When I attend a destination film festival like Sundance or Toronto I want to see all the big films that people are going to be talking about for the next 6 months. At the Philadelphia Film Festival, running from Thursday 10/14 through Sunday 10/24, my agenda is different. Truthfully, this year’s PFF lineup doesn’t have many 'big' films. (They ARE showing a few great ones I’ve already seen, like ‘Black Swan’, ‘127 Hours’, ‘Every Day’ and an ‘Unbreakable’ 10th Anniversary screening with M Night Shyamalan scheduled to attend. I highly recommend all of those.) But in general, the 100+ films they will be screening are films I’ve never heard of. So, I can only read the descriptions in the guide, and basically have faith in the programmers that they’ll be worth my time. Historically I have seen great movies, terrible movies, and many that fall in between. (This year’s programmers are different than in years past, but I have high hopes.) And in that wide range are usually a few gems that I might never have seen otherwise. And that is why I see as many as I can at the PFF. Over the next few weeks I will be blogging about what I’m seeing this year (in addition to reviews on more mainstream releases, don’t worry), but for now, let’s take a look back at 12 of those lesser known treasures I stumbled upon from Philly Film Festivals past:
Layer Cake (PFF 2005) Grade: A+
I love British crime films like ‘Snatch’, ‘RocknRolla’, and ‘Lock,Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels’. And this Guy Ritchie-type film (not by Guy Ritchie but by frequent Guy Ritchie film producer Matthew Vaughn) is the best I’ve seen. See it for the stellar cast, led by Daniel Craig in a breakout performance that launched him as a candidate to eventually become James Bond. See it for the super cool style. See it for the sometimes unintelligible but always entertaining Cockney accents. See it for all the superb action, non-gratuitous violence, and glorious profanity. See it (or hear it) for the super awesome soundtrack. Whatever the reason, just see it!
Survive Style 5+ (PFF 2005) Grade: A
This Japanese film is hard to describe. It blends horror, comedy, and surrealism in a totally unique way, with several storylines that eventually intersect. I’ve never seen anything else like it. And even though it’s mostly in Japanese, it’s got Vinnie Jones! (That reference will be lost on many, but if you know ex-soccer star Vinnie Jones, you know there’s gonna be some ass-kicking good times.) Unfortunately for you, this film is VERY hard to get your hands on. (I had to get my Japanese copy from ebay.) But a great rarity like this is exactly why you should attend the PFF. You never know if what you’re seeing is the next ‘Survive Style 5+’!
Wordplay (PFF 2006) Grade: A
A documentary about crossword puzzles? Seriously? Seriously. It’s good. Really good. Rent it.
The Proposition (PFF 2006) Grade: A
It’s hard to find a good Western these days. Well, this is a great Western … set in Australia. Stars Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone are absolutely fantastic.
Hard Candy (PFF 2006) Grade: A+
If you aren’t convinced Ellen Page is a fantastic actress by now, see this film and you will be. Page plays a teenager who may or may not be the unsuspecting victim of an internet predator played by smooth talker Patrick Wilson. Sounds heavy, I know, but man, oh man, is this an intense film.
The Ten (PFF 2007) Grade: B
‘The Ten’ is an outrageous comedy of ten vignettes, each about one of the commandments, with Paul Rudd as the ringmaster of this circus. See it if only to hear Paul Rudd sing what I have heard him say was improvised based on the cryptic script note ‘The World’s Shortest Ballad’. (Truthfully, you may not enjoy that nearly as much as I did, but you know you like Paul Rudd.) Famke Janssen and Wynona Ryder also pop up, and although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, apparently so does Jon Hamm.
Broken English (PFF 2007) Grade: A-
Remember in the 90’s when everything Parker Posey touched turned to gold? Well despite her hit-or-miss 00’s decade I still love her. And if you do too then check out this romantic dramedy.
The Pixar Story (PFF 2008) Grade: A-
If you’re like most people, your job isn’t all that fun. That’s why they pay you. Well, if you want to see what it’s like for the lucky few, check out this doc about the history of animation hit-maker Pixar. And guess what, the best part is that you may already own it and don’t even know it. It’s an extra on the ‘Wall-E’ special edition DVD. Lucky you!
Time Crimes (PFF 2008) Grade: A-
Movies about time travel are hit or miss. (But that’s a blog for another day.) This Spanish time travel thriller is a hit. To say any more would ruin the surprises. But be forewarned, to quote an old Conan sketch, ‘It’s in Spanish!’.
Priceless (PFF 2008) Grade: B+
Surveillance (PFF 2009) Grade: A
Looking for a light, silly, romantic comedy? Don’t mind subtitles in French? Love Audrey Tautou? If you answered yes to all of the above, then this one is for you.
Surveillance (PFF 2009) Grade: A
I saw this detective suspense thriller starring Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond on the second to last day of the festival last year and it blew everything else I had already seen out of the water. It’s directed by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David) and certainly has that Lynchian feel. It’s reminiscent of ‘Twin Peaks’, one of the best TV shows of all time, but much, much darker. I don’t think I moved, or even exhaled for 97 minutes. It’s a wee bit ‘bad for the soul’ but if you go for that type of thing, I highly recommend it.
Moon (PFF 2009) Grade: A-
This science fiction film features Sam Rockwell … and that’s pretty much it. Rockwell is an astronaut who has been alone in space WAY too long. Kevin Spacey provides the voice for GERTY, the computer that keeps him company (an obvious homage to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.) I can still hear the haunting score by composer Clint Mansell. Directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones.
So? What are you waiting for?? Get your ass to the video store! (Video store? That’s so 2005.)