Update June 3: More reviews added, no standing replacements.
Update May 17: Seeing that some of these didn’t live up to expectation, some prior “Must Sees” have been yanked and new additions have taken their place. After all, who doesn’t love some corrections and omissions?!
For its 40th, the Seattle International Film Festival is again raising the bar on itself, this year offering a whopping 435 films including 198 feature films, 60 documentaries, and 163 short films from 83 countries. Of those, 44 are world premieres, 29 North American premieres and 13 US premieres. All this amongst a slew of festival favorites from this year and last. Let’s just say that the odds of seeing them all just got that much slimmer.
Kicking the festival off is Oscar-winner (12 Years a Slave) John Ridley‘s Jimi: All is By My Side, a zero frills biopic that chronicles the afro-ed classic rocker’s year in Britain leading up to his iconic Woodstock performance. And all by his side is 12 Years alum Chiwetel Ejiofor who will be in attendance May 19 (6 PM @ The Egyptian Theater) to talk about his new film Half of a Yellow Sun, an African-produced historical drama about Nigerian’s civil war through the 60s. Ejiofor will also take place in a Q&A with an audience eager to speak with the Academy Award nominee that same evening.
The festival will close June 8 at the glorious Cinerama with The One I Love starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Mark Duplass (The League) which saw strong reviews opening at Sundance and is said to mix elements of modern romance with “Twilight Zone” twists and turns. Add it to the ever growing “To See” List.
But likely the most exciting and anticipated film of the festival will be found in SIFF’s Centerpiece Gala in Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood on Saturday, May 31 @ 5 PM. I had the great fortune of being amongst the first audience to see this at Sundance and it did nothing short of blow me away. Though I don’t want to be greedy and steal away the seats of those yet uninitiated to Boyhood, I look forward to experiencing it again and may not be able to resist a second viewing.
Since it’s all but impossible to see everything at SIFF, I have a list of 25 must sees that should put you on the right track for this year’s festivities.
The 25 Must Sees of SIFF 2014
Obviously Boyhood is gonna be on the list. I absolutely loved it and could wax said love over this page all day but I’ll spare the gushing and just tell you that of the 80+ films I’ve reviewed this year (!!!) this is the only to have yet received an A+. Sundance review here.
Michael Gondry returns to the realm of the weird, this time in his native French language, in what should be equal measures charming, bittersweet, and esoteric. The incredibly alluring Audrey Tatou is Chloe, who becomes wrapped up with a quirky inventor, even though she’s dying (because she has flowers growing in her lungs.)
Blue is the Warmest Color star Lea Seydoux puts in her second turn against A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim in this French/Austrian production about a risky love affair set at the nuclear power plant where they both work.
Venus in Furs
Carnage wasn’t exactly the prodigal return for Roman Polanski we might have hoped for but it was anything but bad. Polanski continues his recent tradition of adapting lauded plays with Venus in Furs which stars Mathiew Amalric (Quantum of Solace) and is filmed in Polanski’s native French. Venus focuses on a playwright’s battle with his creative side. SIFF review here.
The chilling promo image alone gets me thinking Psycho and added to the fact that this production is in part Spanish, Romanian, Russian and French, gives it the taste of “something new.” Hopefully it brings the scares to the table in a SIFF surprisingly short on them. No longer considered must see, read our SIFF review here.
The Double (new addition)
Jesse Eisenberg stars as two polar opposites in this Orson Welles inspired black comedy. Wickedly weird but quietly potent, The Double might not be the best doppleganger film of the year (that award goes to Enemy) but it’s certainly compelling viewing that’ll leave you oddly fulfilled. SIFF review here.
A brilliantly told German satirical sexploitation/black comedy based on the popular and controversial German novel from Charlotte Roche. Wetlands is ooey, gooey fun that’ll make the hardest of stomachs churn every now and again but fully worth it for anyone up to the task. Sundance review here.
What better to symbolize Seattle than the Sub Pop music scene? Megan Griffiths, who directed last year’s critically acclaimed Eden, takes on an entirely different subject right here in the rainy city and feel aided by performances from Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, and Oliver Platt.
They Came Together
Although the trailer shown seems to suggest a movie so deep in meta that it didn’t know which way was up, They Came Together found loads of fans when it played at this year’s Sundance. The ingredients alone – Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, David Waine (director of Wet Hot American Summer) in a doubly farcical, heavily tongue-in-cheek rom-com – seems primed for success.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
This is a tricky one to really anticipate as sequels are as much of a toss up as one can plan for but if the quality boast of Toy Story 3 and the wild success of the first How to Train Your Dragon are any indication, this could be the best widely-released animated feature of the year.
Bradley King‘s directoral debut follows a group of three friends who discover a camera that shows events in the future, and looks to combine elements of sci-fi and horror into a thrilling narrative ride. Set for it’s North American premiere at SIFF, Time Lapse looks more promising than most within its field. Not gushing SIFF review here.
The Trip To Italy (new addition)
Four years after The Trip, Steve Coogan may be more clean cut than the shaggy Brit we once was but his and Rob Brydon’s chemistry is as flammable as ever. “Their old-as-they-are relationship paves the way for improvisation prowess so organic its feels more like second natural than performance. More impressions, absolutely stunning vistas, Alanis Morissette’s croon, lazily waxing on life and pasta, pasta, pasta gives intrepid life to The Trip to Italy.” SIFF review here.
