Denver Film Festival: 3 films worth seeing each day

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DENVER — If you’re like me, the Denver Film Festival sneaks up on you every year. And it’s a true shame, as well, considering the quality cinema the Denver Film Society and Starz are bringing to our city in the 37th running of this festival.

What sort of quality, you ask? On one day you’ll see Benedict Cumberbatch in a role that’s expected to garner him an Oscar nomination for best actor. On another you can catch James Gandolfini’s final film. And on the final day of the 12-day event, you can witness performances from Marion Cotillard and a surprisingly refined Kristen Stewart, as well as two films that feature Ethan Hawke.

Since I’m betting many of you are like me and have already missed a chance to see Glenn Close and Frank Langella in “5 to 7” on Wednesday and Resse Witherspoon hiking 1,100 miles in “Wild” on Thursday, let’s try to get back on track. Below is a schedule for the next 10 days, listing three films that are well worth your time being screened on each one of those days.

When possible, we made an effort to space the options out throughout the day. The price of admission, location and language of each film is also listed. (Note that the film’s language is English unless otherwise noted, and all foreign language films have English subtitles.)

Also be advised that if one of the below films strikes your fancy but conflicts with your schedule, click on the provided link. Most films are being screened multiple times during the film festival, and the link will take you to a page with details about other screening times. The link with the theater title will take you to a page detailing the location of that venue.

Friday, Nov. 14

4:15 PM: “1001 Grams” / UA Pavilions 13 / $11 / Norwegian — There may not be a better-named director out there than Norway’s Bent Hamer, though his films tend to have a much softer touch. “1001 Grams” is no exception. Expected to be tabbed as Norway’s entry in this year’s Academy Awards, this film examines the personal life of a scientist charged with the seemingly daffy task of preserving the exact weight of the country’s kilogram.

6:45 PM: “The Dinner” / UA Pavilions 13 / $14 / Dutch — Told from the perspective of Paul, who has all the cynical wit you’d expect of an ex-teacher who was fired for telling his students that not all people who die deserve to have their lives preserved, “The Dinner” is based on a best-selling Dutch novel from Herman Koch. Though the majority of the film takes place on one set — yes, that would be the dinner — this mystery told in flashbacks about an extended family on the rise yet falling apart at the seams has very few dull moments.

9:30 PM: “Poverty, Inc.”UA Pavilions 13 / $14 — “Having a heart for the poor isn’t hard. Having a mind for the poor, that’s the challenge.” That’s director Michael Matheson Miller’s message in a riveting documentary that may question how you view revered humanitarian organizations, with one of the anecdotes being about how TOMS Shoes unknowingly crushed the African cobbler industry.

Saturday, Nov. 15

11:15 AM: “Futuro Beach” / SFC Tom Fries Theatre / $14 / Portuguese  — Each year, the Denver Film Festival features movies from a particular country. This year, the focus is on Brazil, and this particular Portuguese-language film stands out. Touching on the themes of identity and reinvention, “Futuro Beach” tells the tale of a romance born out of the tragedy between a long-distance swimmer, who lost his partner to an undertow, and the lifeguard who tried to save the swimmer’s deceased partner.

1:45 PM: “The Drop” / SFC Tom Fries Theatre / Advance tickets sold out — While advance tickets are sold out, you can still buy tickets starting at 12:45 PM. And if you want to see the late James Gandolfini’s final film — or if want to see Tom Hardy’s career continue to flourish —  you’re going to want to try to snag those late tickets to this hard-edged crime drama, penned by the writer of “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby, Gone” and helmed by Oscar-nominated director Michaël R. Roskam. If the team behind this film doesn’t intrigue you, you should probably stop reading now.

8 PM: “The Imitation Game” / Buell Theatre / $40  Many believe this is the moment Benedict Cumberbatch has been building toward, with his depiction of real-life WWII decoder Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” likely to gain him an Oscar nomination. It’s a dream role for Cumberbatch considering the complexity of Turing as a character. The Brit lived much of his life in the closest, was chemically castrated for his homosexuality, which was criminalized at the time, and allegedly committed suicide. Turing has since received a posthumous pardon from the Queen.

