically in the US in 2010. As a whole, the three parts follow a police investigation into a couple of serial killers in 1970s-1980s Yorkshire, all while the corruption within the police force itself shows itself to be more and more widespread and insidious. It’s gritty and frequently disturbing, but with a lot of ongoing interest and integrity, even watching all three back to back. Each part has a different director and is shot using a different method (i.e., one is on 35mm, another using RED digital cameras), giving each a distinct style and look, while still being clearly part of the same universe. On their own, 1980 (directed by Man on Wire‘s James Marsh) is easily the most solid, with Paddy Considine stepping in as an outside officer investigating the Yorkshire police and uncovering just how deep the corruption goes. It has a very good self-contained story that only tangetially relates to the events in the first film and has a greater depth of character and world than the other two films. 1974 is good as well, benefiting from a very violent and unflinching style, but went a little off-track toward the end. 1983 basically continues the story from 1974 almost without any reference to 1980 – it’s good in that it wraps up the story that was left somewhat unresolved from 1974, but it’s also overly meandering and neglects to include hardly any characters to identify with.


LondonRiver01.jpgLondon River
London River is set in the aftermath of the July 2005 London Underground bombings, as a conservative English mother and an Algerian father search London for their missing children, only to discover that they were living together. All mixed in are themes of racial and religous prejudice, urban vs. rural life, and relationships between parents and absent children. It was all right, but nothing particularly memorable. FULL REVIEW.


woman_without_piano_2009.jpgWoman Without Piano
This had a lot going for it – a relatively new director in Spanish cinema, inspired by the silent cinema of Chaplin and Keaton, comparisons by the program directors to Fellini and Masina – but for me, it didn’t really live up to all those expectations. After a day of mundane housework and errands, a housewife dons a wig and heads out into nighttime Madrid, meeting a mixture of people and having a number of ill-timed misadventures. It had its moments, and maybe on rewatch I’d “get” it (it shared a festival prize with Fish Tank, which I LOVED), but I left feeling pretty “meh” about it. FULL REVIEW


messenger.jpgThe Messenger
After a tour of duty in Iraq, Ben Foster gets assigned to Notification Duty, pairing with Woody Harrelson to be the ones tasked with telling widows and families when their loved ones have been killed in action. As difficult as this job is, it begins to help Foster deal with some of his own demons, especially after he takes a special interest in one of the widows, played with sensitivity by Samantha Morton. Harrelson plays up his role for both comic and emotional results, and it’s a good role for Foster, who’s moving up nicely in his career. But the story as a whole struck me as fairly routine and not nearly as groundbreaking as it thought it was. But it’s been getting decent reviews since it opened theatrically last week, so I may be biased by having seen it immediately after I Killed My Mother.


What a disappointment. Christina Ricci is psychologically haunted by who knows what, and has difficulty connecting with her boyfriend Justin Long. When she’s in a car accident, she wakes up in a morgue to have mortician Liam Neeson tell her that she’s dead, that he has the power to talk to those hovering just after life, unable to quite let go and believe they’re dead. There’s a decent premise in here somewhere, and there’s a solid tension as we’re not quite sure, either, whether she’s actually dead or alive and held prisoner by Neeson. But director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo doesn’t really believe in her film, throws a lot of unnecessary dramatic music, lets it drag to a standstill in the middle, and keeps Ricci naked for an unbelievable amount of time. It can’t decide whether it wants to be an over-the-top cheesy horror flick or a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of life and death, and so it ends up not being very good at either one.

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