Your Guide to the 2012 Nashville Film Festival 

Reel Nashville

Reel Nashville

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click to enlarge Bestiaire
  • Bestiaire

BESTIAIRE (5:15 p.m.; also 12:45 p.m. April 25)

Canadian director Denis Côté is one of the most exciting young talents on the current festival scene. Each of his last two films — the isolationist character study Carcasses and the homicidal black comedy Curling — looked as if it would be his breakthrough. Maybe three's the charm with this exquisite observational documentary about animals in captivity. Beginning with art students drawing a stuffed deer, and settling in for its extended middle third at a Quebec zoo, Bestiaire is a sly meditation on a complex conundrum: Humans need animals in order to truly see ourselves. MICHAEL SICINSKI

BRICK AND MORTAR AND LOVE (5:15 p.m.; also screening 4:30 p.m. April 21 at Grimey's for Record Store Day)

Billed as a tribute to the country's small independent record stores and their vinyl-hoarding fans, Brick and Mortar and Love laboriously documents and defends the struggles of beloved Louisville record store ear X-tacy. It's a mildly interesting case study, initially seeming like a microcosm of the fragile music business at large. But the drama becomes tiring as you start to wonder exactly why such a successful store had such a hard time keeping its doors open — on my last visit to Louisville, my usual stop to ear X-tacy found a vacant location and an out-of-business sign on the door — while other stores like our own Grimey's seem to be thriving. Locals will enjoy seeing Grimey, Doyle and some other local regulars pop up on the big screen here, but may spend the remaining time wishing this slightly amateurish doc (which credits "Queens of the Stoned Age" at one point) had come up with a more thorough tribute to indie record stores. SAM SMITH

SIRONIA (5:30 p.m.; also 12:45 p.m. April 21)

Singer-songwriter Wes Cunningham and director Brandon Dickerson wrote this screenplay about a frustrated rock musician (Cunningham) who ditches Los Angeles for a small Texas town after refusing to compromise his art for commerce. Nashvillians may remember Cunningham from his days here in the late '90s, playing the clubs and recording 12 Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking for Warner Bros. Lyrics from his songs inspired the storyline, and it's reasonable to assume his own experiences in the major-label meat grinder factored into the script. At times the film seems like a showcase for the music, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless, Cunningham pouts and mopes credibly (and looks remarkably like Daniel Day Lewis) in the lead role, and Amy Acker does well as his increasingly frustrated wife. Also featuring Law & Order's Jeremy Sisto as Cunningham's agent. JACK SILVERMAN

ONE NIGHT STAND (5:45 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. April 25)

Anyone who has ever derived any sort of pleasure from musical theater needs to see this look at the second annual 24 Hour Musicals, a fundraiser that pairs composers and librettists with a bunch of intriguing performers (including Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, 30 Rock's Rachel Dratch, Broadway treasure Cheyenne Jackson, A Serious Man's Richard Kind, and David Lynch/Cybill Shepherd collaborator Alicia Witt). In one 24-hour stretch, four groups will compose and perform a 15-minute piece with two new songs in it, and the end results are thrilling: think the 48 Hour Film Festival, but with more integrity and less evil. The creative process is always fascinating and, thanks to directors Trish Dalton and Elizabeth Sperling, breezy. Frothy fun with some of the stage's finest. JASON SHAWHAN

QWERTY (5:45 p.m.; also 11:15 a.m. April 21)

One of the hoariest clichés of movies is the quirky romance. Qwerty, which even sounds like "quirky," seems to know this and embrace the genre anyway. Zoe (Dana Pupkin) is a lovely, lonely "word nerd" who works for the motor-vehicles department in Chicago, deciphering filthy language in vanity-plate applications. Zoe sees things others can't, including the sweet soul inside Marty (Eric Hailey), a surly mall guard who gets fired for exhorting customers not to waste money on designer underthings. Zoe rescues Marty from his squalid apartment and gets him a new job (ironically, his foul mouth and ill temper fit right in at the customer service desk at the DMV). A relationship that would probably set off warning bells in real life works out beautifully for Zoe, especially when Marty's presence gives her the strength to compete in televised Scrabble championships. It's not the funniest or deepest rom-com ever, but Qwerty (that's a real Scrabble word — memorize it) has a triple-word-score worth of charm. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

click to enlarge Wuthering Heights
  • Wuthering Heights

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (7:15 p.m.)

