Ten Movies To Watch For Free At This Year's AFI Fest
Need a break from, well, just about everything?
Thankfully, this year's edition of AFI Fest comes at a timely moment, offering Angelenos shelter from the storm. And just like it is every year, tickets are free!
Taking place yet at again at the TCL Chinese Theatre and its adjacent multiplex (with a few screenings down the street at the Egyptian Theatre), AFI Fest is L.A.'s biggest and best cinematic event. Few other festivals—anywhere—offer the mix of Hollywood glamour, high-minded arthouse fare and the reverence for the past quite like AFI Fest. This year's edition opens with Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply, his first film in 15 years, and closes with the Mark Wahlberg vehicle Patriot's Day. In between, there's the latest from emerging auteurs, the best of the international festival circuit, cinema of the past and Oscar contenders like La La Land and Jackie.
Here's what we're excited about seeing at AFI Fest.
Screening in conjunction with the third China Onscreen Biennial, Crosscurrent is a metaphysical journey up the Yangtze River. A cargo ship captain travels upstream and comes face to face with the past, the present and his own personal grief. While some reviewers seemed to be frustrated with the film's elusive narrative, the rapturous visuals by cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing (best known for his work with Hou Hsiao-hsien and on In The Mood For Love) make Crosscurrent a must-see on a big screen.
Things To Come
With a coyly, plainspoken voice and a piercing stare, Isabelle Huppert will be deservingly honored at AFI Fest at a gala screening of Elle. But just off the radar, she appears with more bubbly wit in Things To Come from writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve. Following up on her winding epic through 90s house music in Eden, Hansen-Løve casts Huppert as a middle-aged philosophy professor with a rigorously structured life that is thrown out of sorts when her husband leaves for another woman. As usual, Huppert's performance belies the usual aggrieved type, with a more malleable range of emotions as she attempts to balance her life and befriends a young communist cutie (Roman Kolinka). — Peter Labuza
Anyone familiar with the extreme micro-indie world of American cinema has likely seen Sophia Takal at some point—she has appeared in films by Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, and Ti West. But the accomplished actress has been working behind the camera as well; her sophomore directorial effort Always Shine follows a pair of BFFs gone mad. Mackenzie Davis (last seen sporting oversized glasses in Black Mirror's "San Junipero") and Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex) hope to rekindle their friendship in an isolated mansion in Big Sur, only to find each other in a jealous duel before suddenly embodying each others' lives. Obvious connections to Persona abound, but Takal's commitment to the inner life through the two performances and the atmospheric location creates a chilling vision of women on the verge of more than a nervous breakdown. — Peter Labuza
Buster Mal's Heart
Fresh off his Emmy-win for Mr. Robot, Rami Malek gets a similar chance to quietly portray a tormented psyche in Buster Mal's Heart, a unique "period piece" set in the days of Y2K paranoia. When the film opens, Malek's Buster races around snowy Montana, avoiding capture by the police while calling into radio shows with conspiracies. But flashbacks reveal a formerly ordinary life as a hotel concierge named Jonah with a child and a wife played by Kate Lyn Shiel (Kate Plays Christine). Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, the film is less the reveal of any conspiracy than an exploration of how such ideas take hold within the framework of mental illness, making this both a terrifying and empathic experience. — Peter Labuza
Much like Crosscurrent, director João Pedro Rodrigues' The Ornithologist is also a trippy journey downstream, here serving as a wild metaphor for the life of Saint Anthony of Padua. The follow up to Rodrigues' excellent The Last Time I Saw Macao, The Ornithologist is a fever dream of a film that Manohla Dargis called "the single most delightful and narratively adventurous movie [she] saw at" the Toronto International Film Festival.
Yourself and Yours
If you know anything about Hong Sang-soo's Korean comedies, it's probably that they're all the same: men inappropriately flirt with women, women drink too much and there's a meta-narrative game likely afoot. Yourself and Yours strays just slightly off the expected path; instead of an obvious framework for a non-linear story, Hong follows a mysterious woman named Mijoung (Lee You-young), a (perhaps?) noted liar and (perhaps?) alcoholic who has just left her boyfriend. Each time she appears on screen, her personality folds onto another one depending on which man pines for her affection. Is Mijoung a pathological liar, a twin, or is this simply how the men see her? Like his spiritual guide Eric Rohmer, the value of Hong's films lies in the way he subtly captures male entitlement toward women through narrative puzzles that force us to question our subjective gaze. — Peter Labuza
Bertrand Bonello is barely known to American audiences (he broke through last year with his wildly unconventional biopic Saint Laurent), but the French auteur is one of the most unconventional and daring filmmakers working today. Nocturama centers on a pack of Parisian teenagers as they set off on a wave of terrorist attacks across the city and wait out the aftermath. An unsettling film about an uncomfortable subject matter, the A.V. Club's Ignatity Vishnevetsky calls Nocturama "a bravura feat of filmmaking."
Malgré la nuit
For a very select group of cinephiles, the experimental artist turned narrative filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux has become cinema's reigning master of idiosyncratic film form. Every visual and aural register takes on an unexpected impulse to implore the emotions at the core of his stories, often fitting for their exploration into the Parisian underbelly. In Malgré la nuit, a musician searches for his missing lover only to find himself falling for another woman. It's a simple story on paper, but one that becomes the foundation for an emotional odyssey where Grandrieux portrays extreme visions of sex and violence through garish digital imagery, cementing his place as a true cinematic visionary. —Peter Labuza
AFI Fest mostly highlights what's new in cinema, but this year also features a number of classics in new restorations. While they work as time capsules, DJ Z-TRIP shows how they can be updated for the modern age by providing live musical accompaniment for Harold Lloyd's silent classic Speedy. Lloyd again plays his bespectacled charmer, here attempting to save New York's horse-drawn streetcar system (which belongs to his girlfriend's father) from an evil capitalist. The film's final chase sequence through the actual streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan shows off some of the era's most impressive stunt work, and the film even gives baseball legend Babe Ruth a hilarious cameo. DJ Z-TRIP will be on the ones and twos to combine the sounds of the past with the rhythms of the new, demonstrating what it truly means to be a timeless classic. — Peter Labuza
Daughters of the Dust
Another revival of note is Cohen Film Collection's long-overdue restoration of Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, making its West Coast premiere at AFI Fest. This landmark film—the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to receive distribution in the United States—has been thrust back into the public consciousness with Beyoncé's Lemonade, of which Dust was a major inspiration. Traversing across three generations of Gullah women, the film has been restored so the colors more precisely capture the skin tones of its subjects than it did upon its original release in 1991.
The 2017 AFI Fest opens tonight in Hollywood with the premiere of Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply and runs through to November 17. Tickets are free, but passes can also be purchased.