The 3rd Annual AFI International Film Festival wrapped up this past week. For those who don't know, AFI DALLAS came to be when a local film dude with deep pocket wanted to open up a Dallas branch of the famed AFI Film Institute. What we got instead was a pretty decent film festival. It now ranks as one of the top 20 film festivals in the country and has grown pretty steadily in each of it's first three years. We pretty much get the same lineup more or less as SXSW and some of the top films from Sundance. Luckily, I work for a company that is a creative sponsor; we do a shit load of post work for the festival. That means that every year, I get my hands on a shiny Silver Star All Access pass. Here are my highlights (don't worry, NO SPOILERS):
1. BIG FAN is the directorial debut for THE WRESTLER screenwriter Robert D. Siegel and stars Patton Oswalt (yes that Patton Oswalt) in an amazing dramatic performance. This film reminds me of those fantastic, intimate character dramas from the early 1970s. Oswalt stars as a hardcore New York Giants fan, who's obsession with his favorite team and player completely defines him as a person, especially when faced with huge moral dilemma. 5 out of 5 stars.
2. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER takes the old cliched story of boy meets girl romantic dramedy and breathes new life in it. For anyone who's fallen head over heals for someone, only to find blank stares in return, this film is for you. Director Marc Webb does a superb job of blending together many genres and actually making it work. The film includes a great surreal musical number, as well as incorporating animation and an unconventional story structure. Also, the film wouldn't have been as convincing as it was without the performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt is as close to gold as it comes nowadays, and Deschanel actally does more than stare at the camera for 90 minutes. 4.5 out of 5.
4-7. Great Documentaries: PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI (4 out of 5 stars) chronicles the first ever integrated prom in a small town in Mississippi (in FUCKING 2008!!!) thanks to Morgan Freeman. Racism lives on in the south! FOOD, INC. (4 out of 5 stars) shows us just where our food supply comes from (90% of it from 4 corporations, yummy!). ROCK PROPHECIES (4 out of 5 stars) showcases one of the most successful rock photographers of the past forty years. And ART & COPY (3.5 out of 5 stars) pulls back the curtain on big advertising and shows us the titans of the industry.
8. GIGANTIC was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, and I'm not sure why. This film taps into almost every indie film cliche: quiet, loner, quirky lead; quiet, loner, quirky love interest; quirky, funny co-workers; loud mouth, over-bearing father of love interest; really cool parents who understand and accept said quirkiness; oh, and a hip indie music soundtrack. Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel are wasted. John Goodman is funny at times. New York is beautifully photographed. Oh, and Zooey shows us her Deschanels for the fist time (half a point for that). 2.5 out of 5.
9. THE MISSING PERSON on the surface has a lot of promise. You take one of the great actors working today (Oscar nominated Michael Shannon), cast him as an old school private detective with a shady past who drinks too much and smokes like a chimney. Then you throw in some intrigue about a 9/11 survivor on the lam and PRESTO, you have yourself a great noir mystery. Eh, not so much. This film is so clunky, so misguided, so weighted down it takes forever to find it's direction (atmosphere can only carry a film for so long). Just a mess. 2 out of 5 stars.