I would like to personally thank Anne Marie for being an awesome L.A. tour guide, personal GPS, and screening companion during my week long trip. Here's her first of two roundups from the festival that just wrapped. I'll have more to say myself over the weekend - Nathaniel
Last week AFI invaded Hollywood Blvd for the 2013 AFI Fest, a free film festival presenting a handful of buzzworthy features and old classics. Though it may not be the largest festival in Los Angeles, it is one of the flashiest given the star-studded evening galas and tributes, and it made good use of the newly renovated and renamed TCL Chinese Theater. This, my first festival on the job, saw me running up and down Hollywood Blvd like a film-obsessed Alfred P. Doolittle yelling, “Get me to the Chinese on time!” By the time I’d wiped the glitter from my eyes and caught my breath, I’d seen 9-ish movies in 7 days. Not bad for a neophyte with a day job! Here’s what I saw:
Day 1: Saving Mr. Banks - A Disney movie about a Disney classic is going to be heartwarming and sweet in all the ways you’d expect. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks have delightful chemistry. Considering how long we’ve been missing these two (am I the only one who feels like Emma Thompson’s been mostly absent since at least An Education?), having both Thompson and Hanks triumphantly return together in the same film is a Disney-manufactured miracle. Nathaniel actually chatted with Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell, so he can fill in the rest.
Day 2: August: Osage County - I saw the play in 2008, and I’m still wondering if that helped or hurt my viewing of the film. Tracy Letts blessedly adapted the play to the screen, so the biting language that made the original so good remains intact. There’s a definite nomination in store for him. Of course the most buzz surrounds the actresses: Meryl is Meryl is Meryl so enough said there. Continuing this year’s trend of strong performances from actresses I don’t usually like (the first being Sandra Bullock in Gravity), Julia Roberts gives her best performance in a long while. I think that fact is what might be overshadowing Margot Martindale buzz-wise, which is unfortunate because Martindale rips through her role like a tornado on the prairie.
As for the sisters: I was partial to Julianne Nicholson, while Nathaniel seemed to prefer Juliette Lewis. One thing on which we both agreed was that nobody does the film festival dress like Juliette. Hot. Damn.
Day 3 Part 1: Cleo From 5 to 7 - The Godmother of the New Wave Agnes Varda was AFI Fest’s honored icon this year. Here's more on her pre-screening interview. But I would like to take this opportunity to say again that Cleo From 5 to 7 remains a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it while you’re waiting for the rest of these movies to open.
Day 3 Part 2: Out of the Furnace - The second film by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper is a relentlessly bleak portrait of the death of smalltown America. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck play two blue-collar brothers, one imprisoned for a mistake and the other out of the army and into illegally boxing for money. Both play their parts admirably (assisted by Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitaker) but are overshadowed by the shockingly terrifying Woody Harrelson playing a sociopathic redneck. Harrelson’s performance, as well as haunting desaturated cinematography and gritty production design, made this a movie that stuck with its audience after the film ended.
Day 3 Part 3: When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism - A happy accident led me to this film by Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu. I stood in the wrong line, and was surprised to find myself watching a movie perfectly suited for people who are on their fourth movie in twenty-four hours. When Evening Falls… is a simple movie framed in unbroken master shots: a fictional director and his lead actress discuss nudity in film, eat together, have sex, and argue over a single wordless scene they’re supposed to shoot the next day. The motivations of the scene are so constantly debated back and forth - why would she eavesdrop coming out of the shower? why does she put on clothes? - that the audience is primed and waiting. Eventually, the much-debated action happens in reverse - the director steps out of the shower to eavesdrop on her - and the audience comes to its own conclusion. As concept films go, this is the simplest I’ve watched in a while, and I appreciated it for its simplicity.
Thus concluded the first half of AFI Fest. Old Hollywood and New in Part 2!