My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest

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Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

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I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late

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This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember

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As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

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Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High

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A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer

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There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing

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Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room

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I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn

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It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!


The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.


What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

TCFF 2015 Day 6 Recap + Reviews: Anomalisa and Too Late

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We’ve passed the halfway point of TCFF already, with just four more days to go in the 11-day cinematic festivities. There are still a whole bunch of great films coming in the next few days!

The highlights of the past few days are definitely meeting the talents and filmmakers attending the film fest!

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Director Dennis Hauck, John Hawkes & Jatin Setia

It’s especially gratifying to see Alexandria, MN native John Hawkes being honored with a North Star Award for Excellence after the screening of his film Too Late (review below). TCFF will screen other Hawkes films, including Winter’s Bone and Me and You and Everyone We Know“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” TCFF executive director Jatin Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career.” Amen to that. I had hoped he’d be nominated for his performance in The Sessions, which also screened at TCFF in 2012.


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Anomalisa

This is one of the most anticipated screenings at TCFF and the theater is packed. The film has received unanimously positive reviews out of other major film festivals, and Charlie Kaufman is a beloved writer/director. I’m not terribly well-versed in his work however, having just seen Adaptation, but I’m definitely familiar with his work. I think it’s safe to say he is one of those writers with a distinct style that it’s more of an acquired taste. Anomalisa is his first stop-motion film and it’s definitely not an animated feature for kids. It deals with a rather heavy subject matter about a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.

As the film opens with the protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) on a plane, I was immediately amazed by how good the stop-motion quality. Though the lines of the puppets’ faces are left in, the expressions are quite realistic and even the skin textures and hair are meticulously done. The eyes are especially interesting to look at, as they truly convey human emotion. Kudos to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for crafting something that, despite not actually having real people in it, has a very human story about existensial crisis.

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This is the only still image I can find of this film

Michael seems to be one of those people who have it all (as is the case in many Kaufman’s stories), he’s a successful customer service expert with a best-selling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He’s in town in Cincinnati for a conference, and it’s apparent he’s very disillusioned with his soul-sucking corporate job. The film takes place mostly in a single night in an upscale but impersonal hotel that only aggravates Michael’s feeling of isolation. To illustrate the humdrum life seen through Michael’s eyes, everyone else he comes across (both men & women) have the same voice, voiced by Tom Noonan. That is until later on in the film when he meets a fretful customer service rep staying on his floor named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She struggles with self esteem, always thinking that she’s not at all special, but Michael assures her she is unlike any other he’s ever met… anomalous Lisa, hence the film’s title.

To say that the film is bizarre is putting it mildly. But it’s to be expected from Kaufman, and there’s definitely surreal elements in the way the story unfold. It’s also hilarious in parts, most notably when Lisa sang a Cindy Lauper song for Michael. The sexual themes are prevalent right from the start, with Michael witnessing a guy in the next building masturbating and later we see a fully-realized sex scene. The scene is eerily realistic and not at all comedic, which is a technical feat considering it’s puppetry. I have to say it creeps me out a bit and I bet I’m not the only one squirming in my seat watching that.

I also find that though I can relate with the theme of isolation and loneliness, it was hard for me to get into the character who is downright unlikable and frankly, unrelatable. I remember a line from the documentary A New High that plays on TCFF’s opening night where a character said ‘Though life doesn’t always go my way, I choose joy’ and throughout the film I felt that life is about what we make of it and Michael chooses to dwell on the banality of his life.

Ultimately, Anomalisa is a film I appreciate and even admire, but not love. It just doesn’t connect with me emotionally, and I find the petulant manner of its hero aggravating. But on a technical level, the animation quality is top notch, given its relatively small budget (crowd-funded via Kickstarter), that is no small feat. It lives up to its title in that there is nothing else like it, a uniquely-told and crafted existensial drama that no doubt will get people talking for years to come. How profound this film really is however, is up to the viewer, but I think Kaufman’s fans will be pleased with this one.

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Too Late

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Good things come in small packages. Last night, Twin Cities Film Fest attendees were treated not only to a new indie film noir starring Minnesota native John Hawkes but also a post-show Q&A with the actor and writer/director Dennis Hauck. It’s always interesting to see actors in person after you see them on screen, and my usual reaction is how much smaller they are in person. But I digress.

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Too Late, Hauck’s debut feature film, stars the Alexandria-born (and Oscar nominated) Hawkes as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private detective haunted by his past. In a recent Star Tribune article, the author said Hawkes has a history of playing bleak characters (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) and this one is no different…but he plays them so well. The film begins and ends in a very “Pulp Fiction” type fashion (and then, as if to prove the connection, Robert Forster, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, came on screen while I was thinking this) with a mix of the romanticism of Once thrown in the middle.