Sunday, Nov. 16

11 AM: “Wild Canaries” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $14 — For all the “Arrested Development” fans in the audience, there’s an Alia Shawkat (Maeby) sighting in this lighthearted who-done-it. The film was written, directed and produced by two of Shawkat’s co-stars, Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine. The husband-wife duo are regulars on the mumblecore scene, which features films that focus on naturalistic dialogue and improv rather than a script. However, this film is a little too structured to fall into that sub-genre.

4:15 PM: “El Critico”SFC Maglione Theatre / $14 / Spanish — Interestingly enough, this film about a critic who despises romantic comedies until he finds out his own life is beginning to bear a frightening resemblance to one is directed by a film critic-turned-director. Hernan Guerschuny seems to know his protagonist well, painting an entertaining portrait of a man whose life is much more bubbly than the dour French noir he’d like it to be.

9:15 PM: “The Dune” / UA Pavilions 12 / $14 / French, Hebrew — One of the leads in “The Dune” is a middle-aged Israeli bike repairman who’s not ready to be a father. The other is a 60-something gay detective who’s all-to-eager to retire. And it turns out they’re related. All those details come together in a wholly unique film about life’s crossroads featuring two of the international film community’s most treasured stars, Lior Ashkenazi (Israel) and Niels Arestrup (France), both of whom have won Oscar equivalents in their respective home countries.

Monday, Nov. 17

4:15 PM: “Heaven Adores You” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $14 — If you’re a fan of Elliot Smith, this documentary on the musician’s final days told by director Nickolas Rossi, who only discovered how wide Smith’s reach was after stumbling into his wake, is a must-see. If you’ve never heard of Smith, there’s still plenty of intrigue in the tale of an exceedingly mellow musician whose gruesome murder remains unsolved.

6:45 PM: “Viktoria” / SFC Clasen Screening Room / Advance tickets sold out / Bulgarian — This story of a child welcomed into the privileged class of a crumbling communist empire in Bulgaria simply because she was born without a belly button is the sort of abstract film only a festivals-goer could love. And they do, as evidenced by this film’s reception at Sundance. As if more evidence was needed, advance tickets to all three screenings of “Viktoria” at the Denver Film Festival are sold out. But you can still show up an hour early looking for tickets on Nov. 15 and Nov. 19 in addition to this showing on the 17th.

9 PM: “Of Horses and Men” / UA Pavilions 12 / $14 /  Icelandic, Swedish, English — If you’re looking for absurdity, you’ll find it in droves in “Of Horses and Men” (just look at the promotional poster), a drama teeming with deadpan humor in which horse and man meet on equal terms. The tale features land owners and horse breeders in the remote corners of Iceland, where horsemanship is the center of life and where neighbors take a vested interest in the lives of others — perhaps too vested at times.

Tuesday, Nov. 18

4 PM: “Human Capital” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $11 / Italian — The subject matter of this film, in which members of various social classes pine for greener pastures on the other side of their respective fences, isn’t entirely unique. The updated setting and timing — not to mention a great performance from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who you may recognize from “Munich” — is what lends this project credibility. Based on a 2004 novel of the same name set in Connecticut, Italian director Paolo Virzí shifts the tale to Milan, where issues involving status anxiety run rampant.

4 PM: “The Mend” / UA Pavilions 15 / $14 — John Lucas’ stellar showing is the component that has drawn many to this film, and rightly so. Always a sought-after supporting actor for everything from blockbusters (“A Beautiful Mind” and “J. Edgar”) to cult classics (“American Psycho” and “The Lincoln Lawyer”) to indies (“Boychoir” and “Shadows & Lies”) Lucas hasn’t seen a great deal of leading roles outside of “Glory Road” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” the latter of which he might like to forget. “The Mend” is anything but forgettable,  with the film centering on the latest in an intense, long-running series of arguments between two brothers that plays out over several days of debauchery.

9:45 PM: “’71” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $15.50 — The Guardian is calling “’71” Britain’s answer to the Vietnam War genre developed so successfully in the U.S. in the ’80s. This films depicts the quagmire of violence that ensued in the early years of the conflict in Northern Ireland, which has not yet fully reached an end. Left behind by a retreating army regiment sent to the region under the guise of keeping the peace, Gary, played with ferocity by up-and-coming Brit Jack O’Connell, finds himself fighting for survival what turn out to be behind clearly drawn enemy lines.

