It's the eve of the 45th annual Nashville Film Festival, getting underway tomorrow at Green Hills and downtown Walk of Fame Park. That means it's also time for the Scene's annual festival guide, packed with reviews, recommendations and tips for getting the most out of the NaFF's expanded 10-day schedule.
The issue hits the stands tomorrow, but Country Life will be offering daily updates and related posts throughout the festival. We previewed more than 35 films in preparation, but there are still many notable titles we didn't get to see in advance that you should consider. A brief list follows below, with ticket information available at the festival website. (Note that several of these will be screened only once — typically a sign they have distribution or commercial prospects.)
ALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC AND MEMORY (12:30 p.m. April 19; also 4 p.m. April 24) The power of song gets a dramatic demonstration in Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary, which uses an experiment with iPods in a nursing home to show how music may offset the ravages of Alzheimer’s.
Of note: This year’s Audience Award winner at Sundance, where it left viewers weeping; onscreen participants include Oliver Sacks and Bobby McFerrin.
THE AMAZING CATFISH (3 p.m. April 18; also 7 p.m. April 21) Claudia Saint-Luce’s domestic comedy-drama ushers a young product demonstrator (Ximena Ayala) into the topsy-turvy household of a dying Guadalajara matriarch (Lisa Owen).
Of note: Camerawork by one of the world’s great cinematographers, Agnes Godard, noted for her longtime collaboration with Claire Denis (Beau travail).
BOULEVARD (7 p.m. April 24; also 3:15 p.m. April 25) An encounter with a troubled street kid (Roberto Aguire) forces a closeted banker (Robin Williams) to examine his secret life and emotionless marriage.
Of note: A supporting cast led by Kathy Baker and Bob Odenkirk; shot in Nashville; director Dito Montiel made an affecting James Toback-esque debut (and got Channing Tatum’s best work to date) with his semi-autobiographical 2006 feature A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
CHASING GHOSTS (6:30 & 9:15 p.m. April 17; also 4:30 p.m. April 18) In Josh Shreve’s Nashville-shot feature, a grieving 12-year-old boy (Toby Nichols) touches off a media sensation when he captures a spooky apparition on film, leading him to an author who claims to have cheated death.
Of note: A first-rate cast including Frances Conroy, Robyn Lively, W. Earl Brown and a rare dramatic role for Tim Meadows.
CLUB SANDWICH (12:15 p.m. April 18; also 8:30 p.m. April 22) An alluring teen comes between a 35-year-old mother and her adolescent son during a resort vacation, pushing Mom to ridiculous lengths.
Of note: The latest from Mexico’s Fernando Eimbcke, whose droll comedies Duck Season and Lake Tahoe drew comparisons to early Jim Jarmusch.
THE ENEMY WITHIN (8:30 p.m. April 24) Yorgos Tsemberopoulos directed this hot-button Greek thriller about a middle-aged bourgeois pacifist (Manolis Mavromatakis) who turns into a vengeance-seeking vigilante after a violent home invasion.
Of note: The first film in 13 years by actor-turned-director Tsemberopoulos, whose 2000 feature Backdoor won awards on the festival circuit.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS (7 p.m. April 22; also noon April 23) A warm slice-of-life comedy from prolific actor-writer-director Joe Swanberg, focusing on a novelist turned mother (Melanie Lynskey) whose creative juices are invigorated after the return of her husband’s reckless sister (Anna Kendrick) and the sister’s bad-influence best friend (Lena Dunham).
Of note: Two words — mommy porn; Swanberg’s leaving the mumblecore label behind as he develops his chops and attracts high-powered ensembles.
IDA (8:30 p.m. April 21) A convent-raised orphan (Agaza Trzebuchowska) begins a desperate inquest into whether her parents were killed during the Polish occupation by Nazis — or by their own neighbors.
Of note: Director Pawel Pawlikowski (best known for My Summer of Love) is a major talent; advance word says this black-and-white period drama may be one of the fest’s most gorgeous movies.
LOCKE (7:15 p.m. April 18; also 1:30 p.m. April 19) A tour de force role for rising star Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) as a family man plunged into crisis by a phone call.
Of note: Distributor A24 (Under the Skin, Spring Breakers) is turning into the most reliably interesting brand name since circa-1983 IRS Records; writer-director Steven Knight scripted two fine character-driven thrillers, Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises.
LUCKY THEM (7 p.m. April 25) Rock journalist Ellie Klug (Toni Collette) must salvage her career by joining an oddball documentarian (Thomas Haden Church) and tracking down a reclusive rock god — who happens to be her ex.
Of note: Strong word of mouth; boasts one of the festival’s best ensembles — including Oliver Platt, NaFF ’14 MVP Amy Seimetz, and the voice of Joanne Woodward! — while putting another notch in career of indie jack-of-all-trades turned director Megan Griffiths (Eden).
OBVIOUS CHILD (8:45 p.m. April 19) SXSW and Sundance audiences loved writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s pitch-dark comedy about a stand-up comic (SNL’s Jenny Slate) whose problem-plagued life goes from dismal to worse in the wake of her latest ill-judged hook-up.
Of note: Distributed by A24 (see Locke).
THE ONE I LOVE (7:30 p.m., April 26) Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a couple on the verge of breakup whose relationship is put to the test by an unorthodox counselor (Ted Danson).
Of note: Tantalizing reviews out of Sundance suggested the less you know about Charlie McDowell’s romantic comedy going in, the better.
THE OVERNIGHTERS (6:15 p.m. April 23) Jesse Moss directed this documentary portrait of oil-field boomtown Williston, N.D., and the tensions between the populace and a local pastor who gives shelter to troubled transient workers.
Of note: One of the best-reviewed docs to come out of Sundance ’14, where it won a special jury prize for Moss’ intense scrutiny of his central figure.
POINT AND SHOOT (9:15 p.m. April 21; also 1 p.m. April 23) The true story of how Matthew VanDyke, an idealistic young American on a motorcycle trip through the Middle East, ended up an eyewitness to the uprising against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi — and became an armed revolutionary.
Of note: Director Marshall Curry’s NaFF 2011 award winner If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is one of the most acclaimed docs of recent years.
WHEN THE WORLD'S ON FIRE (8:45 p.m. April 22; also 8:30 p.m. April 24) A homeless Guatemalan immigrant takes a walk on the wild side among the denizens of a Nashville you won’t find in Times travel pieces.
Of note: The long-awaited first feature by James Clauer, one of the city’s brightest and most original talents, who cut his teeth working on his high-school pal Harmony Korine’s Gummo; shot in 35mm ’Scope (!!!) with a cast including Joshua Elrod and Travis Nicholson and music by William Tyler.
WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS. JAMES J. BULGER (6:30 p.m. April 23; also 12:15 p.m. April 25) How one of the most colorful mobsters in the annals of organized crime — Boston gangster Whitey Bulger — built and ran a criminal empire with two unlikely collaborators: the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Of note: If anybody could do justice to this whopper of a case, it’s Paradise Lost co-director and NaFF favorite Joe Berlinger.
WORDS AND PICTURES (6 p.m. April 21) With careers in the balance, a boozy English teacher challenges an arthritic art instructor to settle the age-old debate: Which reigns supreme, language or image? Will their rivalry yield to romance? (Hint: This is a movie.)
Of note: Given that the teachers are Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, and the director is Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith), this is as easy a sell as the NaFF gets.