So here's the rundown of what I thought of each film. My goal is to do a full review when these come out in theaters, so these are as spoiler-free as I can make them. I had a terrific time and 10 movies in 3 days is totally my idea of a perfect vacation. Enjoy.
Three Kids - Twa Timoun. This was not a documentary. A fictional story based on 3 boys surviving the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. They run away from the home/school where they live, and try to figure out what to do to live on their own. Not the downer you might expect (no pictures of the mass detestation just what the boys could perceive.) It's about their friendship and taking care if each other. The boys' acting was great. In the Q&A after the film, the director said that after a few days of filming, they'd just describe the scene to the boys and let them improvise. My only criticism was the poor translations, or at least the stilted dialogue they sometimes used.
Men at Lunch - I was tired so that mught be why this dragged for me. It felt like it had a similar feel of Man on Wire but that might have been the skyscraper similarity. They told us the history of building Rockefeller Center (the building in the photo). The description of the crazy photographer efforts to get these photos of the iron workers had the crowd gasping. I liked finding out they could identify two of the men from Galway in Ireland, but when they tied it back to 9/11 they lost my interest. Rebuilding the towers didn't feel like a natural ending place. Also they showed the photo about 15 times too many, though their tricks to give it a 3D feel were cool. 2.5 stars overall, but 4 stars for first hour.
Argo - Best Film of the Festival. The experience of seeing this film was amazing. Tense and thrilling while being an amazing story that really happened. My screening cheered when the tension released (spoiler if I tell you what it was). I waited in the rain for an hour to get into a huge old theater, the Elgin. Then Ben Affleck actually came to introduce the film which was really good. The film actually had such sharp dialogue, that people laughed out loud, even amidst the tension. John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the team setting up the fake movie production company got huge laughs. Affleck's acting has gotten stronger, but his directing really shines in this. He's still earnest but it comes with more strength and guts than it used to have. I actually cried pretty hard at the end, but I'm a sucker for over the top patriotism (particularly when it's Canadians cheering for an American film that's applauding Canadian efforts).
Jackie - Overall a good movie by upsetting the road trip genre by adding a second language. Danielle and Sophie were raised by two dads in Holland. They get a call that their birth mom is in the hospital in New Mexico and needs their help. They have really conflicted opinions but go. Jackie is a "free sprit hippie bum" living in a crappy mobile home. She doesn't want help, but eventually likes the girls. Much of the movie I really liked - a lot of "learn something from a stranger" moments. But there's a twist that was completely implausible to me. It was very off putting, so ultimately it left a sour taste for the movie. Hunter is terrific and I really hope to see the sisters again in another movie.
Fin (The End) - This was a last minute addition to my list. A group of friends reunite in the woods 20 years later - of course reliving old problems and joys. They go a little crazy fighting, drinking, etc. and suddenly there's some sort of bright light in the sky and nothing electronic works anymore. But they go to bed and hope for the best. When they wake one of them is missing (but he'd had a fight so maybe he just ditched them). They start hiking into town and find another house quickly abandoned with a vulture eating their food. It just keeps getting creepier as people disappear one at a time. Sooo good and creepy. My only issue is a bit of a lack of resolution at the end - I don't mind it not being fully resolved, but we don't know how the characters viewed their own resolution, it just need a touch more.
The Secret Disco Revolution - A documentary about the roots of disco. One cool thing was that I got to sit next to an actress in it - Julia Hladowiscz. The movie is told as a manifesto of 3 archetypes that benefitted from disco - women, blacks and gays. The movie follows the stars of disco and how the archetypes were trying to take over with disco from 1970-79 and looks at how disco clubs drive record sales for the first time not radio. Really campy but fun. Lots of interviews with artists and industry people about what disco tried to be.
The Silver Linings Playbook - Starring Bradley Cooper as a mental patient (bipolar) recently released from the hospital. He's obsessed with getting his wife back (he went into the hospital because he nearly beat her lover to death), and his father (Robert DeNiro) is obsessed with Eagles football. Cooper spends a lot of the movie talking almost continuously trying to make people think he's no longer crazy. He befriends Jennifer Lawrence, who is more than a little bit off-balance herself. They strike a deal to help one another - him with his wife, and her with a dance competition. It's a really funny movie, and a softer touch than David O. Russell's other movies. It's getting a wide-released this fall. You can hear more about this in my discussion with Ryan here.
The Sessions - John Hawkes is a 30 something polio survivor who spends 20 hours a day in an iron lung helping him breathe. But he's trying to figure out if he'd be able to lose his virginity (it's one of those moments of life's synergy where everything seems to be pointing you in the same direction). He goes to his priest, William H. Macy in a terrific supporting performance, to get permission since he's Catholic. And talks to a sex therapist, Helen Hunt about getting the deed done. They have several sessions working on his problem - though he turns out to be quite good at it. Hawkes is amazing and will definitely be up for awards. Based on a true story, the accents and moments of real-life angst and hope shine through.
Painless - The only dud of the festival for me. It had a lot of potential and just didn't make it work. We follow a series of kids who can feel no pain (nor empathy it seems) and they're locked up for their own protection. This is before the Spanish Civil War. The story in real time follows a man who seemingly feels little pain, but has to piece together how he might be connected to these children. It leads through a series of horrible scenes of torture and looking at how one of the children becomes a torturer for the Nazis and the Spanish later. Too violent, but had a lot of great themes that could have been great.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas - A movie by Ed Burns about a large Irish Catholic family outside NYC that are trying to get their elderly parents to reconcile for Christmas. It follows lots of talking in kitchens about how and why they should or shouldn't allow their Dad to celebrate Christmas. Burns also stars with a lot of his previous casts that you'll likely recognize. It's a really sweet movie that tells a story that feels really specific to their family until you hear your mother's/brother's/father's voice come out of a character's story. So much to relate to within the film, and so creatively shot - they decorate for Christmas like nobody's business. It's definitely going to become a Christmas classic. Oh, and Burns spoke afterward in the Q&A and said this won't get a theatrical release, but it will be released on itunes just before Thanksgiving, so keep an eye out for it, you won't be sorry.