Feel like getting the rest of the year’s movie-watching over with in 10 days? Well, you’re in luck: The Mill Valley Film Festival, which has frequently prided itself on being the awards-anticipatory Bay Area event of the season, has outdone itself in 2019. Yes, there may be a handful of prestige films that have yet to premiere anywhere, and which will duly be in contention for Oscars in a few months. But practically everything else is in MVFF this Thursday through October 13. Seriously.
Its programmers have siphoned the cream of last month’s Toronto, Telluride and Venice festivals, plus various earlier-in-the-year ones, and invited half the related talent as well. Unless you’re really psyched for the likes of Cats, Jumanji: The Next Level or Star Wars: The Rise of Luke Skywalker, you could pretty much spend the next week and a half in Marin gorging yourself, then with a clean conscience see nothing else until it’s 2020. What’s more, some of MVFF’s selections may seldom be seen again on the big screen, given the new industry reality in which even a long-awaited, 3 1/2 hour new epic from Martin Scorcese (The Irishman) is expected to basically bypass theatrical release and go straight to Netflix.
The awards hopefuls on display start with official opening nighter Just Mercy, a dramatization of a serious real-life racial injustice case that stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Fox and Brie Larson. The “Centerpiece” film on Wed/9 is Krisha and It Comes at Night director Trey Edward Schulz’s Waves, an intense and impressive fiction about an affluent African-American family in Miami coming apart at the seams from the self-applied pressure to “excel.” Closing night is shared by two films: James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, with designer Matt Damon and driver Christian Bale as men driven to challenge the seemingly unbeatable Enzo Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans race; and Motherless Brooklyn, director-scenarist-star Edward Norton’s adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s cult novel about an unusual private eye in 1950s NYC.
Elsewhere, there are tributes to Swedish Film Institute CEO and industry gender-equity activist Anna Serner; actress turned Booksmart director Olivia Wilde; actor Robert Pattinson, starring in B&W period thriller The Lighthouse from The Witch’s Robert Eggers; the ex-con turned distinctive screen staple profiled in new documentary Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo; esteemed British director Michael Apted, who’ll screen 63 Up, the latest chapter in his career-long nonfiction project; Oscar-jockeying actresses Kristen Stewart (Seberg), Alfre Woodard (Clemency) and Laura Dern. The latter is memorable as a ruthless LA divorce lawyer in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, and she’ll present that excellent new film with her director and other cast members on Sat/12.
Looking backward, the festival also presents a tribute to Barbara Rush, whose acting career over the last seven decades encompassed a huge amount of TV work as well as movie roles, and purportedly (at age 92) isn’t quite finished yet. There will be screenings of two newly restored modern classics with Bay Area ties: Nancy Kelly’s 1990 Thousand Pieces of Gold adapts Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel about a Chinese peasant girl who improbably ends up making her way amidst the Gold Rush fever of the 1880s American West; while Phil Kaufman’s 1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an exquisite translation of Milan Kundera’s sensuous Czech literary love triangle.
There’s yet more awards-bait titles elsewhere in the program, including all-star drama Blackbird, Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed Parasite, Tubman biopic Harriet, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, hot-air-balloon tale The Aeronauts, Ira Sachs’ Frankie, Japanese master Kore-eda’s The Truth, Russian Beanpole, Eddie Murphy vehicle Dolemite Is My Name, Shia LeBeouf roman a clef Honey Boy, whistleblower docudrama The Report, French period piece Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Rian Johnson’s old-school mystery Knives Out, Almodovar’s latest Pain and Glory, Norwegian bestseller adaptation Out Stealing Horses, Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You and Anthony Meirelles’ The Two Popes.
But there are also a number of world premieres. Among them are locally produced features like Kara Herold’s semi-animated, semi-autobiographical 39 1/2 and MVFF regular Rob Nilsson’s Arid Cut. There’s also two U.S. comedies, Prarthana Mohan’s The Miseducation of Bindu and Julio Vincent Gambuto’s Team Marco. Documentaries making their bow include Kevin McKiernan’s overview of Native American activism From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock, Emily Harris’ 60s flashback You Say You Want a Revolution?, Chikara Motomura’s Japanese printmaking odyssey Journey to Hokusai, and Sarah Feinbloom’s What Do You Believe Now?, in which she follows up with six subjects last interviewed as teens in 2002.
Other nonfiction features include ones about the Dalai Lama (The Great 14th), self-driving cars (Autonomy), Johnny Cash (The Gift), war in Syria (The Cave), Imelda Marcos (The Kingmaker), bluegrass trailblazer Alice Gerrard (You Gave Me a Song), cinematic sound design (Making Waves), an American-engineered 1953 regime overthrow in Iran (Coup 53), a Scottish teen “in trouble” (Scheme Birds), a transgender woman’s challenges (Why Can’t I Be Me Around You?) veterinary holistics (The Dog Doc), a stop-motion animation innovator (Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters), the perils of “factory farming” (Right to Harm), environmental waste issues (The Story of Plastic), and the equally abhorrent man who helped make our current POTUS what he is today (Where’s My Roy Cohn?).
As ever at MVFF, there will be plenty of live musical events (as well as music-related film programs); an assortment of panels, “master classes” and workshops; numerous programs designed for family viewing; and the “5@5” bills of shorts. Special sidebars this year include Viva el Cine!, spotlighting Spanish-language cinema; “Mind the Gap”events promoting industry gender parity; a “Queer-Ish” lineup of LGBTQ-interest movies; and still more.
The 42nd Mill Valley Film Festival is held at various Marin County venues Thurs/3-October 133. Visit www.mfff.com for full program and ticketing information.