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Must-see, worth-seeing and disappointing films from SIFF 2014

2014 Seattle International Film Festival
Seattle International Film Festival

With the 25-day long marathon Seattle International Film Festival finished and the 'Best of SIFF' series wrapping up this week, now is the perfect time to take a look back at the movies I watched during the festival.

With more than 450 feature-length and short films screening during the insanely long schedule, it's impossible to watch even a majority of the films screened at SIFF. Even watching 25 films meant watching at least one film per day on average during SIFF - but the reality meant spending some weekends running between Seattle-area theaters to watch three or four movies in a single a day.

Watch trailers of films featured at SIFF 2014

Most films screened at SIFF didn't have trailers released when the program schedule was unveiled April 30. Putting together a schedule of which films means taking a flier/chance on any movie based on its film-making pedigree (director or producers), cast, topic or simply its topic.

Best film of SIFF 2014:

"Boyhood" (watch the trailer): The latest film from director Richard Linklater is a micro epic that's every bit as perfectly executed as it is ambitious in its conception. Shot over twelve years with the same core of actors, "Boyhood" defies every convention of storytelling to show the incremental growth of a young boy into adulthood. The sheer boldness of shooting a film over 12 years earns "Boyhood" a significant degree-of-difficulty bonus, yet this story delivers in telling a compelling, sweet and emotional story of a young boy's coming of age. Linklater's masterful direction and the incredible cast never lets "Boyhood" become reduced as simply a movie with a gimmick - this is a well-acted, well told story of one family's journey across time and space. -- US theatrical release date: July 11.


"To Kill a Man" (watch the trailer): The fundamentals of storytelling is placing a character into a conflict, and watching them change. The more intense the conflict and the more dynamic the change - the greater the story value. These are the dramatic principles this Chilean drama absolutely nails in telling the story of a meek man who, in order to protect his family, is pushed to his moral and ethical limits. -- US theatrical release date: TBD.

"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" (watch the trailer): Easily one of the most talked about films during SIFF was this absurdly violent and oddly sweet comedy about a centenarian who escapes from his old folk's home on his 100th birthday. This over-the-top comedy somehow weaves together a hilarious tale of the old man's misadventures in his past 100 years -- which includes helping build the atomic bomb and spending time in a gulag -- while following his unlikely encounters with skinheads, a circus elephant and a trail of dead bodies. -- US theatrical release date: TBD.

"Unforgiven" (watch the trailer): The classic 1992 masterpiece directed by Clint Eastwood did not just win Best Picture at the Academy Awards - it's heralded as the greatest Western film of all time. And somehow, this 2013 remake set in the Meiji era of Japan arguably feels like a better fit than the 1992 original set in the American west. This remake trades former cowboys for former samurai, who must find their place in a new Westernized society that has all but eliminated the samurai in Japan. -- US theatrical release date: TBD

"In Order of Disappearance" (watch the trailer): This incredibly bleak and violent film is also one of the funniest movies to screen at SIFF. This dark comedy demands audiences laugh - even during some pitch black scenes of brutal gang violence. This movie combines the dark sense of humor of a Coen Brother movie with the unflinching bleakness of the "Dirty Harry" series as it tells the story of a model citizen's murderous hunt for his son's killer. US theatrical release date: TBD

"The Better Angels" (watch the trailer): This is one of the best Terrence Malick films that Terrence Malick didn't direct -- and were it not for the fact that he produced this beautiful film, "The Better Angels" could be accused of being a wholesale ripoff of Malick's unique style. "The Better Angels" is cinematic art - a beautiful execution of the visual, textual nature of filmmaking to tell the story of young Abraham Lincoln's life. This film is a perfect example of a beautifully shot film with minimal dialogue that relies more on mood and nuance for storytelling. -- US theatrical release date: fall 2014.

