The 19th edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival kicked off ten days of screenings and events Thursday night (our recommendations are below) with Pedro Almodovar’s sexily escapist romp “I’m So Excited” (review here), which played well for the North American premiere crowd downtown at LA Live. The Spanish auteur was on hand in a splendid lime suit, shilling for Hollywood roles for his cast–“They speak good English!”–and hanging at the rooftop after party with Nastassja Kinski, John Lithgow, fest artistic director David Ansen, and Guillermo del Toro, who clearly enjoyed an opportunity to hang with his Spanish-speaking peeps.
While the film is a lot of fun and played well in Spain–the title implies not only enthusiasm but sexual arousal–Almodovar admitted that he turned Spain’s “catastrophe into a party, to which you are invited. There is a technical problem and we don’t know what to do and we don’t know how the problem is going to end. The best way to interfere with this kind of fear and anxiety is talking a lot, a good solution they find in alcohol, they do drugs, and have a big crazy sexual orgy.” What’s not to like?
At the after party, Almodovar told me that he is concerned that Spain is returning to the sort of right wing strictures that he grew up with: “You cannot imagine how bad it is, fear and uncertainty is exactly what we are feeling now. We have a most awful Right government, riots, they are trying to prohibit abortion… It’s really the worst moment since the democracy came to Spain. So I’m glad that now I can offer to the audience something uplifting. At the same time it’s a metaphor for the Spanish situation: traveling in circles without knowing where to land. It’s a movie that I wanted to escape from that.”
A fatigued Del Toro is tirelessly working to deliver the various elements due on “Pacific Rim,” a movie that he executed on such a gigantic scale that he wants the film to be seen in IMAX, if possible. Warner Bros. spent millions and took a long time to retrofit the movie in 3-D, which will be of the highest quality, he insists, as will the immersive Dolby Atmos sound, which he has learned to use and likes a lot.
Check out the packed LAFF schedule here. See our picks for the fest below.
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.