The 22nd Philadelphia Film Festival begins this Thursday and runs from noon to midnight for the next 10 days thereafter (with two midnight screenings the first weekend as well.) Tickets and all access badges are still available at very reasonable prices relative to other world class film festivals. Or, even better, join the Philadelphia Film Society and get tickets or badges to the festival in addition to advance screenings year round.
Check out the complete list of films and the complete schedule. They're showing over 90 feature films. But that can be overwhelming. So let me offer some suggestions.
Some folks like to see high profile screenings with recognizable names in advance of when you'll see them released in theaters. You just may see the Oscar Best Picture winner during the festival. These films include:
- All is Lost - Opening Night Film starring Robert Redford. (Director J.C. Chandor is scheduled to appear for a post film Q&A.)
- Nebraska - with Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and Bob Odenkirk. Director Alexander Payne and actor Will Forte are scheduled to appear for a post film Q&A.)
- Philadelphia - with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington - 20th Anniversary screening. (Director Jonathan Demme is scheduled to appear for a post film Q&A.)
- Labor Day - Closing Night Film with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin
- August: Osage County - with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts
- Last Vegas - with Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Kline
- 12 Years a Slave - with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender
- Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - with Idris Elba
- About Time - with Rachel McAdams, Domnhall Gleeson and Bill Nighy
- Alan Partridge - with Steve Coogan
- Philomena - with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
- The Art of the Steal - with Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, and Kurt Russell
- The Immigrant - with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner
- The Congress - with Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, and Paul Giamatti
- Le Week-End - with Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum
- Man of Tai Chi - with Keanu Reeves
- The Motel Life - with Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff
Here's what I've seen so far that I can recommend (in relative order of recommendation):
- The Short Game - If you're only going to see one film at the festival, make it this documentary about the best 7 year old golfers in the world. Each one of these kids is more precocious to watch than the last. Trust me, this is the ultimate crowd-pleaser and one of my favorite films of the year. Bring your parents, your spouse, and your kids. Everyone will enjoy it. It's playing one more time on Sunday 10/27 at 12:10 PM.
- The Congress - A completely original, complex, and thought provoking science-fiction film, 50% live action and 50% animated, featuring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, and Paul Giamatti. I enjoyed the first half more than the second, but I look forward to seeing it again for an even deeper appreciation. Fans of 'Cold Souls', also starring Giamatti, will love it. See it on Sunday 10/20 at 12:00 PM.
- The Immigrant - Anecdotally I've heard a lot of people say they found this one slow. And I can't disagree it's a bit sluggish in parts. But I thought it was excellent despite that. It's a great story featuring award worthy performances and many complex characters. You can see it on Wednesday 10/23 at 5:00 PM.
- Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - Before seeing this documentary I only had a very general idea of who Elaine Stritch was. Now I love her. She's a great entertainer who lived a very interesting life with a career that spanned 60 years, and this is a really enjoyable doc about her. See it on Wednesday 10/23 or Thursday 10/24.
- About Time - Catch this Romance/Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi film starring Rachel McAdams, Domnhall Gleeson, and Bill Nighy two weeks before it comes out in theaters. It's very charming and very original. And Bill Nighy is the greatest. See it on Friday 10/25 at 5:00 PM.
- Young & Beautiful - I wasn't expecting much from this French film about a 17 year old girl discovering her sexuality, but I really loved it. I was fully engaged and felt connected to every character in the film. See it on Saturday 10/26 at 2:45 PM.
- Blue Ruin - a gritty and bloody revenge thriller that's too good for the Graveyard Shift section. Unfortunately there aren't any more screenings.
- Grand Piano - This is a fun little thriller with a great cast that's another entry in the 'Nick of Time'/'Die Hard 3'/'Phonebooth'/'Getaway' do-as-I-say-or-someone-will-die genre. But it also has the flavor of one of those classic anthology series like 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. This will make for a fun movie to close out your festival on Sunday 10/27 at 10:00 PM.
- Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons - This one's a fun, somewhat silly Chinese comedy about demon hunters conquering demons (as the title correctly implies.) You definitely won't see anything like it made in America, and who knows when you'll be able to see it again after Tuesday 10/22 at 10:00 PM.
- Last Vegas - A comedy starring Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Kline. Sure, it'll be out in theaters in a few weeks, but why not see it early on Monday 10/21 at 7:15 PM?
- The Unknown Known - a documentary interview of former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. Unfortunately it won't be playing at the festival a second time.
- R100 - An extremely weird Asian S&M fantasy film that looks like it was made in the 70's. I dig weird when there's a purpose, or at least the slightest appearance of deeper meaning, but completely random weirdness is just a waste of time.
- Blue Highway - It truly pains me to add this film to the skip section of my blog post because I just had the privilege to meet director Kyle Smith and actress Kerry Bishe and they were the loveliest people. Getting the chance to speak with them personally and hear them do a Q&A after the film will definitely be among the highlights of my festival. And I can say the film is shot well and the acting is good. Unfortunately it just doesn't have the script, story, or substance to make it worth your time.
- Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction - I had been looking forward to this doc about the character actor every film buff knows, but I was disappointed. For one, the long sequences of him singing country folk songs didn't work for me. I'm interested in his acting career, not his hobby as a singer. And second, quite frankly, I like him less having seen deeper into the man himself. He strikes me as sad, uninterested, and unmotivated. If only he had a fraction of the eloquence and enthusiasm about his own career that David Lynch does when discussing him.