Wednesday, Nov. 19

6:45 PM: “Alleluia” / UA Pavilions 12 / $14 / French — The classic 1969 thriller “The Honeymoon Killers” gets a timely reboot in “Alleluia.” Based on a pair of real-life serial killers who met their victims through personal ads in the newspaper, this new-age deadly duo find themselves spoiled for choice in the modern world of online dating. It’s equal parts compelling and disturbing.

7 PM: “Foxcatcher” / UA Pavilions 9 / $20 — The idea that you might not have heard about “Foxcatcher” is mildly upsetting given this film’s Oscar-nominated director, Bennett Miller (“Capote” and “Moneyball”), his all-star cast and their charge: retelling the true story of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz and his 1996 murder. For some cast members, this film is right in their wheelhouse. That group includes Channing Tatum, who plays Schultz’s younger brother and fellow wrestler, and Anthony Michael Hall, who plays a rough-and-tumble assistant coach. Others show some true depth here. That group includes Steve Carrell, who plays the well-meaning, paranoid-schizophrenic and ultimately murderous heir to the du Pont family fortune, and Mark Ruffalo, who bulked up considerably (and literally this time) to play Schultz.

9 PM: “The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest” / UA Pavilions 12 / $14 — One part animation and one part documentary, this film does exactly what its title suggests, taking you inside the life and mind of a Mark DeFriest, who remains imprisoned over three decades after receiving a four-year sentence for taking a set of tools he thought his dead father had willed to him. Why is he still locked up? It’s partly because DeFriest, since dubbed the “Houdini of Florida,” has escaped prison seven times. But the documentary doesn’t end there. It also examines whether DeFriest, whose brilliance appears as evident as his struggle with mental illness, has earned the treatment the justice and penal system have given him.

Thursday, Nov. 20

1:30 PM: “To Kill a Man”UA Pavilions 10 / $14 / Spanish — A Grand Jury prize-winner at Sundance, “To Kill a Man” deals with the notions of breaking points and whether we truly know what’s going on in the heads of those around us. Daniel Antivilo brilliantly portrays the overwhelmingly stoic Jorge, who remains complacent about the thugs who torment his family until being pushed to systematically annihilate them.

4:15 PM: “Elephant Song” / UA Pavilions 15 / $11 — Even if you’re not a cinephile, you’ll likely recognize three of the stars in “Elephant Song” — those being Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek”), Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”) and Catherine Keener (“40 Year Old Virgin”). If you are a cinephile, you’ll recognize Xavier Dolan as the director of “Laurence Anyways.” All four enter new territory in this film that revolves around  a patient at a mental hospital (Dolan) who takes joy in toying with members of the hospital staff, all of who are frantically trying to find a colleague who went missing after working with this particular patient.

6:30 PM: “Charlie’s Country”SFC Tom Fries Theatre / $14 — Co-written by, starring and based on the life of iconic Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, “Charlie’s County” seeks to show the challenges of maintaining a sense of history and tradition in a world starved for modernity and actively seeking to root out anything that stands in the way of progress. Gulpilil’s third film with Dutch-Australian director Rolf de Heer, his obvious cultural foil, is as likely to bring a smile to your face as it is a tear to your eye.

Friday, Nov. 21

4:15 PM: “Blind”UA Pavilions 10 / $11 / Norwegian — Is it better to have seen and gone blind than to have never seen at all? This hypothetical bar-room fodder is the subject of the aptly named “Blind,” whose heroine, Ingrid, hauntingly portrayed by Ellen Dorrit Petersen, lost her vision as an adult. Since going blind, Ingrid rarely leaves the apartment she shares with her husband, who she believes occasionally spies on her in a voyeuristic manner when he’s supposed to be at work. That’s the hilarity in this film, but there’s also plenty of horror, as Ingrid blurs the lines between her objective and subjective realities, creating a fictional world around herself that is based on the images she remembers.

