Newport Beach Film Festival: Programmers' Picks!

A dozen of the finest the fest has to offer

A couple of weeks ago, in a cramped room at the Newport Beach Film Festival office across from John Wayne Airport, most of the programming staff shared their many, many favorite titles that will be screening this year. Based on the unbridled enthusiasm detected in their faces and voices, here are the top 12 in descending order.

1. Redline. The pole position is awarded to Takeshi Koike's anime from the famed Madhouse Studios in Japan. The animator known for Ninja Scroll and Animatrix is reunited with his longtime collaborator Katsuhito Ishii (Funky Forest: The First Contact) for a wild ride about top drivers from across the universe participating in an illegal underground racing competition to crown the best of all. Think of it as Speed Racer meets Cannonball Run with a little of the Star Wars bar scene thrown in. At Big Newport. May 2, 7:30 p.m. $15; film and Asian Showcase Block Party, $35; party only, $25. Also at Lido. May 3, 3 p.m. $12.

2. East Fifth Bliss. When Michael C. Hall, who stars in director Michael Knowles' debut feature, was mentioned, a female programmer swooned. When Hall was mentioned at a subsequent Weekly staff meeting, a female intern swooned. Based on his best-known roles in Six Feet Under and Dexter, a repressed-gay-mortician/straight-serial-killer vibe must be the true key to a woman's heart. Here, in a dramedy based on Douglas Light's novel of the same name, Hall plays schlubby Morris Bliss, a 35-year-old New Yorker who won't grow up until the sexually precocious daughter of a former high-school classmate comes along to help unravel and open up his life. Hall comes to Newport Beach opening night, so if you hear swooning coming from that direction. . . . At Big Newport. Thursday, April 28, 7:30 p.m. Film and Opening Night Gala, $125; gala only, $80. Black tie optional. 21+.


3. Guard Dog Global Jam. "We love Bill Plympton!" said Leslie Feibleman, the festival's director of special programs, of the Portland-born animator whose shorts have played at NBFF several times. A couple of years ago, Plympton issued a worldwide call via the Internet to artists to re-create the 70 images in his Oscar-nominated masterwork Guard Dog, which is about an overprotective guard dog. Animators, working in the styles of their choosing, responded with the scenes in this Plympton mash-up that, Feibleman observes, "transcends his own style." Screens as part of Criminal Shorts and More program at Triangle Square. May 1, 3:30 p.m. $12.

4. Hand Held. "We love Don Hahn!" Feibleman also said of the longtime Disney producer (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) who took over the helm of the festival's annual Walt Disney Studio Spotlight retrospective program from the late Roy E. Disney. Hahn will be at it again with Disney creative director David Bossert this year. But Hahn also has a documentary feature he produced and directed as a regular festival selection that examines photographer Mike Carroll using his photographs to expose the world to the pediatric AIDS epidemic in Romanian orphanages. Bring hankies. At the Lido. May 1, 3:30 p.m. $12.

5. Puppet. You know what else festival folks love? Puppets. The late Jim Henson is honored at every other festival (or at least it seems so, not that we're up here in the Muppet Theater balcony complaining), and among this year's special events is the Handmade Puppet Dreams Highlights program that showcases nine short films from a new generation of puppeteer filmmakers. That's followed by David Soll's feature-length documentary about one such artist, Dan Hurlin, struggling after a New York Times review prematurely closes his show. But there is more to the film than one puppeteer's lonely battle, says associate director of programming Amanda Salazar. "This gives the whole history of puppetry. It shows where puppetry has gone as an art form." At Triangle Square. Handmade Puppet Dreams Highlights program, May 1, 1 p.m.; Puppet, 3 p.m. $12.

6. Silver Tongues. The winner of the Best Narrative Feature Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year is also the favorite Newport Beach selection of senior programmer Jay Winterstein. Scottish-born director Simon Arthur and a cast of unknown actors made this American thriller about a couple getting its jollies by traveling from town to town fucking with strangers. But the game spirals out of control, leaving the audience to figure out who are the true victims. "It's one of those films that always keeps you guessing," informs Winterstein. At Triangle Square. April 29, 7:45 p.m. $15; film plus Showcase Party at Newport Lexus (3901 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach), $40; party only, $25. 21+ .

7. Superheroes. Another Winterstein fave from Sundance is Michael Barnett's documentary about people who create real superhero costumes and personas before patrolling actual streets. Are festival organizers trying to persuade some of these caped crusaders, whose names include Master Legend and Apocalypse Meow, to come to Orange County? You bet your sweet spandex, fair citizens. At Triangle Square. April 29, 7:45 p.m.; May 4, 5:15 p.m. $12.

8. Trollhunter (Trolljegeren). Senior programmer Max Naylor has a soft spot for Norwegian director André Øvredal's horror flick, which was another fan favorite at the last Sundance. Three Norwegian film students venture into the woods (Jeez, haven't they seen any horror films?) to investigate mysterious bear killings. There they encounter Hans, a black ops government type whose job is to protect the masses from the violent trolls who rule the forest. Let's hope festival organizers are not trying to bring them to Orange County (unless the superheroes get here first). At Triangle Square. April 29, 8:15 p.m.; May 3, 5:30 p.m. $12.

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