Wednesday, November 2, 2011

AFI Fest Preview

AFI Fest 2011 kicks off tomorrow, and I’ll be there all week covering as many damn films as time and my own ability to stay awake will allow. I’ll be rolling out daily recaps over at Battleship Pretension, but you can come here for regular link round-ups. I’ll also be Twittering vigorously @railoftomorrow.

I was unable to attend the press screenings preceding the festival, but I researched all of the films as they were announced, and have thus assembled a list of what I feel are the movies to see, though scheduling will prevent anyone from possibly seeing all of them. Admittedly, some of my reasons are a trifle vague, but I’m trying to maintain some of the mystery for myself.

If you end up attending the festival, shoot me a tweet, say “hi,” buy me a sandwich, whatever! I’ll be busy, but not that busy. As always, the comments are open, so if you want a different kind of coverage, be sure to let me know as well - I hope to get to all types of things, but you never know everything you leave out.

J. Edgar (dir. Clint Eastwood) - It's the opening night gala, and tickets are scarce. More are supposed to pop up any second now, so keep your eyes peeled! But any new Clint Eastwood movie is a must see, and this one has the benefit of almost certainly being better than Hereafter.

The Adventures of Tintin (dir. Steven Spielberg) - I don’t care what your too-cool-for-school friends say. Spielberg is one of the greats. This is his first foray into animation, 3D, and digital filmmaking, and for that alone it demands your attention. Plus it’s been getting great reviews overseas, where it’s already opened.

Carnage (dir. Roman Polanski) - The reviews have not been across-the-board praise, as many feel the film is trapped by its stage-y roots (it’s adapted from the hit show, God of Carnage), but beyond the allure of any new Roman Polanski film, there are few directors who can turn one room into such a dynamic force as he.

The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius) - The Artist has remained every cinephile’s fantasy film since it premiered out of nowhere at Cannes (literally - it was added to the competition a week before the festival). Initial reviews were ambivalent, but it’s been gaining steam ever since. I would be ecstatic if this revives interest in silent film, but for now, I’m just hoping for a damn good movie.

Shame (dir. Steve McQueen) - This is easily required viewing based on the strength of McQueen’s debut film, Hunger, which, like this film, starred Michael Fassbender. Unfortunately, not very many people saw Hunger, but the reviews for this have been extraordinary so far, and its reputation alone will make it one of the most talked-about films of the fall - it’s without a doubt the highest-profile NC-17 film of the last decade.

Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog) - It’s the new Werner Herzog film. Need I say more? Strategic festival-goers may want to wait on this, as it’s released in Los Angeles mere days after it’s shown at AFI Fest (I’ll be waiting, but only because there are more rare, and equally enticing, opportunities at the same times).

The Kid with the Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne) - Once again, one could do worse that to rely on a reputation as strong as the Dardennes, but even those given to say “more of the same” are declaring this especially noteworthy. Those who do not tire of artistic excellence are over the moon.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (dir. Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass) - I’ve had an unsteady relationship with the Duplass brothers since their breakout film, The Puffy Chair, culminating with what I felt was a massive misfire with Cyrus. Yet I can’t resist the pull, especially with a cast headlined by Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer(!), and Susan Sarandon.

Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier) - Once again, strategists may want to take its impending release (November 11th in Los Angeles) as reason to check out some smaller stuff, but this is my one major indulgence - I’m dying to see this projected on the Egyptian’s enormous screen. Reviews have been exuberant, and many felt it could have taken the Palme d’Or if not for von Trier’s knack for getting into trouble.

Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo and Mauricio Katz) - A few months back, I was embroiled in an extensive, multi-blog debate about the modern quick-cut style of action films. My opponents will be delighted to know their precious “classical” camerawork is, reportedly, very much alive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m dying for a more rigorous action movie myself, so if you see me at the 8:30 show on Friday night, do say “hi.”

Pina (dir. Wim Wenders) - In addition to praising the cinematic stylings of Michael Bay, I’ve also sought to alienate myself from critical circles by vigorously championing 3D. And a 3D dance documentary directed by Wim Wenders is just what the doctor ordered! Those I know who have seen it think very highly of it.

Rampart (dir. Oren Moverman) - I enjoyed, but was not particularly electrified, by Moverman’s debut, The Messenger, but it was enough to get me curious. Plus, co-written by James Ellroy? Corruption in the LAPD? Indeed!

We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay) - I am, regrettably, not as familiar with Ms. Ramsay’s career as I (or I’m sure you) would like, but I hear she’s one hell of a filmmaker, and this one’s got Tilda Swinton! Maybe that doesn’t make it the must-see movie for you that it is for me, but if that’s the case...why?

The Loneliest Planet (dir. Julia Loktev) - Ecstatic reviews out of the New York Film Festival. Phil Coldiron called it “the sharpest account of what it means to be an educated, disillusioned young American made thus far in the 21st century.” Richard Brody noted that Loktev “condenses a world of bitter and incommensurable experience into a single shot.” Hurrah!