"The One I Love" (watch a clip): It's hard to put a label on exactly which genre this film falls into: it's as much a comedy as it is as romantic drama -- combined with exciting sci-fi elements. And it's hard to summarize without spoiling its incredibly entertaining narrative "twist" - a story development that adds exciting dimension to this story of a struggling couple trying to rekindle their relationship. One of the great compliments any film can receive is that people will absolutely talk about it after watching it -- and this applies to "The One I Love" on multiple thematic and narrative levels. -- US theatrical release date: August 15 (limited)

"Red Knot" -- This bold relationship drama doesn't merely show the unraveling of a newlywed couple's marriage -- it also sets their story of isolation at the edge of the world: Antarctica. The drama of "Red Knot" is absolutely carried by the incredible acting duo of Olivia Thirlby ("Juno") and Vincent Kartheiser ("Mad Men") to maintain its emotional roller-coaster of a matrimonial crisis -- but its cinematography set against the backdrop of Antarctica gives this indie drama an immense, epic dimension. -- US theatrical release date: TBD


"The Trip to Italy" (watch the trailer): Ostensibly, this sequel is yet another road trip film following two comedians joking and doing celebrity impressions along the Italian coastline and in the Tuscan countryside. Every bit of these comedic elements are brilliantly hilarious - sharply-timed comedic jabs between friends and insanely funny banter that feels less scripted and more improvisational. But beneath this buddy road trip comedy exterior is a darker narrative of two men whose careers are increasingly isolating them from their families. This story thread adds great to dramatic value and increase the overall character stakes as these two men make subtle and slight life-changing decisions on their silly road trip in Italy. -- US theatrical release date: Aug. 15

"I Origins" (watch the trailer): Writer/director Mike Cahill ("Another Earth") is a master storyteller who uses science fiction conventions to tell stories that reach the human core of all narratives. This metaphysical film contemplates the blurred line between science and spirituality, placing a strict atheist against his soul mate who believes in the eternal. This is as much a story about faith as it is about accepting ideas that directly contradict one's own deeply held beliefs. -- US theatrical release date: July 18

"Creep": Many have said the found footage genre is tired - but those people have not seen "Creep." IMDB puts this genre-defying flick in the 'horror,' 'comedy' and 'romance' buckets. The best way to enjoy this unsettling, hilarious and startling movie is to know almost nothing about it going in - just know "Creep" is unlike any found footage horror/comedy/romance you've ever seen before. -- US theatrical release date: Early 2015

"Time Lapse" (watch the trailer): This entire movie feels like a super-sized "Twilight Zone" movie: a trio of friends discover a camera that produces pictures of the future. But this little indie sci-fi flick is an entertaining and exciting 'what if' scenario played out between three characters with three different agendas - which is the core of dramatic tension. It's a brilliantly executed sci-fi thought exercise that pits its characters in a winding sci-fi problem, while also constructing a logical premise that strictly follows its own dizzying rules. -- US theatrical release date: TBD

"Dead Snow: Red vs Dead" (watch the trailer): This isn't simply Nazi zombies running amok - this is a violent and surprisingly hilarious horror comedy where absolutely no one is safe. For example: even a pair of mothers pushing infants in strollers are exploded and turned into blood confetti. "Dead Snow 2" is a theatrical experience best seen with a theater full of fellow bloodthirsty zombie loves. -- US theatrical release date: TBD

"Willow Creek" (watch the trailer): This latest film from director Bobcat Goldthwait is nearly a blatant ripoff of "The Blair Witch Project" - and not just because it is a found footage indie horror flick. It's blatantly similar in structure and premise: amateur filmmakers mock a local myth, then foolishly wander directly into the dark, mysterious woods. However, the crown jewel of "Willow Creek" is a scene that's arguably the strongest single scene of any SIFF film: a tense, 19-minute long scene that slowly escalates from creepy to edge-of-your-seat terrifying ... and it's all shot in one single take. -- US theatrical release date: June 6

"They Came Together" (watch the trailer): Make no mistake: this absurd comedy is as much an assault of every tired rom-com cliche as it is a loving valentine to romantic comedies. "They Came Together" absolutely nails a laundry list of rom-com conventions perfectly. But even at a brisk 83 minutes (which includes credits), this over-the-top-comedy beats a dead horse into dust. It belabors the point a little too hard. But aside from that one particular grip, "They Came Together" is a steady stream of hilarious jokes and great jabs at the absurdity of rom-coms. -- US theatrical release date: June 27