7 PM: I Am a Knife with Legs / SFC Maglione Theatre / $35 — When asked why a fatwa has been issued calling for his assassination, international pop star Bené responds, “It might have something to do with my song ‘All Religions are Stupid, Especially Yours.'” It sets the tone for this outlandish comedy, which became a cult classic virtually overnight. In fact, “The Hollywood Reporter” has gone so far as to suggest the filmmakers recouped their expenses after the first midnight showing. The relatively high festival price to attend this screening also gains you entry into a Denver Film Society party that follows. If you want to ditch the party, you can pay $14 to see the film on Nov. 22.

9:30 PM: “Watchers of the Sky” / UA Pavilions 15 / $14 — Ever wonder how the term “genocide” was coined? Then this documentary directed by Oscar-nominated CU-Boulder graduate Edet Belzberg is for you. Already a Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance, this film chronicles the life of Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin, who survived the Holocaust but lost his family to it. The rest of his life was dedicated to a quite-successful effort to raise awareness about the mass murder of minority groups.

Saturday, Nov. 22

1:30 PM: 21 Years: Richard Linklater / UA Pavilions 12 / $14 — While there’s a chance you may not be familiar with Richard Linklater, there is almost no chance that you haven’t seen at least one of his films. Whether it was one of his indie classics like “Dazed and Confused” or “Slacker,” one of his blockbusters like “School of Rock” or “Bad News Bears” or one of his critically acclaimed masterpieces like “Boyhood” or “Bernie,” Linklater has proven to be one of the most prolific filmmakers of our time. Want more proof? You’ve got it in this documentary, featuring of dozens of Hollywood A-listers raving about him for 80 minutes.

6:30 PM: “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $14 — Rinko Kikuchi burst onto the scene last year in “Pacific Rim,”Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robots epic. In “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” Kikuchi was afforded the chance at portraying a much more subtle character. And she ran with it thanks to some great writing from David and Nathan Zellner, a pair of brothers who also happen to be Colorado natives. Taking the inscription at the beginning of her favorite film “Fargo” far too literally — that inscription being “This is a true story” — Kumiko, depressed about her mundane existence in Japan, journeys to a snowy field in Minnesota to search for a briefcase filled with money. And shockingly enough, this film — unlike “Fargo” — is based on a true story.

8 PM: “Like Sunday, Like Rain” / Buell Theatre / $60 — Frank Whaley, who has made noteworthy appearances as an actor in “Pulp Fiction” and “Field of Dreams,” will be in attendance for a discussion following the screening of his most recent directorial work, “Like Sunday, Like Rain.” The film centers on a struggling musician, played by TV’s “Gossip Girl” Leighton Meester, who, after a break up with her rocker boyfriend played by Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong, happens to become the guardian of a musical child prodigy.

Sunday, Nov. 23

1:45 PM: “Clouds of Sils Maria” / UA Pavilions 14 / $15.50 — If you thought Kristen Stewart would never be able to put her “Twilight” days behind her, or that Chloë Grace Moretz would always be “Little Miss Sunshine,” you may find reasons to reconsider in “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The two team up as part of a stellar trio of females leads that includes Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”) in a story about an over-the-hill actress (Binoche) who is convinced by her loyal assistant (Stewart) to star in a revival of the play that launched her career alongside an up-and-coming starlet (Moretz) who threatens to steal the show.

4:45 PM: “Two Days, One Night” / SFC Maglione Theatre / $15.50 — For as many projects as she takes on, French powerhouse Marion Cotillard rarely swings and misses. To be fair, the decision to join a project headed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time winners of the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival, couldn’t have been to difficult to make. In “Two Days, One Night,” it appears the trio has another masterpiece in the timely tale of a working-class woman laid off from her job at a solar-panel factory so that her colleagues can receive bonuses.

7 PM: In Order of Disappearance / SFC Clasen Screening Room / $11 — Had this movie been in English, which certainly could have happened given lead Stellan Skarsgård’s repertoire (see: “Good Will Hunting,” “The Avengers,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” just to name a few), “Variety” suggested this film could have been a massive money-maker in the U.S. As it stands, the slick Scandinavian flick about a carefree snow plow driver-turned-revenge killer after the murder of his son has been seen far-reaching international acclaim for its wit as well as its action.

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