When a film festival has 418 films, you're bound to miss a few you wanted to see. It was a cinematic hydra -- for every film I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival, there were always two more I didn't catch. Here are the seven films I most regret not being able to work into my SIFF-tastic viewing schedule:
- Frostbite - Man, I really wanted to see this film. It had vampires! Really mean ones! In Sweden! Where there's no daylight for part of the year, setting the perfect conditions for a giant vampire party: B.Y.O.B. -- bring your own ... you know.
- Host and Guest - This Korean film, about a cynical intellectual and an evangelist, won the jury prize for Best Director for helmer Dong-Il Sun. I'll have to keep an eye out at future fests for this one.
- Starfish Hotel - A Japanese gothic supernatural mystery? Holy geez, how did I miss that one? I overheard someone in the press office talking about how great this film was, but never managed to work it in.
- Beowulf and Grendel - Here I was all set to interview director Sturla Gunnarsson about Beowulf and Grendel, starring Stellan Skarsgärd and Sarah Polley and then I ended up not making the screening due to illess. I'm going to try to track this one down -- maybe it'll be at Toronto in September, and we can review it and do an interview then.
- House of Sand - How did I manage to miss this Brazilian saga about a family of women surviving amid the desolation of the desert -- again? I swear, one day I will see House of Sand, and then I will review it for you. It's on my "things to do before I die list" now, so it's official.
- Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talking About Him?) - Who is Harry Nilsson? The Beatles knew who the singer-songwriter was -- he was one of their faves.This film wasn't on my list, until I kept hearing people talking about being excited to see it, and, later, raving about what a fantastic film it was. Now I wish I'd had it on my list.
- We Go Way Back - I really wanted to catch this feature by former Fly Filmmaking Challenge director Lynn Shelton, about a woman confronted by a 13-year-old version of herself. Am going to try to track down a screener of this one. It had great buzz.
Below the fold, the seven films I enjoyed most at SIFF.
- Snow Cake - Sigourey Weaver and Alan Rickman turn in deeply moving performances in this affecting film about a man who befriends a high-functioning autistic woman, after her daughter is killed in a car wreck in his car.
- Conversations With Other Women - This smart film is pretty much a witty dialogue between two characters: Man (Aaron Eckhart) and Woman (Helena Bonham-Carter), exes who haven't quite let go in spite of breaking up a decade before, and are reunited at a wedding. There are a lot of bad ways to make a film with this premise; thankfully, director Hans Canosa made some really astute directorial choices, and the result is a beautifully sad film with outstanding performances by Eckhart and Bonham-Carter.
- The Proposition - Nick Cave's -- er, I mean, John Hillcoat's -- The Propostion, written by Aussie music legend Nick Cave, is easily one of the best films I've seen all year. Seldom do such a perfectly elegant screenplay, a picture-perfect cast, amazing cinematography and music that is so good it's almost a character in the film, merge together to create a film of this caliber. Fortunately, they do so in this spectacular Australian Western, which is on my list of films that every film-lover MUST see this year. Nick Cave probably won't get nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for it, but dammit, he should. Oh, and for Best Score too. Academy, are you listening? I didn't think so.
- OSS-117: Nest of Spies - The winner of the Golden Space Needle Award at SIFF for Best Feature, this French smash had the Seattle audience practically rolling in the aisles from start to finish. Jean Dujardin is my new favorite French actor. Every time he quirked his eyebrow or did his super-spy pose, I laughed out loud. I hope to see more of leading lady Berenice Bejo in the planned sequel as well.
- Half Nelson - Ryan Gosling turns in a career-high performance as a well-liked, idealistic middle-school teacher who just happens to be addicted to crack. He develops a unique friendship with one of his students (Shareeka Epps) after she catches him using in the locker room in a solo post-basketball game celebration. A well-written script gives the characters many layers to work with, and excellent acting and taut direction keep this great film from dipping so much as a toenail into gooey "afterschool special" territory.
- Americanese - A deliberate, thoughtful adaptation of the book American Knees, by Seattle author Shawn Wong, the film tells the tale of Aurora and Raymond, an Asian-America couple who can't seem to let go. Serious themes of racism and racial identiy are interwoven in the story, but director Eric Byler avoids beating you over the head with them. Great performances by Chris Tashima, Allison Sie and Joan Chen anchor the film, which is Byler's answer to the Joy Luck Club.
- Monster House - Okay, yes it's a kiddie-flick, but who cares? It's a good one. The story is fun and inventive, and the house is the scariest haunted house this side of The Poltergeist. Three kids fight to destroy a haunted house before the neighborhood children get eaten by it on Halloween. The motion-capture animation of the characters was interesting, but that house, possessed by Kathleen Turner, is what really brings the tale to life. Scary for younger kids, btw. Much scarier that it seems in the trailer. Now, if only we could get the house to eat Garfield before another sequel can be made ...