Robert Koehler (Cineaste, Cinema Scope, Variety) sent this list in regarding his picks for this year’s AFI FEST, which starts today. -Doug
Here are the AFI films I think are worth checking out. I’m leaving out films like THE WRESTLER,which are going to be readily available for viewing after the festival….this list illustrates why this is the best AFI FEST in at least 20 years…
Desplechin’s A CHRISTMAS TALE
A superb, sprawling, typically Desplechinian drama-comedy, with Mathieu Almaric leading what yet again another fabulous Desplechin ensemble–it’s an ideal third film companion with MY SEX LIFE and KINGS AND QUEEN.
Reichardt’s WENDY AND LUCY
Sad, severe and maybe a little too doomy about America’s downscale rootless, but Reichardt has complete control over her filmmaking and storytelling, and Michelle Williams has never created a character like this.
An amazing American debut filmed with brilliant intelligence (ranking alongside Lance Hammer’s BALLAST) about how a creeping paranoia swamps a high school after a tragedy.
Quite possibly the film of the year, and surely the funniest film of the year, with Serra pondering the genuine force of faith and the absurdity of three men (The Three Kings, no less) venturing across impossibly huge and vertiginous landscapes to pay homage to the Baby Jesus….see it before you see Mark Peranson’s WAITING FOR SANCHO, which observes the making of BIRDSONG.
A real find, made by the Ugandan filmmaking team known as Yes! That’s Us, and Yes! this is a perky, rambunctious and genuinely African alternative to both the Francophone African cinema (Sembene, Sissako) and the Nigerian video movement.
Troell’s EVERLASTING MOMENTS (by reputation and strong word of mouth only!)
Gibisser’s FINALLY LILLIAN AND DAN
A lovely, fragile film about two painfully shy young people who hesitantly develop a relationship, by a filmmaker trying to develop his own voice.
Garrone’s GOMORRAH (haven’t seen, but obviously essential, though it will screen many times after AFI Fest)
Dortch’s A GOOD DAY TO BE BLACK & SEXY
Pretty damn dazzling and original, and another memorable debut .
Brutal, sharp and poetic, and a rare example of a visual artist making a piece of total cinema.
Naranjo’s I’M GONNA EXPLODE
Haven’t seen it, but Gerardo Naranjo (DRAMAMEX) is a Mexican filmmaker with a sense of naughty humor and vibrant visual ideas that’s something to see.
With this film, it can be confidently said that Austria’s greatest director isn’t Michael Haneke, but Gotz Spielmann, who’s made a stunning work that ideally balances powerful drama, ingenious storytelling, precise casting and pure cinema.
Peranson’s WAITING FOR SANCHO
Remember: See after BIRDSONG (which is easy at AFI, since it screens after each BIRDSONG screening at the Arclight). OK, Mark is my editor at Cinema Scope and a colleague. But, what a “making-of” film he’s made. It’s a film that brings the viewer closer to the realities and real time that making a movie involves than any film I know of…and, it’s as hilarious at times as BIRDSONG.
Martel’s THE HEADLESS WOMAN
Some critic friends (like Quintin) dislikes Martel’s latest, but it has to be seen as part of the festival’s reasonably good survey of new Argentine film—and infinitely better than the annual series at the American Cinematheque.
Trapero’s LION’S DEN
See the above note on THE HEADLESS WOMAN.
A new step forward for my favorite working filmmaker, in which his characteristically solitary man-on-a-journey is no longer alone, but instead encounters a family he’s left behind for years at sea, and the quiet emotional undercurrents that flow from the encounter…Easily one of the year’s, and decade’s, landmark films.
Carri’s LA RABIA
Strong, strong stuff, made with a palpable anger that courses through a Greek tragedy on the pampas that catapults Albertina Carri into the top ranks of Latin American artists.
THE ENTIRE DESPLECHIN RETRO, including (especially) LA VIE DES MORTS, L’AIMEE and MY SEX LIFE…
A wonderful chance to see Desplechin’s three masterpieces (MY SEX LIFE, KINGS AND QUEEN, A CHRISTMAS TALE) together, and probably the only chance you’ll ever get to see his first film (LA VIE DES MORTS, which sews the thematic seeds of his subsequent work) and his first documentary, the lovely miniature about his own family, L’AIMEE.
Jia’s 24 CITY
A minor Jia film, but highly important for Chinese cinema as a unique hybrid of documentary and fiction, capturing in almost musical terms the changes of economic globalization transforming the Chinese city and its landscape.
Tang’s PERFECT LIFE
Haven’t seen it, but as a part of the festival’s inspired survey of films produced by Jia’s Xtreme Pictures, it’s likely the key mainland China screening at AFI.
An original, astringent, jarring adaptation of ANNA KARENINA by Kazakhstan’s first, world-class director.
Omarova’s NATIVE DANCER
From what i’ve heard, see it.
Oh, how I wish I had seen this earlier–it was one of the most widely liked films at Cannes–and, so, I can’t wait to see it at the Arclight.
Hopkins’ BETTER THINGS
See my note on NATIVE DANCER….and it’s photographer by Lol Crawley, Hopkin’s longtime cinematographer and the cinematographer of BALLAST.
Pla’s THE DESERT WITHIN
This is pretty ripe, but it’s nevertheless a charged saga of the dangers of religious obsession as a father leads his family deep into a Biblical-looking Mexican wilderness.
Eimbcke’s LAKE TAHOE
Eimbcke’s films seem to be about nothing, but that’s wrong: as with DUCK SEASON, this begins as piquant comedy about young people, but concludes as a deeply felt reflection on the losses that families endure.
Westmeier’s ALONE IN FOUR WALLS
This one I’ve missed since Sundance, and one I’ve heard is made with exceptional precision, and possibly influenced by the Austrian school (not of economics, which has been enduring an unfair beating of late, but of documentary).
Olaizola’s INTIMACIES OF SHAKESPEARE AND VICTOR HUGO
Another of the festival’s strong Mexican films (more by far, we should add, than the Los Angeles Latino festival), this is a personal documentary about the filmmaker’s relatives’ relationship with an apparent serial killer.
Finn’s THE JUCHE IDEA
Jim Finn is an American original, a maker of subversive anti-documentaries that recreate seemingly impossible worlds (Soviet space programs, Shining Path guerillas in prison), and his third penetration behind totalitarian lines is in North Korea, finding that cinema can become a nexus of ideology.
Unseen–it’s Almereyda, so see it.
Pollack’s THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY?
The most interesting of the festival’s “Milestones” screenings, because people have forgotten what an exceptionally well-crafted ensemble drama this is.
Assayas’ SUMMER HOURS
Again, unseen…his first truly French film since LES DESTINEES SENTIMENTAL in 2000.