When awards season rolls around next year, we’ll still be talking about a few of the movies at this year’s Twin Cities Film Festival.
It’s the 10th annual iteration of the hybrid festival, which combines indie films with preview screenings of upcoming Hollywood titles, including the latest from “The Squid and the Whale” Oscar nominee Noah Baumbach. His writing/directing effort, “Marriage Story,” has been generating buzz at international festivals for its screenplay and for stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who enact an unflinching portrait of a marriage coming apart.
The fest also features a Changemakers series of movies with themes of environmental responsibility as well as several titles with Minnesota ties, including “International Falls” (partly shot Up North but mostly in, of all places, Dallas), Wyatt McDill’s tricky, northern Minnesota-shot “3 Day Weekend” and “The Ringmaster.” The latter starts as a documentary about Larry Lang, a Worthington cook said to make the country’s finest onion rings, but becomes something else, as hinted by the movie’s entertaining trailer.
Here are my thoughts on a few of the fest selections I’ve seen:
“Gay Chorus Deep South” — “There are two things we can do: We can sing. And we can love,” says a member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus before embarking on a tour of churches in the Deep South. It’s disheartening to learn about the hate they deal with at some stops on the trip. (After playing a tape of a homophobic phone call, one man notes, “There’s no amount of singing that’s going to fix that.”) But the film also is a corrective to those who are quick to stereotype people of faith and Southerners, as well as a moving reminder that visibility is important. 5:30 p.m., Oct. 24
“Honey Boy” — I have interviewed Shia LaBeouf twice. One time he was a pretentious jerk; the other time he was absolutely delightful. And both times he was acting. The difficulty of telling the difference between living and acting, especially for a child actor trying to figure out who he is, is a key subject in “Honey Boy,” written by LaBeouf and inspired by his own childhood. The central relationship is between a young actor named Otis (played at 12 by Noah Jupe and at 22 by Lucas Hedges) and his father (LaBeouf). The actor pulls no punches depicting his dad, who is his abuser and his paid companion as well as his father. Director Alma Har’el shot the movie in an on-the-fly style that recalls “The Florida Project.” Also like that movie, “Honey Boy” has enormous empathy for characters who are difficult to love. 6 p.m., Oct. 21
“Jojo Rabbit” — I’m not nuts about “Jojo,” but I’d recommend it anyway, because it’s such an interesting misfire. For starters, it features one of my favorite Johansson performances as the quippy, free-spirited mother of the title character. He’s a young boy, growing up in the last years of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, where his imaginary friend is, wait for it, Hitler himself. There are some surprisingly sweet moments, especially after Jojo learns his mom is hiding a Jewish girl from the Nazis, but the satire doesn’t land because the tone veers all over the place. 6 p.m., Oct. 16
“Just Mercy” — Attorney Bryan Stevenson (a subtle, powerful Michael B. Jordan) helped produce this story of his life, so it may not be the most candid portrait but it’s still a shocking, stirring look at his efforts to help prisoners condemned to death row. “Just Mercy” focuses on the early years of Stevenson’s career, including efforts to free a man (Jamie Foxx) who was convicted on the word of an admitted liar (Tim Blake Nelson, in the sort of showy role that wins people best supporting actor Oscars). 6:30 p.m., Oct. 22
“Motherless Brooklyn” — Fans of Jonathan Lethem’s inventive novel will want to know that Edward Norton’s fine film version tells a different story, shifting the age of a main character — whose Tourette syndrome has earned him the nickname “Freakshow” — from teenager to however old Norton is. The novel had a Charles Dickens feel, with its story of boys who become investigators for a charismatic detective, but the movie’s reference point is as much “Chinatown” as it is Dickens. Set in 1950s New York, it’s an atmospheric mystery that revolves around a corrupt millionaire (Alec Baldwin). 8 p.m., Oct. 24
“A Perfect 14” — It’s evident that the story shifted dramatically during the filming of this documentary about full-figured models. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t shift along with it. The first half plays out like the collision of six different short movies, beginning with fashion editors blithely saying hateful things about models who aren’t size 2, then shifting to scattershot discussions of racism and sexism and finally landing, too late, on the story of Elly Mayday, who is breaking into the fashion biz when she’s diagnosed with cancer. Dealt with abruptly here, her story deserves its own film. 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19