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  • Don’s Favorite Festival Films of 2010


    By | February 7, 2011

    I attended and/or covered more film festivals in 2010 than ever before: South by Southwest, Austin Film Festival, AFI Fest, aGLIFF, the list goes on… And I saw a shit ton of amazing films at these festivals; films that will probably never get the national theatrical releases that they truly deserve. The good news is that most of these films are or will soon be available on DVD, VOD and/or cable television. That said, I purposefully left off any films that signed contracts in 2010 for theatrical distribution (for example: Meek’s Cutoff and When We Leave, both of which I can already guarantee will make my “Favorite 10% of 2011” list).

    1) Lovers of Hate
    I have an infinite amount of love (and absolutely no hate) for Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate. Lovers of Hate is an exquisitely written and acted film. The plot itself seems relatively simple (three characters, two locations), yet Poyser’s directorial vision is complex and even somewhat unconventional. Lovers of Hate is ridiculously funny but also a thrillingly emotional roller coaster ride – a cinematic achievement that few directors and actors have pulled off as successfully as Poyser, Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky have here.

    2) The Last Summer of La Boyita (El último verano de la Boyita)
    This was Smells Like Screen Spirit’s first year covering the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) and it was an absolutely phenomenal year for us to pop our aGLIFF cherry. I Killed My Mother and Howl both enjoyed their Austin premieres at aGLIFF 2010, but the one film that absolutely floored me was writer-director Julia Solomonoff’s beautiful, honest and poignant statement about inter-sexuality: The Last Summer of La Boyita.

    3) Win/Win
    I forget how the synopsis in the AFI Fest 2010 program for Win/Win read, but I definitely did not think I would end up rating it 8.5. But I did, and I consider Win/Win to be the best film I saw at an especially strong year for the AFI Fest. Unfortunately this Dutch gem will probably never see a stateside theatrical release, but this is a win-win rental if it ever becomes available on VOD or DVD.

    4) Putty Hill
    I did not tell Matt Portfield during my SXSW 2010 interview with him that I thought we might have been separated at birth (never mind that he is several years my junior). The statement probably would have freaked him out as much as it would me, so I am glad I kept my trap shut and no one will ever know the truth. The reason I thought that in the first place is because he made the movie that I have been dreaming of making for what seems like forever; and, yes, I am talking about Putty Hill.

    5) Earthling
    was tied with Win/Win as my highest rated festival film in 2010. Somehow it finds itself listed in the fifth position on this year-end list. Let’s blame that on the alien being that was inhabiting me at the time I wrote my SXSW 2010 review of Earthling…or maybe the alien being is inhabiting me now? Yikes! No matter what, there must be some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers thing going on here.

    6) Skeletons
    I sense a strong affinity for Monty Python and Terry Gilliam — maybe even some David Lynch — in this one. Admittedly I was expecting a horror film (I guess I did not read the synopsis in the SXSW 2010 program guide very thoroughly) and instead I discovered a brain-teasing comedy with highly intelligent dialogue brimming with deadpan humor. There are absolutely no horror elements to be found (only the skeletons in the title) but there is a subtle dash of science fiction. Andrew Buckley, Ed Gaughan, and Tuppence Middleton really blew me away with their performances; but, in the end, the true credit for the excellence of Skeletons goes to writer-director Nick Whitfield – his cinematic eye is as squeaky clean as his uncanny knack for dialogue.

    7)  My Tehran for Sale
    Shot guerrilla-style entirely in Tehran, Iranian writer-director Granaz Moussavi’s lush and hypnotic My Tehran For Sale focuses on the vibrant urban middle class of Tehran – a side of Iran that the U.S. rarely sees. And the recent imprisonment of Iranian director Jafar Panahi makes Moussavi’s film even more essential.

    8) The Happy Poet
    When I interviewed Paul Gordon, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek, and Liz Fisher during SXSW 2010 it was as if I was transported onto the set of a sitcom. All four actors are naturally funny in their own unique ways. Paul Gordon cracks me up (he also stars in Mars, which appears a little further down this list) and this seems as good of a time as any to mention that three films featuring Chris Doubek (The Happy Poet, Earthling and Lovers of Hate) made it on this list. Coincidence? I think not.

