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20 Films We Want To See At The (Free!) 2014 AFI FEST

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The American Film Institute's AFI FEST starts up again tomorrow evening, which is the best opportunity for Angelenos to check out the most interesting movies to come from Hollywood, the world festival circuit and emerging auteurs. While we enjoyed many of last year's selections, this year's lineup seems be even more promising and robust. And best of all, it's all free!

The festival opens with the world premiere of J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year (starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac) and closes out with Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher (starring Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, and Steve Carrell in a prosthetic nose—I mean a dramatic role). It's the films in between those marquee titles that we look forward to the most, though. The festival this year features more than a few titles at Cannes that were well-received, and in a few cases may be your only shot at seeing it on the big screen in Los Angeles.

Here, in alphabetical order, is what we want to see at this year's AFI FEST. Let us know what you want to see in the comments!

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Black Coal, Thin Ice (directed by Diao Yinan)

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Cinema Scope described this dark thriller from China as a "brilliant noir-mystery-arthouse mash-up." Set in a remote city in the northern frontier of China, a police detective tracks a killer who is dismembering the body of their victims and leaving them at coal factories throughout the province. You won't be surprised to know that it has drawn comparisons to our own masters of morbid and black humor, the Coen Brothers. Friday's screening of this sleeper hit from China serves as the closing film for the China Onscreen Biennial.

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Buzzard (directed by Joel Potrykus)

A hilariously nasty comedy about the low wage workers struggling to get by in the contemporary economic climate, Joshua Burge stars as Marty Jackitansky, a guy who has to go into hiding after pulling off one too many scams to make a little cash. A low-budget, slacker satire of the corporate culture, Buzzard is the revenge of the 99%.

Clouds Of Sils Maria (directed by Olivier Assayas)

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Before there was Birdman, Juliette Binoche played Maria Enders, an aging starlet in Clouds Of Sils Maria who must come to terms with what it means to be an aging celebrity and artist. Directed by veteran auteur Olivier Assayas, the film also stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the up-and-coming actress who steals the role that made Maria a star. However, the most talked about name from Clouds after it premiered at Cannes was Kristen Stewart, who was lauded for her performance as Maria's personal assistant.

The Duke Of Burgundy (directed by Peter Strickland)

Writer-director Peter Strickland’s last feature film was the 2012 psychological horror-thriller Berberian Sound Studio, and this time he explores another type of titillation: a sadomasochistic affair between a matronly butterfly collector and her housekeeper. But all is not what it seems between the two women. At the Toronto Film Festival, The Hollywood Reporter bottom-lined The Duke Of Burgundy for us this way: "Visually ravishing, emotionally wise, and kinky as a coiled rope…" Maybe it’ll be everything that the 50 Shades movie purportedly is not. —Christine N. Ziemba

Eden (directed by Mia Hansen-Løve)

Co-written with her brother Sven, who was once a successful DJ in the 90s, Mia Hansen-Løve's film is a semi-autobiographical sweep of the European electronic music scene from the early 90s to the present. It's also a character study of a person so deep into their artistic passion that they don't even bother to notice the passage of time and the world passing them by. Eden features a killer soundtrack that serves as a primer for the uninitiated. And yes, Daft Punk plays a key role in the movie (though the real-life Daft Punk don't actually appear in the film).

Fish & Cat (directed by Shahram Mokri)

This Iranian slasher film was shot in one long take as it follows a group of students into the woods where they encounter a band of criminals. Directed by relative newcomer Shahram Mokri, Fish & Cat screened at the Venice Film Festival and earned an Orizzonti Award for "innovative content." While we’re not sure exactly what’s so innovative about the premise, the description had us at "one take." —Christine N. Ziemba

(trailer NSFW)

Flapping In The Middle Of Nowhere (directed by Nguyen Hoang Diep)

In Flapping In The Middle Of Nowhere, we follow a young woman's struggle when she discovers she is pregnant and turns to prostitution to afford an abortion. Although this Vietnamese-language film seems to cover the familiar story of a woman grappling with her decision about what to do about her unborn child, Hoang Diep, in her feature-film directorial debut, explores much more that that. She uses Hanoi, Vietnam as a backdrop, looking into sexuality, gender roles, and teenage life in Vietnam. —Jean Trinh

Haemoo (directed by Shim Sung-bo)

Produced and co-written by Bong Joon-ho, Haemoo is an even grislier and more cynical view of capitalism than Bong's own Snowpiercer. Set against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis of the late 90s, Haemoo is based on the real-life incident where 25 Chinese immigrants smuggled on a Korean fishing trawler died en route. First time director Shim Sung-bo (who co-wrote Bong's Memories Of Murder) helms what is this year's South Korean entry for the Academy Awards.

Inherent Vice (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Joaquin Phoenix. Based on a Thomas Pynchon novel. Has a pretty awesome cast rounded out with Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, and Jena Malone. Has a sweet trailer. Narrated by Joanna Newsom. Takes place in Los Angeles. Follows in the footsteps of hazy-LA noirs The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski. Need we say more?

