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Our 7 Favorite (And Not-So-Favorite) Films At AFI FEST

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The excitement has finally settled over our Hollywood streets as the 27th annual AFI FEST came to an end Thursday night. The eight-day film festival honored highly-anticipated films such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Inside Llewyn Davis, and covered beloved arthouse and foreign language picks that have been hitting the festival circuit. Plus, there were enough star-studded parties to keep the energy going. Nothing Bad Can Happen Here snagged the Grand Jury prize for the New Auteurs section, and The Selfish Giant proved to be a hit among jurors and audience members as it took home the Audience Award. We bring to you a list of some of our favorites and a couple of ones that took us by surprise—from a film Quentin Tarantino has heralded as the best of the year to gorey Korean castrations.

The Selfish Giant | Director: Clio Barnard

Writer-director Clio Barnard was inspired by subjects whom she met in her acclaimed documentary, The Arbor, for her latest feature. Set in a decidedly working-class town in Northern England, the film follows two boys: the feisty Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his mellower best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas) as they get in trouble both in and out of school. They begin collecting scrap via horse and cart for an unscrupulous businessman until an accident changes them all. Despite the grittiness and bleakness of the town and the kids’ lives, the film is beautifully shot. The performances by the two young leads are amazing—how Barnard was able to coax them to act without looking like they’re “acting” is equally impressive. The transformation of the characters is fascinating to watch, even if The Selfish Giant is a downer. -Christine Ziemba

The Past | Director: Asghar Farhadi

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The follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, Asghar Farhadi treads similar territory in The Past. In Iran’s submission to this year’s Acadamy Awards, the film concerns the divorce of Frenchwoman Marie-Anne (Bérénice Bejo) and the Iranian Ahman (Ali Mosaffa) and the complications that arise out of the split. Farhadi’s script is the star of the film, as he masterfully constructs a world perpetually in flux. Where A Separation’s world is one of duality and stratification, The Past is one of constant change. Interpersonal relationships ebb and flow, and characters are frequently relocating. In the second half of the film, it’s our conceived notions of history and facts that comes into question. It’s far from perfect (Ahman’s role as the scot-free audience surrogate comes off a little too pat), but it’s a compelling film that is even more charged than A Separation. The Past will have a limited release on December 20th. -Carman Tse

Big Bad Wolves | Directors: Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales

In 2010, the filmmaking duo crafted Rabies, Israel’s first horror film, and they’ve now returned with the revenge film Big Bad Wolves (in Hebrew with English subtitles). Quentin Tarantino has championed the film, calling it the “best film of the year.” While we won’t go that far, we will say that the film is a suspenseful, cat-and-mouse film that follows a cop as he hounds a suspect he believes to be responsible for raping and killing of children. A father whose daughter was murdered complicates the plan and gets into the revenge business himself. The torture scenes don’t go as far as the Saw or Hostel series, the audience see plenty. The film has moments of levity, which is an added deft touch by the filmmakers. What we really got stuck on was the relationship between the father out for revenge, Miki, played by Lior Ashkenazi and the actor who played Miki’s father (Doval'e Glickman). The two seemed too close in age, which made their relationship hard to believe. -Christine Ziemba

The Strange Little Cat | Director: Ramon Zürcher

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Ramon Zürcher’s debut feature is one of the most striking debuts from the festival; a brief film that feels modest in scale but is bubbling over in audacity and originality. Initially conceived at a seminar taught by Béla Tarr and inspired by Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the film is an exploration of space and family lives within the confines of a day in a small German apartment. Every character, down to the family dog and the titular cat, is their own individual component of the Rube Golberg contraption the film becomes. Boundaries (physical, emotional, and cinematic) are constantly established and broken. A small ball a child kicks through an open kitchen window feels less like a nuisance and more like a violation. Zürcher’s ability to juggle every individual piece in the span of 72 minutes feels more accomplished than Christopher Nolan’s tiresome mental gymnastics in Inception. -Carman Tse

Charlie Victor Romeo | Directors: Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, Karlyn Michelson

Intense is probably the best single world to describe this gripping film. Using nearly verbatim transcripts from the cockpit voice recorders (the title uses the aviation slang for the “black boxes”), Charlie Victor Romeo captures the theatricality of the stage production on which it’s based—minimal sets, a few actors, the use of a slideshow—and somehow doesn’t seem to lose anything in translation from stage to screen. There is no blood, no horrific crashes or screaming, but Charlie Victor Romeo is chilling enough. If anything, audiences gain a greater respect for the pilots and crew staying cool, calm and collected—which is something that we’d probably not be able to do. The film uses 3D technology and screens in 3D in theaters, but we only saw the 2D version, and that was plenty harrowing enough. -Christine Ziemba

Moebius | Director: Kim Ki-duk

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Kim Ki-duk has outdone himself in outrageous and violent Korean cinema with his latest, Moebius, leaving audiences laughing uncomfortably and covering their eyes in shock throughout the film. In what is considered to be a black comedy (and an extremely dark one at it), Ki-duk explores his favorite topic: twisted families. Double castrations, rape, and incest are just the tip of the iceberg in this complex narrative. In contrast to Pieta—which snagged the coveted Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival last year and also focused on a demented mother-son relationship—Moebius is lacking in character development, but has a solid and talent cast. At times, it feels like Ki-duk is trying to test how far he can keep shocking his viewers. However, the director displays an impressive feat of storytelling as this is primarily a silent film without any dialogue save for the groans and screams. -Jean Trinh

The Fake | Director: Yeon Sang-ho

The idea of a Korean animated film that critiqued organized religion was enough of a hook for me to check out the sophomore feature by Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs). Rarely do we ever hear about Korean animation and it was an interesting subject for a film from a heavily-Christian country to tackle. Unfortunately, this ended up being 100 minutes of pure cynicism masquerading as enlightenment combined with the worst impulses of the violence of Extreme Korean Cinema and some of the ugliest animation I’ve ever watched. Utterly putrid and a total waste of anyone’s time. Spare yourself the misery. -Carman Tse