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10 Films To Catch At The LA Film Festival

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The Los Angeles Film Festival celebrates 20 years of showcasing independent cinema by introducing a new section to its lineup that, frankly, feels quite overdue. LA Muse focuses on works that use the City of Angels as an inspiration, as it long has been in the history of cinema.

The 20th annual LA Film Fest launched last night with the North American premiere of Bong Joon-ho's much anticipated (to general American audiences) Snowpiercer as its Opening Night gala. The fest runs all the way through to the 19th and closes with Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of the Jersey Boys musical. As with any film festival, it's the movies in between Opening and Closing Night that make the effort to attend and endure the lines worth your while. Here are a few that that caught our attention:

"Battered Bastards Of Baseball" | Directors: Chaplain and Maclain Way
Baseball's a wonderful sport whose only problem is the stodgy and genteel 'unwritten' rules of decorum that keep it rooted in an early 20th Century mindset. That's why we love troublemakers like Moneyball's Billy Beane and Yasiel Puig. Before Beane and Puig came along, there were the Portland Mavericks, an independent baseball team chronicled in The Battered Bastards Of Baseball. The documentary chronicles how Bing Russell put together a ragtag team consisting of wannabes, has-beens, and his own son Kurt Russell to bring a little spirit and fun to a sport that still needs both of those desperately today.

"Billy Mize And The Bakersfield Sound" | Director: William J. Saunders
The Bakersfield sound, one of the many genres and styles of music Southern California can lay an uncontested claim to, has its titans in Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. But William J. Saunders' documentary turns its camera to one of the less-heralded names in the country subgenre, a man who intentionally stayed closed to home instead of potentially becoming a bigger star. Wonderful, stripped down country tunes that serve as the soundtrack to Billy Mize And The Bakersfield Sound make this worth the price of admission alone.

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"Comet" | Director: Sam Esmail
One of the films screening in LAFF's Narrative Competition is Comet, the first feature film by writer-director Sam Esmail. This comedy-drama tracks a couple over six years after a random encounter at Hollywood Forever during a meteor shower. Comet then travels back and forth through time, and perhaps even parallel universes. Though it sounds a little Sliding Doors-ish, we'll take a chance on this L.A. love story largely because of the film';s leads: Emmy Rossum and Justin Long. — Christine N. Ziemba

"Dear White People" | Director: Justin Simien
Making waves at Sundance earlier this year, Dear White People is a frank and satirical take on the liberal fantasy of the "post-racial" America we Blue Staters like to think we live in. Inspired by writer-director Justin Simien's own college experience, the film sharply pokes holes in the utopian ideals that academia and campuses are so thoroughly infused with with.

"The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq" | Director: Guillaume Nicloux
When best-selling novelist Michel Houellebecq briefly disappeared in 2011 during a book tour, speculation about his disappearance ranged from drunken stupor to being taken hostage by terrorists. In The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, director Guillaume Nicloux goes the extra step in bringing one of the speculations to life. A hybrid of documentary and fiction with a dash of comedy, this French film has the real Michel Houellebecq starring as himself in a work that recalls Charlie Kaufman. — Jean Trinh

"The Liberator" | Director: Alberto Arvelo
The underappreciated Édgar Ramírez (Carlos, Zero Dark Thirty) takes the lead role in a historical biopic of one of the most revered figures in Latin American history: Simón Bolívar. The Liberator is a historical costume epic that depicts the complexity behind the heroic figure while also staging spectacular battle scenes. The Liberator features a score written by the LA Phil's own Gustavo Dudamel.

"Man From Reno" | Director: Dave Boyle
After tackling several quirky comedies that feature Japanese and Japanese-American characters (Big Dreams, Little Tokyo, White On Rice), writer-director Dave Boyle turns to the thriller genre in Man From Reno. In the neo-noirish film, a Japanese crime novelist and a small town sheriff both grapple with a disappearance and become embroiled in a puzzling San Francisco murder mystery. The film, in English and Japanese, stars Pepe Serna (Scarface) in a rare leading role. — Christine N. Ziemba

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"Supremacy" | Director: Deon Taylor
Supremacy is a gripping hostage drama about a white supremacist who murders a black cop within hours of release from a maximum-security prison. Desperate and now on the run, he invades the home of a black family and takes them hostage. It's a disturbing and suspenseful tale about hate and race in America—even made more chilling by the fact that it's based on a true story. Look for great performances by Joe Anderson, Danny Glover and Derek Luke. Supremacy screens as part of the festival's LA Muse section. — Christine N. Ziemba

"Uncertain Terms" | Director: Nathan Silver
Writer-director Nathan Silver (not to be confused with the founder of FiveThirtyEight) made a name for himself with the indie gems Soft In The Head and Exit Elena, and his latest film Uncertain Terms is a sure bet to be one of the main contenders in the Narrative Competition. True to indie form, the film is a low-key drama of a love triangle with beautiful cinematography by Cody Stokes.

"The Young Kieslowski" | Director: Kerem Sanga
Two Caltech kids find themselves in over their smart heads in The Young Kieslowski, the second feature film by writer-director Kerem Sanga. The comedy-drama stars Ryan Malgarini as the socially awkward titular character who gets a girl (Haley Lu Richardson) pregnant—with twins—the first time he has sex. The two learn to navigate the waters of adulthood and possible parenthood together. — Christine N. Ziemba

The LA Film Fest runs all the way through to June 19th. Most events and screenings take place at L.A. LIVE. Check the website for event details and tickets.