Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nantucket Film Festival 2015

I'm back from my fourth consecutive year attending the Nantucket Film Festival and, as always, it was a great time.  It is consistently the most fun film festival I attend.  Many wonder why I say that considering they haven't even heard of it.  And that's one of the reasons why it's so good.  It's just the right size.  They show good movies from 9 AM to Midnight over 4.5 days.  They have plenty of filmmakers (though rarely recognizable names) in attendance.  There are great panels, conversations, fun NFF signature events, and parties abound.  The people are friendly.  It runs pretty smoothly.  The few venues are great and close together.  The atmosphere in Nantucket can't be beat.  And it's just all around non-stop fun.  (Now shhh ... don't tell anyone!  I don't want it getting too big!)

Of the 45 or so films showing, I saw 21 (not counting four I had already seen at Tribeca:  The Overnight, Sleeping With Other People, The Wolfpack, and Franny).  I also attended four filmmaker panels, a conversation between Chris Matthews and Hollywood screenwriting legend Robert Towne, a staged reading of a TV pilot, a WGA meet and greet, and the Opening Night and Closing Night parties.  Not bad, for 4.5 days.

I must say, the attendees are always fun, nice people.  And if I met you at this year's festival, or if you attended and I didn't meet you, or if you just enjoy this post, be sure to say hi. You can comment right on here (if you have a Blogger User ID and password), friend me on Faceboook, Like my Flieder on Film page, Follow me on Twitter @FliederOnFilm, or shoot me an email at

