By Will Ferrer
The San Francisco International Film Festival opens tomorrow in downtown SF (and runs until May 7). Bringing together a vast assortment of films and filmmakers, the annual festival incorporates highlights from Cannes, Toronto and Sundance as well as a number of as yet unreleased world premieres. The following is a sampling of feature films that you won’t want to miss this year at the Bay area’s most prestigious film festival.
“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”
Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney has been a very busy man. After the release of “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” earlier this year, Gibney returns to the silver screen with “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Early reviews of “Jobs” have been fairly strong — the film debuted at South by Southwest — with many calling attention to Gibney’s willingness to criticize the late Apple CEO, often vehemently. And though a handful have found fault with Gibney’s style, if the auteur’s colorful filmography is any indication, “Jobs” should, at the very least, be thoroughly provocative.
“The End of the Tour”
Directed by James Ponsoldt, the man behind the much-adored “The Spectacular Now,” “The End of the Tour” stars Jason Segal as author David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky. Set during the promotional tour for Foster Wallace’s magnum opus “Infinite Jest” — in which Lipsky conducted a five-day interview with Foster Wallace — “Tour” captures the deep internal struggle of one of the most respected writers of modern literature (Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008). Though the premise reads like a melancholic “Almost Famous,” I am more than curious to see what Ponsoldt, a man with a deep understanding for human fallibility, is able to do with the compelling material.
“Love & Mercy”
Before opening in wide release in June, Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” will screen at SFIFF. Starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Beach Boys’ front-man Brian Williams, “Love & Mercy” is less a chronicle of the timeless rock ensemble, and more a parable about learning to stand up to the man (in this case, Paul Giamatti’s mustache-twirling baddie, Dr. Eugene Landy). Sporting a stellar lead performance from Dano, who reportedly did all of his own singing, and an exceptionally curated soundtrack by composer Atticus Ross (“The Social Network,” “Gone Girl”), “Love & Mercy” is the rare film that hits all the right notes.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
Yet another adaptation of a young adult novel about kids with cancer, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” surprised at Sundance, taking home the prestigious Grand Jury and Audience Prizes. Featuring newcomer Thomas Mann and a delightfully hilarious ensemble that includes Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”), Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) and Molly Shannon (“Saturday Night Live”), “Me and Earl” is mile-a-minute side-splitter that’ll have you both crying of laughter and just plain crying.
In recent years Sherlock Holmes has become increasingly younger, in an attempt to sex up the classic literary character (think: Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” or CBS’s “Elementary”). Now, as the fabled detective returns to the big screen once again, director Bill Condon has decided to age the forever-youthful Sherlock Holmes. In Condon’s “Mr. Holmes,” Sherlock (played by Sir Ian McKellen) is a man past his prime. As Sherlock struggles to piece together the greatest unsolved mystery of his career, it appears that the legendary sleuth has finally fallen prey to the ravages of time. In my book, Condon gets points for originality alone. Throw in the underappreciated Laura Linney (“The Big C”) and, to me, “Mr. Holmes” looks like a solid recipe for success.
“The New Girlfriend”
I can’t decide whether I’m incredibly excited or incredibly anxious for Francois Ozon’s “The New Girlfriend.” Marketed as a psychological thriller, “The New Girlfriend” stars Romain Duris (“Populaire”) as David, a man who begins dressing up as a woman after the death of his wife. Although the film’s first teaser and early buzz (“The New Girlfriend” premiered at TIFF) promise an astute exploration of human sexuality, I’m more than a bit afraid that Ozon might treat David’s sensual desire as something sensational, lurid or, worse yet, perverse. Regardless, Duris is generally a joy to watch and, in reality, only time will tell how tactfully Ozon approaches the issue of David’s choice.
Another film about the vast spectrum of sexual preference, Patrick Brice’s “The Overnight” is being hailed as both hilarious and beautifully executed. Starring Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”) and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) as a naïve couple who unwittingly become involved in a night of carnal experimentation, “The Overnight” looks slick, smart and, most importantly, enjoyable.
Alba Rohrwacher recently snagged top honors at the Venice Film Festival for her turn as Mina in Saverio Costanzo’s “Hungry Hearts” alongside Adam Driver (“Girls”). Now, the young actress is returning to the festival circuit with sister Alice Rohrwacher’s Cannes darling, “The Wonders.” Though I admittedly don’t know much about the film, Alice’s golden-hour aesthetic and Alba’s always-delightful presence have me looking forward to this sweet charmer about four sisters and the storied summer that changed their lives.
With its cast communicating only in sign language — sans subtitles, “The Tribe” is only for the dedicated. Centered upon an impressionable adolescent and his descent into crime at a boarding school for the deaf, Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s directorial debut has divided critics and audiences with its audacious approach to dialogue and narrative communication. Regardless, I applaud the ingenuity of Slaboshpytskiy’s method, and I am unabashedly enthused by the film’s apparent courage in its rejection of the well-worn conventions of cinematic language.
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu