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Fantastic Fest 2013: My Top 5 Anticipated Films

There are just two—count ‘em, two—days until Fantastic Fest 2013 kicks off in Austin , Texas, at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. In case you hadn’t been keeping track, I’ll be there for the majority of the festival covering as many movies as possible. (I will be a movie-watching/reviewing machine, just you watch.) If you’ve been paying attention to Sound on Sight’s Fantastic Fest 2013 lead-up coverage, then you know that films like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills and Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut Man of Tai Chi will be getting the red-carpet treatment before being unveiled to adoring audiences. But as you’ll see from my list of those films I’m anticipating most of all, these big-name movies aren’t there. So what am I dying to see at Fantastic Fest? Which movies are complete must-sees? Read on, friend.

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Escape from Tomorrow

Yes, stop the presses, the guy who hosts a Disney movie podcast is excited to see a movie shot, guerilla-style, at the Disney theme parks. Now, I’m not walking into this film—screening on Friday morning—prepared to attack it for daring to profane the happiest place on Earth. While I love Disney films and the theme parks, I a) get that they’re not for everyone and b) appreciate that a skewed vision about the Disney ethos is potentially prime Lynch-style material. Escape from Tomorrow was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as well as Ebertfest. It’ll be released into theaters and on VOD in early October—and a certain podcast at Sound on Sight might discuss it in full around the same time—but without a doubt, this is my most anticipated film of Fantastic Fest. I’m already humming “it’s a small world” in excitement.

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The Unknown Known

As a first-time visitor to Fantastic Fest, one of my favorite aspects of the fest at this early stage is its diversity of choices. You might assume that this festival is all genre, full of horror and science fiction. But then here we have The Unknown Known, the latest Errol Morris documentary, focusing on the always-controversial politician Donald Rumsfeld and his time in the George W. Bush administration. Morris will be at the festival—the film screens on Saturday afternoon—to be inducted into the Badass Hall of Fame. His appearance aside, The Unknown Known strikes my fancy not just because Morris is one of the great documentary filmmakers but because his The Fog of War (profiling Robert McNamara in, presumably, similar fashion) was one of 2003’s best films. My hope is that The Unknown Known will be a deliberately infuriating follow-up.

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The Congress

Again, I suppose this is because of my passion for animation, but The Congress is maybe a predictable choice. Still, I’m excited to see Ari Folman’s follow-up to Waltz With Bashir, an arresting example of how animation can be used to tell any story, not just those targeted at children and families. The Congress, based on a Stanislaw Lem novel and starring Robin Wright as herself, is likely going to continue that streak. This film will also be a mix of live-action and animation, so I’m curious to see how Folman can balance using the two mediums. Plus, along with Wright, the cast includes Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitel, and Paul Giamatti. I’m already mentally in line for the screening (it’ll premiere on Sunday). Bring it on.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

No, why don’t YOU? Oh, wait, that was a rhetorical question. Seriously, though, another delightful aspect of Fantastic Fest is the number of films from abroad, as well as from directors whose work I’m mostly unfamiliar with. Or, in the case of Sion Sono, totally unfamiliar with. I’m not sure if Why Don’t You Play in Hell? will be the best introduction to Sono’s filmography, but the concept—about a yakuza whose quest for revenge collides with the ambitions of a group of amateur filmmakers known as The Fuck Bombers—sounds positively twisted in the best sense. And seeing as it won the Midnight Madness award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (premiering just before midnight on Thursday the 19th) arrives in Austin with an impressive pedigree indeed. Whether or not hell is an ideal playground, I’m intrigued to see it for myself.

Grand Piano

From what I understand, Elijah Wood has become as much of a standby at Fantastic Fest as the Fantastic Debates—this year, including one in which Keanu Reeves debates Drafthouse founder Tim League about the merits of Tai Chi—so it’s no surprise that he’ll be appearing this year. This time, it’s in conjunction with his latest film, Grand Piano, also starring John Cusack as a faceless sniper who threatens to kill Wood’s concert pianist if he misses a note during his latest performance. Now, let’s not mince words: this premise is ridiculous, but I admit to being a sucker for these kinds of self-contained ideas. I read the logline of Grand Piano, premiering Friday night, and am put in mind of Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, a fun little exercise in technique and tension. With Wood and Cusack in the main roles, I hope that Grand Piano doesn’t disappoint on even that level.

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Honorable Mention

Again, no mincing words: I will not be able to see every film at Fantastic Fest. (Please, sir, stop crying. I appreciate the sentiment, but you can calm down.) Part of this is because I’ll be attending the first five nights of the festival, and leaving on Tuesday the 24th. Sadly, real life can only wait for so many days. Thus, I will include Fantastic Fest’s closing night selection here, as I presume I won’t be given an opportunity to see it at a press screening: Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I was attending all eight days, this would be on the regular list. But if I don’t get to see it, I don’t get to see it. Other honorable mentions include Cheap Thrills, starring Pat Healy and David Koechner; Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, directed by Stephen Chow; Ragnarok, a Norwegian adventure tale, because the phrase “Norwegian adventure tale” is cool and I won’t hear any debate on the matter; Kid’s Police, in which a group of policemen regress, via drug, to children; and Borgman, which is now not only the first Dutch film in competition at Cannes but also the official selection for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.

Again, the motto for this year’s Fantastic Fest will be too many movies, not enough time. But I’ll try, Ringo. I’ll try real hard. Keep an eye out here for my reviews, and to see if I lose my mind quickly or gradually. Should be fun!


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