Once again, I ate way too much popcorn, drank too much cherry cola and definitely saw way too many movies – but I think I can muster up enough mental power to recap some of the top films from the 2008 Starz Denver Film Festival.
As usual, a heavy emphasis was placed on international and very small budget films this year, and as such many of these films will most likely not see wide distribution in the United States. You may have to wait until good ol’ Netflix gets them to see some of these films, but I assure you it will be worth it.
Top 2008 Starz Denver Films – Idiots and Angels
From the brilliant and twisted mind of cartoonist Bill Plympton, comes perhaps his darkest film to date. Lucky for me and to my surprise, Bill was at the opening night screening of his latest full length film. Despite his bizarre cartoons, he came across as very down to earth and very mild-mannered. He introduced the film as being more mature and darker than his previous work, which played out in the movie to an extent.
Idiots and Angels is the story of what happens when one of the world’s most despicable human beings suddenly sprouts angel-like wings. Bill noted that this movie, like all his cartoons, was entirely hand-drawn. And as with previous works, such as Hair High, the moments of humor and mind-boggledness (yes, that’s a word, I don’t care what you say) were balanced out with moments of extreme beauty and art. This was one of the top buzz films at this year’s Starz Denver Film Festival.
Top 2008 Starz Denver Films – Mermaid
This film has won several awards throughout the 2008 film festival season, including at Sundance and Berlin. Mermaid was easily one of my top 5 films at this years Starz Denver Film Festival. This film comes from Russia, and follows the story of a young girl who seems to be endowed with mystical powers. Mermaid is a sort of modern fairy tale, but it strays from traditional fairy tales in so many ways that description is hardly an accurate portrayal.
The acting throughout this film was brilliant, particularly by the principle, Masha Shalaeva. The cinematography is compelling, mixing the fairy-tale like quality of the story with dreary depictions of the bussling city of Moscow. This is one that may be in the conversation for Best Foreign Language Film (or whatever they’re calling that award these days, I mean seriously, a Clint Eastwood movie does not belong there!) come Oscar season.
Top 2008 Starz Denver Films – Pressure Cooker
Pressure Cooker is truly a great documentary that should have won the documentary award at the Denver film fest. Some other lame movie about the environment dying took home THAT coveted prize. Anyways, Pressure Cooker has been compared to Hoop Dreams in many ways, and while there is a basic similarity, the comparisons are in many ways short-sighted.
This documentary follows the lives (mainly) of four senior high school students in inner-cty Philadelphia competing in a culinary competition for college scholarships. The competition is sponsored by the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, which works with public schools across the country to give underserved high school students opporunities for careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
In the sense that this film follows the story of students in an inner-city school looking for a future in their field, it is similar to Hoop Dreams — but beyond that this film easily stands on its own two feet. The students are particularly pushed to excel by the culinary arts teacher, Wilma Stephenson. This film, as cheesy as it may sound, is truly inspirational. It shows us that it can take just one motivated teacher to give struggling students the opportunities they would otherwise never have.
Ok, this is getting long winded, and even I’m getting bored, so here’s a quick rundown of other movies to keep an eye out for from the 2008 Starz Denver Film Festival:
Yonkers Joe – A gambler and hustler learns how to love his special needs son. This should propel the director into bigger projects.
Moscow, Belgium – A mother relies on her wits and strength the raise her family and find new love in the midst of a divorce. This won the award for Best Foreign Film at Denver.
Surveillance – David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena) wrote and directed this psychological horror/thriller. Bill Pullman gives one of his best performances ever. This was great, but be warned — it’s frickin’ crazy!