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If you’re confused it’s okay because that’s not really the point. Not to say this movie doesn’t have a coherent plot (it’s one of those you want to watch again once you reach the end to get everything straight) but I found myself wondering what would happen next. Part of this is because the movie was shot with only five, single shot, uninterrupted scenes. (The film is about 100 minutes long so each “section” of the movie is about 20 minutes.) In the post-show Q&A Hauck talked about how the camera equipment was often too heavy for one person to handle for 20 minutes so there are slight jiggles in each scene where the camera was shifted from one camera person to another. Yes, in addition to the story, this movie is a treasure trove of unique filmmaking.

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Taking the classic tapestry of old Hollywood from the beginning scene overlooking the city to the middle scene in a projection room at an old drive through, the cinematography of shooting this movie on 35mm film adds to its appeal. I also found it to be expertly cast – Hawkes injects his world weary character with a sweet, unassuming charm (in the post-show Q&A Haucks mentioned that he wrote the script with Hawkes in mind) and Crystal Reed (Dorothy) and Dichen Lachman (Jill) both avoid the “stripper with a heart of gold” mentality to give their characters a relatable depth.

The movie was very well received with the sold-out crowd spontaneously applauding as the credits rolled and I hope it gets wider release as it’s a worthy addition to any moviegoers list.

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Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 


What do you think about either one of these films?

 

Weekend Roundup + a preview of the TCFF 2015 film lineup

How’s your weekend everyone? It’s been quite a whirlwind one for me even with Friday off, as I pretty much spent most of Friday preparing for the filmmakers interview scheduled for all day Saturday. More on that in a bit.

In about a month, October 21 to be exact, another fun-filled film festivities will be underway. 11 days, nearly a hundred films, plus Midwest premieres, film educational panels, after parties, and more will pack the ShowPlace ICON Theatres at the West End Shoppes in St. Louis Park. I’m so excited for the new venue for our mixers (after party) which is just a few doors down from the theaters. The TCFF Preview Gala on Friday night took place in what used to be the Love Culture store, and the space is simply gorgeous!


On Saturday, I got a chance to chat with some MN-based filmmakers/actors/producers whose films will screen at TCFF.

Every year I’m thrilled to see such a great variety of films in the TCFF lineup. The trailers below are just a sampling of some of the trailers being shown at the preview night, ranging from studio features, documentaries, MN-made films as well as shorts.

I’m excited to see quite a few female filmmakers being represented this year: Patricia Riggen (The 33), Stéphanie Joalland (The Quiet Hour), Emily Ting (It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong), just to name a few, as well as Vanessa Horrocks (MN-made indie Keepsake) whom I got a chance to chat on Saturday. Apart from Riggen, all of these filmmakers are debuting their first feature film!

Check out some of the trailers below:

FEATURES

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen, Julie Walters

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

 

Youth

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano

A retired orchestra conductor is on holiday with his daughter and film director best friend in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday.

 

The 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne

Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

 

The Quiet Hour

Director: Stéphanie Joalland
Cast: Dakota Blue Richards, Karl Davies, Jack McMullen

In the aftermath of an alien invasion, a feisty teenage girl sets out to protect her farm from human scavengers who will stop at nothing in order to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

 

 

It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

Director: Emily Ting
Cast: Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Ng

An attraction forms when a Chinese American girl visiting Hong Kong for the first time meets an American expat who shows her the way, but timing may not quite be on their side.

 

Too Late

Director: Dennis Hauck
Cast: John Hawkes, Rider Strong, Crystal Reed

Told in non-linear fashion, TOO LATE explores the tangled relationship between a troubled private investigator and the missing woman he’s hired to find.

 

DOCUMENTARY

Jug Band Hokum

A 2015 feature-length documentary film by Jack Norton which follows the eccentric lives of band members competing in the annual Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands.

 

In Football We Trust

“In Football We Trust” captures a snapshot in time amid the rise of the Pacific Islander presence in the NFL.

 

SHORTS

Moving On

A short film written and directed by Marcia Fields & Mike Spear, is about what happens when you wake up to the news you need to move on and move out… at exactly the same time.

 

The Caper

Two women bond over dating fatigue and a love of film noir, created by the writer/director Matthew G. Anderson who made the Theater People web series.

….


Well, as far as weekend viewing in concerned, not much to report as we only managed to see one film, Star Wars: A New Hope. We’ve been planning to do a marathon of the original trilogy before The Force Awakens is released this December 😀

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So what are your thoughts on these films? And did you see anything good this weekend?