As film fans, aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers can attest, the Austin Film Festival has become an industry favorite. For many, the city, known for its live music and great nightlife, is reason enough to be here. But its film friendly atmosphere enables fans to rub elbows with some screen greats. This year, the festival welcomed Oliver Stone with an “Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking” award, and the director stuck around for some entertaining panels including one on the writing of war films with John Milius (who also received a “Distinguished Screenwriter” award). Later, Stone introduced a showing of his Vietnam film, Born on the Fourth of July, which he says is relevant “more than ever” today. Although Milius’ writing credits are tremendously diverse (Dirty Harry, The Wind and the Lion, Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian), he chose his classic surfing flick, Big Wednesday, as one of his favorites and screened the film to an appreciative audience at the Texas State History Museum.
Here are a few other highlights from the 14th annual Austin Film Festival:
Randy and the Mob
Ray McKinnon does it all (writing, directing, starring) and does it well in his second feature-length film. As if that weren’t enough, he plays two completely diverse roles. This Oscar-winning producer is more than just a character actor (TV's Deadwood, O Brother, Where Art Though?, The Missing); this character can act. The soundtrack ain’t too shabby, either, with Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Ron Sexmith and Squirrel Nut Zippers all contributing.
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman help turn director Tamara Jenkins’ story of caring for an elderly parent into a humorous, sweet and beautifully stirring film.
Terry George runs in a completely different direction from his Hotel Rwanda, but this New England story of a family’s loss to a hit and run driver is no less heart wrenching with gripping performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Connelly.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Director Sidney Lumet tries to pull off a Coen Bros. slice of dark comedy. There’s a bit too much pathos and not enough comedy, but Marisa Tomei is both wonderfully charming and tragic.
The Living Wake
It’s difficult to explain why star and co-writer Mike O’Connell is so funny, but his film, a strange cross between a Monty Python sketch and a Christopher Guest mockumentary, entertains nonetheless. Portraying the eccentric K. Roth Binew with an exaggerated Shakespearean delivery, O’Connell sets out to document his character’s last day on earth after being diagnosed with a vague terminal disease. He is also indescribably entertaining in person and in his YouTube hit “What’s It Gonna Be?” Keep an eye out for this guy.
Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project
A recent performance by legendary comic Don Rickles (still performing at 81) is supplemented with impressive and insightful interviews from the likes of Dave Attell, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams and Rickles’ old pal Bob Newhart. Directed by Jon Landis, the historical footage alone makes the film a must-see.
Shotgun Stories (winner of the film competition for Best Narrative Feature)
An Arkansas feud between half brothers escalates with deadly results in this simple, methodical but extremely absorbing film by first-time writer/director Jeff Nichols.
Starting Out in the Evening
The fictional account of an aging, once-great writer who has an affair with an admiring college student offers little in this old story. Frank Langella, however, delivers a classy performance.
On the Doll
The seedy world of Internet porn and underage sex-for-money is the setting for this disturbing and sometimes wandering film. Josh Janowicz and Brittany Snow give strong performances.