I would like to be a rock star, but I lack the talent, ability, looks, charisma, stamina, etc.
I share very few interests with any of my friends.
I haven't slept in a bed regularly since 2002, and sometimes my back hurts.
Sometimes I drink. A lot. But not often.
I watch a lot of movies and TV, and read a lot of books.
The Nashville Film Festival took place last week. Founded in the sixties, the festival has a fairly respectable pedigree. Itspecializes in documentaries- specifically music documentaries. Not to make it sound as if there are no features there. There are plenty. However, the festival rarely has any high profile films. The selections are generally films flying under the radar. Last year was an anomaly which featured 13 Assassins, Uncle Boonmee, Project Nim, and a host of other films from high profile filmmakers such as Monte Hellman. This year . .. not so much. I had to do a considerable amount of digging to find the films that struck me as interesting. The results were mixed.
In general, my experience at the Nashville Film Festival was different from previous years. I got a laminate pass. The pass allows you to get tickets for any film, and allows you access to the party tent, where free liquor beer and food is available most of the time. When attending the festival in the past, my friends with passes would go to the tent and I would linger around outside, waiting for the next movie to start. It really is a different experience when you are able to socialize more. And let’s be honest, that’s what the whole festival is about.
Another difference, I was part of the screening process. I watched forty something films before the festival started – rating them and recommending whether or not they should go forward. The results of that project: there were only a few films I really, really liked -and neither of them were in the festival. However, two of the many films I saw did make it into the festival. I will not say which ones, because I thought they were pretty shitty – especially one low budget romantic comedy which won an Honarable Mention award at the festival. What the fuck, people?
I will take this moment to tell you about the two I loved though. One is Darwin (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735335/ ), a documentary about small town (pop 35) in Death Valley. A fascinating look at a town full of social rejects who barely trust each other, stockpile guns, and share conspiracy theories about the army base that has recently been built nearby. The other, Caroline and Jackie (Adam Christian Clark) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1711016/ ). A drama about two adult sisters. One puts together an intervention for the other, but of course things are not as they seem. This film was a real revelation for me and I hope to see it again soon. I really think the festival missed the boat by not including these two movies.
It would probably be unethical to shit on some of the movies I hated during this process, but let me just link you to this scene on the left from one of them. This was a sincere movie. The scene following this one actually features a montage of children lining up at mailboxes to mail letters to senators. This director made another movie (yes, there were two by this guy in the selection process) which about a homeless man who befriends a young boy (played by the same kid as in the previous film). It turns out the man is an alien who talks to Jesus. The boy is the only one in the town who believes him, as he . . . should? The movie is a mess. Hard to say. I hate this director and actor now.
Now for the movies I saw at the festival proper:
Movies I loved.
The best movie was It’s Such a Beautiful Day (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2078648/) . The final part in Don Hertzfeldt’s animated trilogy about a stick figure named Bill who confronts his degenerating mental and physical health and faces the reality of death. Sound depressing? It is. It features less sardonic humor than the previous two entries and focuses more on the melancholy and sadness. Hertzfeldt is one of the best filmmakers out there and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
My second favorite movie at the festival was Oslo (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1736633/), a drama directed by Joachim Trier (Reprise). The story covers a day in the life of a recovering drug addict who takes the day to interview for a job and gets a bit distracted by the city. He runs into friends, attends a party where he floats from conversation to conversation awkwardly. He reconnects with old friends. Not a drug addict here, yet I completely related to this guy and his meandering night full of introspection and strange connections. I have a thing for films about someone roaming through a single night. One of my favorite genres.
Alps (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1859446/) from the director of Dogtooth. Not as disturbing as Dogtooth, but just as baffling. Bizarre dark humor with a powerful emotional heft. Dark ending. Uncomfortable humor. The same bloodless acting that the director uses as an asset. I won’t say anything about the plot, except to say that it took me a while to figure out what was going on.
Speaking of Dogtooth, Attenberg (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1691323/) . This film could very well serve as a spiritual sequel to Dogtooth. It features the director of that film in a minor role, and the lead actress, who plays a similar character, but here she plays someone who would have grown slightly wiser about the world, yet still naïve and curious. Another movie that plays out in small vignettes without much explanation. Man these Greeks and their bizarre sense of storytelling.
V/H/S (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2105044/) , an anthology film featuring five short films that all utilize a found footage approach to their stories. Directed by different directors (including Ti West, Radio Silence and Joe Swanberg), some segments are much stronger than others, but overall the movie is creepy and uncomfortable and effective. A lot was made of how the movie casts women as villains in all but one of the segments. I suppose that could be seen as chauvinistic, but it’s a horror movie. There will be tits and blood and victims and monsters. Nobody comes off looking that good in the end.
Super Zeroes (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1872173/) . This movie was directed by a friend of mine who also co-directed (with this film’s DP) one of my full length scripts. While my movie didn’t work out, this movie was a blast. Some of the comedy is too juvenile. Some of the jokes are hit too hard. And some of the characters feel a little too broad, but it played like gangbusters. I take refuge in the fact that the budget for this movie was three thousand percent higher than it was for mine. At the after party, they very kindly told someone that this film would not have been possible if they had not cut their teeth on my script. A ridiculous statement but I’ll take it.
A program of short films, including Bear (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1904845/) , After School Special (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1776052/) , and The Meaning of Robots (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2073612/) . All three of these were standouts. The first is from the director of Spider, and it follows mostly the same beats. But it’s like a live action Road Runner cartoon. Escalating, shocking violence – all played for dark laughs. The second is a short one joke vignette written by Neil LaBute. The twist becomes obvious early on, but I’m so happy they followed it through to its conclusion. The last was a short documentary about a man who has been trying to film a robot sex movie for a decade. He’s sweet and proud of his creations.
Patron Saints (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2044046/) . A documentary about the residents of a nursing home. Narrated by one of it residents, this film is melancholy, depressing, and darkly funny. “What are you going to do today?” “Oh, I don’t know. I may walk around the wall this afternoon.” That is the least depressing part of this movie. It’s awesome.
Phantom of the Paradise (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071994/) a rock musical by an up and coming director named Brian DePalma. Paul Williams. Murder. Tits. Rock songs. If you haven’t already seen this movie, you suck.
George the Hedgehog , a raunchy polish animation that I can’t find on IMDB for some reason. It reminded me of Fritz the Cat.
Beauty is Embarrassing (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2040281/) , a documentary about an artist who worked on Pee Wee’s Playhouse among other projects. An insightful, drama-free look into the life of an artist.
And Paul Williams Still Alive (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1956594/), a rambling and shapeless documentary that meanders wildly but passes on the shaky chemistry between its subject and its filmmaker. Not great, but Paul Williams was there, so that.