Film festivals provide moviegoers and critics a chance to watch the latest in cinema, but studios are more and more hesitant to release films to smaller festivals like the New Orleans Film Festival (NOFF). It's even tougher for critics to get advanced screenings of some of the larger films in the festival.
So herewith is a guess at what to look for at this year's NOFF and what some of those fortunate critics are saying. To find out when and where these films are screening, visit www.neworleansfilmfest.com or check out the NOFF's official guide inserted in this week's issue.
1. Shattered Glass -- New Republic reporter Stephen Glass preceded New York Times reporter Jayson Blair in deceiving his editors by a few years, and Billy Ray's film starring Hayden Christiansen is drawing rave reviews. Jon Popick of the Planet Sickboy Web site says the film is stolen by the understated performance of Peter Sarsgaard, who plays the editor that slowly uncovers the clues.
2. Casa de los Babys -- The latest from populist writer-director John Sayles (Matewan, Lone Star) follows six American women travelling to South America to adopt babies. the movie, in typical Sayles fashion, according to The New York Times' Stephen Holden, "is rooted in Mr. Sayles's profound awareness of the degree to which the personal is political in everyone's lives, and the ways in which money, class and ethnicity shape our points of view." The stellar cast features Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Steenburgen and Lili Taylor, and includes Susan Lynch and Darryl Hannah (though they're hardly stellar).
3. Pieces of April -- One of three films featuring New Orleanian Patricia Clarkson (as well as All the Real Girls and The Station Agent), writer-director Peter Hedges' film features punky Katie Holmes inviting her uptight suburban family to her Manhattan apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. "Clarkson stands out as the mother who can barely brave confronting what she knows will be a calamitous day," writes Duane Byrge of Hollywood Reporter.
4. Cremaster 3 -- The final film of a cycle of films directed by artist Matthew Barney. "In its invention of a self-contained mythological world and its fondness for actors wearing masks and prosthetic makeup, it suggests a loopy, highbrow response to the Star Wars cycle," writes Holden. Barney was also the focus of a major profile this past spring in The New Yorker, and this cycle has been a darling of the art world. Along with Russian Ark, this is one of the Film Festival's true visual feasts.
5. The Eye -- This Asian horror film from Hong Kong-born twins Oxide and Danny Pang draws very interesting comparisons: "If Ring belongs to the same don't-watch-'em-alone category as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, then The Eye goes on the Up With Dead People shelf, next to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense," according to Salon.com's Andrew O'Hehir.
6. Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator -- Helen Stickler's documentary about SoCal skateboarding rebel Mark "Gator" Rogowski "is a tale of narrow talent destroyed by pop hubris, raging insecurity, substance abuse, and murder," according to Ty Burr of the Boston Globe.
7. My Life Without Me -- Isabel Coixet's film about a terminal cancer patient (Sarah Polley) has been lauded for avoiding tear-jerker cliches. "Instead, the film affirms life in surprising and gratifying ways that shed light on who its characters are and how they come to value life through a death," says Kirk Honeycutt of Hollywood Reporter. Co-stars Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry, Mark Ruffalo and Amanda Plummer.
8. The Secret Lives of Dentists -- Director Alan Rudolph serves two personal favorites in Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) and Hope Davis (American Splendor) as a married couple on the outs, with Denis Leary offering nothing but bad advice. "What you will find is a film with an uncanny feeling for the rhythms of daily life, acted by Scott and Davis with attention to those small inflections of speech that can turn words into weapons," writes Roger Ebert.
9. Bollywood/Hollywood -- New Orleans gets very few chances to watch the phenomenon that is Bollywood movies, so we're intrigued with Deepa Mehta's musical about a young man's clash with a mother and grandmother meddling in his love life on the eve of his sister's wedding.
10. In America -- Irish director Jim Sheridan made a name for himself with gritty homeland films such as the Daniel Day-Lewis vehicles My Left Foot (1989) and In the Name of the Father (1993). (Sheridan also produced last year's excellent docudrama Bloody Sunday.) This time Sheridan tells the story of an Irish family transplanted into a seedy New York City apartment. Stars the excellent Samantha Morton.
- Billy Ray's Shattered Glass tells the story of fraudulent New Republic reporter Stephen Glass.