Like almost any large-scale film fest, the Mill Valley Film Festival is really comprised of several different festivals serving several different masters placed under one giant umbrella. Although the event is spread out over many cities and about a dozen venues, you could view the ultra-low-budget drama Uncertain Terms , the Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle The Judge (slated for a wide release on October 10), and the Israeli Oscar hopeful Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem on a single Monday afternoon without even switching movie theaters.
The lineup for the 37th year of the MVFF, which runs from October 2 to 12 in theaters in and around Mill Valley and San Rafael, spans the entire spectrum of independent and foreign cinema. There are Oscar hopefuls (the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything , with Eddie Redmayne appearing live at the festival), American indies of uncertain fates (the Frank Whaley-directed Like Sunday, Like Rain , featuring Leighton Meester and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day), foreign cinema heavy hitters (the Dardenne Brothers directing Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night ), über-indie world premieres (Dying to Know , a documentary about the long friendship of Timothy Leary and Ram Dass), world cinema X factors (Cowboys , billed as a “gloriously dark comedy” from Croatia), a children’s festival, and an assortment of tributes, short film programs, celebrity guests, panel discussions, and swanky after-parties.
Taking into account live screenings at the festival, as well as DVD and online screeners, over the next two weeks, I will watch about three dozen of the nearly one hundred features slated to play at Mill Valley. I’m looking forward to seeing Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher , Tommy Lee Jones’ neo-western The Homesman , Mike Leigh’s J.M.W. Turner biopic Mr. Turner , the Reese Witherspoon vehicle Wild , the music school drama Whiplash , The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, and Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal. But those are all films with legitimate awards aspirations and fairly solid release dates. Everyone is already psyched to see them. I’m more excited about the movies that I might not have the opportunity to see otherwise. With that in mind, here are the MVFF37 films that I’m most eagerly anticipating:
The buzz on this gritty Irish drama set in the war zone of 1970s Belfast has been getting louder and louder as it makes its way through the festival circuit. (Screening dates: Saturday, October 4 and Tuesday, October 7.)
This is easily the most star-studded film on my list, with performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz, but iconoclastic French auteur Olivier Assayas should keep the end result well away from the mainstream. (Screening dates: Friday, October 3 and Monday, October 6.)
Another under-the-radar foreign film that’s been gathering accolades on the festival circuit, this is a dark Swedish movie about a tight-knit family rattled by the father’s behavior during a crisis. (Screening date: Tuesday, October 7)
Israel offered this movie, about a Jewish woman attempting to secure a divorce, to the Academy as its representative in the Best Foreign Film category, but it makes its US premiere at Mill Valley. (Screening dates: Monday, October 6 and Wednesday, October 8.)
Not really a film, but a 100-minute homage to 1960s American soul, featuring video clips curated by John Goddard, the owner of the Village Music record store in Mill Valley. (Screening dates: Saturday, October 4 and Friday, October 10.)
Stellan Skarsgård stars in this Norwegian black comedy, playing a sweet, small-town snowplow driver who exacts bloody revenge on the drug lords who killed his son. (Screening dates: Friday, October 10 and Sunday, October 12.)
MVFF usually skims the cream of the Cannes Film Festival lineup, and this French drama from 25-year-old director Xavier Dolan, already his fifth feature film, won a special Jury Prize there last May. (Screening dates: Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12.)
A French documentary that follows four young children in remote parts of the world, including Kenya, Patagonia, Morocco, and the Bay of Bengal, as they cross mountains and swamps to get to school. (Screening dates: Sunday, October 5 and Monday, October 6.)
Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “genre-defying” film actually takes place in “moonlit Madrid,” with a story that has me intrigued, as a boy-girl meet-cute romance turns sinister and strange. (Screening dates: Thursday, October 9 and Saturday, October 11.)
Put an asterisk next to this animated offering from the venerable Studio Ghibli, since a schedule conflict will probably prevent me from watching it at the festival. But I desperately hope I get to see Princess Kaguya before Disney/Pixar acquires the film and does something awful to it. (Screening dates: Sunday, October 5 and Thursday, October 9.)
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, and set in northern Mali during a jihadist occupation, this promises a difficult but potentially nourishing cinematic experience. (Screening dates: Sunday, October 5 and Monday, October 6.)
This coming-of-age film appears to be a spiritual cousin to the more mainstream festival offering Laggies , starring Keira Knightley—both films follow an overgrown female slacker delaying adulthood for as long as possible, but Tu Dors Nicole was shot in black-and-white without name actors by French Canadian director Stephane Lafleur. (Screening dates: Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11.)
This one is a slight cheat, since I have already seen the latest film from Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, but it’s an excellent and gripping movie, with a shattering lead performance from Marion Cotillard. (Screening dates: Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12)
Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords co-directs and stars in this macabre comedy about a group of hard-partying vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand; this one was a big crowd-pleaser at the recent festivals in Toronto and Austin. (Screening dates: Tuesday, October 7 and Thursday, October 9.)
Daniel Barnes is a film critic for the Sacramento News and Review and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Along with Darcey Self-Barnes, he’s been writing about craft beer for Eat Drink Films in the column (and blog) His & Hers Beer Notes.