This year, AFI Fest returns to Hollywood, once again taking over the historic Chinese and Egyptian theaters, along with the Roosevelt Hotel. Three films from 2011's fest made my personal end of year top ten list ("The Loneliest Planet", "Kid with a Bike", and "We Need to Talk About Kevin"), including the number one slot with "...Kevin." This year shows just as much potential with 77 features, 22 female directors, the world premieres of big budget biopics "Hitchcock" and "Lincoln," a series of three science fiction shorts from director who will soon rule us all, Nacho Vigalondo, and films from 28 countries, including 12 Foreign Language Oscar submissions.
So which films should you Los Angelinos make a point to see, and which ones should everyone else monitor for reactions? Here's a glimpse at what we're looking forward to most.
"Silver Linings Playbook"
This new dark comedy from David O. Russell has been cleaning up on the Festival circuit, walking away with Audience Awards and positive reviews left and right. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a former high school teacher with bi-polar disorder whose recovery gets complicated when he and a young, depressed widow, played by Jennifer Lawrence, begin to form a relationship. Critics across the Awards Circuit are already calling it an Oscar front runner. Now's your chance to see it before the inevitable backlash begins!
Pretty much everyone who has already had the pleasure of catching "Holy Motors" will tell you one thing - best to go in knowing nothing. So we will of course extend that same courtesy to you readers, and only add that the film from director Leos Carax has been winning awards at festivals across the globe, especially in honor of lead actor Denis Lavant. Do not miss any opportunity to see what all of the fuss is about.
This film about an aging diva who crashes a Verdi birthday concert at a home for retired opera singers is notable for a few reasons. Aside from the very exciting prospect of watching Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon play lead roles opposite each other *not* as Hogwarts professors, the film is the directorial debut of veteran actor Dustin Hoffman.
This fittingly disturbing first film from Brandon Cronenberg, (Yes, son of David,) takes on a wholly original science fiction conceit, combining the psychological hysteria of "Brazil" with the sinister back door dealings of "Soylent Green" to create a world so sick, it's upsetting to realize how close we are now to such a reality. In "Antiviral," celebrity crazed fans can now become closer to the idols they adore so much by clinically contracting diseases harnessed from their very cells. Imagine if you could be infected with a herpes virus directly from your number one celebrity crush! The film stars Caleb Landry Jones of "Friday Night Lights fame", and features Cronenberg family regular Sarah Gadon ("A Dangerous Method", "Cosmopolis") in a small, but crucial role as starlet Hannah Geist.
"Somebody Up There Likes Me"
Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation") stars in this quirky comedy that takes place over 35 years in the life of Offerman's Sal, his best friend Max (Keith Poulson) and the woman they both love, Lyla (Jess Weixler). The film has been described as a fable about time sneaking up on you, and has been called director Bob Byington's most accessible work to date. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" definitely qualifies as one of the more light hearted seeming films of the fest, so if you find yourself a little bit down after multiple heavy doses of drama one right after the other, this droll offering might be your answer.
Sometimes it only takes a plot summary to launch a film from "never heard of it" to "well I gotta see that." This is absolutely the case in Rebecca Thomas' "Electrick Children", which follows a 15 year old Mormon girl who listens to a rock song on cassette tape and suddenly finds herself pregnant. Throw in some Billy Zane, and the intrigue only continues to build.
"The Angel's Share"
Perennial director Ken Loach, most famous for his work in the 80s and 90s, returns to the screen with this dark comedy about some young Scots assigned to community service, who band together to pull off a heist of the world's most expensive Whiskey, after being turned on to the fine details of the liquor during a group visit to a local distillery. Part heartfelt character drama and part wacky heist film, the film's ultimately sweet nature sneaks up on you and makes the occasionally meandering experience well worth it. And definitely expect to be craving Irish Whiskey afterwards.
All I've really heard about this next film from BAFTA-nominated director Michael Haneke ("Cache", "Funny Games", "The White Ribbon") is how much it is going to make me cry. Considering the log line reads "two retired music teachers whose abiding love is challenged by infirmity and dementia," this should come as no surprise. Oh boy. The film has major festival buzz, winning awards and hearts around the world, and now is finally LA's chance to experience the sure to be Academy Award-nominated Foreign Language picture from Austria.
"Like Someone in Love"
The latest from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, this time set in Tokyo, continuing his trend of shooting films outside of Iran which began with the Italian set "Certified Copy", follows the relationship between a teenage prostitute and her elderly new client. While reactions have been mixed, something to expect with the often inaccessible Kiarostami, the film is fascinating, exploring characters and themes in ways rarely seen on screen, and offering a brilliantly crafted final scene that simply must be experienced.
"Nano Sci Fi Tales"
The amazing Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo returns to AFI after last year's triumphant screenings of his screwball romantic comedy set against an alien invasion, "Extraterrestria"l, this time with both a segment in "ABCs of Death", and a trilogy of shorts entitled "Nano Sci Fi Tales: Clock, Baby and UFO." If you're a fan of "Extraterrestrial", Vigalondo's previous film "Time Crimes", or fantastic original science fiction in general, make sure to hop on over to Shorts Program Five and take in the goodness.