Austin Film Fest, Day 2: The Choosening

Austin Film Festival

Wow. There is a lot of shit to see in the next ten days.

Today is the first time I looked at the festival and conference schedule for AFF. And, befitting its reputation, it’s huge. The conference panels are fairly centrally located at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin and the Driskill Hotel, but the festival screenings sprawl out on both sides of the Colorado River. With conference panels starting at 9am each day and screenings running past midnight, I’m hoping that either A) the ominous *CHUNK* sound my poor battered truck is making is quickly (and cheaply) healed tomorrow at the mechanic’s or B) Austin proves at least 400x safer to bike around than Baton Rouge. Since biking in Baton Rouge is roughly as safe as doing the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona on you hands and knees, I should be fine either way.

The real issue is sorting through this massive and magical stack of options of what to see during the next week. Having never done a film festival proper, I’m nevertheless confident that the following strategy is the one to follow: the BIG films directed by BIG names starring BIG actors? Avoid ’em.

There’s a reasonable chance that over the next few months I’ll be able to see films like AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and NEBRASKA and MANDELA: THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS throughout the country because over the next few months people will continue to give a shit about them because that’s when “awards season” starts and we get to pat ourselves on the back for being studious and serious film-goers. (And they’re most likely pretty decent movies as well.)

But I probably won’t be able to see LA NAVAJA DE DON JUAN, a Peruvian film synopsized thusly: When the fate of an arm wrestling match leads two brothers to a house party where the younger one hopes to lose his virginity, the boys must overcome their sibling rivalry if they are going to save the day after a fight breaks out and things suddenly spiral out of control.

…or, despite my reservations that it may classifiable as “whimsical” or “quirky” or “cute,” THE BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING: After spotting what he thinks is an extinct duck, high school sophomore and bird enthusiast David Portnoy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) persuades his two dorky buddies and the ‘new girl in school’ to join him on a quest to locate the mysterious bird. What begins as a simple and straightforward mission becomes a coming-of-age adventure for all involved, particularly David, who must come to terms with some painful aspects of his family life.

…or COLD COMES THE NIGHT, a movie that apparently is so convoluted that its synopsis needs a lot of sentences: Chloe (Alice Eve) and daughter Sophia live in a rundown motel on a lonely highway pit stop. As the proprietor of the motel, Chloe is in financial trouble and has quietly allowed a prostitution operation to run on the premises under the supervision of Billy, a corrupt cop whose affection for Chloe is unrequited. One night, Topo (Bryan Cranston), a nearly blind Polish career criminal, and his driver stop over at the motel while en route to deliver cash to an unknown boss. An accident causes Topo to lose his driver, and their car is taken to the police impound with the money still inside. Robbed of his money and his surrogate set of eyes, Topo takes Chloe and Sophia hostage, and forces Chloe to be his new driver and guide, using Sophia as collateral. They set out after Billy, who has stolen the money from the impounded car. Attempting to save her daughter and capitalize on the situation, Chloe strikes a deal with Topo to split the cash, hoping to use her share of the money to escape to a better life. But soon she gets in over her head, and a series of double-crosses leaves a cloud of mayhem in this story about desperation and survival.

In light of all the hullaballoo and nostalgia and plaudits surrounding the end of BREAKING BAD, they probably could’ve just gone with: Bryan Cranston as a nearly-blind Polish criminal. Things go poorly for everyone involved.

…speaking of BREAKING BAD, how about Vince Gilligan Presents: THE FRENCH CONNECTION. That should be sweet.

…and how about, just to continue this line, the movie I’m currently the most excited about, CRACKHEADS: Four friends – a priest, a psychologist, an actor and a used car salesmen – connected only by their club soccer team, find the unlikeliest hobby to share: addiction to methamphetamine.

I don’t think we’re going to see CRACKHEADS pick up much awards buzz come November. Which is precisely why I’m going to see it now before it vanishes into the realm of Netflix-Hulu-V.O.D.-watch-this-alone-at-2am-on-a-17-inch-laptop-screen. The shelf-life for a communal cinematic CRACKHEADS experience is short.

So that’s the plan. Avoid the big event-y movies. See the unhinged and the obscure; the shorts and the docs. And I’m going to put in a good effort staying away from movies with the following formula: PROTAGONIST X has a kinda shitty life… until QUIRKY CHARACTER Y enters to shake things up! Which seems like an unfortunate amount of the slate. But there’s so much to see that I can comfortably skip the standard indie crap.

Hopefully while drinking beer.

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