Sunday, October 10, 2010

Austin Film Festival line-up

The 2010 edition of the Austin Film Festival (its 17th in total) is set to start later this month (Oct. 21, to be exact), and I plan to be there for it. Well, at least a portion of it. The full line-up was recently revealed and it looks to be a great one, filled with an eclectic mix of genres and sure to produce a decent dose of star power at its various premieres. While Austin is well established as an outstanding live music city, featuring festivals that can stand with the best of them (South by Southwest and Austin City Limits), it has been building a strong reputation for its film offerings as well. South by Southwest also includes a great film festival (which I attended last year), and draws a lot of big names to attend it, along with Fantastic Fest and the Austin Film Festival, among others. That’s saying nothing of the numerous celebrities that live in, work in or frequent the Texas capital.

But enough about the entertainment industry standing of the city; let’s look at some of the festival’s schedule. Some of these films have been making the festival circuit in recent months, while a number of others will be making their U.S. or regional debut in Austin later this month.

Although I’d love to go to so many of these, time and scheduling conflicts will undoubtedly play a part in what I’ll ultimately be able to catch. But I’m excited to be able to view a number of films (and possibly the stars and filmmakers that are responsible for them). The standing in line to do so? Not so much.

Here’s a few of the films I’ve got my eye on (with accompanying trailers, to boot). Rest assured, there will be others. Keeping in mind that I won’t be able to see all of these, those that I do see, I’ll report back on upon my return.

“127 Hours”

The new film from 2008 AFF Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award Recipient Danny Boyle and the Academy Award winning director of the 2008 Best Picture, “Slumdog Millionaire” (also the 08 AFF Audience Award Winner), “127 Hours” is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolate canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and possibly the last two people he ever had the chance to meet.


The tale of the fluctuating group of men who have been chasing baseballs and dreams outside of the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field, as long as it has been there. Then, 2004 World Series changes everything; the Cubs have a chance of winning. These increased expectations have heated up the competition for home run balls hit onto the street to a fever pitch, while the imminent Wrigley Field expansion threatens this century-old pass-time. The filmmakers are clearly Cubs fans, making this documentary an intimate foray into a world of baseball passion. As the baseballs fly out the stadium, dreams soar with them, hope for not only victory, but the chance to be part of it by catching a fly ball. Narrated by Bill Murray.

“Black Swan”

Visionary director Darren Aronofsky, takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect. Following the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother who zealously supports her daughter's professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Seymour Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.

“Blue Valentine”

On the far side of a once-passionate romance, Cindy and Dean are married with a young daughter. Hoping to save their marriage, they steal away to a theme hotel where they went years earlier, when they met and fell in love—full of life and hope. Moving fluidly between these two time periods, "Blue Valentine" unfolds like a cinematic duet whose refrain asks, where did their love go? Framing the film as a mystery whose answer lies scattered in time and in character, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance constructs an elegant set of dualities: past and present, youth and adulthood, vitality and entropy. The rigor of his process is visible throughout the film. Eliminating artificial devices, he has only the truth of the characters to work with.


The inspirational true story of a sister's unwavering devotion to her brother. When Betty Anne Waters' (two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank) older brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is arrested for murder and sentenced to life in 1983, Betty Anne, a Massachusetts wife and mother of two, dedicates her life to overturning the murder conviction. Convinced that her brother is innocent, Betty Anne puts herself through high school, college and, finally, law school in an 18-year quest to free Kenny. She pores through suspicious evidence mounted by small town cop Nancy Taylor (Academy Award nominee Melissa Leo), meticulously retracing the steps that led to Kenny's arrest. Belief in her brother pushes Betty Anne and her team to uncover the facts with the hope of exonerating Kenny.

“The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan”

Mary Nolan lost her husband on June 16, 1966 when joined the Army and never came home. Questions swirl around his disappearance: did McKinley become disillusioned with the mission in Vietnam? Is he a deserter? Is he still alive? The stories of McKinley Nolan are many. In 2006, Lt. Dan Smith may have seen Nolan alive. He may have married a Cambodian woman or been killed by the Khmer Rouge, but director Henry Corra does more than answer questions. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan is a heart wrenching documentary that explores the ideas of war, home, and love, and the triumph of hope in the human heart.

“Fair Game”

A suspense-filled glimpse into the dark corridors of political power, Fair Game is a riveting action-thriller based on the autobiography of real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose career was destroyed and marriage strained to its limits when her covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak. As a covert officer in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie's husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes an editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a firestorm of controversy.

“High School”

With echoes of the work of John Hughes and Judd Apatow, “High School” is the tale of a valedictorian whose first hit of pot coincides with his first drug test. Determined not to go down, he teams up with the local stoner to concoct an ambitious plan to get his entire graduating class to face the same fate, and fail. Every thing seems to go just as planned until the town’s biggest nutjob, Psycho Ed (a hysterical Adrien Brody) barges into the school looking for the stash the guys stole from him, leading all hell to break loose amongst their now-stoned classmates. Featuring not just a unique cast of teachers, including Colin Hanks and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson), but also a brand new score from Harold Faltermeyer – the composer behind the iconic music of “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Top Gun.”

“I Love You, Philip Morris”

This notorious Jim Carrey comedy is now off the shelf, but you may only think you’re ready for it. Based on the true story of Steven Russell, a Dallas cop, who is happily married to Debbie, when he comes to the sudden realization that he’s gay. Steven rejects his old life and begins to pursue his new lifestyle flamboyantly in Miami. Despite his history as a police officer, he becomes a con man to earn money. His attempts at conning land him in the state penitentiary where he meets the love of his life – Philip Morris (Ewan MacGregor). Steven is committed to freeing Philip from jail and having a life together. At times romantic and comedic, “I Love You, Phillip Morris” is a love story unlike any other.

“Make Believe”

“Make Believe” follows the story of six junior magicians from the U.S., South Africa, and Japan. It shows their introductions into the world of magic, and their fates as they compete for the title of Teen World Champion at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas. But, the world of magic isn’t immune to emotionality. As these young Merlins grow up, they can’t escape the quirkiness and differences associated with their craft, and, in some cases, the solitude. The magicians of Make Believe will work their own bit magic into your heart, as they share their intertwining stories and passion for this unique hobby (that they hope to turn into a career). Produced by the team behind “The King of Kong.”

“Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story”

Monopoly originally became popular during the Great Depression. Since then it has been played by over a billion people and become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Narrated by Zachary Levi, Under the Boardwalk captures fascinating stories about the game and those who play it. The filmmakers explore Monopoly’s roots in an anti-capitalist political platform to its eventual transformation into a game about getting rich quick. The filmmakers also investigate the psychology of the game, and game experts reveal the best strategies for winning. Under the Boardwalk also explores the pop cultural and social history of the game. This quirky documentary features eccentric collectors and players and exciting worldwide tournaments.

“Welcome to the Rileys”

An emotional journey that takes us through grief, self-reinvention and healing. The Rileys have been struggling in their marriage since losing their teenage daughter. Once a happily married couple, Lois (Melissa Leo) and Doug (James Gandolfini) have grown distant. Lois has become agoraphobic, while Doug finds their home depressing. Looking to get away, he goes on a business trip to New Orleans. He meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a teenage runaway. Despite her unsettling demeanor, Doug immediately recognizes innocence in Mallory. He realizes she is in desperate need of guidance, something he has been longing to provide. The opportunity to care and protect Mallory supplants the void Doug's marriage has left in his heart, and brings new meaning to his life.

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