The fact-based drama that opens this year's Twin Cities Film Fest boasts such a powerhouse performance that it will be a challenge for the fest to recover.
That performance is Danielle Deadwyler's guaranteed-Oscar-nominee work as the title character in "Till." She's Mamie Till-Mobley, who made the brutal 1955 murder of son Emmett Till the center of the national conversation about racial inequity. Movie fans will get their first look at the biopic Thursday, before its wide release Friday.
"Till" is not the only Oscar-bound movie in the festival, which features big fall titles as well as a few created closer to home, along with a tribute to a Minnesota native whose face you probably know even if his name doesn't immediately spring to mind.
Here's some of what to expect from the Thursday-Oct.29 event at the Showplace Icon theaters in St. Louis Park:
Everybody loves Chris
If you're curious why Chris Mulkey, a product of Wisconsin and Minnesota, is getting the festival's lifetime achievement award, wander over to his Internet Movie Database page and peruse his astonishing 266 acting credits. Heck, he's probably added one or two while you were reading this.
The versatile actor is often cast as a crook or cop (he's on the right side of the law in horror film "The Hand That Feeds," which screens Saturday at 8:15 p.m. preceded by Mulkey walking the red carpet at 7:45). Mulkey's movies range from award winners such as "Whiplash" and "Captain Phillips" to locally made "Patti Rocks" to a few he'd probably prefer to forget but he remains one of the busiest character actors in the biz.
Made in Minnesota
Even just a glimpse at the trailer for "Jasmine Is a Star" offers a look at several of the Twin Cities' top theater actors, including Sha Cage, Regina Marie Williams, Sara Marsh and Sasha Andreev, as well as locations such as the Walker Art Center. It's a drama about a teenager with albinism who is trying to break into the modeling world.
Theater buffs also will spot familiar faces in other Minnesota-connected titles including family drama "Influencer," roller derby-themed "Valentine Crush" and western "Sanctified."
Date with Oscar?
One person who could join Deadwyler in the best actress race is two-time-nominee Carey Mulligan, who's back in "She Said," a ripped-from-the-headlines (literally) drama about the New York Times reporters who pursued stories about the women harmed by Hollywood mogul/rapist Harvey Weinstein.
Other possible contenders screening at the fest include "The Banshees of Inisherin" from Oscar winner Martin McDonagh, who also made "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," as well as documentary "The Return of Tanya Tucker — Featuring Brandi Carlile," Sarah Polley's "Women Talking" and James Gray's star-studded "Armageddon Time," with Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Chastain and Jeremy Strong.
The first is the best?
Director Chinonye Chukwu, whose previous movie was the brilliant, devastating "Clemency," has the opportunity to be more hopeful in her excellent "Till," which begins with Mamie warning her son, who is leaving Chicago for Mississippi, that "they have a different set of rules for Negroes down there." That's quickly followed by the murder (off-camera, a sign Chukwu wants to accentuate the positive), but then Chukwu shows how Emmett's mother tried to make his death a touchstone.
There's room to criticize Chukwu's approach; in turning away from the boy's death, is she doing the very thing his mother declined to do? But there's no arguing with Deadwyler's detailed, almost operatic performance.
Because she's so quiet and dignified for most of the movie, the actor's choices really stand out in the big moments: when she insists her son's mangled corpse be on view in an open casket and, even more, when she's testifying at the trial of the killers and Deadwyler closes her eyes, her eyelids fluttering like a hummingbird's wings, as she seems taken over by the effort to remember a time when she still had a son.
A lot keeps getting asked of Mamie, who only cares about seeking justice for her son but agrees to work with the NAACP to turn his death into a civil rights landmark when it becomes clear the trial won't end in justice. The movie asks a lot of Deadwyler, too, and she keeps responding with specific, unusual details: the reluctant way Mamie comforts her mother when the older woman bemoans urging Emmett to go south, the flash of stubborn humor when Mamie assures her boyfriend she's not going to change her plans, the way Mamie refuses to flinch from the odor of her son's corpse, even as everyone else covers their noses.
It's not an easy movie to watch but "Till" is intelligent and absorbing and by the time it ends by saying, "Her story changed the world," it has more than made that case.
*** out of four stars
Rating: R for bloody violence and language.
Where: In theaters.
Twin Cities Film Festival
When: Thursday-Oct. 29.
Where: Showplace Icon Theatres, 1625 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park.
Tickets: Free-$20, twincitiesfilmfest.org.