The 46th Annual Nashville Film Festival was ten days long with films from all over the United States.
Wait. I meant from all over the globe!
I have been going to the NaFF for 8 years now and every year, the options are endless. From the interesting and strange to the diverse and challenging, it's all right here. Now I was fortunate enough to see 24 films this year (a personal record). And without even realizing it, out of those 24, 13 of those were documentaries. So non-fiction was superior this year.
Below are some of the highlights of my NaFF journey this year and whether it's in theatres, VOD or Netflix, keep a look out for any or all of these films. Unless it's Reminiscent or Entertainment. I'll explain later.
Tomi Fujiyama is the first Japanese country superstar. You read that right. She even performed at the Grand Ole Opry once in the 1960s with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs, and was the only one to receive a standing ovation that night. She was only 19 years old. Her dream is to be back on that stage one last time. Made In Japan is a wonderfully inspiring doc about her multicultural journey through music and how there is no age limit on chasing your dreams. After the screening, Tomi was in attendance and not only did she answer some questions, but performed with just her guitar and a mic. She’s a firecracker and it’s infectious in the film and most definitely in person.
Grammy award winner Che “Rhymefest” Smith tries to put the pieces of his family back together by reconnecting with his homeless, alcoholic father, who he has not seen in over two decades in In My Father’s House. Smith purchases his fathers’ childhood home in Chicago, which soon opens the flood gates to the memories and contentions of the past. It’s a heartbreaking yet stirring documentary about love, forgiveness, and a families’ legacy. Rhymefest was at my screening and showed such a depth of vulnerability in his life and his songs. He's a courageous man with a monumental heart.
When Acting Speaks Volumes:
There are a couple of films that standout more for performances than its storytelling. Eadweard is about Eadweard Muybridge, the godfather of cinema and the last American to receive the justifiable homicide verdict. Now I won't reveal how he gets to that point, but it's no surprise it involves a woman. Love makes you do crazy things. What will capture your attention the most is Michael Eklund's explosive portrayal as Eadweard. Another one is called Krisha, which was accepted into the prestigious Cannes Film Festival during its showings in Nashville. Krisha Fairchild plays the titled character with astounding pain and abandonment. She's a mother, daughter and sister in a powerful tale about what recovery is and what is lost in the process. I can assure you everyone will feel her wrath.
Entertainment has some very talented people in it: Tye Sheridan (Mud), Michael Cera, and John C. Reilly to name a few. Oh and their talents are completely wasted in this incoherent, wandering film. The star of this mess is Gregg Turkington (only known as "The Comedian" in this), whose career is practically on life-support. At this stage in his life, he is traveling around to dead-end clubs in the desert just trying to survive. Turkington’s performance is awkwardly depressing which is a perfect fit for the story. Unfortunately, it is how I felt after watching it as well.
The underrated Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, repeated the same events, but with each time we understood more. Why do I mention this movie? Well because Reminiscent tries this same tactic with disastrous, lackluster results. An execrable sci-fi thriller about an ex Army Ranger who relives each day trying to discover why certain disturbing events are occurring and how to put an end to them for the sake of his family. While I am sure it is a passion project for Justin Tandy, the co-director, writer and star of the movie, it’s full of useless chaos and the final scene is just laughable. Sorry man.
Best of the Fest:
First up is Love and Mercy, an unconventional, energetic biopic about the musical madness of Brain Wilson from The Beach Boys. And I have a feeling Wilson himself would not want it any other way. Paul Dano plays the young Wilson during the Beach Boys heyday. We are fortunate enough to get a peek in to his process with their numerous hits and his struggle with the daring Pet Sounds album. Mental illness flows through his mind and it is in full force when we meet the older Wilson played by John Cusack. While the two versions of Wilson are like night and day, Dano and Cusack bring out the genius and the curse that comes with being one.
What starts out as a food documentary about a young, driven chef opening up his own restaurant and the risks that go along with it, For Grace becomes so much more. As his story unfolds, it is shocking what he has gone through to get where he is today. It is captivating yet woeful as you discover his obsession, sacrifice and loss.
Silver screen legend, Hal Holbrook, has been doing a one man show for over sixty years where he speaks about issues, always seeming relevant, through Mark Twain. Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey is elegantly filmed in black and white, and is an enriching documentary where Holbrook breathes life in to Twain and vice versa. It’s mastery at its finest.
Perhaps the biggest film with the most hype this year is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It just came out of Sundance in January as the winner of the Audience and Grand Jury prize. And I'm proud to announce the hype is justified. It's not only the best film of the NaFF, but it's one of the best of the year. It's spectacularly innovative in its love, laughs, and tears. With zesty, clever direction, the story about high school turmoils with the big C thrown in there is sincere and impactful. The two who make it all come together are Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke whom display their heart and soul for the whole world to see in this sharply wit, crushing film.
Nashville Film Festival sought out a lot of unwonted films and it mostly paid off. At least from my viewing experience anyway. I feel confident that some of these titles will show back up again at the end of the year on my Best of 2015. Until next year Movie City. I mean Music City....get it?