This week's edition of OC Weekly includes 12 films that most excite the Newport Beach Film Festival programmers who selected them–in honor of the 12th year of the county's most-established cinextravaganza.
But what of those other trend-setters: universally beloved film critics?
Your humble servant has trolled the Internet for critical praise of 12 films selected for this year's festival, which runs April 28-May 5. Words and trailers follow after the jump . . .
1) Project Nim. Oscar-winning Man on a Wire director James Marsh looks at the chimp raised like a human child in landmark 1970s experiments. Karina Longworth writes for Village Voice Media that the documentary “powerfully explores the line between human and animal, and open-endedly questions whether it exists at all.” 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30; and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Triangle Square. $12.
2) Bodyguards and Assassins. The first half of Teddy Chan's film set in turn-of-the-20th-century China is a political history lesson, and the second is pure martial arts carnage. Not-the-previous James Marsh writes on Twitch: “The context of this turbulent and volatile period of Chinese history is carefully executed, and Chen ensures the drama is always placed ahead of any particular political agenda. Ultimately it is all for the audience's benefit.” 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30; and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at Triangle Square, $12.
3) The Redemption of General Butt Naked. The nickname Joshua Milton Blahyi earned was for appearing nude in battle during Liberia's civil war, when he led a ruthless gang of paramilitaries who were responsible, by his own admission, for thousands of deaths. Since armistice, he's publicly preached for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Steve Ramos writes in Box Office Magazine that this is “one of those amazing documentaries that gives you the impression nothing escaped the directors” (Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion). 3:15 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Triangle Square. $12.
4) A Beginner's Guide To Endings. Three grown men deal differently with the death of their inveterate gambler father (Harvey Keitel) in NBFF's closing-night picture from director Jonathan Sobol. My pal Kate Carraway writes for Eye Weekly: “The central dynamic is not between the dead father and his disappointed progeny, but among the three adult sons–[Hawaii 5-0's Scott] Caan as the swaggering womanizer, Paulo Costanzo as a sensitive smarty and The Daily Show's Jason Jones in a near-perfect performance as the conflicted eldest–and it manages to be truly sweet and realistically, stinkily masculine.” 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at the Lido. $75 for film and Closing Nigh Gala at Lido Village; $50 for party only. 21+.
5) Sensation. This Irish comedy from director Tom Hall concerns a sexually unfulfilled 26-year-old chap who joins his female escort in opening a brothel. John Anderson writes in Variety: "What's particularly engaging is how Hall's story toys with cliche, setting his viewer up to expect one thing and then delivering another.” 5 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at Triangle Square. $12.
6) The Runway. Here's another Irish comedy, but Ian Power's is family-friendly. A remote town on the Green Isle sends its only Spanish-speaker, 9-year-old Paco, to translate for a mysterious Colombian pilot who crash lands his plane in the nearby woods. Paco convinces the villagers to build a runway so the stranger can return home. Boyd van Hoeij writes on Cineuropa that the "bittersweet look at a young boy and a depressed town that used to be known as the capital of double glazing is effective and endearing, mainly relying on bright cinematography and the considerable charms of its cast.” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Big Newport, $15; $20 with Irish Spotlight Party at Muldoon's Irish Pub; and 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at the Lido, $12.
7) The Tree. This joint Australian/French/German/Italian production, which closed the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, juxtaposes images of a majestic tree with the story of a family dealing with loss. Robert Koehler, the Variety film reviewer who helped select films for the inaugural Anaheim International Film Festival (AIFF), writes of Julie Bertuccelli's film: "A fine, unshowy Charlotte Gainsbourg performance anchors a well-paced narrative that fests and [distributors] will find attractive.” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at Big Newport, $15 or $35 for film and International Spotlight Party or $25 for party only. 21+; and 3 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at Triangle Square, $12.
8) The Perfect Host. Those into twisted little indies featuring former TV stars chewing up the scenery should duck into this thriller about a consummate party host (Fraiser's David Hyde Pierce) visited by a bank robber pretending to be a guest. Beatrice Behn writes in Kino-Zeit: “The great success of Australian director Nick Tomnay's short film The Host led Tomnay [to] f[to]late his idea further and make a feature-length movie out of it. The public will thank him.” 6 p.m. Friday, April 29; and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Triangle Square. $12.
9) On Tour (Tournee). Also starring as the tour manager in his film, Mathieu Amalric won a best director award at Cannes for his breezy take on an American burlesque troupe traversing the French countryside. Chris Drake writes on Sight & Sound that "the film's engaging confidence and inclusive good nature prove he's worth watching both as an actor and a director.” 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at Big Newport, $15 or $35 for film and party or $25 for party only. 21+.
10) Harmony. South Korean Dae-gyu Kang's feature is about a female prisoner (Yunjin Kim of TV's Lost) cutting a deal with her warden to form a choral group so she can spend one day outside with her son. James Mudge writes for Beyond Hollywood: "Though it offers few surprises and does teeter on the verge of being far too nice, with its oddly pleasant jail environment, it certainly succeeds in its aim of being entertaining and moving–and to be honest, anyone who has a problem with this probably shouldn't be watching an inspirational film about a woman's prison choir in the first place.” 7 p.m. Monday, May 2, at Big Newport, $15 or $35 for film and Asian Spotlight Party or $25 for party only. 21+.
11) Prairie Love. This Fargoesque feature from director Dusty Bias is about a lonely vagrant who learns a nearly-frozen man he has saved was on his way to a correctional facility to pick-up his pen-pal girlfriend, whom he has never met, and . . . well, let's just say plans change. Justin Lowe writes in The Hollywood Reporter: "Cryptic and darkly comical, Prairie Love makes for a prickly package that won't be embraced by every viewer, but those who open their arms to its allure will find the film a gratifying departure from overly predictable indie dramas.” 8:15 p.m. Saturday, April 30, $15 or $40 for film and Saturday Spotlight Party or $25 for party only. 21+; and 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Triangle Square. $12.
12) The Lost Thing. The 15-minute short, which won the Oscar this year for Best Animated Short Film, was directed by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, based on Tan's same-titled children's book about a boy who finds a strange creature on a beach and brings it home. Yours truly wrote before it premiered at last October's inaugural AIFF that the "clever visuals” were "the best thing going for The Lost Thing,” which shows "we're all just too damn busy to see kids or whatever the hell they drag behind them.” 6 p.m. Thursday, May 5, as part of the Short Fables & Tales program at Triangle Square. $12.
More Newport Beach Film Festival coverage: