The 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival begins today

The 14th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival kicks off today, and while it’s great us Angelinos get to be amongst the first to partake in such works as Timor Bekmambetov’s “Wanted” and Guillermo Del Toro’s “Hellboy II,” there are several dozen other new titles without Angelina Jolie or Ron Perlman worthy of mention. These are just a few I am personally looking forward to seeing over the next two weeks…

Baghead (Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass): Even though FilmJerk was based in New York City during the opening salvos of the mumblecore movement, and often attended films showing at the Two Boots Pioneer Theatre, where many mumblecore movies made their debuts, we still have yet to see any film based in this unique subgenre. Quite frankly, none of them sounded all that interesting. But a film about four wannabe actors going to a secluded woodland area to come up with an idea for a movie, only to be stalked by a mostly naked man wearing a bag over his head… okay, so that doesn’t sound all that interesting either, but we are intrigued. But why in the hell is this playing at a film festival when it’s already opened theatricallyr

Choke (Clark Gregg): Okay, this one isn’t quite so fair. A film starring Sam Rockwell and Angelica Huston, based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk and soon to be distributed by Fox Searchlight has an unfair advantage over some foreign film featuring actors whose names you have to copy from the IMDb to get correct, with all those umlauts and tildes and primes and carets over their names. But let’s face it, Rockwell is one of the most exciting actors working today, and Choke is vintage Palahniuk before he went bat-shit crazy. We’re hoping for some twisted fun.

Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog): If you asked me in 1998 which of all the 1980s indie icons would make a late-career resurgence ten years later, Herzog would not have been at the top of the list. We would have answered Win Wenders, who still hasn’t quite come back from the brink that was the maddeningly brilliant Until the End of the World. But sending Herzog to Antarctica to document life amongst those who live and work at the bottom of the planet, now that’s something to get excited about. But, again, why is the film festival playing a movie which has already opened theatricallyr

Fear(s) of the Dark (Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire): Omnibus films are a personal guilty pleasure. The ability to see several little stories told out together, regardless of whether the stories connect in some way or not, makes me appreciate a storyteller’s ability to work their magic in a handful of minutes. Six internationally renowned graphic artists were asked to come up with stories about their own phobias. Ominous portents, paranoid delusions and fears both rational and irrational abound, in what is assured to be a kick in the psyche.

Frozen River (Courtney Hunt): While movies about human trafficking haven’t gotten to the over-saturation point Iraq war documentaries have hit in the past couple years, one must wonder what makes the makers of his film think they can find an audience when films like Trade (with Kevin Kline) or Promised Land (with Rosamund Pike) were summarily ignored upon their release. It’s a depressing subject, and chances are Frozen River will end up as another specialized release with great reviews but lousy ticket sales, but what’s getting us to the theatre is the great Melissa Leo (from Homicide and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), who still hasn’t gotten the recognition she has deserved for so long.

Largo (Andrew van Baal and Mark Flanagan): I don’t go to music clubs as often as I would like to, and Largo is one of the few places I would want to go to, if I were able to get in to a place like Largo. Recently moved from its longtime Fairfax home to a slightly larger place on La Cienega (yeah, it’s a Los Angeles thing), Largo is where one can regularly still see the likes of Jon Brion, Ben Folds, Rickie Lee Jones, Aimee Mann, Michael Penn and Rufus Wainwright perform. Largo is also where Tenacious D got their start, although we won’t hold that against the club, because it’s also where Elliott Smith regularly played. Oh yeah, and it’s also where comedians from Larry David and Sarah Silverman to Zach Galifianakis and Patton Oswald work out their latest material. This documentary is co-directed by one of the founders of the club, so you know it’s going to be the most lovingly-crafted film ever made.

Man on Wire (James Marsh): Phillippe Petit’s tightrope walk across the World Trade Center in 1974 is one of the oldest memories I still have, or at least I think I remember when it happening. I’ve seen that iconic image of Petit, with the longest balance pole I have ever seen, more times than I can possibly imagine, so maybe my imagination is toying with me. Nonetheless, Marsh’s documentary about the then 24-year-old’s “artistic crime of the century” has me fascinated on so many levels, it’ll be the first film I see at the festival.

Night Flight: Born Again (Stuart Samuels): Not a film so much as a mash-up of the seven year history of the long-gone and much-missed show that gave 1980s teenagers like myself a reason to watch USA Networks. Started in the early days of the cable television boom, two months before the creation of MTV, Night Flight was where insomniac kids and those of low moral standards could zone out on music videos and concert films as well as cult films and shorts and cartoons and just about anything you would never see on HBO or Showtime.

Paper or Plasticr (Justine Jacob and Alex D. da Silva): I can’t say I’m psyched to see this documentary about the national grocery-bagging championships, but only because I’ve already seen it. I have to say I am really surprised at how entertaining documentaries have become over the years, touching on such marginal subjects as video game players and grocery baggers. Jacob and da Silva really get into the lives of these ordinary average Americans to show us how extraordinary a seemingly marginalized job can be. Maybe it’s time for my magnum opus about movie theatre employees…

The Pleasure of Being Robbed (Josh Safdie): Although I am a California boy through and through, I loved living in The Big Apple and miss quite a bit about living there… seasons, Dunkin’ Donuts, Central Park, an efficient subway system that actually gets you to where you need to go… so I’m a sucker for New York stories. Pleasure tells the story of a free spirit who roams the streets of New York City, taking things from other people to satisfy her own curiosity of life, which also satisfies my dreams of being a master thief.

There are a number of other potentially interesting screenings, including a screening of 1995’s The American President with a Q&A with Rob Reiner (and if you haven’t seen the film in a while, it’s scary how prescient the film remains), a screening of a newly restored print of John Cassavetes’s 1959 debut Shadows and two rarely-screened films from 1970s maverick filmmaker Robert Kramer. All in all, the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival should have something for every film lover.

Learn more about the festival and the films playing this year at the Los Angeles Film Festival website.

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