In about two and a half weeks the City of Brotherly Love will be kicking off its 23rd annual film festival. Bringing hundreds of the finest festival circuit films from all over the world, this year's lineup features everything from lesser known indie movies, to an animated Disney title, to some potential heavyweight Oscar contenders. For more information on the festival visit the Philadelphia Film Society's website and, as this year's tagline reads, "see something you'll never forget". Now, here's a look at the movies I'm most eager to catch during this 11 day film-watching frenzy.
Honorable Mention: Mumblecore legend Mark Duplass stars in the horror-comedy Creep. Benicio Del Toro stars as the drug kingpin in Escobar: Paradise Lost. With a cast of relatively unknowns, I'm excited for the raved about new horror title It Follows. Rory Culkin has been the talk of the festival circuit for his role in the drama Gabriel. Up and comer John Boyega has also been praised for yet another fine turn in the inner city drama Imperial Dreams.
#5. The Good Lie
Reese Witherspoon stars in the seemingly sentimental drama The Good Lie. She stars as an employment agency counselor who gets more than she bargains for when a trio of Sudanese refugees resettle in the United States. While I'd normally tread lightly with some skepticism for a potential hokey tale such as this, after the success of a similar story in this year's Million Dollar Arm, I'm willing to allow a little excitement for a more mainstream title such as The Good Lie.
More so than you might realize, Reese Witherspoon is taking a page of out Matthew McConaughey's "how to have a career resurgence" book. The rom-com queen is even teaming up with last year's Dallas Buyers Club director, Jean-Marc Vallee, in this year's character-driven tale, Wild. Many have lauded Witherspoon's earnest Oscar-caliber performance as a woman embarking on an 1,100 mile hike as a means to recover from a recent tragedy. It will be interesting to see if the actress can find the same kind of results that McConaughey did during an amazing Oscar-winning run last year.
#3. St. Vincent
Let's just say, "you had me at Bill Murray". One of the funniest men on earth stars as a grumpy old war vet who's desperate for a paycheck, so he agrees to look after his new next door neighbor and single-mother's son after school. Murray could be in play for the always crowded Best Supporting Actor category, but even if not, St. Vincent is guaranteed to muster up some laughs thanks to Murray and co-stars Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd and Naomi Watts. Count me in!
After experiencing the first trailer for Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game, I shrugged my shoulders and thought it could go either way. However, at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Tyldum's picture walked away the most-coveted awards season indicator on the festival circuit, the Audience Award. Recent winners of the honor include 12 Years A Slave, Silver Linings Playbook, The King's Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, all of which went on to become major Oscar contenders. The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, an English mathematician who helped crack the Nazi's Enigma code during World War II and altered the course of history. Needless to say, my interest level has spiked and I can't wait to catch this potential big player.
The good news is, I won't have to wait very long to catch my most anticipated film of the festival, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman. The Opening Night selection stars Michael Keaton as a former washed up superhero movie star determined to overcome his ego and family problems as he constructs a Broadway play intended to revive his career. Critics and audiences alike have adored Birdman, which appears to be in play for many major awards including Best Actor for Michael Keaton. Joining Keaton to form an unbelievably impressive cast are Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan. I am pumped for this dark comedy and all the other titles mentioned above. The only thing left to do is let the countdown to Opening Night begin ... tick tock.
Note: There are a trio of films I viewed at Sundance that are also worthy of mentioning. First there's Laggies, a unique look into the difficulties facing the late-twenties generation and that awkward phase where it's time to move forward with your life. As usual, Sam Rockwell steals the film. Also, Listen Up Philip (starring Jason Schwartzman) and Song One (starring Anne Hathaway) were a pair of titles I enjoyed that will be playing in Philadelphia as well.