Film festivals are a unique opportunity for movie buffs: There’s live-theater anticipation in seeing a film that either hasn’t been widely released or has been absent from the silver screen in decades. Without a distributor, some of these gems may never be seen again. (Honestly, isn’t that part of the lure?) And in the company of other rabid movie enthusiasts, mutually geeking out about these masterworks in condensed real-time doesn’t just feel good; it feels correct.
It’s certainly no secret that since 1991, the Philadelphia Film Festival has been bringing the best entries among the nation’s festival circuit to our fair city, as well as foreign films, indie sneak peeks and commemorative big-screen revivals. This year’s 10-day gathering, set for Oct. 17 through Oct. 27, is bigger than ever, with over 80 feature films slated in five venues.
For a head start, here’s a preview of special events and screenings on deck at the 2013 PFF that come with the PW stamp of approval.
All Is Lost. In case Gravity didn’t sate your desire for wracking stories of a solitary human life pitted against the immeasurable fury of nature, the opening-night festivities feature a special screening of J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, a one-man naval disaster tale that’s already garnering awards buzz for star Robert Redford. Thurs., Oct. 17, 8pm. Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia. Join Jonathan Demme for a 20-year anniversary screening of his 1993 drama, which has become a touchstone of gay cinema for its frank portrayal of homophobia and the problems faced by the gay community in light of the AIDS epidemic. Afterward, Demme will discuss this Oscar-winning work, as well as the upcoming Fear of Falling, adapted from Ibsen’s The Master Builder. Tues., Oct. 22, 8:30pm. Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.
The Invisible Lighthouse. Musician Thomas Dolby strikes gold with a unique documentary he wrote, directed and edited as an exquisite tribute to the beloved lighthouse of his youth on an island in East Anglia. The Invisible Lighthouse blends its impressionistic film footage with live music composed by Dolby, alongside sound effects by guest foley artist Blake Leyh. Thurs., Oct. 24, 8pm. The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St.
Let the Fire Burn. See capsule.
Days of Heaven. Terrence Malick’s films are often not so much narratives as cinematic meditations on themes, their scripts esoteric, their downbeats breathing within the kind of visuals that make you understand why movies are made. Days of Heaven, one of his most sharply-observed films, is technically a quasi-Western about a love triangle gone tangled, and its leads project every expression with the frame-swallowing intensity of a silent film. But ultimately, with Malick, the camera loves its characters most as figurines in a landscape so striking, it seems almost fantasy—here, they stand amid the wide grass-seas, under the achingly vast sky. Sun., Oct. 20, 8pm. Ritz East, 125 S. Second St.
Cold Eyes. This Korean thriller, a remake of 2007 Hong Kong action flick Eye in the Sky, has been making the rounds at film festivals this year. Focused on a police surveillance unit and the new rookie’s quest to intercept an elusive bank robber and earn her place on the team, this movie settles comfortably amid genre tropes, though it’s framed as much like a high-stakes heist as a cop thriller. Han Hyo-joo and Sol Kyung-Goo are particularly good, respectively, as the rookie Ha Yoon-Joo and her mentor, Chief Hwang, giving the genre a boost that’s swift, slick and stylish. Thurs., Oct. 24, 7pm. Ritz East, 125 S. Second St.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Outstanding actor Idris Elba has burst from under the radar to become a cinema darling in recent years for roles as varied as the BBC’s Luther and the apocalypse-canceling patriarch of Pacific Rim. Though director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) might be stretching himself thin in this attempt to cover several decades in the life of the visionary Nelson Mandela, it’s safe to say Elba will shine. Wed., Oct. 23, 8:30pm. Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.
Blue Highway. This indie comedy follows a young couple cross-country as they visit their favorite movie locations and begin to reevaluate their future. Blue Highway offers a glimpse of the fest’s Rising Star Award recipient, Kerry Bishé. If you prefer your rising stars in something faster-paced, stick around to check out Bishé in the concert hall thriller Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood as a pianist attempting to bang out the Rach 3 and thwart a sniper in real time. Sat., Oct. 19, 7:45pm. Ritz East, 125 S. Second St. Grand Piano screens at 9:45pm.
Philomena. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in a movie you should see ‘cause it stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Wed., Oct. 23, 6:30pm. Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.
The German Doctor. This Spanish-language film follows a family in post-WWII Argentina and their entanglements with a German doctor who insists their daughter is a “perfect specimen.” This gripping, creepy drama about the evil next door was a smash at Cannes and has already been named Argentina’s selection for next year’s foreign-language Oscar. Tues., Oct. 22, 3:10pm. Ritz East, 125 S. Second St.
Nebraska. Bruce Dern, whose spent a career subsuming himself in compelling performances in movies from Walter Hill’s The Driver to Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. His festival appearance this year is in Nebraska, also a road-tripper, as the alcoholic Woody, whose increasing dementia leads him to believe he’s won the lottery. Will Forte plays his son, who decides to literally go along for the ride. Sat., Oct. 19, 8:30pm. Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.
Mary, Queen of Scots. “She knocked at my door,” said Thomas Imbach at TIFF on the central character of his obsessively personal period drama. Though he’d initially planned to make a modern adaptation, he eventually decided to keep her in-period and “focus on the psychological,” using Stefan Zweig’s 1935 biography as a starting point. Camille Rutherford, a relative newcomer, was hand-picked for her magnetism as the title character, and Imbach turned to films like Barry Lyndon as inspiration for the film’s gorgeous landscapes and dream-logic intimacy. Sat., Oct. 19, 2:30pm. Ritz East, 125 S. Second St.