April 14, 2010

Ten to See at MSPIFF 2010

Hmm...what to see, what to see...

Do you go for...the hip new movies that are likely to be audience favorites but are being released here soon anyway (The Square, The Secret of the Kells)? The Minnesota-made films and documentaries that will likely have appearances by local producers and directors? The "sleeper" hits that you can find and tell everyone else about afterward? Or simply the films that you know are getting just this one screening in the Twin Cities before never being heard from again (Blind Loves and Heart of Fire last year, tragically)? Don't ask me - I'm as overwhelmed with choices as the next film nerd.

But of course you are asking me, so here are ten films that I hope to see during the next two weeks of the 28th Annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF). For other recommendations heed the wise words of Kathie, Joe, Erik, and Jim. Reviews of all of the first week's films will also run in tomorrow or Friday's Star Tribune. I'll list the screening dates here, but you'll have to click through for times and tickets.

In alpha order:

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench - Alright this one doesn't really count because I already saw it and loved it. In fact it was one of my Top 10 Movies of 2009, so I'm obviously thrilled that it's getting two screenings during the festival. I'll be surprised, and disappointed, if it's not a big hit with the under-30 crowd. (Apr 16 & 19)

The Athlete (Atletu) - Director Present: Marilyn Ferdinand brought my attention to this after writing about it during CIFF last year, so I was pretty excited to see it pop up on the schedule. The synopsis: "In 1960, Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila shocked the whole world and became an overnight sporting legend when he ran barefoot through Rome to win the Olympic marathon gold medal." Nothing like giving away the ending of the movie, right? Well there's obviously more to this story than that, and seeing as half of my blood is Ethiopian I have a particular personal interest in this film. (Apr 21 & Apr 25)

Casino Jack and the United States of Money: Keen (or obsessive) readers will remember that I highlighted this as one to watch in my 2010 movie forecast. I feel like I've been hearing about this documentary for years, and finally it is arriving. The bad news? I was lukewarm on Alex Gibney's last two films, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (wow, I accidentally just typed No End in Sight - what should have won...). (Apr 24 & Apr 28)

Cyrus - The closing night film comes from the highly raved-about Duplass Brothers. I haven't seen any of their other indie-hipster dry comedies, but this one sounds harmless enough (Ebert liked it at Sundance) and it stars a dependable cast featuring John C. Reilly, Catherine Keener, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei. Look for it to get a local release this summer in you case you miss it here. (Apr 30)

The Forbidden Door: Never heard of it until Jim and Erik's interview with MSPIFF Coordinator Ryan Oestreich. A few key words came out of that and remained with me: Indonesia, mystery, thriller. I owe it to myself to see at least one somewhat scary movie per year, and besides, Richard Corliss of TIME Magazine called it an "example of what movies could be but rarely dare to try." (Apr 16 & Apr 21)

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child: This seemingly by-the-numbers biographical documentary by Tamra Davis has been gushed about along the festival circuit (Matt Lucas, just today) and was somehow one of the few documentaries Charlotte missed at Sundance this year. Impress your friends with some trivia: Tamra Davis first interviewed Basquiat on camera in the mid-80's, and she also went on to direct (I was shocked to discover) Billy Madison, Half Baked, and the Britney Spears-starring Crossroads. (Apr 23 & Apr 26)

Night Catches Us: Anthony Mackie was easily the most overlooked part of Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker, but his turn in Night Catches Us has not gone unnoticed in recent months. This film about post-Black Panther Philadelphia earned strong reviews at Sundance (also included in my forecast) and is really not a typical MSPIFF film (i.e., of Scandinavian origin). Which is why it must be seen. (Apr 21 & 24) 

Northless (Norteado): Ah, the U.S.-Mexican border. Will you ever cease to be an inspiration for film? No, and nor should you, as most movies involving you remain urgently relevant in 2010 (the documentary Which Way Home was recently nominated for an Oscar). Last year's border documentary at MSPIFF, The Infinite Border, left quite a lot to be desired, but advance word on the fictional Northless has been very positive. (Apr 24 & Apr 29)

The Oath: You guessed it, yet another highlighted in my 2010 movie forecast. This documentary about Iraq is the second in director Laura Poitras' planned trilogy; the first, My Country, My Country, was nominated for Oscar. The Oath has been described as an "interlocking drama of two brothers-in-law, Abu Jandal and Salim Hamdam, whose associations with al Qaeda in the 1990s propelled them on divergent courses. The film delves into Abu Jandal’s daily life as a taxi driver in Sana’a, Yemen, and Hamdan’s military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay prison." (Apr 19 & Apr 21)

The Secret of the Kells: Otherwise known as the animated film from Ireland that shocked the world (or at least the movie blogosphere) when it received an Academy Award nomination in January. Everybody who's seen it has loved it, and although it opens here in Minneapolis next Friday anyway, you might as well have that one packed Saturday night festival experience with a movie as enchanting as this one appears to be. (April 17)

The Wind Journeys: Colombia's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film has received so much flowery praise that I can't believe I hadn't heard about it until last week. Brian Johnson called it "a brilliant, beautiful work of pure cinema" after it screened at TIFF, while Philip Concannon said it was "one of the most visually ravishing features I've seen at this year's festival" (London, 2009). Sounds like a can't-miss for patient viewers who enjoy this kind of measured, melancholic storytelling. (Apr 16 & 18)

Since I can't responsibly just stop at listing eleven movies from a total of more than 140, here are a few other titles to note (I've seen none of them): Last Train Home, Mid-August Lunch, The Square, Bananas!, For the Love of Movies, Welcome, Alamar, Today's Special, La Mission, The Taqwacores, The Miscreants of Taliwood, Timer, I Am Love, and Dawson Isla 10.

Happy festing.


  1. Well Dan, I've only seen THE SECRET OF THE KELLS of this lot, (and I rather liked it a lot)but I had read at Matt Lucas's site that THE RADIANT CHILD was amust-see. There look to be a few others here that are promising, and I'm amazed you will be seeing a number of them.

    Presently, I'm securing tickets here for the Tribeca Film Festival (at $18 a ticket this is not an inexpensive proposition) but most of the ones that are the most popular have sold out already.

    We'll have to compare notes! Enjoy.

  2. $18 a ticket! Classic New York. I guess you pay a premium for having a number of those Tribeca films as premieres, but wow, I would have to swallow really hard to drop that much on multiple films during a festival. We'll be there soon enough I'm sure.

    I did not see Kells on Saturday but I do hope to catch it as it arrives here anyway this weekend - that is, if it stays more than a week. The only festival film I did make it to in between packing, moving, and celebrating multiple birthdays was a late night screening of "Bananas!", a Swedish documentary about corporate mistreatment of Nicaraguans that is almost an exact replica of last year's legal documentary "Crude". I'd still recommend Crude over Bananas!, but the latter isn't a bad film by any stretch.

  3. Showings of Kells at the Siskel Center have been sell-outs, which is why I haven't see it yet. I'm sure they'll bring it back, though, so I won't get skunked again.

    I hope you like The Athlete. It's quite an ingenious film.

  4. Part of me wonders if people are flocking to Kells just to say they've seen it. I still assume the positive word of mouth is warranted, but this one seems to have a bit of trendiness around it at the moment. I can be patient - have been with everything else that's come and gone recently.

    The Athlete, on the other hand, I am certain will not return, so I really hope not to miss it.

  5. I think that Kells is probably the real deal. I'm friends with Nina Paley on Facebook. She created Sita Sings the Blues, and she was raving about Kells. I'll take the word from an animator as good as she is.

  6. Ah yes, Sita. Paley's praise of Kells would fit with my "analysis" of her film, in that hand-drawn animation is much more vibrant and absorbing than it is usually given credit for. Now I'm even a little more excited to see Kells.


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