Without further ado, below is a summary of the films I saw, with some brief thoughts.  Most attendees at the festival seemed to agree that the program wasn't as strong this year as the past two years.  (The narrative films were better than the docs.)   Hopefully that's a one year blip.  Anyways, I hope you enjoy this post.  Let me know if you do.
  1. Diary of a Teenage Girl      Grade: A    A dark coming-of-age tale featuring a great performance by newcomer Bel Powley, as well as Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, and Christopher Meloni, and filled with sex, drugs, and family dysfunction.  What's not to love?  Look for it on 8/21!
  2. The Stanford Prison Experiment      Grade: A    If you took Psych 101 in college, you surely read about this infamous experiment from 1971 when volunteers for a study were randomly assigned to be either guards or prisoners.  Spoiler alert: mayhem ensues.  This narrative film with a talented ensemble including Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, and Olivia Thirlby uses actual dialogue and actual situations as documented from the actual experiment to re-tell this crazy tale.  Fun Fact:  I met the filmmaker and his buddy in line beforehand at another film and they were the biggest douchebags I've ever met in Nantucket.  Nevertheless, somehow, they produced a great movie.  Go figure.  See it on Video on Demand on 7/24.
  3. Glassland      Grade: A-   Toni Collette is consistently one of the best actresses working today.  Never concerned with taking on glamorous or high profile star making jobs, she instead opts for interesting, challenging and diverse roles.  In this Irish drama she plays the alcoholic mother of Jack Reynor, who is struggling with holding together his family and life.  Both Collette and Reynor give award worthy performances.  Though I must warn that the thick Dublin accents make this one a challenge for the viewer.  Challenge accepted.  (No U.S. release date yet.)
  4. Experimenter      Grade: A-   You know how every few years two movies come out of the blue on virtually the same topic and you can't figure out why now?  Well this one and The Stanford Prison Experiment are this year's examples.  If you took Psych 101 in college, you surely read about Stanley Milgraum's 1961 study in obediency, as volunteers are duped into thinking they are shocking their fellow volunteers with increasing levels of voltage.  And why do they do this?  Well because they're told to, of course.  It's fascinating, and with Peter Sarsgaard in the lead, and Jim Gaffigan, Winona Ryder, John Leguizamo, Anthony Edward, Anton Yelchin, and more, it's definitely worth your time.  Look for it on 10/16.
  5. The Bronze      Grade: A-    Who loves Howard Wolowitz's mousy, squeaky girlfriend on The Big Bang Theory?  I know I do.  Well, Melissa Rauch stars in this indie comedy as a former Olympic gymnast who can't seem to move on in her life.  If you don't like the F-Bomb, don't watch this movie.  Though it'll be your loss.  It's great.  See it on 10/16.
  6. Best of Enemies      Grade: A-    A documentary about the nationally televised debates in 1968 between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley sounds like swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.  Yet somehow this one is very entertaining.  I kid you not.  Look for it on 8/14.
  7. The Keeping Room      Grade: A-    With its beautiful cinematography, slow pacing, and limited plot, the first half of this was reminiscent of a Terrence Malick.   I don't usually care for that, but here it worked for me, and the second half is more plot driven, which helps.  Plus, lead Brit Marling always lights up the big screen, but even more so than usual here.  Watch for it in September.
  8. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl      Grade: B+    Critics are all the rave about this one, which is already out in theaters.   This is the second time I've seen it and I warmed up to it a bit more this time.  Though it's a bit too hipstery for me.  And the premise feels way too dishonest and phony to me.  Yet I can't argue that it's very original, unique, and well made.  Ladies, bring your tissues.
  9. Mistress America      Grade: B     Noah Baumbach's been a busy little beaver, with both While We're Young and this one released within four months or so.  I like While We're Young a lot more.  With this one he returns to focus on his muse, Greta Gerwig, who starred in both Francis Ha and Greenberg.  Though this one struck me as more Whit Stillman than Noah Baumbach.  It's too pretentious and pseudo intellectual for me.  But Gerwig is always likeable enough to make it palatable, and the dialogue is so fast paced it might be worth a second viewing.  To be released soon.
  10. Being Canadian      Grade: B    A documentary where the Canadian filmmaker sets out across Canada to figure out what it means to be Canadian, interspersed with interviews from every famous living Canadian funny person.  It's entertaining because of all the comics, but really it shallowly focuses on all the known Canadian stereotypes.  Eh?  You hoser!  (No release date yet.)
  11. Time out of Mind      Grade: B    Richard Gere plays a homeless man.  He's good but it's too slow, too long, and too close to the character he plays in Franny, which also played at the festival.  On VOD on 9/18.
  12. Welcome to Leith     Grade: B    A documentary about neo-Nazis who try to take over a tiny town in North Dakota.  It's good, but I wish it were slightly more thrilling. 
  13. (T)ERROR      Grade: B     A documentary exploring how the FBI recruits undercover civilians to infiltrate possible domestic terrorists.  It's good, but I wish it were slightly more thrilling.
  14. Some Kind of Spark      Grade: B     A documentary about underprivileged children given the opportunity to hone their musical skills at Juilliard.  Fun Fact:  Filmmaker Ben Niles and his wife Kerry are among the best people I've met in Nantucket.  So if this topic interest you, definitely look for it.  It's well made, especially for its modest budget.
  15. How to Dance in Ohio     Grade: B     A documentary about children on the higher functioning end of the Autism spectrum.
  16. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon      Grade: B-    Honestly I was never a fan of The National Lampoon publication.  Not because it's sexist, which it is.  And not because it shows lots of boobs, which I like.  But because it's just not funny.  Sorry, it's just not.  And National Lampoon's Animal House is overrated.  Though National Lampoon's Vacation is classic, but this film is mainly focused on the story of the publication.  It's ok.
  17. Krisha     Grade: C-    Hot Tip:  If a film is made for $9,000 and the filmmaker, the cast, and the crew are all related, it's probably not very good.  Case in point.  Now why this one won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at SXSW, and has been picked up for distribution by A24 is a complete mystery to me.  Clearly someone has dirty pictures of someone.
  18. Queen of Earth      Grade: D+    When I saw Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip starring Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss last October at the Philadelphia Film Festival I fell asleep.  Was I tired I had wondered?  Well now that I've seen this one, also starring Moss, and I once again fell asleep, I now know the answer.  It's not me, it's him.  He might be a genius for a younger generation.  But to me, he's my Kryptonite.
  19. Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation      Grade: D     Barbara Kopple has been making documentaries for a long, long time.  The problem is, she hasn't evolved with the times.  Docs aren't supposed to feel like homework anymore.  They should be entertaining, thrilling, fun, and/or engaging.  This one wasn't any of those things.  For a better doc on famous journalism publications, see Page One: Inside the New York Times.  And I wasn't even thrilled by that one.
  20. The Russian Woodpecker      Grade: D    The trailer for this doc about a conspiracy theorist's theory on the Chernobyl meltdown seemed intriguing.  Perhaps I was suffering from film overkill, but I just couldn't handle the Russian subtitles, the thick stereotypical Russian/KGB accents, and the so-so grainy film quality.  Maybe it's a good movie.  Maybe not.  I walked out.
  21. Western      Grade: D-    Again, perhaps I was suffering from movie overload, but this doc about life along the Mexican border just wasn't working for me.  At all.  I walked out.

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