Based on the track record, it is no exaggerating to call the Mill Valley Film Festival a launching pad for each year's Oscar campaign as well as a highly regarded showcase for independent and international cinema. In the past 30 years, numerous excellent films appeared at the Mill Valley Film Festival before opening in theaters and became Oscar contenders.
This year is no exception. For eleven days starting from October 2, the 31st Mill Valley Film Festival will bring more than 200 films from about 50 countries to Bay area film lovers.
Although I have only seen very limited number of films in this year's program, I am already impressed by many of them. Some of them easily have become the top films I have seen this year.
The 31st Mill Valley Film Festival will take place at CinéArts@Sequoia and 142 Throckmorton Theatre (Mill Valley) and Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael), just across the elegant Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, October 2-12.
- Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's (Maman est chez le coiffeur)
Set in the 60s in a small town in Canada, beautifully photographed in a summer tone, "Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's" (Maman est chez le coiffeur, Canada 2008, 97 min.) terrifically captures three children's emotional turmoil after their mom left home due to their dad's external marital affairs, with a man. With innocent humor, sincere affection, and strong performance from the cast, this film is easily become one of the top ten best films of this year I have seen so far.
- Wendy and Lucy
With impressive performances, "Wendy and Lucy" (USA 2008, 80 min.) tells a moving story about young woman Wendy's heartbreaking tale dealing with her hardship. She is on her way to Alaska with her dog Lucy, but she is stuck in Oregon when her car is broken down, when she must make some hard decisions. I am deeply touched by those characters in the film and want to extend my sympathy and generosity to them as much as they express to each other.
Oscar nominated director Mike Leigh's immensely entertaining and optimistic comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" (UK 2008, 117 min.) will leave the audience giggling for a long time even after the film is over. The film's protagonist is a school teacher Poppy (Sally Hawkins). She is a genuinely happy and looks at almost everything in a positive way. The story simply follows her daily life, including her driving lessons from a grouchy angry driving couch Scott (Eddie Marsan), and it makes me feel like happy-go-lucky just like Poppy does. Both Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan deserves an Oscar nominations for their incredible performance in this film.
- Lemon Tree ((עץ לימון)
Filled with light humor and diligent sensitivity, "Lemon Tree" (עץ לימון, Israel/Germany/France 2008, 106 min.) unfolds a Palestinian widow's courageous fight to save her family's lemon grove. After the Israel's Defense Minister move in as her next door neighbor, her lemon trees become a national security threat. Without infusing any political view upon Israel-Palestine conflict, the film brilliantly leaves the judgment to the audience and focuses on the human stories. It's one of the closing night films at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
- American Violet
Based on a true story, "American Violet" (USA 2008, 102 min.) reveals the injustice in this country's criminal justice system because of racism and politics. Living in a housing project in a small town in Texas, a single mom Dee Roberts is wrongfully accused on drug charges. Instead of pleating guilty like most accused black people, she takes on a fight against the District Attorney and the racism in the society. This is the other closing night film at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
- Children of the Amazon
After she took photos of children of Amazon, Brazilian filmmaker Denise Zmekhol goes back to the forests and makes a film "Children of the Amazon" (US/Brazil 2008, 72 min.). This politically charged documentary examines the cultural and environmental impact from the "development" and native tribes' struggle on preservation of their culture and living hood.
- Flash of Genius
Based on inventor Robert Kearns's life and his legal battle against the U.S. automobile industry, "Flash of Genius" (USA 2008, 119 min.) is a satisfying "Erin Brockovich" turning into courtroom drama with a strong performance by Greg Kinnear.
- Synching Blue
Without any dialogue, except couple SprintPCS's voice recording messages, "Synching Blue" (USA 2008, 108 min.) tells an intriguing story about a lonely seclusive young man who indulges himself in watching porn, masturbation, sleeping, cleaning, and longing the love from a girl who works as a lifeguard.
Acclaimed Polish director and Academy Honorary Award recipient Andrzej Wajda revisits the World War II in his new film "Katyń" (Poland 2007, 115 min.). After captured as Polish POWs in 1940, about 22,000 of them are killed by the Soviet Union in Katyń. The Soviet Union covered up the crime, and finally admitted to the killing in 1990. The film tells the personal story from one family who is the victim of this massacre.