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TCFF 2019: Top 10 Feature Films

October 29, 2019

The 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped last Saturday (October 26) after 11 days and more than 120 films. Here’s a breakdown of the best feature films I took in over the course of the festival.

 #1 – Gutterbug

 

Homeless and hopelessly addicted to everything he can get his hands on, Bug (Andrew Yackel), leads a life filled with begging, drugs, and going to punk shows with his like-minded crew of misfits – Jenny (Hannah Mosqueda), Slim (Justin Pietropaolo), and Raleigh (Geoff van Wyck). With his life spiraling out of control, Bug starts looking for a way out by returning to his parents' home, which sets off a tragic series of events. Writer/director Andrew Gibson and co-writer Chris Tobin do a masterful job in creating multilayered characters that make you feel equal parts empathy and repulsion as their story unfolds, and is brought to life by its sparse, but talented cast. Bonus points for the inclusion of local east coast punk bands to further set the

tone of the film.

 

★★★★1/2 of ★★★★★

#2 – Saint Frances

 

Fresh off an abortion and sick of her restaurant job, 34-year-old “slacker” Bridget (Kelly O'Sullivan) lands a career upgrade in the form of a summer nanny job for the 6-year-old daughter – Frances (Ramona Edith Williams) – of a biracial lesbian suburban couple. While trying to figure out her own life, Bridget must also learn on the fly how to care for an intelligent, strong-willed youngster. O'Sullivan, who also wrote the film, gave not only what I consider to be the best performance of TCFF, but perhaps of the entire year.

 

★★★★1/2 of ★★★★★

#3 Jojo Rabbit

 

Influenced by his experience at camp and by his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler (Taika Waititi), 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) does his best to navigate adolescence while upholding the beliefs of his beloved Nazi party. With a father who is out of the country, and a mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who doesn't support his beliefs, the task is a difficult one. To further complicate the situation, Jojo discovers a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), living in the family's attic. Having been invited in by Rosie, Elsa blackmails Jojo into letting her stay. Fresh off of its People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, writer/director Waititi's Nazi satire seems poised for a Best Picture run.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

 #4 Last Call

 

Drunk and thinking he's calling a suicide hotline, Scott (Daved Wilkins) inadvertently reaches Beth (Sarah Booth), an evening custodian at a job training center. Sensing the desperation in his voice, Beth talks and listens to what has brought Scott to this point, trying – almost literally – to talk him off the ledge before it's too late. While the story – written by Wilkins and director Gavin Michael Booth – is quite simple, it also draws you in, primarily due to the unorthodox way it's told. Coming in at 1 hour and 17 minutes, the story is told in real time and shown in split screen, featuring both primary characters throughout its entirety. Making it even more impressive is the fact that what you see is one single take. Independent

film allows for experimentation and

risk-taking, which this has in spades.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

#5 Marriage Story

 

Married couple Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) are getting divorced. From the outside looking in, things appear to be pleasant … or at least as pleasant as possible, given the circumstances. Without a ton of cash or property to split, the only real point of contention is where the former couple will raise their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). With Charlie’s directing career tethering him to NYC and Nicole’s acting pulling her to LA, things become more difficult, but not unmanageable. That, however, changes when each enlists the services of sleezy attorneys, Nora (Laura Dern) and Jay (Ray Liotta).

The pair must figure out how to end the marriage without destroying each other and their son. The film is full of

excellent performances from its primary

cast, and also benefits greatly from

small, yet entertaining contributions from

Julie Hagerty, Wallace Shawn, and Alan

Alda. ‘Marriage Story’ feels like a serious

Oscar contender – for Best Picture, acting

categories, and writing/directing honors for

Noah Baumbach. The only question is

whether the Academy can view Netflix

the same way as every other studio.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

 #6 Honey Boy

 

If you had told me at the beginning of the summer that Shia LaBeouf would be heavily involved in two of my favorite movies of the year, I would have said you were crazy. But one ‘Peanut Butter Falcon’ and a semi-autobiographical tale later, here we are. Written while in rehab, LaBeouf based the story off his own childhood as a child actor and his relationship with an abusive, alcoholic. Lucas Hedges plays the adult Otis Lort, with Noah Jupe handling the duties of teenage Otis. LaBeouf himself stars as James Lort – essentially playing his own father. Because of James’ behavior, ‘Honey Boy’ is hard to watch at times, but if even a portion of what is seen is accurate (the rawness of everything and real life photos that play

during the credits tell me it is), then why

Shia is/was the way he is/was makes a

whole lot more sense. Be on the lookout

for a Best Original Screenplay nod in the

coming months.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

#7 Killbird

 

While taking nature photos in the backwoods of Oregon, amateur photographer Taylor’s (Elysia Rotaru) car breaks down. With no nearby houses, passing traffic, or phone reception, Taylor pushes further into the wilderness, where she happens upon Riad (Stephen Lobo), a paranoid conspiracy theorist who’s in the middle of his latest “project.” Convinced Taylor isn’t who she says she is, Riad takes her captive. ‘Killbird’ is never going to be mistaken for a masterpiece, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end, which, if you ask me, is the hallmark of an excellent thriller.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

#8 Olympic Dreams

 

Shot on location at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, ‘Olympic Dreams’ tells the story of cross country skier Penelope (Alexi Pappas) and volunteer dentist Ezra (Nick Kroll). Both are broken in their own way – Penelope from her Olympic performance and Ezra from a recent breakup. As their paths continue to cross in the Olympic Athlete Village, an unlikely bond forms between the pair. Filmed amidst the craziness of the Olympics, the film is intentionally (I think) simple, which is very much part of its charm.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

#9 Inside the Rain

 

After Ben (Aaron Fisher), a college student with a history of mental illness, is threatened with expulsion from his college following a misunderstanding, he sets out to clear his name. With his parents urging him to transfer and refusing to hire an attorney, Ben devises a plan – against the advice of basically everyone – to make a short, narrative film detailing said misunderstanding. One night after leaving a strip club, he befriends a young sex worker, Emma (Ellen Toland), and eventually convinces her to be in his movie. Despite surprisingly strong supporting performances from Rosie Perez (Ben’s psychiatrist) and Eric Roberts (a struggling actor that signs on to produce Ben’s movie), this film is really about its lead character and

the somewhat sweet, somewhat perverse

and ridiculous kinship they build together.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

#10 Waves

 

While I don’t think ‘Waves’ is the strongest A24 release in recent years, I think the way its story told is far more interesting than most films I’ve seen this year. Essentially, the story of this suburban African American family is told in two distinct stories, with the idea of loss, tragedy, and forgiveness acting as the glue to tie the stories together. The first half of the film focuses on high school senior Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and the pressures that come with being a star athlete with an overbearing father (and other spoiler-y family issues I won’t mention). Once Tyler’s direct story ends in tragic fashion, the film could honestly end and you’d have a full story. But it continues from there as his family – father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown),

mother Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry),

and sister Emily (Taylor Russell) –

comes to grips with Tyler’s transgressions

and how they move forward. After debuting

with the ridiculously strong ‘Krisha’ and

disappointing (slightly) with ‘It Comes at Night,’

writer/director Trey Edward Shults returns

to top form by telling a difficult but necessary

story in an incredibly realistic manner.

My guess is Best Picture, Best Director,

and Best Original Screenplay nominations

are within reach.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

 

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