From its opening title font ('70s disco curvature) to its expressionistic handheld cinematography, this latest iteration of Emily Brontë's classic high school reading-lister works overtime to shed any vestiges of Masterpiece Theatre stodginess. But this doesn't necessarily make for great new Heights. Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) strives not only for a combination of painterly sweep and muddy British factualism; she literalizes Brontë's subtext of Otherness by casting a young black Briton (James Howson) as Heathcliff. Arnold has abjured political intent, and the limitations placed on Howson's characterization do the film no favors. Any intervention beyond the surface is imperceptible. MICHAEL SICINSKI

I AM NOT A HIPSTER (7:45 p.m.; also 3:00 p.m. April 21)

Make no mistake: Brook (Dominic Bogart), the singer/songwriter protagonist of Destin Daniel Cretton's comedy-drama, is a tremendous asshole. Still reeling from the death of his mother and his subsequent escape from rural Ohio into San Diego's indie rock scene, Brook has backslid into a tortured cliché, sabotaging his career and relationships with directionless anger and self-inflicted misery. Cretton doesn't make any excuses for his characters, though, which makes Brook's redemption at the hands of his visiting sisters so arresting. Brook's cretinism makes I Am Not a Hipster hard to watch at times, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with a genuinely touching denouement. Bogart and Cretton will attend. LANCE CONZETT

SASSY PANTS (8 p.m.; also 12:45 p.m. April 22)

A very much grown Haley Joel Osment turns up as a frisky boy-toy, shirtless and disconcertingly beefy: that's pretty much the first and last surprise in writer-director Coley Sohn's alternately twee and morose coming-of-age comedy-drama, which follows a socially stunted teen's well-trod path away from her dysfunctional family and toward her dream of attending fashion school. Anna Gunn, so startling as Bryan Cranston's slowly corrupting wife on Breaking Bad, bears the brunt of a monster-mom character pitched somewhere between Running with Scissors and Carrie: it's the kind of movie where as soon as the heroine starts stashing her college savings (labeled to provide extra pathos for the pity-impaired), you can count down the minutes to the inevitable betrayal. What keeps it from settling into a kind of Plexiglass Menagerie is the captivating lead performance by Ashley Rickards, framed by Sohn with fierce empathy. Sohn will attend. JIM RIDLEY

click to enlarge Andrew Bird: Fever Year
  • Andrew Bird: Fever Year

ANDREW BIRD: FEVER YEAR (9:45 p.m.; also screening 2:45 p.m. April 21 at Grimey's as part of Record Store Day)

The Nashville Film Festival's music-related offerings are an obvious staple of the fest's annual lineup and organizers will not break that trust with docs like this one. Following singer-songwriter on his 165-date tour, over the course of a quite literal fever year, Xan Aranda's work is part concert film, part tour documentary. And the fact that Bird asked that the film not be released in theaters, agreeing to allow showings at festivals, will only make it more attractive to documentary fans and Bird fans alike. Throughout, Aranda skillfully documents the artist in a free-form manner that fits his art, a treat for fans and a good introduction for newcomers. STEVEN HALE


Saturday, April 21

HIP HOP MAESTRO (10:15 a.m.; also 6 p.m. April 23)

Somewhere buried deep within Hip Hop Maestro, there's a fascinating documentary. Starting with his humble beginnings in Los Angeles nightclubs, the film chronicles composer Geoff "Double G" Gallegos bringing his daKAH Hip-Hop Orchestra from the underground to a sold-out Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gallegos is a compelling figure and his band is unique, but the film races toward its destination without stopping to breathe. You never get a sense of how daKAH fits into the L.A. hip-hop scene, who these people are, or even Gallegos's relationship with hip-hop. Instead, the film wraps itself up in just 40 minutes, leaving you wanting much, much more. LANCE CONZETT

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