Three Imaginary Girls

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King Curling

A true 'best-of' SIFF 2012 program, IMHO, would include gritty French drama Polisse, Russian chiller Elena, Argentine road movie Las Acacias, French-Canadian melodrama Wetlands, Dutch sensuality experiment 170 Hz, and a number of exceptional documentaries (How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter, Wonder Women, and especially Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present).

And while I've never really claimed to be tuned to the collective frequency of the SIFFgoing public, it's still tough to fathom the dreary Any Day Now winning 2012's top audience award. But win it did, and it's among 18 features and one shorts package playing at SIFF Cinema's 'Best' of SIFF 2012 series unspooling this weekend. None of my personal favorites will be there, but some are indeed coming (again) soon to a theater near you.

Of SIFF's 'best of' films I've seen (75% of them, in fact, if you include the three which begin regular week-long runs at SIFF's cinemas on Friday), I only posted a solid-ish recommendation to one: Welcome to Doe Bay. But had I seen a few others earlier — Extraterrestrial, King Curling, The Invader — I'd've given them my version of a thumbs-up too and notified you about them before they screened. I'm glad I can give them some love now.

But I'm realistic about how much my opinion really counts for here, so proceed with cautious optimism as you leverage the opportunity to see some audience- and jury-award honorees (alongside a few non-winners that SIFF programmers apparently just saw fit to screen again), explore a few flicks the intrepid TIG film staff didn't make it to, and catch up on some of the general SIFFiness you may've missed out on over the past month. All screenings are at the Uptown unless otherwise noted.

DAILY, June 15-21; see listings for showtimes:

Extraterrestrial{Runner-up: Best Director Golden Space Needle Award}
Julio wakes up in Julia's bed, after a night neither of them remembers very well; their awkward, hungover morning-after grows even stranger when they discover that colossal alien spaceships have appeared over Madrid. This is a quick and pleasant little romp by Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo, who did a charming and funny Q&A at the SIFF screening I attended. I can't promise Extraterrestrial will be quite as magical in his absence.

{at the SIFF Film Center}
Even a slight misfire by Guy Maddin is more interesting than most festival films you'll encounter. Here he's created a phantasmagorical, mostly-digital mélange of noir, ghost story, and Homer's Odyssey; Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini star. It's no Cowards Bend the Knee, but it's worth checking out, perhaps under the influence of your mind-altering substance of choice. Imaginary Amie called it "weird and wonderful and full of beauty".

The Woman in the Fifth
A struggling American novelist named Tom (Ethan Hawke), rebuffed after making his way to Paris to make amends with his ex-wife and young daughter, finds that his downward spiral is just beginning: he's robbed, then offered a mysterious job — the most interesting part of the movie — in exchange for room and board at a sketchy hotel. Then a stylish and equally mysterious translator named Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) enters the picture. And then… well, I honestly stopped caring about the film's many loose ends about five minutes after I left the theater, but I was entertained enough while I was watching.


4:30pm: Welcome to Pine Hill
Welcome to Pine Hill{Winner: FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film }
A recently reformed drug dealer (non-pro Shannon Harper, playing a version of himself) currently working as a NYC insurance claims adjuster by day and a bouncer at night, receives a horrifying medical diagnosis and begins to re-examine his past. This sets up an often compelling film that never gets too preachy or heavy-handed; it's undeniably touching to observe the steps Shannon takes toward spiritual redemption, but the mostly-improvised action is very slow-going, and at times borderline dull.

7pm: Fat Kid Rules the World
{Runner-up: Best Film Golden Space Needle Award}
Actor-turned-director Matthew Lillard brings us the good-natured Seattle-set story of overweight teen Troy (Jacob Wysocki, who had a similar role in Terri last year) and druggie dropout Marcus (Matt O'Leary, who has a similar role in Eden this year). Marcus saves Troy from an ill-planned suicide attempt, then begins using him for food and drug money… when he isn't flaking out or making questionable transactions in Volunteer Park (!). Marcus is a leech, full of promises he cannot keep; Troy needs a friend and through Marcus finds something to strive for. The film has the broad naïveté of an after-school special; it's often frustrating but never horrible.

9:30pm: King Curling
A recent OCD diagnosee and avid team curler named Truls is banned from competition after an unfortunate outburst; things go further downhill when he separates from his demented wife, and learns that his beloved former coach is near death. In hopes of winning cash to pay for his mentor's operation he tosses his meds and sets out to convince his teammate buddies that he's mentally stable enough to lead them to victory in the Norwegian Curling Championship. Fun Scandinavian drollness ensues. I got the most laughs from one particularly douchey teammate with a penchant for spouting potty-mouth English-language movie quotes.


11am: The Long Ride Home
The Long Ride Home{Runner-up: Best Documentary Golden Space Needle Award}
This documentary didn't hit our radar during the festival, but I heard positive rumblings and look forward to checking it out this weekend. SIFF program summary: "Mercer Island resident Kevin Mincio rode 4,200 miles in 95 days to keep a promise to a fallen soldier and friend. His story spans from Goldman Sachs on 9/11, to conducting combat operations in Iraq, to the challenges of returning as a veteran."

2pm: Ethel
{Runner-up: Best Documentary Golden Space Needle Award}
Word's good on this doc, too. "Robert and Ethel Kennedy's youngest child, acclaimed documentarian Rory Kennedy, directs this affectionate portrait of her mother, who supported her husband's political ambitions while never losing her quirky, independent spirit."

4:30pm: The Invader
{Winner: Best New Director Grand Jury Prize}
An illegal African worker in Brussels sees a possible opportunity for advancement (or at least some hot sexytime — and I mean to tell you it is the best kind of nasty) with a sophisticaled businesswoman somehow associated with the man who arranged for his sketchy border transport. She learns the truth, their liaison hits the skids, and a very dark downward spiral ensues. An ambitious, compelling (and did I mention hot) politically-tinged urban thriller.

