As the holidays hit, I’m always excited to ninja vanish from the festivities and family arguments to take in a few flicks and cast my votes for Oscar season. Austin Film Festival is behind us now, but it provided some excellent contenders this year and these films aren’t ones you’ll wanna miss.
Desierto kicked off the festival and it had me wondering how any other film was going to best it. It put me on edge and was incredibly fun to watch. This story, set in the unforgiving terrain of the U.S/Mexican border, begins filled with promise. An immigrant played by Gael García Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries) journeys to the U.S to meet his family and turn his life around. It takes a turn when a deranged gunman played by Jeffery Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) sets his sights on taking justice into his own hands. The two then battle each other and the elements until a final showdown that will put humanity to the test.
Natalie Portman (Black Swan) provides a shaking and stunning portrayal of Jackie Onassis in the wake of her husbands tragic assassination. This movie, which reunites Portman with V For Vendetta cast member John Hurt, is sure to garner a second Oscar nomination for the actress. She plays the former First Lady, known for her stoic and calm demeanor, with anger and fragility, as she quietly breaks down and refuses to camouflage the horrific event that took place. A must see for any history buff, it may be the best portrait of Jackie O to date.
Brave New Jersey
A romantic comedy loosely based on the real life hysteria that ensued after Orson Wells’ broadcast of “War of the World’s” led millions to believe that Earth was being invaded by aliens. A real gem starring Tony Hale (Arrested Development) and Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect 2) that shows how easy it is to conjure up confusion when people feel fear. Best performance, as per his usual, from Dan Bakkedahl (Veep) who plays the faithless priest of the small New Jersey town that goes into a frenzy.
This documentary tells the seemingly unreal tale of James Billie, the godfather of Indian gaming. This larger than life leader of the Seminole Tribe has lived life, enviably, to it’s fullest. From wrestling gators in the everglades to becoming a Grammy nominated vocalist, it’s one of the best narratives of someone you’ve probably never heard of. James Billie’s life is an often heartbreaking story of defeats and triumphs that might bite you right in the bahonkas.
Loving tells the heartbreaking and true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a biracial couple sentenced to jail for getting married in 1958. The story of their fight to legitimize their love and their children is brought to life by Joel Edgerton (The Gift, 2015) and Ruth Negga (World War Z), who play the couple with a tenderness that will shatter your heart as you watch their journey unfold. Nominations keep pouring in and I’ll be surprised if an Oscar nod isn’t tilted in their direction from this tremendous film.
The Edge of Seventeen
Is a fun little flick that reinvents the Hughes style teenage romcom in a funny and sensitive way. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, Edge was hilarious from start to finish. I must say, I’m a bit picky when it comes this format; I expected a lot and it delivered, with amazing performances from Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Woody Harrelson (True Dectective).