The Iron Ministry (directed by J.P. Sniadecki)

The latest from an alum of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, which brought us innovative documentaries such as Leviathan and Manakamana, The Iron Ministry is an impressionistic and abstract portrait of the extensive railway system connecting the vast expanses of China. Director J.P. Sniadecki, who works out of China, is no stranger to this nation in flux and has already put together an impressive portfolio of experimental works (namely Foreign Parts and People's Park) that immerse the viewer at a visceral level that narrative or talking-head documentaries can't.

Jauja (directed by Lisandro Alonso)

The Argentine director's first feature since 2008's Liverpool, Jauja is an existential period piece starring Viggo Mortensen about a general who travels with his daughter from Denmark to a desert in Patagonia. When she runs away with one of his soldiers, he must set out into uncharted wilderness Heart Of Darkness-style to save her and that's when the film delves into much grander and far-out questions of metaphysics. What a trip!

Leviathan (directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev)

This Russian drama is the follow-up to the Andrey Zvyagintsev's critically acclaimed Elena which won the Special Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes three years ago. Leviathan is a modern retelling of the Book of Job, set in far Northern Russia along the coast where a man puts up a struggle against the local mayor. It is loaded with plenty of social commentary about contemporary Russia where, if you haven't heard, a lot of crazy shit has been going on.

Love Streams (directed by John Cassavetes)

Not a new film, but AFI FEST is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this masterwork from the director John Cassavetes, named by many as the "godfather" of American independent cinema. Starring Gena Rowlands and Cassavetes himself, the real-life husband and wife play siblings whose own love lives fall apart and they lean upon each other for emotional support. Being projected on 35mm film onto the Egyptian Theater's big screen, if it's the same pristine print that screened at the New Beverly in August then the audience is in for a treat.

Mr. Turner (directed by Mike Leigh)

A long-time passion project for director Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner is a sprawling biopic of English artist J.M.W Turner. Leigh examines the last 25 years of the celebrated, yet eccentric artist (Timothy Spall, who won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance). Leigh not only focuses on the art that Turner produced during his prolific career, but also his sexual exploits, how his father's death deeply affected him, and how his work was critically polarizing. —Christine N. Ziemba

Saint Laurent (directed by Bertrand Bonello)

Per Wikipedia, Yves Saint Laurent has already been the subject of four previous films, including a biopic that opened in France at the beginning of this year. What makes this one, France's entry to the Academy Awards this year, more intriguing than its predecessors is that Bertrand Bonello's last film, 2011's House Of Tolerance (trailer NSFW) is one of the strangest, lushest, and best films of this decade so far. It'll be interesting to see what he does with the life of one of the most important fashion icons of the last century. Gaspard Ulliel stars in the title role (and looks great on the poster) alongside Jérémie Renier as YSL's partner Pierre Bergé and Léa Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise.

Song Of The Sea (directed by Tomm Moore)

This animated film is director Tomm Moore’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Secret Of Kells. Song Of The Sea mines familiar themes, exploring Irish-Scottish mythology as a brother and sister go on an adventure to discover their connection to creatures called selkies. The hand-drawn animated film also features the voice acting of Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan, which is enough of a draw for us. —Christine N. Ziemba

Tales Of The Grim Sleeper (directed by Nick Broomfield)

The latest from documentarian provocateur Nick Broomfield dives into the case of the Grim Sleeper, a serial killer whose reign of terror spanned three decades in South L.A.'s neighborhoods. A story compellingly lurid enough at face value, Broomfield's documentary asks why it took the LAPD so long to find this killer and uncovers a system of indifference amongst the the police, media, and even his own neighbors.

Timbuktu (directed by Abderrahmane Sissako)

One of two African films at AFI FEST, Timbuktu is Mauritania's first-ever submission to the Academy Awards for consideration. Abderrahmane Sissako's film is a condemnation of Islamic jihadis and their persecution of locals in the Western Sahara. Though tragic and heavy in subject matter, Timbuktu is ultimately hopeful and even has a few moments of humor and levity.

Two Days, One Night (directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Long a darling of the European festival circuit (having previously won the Palme d'or twice), the Dardenne brothers have made a career about the struggles of ordinary people in the face of powers beyond their control and have generally cast unknowns in the lead roles. Two Days, One Night is their first film with a major international star, with Marion Cotillard in a brilliant performance as a woman who fights to win her job back after being laid off. Two Days, One Night is the Belgian submission for the Academy Awards this year.

The Vanquishing Of The Witch Baba Yaga (directed by Jessica Oreck)

Director Jessica Oreck uses the Slavic folktale of the Baba Yaga as the starting point for an essay film that takes views through the dilapidated of a fictional Eastern Europe. Oreck's film weaves together multiple forms of storytelling—animation, documentary filmmaking, and traditional myth-telling—in an examination of myth vs. reality and man vs. nature.

Don't forget to check out the shorts program, too!

All screenings take place at either TCL’s Chinese Theatre, TCL Chinese 6, the Dolby Theater or the Egyptian Theatre and are, best of all, free. Many notable titles are already sold out, but there are still plenty of films available! Click here to find out how to get tickets.