In the Byzantine logic of Hollywood, major studios are often loath to allow critics to pre-screen (and review) films in advance of their festival premiere. Something about thunder being stolen, I believe. Which is why we offer this guessing game of what seem like the "buzz" movies at this year's New Orleans Film Festival.
1. I Heart Huckabees -- David O. Russell (Three Kings) directed perhaps the most critically (and commercially) hyped movie of the festival season in this movie about, according to Village Voice film critic Dennis Lim, "the meaning of life, the nature of reality, the mystery of consciousness, and the elusiveness of infinity." Zowee! Thank God a big story features a big cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Isabelle Huppert and Jason Schwartzman.
2. P.S. -- Dylan Kidd, who wrote and directed 2002's wonderfully witty Roger Dodger, returns with this film about a thirtysomething divorcee (Laura Linney) who gets a chance to live a dream: reunite with her dead high school beau, come back to life as a twentysomething stud (Topher Grace). Co-stars Gabriel Byrne. Marcia Gay Harden and Paul Rudd.
3. Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst -- Documentarian Robert Stone (Radio Bikini) chronicles the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and her alleged conversion in this documentary that critic Steven Rhodes calls "a fascinating trip down memory lane." Hearst, whose sentence for participating in an SLA bank robbery was later commuted by then-President Jimmy Carter, has become quite the pop-cultural pinball over the years, embraced by, of all people, director John Waters.
4. Bukowski: Born Into This -- Documentarian John Dullaghan spent something like seven years researching one of America's most controversial writers, Charles Bukowski -- you either love him or you hate him, as the saying goes. A drinker and a lout, Bukowski lived in the gutter, and Dullaghan supposedly gets right down with him. "You come out of the theater wanting to beeline to a bookstore, grab a copy of Post Office or Love Is a Dog From Hell, and adjust your opinion as necessary," opines Boston Globe critic Ty Burr.
5. The Woodsman -- Ex-con pedophile Kevin Bacon makes an awkward re-entry into society in this drama written and directed by Nicole Kassel and co-starring Bacon's real-life wife, Kyra Sedgwick, as the woman who befriends him. Co-stars Mos Def and Benjamin Bratt. Based on Steven Fechter's stageplay. "A stunning, difficult film," according to Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge.
6. The Saddest Music in the World -- A Canadian brewery CEO (Isabella Rosellini) tries to pull off a Depression-era publicity stunt by staging a contest to find the music of the movie's title, and draws musicians from all over the planet in search of the $25,000 grand prize. "Any film where a beer baroness' leg (filled with beer) shatters when a high note is struck is okay by me," writes Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter.
7. Around the Bend -- The male representatives of four generations of a family try to work out their differences in this film written and directed by Jordan Roberts, supposedly writing about a father he barely knew. "Michael Caine and Christopher Walken, as father and son, do marvels with silences, spaces and gestures while skirting loveable old codger stereotypes," says critic Donald J. Levit of ReelTalk Movie Reviews.
8. Brother to Brother -- Rodney Evans directed this imagination of a relationship between a recently outed young African-American college student (New Orleans' Anthony Mackie) and Harlem Renaissance icon Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), who reminisces about the good old days with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The film, says Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey, "has the quiet urgency of a story that must be told."
9. Undertwo -- Part-time New Orleans resident David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) returns to the festival for the second consecutive year to present his third look at life in a small Southern town. This time it's about two brothers (Jamie Bell, Devon Alan) who go on the lam from their evil, paroled uncle (Josh Lucas). "In the hands of a typical multiplex filmmaker, this would seem downright formulaic," writes critic Jon Popick. "But with Green and (cinematographer Tim Orr) at the reigns, things manage to seem fresh, exciting and different."
10. Lightning in a Bottle -- Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day) concert documentary takes its source material from a blues-legends concert on Feb. 2, 2003, in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. The lineup is formidable: B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Odetta and even Louisiana's own Dr. John and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. It sounds a little rough around the edges; Film Threat's Phil Hall dubs it "a documentary which wobbles and weaves as often as it soars."
- Let Them Eat Rock depicts underground rock band the Upper Crust's members in very different emotional and intellectual places.