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2017 AFI Fest Must-Sees

The conclusion of the film festival season and the start of serious awards talk begins with AFI Fest. Set amongst the movie palaces of Hollywood, AFI Fest is where several of the Oscar frontrunners come to play – or make their official debut – and numerous independent auteurs showcase their latest.

The big question is whether AFI will hold onto their closing night film, Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, in the wake of allegations against its star, Kevin Spacey. The film, considered a possible awards contender, would be receiving its debut showing after screening for SAG members. Rumors swirling around Film Twitter maintain that the festival could pull the film in favor of the highly anticipated Steven Spielberg drama, The Post which has remained under wraps.

Outside of that the festival will give a forum for works like the critically beloved Call Me By Your Name, which has seemingly played at every festival and has an increasingly rabid following. Screenings are also being planned for two female-centric features and possible Best Actress nominees: Jessica Chastain’s Molly’s Game and the Margot Robbie/Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya.

The Young Folks will be on the ground at AFI to cover as much as possible, but here are 18 features playing at the AFI Film Festival you should keep on your radar.

APRIL’S DAUGHTER

This Mexican drama from Michel Franco follows 17-year-old Valeria who is pregnant and living with her sister. Things take a turn when Valeria’s mother returns into her life, leaving everyone to question her intentions. AFI is a great place to discover films with engaging plots and April’s Daughter sounds like a fascinating mother/daughter thriller in a year that’s been about capturing that relationship. (I think it’s safe to assume Lady Bird this is not.) Its leading lady, Emma Suarez is best known for her performance in Julieta from last year.

BODIED

Bodied is music video director Joseph’s Kahn satirical look at battle rapping that’s getting a whole mess of praise from critics. (The film currently boasts a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.) The musical genre has taken several unique forms over the years so maybe there’s room for a Battle Royale-esque take on the rap battle.

THE BREADWINNER

Produced by Angelina Jolie, The Breadwinner is an animated drama about a young girl whose father is wrongfully arrested by the Taliban in 2001. The film – a co-production between Canada, Ireland, and Luxembourg – released a beautiful trailer recently. The Best Animation field at this year’s Oscar is looking weak, so The Breadwinner could very well become a serious contender for the award in a few months time.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Based on the novel by Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is a film that needs no introduction to the fervid fanbase that’s championed it since its first festival screenings. Starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name tells the love story between two young men in Italy in the ’80s. Helmed by Luca Guadagnino of A Bigger Splash fame the movie holds a remarkable 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and is being considered the frontrunner for a slew of awards, including Best Picture. This isn’t just a must-see film of the festival, it’s the must-see film of the year.

THE DISASTER ARTIST

Regular collaborators James Franco and Seth Rogen want to tell audiences about the making of the “worst movie ever made,” Tommy Wiseau’s infamous The Room. With comparisons about it being akin to Ed Wood, The Disaster Artist is receiving its fair share of praise. The Wood comparisons seem apropos considering that film nabbed a supporting actor Oscar which could happen for Franco. The question is whether that will translate to audiences who don’t know a thing about The Room or Wiseau himself.

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Director Paul McGuigan tells the story of film actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and her relationship with a struggling actor (Jamie Bell). Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has an interesting premise, if only because Grahame’s life was so colorful – and it’s assumed the film won’t depict much of it. Talk remains high that Bening might see a career nomination for this role, especially considering how Hollywood loves praising itself, which could make it memorable in spite of mixed reviews.

FITS AND STARTS

This year has seen the apotheosis of the cute couple comedy with The Big Sick, but that’s not to say there can’t be other films in the same vein. Director Laura Terruso’s debut feature, Fits and Starts, has a similar relationship at its heart in its story of two people trying to overcome issues in their relationship. In this case it’s Wyatt Cenac’s David, a writer struggling to deal with being less successful than his wife, played by Greta Lee. So the film may not have the medical hurdle of The Big Sick, but both films, at their core, are about the challenges of compromise in relationships. The cast looks fantastic and there’s always room for more female filmmakers.

GEMINI

After the success of La La Land the Los Angeles-set film has return to prominence and I couldn’t be happier. One film hoping to take a page from the L.A. noir handbook is Aaron Katz’s Gemini, a thriller about a personal assistant (Lola Kirke) and her codependent relationship with her boss (Zoe Kravitz). Director Katz has said Gemini pays homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma which should be enough to prick up your ears.

