Moving Images: The AFI Fest Hot List

Cinephiles rejoice! AFI Fest officially kicks off today. For the next week, a plethora of critically-acclaimed independent films will be premiering for Los Angeles viewers… for free! Ongoing screenings will take place thru November 12th in Hollywood at the TCL Chinese Theatres, Egyptian Theatre and the El Capitan. 

Not sure which films to get tickets to? Here’s our top 10 AFI hot list.

MACBETH

Director: Justin Kurzel Screenwriters: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Paddy Considine

About: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Justin Kurzel have come together to create a visually arresting, formally daring and thematically challenging adaptation of Shakespeare’s bewitched classic. With haunting images and the specter of death looming over its every frame, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) across the killing fields of battle and his Lady Macbeth (Cotillard) through the duplicitous halls of power as both come to grips with horrific betrayal. The creative team pulls off this adaptation with meticulous attention to detail, none more so than in the mud–caked production design of the bleak Scottish isles. MACBETH is a singular, visionary work of art, with a mad, cursed cast of characters spanning the spectrum from the lowest gutters to the highest aristocracy. — Lane Kneedler, afi.com

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CAROL

Director: Todd Haynes Screenwriter: Phyllis Nagy Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Cory Michael Smith

About: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give luminous performances in Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s influential lesbian novel “The Price of Salt.” Mara stars as shopgirl Therese Belivet, underwhelmed by her life working in a department store and dating a young man whose affections for her far surpass hers for him. When glamorous housewife Carol Aird (Blanchett) breezes into her life, Therese must confront suppressed desires that feverishly rush to the surface. As the women begin a relationship, they embark on a cross–country odyssey and come to understand the difficulties of living the life they want in 1950s America. Haynes’ brilliant direction, along with Ed Lachman’s grainy, richly hued cinematography evoking postwar photography, creates one of the most gorgeous films of the year. — Beth Hanna, afi.com

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ANOMALISA

Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, David Thewlis

About: We all are self–obsessed, but customer service guru David Stone is especially so. He’s in Cincinnati for one night to speak at a conference and sign his latest book. As he settles in his chicly generic hotel room and orders room service, it becomes clear that there’s something wrong with the world around him. Using stop–motion puppetry, Charlie Kaufman teams up with animator and co–director Duke Johnson to tell a unique but relatable tale of isolation, connection and interior life. Following up his Russian nesting doll of a directorial debut, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, Kaufman moves in the opposite direction with a film that is smaller, simpler and intimate, but no less stuffed with big ideas about our bizarre world. Through Kaufman and Johnson’s unconventional fractured lens we see our own reality more clearly. With a remarkable script and killer voice performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis and an ever–present Tom Noonan, ANOMALISA is as unique, idiosyncratic and wondrously anomalous as its title suggests. — Lane Kneedler, afi.com

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QUEEN OF THE DESERT

Director: Werner Herzog Screenwriter: Werner Herzog Cast: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson

About: Nicole Kidman stars in the true story of British explorer, cartographer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, who, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, worked with Winston Churchill to draw and define the modern borders of the Middle East. Legendary director Werner Herzog’s epic odyssey recounts Bell’s extraordinary tale with style and aplomb. Bell’s life — which until now had been lost to history — is full of romance, intrigue and courage. Alongside an incredible supporting cast, Kidman disappears into the role of Bell to deliver a performance of quiet conviction. — Lane Kneedler, afi.com

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JAMES WHITE

Director: Josh Mond Screenwriter: Josh Mond Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, Ron Livingston

About: Josh Mond’s directorial debut is an observational coming–of–age drama about a young New Yorker who is forced to take control of his self–destructive lifestyle as he navigates his mother’s fight with a serious illness. Having served as producer on AFTERSCHOOL (AFI FEST 2008), TWO GATES OF SLEEP (AFI FEST 2010) and SIMON KILLER (AFI FEST 2012), Mond moves into the director’s chair for this very personal film, which draws from the experience of losing his own mother to cancer. Mond elicits raw, uninhibited performances from longtime friend Christopher Abbott and from actress Cynthia Nixon, who also lost a mother to cancer and battled the illness herself. These on– and off–screen relationships, along with highly tense visual style, form an intimate, deeply felt film. — Jenn Murphy, afi.com

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STINKING HEAVEN

Director: Nathan Silver Screenwriters: Nathan Silver, Jack Dunphy Cast: Deragh Campbell, Keith Poulson, Hannah Gross, Eléonore Hendricks, Tallie Medel, Henri Douvry, Jason Giampietro, Jason Grisell, Eileen Kearney, Larry Novak

