The Austin Film Festival, which begins today and runs through Oct. 27, has the good fortune of falling just before Oscar season kicks into high gear. The festival usually has the lucky distinction of bringing many of the year’s biggest Oscar players to the screens of Austin weeks, if not months, early. While last year’s highlights included films such as “Black Swan” and “127 Hours,” this year’s festival has slotted in many promising independent features along with Oscar contenders such as “The Descendants.” Here are five films The Daily Texan is looking forward to at this year’s festival.
Screens: 10:30 p.m., Oct. 22, Rollins Theater
9:30 p.m., Oct. 24, Rollins Theater
Recent UT alumni Will Elliott and Kirk Johnson penned ultimate stoner comedy “Austin High,” which focuses on a high school whose staff is made up of the same slackers who attended a few decades ago. The film is pretty much tailor-made for the Austin Film Festival, almost fetishizing various Austin locations and performers, and is a pretty entertaining film to boot, boasting some strong performances and a penchant for blatantly absurd humor.
“Beneath the Darkness”
Screens: 6:30 p.m., Oct. 22, Texas Spirit Theater
5:00 p.m., Oct. 23, Alamo Ritz
When local hero Ely (Dennis Quaid) exposes himself as a closet murderer, a group of teenage witnesses try to avoid meeting the same fate as an unlucky friend. The film promises to be an entertaining teen-based thriller featuring an against-type performance from Quaid and came about after director Martin Guigui and writer Bruce Wilkinson met at the 2003 Austin Film Fest.
Screens: 7:00 p.m., Oct. 26, Paramount Theatre
The biggest Oscar contender at this year’s festival is easily Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” his first film since 2004’s “Sideways.” George Clooney stars as Matt King, an absentee father who finds himself in charge of raising his two daughters after his wife is critically injured. Early reviews are touting Clooney’s performance as the best of his career, and Payne’s sensibilities for meshing the comedic and dramatic promise to give audiences plenty to talk about.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Screens: 9:45 p.m., Oct. 20, Paramount Theatre
Sean Durkin’s feature debut stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a woman fundamentally broken by her time in a cult run by Patrick (John Hawkes) and living with her sister (Sarah Paulson) in the aftermath of her escape. The film is an experiential marvel, blending together the past and present with clever edits, a dreamlike structure and an inescapable sense of creeping dread that pervades the film and Olsen’s stunning lead performance. This is a film that deserves to be rewatched and discussed and is one of the most ambitious films of the year.
Screens: 9:30 p.m., Oct. 22, Regal Arbor
Michael Fassbender has had a pretty great year so far, stealing the show in “X-Men: First Class” and drawing buzz for his performance in Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.” With “Shame,” he reunites with “Hunger” director Steve McQueen to play a sex addict confronted with his impulses when similarly damaged younger sister Carey Mulligan shows up at his doorstep. “Shame’s” first trailer promises a tantalizing, gorgeously composed experience, and the film’s banishment to the Regal Arbor suggests that it may be too raunchy for the screens of the Paramount, all the more reason to make the trek to North Austin to check it out.
Printed on Thursday, October 20, 2011 as: Austin Festival returns with promising films