7pm: Starbuck
{Runner-up: Best Film Golden Space Needle Award}
A middle-aged Québec fuckup named David is confronted with a class-action lawsuit by 142 of the 500+ twentysomethings who resulted from 600+ (!) sperm donations he deposited way back when. As much affection as I have for the movie, and for David as he finds these kids and helps them out in small ways, My Name Is Earl style, the frustrating broadness (and often flat-out ridiculousness) that surrounds it all kept Starbuck from my full endorsement. Roxie Rider liked it more than I did, calling it a "satisfying fairy tale". There's already an American remake in the works, with Vince Vaughn attached to star. (Yikes.)

9:30pm: Best of SIFF 2012 Shorts
I didn't see most of the films in this selection of audience and jury favorite shorts (full roster on, but it should be an entertaining and enlightening package. I'm partial to a documentary about Chicago window washers called Paradise; it's a thoughtful and quietly rousing film that absolutely deserves its Documentary Short Grand Jury prize.


2pm: Ira Finkelstein's Christmas
Ira Finkelstein's Christmas{Runner-up: Best Film Golden Space Needle Award}
A heartwarming holiday movie in June? I dunno: "Local writer/director Sue Corcoran (Gory, Gory Hallelujah) creates a smart, subversive family comedy that follows one young Jewish boy's quest to have the best first Christmas ever."

4:30pm: The Other Dream Team
{Runner-up: Best Documentary Golden Space Needle Award}
Another buzzy, sporty doc we didn't get to: "At the '92 Olympics, the glitzy American basketball team grabbed headlines, but the underdog Lithuanian team stole hearts by winning bronze and reclaiming its post-Soviet freedom in the process." I'm checking it out Sunday, despite trepidation that Kriss Kross' "Jump" could very well be part of the soundtrack.

7pm: Superclásico
A Danish sports agent named Anna (the usually brilliant Paprika Steen) has left chilly Copenhagen for caliente Buenos Aires and a hunky futbol star; the story commences as her estranged husband and creepazoid teen son visit unexpectedly, with all the fish-out-of-water non-hilarity you expect. Subsequent action goes down during a big local soccer match called the Superclásico: the husband is made to look even schlubbier, while the son has a ridiculous love affair with a completely different hot local. Silly garbage, and not the fun kind.

9:30pm: Earthbound
British sci-fi romcom about a manchild who believes that he's an intergalactic alien, and that he must find a human female with whom he can travel through a wormhole and propagate his dying species. Or something. The eccentric and seemingly delusional hero is a bit like the Mark Duplass character in (the much better) Safety Not Guaranteed, but Earthbound's broad, silly story and irritatingly obtrusive soundtrack ultimately keep it from approaching orbit.


8pm: Welcome to Doe Bay
Welcome to Doe Bay{Proceeds from this screening will benefit the Friends of Cafe Racer memorial campaign.}
This nicely-assembled, big-hearted documentary about the adored Orcas Island music fest features some astounding performances by the likes of The Maldives, Campfire OK, Pickwick, and Damien Jurado. I personally have never sipped the Doe Bay Kool-Aid and therefore I must report some major PNW hippity-earnestness going full tilt here — depending on your state of mind and your frame of reference you could very well think you're watching Portlandia at select moments. (There's footage of a communal makeshift Slip-n-Slide, OK?) But being a TIG reader you'll surely find much to enjoy in the sounds; Champagne Champagne's segment alone is worth the time and ticket.


8pm: Five Star Existence
{Winner: Documentary Films Competition Grand Jury Prize}
Per the SIFF program description: "With the world at our fingertips, does technology make us freer or happier? This is the core question of Sonja Lindén's beautifully shot, contemplative essay on the intertwining of man and machine." This documentary didn't make Team TIG's coverage at all; maybe we were too plugged-in to notice it. Personally I'm not addicted to my technology and I can stop anytime. Well, after I submit this post, answer a backlog of email, watch my queue of TV stories and play a round of Angry Birds Friends on FB. OK?


8pm: Eden
Eden{Winner: Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision; Seattle Reel NW Award; Golden Space Needle Audience Award for Best Actress}
Local filmmaker (and Stranger Genius shortlister) Megan Griffiths brings us the unsettling based-on-reality story of one Hyun Jae (Jamie Chung), who accepts the wrong ride home one wild night and soon finds herself imprisoned somewhere beneath Las Vegas in a colony of sex slaves. She's re-named "Eden" and her ordeal lasts for more than two years; she survives it by building the trust of boss Beau Bridges' (!) right hand man, Vaughan (Matt O'Leary). I saw Eden with Amie and she liked it quite a lot; I felt it didn't pack the wallop a true story this eye-opening should. But I think we agree that it's well-executed, features some very good performances, and has an ending that's hopeful if not quite satisfying.


8pm: Any Day Now
{Winner: Golden Space Needle Audience Awards for Best Film and Best Actor. SRSLY?}
Frustrating based-on-reality weeper that features quite possibly the worst filmed drag performance since Holiday Heart. A closeted gay couple in late-'70s L.A. (Alan Cumming and Garrett Dillahunt, aka the elder dad from Raising Hope) become unofficial foster parents to a teenager with Down Syndrome (Isaac Leyva) after his druggie mom is put away. Then things go horribly awry when authorities discover the true nature of Alan and Garrett's relationship. Don Franklin eventually pops up in a small role, sporting a bad afro wig but providing a much-needed spark in an otherwise maudlin and burdensome dud.

Your thoughts? Are any of your SIFF favorites missing from the lineup?