"The Babadook" (watch the trailer): The Australian import is a throwback to the old-school psychological horror thrillers: a widow haunted by nightmares of her husband's violent death, a creepy child obsessed with a disturbing book and a monster who may or may not be real. It plays in the recesses between dwindling sanity and homicidal insanity. -- US theatrical release date: TBD


"Little Accidents" (watch a clip): Like several other films in this category of 'disappointing' SIFF films, it's ambitious goals overwhelmed the end product. This small town drama attempts to show a coal mining town - torn apart by a mining tragedy - as various characters attempt to continue with their lives after tragedy. Elisabeth Banks earns some credit as a legitimate dramatic actress - but just about everything else in "Little Accidents" is unfocused and drawn out. Even the final resolutions seem flat, which is especially disappointing since the fate of a missing teenager and a town's entire economy hang in the balance of the main character's actions. While not bad, "Little Accidents" defines a disappointing film that could have been incredibly powerful. -- US theatrical release date: TBD

"Frank" (watch the trailer): The first two acts of this electric, odd comedy are exciting and fun. This journey of a small Irish band's struggle to perfect every single note for their forthcoming album is compelling and entertaining. And then the third act rolls around - and "Frank" veers away from a film about artistic expression and focuses solely on the unbalanced, unpredictable titular character. Frank is a such an elemental and intriguing character, then this film does everything to unravel who he is, effectively depleting the character. -- US theatrical release date: August 22

"The Skeleton Twins": The rapport/chemistry between its lead characters - played by 'SNL' alum Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader - is absolutely the strongest aspect of this dysfunctional family comedy-drama. When Wiig and Hader are allowed to play off each other - whether it's a dramatic scene or the killer karaoke duet - create this film's strongest and best scenes. But everything else about this film falls in the spectrum of disappointment, which includes some melodramatic narrative beats or the fact that the two main characters are actually pretty unlikable. -- US theatrical release date: September 19

"Alex of Venice": First-time director Chris Messina's admirable effort is just not enough to save this tangled mess of plot lines. This story tries to weave together three narratives - involving a father and his two grown-up daughters - which results in none of them having much narrative impact. The 'main' character arch, involving the workaholic lawyer estranged from her husband, comes to closest at illustrating the 'what if' scenario of an interesting character in a compelling story - but even her story thread has a lot of loose ends. -- US theatrical release date: TBD

"The Fault in Our Stars" (watch the trailer): This adaptation of the massively popular young adult book is hard to peg - because its strong acting performances are weighed down by extremely clunky dialogue and a plot that is clearly more interested in making audiences cry than telling a human story. The entire trajectory of "TFIOS" is manipulative to a near insulting degree and many critical plot points involve narrative devices that fall out of the clear blue sky. Yes, this movie makes people cry - but it succeeds in this questionable goal by exploiting just about every narrative cheat in the book. -- US theatrical release date: June 6

"Happy Christmas" (watch the trailer): Indie director/actor Joe Swanberg takes a slight step backward with this meandering tale of a happy family whose life is shaken up by a grossly irresponsible sister who comes to visit. "Happy Christmas" is essentially a character study of a vaguely interesting character who has virtually no dramatic arch. That said, Swanberg directs a film that delivers performances that feel candid, honest and without airs. But the real 'best acting' award in this indie comedy goes to the hilarious toddler, whose comedic timing is near genius. -- US theatrical release date: July 25

"Jimi: All is By My Side" (watch a clip): Andre 3000's performance as legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix ranks among the single great acting performances in any film screened at SIFF. He absolutely becomes the poetic, albeit aloof, musician and takes over every scene. Sadly, not much else about "All is By My Side" is very interesting. Theoretically, this film reveals Hendrix and his time in London before he became internationally famed rocker Jimi Hendrix -- but that narrative through-line is vague and ultimately just leaves the film to sputter around for 120 minutes. -- US theatrical release date: Fall 2014

"The Two Faces of January" (watch the trailer): There's nothing horrifically wrong with this purported noir-mystery, "The Two Faces of January" is sadly unremarkable and pretty forgettable. Any story involving two con artists wrapped up in an game of intrigue involving murder and desperation should be more exciting. But this story just limps to its unsatisfying, but not particularly bad, ending. -- US theatrical release date: Oct. 3.

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