Michael (dir. Markus Schleinzer) - Reportedly a very calm, measured portrait of an accountant who keeps a ten-year-old boy locked in his basement. Not for those whose souls have not already been sanded to dust, I’m sure, but I’ll give it a go anyway.

Green (dir. Sophia Takal) - I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about this one, but it was one of a handful that was highlight by those who would know as a must-see. Sure, I could look up reviews, but I don’t want to totally spoil my own fun.

Alps (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) - Did you see Dogtooth? I still don’t know what to think about it, but I wouldn’t trade watching it for...well, seeing it on the big screen as opposed to a standard-def stream on Netflix wouldn’t have been so bad. Nevertheless, Lanthimos is more than a director worth watching - he’s worth fearing. In a good way.

The Day He Arrives (dir. Hon Sang-Soo) - Again, woefully unfamiliar with the director, but I hear it has intellectuals discussing things! While drunk! In black-and-white! Yeah, I did go to film school, why do you ask?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (dir. David Gelb) - An apparently enrapturing portrait of a world-renowned sushi chef who operates out of a subway station, and whose waiting list can stretch for years.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - Very depressed I’ll have to miss this one (due to scheduling conflicts), as it’s a slow-burning procedural in which a killer leads the police to his victim’s body. I’m sure things don’t quite go as planned.

A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi) - Another one very close to getting cut from my schedule due to a very tight day, but this has become the movie to see in the rounds it’s made through festivals. The screenplay is apparently tight enough to bounce a dime off, and the emotional punch quite a wallop.

The Turin Horse (dir. Bela Tarr) - Tarr claims this will be his final film, which makes it something of an event unto itself. Never mind the reviews that have called it a devastating masterpiece, which should be a good way to start off the day (both screenings are in the first block, and while one would like to wander around town late into the night pondering the fragility of existence after such a thing, them’s the brakes). It runs a scant 146 minutes with only 30 shots. I couldn’t be more giddy. Word on the street is that Tarr himself will be there. For which screening, I do not know. The word was not that elaborate.

Extraterrestrial (dir. Nacho Vigalondo) - Timecrimes fans will want to note that this is director Vigalondo’s follow-up. Me, I’ve yet to see Timecrimes, but I know its fanbase is expansive; hence, I have included it.

Bonsai (dir. Cristian Jimenez) - Like so many others, this is getting fantastic reviews, and it has a very friendly premise to those who share my interests: “In Cristian Jimenez’s wry and nostalgic tale of love and literature, struggling writer Julio revisits and revises his memories of his college romance with Emilia.” Sadly, as with so many others, scheduling will prevent me, but it needn’t you.

Bullhead (dir. Michael R. Roskam) - If you think about it hard enough, you already know the premise based on the title. And it sounds righteous. Word out of Fantastic Fest was strong. Strong like a bull.

Le Cercle Rouge (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville) and The Killers (dir. Robert Siodmak) - No, Melville and Siodmak didn’t come back from the dead and remake his own classics, Haneke-style (note: there is no proof that Haneke has died, though he often looks not unlike an extra in a Romero film); rather, this is one of the films Pedro Almodovar has chosen to highlight in his stint as guest director. The other two - Eyes Without a Face and Nightmare Alley - I’ve unfortunately not seen, but these two are dynamite.

Shorts! - There are four shorts programs, and one of the major recommendations from festival veterans is to make sure to catch at least one at any festival. I’ll probably be catching Shorts 1, but that’s purely a function of scheduling, as it’s actually the shortest program.

There will also be a few events at the festival, namely the Young Hollywood Panel, featuring Kirsten Dunst, Anton Yelchin, Armie Hammer, and Evan Rachel Wood (that might be too much pretty on display, but I think the room will find a way to manage), and the Sony 3D Panel. Those who read this whole damn thing might remember that I’m quite fond of the potential of 3D, and I want to see what Buzz Hays, Senior Vice President of the Sony 3D Technology Center, sees in its future.

Getting by far the least notice of all is Two Visions of the West with Bob Birchard. Part of that is the time - 9:30 am makes it by far the earliest event all week - but it’s also one of the few retrospectives, and worth taking note of. Birchard will present The Canadian, a silent later noted for its stark realism, and Trail of the Vigilantes, the description for which includes the words “oater,” “lawman,” “outlaws,” “comic,” “mysterious,” “hell-raiser,” “sidekick,” and (wait for it) “nymphomania.” This falls at the beginning of my busiest day, which will end well after midnight, but I’m pretty intent on making it.

Finally, there is a Secret Screening scheduled for November 6th at 9:30. I don’t have any insider knowledge, and my plan is still to attend Melancholia at 8:30 that evening instead, but...if I hear tell that it’s something irresistible, my plans may have to change.

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