What to see:
The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer resets the bar for tragi-comedy with this disturbing documentary which is packed with scenes that are both harrowing and deeply wrenching. The film, wrote Tom Christie in Berlin, "is like a ride to Hell in a meandering fun-house tram...This is a cinematic and human experience that will take days, perhaps weeks, months and years to digest." (His review here)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints. While it's easy to compare this movie to Terrence Malick's "Badlands," from its magic hour photography to its content, which filmmaker David Lowery considers an antecedent to his two young bank robbers trying to grab happiness as their future disappears, the filmmaker puts his own stamp on this familiar material. He places his actors, led by hapless robber Casey Affleck and his wife Rooney Mara, who has his child while he is serving time in prison, inside a timeless sepia universe of ramshackle houses and wind-blown grasses. The supporting actors are all spot on as well: Keith Carradine, Ben Foster and Nate Parker. And the country-tinged music (long-time collaborator Daniel Hart) and percussive sound also serve to modernize this film, keeping it simultaneously in the past and present. (TOH! interview with Lowery here.)
Fruitvale Station. Ryan Coogler's must-see Cannes and Sundance prize-winner is continuing to build awards buzz. The film recreates the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, who at 22 years old was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer at the titular BART station on New Year's Day, 2009. Michael B. Jordan ("The Wire") and Octavia Spencer ("The Help") are getting rave reviews, and it's a gut-wrenching tearjerker in the "Precious" tradition. (TOH! interview with Coogler here.)
The Fifth Season. This brilliant Belgian apocalypse film, set in a small-town farming community, asks the question: What would happen if spring never came? The answer is transfixing, unsettling, formally flawless hell, as the townspeople begin to panic, and look for human sacrifices to be made to the seasonal gods.
Two Men in Manhattan. If you're a French Crime diehard, this is a must-see. in 1958, Jean-Pierre Melville ("Le Samourai") helmed and starred (!) in his sole directorial effort in the US, a New York-set noir with plenty of jazzy, black-and-white location shooting to drool over. Also drool worthy: the brand new DCP (digital cinema package) of the film, to be screened at RedCat on June 18. Rarely seen.
The Way, Way Back. The fest closer on June 23 is a summer vacation coming-of-age heart-tugger written and directed by "The Descendants" writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The comedy was a popular hit at Sundance; Steve Carell plays a not-so-nice guy dating Toni Collette, who ignores her socially awkward son, well-played by Liam James, who finds solace at a water park run by Sam Rockwell, who steals the movie, per usual, along with Allison Janney as a hugely entertaining heavy drinker. AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet also offer stalwart support.
What we want to see:
Crash Reel. Lucy Walker's Sundance doc about Half Pipe star Kevin Pearce who recovers from a devastating injury with support from his family has been earning rave reviews on the fest circuit.
Ernest & Celestine. This follow-up to Belgian animating duo Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar's joyfully wacky "A Town Called Panic" looks softer, cuddlier and more pastel -- but equally delightful -- and follows the unlikely friendship between a bear and mouse. Be prepared to hear this title again during Oscar season. It won the Seattle International Film Festival jury award for best family film.
Four Dogs. Ansen recommends seeing Joe Burke's comedy about a kid who comes to the San Fernando Valley to stay with family while he takes acting classes.
In a World. Triple threat Lake Bell's Sundance prize-winning comedy takes us behind the scenes as women voice artists try to get a foothold in a field dominated by men.
Nobody's Daughter Haewon. The latest from Hong Sangsoo ("In Another Country") follows a young woman's affair with her film professor. This title premiered at Berlin, and makes its North American premiere at LAFF.
Only God Forgives. Yes, Nicolas Winding Refn's latest violent thriller starring Ryan Gosling got slammed by critics at Cannes. What were they expecting? This filmmaker has style to burn and we want to check out Kristin Scott Thomas's performance as a ruthless Thailand mob boss.
Our Nixon. Penny Lane won a Seattle doc award for this novel point-of-view on the fall of president Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman from three aides who shot super 8 film at the time.
Short Term 12. Brie Larson earned raves for her role as a disturbed social worker in Destin Daniel Cretton's drama, which won both the SXSW 2013 audience and grand jury prizes.
Wadjda. This is the first Saudi Arabian film ever to be directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour, and also the first to be shot in the UK. It follows a tenacious young girl who wants nothing more than a beautiful green bicycle to race with her friends, but faces a cultural barrier: females aren't supposed to ride bikes.
Events and conversations:
We want to check out 80-year-old Costa Gavras's June 17 conversation with "Zero Dark Thirty" scribe Mark Boal--at his request. Gavras has a new film in the fest, the international finance thriller, "Capital."
And on Monday night Indiewire will unveil it's first-ever Influencers List at an LAFF panel moderated by IW editor-in-chief Dana Harris.