The annual Mill Valley film festival recently celebrated its 38th birthday and, as always, packed many films and celebrities into 10 days of cinematic bliss. Running from October 8 to the 18, there was something for everyone in this year’s lineup. Adult dramas, family films, foreign Oscar contenders and even in-person celebrity tributes managed to entertain.
These award tributes are a staple of the festival and this year’s roster included spotlights on actors Sir Ian McKellen, Carey Mulligan, Sarah Silverman, Brie Larson and director Catherine Hardwicke. Private, intimate chats with these enormous talents revealed their love of film and the choices they make when picking projects. McKellen in particular entertained the crowd by jumping onstage with impromptu renditions of his past roles.
The films are what hold this expansive festival together, and the following are some of the highlights found in this year’s program. All of these titles will be arriving in theatres shortly and have been marked accordingly.
The 45th wedding anniversary of seniors Kate and Geoff (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) threatens to disrupt their peaceful marriage when a mysterious letter arrives on their doorstep. Long-lost memories and broken promises infect most of the film’s running time and director Andrew Haigh (Weekend) ping-pongs the audience’s sympathy from one character to the other with expert precision. (December 23)
‘Beasts of No Nation’
A child soldier forced to fight in an unnamed African country is far from a good time at the movies, but Beasts of No Nation is a harrowing drama that pulls no punches in its depiction of evil. Idris Elba (the BBC’s Luther) commands the screen as a blood-thirsty commandant in charge of the young soldiers. The menace and psychology he uses on these boys is enough to make your blood boil and director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) offers no easy answers once the credits roll. (Now playing and also streaming on Netflix)
Another film set in 1950s New York but completely different from Brooklyn, this beautiful and delicate romance is based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. Cate Blanchett is the wealthy socialite who takes a liking to young shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara) and the film explores the boundaries of their forbidden love. Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Mildred Pierce) bathes the film in exquisite lighting and set decoration, making Carol one of the most beautiful films of the year. (November 20)
‘The Danish Girl’
Hot off his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne threatens to make it two in a row with his portrayal of a transgender woman in The Danish Girl. Truth be told he is remarkable in the film, but the movie’s unsung hero is supporting actress Alicia Vikander. She plays Redmayne’s loving and confused wife who caps off an already impressive year of acting with her stellar turn in this film. When they’re together onscreen the film is electric. (November 27)
There’s always room for another interpretation of Macbeth, or at least that’s the way director Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders) sees it. Michael Fassbender plays the titular ruler and French actress Marion Cotillard is his Lady Macbeth. Despite both actors barely trying to put on a Scottish accent, it really doesn’t matter. This is Kurzel’s show top-to-bottom and his beautiful imagery is the standout in this latest adaptation. (December 4)
Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) have just escaped captivity after several long years of physical and mental imprisonment. The bulk of the story follows them as they explore the outside world and brace themselves for their biggest challenge together. Larson is accumulating well-deserved Oscar talk for her brave and heart-breaking lead performance that promises to be one of the standouts of this cinematic year. (Now playing)
A modern-day All the President’s Men, Spotlight focuses on the true story of a group of journalists from the Boston Globe who uncovered a massive child abuse scandal within the Catholic church. Knowing this fact is only the tip of the iceberg, and writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor) keeps the surprises coming as the film unfolds. Its massive ensemble cast includes Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Michael Keaton, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci. (November 6)
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel show the most fun they’ve had onscreen in years as old friends vacationing at a fancy hotel without a care in the world. The duo play artists at different stages in their careers and director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) balances the whimsy and drama of each character without going too far in one direction or the other. Supporting turns by Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano enhance this enchanting entertainment. (December 4)