2014's AFI Film Festival has come to a close. The annual Los Angeles-based film festival, which ran from November 6 to 13, screened dozens of movies, from star-studded Oscar hopefuls like Foxcatcher to smaller festival favorites like Girlhood.
As you look to the months ahead, which movies should you keep an eye out for? Let The Week be your guide:
1. Foxcatcher (Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo)
What is it? A based-on-a-true story film about Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic wrestler who lives in the shadow of his older brother Dave (Ruffalo). Mark strikes up a complicated relationship with eccentric millionaire John DuPont (Carell) as he trains for the 1988 games in Seoul.
Should you see it? Yes. This cinematic depiction of the twisted mentor/mentee relationship between Schultz and DuPont is eerie and fascinating. Miller gets an incredible performance out of Tatum, whose lunkheaded appeal is used to its fullest potential, and Carell gives a frightening (and potentially career-changing) performance as DuPont. The chronicle of their increasingly dependent and twisted relationship is a smart, entertaining, and ultimately horrifying look at the toxic performances of American masculinity.
2. Girlhood (Directed by Celine Sciamma. Starring Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh)
What is it? Marieme's (Toure) life is a struggle: she's not doing well at school, her home life is a minefield, and her shyness keeps her from fully embracing life at all. But when she meets and begins spending time with a group of girls, Marieme is able to embrace freedom and herself.
Should you see it? As soon as you can. Girlhood is a brilliant coming-of-age story that depicts the intensity of teenage friendships between girls while tackling race, class, and the unfortunate perils of growing up as a teen girl. Anchored by Toure's amazing (and first!) performance, Girlhood is an exploration and celebration of the road to becoming a woman.
3. The Homesman (Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Starring Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter)
What is it? In the mid-1800s, pioneer woman Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) is tasked with escorting three other women, driven insane by pioneer life, to an asylum across the country. She hires George (Jones), a mysterious drifter, to aid her in the journey to get the women to safety.
Should you see it? Maybe, if you love Westerns and Hilary Swank. At first, The Homesman's female-centric take on the western holds immense promise, with strong performances from Hilary Swank and Gummer, Otto, and Richter as her charges. But the introduction of Tommy Lee Jones as George throws off the film's tone, as it oscillates between western, period drama and bizarre comedy. It eventually becomes clear that The Homesman is George's story, with the four women serving as tools for his own self-discovery. For a film that has roundly been billed as a unique riff on the western, it's a disappointingly conventional turn.
4. Clouds of Sils Maria (Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz)
What is it? An aging actress, Maria Enders (Binoche) is asked to perform in a new version of the play that made her internationally famous. But instead of playing Sigrid, the young woman at the center of the story, Maria will play the older Helena, who is driven to suicide by her relationship with the younger woman. Maria heads to the Alps with her assistant Valentine (Stewart) to prepare for the role opposite a new young starlet (Moretz).
Should you see it? Yes, but don't set your expectations too high. Clouds of Sils Maria boasts a pair of incredible performances by Binoche and Stewart, who have an easy but electric chemistry — but the film itself doesn't quite stack up to their work. The focus on Maria's struggle with acting and aging is compelling, but the film repeatedly flirts with more interesting ideas and fails to follow through on them. Though Clouds of Sils Maria never quite reaches the heights of the title, there's enough here to make it worth your time.
5. Mommy (Directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement)
What is it? A widowed single mother (Dorval) struggles to care for her violent, mentally unstable son as a mysterious new neighbor (Clement) insinuates herself into their lives.
Should you see it? Yes, though it's undeniably uneven. Dolan is one of the most interesting young directors working, and Mommy finds him polishing his work. Dorval is phenomenal in a difficult lead role, and Clement's performance as the duo's new neighbor is just as assured. Unfortunately, the film stumbles with Dorval's son, whose instability is so extreme that it borders on cartoonish. It's a frustrating, major problem in the context of a film that works so well in every other aspect.