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AFI Fest screenings that are worth the trip

October 25, 2009

Tickets to AFI Fest 2009 were free, so, not surprisingly, they went fast. But you can still get in, depending on your level of commitment. You could always buy a festival Patron Pass -- starting at $500 -- for access to almost any screening. Or you could simply show up at the Grauman's Chinese or Mann Chinese theaters in Hollywood well before a selected screening and wait in the "rush line" for any unclaimed seats.

Considering that Los Angeles audiences are notoriously fickle about leaving the house, there should be at least some rush tickets (which are free) available for most every show. Here's a handful of screenings that might be worth the extra effort.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Friday, 7 p.m.

Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book about a crafty, chicken-stealing fox has been brought to the screen with every bit of the fastidious attention to detail of, well, a Wes Anderson picture. With voice work by George Clooney (rakish), Meryl Streep (loving), Jason Schwartzman (hilariously mawkish) and others, the film is a daft delight that should make for a fine opening night starting point for the festival -- a bold new direction by a filmmaker in full command, capturing all the whimsical innocence, nostalgic melancholy and rambunctious rebellion that lies at the heart of Anderson's best work.

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Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Next Sunday, 7 p.m.

This film by director Lee Daniels has been cleaning up on the festival circuit ever since its premiere earlier in the year -- winning the grand jury and audience awards at Sundance and the audience prize at Toronto -- and storms into the festival looking to bounce into the year-end awards scrum. Though its story is a tough, unflinching look at child abuse and transcendence in the inner-city, the pre-screening red carpet should be nothing but pure glitz -- scheduled to appear are executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as well as stars Mariah Carey and Mo'Nique.

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The White Ribbon

Next Sunday, 7 p.m.

This year in particular, AFI Fest is bringing numerous highlights from the year's international festival circuit to Los Angeles audiences for the first time. The winner of this year's Palm d'Or at Cannes as well as Germany's entry for the foreign-language Oscar is director Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," a look at the seeds of fascism and man's capacity for thoughtless cruelty, set in a small farming village on the eve of World War I. Long considered one of the world's finest filmmakers (if also something of an acquired taste), Haneke here has created likely his greatest work yet, at once staggeringly direct and stupefyingly mysterious.

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North by Northwest

Nov. 2, 6:30 p.m.

Do you really need a reason to see Alfred Hitchcock's masterful "North by Northwest," the prototypical sleek and sophisticated action thriller, on the big screen? To celebrate its 50th anniversary and a new restoration, watch with fresh eyes Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint be as full-on movie star charming and gorgeous as pretty much anyone ever, the famous crop-duster set piece and the unforgettable climatic sequence set around a studio-created Mt. Rushmore. There would simply be no Bond, Bourne or the like without the mad, location-hopping thrill-ride of "North by Northwest." A post-screening Q&A is scheduled with Saint, Martin Landau and Robert Boyle, moderated by William Friedkin.

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Trash Humpers

Nov. 3, 10 p.m.

Modus Operandi

Saturday, 12:15 a.m.

For more adventurous audiences, there are, of course, more than a few selections making a stand for the weird and the wild. Filmmaker Harmony Korine, coming off the relatively accessible "Mister Lonely," has gotten super-strange again with "Trash Humpers," which features him, his wife and others in disconcerting rubber old-folks masks getting into all sorts of transgressively bizarre shenanigans. Shot on an old VHS camcorder , the film looks (on purpose) like something found in a dumpster. Also screening is director Frankie Latina's brilliantly sleazy "Modus Operandi" -- imagine a 1960s Italian spy thriller shot on Super-8. In Milwaukee. Seriously.

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Nov. 4, 7 p.m.

On paper it sounds ludicrous -- Werner Herzog directs Nicolas Cage in not-exactly a remake nor sequel to Abel Ferrara's notorious 1992 cops and corruption freakout. In reality it is a deft slight-of-hand trick, one of the likely cinematic wonders of the year, a film that manages to be outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious and still somehow deeply moving. Cage cycles through every stage of his on-screen career -- from slapstick comedy to heartfelt emotionalism to oddball action hero -- like an iPod on shuffle. This film typifies a "must see" simply because you must see it to believe it.

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The Art of the Steal

Nov. 4, 7 p.m.

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