The Skeleton Twins
SNL favorites Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig join Bellingham director Craig Johnson to tell his droll comedy about a pair of twins who cheat death and reunite to vent about it. Glowing SIFF review here.
Joe Swanberg returns to SIFF to present yet another unscripted, inescapably 21st-century dramedy this time starring Girls creator and star Lena Dunham. I was a big fan of Drinking Buddies and hope this can replicate a similar sense of realism in its relationship. SIFF review here.
One of SIFF’s world premieres and the return of Fanie Fourie’s Lobola (SIFF’s 2013 Best Film winner) director, Leading Lady sees a struggling actress move to South Africa to prepare for the role of a lifetime but ends up finding so much more. An absolutely abysmal film that I regret ever suggesting. Please accept my apology.
Intruders (new addition)
Considering that I’ve hacked a lot of Foreign language World Cinema out of this list of Best Sees, I wanted to make sure to draw some attention to one of the better of the foreign films and a film that is sure to excite audiences willing to pop on their glasses for 90 minutes. Intruders is Hitchcock by way of South Korean, an exciting thrill ride that doesn’t let up until the credits roll. SIFF review here.
Jenny Slate might be the new face of NYC faux-chic after the string of success Obvious Child has seen. Honest, hilarious and horny, this tale of growing up in a modern age has been winning support like Daenerys liberating Slavery’s Bay. SIFF review here.
If you leave the theater after Calvary dried-eyed, you must be at least part Fembot. With a monstrous performance from Brendan Gleeson, stunning cinematography and a decidedly more mature turn for director John Michael McDonagh, Calvary is a must see. Sundance review here.
This 2013 Hong Kong feature was nominated for a slew of native film awards including Best Action Choreography, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best New Director and with my penchant for violent Asian cinema, I have trouble believing that this won’t be a surprise victory for SIFF. Could not be less of a must see. Ugly SIFF review here.
10,000 KM (new addition)
A vivid portrayal of love fading under the constaints of long distance, this Spanish romance is filmed with lively realism and overflowing with brillant performances from its captivating leads. A definer of the phrase “must see”. SIFF review here.
Although the stars seem alligned to keep me from this film (I stood in line for it at Sundance and SXSW and was denied) the fact that it’s coming to Seattle seems to either be mocking me or setting up a third times a charm situation. The fact that I already own a Frank mask pretty much necessitates me seeing this strange musical drama starring Michael Fassbender enclosed in a giant head. SIFF review here.
The Grand Seduction
Taylor Kitsch plays a doctor, Brendan Gleeson a fisherman in this Canadian comedy that looks to play fast and loose with the deadpan side of things. Seeing Kitsch and Gleeson (much anticipated) return to comedy oughta be worth the price of admission alone. SIFF review here.
Mark Duplass returns again, this time as a twisted stalker. He chews up the scenery like never before and is an absolute joy to watch. First time director Patrick Brice has made the found footage flick his own, crafting an unnerving thriller that’s frightening and cleverly twisty to boot! SXSW review here.
The Internet’s Own Boy
I asked someone at Sundance what their favorite film at the fest was and they pointed out this unassuming documentary. Following the life of Aaron Swartz, who laid the groundwork for RSS feeds and all but invented Reddit before killing himself at age 26, The Internet’s Own Boy appears heartbreaking and need to know. SIFF review here.
In Order of Disappearance
Stellan Skarsgard plays a snowplow driver who’s son is brutally murdered, leading to a chilling dark comedy that marries bloody revenge to belly laughs in this twisted fantasy said to be a tonal cousin to Fargo. SIFF review here.
SIFF programmer Dustin Kaspar gave the insider tip on the Africa Film segment, calling Difret the early “best of fest.” A 14-year old Aberash guns down an attacker that leads into a long court trial that bleeds into an ethical tribunal on Ethiopia’s warped marriage traditions that smile on kidnapping and rape. All based on a true story. Mild SIFF review here.
To Kill a Man
You know when you’re a critic when you look at a movie’s description and “Grand Jury prize-winning,” “vigilantism” and “Chile/France” pop out to you like solid gold. In sum: a man weighs the benefits and consequences of taking revenge. SIFF review here.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
There must be something in the water making us all think Fargo as the cult Coen classic seems to be at an all-time high in terms of its popularity and influence. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter sees an outcast Japanese misanthrope travel to Minnesota to seek out Steve Buschemi‘s abandoned satchel stuffed with cold, hard ransom cash. It’s a delightfully unorthodox romp, nothing short of epic. SXSW review here.
A documentary about a group of church goers who beat each other up to prove their devotion to God? Sign me up. Mildly disappointed SIFF review here.
Starred Up (new addition)
A brutal prison drama starring Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn showcasing the transformative power of a jail cell, Starred Up is certainly a hard watch but one that will leave you thinking. SIFF review here.
Surely there are many, many (many) more and there’s a good chance that some on the above list may end up stinking and sinking but we’re still mostly doing guesswork at this stage. However from word of mouth, early reviews and first hand experience, you have a good chance of catching some great material if you follow any above recommendations.
Check out the trailer for SIFF’s 40th anniversary here and visit SIFF’s website to buy tickets and check out more of the lineup.
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