    9) The Loved Ones
    When I first reviewed The Loved Ones, I rated it a 7. There was never any doubt in my mind that The Loved Ones is a near flawless horror film — there is no denying the genius of Robin McLeavy’s lead performance as Lola and Sean Byrne’s direction is damn near masterful — but at the time of writing my pre-festival review, it was really difficult for me to get beyond the film’s brutal portrayal of violence. But after seeing this film with an audience at SXSW 2010 and interviewing Byrne and McLeavy, I am beyond shrieking like a little girlie mouse whenever I watch The Loved Ones. Why this film did not get stateside distribution is beyond me. The Loved Ones is a million times better than any of the Saw films.

    10) The Myth of the American Sleepover
    I have watched writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover several times now, and it still amazes me how much this film affects me. Something about this coming of age film really hits home for me, touching me where it counts; yet I still have not pinpointed what that something is exactly. The good news is that I definitely will not mind watching this film over and over again until I figure out what that something is.

    11) Rubber
    Why? Two words: no reason.

    12) Two Gates of Sleep
    When I finally saw Winter’s Bone, I wished it could have been more like Two Gates of Sleep.

    13) Paradise Recovered
    Paradise Recovered
    is a low budget indie with a heck of a lot of heart…and I really enjoyed conversing with director Storme Wood about the film afterward.

    14) Hello Lonesome
    I am still in awe that one man — Adam Reid — acted as producer, director, writer and cinematographer on this incredibly mature and complex narrative.

    15) Mars
    I am awe of writer-director Geoff Marslett also, because I cannot imagine how tedious and painstaking the rotoscoping must have been on Mars. All I can say is that his efforts paid off.

    16) Shit Year
    I admit it, I unabashedly adore the “I don’t give a flying fuck” terrain of cinema and Shit Year is all that and a bag of tricks.

    17) Cargo
    I am glad that I waited a few weeks after the late night screening of Cargo at SXSW 2010 to write my review because this was a really slow burn. Think: Alien as directed by Andrey Tarkovskiy.

    18) Jimmy Tucker vs. the Goatman of Bowie
    Jimmy Tucker vs. the Goatman of Bowie
    is the best “found footage” horror film that I have ever seen. Writer-director Andrew Bowser takes no shameless shortcuts — he set strict rules for himself and his actors about what could and couldn’t be realistically captured on camera by the characters during every single scene. It pays off.

    19) Littlerock
    won the 2010 AFI Fest Audience Award in the Young Americans category — which is even more impressive when you consider its tough competition: The Myth of the American Sleepover, Putty Hill and Two Gates of Sleep.

    20) Presumed Guilty (Presunto culpable)
    I cannot think of a better measure to rate a documentary than by judging whether or not it was successful in educating and/or convincing its audience of its message. That is not always an easy measure to calculate; but in this case, Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith’s documentary single-handedly convinced the Mexican judicial system to release Tono. So yeah, I think it was successful!

    21) Helena from the Wedding
    We saw a lot of brutally realistic portrayals of friendships and relationships in 2010, and writer-director Joseph Infantolino’s Helena from the Wedding stands out as one of the best.

    22) Beijing Taxi
    By way of three Beijing taxi drivers, director Miao Wang shows us a firsthand account of what modernity and Capitalism are doing to China’s capital city.

    23) S&M Lawn Care
    What is not to love about S&M Lawn Care? Along with The Happy Poet and Cyrus, it is one of the best comedies I viewed in 2010. From this moment forward I vow to watch every film made by Mark Potts, Brand Rackley and Cole Selix.

    24) The Weird World of Blowfly
    No matter how you feel about Blowfly – and as long as you aren’t too put off by raunchy humor and blunt comments about race – The Weird World of Blowfly is a fantastic documentary about a very fascinating guy. (There, I said it, Blowfly is fascinating.)

    25) A Different Path
    I would prefer if we could reset some of the world’s technological advancements, for example: go back to the pre-automobile days…or at least to the days before every household had multiple automobiles. Maybe that is why I like A Different Path so much…

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