HOSTILES

Director Scott Cooper is a director you either love or hate. He directed Jeff Bridges to an Academy Award in Crazy Heart, and he secured Johnny Depp a nod for Black Mass. He next turns to securing Christian Bale an award with Hostiles, the story of an Army captain escorting a Native American prisoner to Montana in the 1890s. Scott’s films are known for their elegiac, deliberate pace and that’s often perceived as slowness. Regardless, Bale is always solid and Hostiles also includes amazing side performers like Rosamund Pike and Ben Foster. This could very well be a critics darling that gets serious attention come awards time.

I, TONYA

If someone had told me Hollywood was making a Tonya Harding biopic that was a serious Oscar contender….I’d have been so happy! Directed by Craig Gillespie, this black comedy – comparisons are being drawn to To Die ForI, Tonya tells the story of the infamous figure skater (played by Margot Robbie), and her rise and fall from grace. The first red-band trailer definitely plays up the Kidman comparisons and the dark comic angle. Talk is already swirling that this will secure Robbie a nomination, as well as Alison Janney playing Harding’s colorful mother.

IN THE FADE

Speaking of actresses making a splash, there’s been nothing but a wave of positivity for actress Diane Kruger starring as a grieving mother/wife seeking revenge in In the Fade. Director Fatih Akin’s drama is giving Kruger some of her strongest notices yet, with many saying she could be this year’s Isabelle Huppert.

JIM & ANDY

There are 170 documentaries competing for Best Documentary Feature and one contender is Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. In 2000 Jim Carrey won a Golden Globe for his role as comedian Andy Kaufman in the 1999 film Man on the Moon. Jim & Andy shows Carrey’s work on that feature, paralleling with the actor’s life and that of the subject he was playing. The Hollywood documentary is always worth a watch, especially when it shows the interplay of actor and performer.

MOLLY’S GAME

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a young woman who dominated the celebrity landscape with her expensive, exclusive poker games. The problems start when the feds show up. Outside of giving Chastain a Best Actress nomination, this marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. There’s a serious possibility that Sorkin’s past work could inspire goodwill towards getting him a Best Director nomination.

MR. ROOSEVELT

Mr. Roosevelt is the debut feature from director/screenwriter Noel Wells and tells the story of a struggling comedian trying to reconcile with her life and past after the illness of a loved one. So if Fits and Stars doesn’t remind you of The Big Sick, this one will. Wells’ first time directing and screenwriting has connected with audiences, winning the Audience Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. The movie’s dramedy is definitely welcome in a year where the two seem required to survive in these times.

MUDBOUND

The latest from Pariah director Dee Rees is a 1940s set drama exploring the racial divide of a small Mississippi town and two families. Rees has garnered massive acclaim since her debut film and Mudbound is receiving praise that’s equally as high. It will be released by Netflix on the 17th so there’s a fear that it’s awards campaign might be overshadowed by those who remain resistant to new media avenues. Either way the first trailer looks blisteringly timely and the cast – consisting of Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan – looks astounding.

THE SHAPE OF WATER

There’s never a bad time to appreciate director Guillermo del Toro and his latest feature, The Shape of Water, looks to be a unique take on the Beauty and the Beast story. It follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a deaf mute janitor who works at an experimental testing facility. She meets a mysterious creature (played by del Toro regular Doug Jones) and the two embark on an unconventional relationship. This has been a very weird year for disabled narratives – with positives and negatives on both sides. Early reviews indicated del Toro might be trying something new with disability here, especially with Hawkins’ character, which sounds promising. On top of that, del Toro is a master auteur and every his worst features boast something worth seeing (though the reviews on this have been stellar).

THELMA

Joachim Trier’s foreign drama Thelma intrigues by how little is known about its plot. The film presumably revolves around a young woman whose parents fear her independence due to mysterious powers. What is there to fear about Thelma? The possibilities are endless and the secrets are being kept tight from reviews of the film that have come out.

THOROUGHBREDS

Comparisons to Heavenly Creatures and Heathers swirl around director Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds and that’s enough to get my attention. The film follows two teen girls (played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) who have to band together to deal with a parental issue. Both Taylor-Joy and Cookie are solid performers, especially the former who made an indelible impression in The VVitch and Split earlier this year. Black comedy is looking to be a hot commodity this year between this and I, Tonya.

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