AFI FEST gets under way November 1st in Hollywood, offering from 28 countries screening over 8 days. That's a lot of options in a short time frame, so Indiewire's staff is offering up ten choices for your consideration, most of them with a significant premiere status at the fest.
This isn't to say there isn't plenty of worthwhile films to choose from outside our list, but we figured a helpful nudge or two (or ten) might help make scheduling your own personal AFI FEST a little bit easier:
“All the Light in the Sky” (North American Premiere)
This Young Americans entry is the latest from super-prolific lo-fi filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who again directed, co-wrote, produced, edited and shot his own film. In a change from his usual milieus, however, “All the Light in the Sky” is a Hollywood story, albeit a very small one. Jane Adams, who co-wrote the 79-minute film, stars with Sophia Takal (a writer-director herself with the 2011 thriller “Green”) as an aging actress and her visiting niece, who spend the weekend together in a house perched on a Malibu beach. Though his improvisational, stripped-down approach is not for everyone, Swanberg remains a fearless filmmaker whose raw, character-driven work is worth keeping an eye on. [Jay A. Fernandez]
"The Angel's Share" (U.S. Premiere)
At 75-years-old, Ken Loach shows no signs of slowing down with his newest work, "The Angel's Share," making its U.S. premiere at AFI FEST. His latest collaboration with Scottish lawyer turned screenwriter Paul Laverty ("The Wind That Shakes the Barley") finds Loach making one of his most light-hearted entertainments to date — a heist comedy with a cast mostly made up on non-professional actors. The film, which initially premiered at Cannes earlier this year to solid notices, centers on Robbie, a Glasgow boy who is given one final chance to stay out of prison after coming across a whiskey distillery while out doing community service. Chances are with Loach at the helm, this won't be Scotland's answer to "Ocean's Eleven." Still, anything from the Palme d'Or-winning filmmaker is always worth a watch.
Bernardo Bertolucci's Guest Artistic Director Program
Technically five films, Bernardo Bertolucci follows David Lynch and Pedro Almodovar as AFI FEST's Guest Artistic Director, offering up a meaty program of his favorite work. "42nd Street" (by Lloyd Bacon), "La Regle du Jeu" (by Jean Renoir), "Surnrise" (by F.W. Murnau) and "Vivre Ca Vie" (by Jean-Luc Godard) represent the filmmakers' tastes and a nice tour down film history lane, while in addition the festival will present "Electric Chair," a behind-the-scenes film about the making of Bertolucci’s new movie, "Me and You." [Peter Knegt]
"Hitchcock" (World Premiere)
Perhaps the most anticipated event of AFI FEST is its opening night world premiere screening of Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock." Based on Stephen Rebello's book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," the film has a very juicy cast in Anthony Hopkins (as Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (as his wife, Alma Reville), Scarlett Johannson (as Janet Leigh), James D'Arcy (as Anthony Perkins), Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles), and many others. Its screening at AFI will make it quickly clear whether the film — one of the few major question marks of awards season — is heading for the Oscar race. [Peter Knegt]
"The Impossible" (U.S. Premiere)
Already a hit in Europe where it smashed records in its opening weekend to score the biggest four-day opening in Spain (beating the likes of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"), "The Impossible" recounts the true story of a family vacationing in Thailand in 2004, who become separated when the tsunami roars through their hotel. The film premiered in September to a standing ovation in Toronto and makes its U.S. premiere at AFI FEST. According to Oscar prognosticators, star Naomi Watts emerged from Toronto as a possible awards contender for her wrenching performance as a mother trying to reunite her family following the disaster that tears them apart (literally). But don't count out the remarkable work from the special effects unit and camera department, who each pull out all the stops to make the tsunami's powerful assault one of the most unsettling sequences in the disaster movie genre. Not for the faint hearted. [Nigel M. Smith]
"Laurence Anyways" (US Premiere)
American audiences will get their first taste of Xavier Dolan's third and most ambitious film, "Laurence Anyways." After premiering to strong reviews at Cannes, the film went on to win the best Canadian feature prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. Spanning a decade, the drama depicts its titular character, a man (Melvil Poupard) who decides on his 35th birthday that he wants to become a woman. This results in a considerably tumultous experience for both Laurence and his girlfriend, Fred (an incredible Suzanne Clement), who decide to stay together. Its a powerful, beautiful film that finally got picked up for US distribution this week. [Peter Knegt]
"Lincoln" (World Premiere)
Technically a world premiere, AFI's coup in landing the first public screening of Steven Speilberg's "Lincoln" was overshadowed by the "work-in-progress" screening that occurred during the New York Film Festival a few weeks back. And while most have suggested there was little "in progress" about that screening, a world premiere is a world premiere, and early word suggests LA audiences are in store for something special. Closing up AFI next week, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis in a sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated performance as the 16th president of the United States. Adapted by "Angels in America" scribe Tony Kushner from Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," it covers the final four months of Lincoln's life. [Peter Knegt]
"The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On"
The only American film in AFI FEST's "breakthrough" section, Drew Denny's hilarious, honest "The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On" is based on her performance artwork she created in memory of her dad. Denny herself also stars in the film — as a woman who sets out on a roadtrip from LA to Austin with her best friend. Shot on Super 16 and digital, its a beautiful film that works as a lovely ode to female friendship. [Peter Knegt]
"Pearblossom Highway" (North American Premiere)
Two years after his "Littlerock" won both the Gotham Awards' Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You prize and the Indie Spirits' Someone to Watch award (quite the duo), up-and-coming American director Mike Ott returns with "Pearblossom Highway." The film follows to friends, Cory and Anna, who are struggling to find a place in the world. Like "Littlerock," it features Cory Zacharia and Atsuko Okatsuka (who also co-wrote) in the lead roles, effectively bringing excepts of their real life stories into the film. Coming to AFI FEST from its world premiere at the Viennale, its a poignant, unique little film from a filmmaker who refuses to work within convention. [Peter Knegt]
"Rise of the Guardians in 3D”
It may not have much to do with showcasing fresh indie-film talent, but DreamWorks Animation’s new 3D all-star extravaganza is likely to be a very hot ticket. Directed by first-timer Peter Ramsay and scripted by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rise of the Guardians in 3D” pits an ultimate team-up of children’s icons — Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, Santa Claus, Sandman and Tooth Fairy — with celebrity voices (Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman) against an evil spirit looking to corrupt kids’ dreams. The film’s Gala matinee screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre Nov. 4 is the rare family-oriented event for those looking to take a break from the rest of the program. There’s even a geek angle: this is one of the DWA projects executive producer Guillermo del Toro worked on. And if the film skews more “How to Train Your Dragon” than “Shrek,” audiences will be glad they snuck a peek before its over-booked Thanksgiving theatrical release. [Jay A. Fernandez]