Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on upcoming indies before they head to a theater near you.
FIVE REASONS TO SEE... SONG OF THE SEA
An Irish animated film from Oscar-nominee Tomm Moore about the mythical selkies-- women who turn into seals, or vice-versa-- and a small seaside family in Western Ireland.
1) Breathtakingly stunning artwork. This is quite possibly the most beautiful animated film I've ever seen. The lush backgrounds (reminiscent of Klimt paintings!) are all handpainted-- director Tomm Moore compared moving his designing from paper to digital with "Dylan going electric." Much of the team from 2009’s The Secret of Kells reunited here, though Sea's visuals are a bit softer and have more of a Japanese influence.
2) A refreshing lack of cynicism. Song of the Sea is a rare thing: a children's feature with no winking adult jokes, pop references, or corporate tie-ins-- just a lovely story, simply told.
3) A complex villain. As Nathaniel pointed out in his quick TIFF review, not only is "The Owl Witch" memorably designed, her motivations and development are unusually knotty and compelling for a simple folktale-type story.
4) Hauntingly beautiful score. The music has a key role in the plot, and perfectly serves the film's romantic mysticism. I defy anyone to leave a viewing without the selkie song looping in their brain.
5) It's got a strong shot at an Oscar nomination. While it's true that this is a competitive year for Animated Feature, Moore's previous film The Secret of Kells landed a nomination with much less recognition -- that heightened profile and the fact that it really stands out visually form the pack gives it a boost.
FIVE REASONS TO SEE... CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
A multi-layered meta-fiction about acting, aging, love and attraction from Olivier Assayas, featuring Juliette Binoche as an actress returning to the play that made her famous, and Kristen Stewart as her personal assistant.
1) Juliette Binoche. Her Maria Enders is just delicious to watch. She's magnetic, emotionally rich, and adept at the aging woman, the brilliant actress, and the self-involved star. One devastatingly catty line ("He's a great actor") is tossed off with such a light touch I was almost on the floor.
2) The chemistry between Binoche and Stewart is insane. Their easy rapport, their mutual jealousy, their co-dependency is instantly convincing. When Stewart's Valentine runs lines for Maloja Snake with Maria as her younger lover, the textures of attraction and intimacy they play (Is this part of the text? How much of what we're seeing between them is real?) are fascinating.
3) Chloe Moretz... if you're into that sort of thing. She has a key role as the unpredictable tabloid-fixture actress cast to play opposite Maria Enders in the revival of Maloja Snake, and reliable sources tell me that she is good in it. I cannot be objective (she just bothers me) but that visceral dislike actually worked for the movie.
4) The Swiss countryside (and its clouds) are magnificent. Much of the film takes place in the Alps, and there is no skimping on sweeping landscapes and beautifully streaming light. Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux, who also lensed I am Love.
5) That third act. Who saw that coming? How do we feel about it?
Song of the Sea is due in December, and Clouds in March (such a long wait time after its Cannes debut. And why?). Now, who still needs convincing?