About: Set in a crumbling home for recovering drug addicts in the early 1990s, the latest American ensemble piece from eclectic micro–budget filmmaker Nathan Silver offers a grimy, grating yet utterly authentic and compassionate character study. Capturing the human spirit dwelling in a cocoon of rock–bottom behavior, Silver’s elliptical narrative weaves around its inhabitants with raw energy and ease, cementing the house itself as its central protagonist. The self–run home for sober living is maintained by a couple who guides the wayward members committed to living well for personal sustainability. When they take in a new member who has a history with a current resident, a self–destructive spiral begins. Anchored by a fearlessly committed cast of unsung indie staples and boldly shot in lo–fi video, Silver’s film is imbued with specificity and resilience. Armed with a signature voice and a singular style, the prolific filmmaker delivers both his ugliest and warmest work yet. — Landon Zakheim, afi.com

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THE LOBSTER

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Screenwriters: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Barden, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw

About: A man is brought to a picturesque seaside resort because his wife has recently left him. If he is not romantically recoupled within 45 days, he will turn into an animal. And so director Yorgos Lanthimos smashes his audience into the strange reality of THE LOBSTER. As in his previous two features, DOGTOOTH and ALPS (AFI FEST 2012), Lanthimos creates something slightly removed from the world we know. In this film, he takes things one step further — and to great effect — with an absurdist science–fictional premise. What results is an incisive, trenchant exploration into the nature of society, rebellion, repression, relationships and restriction. The film has plenty to say about the illusory nature of romance and the thin veneer of civilization, with caustically funny performances from John C. Reilly, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux and many others. But it truly hangs on the deadpan, pitch–perfect performance from Colin Farrell as the title character. Through his schlubby despair, he serves as both the audience’s surrogate and its fractured mirror. — Lane Kneedler, afi.com

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FIELD NIGGAS

Director: Khalik Allah Producer: Khalik Allah

About: Khalik Allah’s FIELD NIGGAS is a stylized documentary chronicling summer nights spent at the intersection of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem. Portraiture is woven together with non–sync audio conversations with the neighborhood’s most oppressed and exhausted inhabitants, giving us a deeper sense of their dreams, regrets, opinions, arguments and observations. Allah uses his camera to shine a spotlight on subjects who are often ignored, challenging the audience’s perception of who these people are. Borrowing its title from Malcolm X’s lecture “Message to the Grassroots,” the film was shot in July 2014; the death of Eric Garner occurred midproduction. FIELD NIGGAS serves as a passionate call to rise above our social constructs and view one another simply as human beings. — Jenn Murphy, afi.com

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MUSTANG

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven Screenwriters: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour Cast: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Ayberk Pekcan

Language: Turkish

About: Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature is a coming–of–age story that follows five sisters living in a Turkish village. When a seemingly innocent act challenges the notion of how young women should behave, the sisters are locked away in the family home. All connections to the outside world are removed, dresses are made brown and shapeless and the girls are forced to learn the skills of “good wives” while marriages are arranged. Like wild mustangs, these young women cannot be tamed and instead fight back against the limits and restrictions imposed on them. Written by Turkish-born Ergüven and fellow New Auteurs filmmaker Alice Winocour (DISORDER), MUSTANG is a powerful take on the perception of femininity, morality and sexual repression in contemporary Turkey. Winner of the Europa Cinemas Label award at the 2015 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. — Jenn Murphy, afi.com

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MA

Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall Screenwriter: Celia Rowlson-Hall Cast: Celia Rowlson-Hall, Andrew Pastides, Amy Seimetz, Matt Lauria, Peter Vack

About: Director Celia Rowlson–Hall uses her background as a choreographer to create MA, a modern–day retelling of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage. Here the Virgin figure is Ma (RowlsonHall), a lanky woman who emerges from the desert wearing only a T–shirt, cowboy boots and head towel. She falls in with a similarly lonesome man, and they spend the next few days acting out hyperbolic representations of masculinity, femininity, aggression and submission within a roadside motel room. In an admirably gutsy move, Rowlson–Hall has made the film dialogue–free, a decision that proves brilliant as the meticulously composed cinematography and wild, seething, push–and–pull choreography of the characters speak volumes. Rowlson–Hall peppers the film with recognizable indie faces and the lithe, graceful bodies of dancers to tell a story about gender, power and the bleak spaces of Americana. When Ma reaches her destination, it is nothing short of stunning. — Beth Hanna, afi.com

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